The Question of White Privilege

Okay, so I’d like to open the floor to this topic of white privilege, which was just mentioned on one of my Facebook posts. I’m still not sure what I think about the word “privilege.” I have always thought if there was a question of selective enforcement, it would translate in terms of the way the majority treats itself – the “standard” – and everyone else lower – “sub-standard.” It may seem like splitting hairs, since ultimately the result is the same. But to me, “privilege” is something offered over and above the standard – as in, it takes effort to offer it – while standard practice is just the minimal operating procedure – business as usual.

To my thinking, standard operating procedure does mean offering consideration – even accommodation. But that’s also considered common courtesy that’s culturally expected. Privilege, however, is offering exception and bending, changing or even refusing to enforce the rules based on a particular prejudice one officer has for or against a suspect.

Sub-standard, then, would be refusing that standard to certain segments of the population, overt enforcement of rules, and overt bending of rules to ensure a negative outcome for a given suspect (and also based on prejudice). This, in and of itself, is a conscious action by police to selectively differentiate enforcement. Which is to say, the opposite of privilege.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the opposite of sub-standard is privilege. It simply means it’s not standard practice.

As an example, I’ve never had a cop stop and help me on the side of the road, or go out of his or her way to assist me in anything – and I’m not staying that my experiences represent the masses. They’ve arrived when I’ve called, but were not always soon and not always helpful in those times. I haven’t lived in the best neighborhoods either, or enjoyed the security of a privately policed community.

The standard in policing, if I’m applying a blanket moral scope of the word, is just not being singled out or harassed. Being given a chance to explain one’s self if accused. Taking in all the facts before enforcing laws. That, to me, seems to be what should be standard – and of course other parameters.

I’ve been singled out many times in my life by police, perhaps not because I was white (or perhaps because I was), but had tattoos, or a shaved head. Whatever it was that made me stand out, I was selectively harassed. I was actually pulled over on false pretenses, thrown in jail on false charges of driving on a suspended license (my Kentucky license had expired and I’d gotten a new license in another state), and even detained without ever being officially charged. When it was all said and done, there was never even an arrest report, so I couldn’t sue the state because there was no record of the event. Money was stolen from me and valuables were taken from my car. None of this was documented either.

Now, this would never have made the news because the officers and I were the same race. And even if that wasn’t the case, my first reaction would not be to assume it was. I’d think as I do now: it was a couple of dirty cops that wanted what I had, and used the legal system to get me out of the way so they could take it. And that happens thousands of times a day all over the country, to blacks, Mexicans and others.

The motivating factor in these cases is not race, but greed. And I’m sure there are variations of this situation that are born of other flaws in the human condition (e.g. pride, anger, retribution).

For me, it would seem that there’s just a systemic issue in policing, and it starts at the top. No offense to my cop friends out there, but, just like I was not chosen by the military for my original thought, police are not selected based on their abilities in critical thinking. They’re selected on the basis of their willingness to follow orders. Now, critically assessing situations is a part of the job, but only within the rules they’re taught, and only after they’ve been taught them.

In every instance of police misconduct, what’s the one action linking them all? It’s not selective targeting. It’s that what they did fell squarely within the parameters of what they are trained, and therefore what they know they can get away with.

Very rarely does a cop get jailed for their actions, because there’s a playbook within which they have the right, and even the obligation, to abuse citizens. My cop friends may disagree, but it’s indisputable that the use of force, per this playbook, is solely up to the discretion of the officer on the scene. So, it doesn’t start with the cops. It starts with the guys writing that playbook. And it extends to hiring practices, assessments, training, funding and lots of other considerations.

As a result, there are neo-nazis on the force, just like gangs have infiltrated the police. And why not? It’s the best place to score guns and drugs. But the results are the same: the police ARE a gang. And they’re the scariest kind, because they’re backed up by the state who considers policy change only by virtue of the risks of collateral damage vs the rewards of the high capital that the police, courts and prison system brings in as a result of those policing tactics. And therefore I don’t see it as a total race issue, where some of us are given a pass and others not, based solely on skin color. It’s based on a lot of things, and, yes, one of those things ends up being the individual officer’s predisposition to racist ideology — even down to a subtle, if subconscious, personal sense of indignation for all races other than their own.

There are definitely those out there donning the badge with bad intentions. But there are a helluva lot more atrocities enacted by well-intentioned officers because they aren’t trained well enough, not educated enough. They’re basically your average high school graduate, given a gun and a badge, told they’re a hero and sent out into the community with an ingrained chip in their shoulder. I know. I was in the military, and I had a sense of pride for being the “master protector of my homeland.” They gave that line to all of us. And problems are inevitable with this progression of circumstances.

I think this protocol can, and is, applied across the board. But the loudest and boldest of these atrocities naturally rise to the surface in an already conflicted identity that the U.S. is struggling to find.

If anyone is paying any attention to the insane case currently underway against the Baltimore Police Department, you’ll know that police were actually being programmed to assault, rob and falsely jail. Which is all terrible, of course. But they’re also being taught to cover up their tracks. It is staggering. Like, right out of the script of a movie, it’s being revealed through sworn testimony that high ranking officers are having their men carry toy guns to plant on their victims in the event of a death or questionable shooting. And while I’m sure those tactics were applied to plenty of black suspects, I’m also sure it was more akin to widespread corruption stitched right into the unspoken (and apparently also spoken) rules of engagement. There’s no telling how many lives it destroyed simply so that cops get to enjoy the true privilege – the ultimate privilege. The license to kill.

I get that there are inmate statistics that support the claim of selective policing. I would agree that there is a clear line to racism in our prison system — be that from any stage in the game from urban economics to lack of good schools, to concentration of policing and so on. But making the effort of offering overt privilege vs simply not applying sub-standard practices, for me, still does not adequately define privilege. And if we are going to learn from our mistakes and grow into a more equitable future as a nation of American brothers and sisters, the first thing we need to do is adequately define the source of the issues. This may be a fine difference for many of my friends, but it is a very important one – one that determines so much for so many. So, starting off with the right information is more important than starting off with a popular slogan that perhaps does not properly address the issue.

That said, I’m not immoveable on the subject. I guess I’m still forming my opinion. Thoughts, anyone?

(And a quick p.s. for all my cop friends: I put a lot of blanket terms in this post to save space, not face. If you’re a good cop, you know it. And while your training is not 6 years of graduate school, I am not making slights of your intelligence. I’m pointing out that police departments in America grab us up before we go to college just like the military does – and with a very specific intention. I support law enforcement, and know that what we are seeing is the result of a terrible system at work.)

An Ode to Fro

Okay, so I’ve been relatively quiet on Bryan’s memorial page for Mr. David Jason McKellep. I hope that’s not been mistaken for absent, or not engaged. Quite frankly, I’ve been unable to cope. Even the afterlife can’t keep us Irish from drinking with our mates. And so, you’ll all have to excuse me as I spent the last 48 hours having my last party with Fro.

I’ve also been reminiscing about all the amazing times that Fro and I and many others have shared. I have a lot of incredible friends. Some give me hope, and others I know I could trust with everything that I own.

Fro will always be the friend that brought me immense joy — that chill kind of fun that comes so easily to him, and which others seek as a result of being around it. He brought me color and new perspectives. His endless depth has dumbfounded me more times than I can count. He is simply an amazing and uplifting soul.

When all of my guy friends were afraid to say they loved me (I know you guys do, not to worry), Fro said it loudly and shamelessly and even proudly. In fact, he was the very first of my friends to say that. I can’t really describe why, but it wasn’t strange coming from him (culturally, I realize that we dudes are supposed to be stoic breadwinners and ax grinding cabin builders, blah blah blah). Nevertheless, it was warm and true. As always, it was a pioneering moment of love and camaraderie that only Fro could effortlessly deliver.

In the summer of 2010, I had returned home from Borneo, and had only one week left before moving over to Taiwan. Fro knew I was in town, but I was too busy dealing with this stupid luggage problem to get out and see everyone. So, on the last night I was there, he called me up and told me he was coming over. He arrived at 11pm, having to work the next day. So I understood that as a very kind gesture, nothing out of the ordinary, and that I was happy to have him over for an hour or two. But at 6am, when he finally left, I understood it to be something else entirely. He just enjoyed sharing an experience with someone he loved. It brought him joy to create joy for others. And that night he taught me a lot about sharing experiences in person.

I’ve always been on the move, so I didn’t really think about it much. But being in someone’s presence, if only to impress upon your friends that you endeavored the effort of “being there” with them, is a powerful show of friendship that we have lost in the era of millennial expediency and social media.

That night, we stretched each other’s horizons on how the folds of space-time explain the ability to be present at all times at once – and at no time at all. How the multiverse is God’s way of existing in all forms, at all times, and in every imaginable reality, simply for the purpose of experiencing everything there is to experience (before changing the rules of this physical plane of existence and rebooting for another limitless list of experiences).

Sure, we could have done that over the phone (and honestly, we’ve done that, too). But then you can’t have him roll you those perfect hoglegs. You can’t laugh so hard that you only realize you’re falling over when you you bump into him. You can’t see his wheels turning as his mannerisms shape his thoughts right there in front of you. And you don’t get to feel him tackle you with that signature bear hug before he leaves.

This, by the way, was a Tuesday night. Not after a rave party. Not while on some hallucinogen. Just a random Tuesday night that drew him out of his house so that he could be the very last of my friends that hung out with me before moving back abroad for who knows how long. Fro went to work. I went to Far East Asia. We kept up just as we always have, until the next time we met in 2017. I met the young Master Gus and hung out with Abby again. We picked right back up as we always do.

As I’ve come to find out through Fro’s near-shrine level memorial page, while that interaction was very special for both of us, it was not unique to me. It was not the first of this kind of moment that Fro and I shared. I would reach out to him. He would reach out to me. But he never told me that he would come to others’ aid when they were down on their luck. He never told me that he got in his car, drove two hours to visit a friend in need. He never told me that he would drop off paintings he’d made specifically for friends.

He neither bragged about being this kind of person, nor needed anyone’s appreciation for it. It was just a genuinely good heart driving a phenomenally artistic, big, fuzzy teddy bear to make others feel loved and special.

And anyone who knows Fro, also knows his family. Why? Because he was endlessly proud of them and shared them, too.

When I got out of the Navy, and I was just trying to regroup before making the next move, I found myself at that cozy, mahogany colored farmhouse talking with Fro at the dinner table. It was a cool afternoon and the back door behind the screen door was open, as always. I went on about how I couldn’t live with either of my parents because of their nut-bag spouses. My brother was off in LA, trying to build his acting career. And before I got three sentences in, Fro said, “why don’t you just take the upstairs bedroom?”

I wasn’t headed in that direction – just being conversational about my plans. But I said, “really? You think your mom wouldn’t mind?” Fro shouted out, “Mom, Shaggy’s staying for a while!” To which, Susan replied, “Okay, just put him in the upstairs bedroom!” And just like that, I was a member of the household.

He was always a great friend in high school. But at that time, we really hadn’t seen each other since I joined up. So, while I was shocked, I was also excited to be able to hang out with my friend again. And for him, it was just something he could do to help out a friend, and that’s as far as he had to think before offering me a bed and a roof.

This is where Fro grew up. This environment of “trust first, ask questions later” is what Fro was surrounded by on all sides. Dennis did what he could, when he could, to be a solid figure, and we all appreciated him for offering safety to the household. Susan always embraced Fro’s friends without judgment or expectations. Jenn was always on the coattails of the party, being an equally loving and colorful character.

I see a lot of people saying, ‘man, I wish I had connected with them more often.’ Admitting regret for lost time. But I have no regrets for having missed even a moment with the McKellep family. I have called Susan when I needed “mom advice.” I’ve kept up with Jenn here and there, just as I had in younger years. Fro, of course, has been more immediate for me. But I have no doubt that they all know I hold them in a deep and meaningful place in my heart. And I’ve never worried if they feel that of me. This, by the way, includes an equally amazing and kindhearted soul named Shaw who lived with them up until the farmhouse lost the last of its people.

Bryan and I were talking the morning after Fro’s passing (yesterday, in my time zone). It was still early yet, and I hadn’t gotten much sleep at all. But, as always, he was gracious enough to forgive my half-awake vocabulary when I launched into this dream that I had. I’ll spare the details, save for the notion I woke up with as much hurt as I’d gone to bed with.

It was clear that I’d been crying in my sleep. I could feel the swelling in my face when I woke up. I sat there and stared at my ceiling, going back over this very intense lesson that I had woken up with. It was that each of us, even as individuals, are like a completed puzzle. Each piece that contributes to the overall whole is an important part, made up of our experiences and our memories, life lessons and so on.

Bryan had started to say that so much of who he was, was given to him by virtue of the influence that Fro had on him. My response, in different words, was that he must have had many of his puzzle pieces given to him by Fro. And that because he’s now gone, he must feel like that puzzle is incomplete. Bryan will have to forgive me here, because most of what I’m saying now, I couldn’t really verbalize at the time for reasons of sleep deprivation. But these were the thoughts going through my head as we spoke.

I more or less told him that he is not incomplete because Fro is gone. The memories and the lessons and everything that comprises the scope of their friendship will always be there. He will never lose that – Fro’s last gift to all of us.

The things we all remember about Fro – that cheeky laugh he does before launching into a perspective-changing comment that effortlessly blows your mind; that deadly honest, raw edge the he’s always walked on; the way he plays up what you say without upstaging you, and yet also takes the joke waaaay too far – that will always be with us no matter how long we live. It will always be as fresh as the last moment we were proximal to him.

However, the part that hurts is that there won’t be an opportunity to build any new memories, any new lessons, to laugh with him again. But we are all still complete on our own. And we are all better for having had Fro in our lives, adding a new puzzle piece that helps make us better, even more complete. And I can’t quite get sad anymore – finally, 48 hours after I got my heart broken. I can’t be sad about Fro because that’s not what he needs from me. He needs me to be inordinately happy about what he gave me, and you (yes, you reading this, you’re here because of Fro).

He had a permanent impact on me. It’s still not real that he is gone. I’m still in a fog of emotions. But I am no longer sad. Okay, I’m a little sad because it just creeps up – what can you do? But that’s immediately followed by the notion that I haven’t lost him. He’s just no longer here.

I will miss Fro forever. But I’ll still have him everywhere I go.

If I haven’t said it before, Thank you David, Susan, Jenn, Dennis and Shaw — and Bryan and Mike and Derek and Gibs and Aaron and James and Roy and everyone else for helping create the life I’ve had the privilege of experiencing because you contributed great things to it.

Okay, folks, if you haven’t checked out

Okay, folks, if you haven’t checked out the five-part miniseries that I shot in Southeast Asia (and slaved over for your enjoyment), head on over and check this last part out. Be sure to subscribe and share the link with everyone you think might like it as well. It was a blast making it. It was nostalgic editing it. And it was amazing watching just how much ground I covered from north to south, east and west in this truly engaging and detailed account of one of the world’s last remaining monarchies. I’ll leave these up for one more day, so watch them all in order tomorrow!!

Enjoy and share!