VIDEO (EXPLICIT): “Jesus f*%@ing hates you!” The Face of Racism in Orange, Texas

Tracie shot the video above as we protested the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas yesterday. The man ranting at us was one of just a handful of people who expressed their disapproval of our protest. The overwhelming number of passersby gave us the thumbs up or stopped to share a kind word.

But the Confederate memorial supporter who threatened us is indicative of the people who oppose our efforts.

The video speaks for itself.

You can read more about our efforts on the blog we’ve created to document our campaign, RepurposeMemorial.com.

Despite the pleas of the Orange, Texas city council, local business and religious leaders, the Sons of Confederate Veteran are now displaying Confederate flags at the site, which is located on the Interstate 10 feeder road at Martin Luther King Dr. You’ll note that the Texas flag is also flown with the Confederate flags.

This weekend also marked the debut of the billboard (below) that we crowd-funded there.

It will appear there for a month. Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who helped us publish the billboard. We have plans to run another ad in the weeks running up to Martin Luther King Day (January 21, 2019). I’ll be posting our new GoFundMe next week (please contribute and/or share if you can).

Like the man in the video, many of those who oppose our efforts cite “history” as a reason for the memorial to be there, in such a conspicuous location.

We have no issue with history or heritage. There is a place for both in our society.

But this isn’t about history or heritage. It’s about displaying socially unacceptable iconography so publicly (and in manner that makes it appear an “official” representation of the community). It’s about flying the Confederate flag over one of the gateways of a community that is half black. Many of the residents of Orange — white and black — are old enough to remember Jim Crow there. Even more of them are old enough to remember the racist terrorism there in the 1980s and 90s. Too many of them know all to well about the racist aggression that still exists there today.

Why do Tracie and I spend a chilly southeast Texas Saturday protesting the monument? Ask the man in the video…

Thanks for your support and solidarity. Please look out for our next GoFundMe campaign. And please join us for our next protest (December) if you can.

Help us protest the new Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas: GoFundMe goal of $1,000 to purchase billboard ad

Update, Friday, November 2: Thanks to everyone who contributed to our Go Fund Me campaign, part of our protest of the newly erected Confederate Memorial in Orange, Texas. It only took us two days to meet our goal of $1,000. Thank you! It means the world to us to know that you support us in our efforts!

Please donate to our campaign here.

The next protest is scheduled for Saturday, November 10, 2-4 p.m. Click here for details. Please join us.

Tracie and I are raising money to buy one (1) month of advertising on a billboard that stands across the road from the newly erected Confederate Memorial of the Wind, a monument built by the Sons of Confederate Veterans on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. in Orange, Texas along Interstate 10.
Continue reading

Thoughts and prayers for our sisters and brothers in Michael’s path

Hurricane Ike struck southeast Texas, where Tracie’s parents live, just a month after we started dating in 2008. Back then, people in Louisiana and Texas were still reeling from the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season, which included Katrina and Rita.

These days it seems like a given that hurricane season will deliver devastation by means of a massive storm like Florence or Michael.

A year after Harvey, you can still see debris piled up along the streets of our neighborhood. For many residents here, it was the second or third time their houses flooded in three consecutive years.

Does it really matter whether or not humankind is to blame for climate change? I believe it is but that’s beside the point: the climate is changing and the storms and devastation are becoming more and more frequent, the human loss and damage more grave. The same can be said of the wild fires in California where I grew up.

Today, our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to all of our sisters and brothers in Michael’s path.

Image via the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr (Creative Commons).

Roman-Jewish artichokes and other cool stuff tasted this week in Houston

After the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that carciofi alla giudia, the famous fried artichokes of Rome’s ancient Jewish ghetto, had been ruled traif by Israeli chief Rabbinate, the owners of Houston’s Mascalzone swiftly added the dish to their menu.

She’s Israeli and he’s a famous Italian boxer. And I help out with their online media.

100 percent delicious and I’m extremely proud of the photo above, which I took with my phone.

Gambero Rosso was back in town this week with their traveling road show.

I really loved the Tollo Pecorino (above), a first kiss for me.

Pecorino can be a one-trick pony but when it’s handled thoughtfully, it can really deliver nuanced flavor. Great wine, one of the best expressions of Pecorino I’ve ever tasted.

Another stand-out discovery for me was the Costanzo Etna Bianco di Sei (above).

Everyone’s so crazy about Etna red and rightly so. But Tracie and I are mad for Etna white.

This wine delivered the spectrum of flavor and minerality I’ve come to expect from the top producers in the appellation. What a fantastic wine.

And just in case you were worried that we weren’t eating and drinking well in our adoptive city, Tracie and I attended a dinner last night hosted by Chef Marco Sacco (from restaurant Piccolo Lago in the Lake District, 2 Michelin stars) at a new event space launched by an Italian gazillionaire here.

Chef Marco (above, left) and his sous chef Silvestro had been flown in especially for the dinner. I was the night’s emcee.

Not a bad gig… but not as good as Sergio Scappani’s. He had also been flown in from Italy to dazzle the guests with his midified Roland V-Accordion FR-7X (stage left).

And just in case you still haven’t been tuned in to our groovy food and wine scene, check out this profile of one of my favorite wine programs in the city, Matt Pridgen’s wine list at One Fifth (by my friend Megan Krigbaum, one of my fave wine writers, for PUNCH).

Still not convinced? Hit me up and I’ll hip you to my fave spots.. Seriously. And thanks for reading!

“We must see racism for what it is.” Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King 50 years after his death.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader and peace activist, was assassinated 50 years ago today in Memphis, Tennessee.

The following is an excerpt from his landmark speech “The Other America,” delivered less than three weeks before he was killed:

    There must be a recognition on the part of everybody in this nation that America is still a racist country. Now however unpleasant that sounds, it is the truth. And we will never solve the problem of racism until there is a recognition of the fact that racism still stands at the center of so much of our nation and we must see racism for what it is. It is the nymph of an inferior people. It is the notion that one group has all of the knowledge, all of the insights, all of the purity, all of the work, all of the dignity. And another group is worthless, on a lower level of humanity, inferior. To put it in philosophical language, racism is not based on some empirical generalization which, after some studies, would come to conclusion that these people are behind because of environmental conditions. Racism is based on an ontological affirmation. It is the notion that the very being of a people is inferior.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Dr. King today than by re-reading and studying his writings and speeches. I recommend the speech above, one of the last he gave before his death.

Tracie and I wept last night as we streamed “King in the Wilderness,” a new documentary about the latter part of his career.

As we watched the film, one of the things that struck both of us was how whites would use Confederate flags to taunt Dr. King and the marchers he led. I can’t repost the image here but this photograph was shot during the 1966 March Against Freedom: a young shirtless boy plays “Dixie” as a young woman waves the Confederate flag and the marchers approach. You see the hecklers (in motion picture footage with audio) in the documentary. It’s a chilling sight.

Scroll through this archive of photographs from the same march and you’ll find similarly disturbing images of white Americans menacing their black sisters and brothers with Confederate flags.

Today, on the anniversary of his death, we celebrate the life and work of Dr. King. His contribution to the historic fight for civil and equal rights for all Americans is unrivaled. And his legacy only grows as it continues to inspire a new generation of Americans to stand up for what is right and just in our country.

On Saturday, April 7, Tracie and I will be protesting the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas. It was erected a few years ago on Martin Luther King Dr. where the thoroughfare meets Interstate 10, one of the busiest traffic hubs in the county. See this flier, distributed by the owner to raise funds for its construction.

We are not asking for the site to be torn down. We are asking the organizers to repurpose the site to reflect the values of the community — nearly 50 percent black.

Please join us. We have space in both of our cars available for Houstonians who want to participate.

G-d bless Dr. King and his family. G-d bless America.

See also this op-ed, “How Dr. King Lived Is Why He Died,” published by Rev. Jesse Jackson, in today’s New York Times.

Image via the National Park Service Flickr (Creative Commons).

Confederate Memorial Protest TOMORROW: why I am speaking out and rising up

Tomorrow my wife Tracie and I will be protesting the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas (Martin Luther King Dr. and Interstate 10) from 3 p.m. until sundown. (Please click here for protest details in case you would like join.)

We will be joined by members of Orange County Young Democrats and Southeast Texas Progressives. The last time we gathered at the site (on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last month), we were also joined by passersby. We hope to have an even larger crowd tomorrow. I’ll have plenty of bottled water and extra signs for anyone who wants to join us.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine in Houston asked me why this particular Confederate monument concerns me so much. There are historic Confederate monuments in Houston, he pointed out. Why don’t I protest those? he asked.
Continue reading

Texas BBQ and Lambrusco: the ultimate wine pairing (WARNING CONTAINS BRISKET AND BALSAMIC PORN)

From the department of “nice work if you can get it”…

Above: the sacred and profane, a slice of juicy Texas smoked brisket topped with 12-year aged Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia (I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide which is the profane and which the sacred).

Yesterday afternoon, I connected with Houston Chronicle bbq columnist J.C. “Chris” Reid and Houston restaurant legend Bill Floyd at Bill’s Jackson St. BBQ in downtown for some Lambrusco and smoked meats pairing research.

I’ve always been a big believer that Lambrusco is not only the best wine to pair with Texas bbq but that it should also be adopted as the state’s official wine.

Refreshing, served cold, low in alcohol, with more tannic character than people realize, sweet with residual sugar even when people call it “dry,” Lambrusco mirrors in more way than one the sweet tea that is traditionally served with smoked meats in Texas.

Yes, beer is also a traditional pairing for bbq. But most beer doesn’t have the sweetness that can work so well with the smoky and often spicy character of the food.

When my wife Tracie and I first attended church “feeds” hosted by my father-in-law’s congregation in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border, I tasted sweet tea with homemade bbq (no one in Orange goes “out” for bbq, btw). And that’s when I started to look to Lambrusco as the ideal match.

Above: on Monday, March 5 in Houston, J.C. “Chris” Reid and I will be leading a seminar on bbq and Lambrusco pairing at the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy festival. Stay tuned for details on that.

The evolution of Texas bbq over the last 10 years is nothing short of incredible. When I first moved to Texas in 2008, the bbq revolution was just beginning to take shape. Today, you can find Texas bbq across the U.S. and even in Europe. And it’s not Kansas City, Carolina, or Memphis. It’s Texas bbq — religiously smoked, “low and slow” — that has proved to have such appeal across the world.

With its new international standing and profile, it’s only natural that we should start to look for the right wine to pair with this indigenous and truly unique gastronomic tradition.

On Monday, March 5 in Houston, Chris and I will be leading a seminar on bbq and Lambrusco pairing at the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy festival. Jackson St. will be one of the smokers providing the food pairings together with another couple of Houston standbys.

And Texas brisket and traditional balsamic vinegar you ask? I’ll also be moderating a panel that day on classic and creative applications of the sticky icky and utterly delicious stuff.

It’s nice work if you can get it, ain’t it? Stay tuned for details and hope to see you March 5 in Houston at Taste of Italy!

Protesting racist iconography in Southeast Texas: a recent effort and upcoming MLK march in Orange (TX)

Image courtesy of Southeast Texas Progressives.

On Wednesday of last week, my wife Tracie and I stood for two hours on the corner of Interstate 10 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. in Orange, Texas in protest of the Confederate memorial being built there by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Texas Division.

We organized the gathering together with Southeast Texas Progressives, an advocacy and activist group created by its founders so that they and we could have “a place to express our shared ideals and political views without fear of being insulted or mocked.”

Here’s the Facebook group. Feel free to join and/or PM and I’ll invite you to join.

Here’s the Facebook page. Please like us and share in solidarity.

Our four-person protest was covered by both the Beaumont Enterprise and the Orange Leader. (Beaumont, Orange, and Port Arthur form what is known as the Golden Triangle in Southeast Texas.)

To get an incomplete picture of how our activism was received online, I encourage you to read the comment thread on the Enterprise site.
Continue reading

Thanksgiving wine: I’ll take the (Beaujolais) Morgon over the moron

In the fall of 2012, an older white man in a pick-up truck pulled into the parking lot of the post office in the Austin, Texas-area middle-class neighborhood where my wife Tracie and I used to live with our two young daughters.

In the back window of his cab, he had fastened a bumper sticker that read: “I’ll take the Mormon over the moron.” Taking advantage of his all-American liberty of expression, he was sharing his desire that Mitt Romney win the 2012 presidential election.

Yesterday, I read a Houston Chronicle (the city’s paper of record) account of a Houston-area sheriff who pulled over a Houston-area resident because she had a “Fuck Trump and fuck you for voting for him” bumper sticker affixed to the window of her truck’s cab. He ended up arresting her on an unrelated charge. But, according to the Chronicle report, the woman and her husband — who live not far from where Tracie and I now live in southwest Houston with our children — had already been pulled over more than once by law officers, who were unable to concoct sufficient grounds for arrest.

These parallel though incongruous episodes were on my mind when I woke up this morning to find hate email in my inbox from a Houston Press reader.

In reference to Thanksgiving wine recommendations I published one year ago today on the Houston Press website, Teddy S. wrote me to keep my politics to myself.

It was remarkable to re-read the piece this morning.

If I only knew then what I know now! But that was before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville this year, where Trump supporters gathered to chant “Jews will not replace us” and the president responded by noting that there were “some very fine people” among them.

I stand by my wine recommendations and my politics from November 17, 2016 — as I did then, as I do now.

I’d only like to add that (cru) Beaujolais Morgon is a wonderful wine to serve for the holiday as well: I’ll take the Morgon over the moron (available at the Houston Wine Merchant). I’m having the bumper stickers printed as I write this and I should have them in time for the holiday. I just hope my wife, daughters, and I don’t get pulled over by my local sheriff on the way to our family gathering.

“We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion,” wrote Republican and Christian conservative Michael Gerson, one of President George W. Bush’s former chief speechwriters, in an op-ed yesterday.

A Thanksgiving pairing of morality, religion, and right-wing politics. Now wouldn’t that be something? It would be something else…

Happy holiday, everyone. Politics aside, please drink Sonoma and Napa wines this Thanksgiving to help in wine country’s recovery from the devastating October wildfires.

LA Times coverage of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas

Last night, someone texted me asking about the Los Angeles Times article “As monuments to the Confederacy are removed from public squares, new ones are quietly being erected,” which was published yesterday in the paper and appears today on the homepage of its website.

As the title reveals, the piece examines communities in the U.S. where new Confederate monuments are currently being erected, even as the controversy over the removal of memorials — mostly from the 1910s and 1920s — continues to rivet the nation.

The centerpiece of the story is the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange Texas, where my wife Tracie grew up and where most of her family still resides. Over the nearly nine years that I’ve lived in Texas, I’ve visited Orange countless times. I took the above photo of the memorial in November of last year, not long after the presidential election.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that most Orange residents (at least among those I interact with) just shrug about it when asked. When I’ve brought it up, nearly everyone concedes that it’s an unfortunate eyesore. But everyone I’ve talked to points out that there’s nothing that can be done about it because it sits on private land. I’ve never met anyone in Orange who has spoken out against it publicly or done anything to have it removed.

The men behind the memorial claim that it’s a homage to their heritage as descendants of Confederate soldiers. I don’t know any of them personally but they have spoken with a number of media outlets (including, and even before, the Times coverage).

Their narrative may be partly genuine. But after nine years in Texas and nearly 10 months into the Trump presidency, I can tell you that these men know exactly what they are doing. They know full well the fear that their memorial instills in the blacks, Mexicans, Asians, Jews (like me), and Middle Easterners that live or pass through Orange. As the author of the article points out, the memorial is “visible from the interstate and loom[s] over Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.” What she doesn’t note is the fact that a church stands just down the road from it.

The overwhelming majority of people who live in Orange are self-defined Christian conservatives. Regardless of denomination, churches in the South have had a far-reaching legacy of complacency when it comes to the intimidation of minorities through the display of symbols, icons, language, and gestures. The Confederate flag is the most recognizable of these but there are many others. I used to ascribe it to ignorance. But with the advent of Trump, I’ve come to realize that it’s not stupidity. In fact, the people who live there are not stupid at all. The majority of residents in Orange have embraced Trump despite his lack of Christian values — from his assaults on women to his abusive attitude toward people who aren’t white.

With his claims that there plenty of “nice people” among the champions of Confederate memorials, Trump has laid to bare not just their complacence but their willful acceptance of a segregationist ideology whose advocates use hateful symbols to intimidate and stoke fear. The residents of Orange can ruefully shrug and say there’s nothing they can do about it. But in Trump America, it’s now painfully and tragically obvious that their interests align with the authors of the memorial.

Today, too many conversations there start with “I’m not a racist but…” or “I have no problem with the Jews but…” It simply doesn’t matter to them that blacks may have a problem with the memorial or that Jews may have a problem with the memorial. Why should it? That’s not what’s important — at least to them — in Trump America. But then again, Christ and His teachings were swiftly tossed aside by those who support Trump. The common good (as espoused by Christ’s disciples, at least in the Book I’ve read) is trumped by the good that the president is doing for our country (at least for the white people in our country). Trump supporters can’t claim ignorance anymore. They know exactly what they are doing.

The deep-seated racism that thrives there is on the rise again, just like the flags being flown over Interstate 10. And evidently, the Christians who live there are okay with that.

In fairness to the residents of Orange, I have to point out that the author of the Times piece was wrong to mock, however subtly, the city’s motto — “Small town charm, world class culture.” As hard as some may find it believe, there is world-class culture there. The Stark family campus of museum collections and botanical gardens are wonderful cultural resources. When I worked as a bibliographer at the Getty Museum (nearly two decades before I met Tracie), I catalogued scores and scores of photographs of painted Medieval and Renaissance painted books that are conserved in the museum there.

I wonder if I might bump into the authors of the Confederate Memorial of the Wind the next time I visit. Wouldn’t that be something?