Iowa mom’s long racial awareness journey and why white Americans need to follow her path

Jonathan Hayes and wife Kristi Kinne-Hayes with their four children. Submitted photo.

Kristi Kinne-Hayes grew up in Jefferson, a Green County city made of 4,200 almost all white people. Kristi played six-on-six girls’ basketball and became one of the best players in the state.

She knew local police officers by their first names and thought of them as just another face in the crowd rather than law enforcement.

Kristi played college basketball at Drake University, leading the Bulldogs to an NCAA Tournament berth her senior season in 1995. She seldom thought about race even though she played alongside and was friends with people of different races.

She had a longtime friend who played softball at Drake who was mixed race and never knew until someone asked her friend about her race in a Kansas City bar.

A background like Kristi’s makes it seem unlikely that she would comment on the ghastly death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. But life, love and motherhood changed her perspective and her long journey from racial indifference, maybe even racial ignorance, to awareness and empathy is one all Americans — especially whites — need to take right now.

Kristi graduated from Drake, survived ovarian cancer and met and married Jonathan Hayes, a former University of Iowa tight end who played for the legendary Hayden Fry during the famed coach’s revitalization of the program in the early 1980s.

Hayes is also African-American. But a mixed-race relationship didn’t expose Kristi to the racial hatred the corrupts America’s soul.

The first time Kristi brought Johnathan home to Jefferson to watch a ballgame, fans swarmed the Hawkeye hero for autographs.

“That was so traumatic for me because when I was at the game, people came up for my autograph,” Kristi said. “I told Jonathan they only wanted his autograph because they already had mine.”

The couple settled in Cincinnati, where Jonathan served as tight ends coach for the NFL’s Bengals.

They had four children. Yet it wasn’t until their eldest daughter, the couple’s second child, turned 16 that evil racism finally struck the mother of four mixed-race children.

Kristi and Jonathan bought a new car and gave their older vehicle to their daughter. They put the old plates on their daughter’s vehicle and paid the fees, but Ohio Department of Transportation computers hadn’t yet processed the transaction.

One evening their daughter came home pale.

Kristi asked her what was wrong.

She had been pulled over by police. The car tags were wrong.

“She said, ‘I was sure they were going to shoot me,’” Kristi said. “I thought, ‘Why would you think they would shoot you?’”

And the privilege of being a white star athlete from small town Iowa evaporated. She was now the mother of four children whose facial characteristics most white people would identify as black.

“If there’s a little bit of brown, to other white people, you’re black,” Kristi said.

Living with racism did not limit her children’s success. Eldest son, Jaxson Hayes, was a first-round draft pick by the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans last year.

Daughter Jillian is a highly prized women’s basketball recruit committed to the University of Cincinnati.

Kristi reminds them that she doesn’t care if other people label them black only, just remember that their white mother and her family loves them just as much as their African-American father and his family.

“Your name is clean,” Kristi tells her kids, “keep it that way.”

Still, she worries. Jaxson is off in New Orleans, just turned 20 years old and having the time of his life as an NBA rookie despite the league shutdown due to coronavirus.

She tells her children that if they are pulled over, put their hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel.

“I never thought I would have to tell my children that,” Kristi said.

Kristi saw the news reports and videos of a Minneapolis police officer putting his knee in the back of George Floyd, an African-American man suspected of forgery.

Three other police officers stood by and did nothing. They were all fired. As of this writing, it’s unknown if they will be criminally charged.

The killing of Floyd is a complete institutional failure by the Minneapolis police. That officer pressed his knee into the back of that handcuffed man’s neck as he pleaded for mercy, he could not breath and eventually lost consciousness and died.

He stared into the crowd almost as if he was daring someone to tell him he was wrong. The crowd pleaded with him to render aid, to check Floyd for injury or get him some water.

The officer refused.

A friend of mine made this observation a few years ago: “There’s two things we learned from everybody having cameras on their phone: There are no UFOs and police sometimes kill people for no reason.”

The true horror of this event: None of those officers moved to stop their fellow officer from committing a crime. It was depraved indifference.

Here in Des Moines, some of my police sources told me they were aghast at another cop so drunk on power that his defiance led to the death of a man.

“When you have him in cuffs, get him up and in a car and off to the station,” one cop told me. “That diffuses the situation right there.”

Another cop told me police administrators were circulating a video by a top training instructor illustrating the dangers of the knee in the back hold and all Des Moines cops will have to sign off on having watched it.

There’s been little local backlash at Des Moines police because of the Minneapolis killing, but the danger of using national stories to paint local pictures hangs over every police station.

Kristi saw that news and it moved her. She lives in Cincinnati, a city that saw race riots in 2001 after police shot an unarmed African American teenager. Kristi and her family moved to Cincinnati after that terrible period.

But motherhood long ago took the woman from Jefferson’s ability to be color blind.

Moved by the story, Kristi posted to her Instagram a trending meme of the officer with his knee in the back of Floyd’s neck and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. The caption read: “This is why.”

So what does all this have to do with Kristi Kinne-Hayes, the great Iowa basketball star?

ESPN commentator Emmanuel Acho pleaded with white America in a video posted to his Twitter feed Tuesday.

“My white brothers and sisters, we need y’all’s help,” Acho said. African-Americans have been outraged as people continued to die unnecessarily, but white Americans have remained mostly indifferent or hesitant to raise their voice in protest.

We need to take the journey Kristi Kinne-Hayes took in her 46 years. She went from living blind to race because it never directly affected her to having a profound understanding of just how horrible racism is in this country.

I’m not saying you need to repost the meme or start hashtagging everything #blacklivesmatter.

But we must all do our very best to engage empathy for people who are not like us.

It’s very hard for anyone to see life through the perspective of someone who has lived so differently.

Our failure to do that is already too late for so many, the latest being George Floyd.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

Des Moines should end fowl offal

Photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn via Upslash.

Patrick Kean’s new Beaverdale neighbor told him they planned to get some chickens.

“I was thinking two or three birds,” Kean said.

The neighbor instead installed a chicken coop with about 20 birds.

“It’s right next to my back stoop,” Kean said.

Kean looked up city code for rules governing ownership of fowl.

He found the code confusing.

One section of the code seemed to say no birds were allowed. Another section of code seemed to say no more than two birds. Yet another section indicated no more than 30.

Kean sent me the passages of city code he went over. They confused me, too.

I suggested Kean email the mayor, city manager and the entire council. I found that got a quick response in the past.

I incorrectly suggested Kean call the Des Moines Community Development Department. When I called them, they told me the city’s animal control unit handles enforcement on those codes.

Chris Wilber of animal control called me back. He clarified the code.

Des Moines allows up to 30 birds on a property less than one acre. You can own up to two different species – say ducks and geese.

Roosters are allowed, but “you have to shut them up,” Wilber said. “How you’re supposed to shut up a rooster, I don’t know, but apparently some people think you can.”

Any area the birds have access to must be 25 feet away from the nearest neighbor’s house.

If Kean’s measurements are correct, his neighbor is likely violating city code. All he needs to do is call animal control and file a complaint.

My question is why he has to deal with this at all.

I get it. Not everybody in Des Moines is so privileged as to be me, an unemployed morbidly obese white guy who only wants chicken slathered in buffalo sauce on cheap wing night at Jethro’s.

There are many people with many cultural traditions in Des Moines. Some of those people raise chickens at home, even in urban spaces.

And I understand there are hobby farmers who believe raising their own eggs and meat is healthier.

This notion reminds me of a line by comedian Mike Lawrence about eating free-range chickens with his mom.

“Oh, Mom! You can really taste the hope of escape in every delicious bite,” Lawrence said.

I admit my bias against chickens. I hate them. I grew up in rural Madison County on an acreage about a mile away from a major egg production farm.

A hog farm wasn’t too far away.

Which smell of animal feces we got at our home depended on which way the wind blew.

People grouse about the smell of hog farms, which livestock farmers call the smell of “money.”

Well, that money stinks enough to water your eyes and choke you on a hot summer day.

But as bad as hog feces smells, I would have that scent chemically recreated in a perfume lab and wear it as a cologne rather than grab a whiff of chicken feces.

Pardon the achingly obvious pun, but fowl are the most wretched offal.

I tolerated these odors in Madison County because we lived in the country. We had no business complaining about the egg farm than a suburbanite who moves to the country does complaining about dirt clouds on gravel roads.

This is the way of things in the country. If you don’t like it, move to the city.

Because in the city there aren’t supposed to be gravel roads or chicken farms.

I know 20 or 30 chickens do not make a large-scale operation. But they do make a stink.

Kean said the odor was strong over the Memorial Day weekend, which was wet. He worried about the smell on warmer, dry days.

He should. Chicken poop smells terrible.

The Des Moines City Council considered a modification to this ordinance a few years ago.

All of the “I should be able to do whatever I want wherever I want” types showed up. A good number of “I just want to enjoy my property without the stink” people did, too.

The council tabled the issue. I lost track of it after that when my former paragraph factory sent me off to other things.

The gist of the council’s argument back then was to strike a balance between city residents who don’t want to deal with farm smells and city residents who want to pretend to be farmers.

I argue the city should tighten up the code. Windsor Heights allows no more than two birds. That strikes me as reasonable.

But since I always want Des Moines to be more open-minded than Windsor Heights — a city where the residents actively oppose sidewalks — I’ll say six birds.

You can have three pairs of bird friends 25 feet or more away from the neighbors.

Any more chickens than that, I suggest people go shopping for land in rural Madison County.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

Dispatches from the dystopia, Vol. 1

Photo by Tamin Arafat via Upsplash

The time is 12:34 a.m. Memorial Day. A much too chipper song by David Bowie plays in my eardrums. A mugginess hangs in the apartment despite the air conditioner set at 62 degrees and me down to my skivvies hunched over this elegant laptop.

So, we’re opening up. It may not make good medicine, but it’s good business. And if our healthcare system teaches us anything, business and medicine mix a poor potion that may be profitable but hardly the tonic for wellness.

The doctors and scientists seem wary. The pandemic continues. They urge caution. The politicians and businesses say let’s get back to normal. People need to get back to work. The economy must restart or there will be more suffering than even the pandemic promises.

I see both sides of it. I really do. I don’t want anybody to get infected or die for the sake of profit. But I’m also unemployed. I need the economy to restart so people will start hiring again.

Otherwise, in a couple months I’ll be shaking a ceramic mug somewhere along an Interstate 235 offramp with a sign saying “Homeless journalist. Will tell stories for food.”

Grim? Yes. But consider unemployment in the pandemic feels like Wes Craven’s version of “Groundhog Day.” Instead of reliving the same day and becoming a slightly better person who woos Andie MacDowell, I relive the same day of sadness, anxiety, terror and boredom.

The sadness is grief from the loss of my job. The confusion of self-worth and employment is an ugly side-effect on psychology in capitalism. We are what we do.

We aren’t, of course. We’re much more than that. But it sure feels like if you’re not making money, you’re a bum gumming up the works for the pull-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps crowd.

I live with general anxiety disorder. That means I’m scared, sometimes terrified, even when there is no reason to be edgy. But, oh buddy, you give me a reason to be edgy — and unemployment is absolutely that — look out.

I turn negative self-talk in to an art form. Give me 5 minutes in front of a mirror and I slice myself to pieces with self-loathing. Those nagging whispers that tell me how rotten I am — You’re not good enough. You were never good enough. — become almost screams in the silence of a weekday when it feels like all your friends are at work in a Microsoft Teams meeting and you’re left refreshing every 2 seconds.

That’s when the terror grabs hold of my throat. What if I don’t find a job? What if I get evicted? What if I have to move all this shit? A comic book collection is wicked cool when you don’t have to haul scores of volumes out to a rented truck. My Funko Pops bring me all kinds of joy until I have to wrap them individually and haul them away to charity.

A friend asked me if I could move back into my parents’ house. This was three days into my unemployment. I nearly threw up. I’m almost 45 years old. There is no going home at 45. I’ve got to figure this out. I’ve got to make it work.

And the voice whispers: What if you don’t?

Finally, boredom. The intensity of unemployment is matched only by how much it tries my patience. I can only look for a job for so many hours a day. I can only call contacts so long. And, as mean as this sounds, I can only accept so many “you got this” aphorisms.

My poor friend Yvonne endures a Facetime call from me most days. When I rant about this abominable cluster of rage and anguish, she’s taken to just staring at me sadly and saying nothing. She’s not being cruel. She just realizes there’s nothing to be said.

This sucks. And the only thing you can do is endure and attempt to overcome.

Time both stops and sprints in the same moment. It stops as I plow through month-old job listings hoping to trip the automated human resources software with the right bullshit buzzwords to earn a chance to talk to a real human being about what I can do for them.

Early evening and night are the worst in the pandemic. The city starts to shut down around 7 p.m. The window for me to talk to friends with jobs closes quickly after 8 p.m. By 9 p.m., my skin crawls anxious to do something, but know there is nothing to do and no one to talk to.

As midnight approaches, I think about taking my medication and going to sleep, yet I hesitate, because when I open my eyes, it will be yet another goddamn day I am unemployed, cut off from the news business and no direction forward.

The clock sprints when day turns to night and no progress is made. The severance checks dwindle. The deadline for the CARES Act expanded unemployment approaches.

The House talks more stimulus. The Senate tells them it won’t fly. They smash into one another like drunken rams on a mountaintop while people’s lives — including mine — tumble down the mountainside like gravel.

I cut a deal with all my friends and family. I promised them I would tell them if I got a job — hell, if I got an interview — I would tell them if, in return, they would do me the kindness of not asking me how the job search is going. The answer remains the same: shitty.

I should temper my complaint. People have overwhelmed me with well wishes and good tidings. They’ve generously supported this fledgling website’s effort to continue my newspaper column in the virtual space paid for by donations. (Thanks to everyone and keep them coming. Desperation sinks in quickly.)

Anyway, we’re opening up.

I’ve tried it.

Last Wednesday, I went to the comic store for the first time since mid-March. They handed me a heavy stack of books. I walked the aisles. I started to sweat immediately. My back ached. I leaned on a glass counter and sweat. I flipped through my stack.

The pain came from two sources. First, I suffered through pneumonia in February and March, right before the pandemic. The treatment, particularly the steroids, left my legs weak. And, of course, I ate poorly during quarantine. Sometimes pasta, breads and sweets feel like the only thing in the world that can make me feel human.

Of course that leads to weight gain and makes puts my blood sugar on a rocket to Mars. And the immobility only adds to the anxiety and sadness. I’ve convinced myself I’m dying no less than 731 times in the last month.

People say, “Take walks.” I can barely walk 100 paces before my legs feel as if I’ve run a mile. The weight is a part of it, maybe the biggest part. The truth is I’m afraid to walk too far away from my apartment or car for fear I won’t be able to get back.

Pathetic? You bet. My opinion of myself hovers somewhere slightly above whale dung. This immobility is crushing what remains of my self-esteem like a cigarette in an ashtray.

I was supposed to go to aquatic therapy in March to help rehab my legs. I’ve done it once before and it was transformative. I got strong enough to go back to the gym. But then the pandemic came. The pool closed. And I endured.

The second reason for the sweats: I couldn’t afford the books in my stack. Oh, I could have bought them and I would have still made rent. But I’m unemployed. The idea that I spent any money on comic books is ridiculous.

I felt terrible. Comic stores are small businesses that operate on narrow margins. Being closed forced a lot of people I love out of work. And they remain out of work until the economy restarts.

I wanted to support my friends, but I had to think about my own survival. I damn near cried right there in the store. I wish I had, but I just don’t cry anymore. I get six to eight tears and then I just dry up. The well of sadness drills much deeper, but my physical ability to let it go is limited.

I profusely apologized to the owner. He understood. He assured me the customers had been loyal and generous. I wished I could join them, but now is not the time.

Even with my personal discomfort, the store was off somehow. The owners wore masks. Everyone stood 6 feet apart. It was open, but only just and it felt like looking through a cracked mirror.

The same was true at the barbeque joint I frequent in the neighborhood. I grabbed a seat at the bar, one of about six. My favorite spot — over to the right of the cash register by the takeout lane — isn’t a spot right now. Bar seats, and the tables, are spaced out 6 feet. Some servers wore masks. Some didn’t. Parties were limited to six people.

The food tasted the same — delicious. But instead of using a squeezable mustard dispenser, pandemic practice calls for individual servings. So I spent a part of my meal trying to tear open those miserable little packets of mustard to put on my ham sandwich.

I drank diet pop without a straw. I could request one, but to hell with it. It’s just another damn thing. I sipped too big a gulp and coughed. A woman who waited in line for take out snapped her head around to look at me.

Do I have it? Am I going to infect her? Is this the beginning of the zombie apocalypse?

I empathize. A guy talked the the bartender about his bill. He coughed a few times while he waited. I know him to be a smoker, but that niggling worry. Am I risking too much just for a taste of freedom?

It seems like the whole world is just an uncomfortable mess right now. I suppose it isn’t as apocalyptic as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet, nothing feels quite the way it’s supposed to.

It feels like an old transistor radio can’t get the local station despite even the gentlest of fingers on the tuner. There’s a rasp that throws off the treble of every tune. It’s better than no music, but only just.

Look, I don’t have any words of wisdom here. The only thing I know how to do is keep twisting that dial until something comes in tune. But I’m an impatient man who suffers from a severely disquieted soul.

I’d like to hear a good song any time now.

Daniel P. Finney, Independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at