Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

The Trump Ascension

November 12, 2016

In the immediate aftermath of the US Presidential election, I heard that the Clinton campaign wondered what “went wrong.” Perhaps they’re still wondering. I think back to the race in 2000, in which Al Gore won the popular, but lost the electoral, vote as Secretary Clinton did. I recall a confident (some would say cocky) candidate riding on the heels of a successful 2-term Democratic President. I recall a second candidate presenting himself as a man of the people (despite being born into wealth), rough around the edges, and a straight shooter. Does this sound familiar? (Hitler did the same, but I digress.)

Donald Trump has won the election (provided rogue electors don’t renege on their pledges next month) because he managed to successfully portray himself as a regular guy to a huge segment of the population. You know, a regular guy who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; a regular guy who is extremely wealthy; a regular guy who never had to scrape and save for anything, unless you count scratching and clawing to build an empire with a measly $1 million loan from father.

Candidate Trump served as an antidote to political correctness run amok (somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten that respect and decency are far more important than if someone has said the “right thing” the “right way.”); a lifeline to people who feel like their power and/or privilege is slipping away and erroneously blame groups of people who have never had the same level of power or privilege. You see, a whole bunch of people see successful women and People of Color–largely Black–in the entertainment field (professional sports and the music industry, in particular, for Black Americans) or as news anchors and get a distorted reality. They think the balance of power has somehow shifted and that women and racial/ethnic minorities have gotten more than their supposed “share” of the pie or American Dream, or whatever you want to call it.

I say distorted reality because overrepresentation in some realms/fields/industries/sectors does not reflect the reality for most women or People of Color in America. Sure, in many ways, a great deal of improvement has occurred, but according to the National Poverty Center, 1 in 3 American women (approximately 42 million) and nearly 30 million children, live in or at the edge of poverty. In the US, over 1/4 of Blacks and American Indians (Native Americans) live in poverty; 24% of Latinos/Hispanics do; 12% of Asians do; and 10% of non-Hispanic Whites do. The average Black American household in the U.S. has 6% of the wealth of the average White American household–6 percent. This is according to The Racial Wealth Gap: Why Policy Matters. The average Latino household in the U.S. has 8% of the wealth that the average U.S. White household does. In real numbers we’re talking about over $111,000 in wealth for the average White family in the U.S., compared to $7,100 for the average Black family and $8,000 for the average Latino family (some calculations reveal a larger gap $112,000 versus $6,000, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/antonio-moore/the-decadent-veil-black-income-inequality_b_5646472.html).

I hear complaints about so-called reverse discrimination and allegations that if you’re a woman or non-White, you have a better chance to succeed in the U.S. than if you’re White. It’s sad that some people actually believe that. It’s worse than disturbing that some people who know that’s not true, nonetheless claim it in order to stir the pot of hostilities bringing it from a slow simmer to a rolling boil. What about all those rich athletes and rappers, you ask? First of all, economically successful athletes and rappers that are People of Color represent a small percentage of their respective populations overall. (In plainer terms, if you see the world in Black and White, the numbers of American Black athletes and rappers represent a small percentage of the overall Black population in the U.S. Those that are economically successful enough to be called millionaires are an even smaller percent.) Additionally, they represent a small percentage of millionaires overall. For more on the distorted view of Black wealth due to media coverage that overwhelmingly focuses on sports and entertainment, I suggest reading Antonio Moore’s blog post, “The Decadent Veil: Black America’s Wealth Illusion.”

So Donald Trump capitalized on distorted views portraying some groups getting ahead at the expense of White Americans, especially White men. Donald Trump didn’t say this, he just capitalized on the sentiment that has been building for years. He appealed to their desire to have someone speak for them. Never mind that Donald Trump cannot possibly relate to people from low-income backgrounds, struggling to make ends meet. That’s not a criticism, just a reality.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton made the ill-fated remark about the majority of Trump supporters being deplorables. She meant, of course, the fringe element spouting racism, misogyny, anti-immigrant statements, homophobia, and anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic (among other things) sentiments. Those people got much more of the media focus than other Trump supporters. Some pundits referred to his followers as uneducated. Many after the election have chosen to focus on the voice of the “non-college-educated White male” as if Trump’s persona and comments haven’t appealed to the upper-class frat boy mentality, and his friendships with the likes of Mike Tyson and Bill Belichick haven’t appealed to countless other self-proclaimed “tough guys.” (Not to mention, that others simply felt their opinions on particular policy issues fell more in line with Trump than Clinton.) No one wants to be referred to as stupid, ignorant, or deplorable–unless they rally around it, showcasing cheesy t-shirts, bumper stickers, caps, and buttons like badges of honor (much like redneck was considered a bad thing, until it became a cash cow for enterprising merchandisers…You know if you’re a Deplorable if…).

So Ivy-League educated Donald Trump came off as regular Joe, while Hillary Clinton came off as elitist. Much like Ivy-League educated George W. Bush came off as mascot for the less-educated and Al Gore came off as uppity. Sort of like how Ivy-League educated Barack Obama came off as a regular guy and Mitt Romney came off as an out-of-touch snob–except “ignorant” was not generally a term thrown at President Obama like it was thrown at former-President G.W. Bush; and “crude” hasn’t been attached to Obama like it has been attached to the President-Elect. Furthermore, the King of Boasts, Tall Tales, and so-called Locker Room Talk managed to portray himself to many as more truthful than Hillary Clinton. Let’s call him Teflon Don. Of course the big issue I’ve managed to avoid thus far is that Donald Trump presented himself as a regular Joe, while Hillary Clinton could never do so as a woman. Did a huge number of people choose Trump just to avoid a female President? (Cokie Roberts thinks it’s possible.)

Now we find ourselves in the middle of protests and talks to finally rid ourselves of the very un-democratic Electoral College. I can only imagine what we would be facing had the outcome of the election been different. I can imagine the outcries of a rigged election that would have come from both the Trump campaign and outspoken Republican pundits who attached themselves to the Trump Train, had he not won the required number of electoral votes. It would have been ironic, considering the hacking that occurred throughout the campaign was tied to those seeking to discredit the Clinton camp (the highly-partisan WikiLeaks and the Russian government–allegedly). I don’t hear talk from leading Democrats about rigged election machines or hacked election results, so that’s something.

President-Elect Trump must work on creating a solid foundation to bring Americans closer together–first by fostering greater unity. Of course, this can’t happen if he keeps silent about the atmosphere of hatred that’s out there. He also faces an uphill battle considering his alleged, disgusting treatment of women and his subsequent denials-by-insult. His presidency needs to frequently reference the real economic gaps between groups–rather than the fiction of Whites losing out to People of Color, as well as between rich and poor. Poor people, and blue collar people, in general regardless of color or racial/ethnic background, rarely get seen at all–except in a negative light or as caricatures. It’s long past time to remedy this. Let’s hear their stories and put in place policy to foster economic independence rather than dependence.

There is always talk by politicians of the middle class. Let’s help the middle-class. Sure, sounds great. Many millionaires consider themselves to be middle-class. Over half of the members of Congress were identified as millionaires. My middle class and your middle class, wealthier politician, are probably not the same group of people. We need to provide people from low-income and working-class backgrounds real opportunities to provide a good life for their families. (I’m sorry, in most parts of this country, that doesn’t include people making 6 figures. It doesn’t, although I know many are probably working paycheck to paycheck too.) Vocational education programs in the U.S. should be strengthened in all schools and combined with STEM. A high number of new manufacturing plants should be created in the most economically depressed areas and they should provide comprehensive, on-the-job training opportunities for adults living in those areas, along with internships for high school and college students.

There is plenty of work to be done in the U.S.–to repair both our infrastructure and our trust in one another. Forget making America great “again”. For some populations it has never gotten there. I’m talking about anyone member of a group that’s been oppressed. Yes, that includes poor White people. If you think this country has been great for you as your family has experienced generations of poverty, well delusions can be a great thing.

Let’s make the United States of America truly great for all of its population. It will take time, real resources, a move towards equity, RESPECT, human decency, a successful fight against hatred, an end to misogyny, frank dialogue (2-way conversation involves listening, respect, openness, sharing…), okay it will take a lot, but it’s worth fighting for and working towards. It’s now your show and your move Mr. President-Elect. Can you actually get Congress to function to promote human rights and better economic opportunity for all Americans? Will you be willing to show people from similar economic backgrounds that they are more alike than not? Can you remove this artificial barrier that’s been put up since before the colonists started a revolution–the barrier that pits races against each other? Do you even know it’s there and why it was created? (Hint: To keep the wealthy, wealthy.) Are you willing to nominate Supreme Court justices that have no desire to roll back Roe v. Wade or marriage equality? Will you go back to wanting to amend the Affordable Care Act rather than revoke it (which you were for (amending) before you weren’t)?

Mr. President-Elect, you can start by weeding out from your circle the hateful hangers-on that have followed along behind you. For one, Rudy Giuliani, who seems to have lost his mind (or possibly taken off a carefully constructed mask) over the last 15 years, should be sent back to the Big Apple. Newt Gingrich can exit, as well. Get some people behind you that are willing to work with others regardless of political party. The jury’s still out on the arse-kisser from the Garden State, who probably needs to take a back seat on the Train, as well, although when no one’s looking he sometimes makes sound decisions. We’ll all be watching to see what you do. You won’t have to wait for history to be your judge.

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DRAFT Preliminary Brainstorming on Addressing Pressing Needs: 10 Steps

July 12, 2015

Posting a few preliminary thoughts on problems we need to address in the U.S. These will be fleshed out and revised down the line. Think of it as a brainstorming session.

1. Improve the public school system

  • Curriculum Revision
    • Each school curriculum should be largely project-based. Most people, including our children, learn best by doing something constructive.
      • Every subject suitable to be taught in our P-12 grades can be best learned through hands-on application.
        • Regular field trips and projects can be undertaken that both enable students to learn core material AND help the community and local businesses.
      • We should be teaching students coding and other technology, as well as basic engineering from the elementary grades on up–to the extent that it will be fun and fruitful for them. Adequate funding needs to be provided to all public schools for this to happen.
      • None of this, of course, should come at the expense of solid, well-rounded education in history, social sciences, language arts, industrial arts, and the fine arts. This can all be incorporated together as students work collaboratively and alone (when appropriate) on their projects.
    • Our focus should not be on preparing students for college; it should be on preparing them for life. Every public school should combine vocational and avocational learning
      • Practical skills
      • Real-world application via internships, quality field trips, and partnerships with local government, businesses, and social service agencies
      • Meaningful exposure to different cultures
      • Character education
        • This should be taught thoroughly at every level of education
        • We need a greater number of ethical economists, engineers, scientists, bankers, insurers, law enforcers, inventors, corporate heads, medical providers, media providers, policymakers and other politicians (as well as those in other fields, of course)
    •   We need to re-think how we fund our public schools – Our best economic minds ought to be able to figure out an equitable way to generate and distribute funds so that all students attending public schools get great educations and access to the best equipment in safe and high-quality facilities
    • The so-called educational ladder seems to exist only to keep certain students locked in a virtual (or sometimes actually in name) tracking system
      • It needs to mean a thoroughly integrated system of schooling in which preschools, elementary, middle, and high schools, along with junior/community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities all work in tandem through tutoring, mentoring, field experiences, internships, shared technology, and student-led projects

2. Improve elderly care

  • Social security reform – We ought to be able to fix this, so the question is why haven’t we?
  • Long-term care – It’s not affordable to most seniors; this drains their savings and then Medicaid steps in (which just increases the amount we all contribute) and provides the bare minimum
    • Nursing homes for many seniors are severely lacking. They are very expensive
      • Why can’t we design more facilities that combine nursing homes, assisted living, and senior communities? They do exist, although they are usually not affordable to lower-income seniors
      • Why can’t these facilities include bottom-floor rental space for local businesses, medical practitioners, and social service agencies?
      • Money in the form of rent from businesses and seniors who live in their own units can offset some of the cost for seniors to live in assisted-living and nursing home units
    • High school and college students would benefit from internships in long-term care facilities
    • Elementary and middle school students would benefit from regular visits to long-term care facilities (reading to the elderly, playing games with them, serving as surrogate grandchildren, and developing empathy for the elderly and their needs rather than ignorance, fear, or disregard)

3. Hold our businesses (including financial institutions) more accountable to the communities in which they reside/from which they get their customers and employees

  • Nearly all brick and mortar businesses should partner with local government, schools/colleges/universities, and social service agencies
  • Internships, apprenticeships, job-training programs, and higher education opportunity should be part of a regular service provided for students and community members needing employment
    • Companies need incentives to be able to provide some services but they also need to be part of a collective, formalized effort that becomes self-sustaining; if structured right it would be a win-win situation in which businesses thrive along with their communities
  • Constantly improve environmental safety, reduce pollution and waste, hold companies to higher ethical standards
    • This can be done through regular, consistent public pressure rather than increased government oversight
    • If companies are regular, contributing “members” of the community and partners they can be held more accountable and will likely feel more accountable
    • We can use innovation and technology to decrease negative environmental impact while increasing company profit; yes, that can be done

4. Create more manufacturing plants and entrepreneurial opportunities all-over the U.S. including in the most economically devastated/impoverished areas

  • Government needs to foster this by reducing certain burdens that have driven some companies away, but at the same time holding high expectations for corporate responsibility; also providing funding or devising special tax incentives for more entrepreneurs
  • Banks need to be part of this process granting loans and other opportunities for entrepreneurs regardless of the neighborhoods in which they operate; in fact greater incentives should be given to those seeking to revitalize impoverished areas (and, no, this does not mean gentrification that pushes poor people out increasingly into the fringes–that needs to end)
  • Communities need to be active partners in this process to ensure that the needs of their residents are being met and to hold companies in-check (holding them immediately accountable for any abuses; public reputation and decreased dollars go a long way in making companies curb bad behavior)
  • Capitalism is supposed to about competition, but our version seems more to be about greedy conglomerates that swallow up other companies and are held less and less accountable

5. Greatly improve our infrastructure (including cyber infrastructure)

  • With improved education, increased partnerships with the business, government, educational, and social service sectors we will have far more working-age people who are capable of overhauling our infrastructure in innovative, cost-effective ways that help rather than hurt communities and the environment

6. Improve the training and intercultural education our law enforcers receive

7. Stop de facto gerrymandering that’s created to be advantageous to a political party or to ensure the status quo isn’t changed by making it all but certain that incumbents from both parties continue to get re-elected regardless of their effectiveness as representatives of their communities

8. End redlining & make a concerted effort to improve the financial and social capital of our poorest rural, suburban, and urban areas

  • Establish more free-to-use community centers, manufacturing plants, banks, job-training centers, social service agencies in these areas
  • Forcing poor people to leave areas by raising rent and taxes to bring in companies is NOT a viable solution
    • It continues to happen. Some pundits applaud and say this is the solution to reducing crime (especially now in our larger cities)
      • All this accomplishes is pushing poverty and crime into neighboring areas, making it someone else’s problem
        • In the big picture, it’s really everyone’s problem, although for some it is more immediately evident
      • In the not-to-distant future, if the practice isn’t halted, we will see more affluent, socially mobile, educated individuals populating our cities, having access to a greater degree of public transportation and high-quality jobs to which they won’t have to commute from the suburbs; in turn we will have more and more economically impoverished suburbs (and a continued growth of poor rural areas) and residents that have much less access to public transportation AND fewer resources to buy their own automobiles
      • We must work to reverse this trend. It is not healthy for the country.
  • All of the above steps will work to reduce poverty in the U.S. until it is virtually eliminated. Sure this sound Pollyanna-ish, but there do not have to be haves and have nots in this country. However concerted efforts need to be made to ensure that these efforts are reducing poverty. (Less poverty in the U.S. will lead to less poverty in other areas, provided the U.S. improves its geo-political knowledge and policies and collective intercultural intelligence.)

9. Reduce segregation because it almost invariably is tied to economic and racial/ethnic injustice

  • How? If the public educational system were more equitable; if responsible companies and entrepreneurs were encouraged and rewarded to create an on-going system of field experiences, internships, job-training, and employment opportunities via partnerships with local communities and schools, especially in the most impoverished areas; if financial institutions eliminated their biases against impoverished communities; you would see a greater degree of integration not only across ethnic and racial lines but across economic lines. This would have a positive impact on the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

10. Encourage coalitions of individuals and groups to come together to create solutions and demand that our government officials and companies implement them

  • Encourage wealthy individuals to financially support these causes
  • Use pooled resources to really address the issues at an institutional level, because they will continue to exist if institutions of injustice are rewarded rather than dismantled.

This is just a collection of thoughts that need to be revisited and thought out more. There are other areas that need attention, as well. There are great minds out there, along with companies, nonprofits, and groups that are doing great research and good work to address some of these issues. Wouldn’t it be great if more of them came together to create thoroughly researched solutions and apply them to address our most pressing needs?

When Can We Address Racism As Adults?

August 20, 2013

It seemed like for a while there were news stories every week about somebody somewhat famous saying something racist or racially insensitive. For Paula Deen, the repercussions were swift and harsh. She lost endorsements, business partnerships, and fans (all of which affected her financially). Two women on Big Brother (whose comments were shown on Big Brother after Dark and eventually later in clips on the regular CBS version of the show) were, unbeknownst to them, fired by their employers for their comments. I don’t know if they’ve been voted out since then since I don’t watch the show. I won’t bother to look it up.

Then there was the incident in which Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught on video, courtesy of a cell phone, ranting angrily about jumping over a fence and “fight[ing] every nigger out there, bro.” Cooper was drunk and pouting because a Black security guard would not allow him to go backstage at the Kenny Chesney concert he was attending. I guess the guard didn’t recognize Cooper:

  1. with his hair pulled into a ponytail instead of flowing freely from under a helmet
  2. his muscles prominent in a cut-off shirt rather than somehow looking smaller (maybe because on the field guys around him look wider or more muscular) in a game-time jersey and pads
  3. acting the fool.

The incident, of course, took place weeks before being revealed to the public (there were allegations that the person shooting the footage was trying to blackmail Cooper), but once it was out there it garnered a lot of media attention (I’m sure by a majority of people who had never heard of Riley Cooper).

Cooper was quick to make a statement to the public, apologizing for his actions and revealing embarrassment. He said his action, “isn’t the type of person I am,” and said, “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as.” The Eagles fined him and mandated that he receive sensitivity training. The NFL did not punish him because the team had. Cooper was back at practice with the Eagles less than a week after the incident was made public. He’s played in each preseason game thus far and is expected to start at wide receiver during the season.

Although some people feel the punishment was not enough (see, for instance, this article/blog via the Chicago Tribune), I’m glad this did not result in another instance of a business taking the ax to someone for saying something racist. We do enough of that. The business solution is typically (at least when an incident has been made public and received a lot of media attention) to express outrage, cut out a perceived cancer, wash their hands, and move on. Businesses can do this. They exist to make money. If they fear a relationship with someone will cost them one red cent, they will sever their ties with the individual.

While people have freedom of speech in this country, they are not free to speak their mind without fear of retribution from the private sector. You can say what you want without being put in jail (of course there are problems when you’ve said something slanderous, but that must be proven and if you’re guilty, you’ll suffer financially), but I can fire you, end our partnership, stop doing business with you, suspend you from school, write a blog telling people how bad of a person I think you are, et cetera, if I am in the position to do so. Okay, enough about that.

Unless you’re extremely important to a business, you’re considered expendable. I bet there are people at the ready during a PR crises that have spreadsheets calculating just how much severing ties with people being shamed in the media for some alleged wrong or another will cost versus the cost of keeping them around. It should be said that if the Eagles did something like this, they determined that the costs outweighed the benefits of waiving/cutting Cooper (in football speak that’s basically waving someone bye bye and leaving it up to another team to sign or ignore the player). You see, not long before Cooper’s rant was made public, the Eagles top receiver from a year ago had been lost for the season due to injury. They would lose another one, to the same injury, around the time of Cooper’s return to the team. So the Eagles really needed Cooper around. Now, that’s not to say they wouldn’t have made the same move even if Jeremy Maclin were healthy. Cooper’s a veteran on the team. Then, again, there are no allegiances from the coaching staff as most—including the head coach—are new to the team. However, Cooper has spent time learning the playbook and bringing in a new guy who hadn’t probably didn’t seem appealing. The cost of getting a new guy up to speed on the playbook minus the…

Still I’m going to give the team, if not the benefit of the doubt, a nod to handling the situation appropriately, provided the agency or individual the team sent Cooper to is extremely reputable, skilled, and serious about sensitivity training. That’s because the most important thing is providing resources for Cooper to educate him and help him sort through his issues. And he does have issues dealing with race. The word choice he used, set free by that tonic-of-truth alcohol, did not come from nowhere. While Cooper might say and actually believe that the angry man captured on video does not represent who he really is, the fact is that the angry man captured on video does represent part of who he really is.

Maybe the guy just hates Black people. Or, more likely, Cooper has some racist thoughts. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. The U.S. has a racist history and institutions continue to perpetrate racism. Is it then difficult to believe and accept that otherwise kind, hardworking, decent people have racist thoughts? For many people it seems that’s just too much truth to swallow, but it shouldn’t be. We all have things to work on, ways to improve, thoughts we didn’t wish we had. We are human.

Perhaps Cooper has built up resentment from being passed over over the years by coaches and scouts who did not see his skills because he’s a White guy playing a position numerically dominated (at least in the upper echelons of college football and the NFL) by Black guys. It happens more than people admit because they don’t even see their bias. It occurred for years to Black men who wanted to be quarterbacks or were quarterbacks until they got to college or the pros. At some point it became true for White guys who play corner, running back (now distinguished by many from fullback aka blocking back—when exactly did that happen? Fullbacks used to carry the football frequently.)  It happens daily as young people decide to pursue or give up particular sports, other activities, or academic pursuits because stereotypes in society say they are not supposed to be good at certain things and can only be good at others.

Conversely, maybe Cooper’s resentful because scouts and coaches have bent over backwards for him as a White guy playing wide receiver and he doesn’t believe he’s deserved the praise or favors. It’s possible. It happens in the world outside of football and likely inside it too, and in other sports. Either misguided employers are eager to elevate someone “different” to a position because they want to appear progressive or they do it because they really want to get behind that person. The employer who hires or promotes somebody not ready for the position because he/she thinks it’s the “right thing” to do. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as hiring and promoting due to nepotism, but I digress. Consider, also, the “Great White Hope” boxers in the past who were pushed and promoted because their backers really, really wanted them to be champions amidst a near-exclusive number of non-White champs. (I bet that still holds true, particularly for heavyweights, in a slightly tweaked way. You see, the Klitschko brothers are not American, so there are probably some diehard boxing fans—a dying breed as it were—who secretly want a real-life Rocky Balboa (White and American born and bred) to become heavyweight champ.)

Maybe Cooper’s gotten ribbing or outright bullying by people (fans, teammates) for being the White guy wide receiver. Maybe it’s made him mad and he’s never addressed it. Any of the above could be true, none could be true. But whatever the reason, Cooper’s got anger towards Black people, anger with which he hadn’t before (or still hasn’t depending upon the quality of his counseling) dealt.

We should be talking about these things out in the open. Let’s talk about resentment. Maybe we can arrive at a truth. Maybe if we allowed people to talk about their frustrations, their biases, their misperceptions, we can educate everyone about the realities of racism. It’s not gone, folks. We can’t keep:

  1. sweeping it under the rug;
  2. or blaming it on “bad people” that are nothing like ourselves;
  3. or blaming it on “stupid people” that make us supposedly ashamed of our race;
  4. or sprinting to make excuses by blaming alcohol, the “liberal” media, and victims of racism for daring to lift up the carpet.

Why can’t we be adults about this? We say, “the N word” rather than the actual word as if that somehow takes away the history of oppression, outright hatred, discrimination, and lynching of Black people referred to as niggers by the people committing the acts outright and those standing by watching it happen and benefiting from the privilege of having non-Brown skin. It doesn’t.

We claim we’ve taken the sting from the word by replacing –er with –a and turning a word that’s been used as an equivalent to stupid, inferior, shiftless, lazy, degenerate, criminal, immoral, and less-than-human, into a word that means brother, friend, loved one. Right.

Ask a regular guy in Brooklyn if he hears a difference from the way he says nigger and the way he says nigga. He won’t unless he’s taken special diction classes to modify his regular accent. Where do you think the word nigga came from anyway? Do you really think someone actually took the time to decide he was going to re-claim the word nigger to make it something uplifting and the best way to do that was to invent a new version spelled with an a? Maybe a group of people got together and said, “We gotta do something about nigger. We hear it too much. We got to turn it into a positive. Let’s spell it n-i-g-g-a and make it a term of endearment.” Some rappers would have you believe that. Do you know that niggah was used, too, in writing—mainly to mimic the accent of people whose speech patterns regularly substitute the –er sound for the –ah sound? Eventually the h was dropped from the way the word is typically spelled now, but it doesn’t change the facts: nigga was nigger because of speech patterns; n-i-g-g-a was “invented” when rappers and hip hop musicians wrote out their lyrics. Sure they meant nigger—sometimes in an affectionate way, sometimes in just a familiar way to refer to people in their communities whether friends or just other Black people, and sometimes in the same old way (particularly to refer to enemies or people they looked down upon). When the same people who claim nigga is a term of affection use it to say, “Those niggas are messed up. They don’t deserve jack,” you think they’re using it lovingly?

Maybe if we actually got into regular, civil dialogue when these incidents occur (whether or not they make their way into 24-7 news coverage)–and they occur daily—we’d eventually weed out the most dangerous form of racism, institutional racism. The most perverse, sustaining form of racism that:

  1. causes banks to refuse loans in areas in which the majority of people are not White;
  2. benefits White folks who have property handed down over generations (dating back to Jim Crow and in many cases far beyond, when most non-Whites who were finally legally allowed to have property saw their property taken from them, were effectively excluded from ownership, or could not afford to own it in the first place) that they can use to mortgage and pay for the education of their children and grandchildren and take out loans for small businesses;
  3. gives businesses an excuse to not have a presence in economically deprived areas, and those that are in the areas reason to charge high prices for their services because they know the people living there have limited options (or to compensate for the high property tax rates they have to pay);
  4. allows property tax rates in the poorest areas be much higher than those in affluent areas, while the prices of homes in these lower-income areas are undervalued in the real estate market;
  5. allows the so-called War on Drugs to really be a) an excuse to incarcerate non-White perpetrators at far higher rates for longer sentences than White perpetrators of the same crimes, and b) an excuse to blame non-Whites for the violence in their communities rather than an actual reduction in the amount of drugs and guns in these areas;
  6. calls Asians “model minorities” a) without the historical context of the 1965 immigration act, which finally removed racial barriers to immigration (but also added restrictive quotas to immigration from Latin America where they didn’t originally exist) and focused more on skills, attracting skilled workers (from already affluent backgrounds and/or with the educational or professional skills to earn high wages in the U.S.) from Asia into the country in increasingly larger numbers; and b) by ignoring the population of Asian refugees (from places such as Vietnam and Laos), who came to the U.S. to flee violence and are often mired in poverty;
  7. popularizes images of American Indians as caricatures, mascots, and characters from westerns invisible in “modern” society, rather than living, breathing people;
  8. makes it acceptable to refer to economically disadvantaged Whites as “trash” and dismiss their needs while making the excuse that they must have done something wrong to be in their position because they’re White and should be succeeding.

Maybe if we did this we could focus on the problems we have in common and work together to find solutions for them, instead of pointing the finger at individuals and particular races. Why not give it a try?

Patience: Do You Know Where You Want to Go?

March 4, 2011

The adage patience is a virtue has been around for a very long time, but it’s no less true today. How about good things come to those who wait? Well, if wait means sit around and accept abuses of power, make juvenile jokes but do nothing to improve the way things are, pretend that you don’t care about anything, or buy into the mindset that success is monetary and comes to individuals solely because of their own hard work, then the good things will never come to the people waiting. If, however, wait is akin to patience, then waiting for those you trust to help make inroads into addressing some of the more pressing ills in society (rather than bashing them for not going quickly enough) should surely lead to some positive gains.

The U.S. political system is in sad shape, not because of an inherent flaw but because of how we’ve come to define political success and how folks elected to represent us have come to care more about the power we’ve entrusted them with than actually representing our interests; because the masses have failed to articulate our mutual interests and provide a solid timetable for getting them met.

There are a myriad of reasons why people run for public office. Some do it out of some inherited sense that they must protect the masses from themselves. They see political office as a birthright, and while they may never say it, truly believe that their aristocratic heritage has come with the patriarchal burden of leading the less privileged. They think the average person is ill-equipped (due to a lack of so-called cultured experiences and, (gasp) inferior breeding—yes, I said what many think) to run the government (at least on a federal level), to even be able to intelligently identify and articulate her/his needs. It was this elitist thinking that prevented our forefathers from establishing a true democracy, after all. A representative democracy was deemed safer. It’s why the popular vote doesn’t actually directly determine who wins the presidency. You know this. You learned it at some point in your life.

Others run for office because they want to win at the highest levels. Perhaps they were captains of the cheerleading squad or football teams. Maybe they were all-county in tennis in the country club circuit. They led their prep squad to an undefeated season in lacrosse, golf, basketball, baseball. They left behind a legacy of winning when they graduated from the rugby, cricket, or squash club they helped form as undergrads. They were always used to competing and winning and, dammit, they are going to win in politics too. Maybe they’ve never really given thought to what happens after they secure the “victory” of getting elected. The victory, you see, is in getting elected, not what happens afterward.

Conversely, sometimes the perennial loser seeks political office. The mindset isn’t much different from the über-competitive winner. The difference is that they weren’t actually the captains of anything the social circles to which they aspired deemed worthy enough. For some reason the Insect Club in high school didn’t carry the same cachet as athletics, band, or even the debate club. So what’s a competitive person who hasn’t gained the social recognition he or she desires throughout childhood or adolescence to do? Why, pledge to a prestigious fraternity or sorority! Lead the Junior Insert-the-Political-Party’s! Go to law school! Run for political office! Not a loser now, am I? Gee, Mr. or Ms. Office Holder, what’ll you do now that you’re in office? Why, run for a higher office, Dear Child.

Lest you’ve become even more jaded reading this, let me remind you that there are those that run for office to truly address societal ills. Of course there are those, misguided, who define ills in the same way human rights groups define justice. But there are many who truly want to secure rights and gains for those for whom these things have been historically denied. Some of these individuals survive in office, never wavering from this goal. Their constituents may or may not reward them with re-election, but they typically remain unnoticed in the national spotlight. (With how many Congressmen and Congresswomen are you familiar?) These individuals have patience but are not sitting on their laurels waiting for good things to happen. Their loyal constituents practice patience, going again and again to the polls to make sure they stay in office. They are active, not passive. They don’t assume these people will get re-elected on their own. They don’t cry that these elected officials are not doing enough and then sit at home whining when somebody else wins and puts in place an agenda that will set social progress back decades.

A lot of criticism has been heaped on President Obama. He was criticized on the campaign trail, but enough people went out to the polls because they were inspired by his message and finally decided the country was seeping too far into economic ruin and socio-political despair. Many of these same individuals were not so inspired by John Kerry and, therefore, chose to grumble and suffer through four additional years of monetary disaster rather than vote to at least get out of office what they knew to not be working. So, they placed years of hope and dreams into the candidacy of one man.

And now, many are expressing frustration. They are disgruntled. They mock the name they once promoted. Why? Perhaps because they are not patient. Perhaps they practice the motto of “Get all now or get nothing.” This attitude might be something to applaud if it were followed up with action. In the mid-term elections it was followed up with inaction by most, action by a few—many of those with ideas long considered to be on the fringe. Well, tip your hats to them. They did not put up and shut up. They wanted change and elected people to go get it for them. You know, people who want slavery removed from history books, people who wanted to more narrowly define rape in a misguided attempt to rein in federal spending for abortions.

Let’s for a minute take a look at what the Obama Administration has accomplished:

  • Healthcare reform—It’s not perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than letting wealthy insurance companies and medical professionals run roughshod over everybody else; once a good deal of government waste is mopped up, our system will smell a whole lot better and be more efficient and cost-effective. Our other recent presidents were either too fearful to address this or too comfortable to even see a problem. But let’s blame this Administration for fringing on our liberties. Okay. For not doing enough, when nothing was being done before. ‘Kay, let’s.
  • Taking some well-aimed swings at Wall Street—Okay, no home runs yet, but it’s refreshing to see the hacks. If more Americans would start to hold corporate America accountable the government would follow suit.
  • End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—Sorry it didn’t happen on your timetable, those of you who have been the most vocal since Obama took office. I’m sorry, I must have gotten a new hearing aid. I didn’t hear your loud voices during the Clinton or Walker Bush Administrations. Those who have been working to get this absurd policy thrown out for years are celebrating the victory, while the Johnny-Come-Lately’s, the I Didn’t Speak Up Before’s, are sour that it took so long.
  • Major reduction of troops in Iraq and some serious improvements there—Yes, this has been tempered by increases in Afghanistan, but the man ran on that platform to get troops out of Iraq in a militarily safe and intelligent manner and to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. This wasn’t something he pulled out of his hindquarters once he took office. Were you listening before you voted?
  • Administration’s acknowledgment that the federal government has no right to define marriage and conclusion that the provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (implemented under President Clinton, I’ll remind you) that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman is unconstitutional—no, this hasn’t actually led to a repeal but it was a major announcement, paving the way for a challenge to the law that federal prosecutors will no longer defend.
  • Signs that the economy is improving—Let’s not get this twisted, Obama came into office long after we fell into an economic cesspool of unemployment. The disparity between rich and poor was never higher than in the past decade. So, let’s blame Obama for not snapping his fingers and making things right. Right. Right? The much-ridiculed stimulus bill and bailout of Detroit have led to some improvements. Let’s investigate ways to go farther.

The Obama Administration has had some fumbles and foibles. It has been slow to address some issues and hasn’t gone as far in addressing others, as what might have been hoped, but I’d rather have them addressed at some point and to some degree than not addressed at all. This President hasn’t sounded as cocksure and definitive as President G.W. Bush (that’s the knock G.H.W. Bush received, as people flocked to the more charismatic W.J. Clinton; on the other hand, H. Clinton was ridiculed for sounding authoritative…), but I’d rather have someone in office willing to challenge himself, than someone seemingly self-righteous and unwilling to question anything. Obama consistently expressed, before he was elected, his personal views of marriage being between a man and a woman, but that hasn’t stopped him from viewing the same definition as unconstitutional when authorized by federal law.

When the 2012 campaign gets underway, I’m curious to see if patience wins out over impatience. Will people who haven’t been patient enough sit back and watch people with whom they fundamentally disagree get into office? Will patient people re-elect a man who has been making some progress towards social justice? Will patient people put money, support, and their words of encouragement behind candidates who want to go further with reform that will benefit the most disadvantaged in society? Will impatience lead to rash support of a party that has no clear definition of what it is or a party that is very clear about what it is (and it’s not about the less privileged?) Or will it result in blind loyalty to a party that says it’s about the less privileged but has often portrayed a weakness and unwillingness (lack of desire?) to challenge the status quo when actually given a shot at prominence?

If you want to see the U.S. government acknowledge the biases inherent in our institutions and the inefficiency and oppressive nature of many long-supported policies, if you want to see the government implement sound policies that will curb the abuses of corporations and politicians who are more interested in dollar signs than human beings, work actively to find and back people that want the same things and have the courage and support to create and push through major legislation that will get us going on the path to justice at a workable, brisk pace. Cracking jokes, coming up with juvenile names to call political figures or parties, whining about your problems, none of these things are going to get you where you want to go—unless you don’t want to go anywhere. Educate yourself and find out where you want to go or have you been convinced that there is nowhere to go?

ELEMENTary Hip Hop Skool

February 6, 2011

ELEMENTary Hip Hop Skool keeps alive the true tradition of hip hop in addressing societal ills. It’s about addressing the blight, not sporting the bling. http://ow.ly/3Rf7v

Social Justice Curriculum for Youth

February 6, 2011

How can we raise more socially conscious and empathetic children? We can help promote social justice through building healthy relationships. In British Columbia, school districts implemented curriculum that promotes social justice for students in grades 6-12. The assessment of the program (Respectful Relationships), which measured surveys taken before and after program implementation was very positive, indicating significant gains in socio-emotional growth for students. Students self-reported enjoying the program and learning a lot from it. The program was spearheaded by the Saltspring Women Opposed to Violence and Abuse (SWOVA) Community Development and Research Society,

http://ow.ly/3Reh7

Human rights abuses continue in Darfur.

February 5, 2011

Human rights abuses continue in #Darfur.

http://blog.amnestyusa.org/africa/satellite-images-show-grave-crimes-continue-in-darfur/

Buy Sneakers for Yourself, Shoes for Others

February 5, 2011
What It Boils Down to Is Respect kedsshoe
What It Boils Down to Is Respect
For each sneaker bought, $2 will be donated to Soles4Souls. http://www.zazzle.com/freedom_equality_justice_keds_shoe_shoes-167742947673125409?gl=socialjusticeink&extralace=none&rf=238129605449077747 

Raise money for SolesforSouls

February 4, 2011
freedom equality justice Keds Shoe kedsshoe
freedom equality justice Keds Shoe

Support our effort to raise money for Soles4Souls. Shoes for people in need.

Donate directly to our campaign:

http://www.soles4soulsfundraising.org/cgi-bin/view_profile.cgi?id=1367

For each purchase of a pair of our sneakers we will donate $2 to Soles4Souls.

Peace Is Relative

February 11, 2009

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word peace I think of something desired and very positive. I wish peace for everyone living within this world. How ironic then that an entity with peace in the title is instrumental in perpetrating gross human rights violations.

I’m writing about the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar (Burma). This is the official name of the country’s military regime that’s been in power for over two decades. The SPDC is responsible for murdering political dissidents, torture, restricting the freedom to worship as one sees fit, stealing property, and countless other abuses.

No, none of this is new news. The SPDC has been doing this since they took power. For a while it was even trendy in parts of the Western world to talk about the atrocities in Burma and protest it. I don’t hear much about Burma these days, but the abuses are no less real, no less severe.

Human Rights Watch issued a report last month about the SPDC’s abuses of the Chin. The Chin live in the western part of Burma along the border with India. Many Chin are mired in poverty, forced to work in low-wage (or no-wage) jobs. It is not unusual for farmers to be forced to work the land for the benefit of the government, while they struggle to feed themselves.

Sadly, good times are often out of the reach for Chin who manage to flee to India. In India’s Mizoram State, where approximately 100,000 Chin refugees reside, discrimination abounds. Chin there face religious persecution and other forms of oppression. The institutional bias in the region hampers Chin from securing housing and finding employment.

Anti-immigrant protests have also flourished and authorities and citizen groups have literally forced thousands of Chin out of India and back to Burma. These authorities and locals probably tell themselves they are helping to keep the peace by driving out the foreigners in their region. Of course, holding bigoted protests to drive victims of human rights abuses back to the place where the grossest of the abuses take place is not what I consider peaceful. Peace, then, I guess is relative and people can twist it into what ever mishappen shape they want. As for me, I plan to retain my definition of peace as something desired. I will continue to wish this peace for all beings and do my part to help it become a reality.

Joe/SJI