THAT YEAR I LUNCHED WITH NEO-NAZIS

Check out the sign. That’s my home. I grew up in South Jersey. Formative school years in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Hip Hop’s true golden age, FWIW WaPo. I had an interesting life in two distinct parts. I had my parents and their friends. Everyone on the other side — the better side — of the tracks. Weekend escapes into communities and houses where I felt at least surrounded by people who looked like me and had conversations like my parents and I had at home. On the flip? I had my school. Two of my best friends in school were South Asian and we pretty much made up that ethnic cohort for, outside of siblings, years above and below us. Blue collar Italian and Irish. It was a fascinating experiment which I think the three of us handled differently. Those two went, quite honestly, with the cool and the smart kids. Because they were smarter, more likable, and better looking than I was. (Truth. Just look at report cards and pics.) I spent a ton of time immersed in the counter culture because I just wanted to understand. Hip Hop culture. Skater culture. Straight edge culture. But the most immersive for me was senior year. When I spent all but my last month sitting … with neo nazis and skinheads. Yup. See growing up where we grew up in NJ (more Vineland than us, but we still got you covered) got you coverage on 20/20 and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Most notably for having the densest population of hate groups outside of Texas. I read and read and tried to empathize and empathize and learn and learn. And fear and fear. Turned to something weird. A progressive spiral of understanding (thank you Francis Fukuyama for teaching me that visual way to represent my own progress — more on you in a subsequent post.) Something that took me back into dark places in high school and then brought me back to a place where I could sit with them and not be afraid. Not be condescending. Just sit with them. And they let me in. The daily pictures of new flags in bedrooms were unsettling but I started learning why. Not always hate just a desire to be a part of something. And to reject something (authority more than POC actually). It hurt. But it made me more aware. Which is why I was able to be in the room with our principal (RIP) when he decided to cancel Halloween one year because kids were going to come in dressed like the KKK. I write this because three times in my life have I visited that dark place i did my senior year in high school. It’s also why I’ve continued to study and monitor those groups and trends ever since (I bet I’m on an FBI watchlist for some of the sites I’ve visited–like Clayton Bigsby, but without the self-hate!) I’ve literally never shared the depths of those stories and probably never will. Three times. Junior to Senior Year. The months after 9/11. And the past 10 days. Which is why I am sharing this picture. This sign. Because that’s my ‘hood. And look at the diversity represented in the sign. Check out who makes up the GTWP Green Squad? It’s a diverse coalition. That sign would never have gone up 25 years ago when I was in high school. Now it’s not only up, it’s front and center. And the best part? The sign isn’t about diversity. It’s about something else. Which when you know you have progress is when your inclusion implicitly happens, vs when your inclusion must be explicitly pursued. We went to this playground and ran around with Anaiya on Saturday. It felt like home. We were one of three total groups of minorities on the playground — I’ll go with 75 total people across the grounds. I feel bad that I noticed it that day. I usually don’t (unless it’s worth making a joke about.) But #Iamgrateful and #Iamthankful that while noticing that, we came across this sign. Life doesn’t move linearly forward. It moves forward in a series of progressive spirals. There is no end of history. If we focus too much on the immediate moment, as opposed to what got us here and what can take us forward, everything feels like a straight line forward or back. It doesn’t feel like progress, it just feels inevitably straight. And it isn’t. Me? I’m settling into another loop. We’ll come back better with more people along for the ride. It’s all I’ve got. Thanks for reading.

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