“I’m color blind, I don’t see race.”

I’ve heard it and read it many times before.  It is, whether anyone wants to deny or argue the point, a completely illogical and impossible feat.  Surely, the extreme witticisms of the every day contrarian would say, “What if someone is color blind?”

Technically, individuals should state, “I am race blind.”  That would make more sense but would still be an outright lie.  People, even the most tolerant and righteous individuals, still see race.  It is not shameful to categorize, it is shameful to add conditions to categories.

I have many friends and acquaintances.  I do not know off-hand the number for the different races and ethnicities that I have befriended and have befriended me, but I would imagine the number is relatively high.  I am closer to some of those individuals than I am others.  How then did I get to this place?

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When my Dad was on a meth bender, incarcerated, or in rehab, it was his black friends stopping by and asking my Mom if she need anything.  Money for laundry, gas, or food, my Dad’s black friends were there.  However, that is part of my recollection for this article, not for some specific file system in my mind where I feel the need to categorize.  It is merely a qualifying statement to create perspective.

The key to “race blindness” is whether our parents, our family and our friends are willing to act as our own personal Oedipus and blind us for the sake of being able to actually see.  I would rather be the empathic learner, the individual that will assess others based on what they present to the world from within.  It is hard for those that are not raised to appreciate the value of the individual when it is much easier to formulate opinions and label individuals based on something as generic as race.

Imagine if science took the same archaic, lazy approach to labels.

In Chemistry, O=Oxygen, K=Potassium, H=Hydrogen, U=Uranium.  Without H mixing with two O’s, life would cease to exists, pool parties would just be parties, and Adam Sandler would have one less movie to his credits.  According to doctors, K is pretty important and without it, I would not have an excuse to eat bananas, a fruit rich with potassium.  Now, put in me in a room with U and, well, all the H2O and K in the world will not help me.  At best I grow a tail, at worst I develop cancer and possibly die.

I listed a few examples from the periodic table of elements.  Uranium is not a good element when exposed to it directly.  However, when further studied, scientists figured out that uranium can become a solution for energy concerns.  It can also be harnessed and used for weapons of mass destruction.  I can’t just say Uranium is bad because it kills.  Too much of, or in mixture with other elements, all the examples listed can be fatal.  If I subscribe to bigoted views and used that “logic” for hating a specific race, I would also have to use that same line of narrow thinking when it comes to chemistry.  Down with the elements.  (Shortly after that statement, all things composed of elements would be taken from me and I would suffocate because of that pesky combination of two O particles making oxygen.)

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Remember the cute acronym our teachers taught us growing up in order to remember the taxonomy of organisms?  My sixth grade science teacher taught me: King Phillip Came Over For Great Spaghetti.  (Kingdom – Phylum – Class – Order – Family – Genus – Species).  The taxonomy stops after species.  You can’t get away from it.  When labeling animals, unfortunately for some, there’s no R in the acronym for narrow-minded people to squeeze in race.  I know, it’s heart breaking, but sometimes truth and science, two constants that many people ignore because it flies in the face of their own views, cannot be ignored.

I am also aware that many groups have used illogical science to argue matters of race and the biggest example I recall were the Nazis.  If that’s your argument, then there’s really no room at the table for your type of discourse.  (It may sound exclusionary but if we are talking race, we must discount illogical and self-serving science that argues only on behalf of an exclusionary debate.)

If it is history that we must turn to in order to argue the need for race blindness, then our examples are endless.  Olaudah Equiano, a slave that bought his own freedom and became a prominent abolitionist in England, serves as a tremendous example of the equality of man.  Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a prime example of the commitment and sacrifice one must endure to overcome inequality and hatred. (Yes, he was also a known womanizer but Thomas Jefferson, a revered forefather of America and the author of the Declaration of Independence whose hypocritical words that professed all men are created equal not only owned slaves, he fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.)  Great people are not beyond reproach; after all, they are still, according to King Phillip and the rest of his acronym, all part of the same species.

Sadly, race blindness may never be a universally accepted and practiced ideal. Though this Utopian idea may never be the standard for people, I always wonder if somewhere in the Garden of Eden there wasn’t a spotting of crab grass or intrusive ivy.  We can labor endlessly trying to root out that which we do not want or we can admire the beauty in that which is already beautiful.

I will never know what it means to be black.  I do know what it means to be discriminated against.  I’ve walked through GAP and, poetically, had a black employee follow me around because I am tattooed and look more comfortable shopping at Hot Topic than at a store known for its khakis and collared shirts.  This does not put me in the same echelon of race discrimination but it is just as maddening.  I know what poverty looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes like.  As an educator, I’ve attended funerals of young black men shot and killed and sat bedside at the hospital of those students caught in the crossfire of violence.  Pundits will argue my experiences are simply more examples of black on black crime.  What a convenient argument for a much larger issue.

Poverty is not just a black issue in America.  There are droves of white people who are dirty faced, under-educated and neglected that exist only because of welfare.  There are those that cheat the system and I say shame on our government for ever getting so big that it would rather let itself spiral into an existence of institutionalized racism than to work towards taking care of its people so those people can work to take care of themselves.

It is impossible to get a straight answer from a racist or a bigot.  They know the answer to our questions.  They recognize that if they respond honestly, that their provincial views become vessels of intolerable ignorance and hypocrisy.  Yes, America has a race problem.  No, it will not go away overnight.

I know individuals that are racist and bigoted because of singular events that led them down the path of intolerance.  Unfortunately, I too have an experience that I will never shake.  At twelve years old, five older teens jumped out of a mini van and beat me with boards, stomped on my face, kicked me, spit on me and laughed.  I will never forget those five white faces.  Yes, I know it seems unbelievable and wholly impossible, but I was part of white on white crime.  Even more outlandish is the fact that not only do I still love white people,  I married a white woman.  (For the sake of full disclosure, I actually married two white women.)

Before we, as a Nation, continue to debate the issue of race, remember that we respond to the opinions of individuals while lumping them into a much larger group.  We want answers and solutions while dismissing the tremendous work that must go into the great shift so many people idly hope and pray for one day.  Ignorance is pandemic and though many argue it is a case of histrionics at its worst, we cannot change the past.  We must be willing to live proudly in the present and work ferociously to change the future.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSmith215

After my latest article, a person whom I considered to be a good friend did exactly what I asked anyone that disagreed with my article to do; he reached out.  He spoke honestly and candidly and for that, he stayed as true to the character that I always expected from him.  However, a small fractal of light blinded me as I read his assertion about my character as he postulated about his own.

Friendship is such an ethereal concept.  We have friends and then we have true friends.  The concept of a true friend is really based on the individual.  What are you willing to accept and what are you not willing to accept?  Is an acquaintance a friend?  Is a coworker a friend or just someone who by design you are around a great deal more than most and make the best of that situation?  Does a friend have to take every phone call you make, respond immediately to every text or email you send?

A friend, in my estimation, is someone you can lean on when you need support of any kind.  A friend may give you a hard time about a decision, but they do so out of true concern for you.  If you lean too long, they can kick your legs out from under you and say, “it’s time to stand on your own two feet.”

A friend does not always agree with you.  They should have the kind of relationship based on trust and admiration that is open to scrutiny and can say the hard thing to you even if it hurts both involved parties.  Being a friend means hurting when your friend hurts.

However, friends can sometimes say things out of anger or disappointment.  They can use your past to vilify, scold, dismantle or condemn.  When an individual feels compelled to use what they have done for you to indemnify you, then they are acting purely out of anger or your assessment of that person is actually much different from what you suspected.

When I went through a bitter divorce, fell into a life draining depression and attempted suicide, my friends, even the truest of my friends, disappeared.  They did not do it out of spite, they did it out of fear.  I understood and I still understand.  Those I worked with that were essentially “work” friends, knew about my situation and while I respected a great many of them, it turns out that being there for me comes with a price.

I spoke out about something that is unequivocally the truth.  However, my words, according to this person threatened the livelihoods of many people who, according to him, supported my academic and comedic aspirations.  I have a commitment to these individuals because, as he made abundantly clear, “were there for me during my divorce and my suicide attempt.”

Yeah, true friend indeed.

I don’t remember his face, standing over me screaming the way I remember my Mom doing just that.  When I was hospitalized, I don’t remember a phone call or a visit.  I do remember my chops busted for being the loose cannon and crazy.  A true friend, for the record, can hold onto memories but never feels compelled to hurt a person through an experience that is as raw today as it was the day I tried to end my life.

Friends forgive and I forgive him.  I am sure he does not think there’s anything to forgive, but for someone who cared so much for me, his response was in reaction to how much he cares for himself.  Self preservation; the essence of survival.

Friendship is, after all, an ethereal concept.  We want it to be rich and fruitful, a metaphorical tree from which we can sustain.  We envision it as something so deeply rooted in the ground that no matter the force of the storm, it will stand long after the winds have dissipated.  Friendship is the bedrock for our existence, an immovable force that provides the support for all things that we do and become in our lives.

I would accept the argument that I acted selfishly, but the person reporting on who I am uses a veiled argument that is righteous for one group, and ignorant towards another.

Regardless, this was never about friendship, this was about business.

 

 

After my first two weeks as a freshman English teacher (I was brand new to teaching and my students were brand new to high school), I witnessed a disturbing trend by my students.  Homework, tests, quizzes and projects, as it turned out, were gay.  Any time my students wanted to share their complete disdain for any type of work, they would immediately proclaim or mumble, “this is gay.”

I took offense to the statement and not because I had a special place in my heart for gay rights.  I have a special place in my heart for the rights of people and when young kids on the precipice of adulthood used gay as the term to describe something displeasing or unfavorable, the visceral reaction I had to students surprised me.  “Find another way of saying you don’t like something, people!  If you want to be viewed as adults, it is time to start acting like educated adults.”

After a few weeks of working on the abolition of “that’s gay” in my classroom, the turning point came once I put it into perspective.  I only had a few black students but in one particular class, I used race to put “that’s gay” into perspective.  I remember asking my students, “would you say, “that’s black,” if you didn’t like something?”  Immediately the lone black student in my class turned his head quickly and violently around the room to see if anyone would agree to that particular usage.  All of the students avoided eye contact and either looked down at their desks or as if they had never heard the question.

Thankfully or coincidentally, the quick lesson worked and when students would use the term in class, they would often correct themselves and even ask for a pardon from the universe as they would say, “sorry, I meant to say…”

Ignorant speech and views starts when we are all pretty ignorant to the world around us.  Kids, especially, are rooting through this world trying to understand how life works and where and how they fit in.  Hell, a great many adults are still searching for themselves; I know I am.  All of this is anecdotal  and germane to one incredible experience that came to full fruition this past Saturday.

A friend of mine a few months back came to me, after finding out that I was ordained and could perform wedding ceremonies, and asked if I would officiate her wedding.  Her fiancee is a wonderful person too.  Together, they exude the kind of love and passion for each other that so many people pine for in their lives.  The way they look at each other and how in a crowded room, you can see them searching for each other in order to just share a smile.  They are sentimental, emotional, dedicated people that love each other in a profoundly inspiring way.  Oh, right, I almost forgot, they’re gay.10624776_879633068251_279711591266471520_n

Regretfully, when I was twelve years old, my friends and I would prank call a gay bar where I lived.  We would ask, “Is Phil there?  Phil MyButtUp!”  Things that, even though I was only twelve, still bother me that I ever existed in a place where that seemed comical.  Luckily, I had the kind of relationship with my Mom where I would tell her about all of the things I did: good, bad, sensitive, insensitive, and even outright ignorant.

In one of her many sage like moments, my Mom turned to me and asked, “would you want to be something where people would be ignorant towards you?  Would you choose to be something where others would make fun of you, act differently towards you, or discriminate you?”  She looked at me and immediately I understood her point.  “No, I wouldn’t,” I replied. “Then think about what you think is funny and then really think if it is funny or you’re trying to be funny at someone else’s expense.”  Damn, I thought.  Moms always have a way of putting things into perspective.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to act as the officiant in my first wedding ever.  I did not lament over what I was going to say, though I did fret over the words because I wanted my friends, Sarah and Katie, to have a ceremony that they would never forget.  Standing before her friends and family, I felt that lump begin to swell in my throat.  I was far from nervous; I was moved.

10685485_10100698714348029_3080044461057064068_nWhen Katie and Sarah finally made their way to where I was standing, I could see their eyes filled with palpable passion, love, and of course, tears.  They could finally do the one thing that this country, a country that prides itself on individual freedoms and liberties, fought so long and hard to keep from happening.  Passion beat policy and over a hundred people bore witness to the power of love and resilience.  As a heterosexual male, I do not and cannot imagine what it would be like to be told I could not love someone because others had an issue with whom I directed my affection and adoration.

We all play a part in how effective love and kindness can be in this world.  Ultimately, there’s a lesson to be learned in how we treat those that do not follow the scripts that we follow in life.  Homophobia is not bred through one particular sect of thought.  Its genesis is in ignorance begetting ignorance.  It manifests when the company a person keeps continues to drive home a point of intolerance and the inability to differentiate between their life and someone else’s life.  When people decide that love provides not only a safe place for individuals to lay their hearts but a place where people can simply be themselves, we take steps in battling the provincial thoughts of those that appear to need more love in their life.

I will never change anyone’s views by saying what I believe.  I will change minds by living out my views.  Sarah and Katie asked me to be part of a moment that, as I said to those in attendance, could not be justified by any words that I spoke that day.  We needed only look at Sarah and Katie together and to witness the truth in what we believe.  While I often wish the world would stop long enough to admire each moment as unique and authentic, it may play a little part in what made Saturday so magical.  Outside of the Autumn oasis that Sarah and Katie created for their family and friends, was a world waiting to remind us of the long road so many people must travel.

However, tucked away in the Germantown section of Philadelphia are fifty five acres of endless memories.  We need only return there in our thoughts to have all of our senses brought back to life and to remind us of what perfect looks and feels like.  I will never forget my two friends; surrounded by bales of hay, loving family and friends, and an infinite supply of hope and victory to fuel us for a lifetime.  I may never change someone’s mind by what I’ve said or written, but if I lead through my experiences in life, September 20th, 2014 marks the day when I witnessed hope evolve into reality!

Far from “Just” a Pizza Shop

Posted: September 18, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Gabriel’s II in Washington Crossing, PA (215) 493-2226

We’ve all heard the term “comfort food.”  It’s that one meal or snack that while we eat it, we say, “I don’t care about carbs, fat, calories, or anything else.”  That is, unless carrots are your comfort food and I am not quite sure whether I want to make your acquaintance.  That does not necessarily mean that the food has to be “bad” for you, it is simply the food that makes you feel better.  This is where Gabriel’s II in Washington Crossing, PA comes in.  However, it’s not just the food that provides comfort, it is the restaurant as a whole.

Understand that I’m a nostalgic kind of guy.  My buddies give me a hard time because I admit to crying during certain romantic comedies, have dabbled in some poetry here and there and the truth is, I’m somewhat of a softie.  However, being somewhat of a softie is what allowed me to connect with my students and what allows me to be a committed Dad to my daughters.  In my grand respect for nostalgia, Gabriel’s harkens back to my days of growing up in Bridgeport, PA and the fond memories I had of visiting a very similar pizza place called Franzone’s.

First, the shop is intimate.  Hosting only a few stools and a counter for patrons to eat a slice or enjoy a sandwich, Gabriel’s gives off a very, “I feel like I’ve been here before” type of vibe.  That is just the physical layout that gives me that feeling.  Like any great corporation, sports team, body shop, garage, cleaners or coffee house, the staff is what gives any group its character.  The owner, Gabriel (Chris) Mascio, is to Gabriel’s what Ted Danson was to the character Sam Malone in Cheers.  It is his place, he clearly runs it, but he’s far from typical.

“Hello, my dear,” Chris will say smiling as a silver haired patron glides in.  “Yo, Boss, how ya’ been” is the greeting for the oily mechanic that only moments ago slid out from under a car he was working on so he could grab a slice of two.  The difference between a salutation and a warm greeting is the smile a person has on their face when they say it.  Like his restaurant and food, Mascio is truly authentic.10561537_823013741044126_3465975541440444386_n

The guys that work for Gabriel’s are a cast of characters in their own right.  They feed off the boss’ positivity, greet customers like their family, and even when it gets busy in the shop, people are still laughing and still smiling.  The family owned pizza shop still exists and never does a customer have to settle.

You know exactly what I mean.

You go into a place and the food is, “ehhhhhh” but everyone that works there is great.  Or, the food is fantastic but the service leaves a great deal to be desired.  It seems to be the American way; settle for what we give you because we just don’t care.  However, that’s why Gabriel’s is in a class of its own.

Leaning over an employee making a pizza, Mascio watches and says, “not enough cheese, babe.”  Not ENOUGH cheese?  In an age where cutting corners and costs are the norm, Chris’ sentiment echoes louder than he could ever understand.  It turns out that there are still places that care about quality.

Are you asking yourself, “what about the food?”  I could rattle off a dozen adjectives to describe the unrelenting options but each palate is different.  The beautiful part of Gabriel’s is you may walk in with a hankering for a cheese steak and walk out with twenty wings and a slice to go.  I just want something small becomes ordering a full meal.  If you’re Italian, it’s the kind of place you’d have to do a great deal of lying about to your Mom or your Grandmother.  “Oh, Gabriel’s, no worries, Nona, the eggplant lasagna is definitely not as good as yours.”  Meanwhile, you just lied to your poor, old Mom or Nona.

Whether you remember Cheers or not is irrelevant.  If you like the idea of ordering fantastic food at a place that not only wants your business but truly values it, Gabriel’s II is a wonderfully unique restaurant that caters to the individual, not the masses.  Business may ultimately be about making money, but Mascio and his staff understand that it’s about making meals that people love!

“Holy S#!%, we WON,” I screamed while running around my apartment, nearly knocking over a lamp and coming dangerously close to crushing a bookcase.

That was the scene in my house this past Monday night when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Indianapolis Colts.  My excitement and love for my football team knows no bounds and Monday night provided another example of the lunacy that many Philadelphia Eagles fans experience on any given Sunday, Monday, or Thursday night.  Though some may call it cliched, football is my escape and has been for many years.

Just about a month ago, I lost my job as an Academic Coordinator due to budget cuts.  Like a recycled Hollywood movie plot, the scenario of losing a job and feeling petrified over making ends meet is a story that many people experience.  While I wish I could string together some flowery prose or develop a poignant metaphor to capture my feelings, the best way to sum it up is to come right out and say, “It Sucks!

Each morning I take to the computer and scour the classified websites, hoping that I will find a job that I love and will love me back.  Resume after resume, custom cover letter after custom cover letter, I continue to push forward.  I have to; failure is not an option because I have a family that depends on me and I refuse to fail.  I will, no matter what, do whatever it takes to take care of my family.  I cannot quit because my family depends on me.

That’s when it happened.  Literally moments before the second half kickoff, there I was saying, “I don’t know if I can handle this,” I had one of those epiphanies that I know will stay with me for a long time to come.

I’m not just a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am the Philadelphia Eagles.  I am in my own proverbial halftime and yes, I am without a doubt, down.  The score does not look pretty and while others may think I do not have a chance in hell of coming back, I still have another half of football to play.  I have to be my own Chip Kelly and adjust during the half.  I cannot be deterred because a play I drew up did not get me the results I wanted.  After all, I still have another half of my life to play.

That is precisely what bleeding green means.  It is the complete and total embodiment of throwing yourself into something that you live for each week.  We all know the labels associated with being a Philadelphia Eagles fan.  If the description of who we are as a fan base was left to outsiders, the painted picture would be eerily similar to the Germanic tribes fighting the Romans in the opening scene of “Gladiator.”

We may beat our chests and scream until we are hoarse, boo players that do not play to their fullest potential, and we are guilty of grandiloquent speech and theory, but damn it, we bleed green.  Our wounds are deep but the devotion to our team runs deeper.  We are football maniacs in the moment and football scholars-in-training after the game.  We clamber to our televisions and radios in order to hear the profound words of Ray Didinger, the Socrates of Philadelphia Football.  The presets on our car radios are set for sports talk radio.  The jerseys of players in our closets run like a timeline found in history books.  The stories we tell our children about that one game, that one play or that one season is a bond that should not, will not and cannot be taken lightly.

I bleed green because the Philadelphia Eagles are my family.  While I certainly did not cry the same way I did when my Dad passed away, I felt equally as empty and directionless when Brian Dawkins left the Eagles and signed with the Denver Broncos.  I’ve given family second chances after they’ve done truly terrible things; reminiscent of accepting Michael Vick into our football family regardless of the strong opinions I had for him and his actions.  Family, unless they choose to walk away, are your family for life.

Undeniable are the collective wounds we wear on the very sleeves we wear our hearts; however, the Philadelphia Eagles are the wellspring of this city’s passion.  Passion is paramount to being a fan.  Some may question how being a Philadelphia Eagles fan is different than being a fan of any other team.  The answer is quite simple: ferocity.  If we fall behind, we will fight to reclaim what is rightfully ours.

I learned through my love for the Philadelphia Eagles that although I may be down at the half, I still have another half to come back and claim my victory.  Thank you, Philadelphia Eagles; not only have you given me something to cheer about, you’ve taught me that hope is a series of unrelenting pursuits driven by the idea that we can never give up.

Do I really need a website?  Yes, the pure and simple answer is “Yes.”  It’s not that I don’t want to build a site, it’s not that I don’t want to interact with people, it’s that I don’t have the patience or the knowledge to make a website that is easy to use.  I feel like a derelict but I will push through.

Comedian Chris Smith provides teaser for DVD release….