As most of my friends probably know, I have a somewhat of a passion for Hawaiian culture, affection towards the Native Hawaiian people, and concern/outrage over what has been done to the people and culture of Hawaii. If you know me you also know I believe all people of peace have the right to live their lives in peace, hold their own beliefs, and defend themselves and their communities against those that would do them harm. So why am I bringing these things up? There is a lot going on in this country that I have either not understood or until now taken the time to try to understand. Specifically I’m referring to inequality. Inequality of all kinds, such as, Social inequality, Legal inequality, Perceived inequality, Cultural inequality, and pretty much any inequality if I were to cast a broad net over the issue. Now bear with me because I will go off on tangents.
On Thursday, March 31st 2016 at 9:37PM EST, Joshua Bishop was executed by the State of Georgia. He was sentenced to death when he was 19 years old. He never knew who his father was and he was passed from home to home until he eventually found out who his mother was and ran to be with her as a teenager. With her he lived homeless under a bridge in some of the direst conditions anyone could endure, he watched helpless while his mother drank, did drugs, and prostituted herself out in front of him. The police tried to make him leave but he refused because he didn’t want to leave his junky mother alone. One night, he was hanging out with a 35 year old man who got him drunk and gave him drugs. The man then told Joshua (who was now an impaired 19 year old kid) to get the keys to a third man’s car. Josh attempted to do just that and the third man woke up and proceeded to beat Josh. The 35 year old man handed Josh a curtain rod so he could defend himself. While Josh and the man were engaged, Braxton (the 35 year old man) hit the victim in the back of the head with a car battery, killing him. Upon being arrested, Josh immediately cooperated fully with police and was contrite and scared for his part in what took place. Despite that, he was sentenced to death for his part in the murder. Braxton, the 35 year old man who actually committed the murder, got life and is up for parole in a few months of this writing. Joshua was my Mother-In-Law’s God son, which would make him my God Brother. When my wife was younger, he wrote to her and sent her a leaf he had found in the prison yard. He said he wanted to set the leaf free. As my wife said, “Does this sound like a monster to you?” During his numerous appeals, evidence was even introduced that proved Josh could not have killed the victim and the court refused to overturn the conviction or commute the sentence. 7 of 12 Jurors came forward and said they were not properly instructed and did not want the death penalty for Josh. Josh’s own attorney even testified that he was drunk during most of the trial and was incompetent in Joshua’s defense and the State did nothing. At the time of his execution, Joshua Bishop was strapped to a table for over two and a half hours while the guards brought in sandwich trays and party platers. They threw a damn party in the same room with Josh and laughed at him while he waited for hours to be executed strapped to a table. The guards told Josh’s attorney that if she didn’t stop crying she would have to leave the room and she should just grab a sandwich and enjoy herself since it was a party. While Josh was dying, the guards were laughing and eating sandwiches over him. If you weren’t before, you should be outraged. I know I am.
While Joshua Bishop was a white man, he came from abject poverty and stayed in poverty his entire childhood because he did not want to leave his mother. When he briefly attended school he was a straight “A” student and was well liked by everyone. He was never a problem or trouble to anyone. His only crimes were being poor, loving his mother, and wanting to be accepted and loved by someone… anyone… which is unfortunately became a 35 year old piece of garbage named Braxton. He was failed by everyone. By my Mother-In-Law and wife’s accounts, he was a gentle and sweet boy who really never had a chance. He spent his entire adult life and ultimately gave his life for a crime committed by Braxton, a man who will so be up for parole and possibly released in the coming months. I bring this up because last month a 72 year old black man named Brandon Astor Jones. Jones was the oldest death row inmate in Georgia, while Joshua was 41 at the time of his execution. To think Joshua’s appeals and clemency denials were not politically motivated would be ignorant. It only stands to reason, the State executed a black man last month so they needed to execute a white man this month, regardless of the fact there was evidence proving Josh did not commit the crime for which he was sentenced to death. After all, according to the State, he was just some unwanted white kid no one would miss anyway. Well, State of Georgia, Joshua Bishop was, is, and will be forever loved and missed. And while I want to scream at those responsible for his execution “BURN IN HELL”, I also know it is not my place to judge. Those responsible will get what is coming to them and I have no idea how they can sleep at night much less live with themselves.
This brings up something that has been weighing heavily on my mind. I’ve been listening to Macklemore a good deal recently. I know many people have heard his mainstream songs like “Thrift Shop” and “Downtown”. Those that have heard his song “Same Love” know that he also supports same sex marriage and equality for all. I have found the work of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to be both entertaining, thought provoking, and emotionally moving. I’m not sure if it is their most receive body of work, but the “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made” album really impacted me in a profound way. Are they still called albums? I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats. Seriously though, I was and am moved to laughter, tears, love, and anger by the music in this collection. If you have only heard “Downtown” on the album, definitely check the rest of the songs out. I keep singing portions of “Brad Pitt’s Cousin”, “Dance Off”, and “Let’s Eat”. None of those are on topic though because the song I want to address is called “White Privilege II”. *Crickets*
“White Privilege II” has really made me look at things on the mainland of this country in a different way. Which surprises me because I am so concerned with preserving and acknowledging the culture and people of Hawaii it is hard for me to believe I would have difficulty understanding things like the Black Lives Matter movement. You see, as someone who was raised in a multicultural environment, growing up in Navy Housing, going to school with other Navy Brat kids, and then joining the Navy myself after high school, I’ve never really payed much attention to someone’s race. People either get along with me or they don’t, but race has never been a factor in that equation for me. Something I hadn’t stopped to consider though is that while I may have been raised in a culturally diverse environment, not everyone else has. Moreover, I never realized or understood that there is a great divide and fracture between the people and cultures of this country. “White Privilege II”, really helped explain, and hit home many things I either didn’t understand or bring to light things I had not seen.
I have seen all kinds of things in the media regarding racially motivated violence. Police on Black violence, Black on White violence, Black on Black violence… frankly way too much violence. Truth be told, I’ve been fearful for my own life and the lives of my wife, children, and the rest of my family simply because we are white and there seems to be an ever growing movement of violence against innocent white people. So yes, it does concern me. My wife reminded me the other day that when it is our time to go it is our time to go regardless of how we leave. That made sense to me and made me feel a little better about the whole situation and factored into my writing this now in a way. I saw a round table interview with Jamila Woods, Macklemore, and Ryan Lewis on Colorlines News on Youtube. If you are interested in seeing it, the title is Deconstructing “White Privilege II”. Several points were made and there are a couple that stuck out in my mind. One thing that stuck out to me is should white people even talk about this topic? Do I as a white man just quietly watch from the sidelines because the topic of Black Lives Matter and White Privilege are someone else’s issue? I am an inclusive person who does his best to see the value and worth of a person’s heart regardless of the factors that commonly divide people such as race, religion, sexual orientation, and culture. So why even get involved? Why bring it up? Why ask questions that are going to make people feel uncomfortable? Why put yourself in danger to possible aggression when all you want is to live a peaceful life? The answer is really simple for me. I simply cannot abide injustice or the oppression of another person or people. I just can’t. For years I’ve spoken out to raise awareness regarding our overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy and systematic destruction of Hawaiian language and culture. No wonder the Hawaiian people are outraged. When our country overthrew the Hawaiian Islands, Native Hawaiian’s did not believe in owning property. So a few powerful white families got together and divided up the islands for themselves and excluded the Hawaiian people. Sure, they were given basically the crappiest island in the chain to live on but come on. We are talking Indian Reservation type crap here. Their language was no longer taught, and hundreds of thousands Hawaiians died from us bringing new diseases to the islands.
There is a serious inequality problem in our country. Society is constantly targeting one group or another to keep us all divided. No one seems to be exempt except those pulling the strings. We are divided by race, socio-economic standing, religion, sexual orientation, culture, and probably more than a dozen other ways. Society pits the “Have Nots” against the “Haves”, Straights against Gays, Western Culture Vs Eastern Culture, Citizen Vs Immigrant, and one race against another. IT IS ALL BULLSHIT! We are not each other’s enemy here! Joshua Bishop was a victim of a prejudice judicial system. How many rich people do you see on death row? I can’t think of one. I would wager that to a person, nearly every single one of them come from a desperate socio-economic background. Couple that with the fact that there are more blacks in poverty than any other racial group and a justice system that is predisposed against the black race, no wonder so many of the black population are outraged. They are right to be outraged. Their outrage over being mistreated however does not mean more people from other races need to be executed. Here is a novel idea, how about we stop freaking executing people all together.
As badly as white people of the lowest socio-economic background are treated by the people running our justice system, black people of that same socio-economic background I would wager still have it worse. That is what I think the Black Lives Matter movement is mostly about. I am a white male in his mid-40’s, father of 4, husband to my wife, employed, rents a home, owns a car, veteran of the US Navy, I have a current Georgia Weapons Carry License, and faith in God. That is pretty vanilla sounding right? That is exactly right when it comes to main stream society. That is just a basic description of me and I society probably assumes I live a fairly vanilla life. For the most part I probably do, but taking a closer look “society” can probably pick these things apart, but I’m not here to talk about me. Now just substitute the word white for the word black. A Black male in his mid-40’s, father of 4, husband to my wife, employed, rents a home, owns a car, veteran of the US Navy, I have a current Georgia Weapons Carry License, and faith in God. After reading that again, there are probably a number of assumptions many people in society would probably make. Black Male in his mid-40s with 4 children? The immediate thought would be man this guy really sleeps around while I’m sure many people would think I’m probably Catholic since I have 4 children. Well, my oldest daughter is adopted, my oldest son is from my first marriage, and my youngest two are from my marriage to my wife. So knowing the details doesn’t exactly paint me a pretty picture. So adding in those details we’ve learned that I’m divorced and still I would wager the pervading opinion would still be against the black man with the same description. What other assumptions could be made? Faith in God? I’m sure most people would assume I’m a Christian because I have faith in God, while who knows, they may think the black man is Zealot Extremist. Neither announced a religion, only faith in God. Same could be said regarding the Weapons Carry License. A white guy in Georgia with a Carry License is no big deal right? Black guy with a Carry License, and we are having a completely different conversation.
You see? Society has ingrained this stuff in us for a long time now. See a Hispanic person in a pick-up truck and they are here illegally, see a Black man in a BMW and he stole it, see an Asian on a motorcycle and he a courier for a drug ring, see a white guy in a suit and he is part of the hated 1%, and it is all crap.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all of this inequality going on all around us. I’ve been trying to understand my own prejudices and how to overcome the ones that impact the world, my community, my family, and me in a negative way. Until recently, I had always been kind of outraged by things like the Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter movements. Why? I’m certain that most of us will agree that all lives matter, but there is a problem most of us aren’t seeing. It is a problem so entrenched in our society and justice system that sometimes it is even hard to believe it exists but it does. The problem is that the justice system and much of society immediately view the black race and black culture as something that is dangerous and suspect from the word go. It isn’t right.
What I’m struggling with is what is actionable? What can we do to fix such a fractured and ridiculously broken system? How do we as a Country, as a People, and as Society come together on these issues and correct them? The Justice System isn’t going to help. Laws aren’t helping. Violent radicals on the fringes aren’t helping. How does this get fixed? I guess that is the question we all need to be asking ourselves and each other. How does this get fixed? I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that question. All I know is something needs to be done.
Rest in Peace Joshua Bishop, may God bless you and welcome you. You are finally free. The rest of us have a lot of questions to ask, conversations to have, and some pretty major problems to solve. I have no idea how where to start, how to proceed, or even what to do. All I know is that I cannot remain silent and I cannot remain passive. I’m a very small part of this world, and if I can bring awareness to even one person then I know I will have accomplished something good. I hope to one day be able to do something good in the name of Josh Bishop. I hope one day we can end inequality and prejudice. I don’t know what to do or how to fix this but I do know if we don’t spread awareness and start talking about these things, we won’t ever move forward.