Can We Bridge the Racial Divide?

Recently, after I’d just watched the documentary about food deserts called A Place at the Table, I was being taxi dad, driving kids around town. I discovered that a kid I know and see relatively often is not only poor, but experiences every day what is now euphemistically called “food insecurity.” Also, not incidentally, the kid is African American.

All three of my kids are musicians, the circles in which they move at school are integrated, and they have formed close friendships with their black peers. It is heartening to see what appears to be Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of “little black boys and black girls…able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Outside of school however, things can get awkward fast. The disparity is undeniable—even if it is uncomfortable to talk about. These kids are on a path that will likely split along racial lines as they grow into adulthood. Not only is it not likely they will remain friends, it is not likely that their life trajectories will be anything alike.

First, in this group of close friends the line between the haves and the have-nots is drawn on racial lines. Second, while they are reaching an age at which they are noticing and showing discomfort with these inequalities, they are also encoding poisonous systemic notions about race, wealth, merit, and opportunity.

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Can’t a Dad Hug His Boy?

When I sat down to work at my computer yesterday morning, I checked my email and saw the stories on the news feed: another madman shoots random people; global warming disaster almost certain; radical politicians calling for rebellion, secession; the rich hoarding everything, the poor getting more desperate. I got off the Internet and clicked open the piece I am working on, and I stared at four pictures pinned to the cabinets in front of my writing desk.

One picture is a charcoal drawing of a human skull, my memento mori every morning as I sit down to work. The other three are curling snapshots from years ago hanging by a single thumb tack each.

The bottom one is of my boys at a cookout when Evan was not yet three and Asher was so young he could still delight himself to laughter just by running, happily unconcerned about his diaper-full of poop. The boys are in front of a picnic shelter in Kanawha Forest, and they are smudged and smeared face to bare feet with the grime of hard outdoor play. They are both squatting at a dog’s metal water bowl, splashing in it with sticks.

The middle photo is of Evan on my sister Alma’s lap. They both face the camera, her arms are wrapped around his chest and their faces are side by side—that they are related is clear by their sharp Sizemore chins.

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Sunday in Sweet Afton

Last Sunday my wife decided to celebrate the end of our semester by taking a drive on a scenic stretch of Route 151, a two-lane road that winds along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Lynchburg and Charlottesville. Often on this road, you find yourself sliding through a flashing green canopy of leaves. More than once, a climbing series of hairpin turns will open onto sweeping green valleys.

The mountains roll soft as the curves of a human body, and surround some valleys on all sides, creating a wide natural bowl protecting small Edens of farmhouses and fertile land. Yesterday, the mountaintops reached almost, but not quite, to the cumulus clouds—fat globs, heavy and motionless, as if they had been hung there by invisible wires and would drop of their own weight otherwise. It was one of those Virginia days in spring when the beauty of it all strikes you dumb but for exclaimed clichés.

Not that you would need more reason to make this drive, but strung along Route 151 are seven wineries, three breweries, one cidery, and one distillery—all do tastings, and some have restaurants. It is dubbed the Brew Ridge Trail, and it travels across Afton Mountain.

I once had a friend who smoked “Sweet Afton” cigarettes. Though they were made in Ireland, the package advertised them as “Virginia Cigarettes,” as this is where they got the tobacco. The name does not come from our Afton however, but from the Robert Burns poem about a river in Scotland. Under Burns’ picture on the pack, are these lines:

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Sex and Power and Christian Education

My wife and I are always behind on television shows because we wait for them to come out on Netflix. We have only gotten through the end of the third season of Game of Thrones and have therefore not watched the scene that has raised such a kerfuffle these past few days, the scene in which Jaime rapes his twin sister Cercei over the corpse of their son. When we were watching the third season of Game of Thrones though, my wife did comment on the show’s use of naked females versus naked males. She has a problem with the way the HBO series depicts women.

She isn’t the only one of course. It has received a lot of attention. Saturday Night Live did a hilarious skit about the creators of the show, one of whom is a horny thirteen-year-old boy whose sole job is to see how many scenes, no matter what is actually going on, he can fill with naked boobs.

Critics are asking, why all the gratuitous female nudity? Doesn’t this undercut the effect of having strong female characters by objectifying women?

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Poetry at the Goodwill

When I was a soccer-obsessed fifteen-year-old, I had no use for poetry. I endured my school hours like a crated dog, waiting to get out on the field. One afternoon in the library, I picked up a random book of English verse and flipped through it. Eventually I landed on a song from Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, offered most often now with the title “Old and Young.” The first stanza goes like this:

When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.

He was speaking to me, young blood, strong, moving among so many queenly lasses in my school that I could not think straight for more than a few moments at a time. Back then, I didn’t know what a sentimental piece of writing it is; I don’t care now.

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