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Which System?

August 23, 2020

“Systemic Racism” is now a reality in the talking (screaming) of our culture.

I lived in downtown Buffalo for high school. My chief love for those years was football. The private, suburban, day school I went to had scholarships, and often those were from my side of town – just on the other side of Main Street, dubbed “The Fruit Belt” because of the street names. I lived one block west of “The Fruit Belt” in “Allentown” (all around Allen Street).

Those living in “The Fruit Belt” were black, “Allentown” was mixed, now fully gentrified. We all took the Niagara Frontier Transit bus north to school. So I spent hundreds of hours in transit, as did my friends. Who, at my end, were black.

I was totally clueless, having never played any sport, and was from the Lilly White part of Westchester County, New York. But soon, it was clear that those who loved anything were connected. Football connected me to my body, to pain, to everyone on the team, and, really, to irrational love.

My black teammates were, no doubt in a different place, maybe they knew I was, too. It did not matter. We were in this together. I liked them very much. I think they liked me, despite my near total incompetence.

When I could play a little, in 1971, we were on the bus after a Friday practice. Sitting together as we did. By the time it got down to our neighborhoods, I may have been the only Caucasian on the bus.

“Are you going to the [name redacted] party?” It was to be Saturday night, after the game.

“No.” My friends replied.

“Yeah, I am never invited. I think it’s because I don’t drink”

One of my friends looked at me and said “We weren’t invited, either.”

“Yup.” I said.

The connection went beyond football for that second. I was simply not buying the Prep thing. I had to achieve to have a place, because my family was not a place for any of those growing up in it.

My friends were not in the Prep world, either.

But we loved playing.

We were part of systems, “The Fruit Belt”, “”Allentown”, suburban, private day school. We were Buffalo, Upstate New York, America. But we were White and Black. Although I had no choice living where I did, or going to the school I did. I had many choices after that. Many systems.

My friends had fewer systems open to them.

But the one System we are, the Human System, is inscrutably based in Love – and Fear. I know that race is part of every life. The deep unfathomable fears that made our going to parties beyond the school setting impossible were not there for me. But I had the choice to drink, and thus go. There is no choice in race.

But I did not. We did not have to play football, or even ride that NFT bus (transportation was provided by the school, too). But we did. We fell into that system. I really had no known choice in 1971 – this is what I loved. I think they knew that. Actually I know they did.

That was almost 50 years ago.

My life now is in a suburb, vastly white, as are those I work with. There is no one System, just life. However, those on my job sites are a United Nations of love for making things.

My academic life in a largely white, private, suburban day school was to me the predicate for playing football. I chose none of where I was, but I chose going to Ivy Land Architecture, which was vastly white, male and Prep in 1973 – it was another System – but I chose it because it was necessary to make things.

Love of football, love of making things, love of those who do that with me is as natural as eating or sleeping to me. Love is a system of unconditional positive regard. Hate is a system of unconditional fear.

There is no “System” geared to these realities, they are in each of us, literally in our humanity. The results may become systematic, self-justifying, protecting the cruelty of mass imposition of irrational fear. Being 65 I know this.

But love knows and needs no System, it just is. No one is anything but me: Human. We did not ask to be born or ultimately know the worth of our devotion, but we either love or hate.

That is a system we did not make, but we can act on.

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