February 19, 2017

A short story about empathy and understanding…

(The story at the beginning of this is altered to protect people who might be offended by the actual topic…
I’m not this sensitive about golf, but I needed to make a point)

I am a golfer. I love the sport and play it as often as I am able (I’m even going on a 50 day golf odyssey to every state this year). But often (as I’m a big fan of basketball as well) I’m in the gym with guys who don’t play golf. Periodically, the conversation will turn to what is and isn’t a sport; and, almost invariably someone will go on a “golf isn’t a sport” rant. If the majority of the group feels that way, it can often turn into a full-on offensive against golf, golfers, and anyone who might defend the game as a sport.

This (didn’t really, see note above) happened to me the other day and I came away with a perspective I feel might be important to share. When talking to a “golfing” friend later in the day I pointed out that probably, at this stage in my life, dealing with people constantly attacking “golf” was the closest I would ever come to feeling racism or bigotry (I’m a tall while male… I have literally every advantage our society offers). I noted how tough it can be to be surrounded by people who disrespect and even hate “golf.” Especially because they felt so emboldened by their majority standing that they were perfectly comfortable saying these things right to my face, without any regard for my feelings.

I did acknowledge that, while there is a clear majority of “non-golfers” around me I still had the ability to leave the situation and easily escape my tormentors, but still, it did offer me a hint of what it might be like. It was right about here in the conversation that I realized how broad a spectrum “empathy” can really have. In some ways, I certainly was more able to empathize with people who have been oppressed (based on race, gender, or whatever). However, if you think about it there is a big difference between the understanding you get from a car full of people driving by and yelling “cracker” and having almost every single person around you saying it. There is even another level when you consider that a person can get in their car and drive as far as they want… and still be looked on as that “cracker.”

(note: this image ^^^ links to a great article on empathy and dealing with it in interpersonal situations… it’s valuable all by itself)

What I believe is that getting to that point mentally, imagining that hopelessness or at least futility… that is where real empathy begins. I think it is very easy to be called a name, or have some core tenant of your beliefs attacked and think you “get it.” You don’t. And, while you may get closer to a functional (and, dare I say, useful) understanding if you take the full mental journey, you still won’t know the true experience (just as I never will).

However, maybe you don’t have to. When you take the step from “they called me a name and that sucks, so I get racism” or “all those guys were so much bigger than me, so I get what it’s like to be a woman and constantly feel like prey” to “what must be like to never be able to escape this… to have no safe harbor, have my only real options be to deal with it or hide… I just can’t imagine” you are probably getting as close as you can get (and as close as you need to be to know you don’t want anyone to experience that… ever). When it stops being a co-opted phrase to describe your personal discomfort (i.e. about you), and becomes a heartfelt caring for someone else (i.e. about someone else)… you’re probably where you need to be. You are feeling actual empathy… and probably personal growth as well.

September 23, 2016

Often the most dangerous people don’t carry a gun, they carry a pen (or keyboard)

I’m just going to come right out and say it. While I support the #BlackLivesMatter movement (stridently), I think many of the people who are ranting about police shootings are missing the real point, and, moreover, the real opportunity (assuming there is hope for meaningful change, that is – which, as an eternal optimist, I hold out for).

Here is what statistics (in the only reasonably scholastic study I have been able to find) tell us: police do not appear to have a racial bias toward firing specifically at African-Americans when it comes to discharging their weapons. This is not meant to discount the lives lost or the suffering of the families left behind when an officer does take a life. However, I’ve yet to see any evidence of bias when it come to actually pulling the trigger (while, at the same time, I have seen evidence against the existence of such bias).

But here’s the thing… THAT fact doesn’t matter, THAT fact is not a reason to think things are okay. Because long before the relatively even handed act of a police shooting happens… the acts of systemic racism, and the miscarriages of justice, have already occurred. African-Americans are pulled over twice as often as their Caucasian counterparts, and that disparity grows when you remove moving violations from the mix. More to the point “investigatory stops” – where officers pull a car over for trivial reasons because they suspect something more serious may be going on – are wildly out of balance.

So you have more black people being pulled over, every single day. Once they are pulled over, they are treated more physically in almost every way (the exception, the aforementioned officer shootings), take a look:

Less someone be inclined to suggest that African-Americans are more prone to resist and that is the reason, lets take a look at “compliant” stops (where the person being pulled over obeyed all orders by officers):

The likelihood of police putting their hands on a black person actually increased and the number of times they were pushed into a wall were largely unchanged. These are people who are actively following instructions by police, and yet, they are getting abused at a significantly and consistently greater rate then people of different ethnic groups.

This is where the real underlying problems are, because these things are happening day in and day out. They, unlike police shootings, are regular occurrences… these are our habits. It’s also where – perhaps – some solutions lie as well. The question becomes why do officers treat black people differently than white people when their behaviors are relatively the same? Like many things, the origins of this may be rooted in the generalized action of our society. Culturally, in the United States, we have almost always rendered black people (particularly men) as fearsome creatures. There are many media techniques for doing this:

  • African-Americans criminals are not named in photos roughly half the time (leaving the general classification of their race to be associated with the criminal act), Caucasians are named roughly two thirds of the time.
  • African-American suspects are shown in motion about half the time (showing a suspect in motion humanizes them, and reduces association with general characteristics like race), Caucasians over 2/3′s of the time.
  • African-Americans are depicted being physically held or restrained 38% of the time (images where the accused is being held imply they are more violent), Caucasians are show without restraints over 82% of the time.
  • African-Americans are nearly 4 times more likely to be portrayed as criminals than police officers on television news.

This is just a small sample, there are far more statistical facts available in support of the simple premise that we are systemically creating and fostering a culture of fear when it comes to African-Americans. Let me say that more clearly: we are taught to fear black people.

Terence Crutcher, in the words of police, as he was being shot, was a “big, bad dude.”

Terence Crutcher is probably dead right now because Betty Shelby was trained (her whole life) to be afraid of him. We know she scared, in her own words: “I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then,” To be honest, I’d be scared too if I thought someone was reaching into a car to pull out a weapon; but that’s not the point I’m making. I believe, and there is ample evidence to support this theory, that officers (and everyone else) are more scared of black men then they are of Caucasian men. I suspect Officer Shelby is no exception, and the reason this is true is because she has been socially conditioned her entire life to react just that way (note: this is not – in any way – offering an excuse for her actions, it’s just a possible path toward minimizing the number of times those actions are repeated by others in the future).

Which brings us to where I think so many of the protests are missing the mark. While there is a problem with police shootings, it is by and large a small number of people doing (very) bad things. For example, in one study covering 1.6 million arrests, guns were fired in only 507 cases (that is three hundredths of a percent – .0003 – for those of you keeping score at home). By contrast, most of our media is consistently reporting stories in the manner discussed above; specifically, with a significant amount of racial bias. It is this generalized fear-mongering that creates a culture of perceived threats, itchy trigger fingers, and – ultimately – dead black men.

The circumstances around police shootings are almost always going to be to grey, and – case by case – far too unique to form any generally prescriptive solutions from them; however, there is action that can be taken with regard to how the media reports the news. You can call your local stations (or, even the national broadcasting companies) and request (demand?) that they start to uniformly report on criminal cases. When they fail to do so, use the power of social media to call them out on it (when they succeed, call that out as well – their competitors will notice).

Step one is making people realize that African-Americans are not raging violent beasts, but rather, simply Americans, just like everyone else. Once we normalize the perceptions and get over the institutionalized fear, it becomes far easier to correct the issues as we see them playing out on the street. But make no mistake, the root cause of all of this violence and death is not people with guns… it’s people with pens (and keyboards).

April 28, 2015

Cultural Cognitive Dissonance and the Baltimore Riots

I’m not one to condone violence or destruction of other people’s property, and I find the events in Baltimore to be truly tragic. But in scanning my Facebook timeline this morning I have to say I was equally disgusted with several of my “friends.” The level of hypocrisy emanating from those heaping vitriol towards protesters, rioters, and looters by those whose taste for vengeance is well documented on their own timelines speaks to a societal cognitive dissonance that I cannot see ending in anything but violence.

I’ve seen this image of a mother addressing her son’s protesting activities three times, each with a completely different take on the scene. Coverage (that I have seen) has ranged from “Mother of the year” to “Woman berates and dehumanizes son.” Think about that, same picture, same story… completely different representations.

That we make of the news what we want, is not “new news;” however, the inevitability of outcome, when we do so, always seems to be revelatory. I’ve read, this morning, about how the rioters are doing so “because they want to, and finally have an excuse.” I’ve also read that they are desperate people left feeling as though they have no choice, in the words of none other than Martin Luther King Jr “riot is the language of the unheard.” (Note: fuller context of that quote is below, and is very much worth the read for a better understanding of the message he was sending and the culture and climate he faced; which is not entirely different than that which many in Baltimore and across this nation feel they find themselves in today. I’m not going to try to say those people are right, or they are wrong, I’m just acknowledging their perspective, because without it there is no hope of understanding or addressing this situation).

One definition of cognitive dissonance is this: “In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” What I am talking about is the manifestation of that stress and discomfort on a society that is at odds with itself. A culture that finds more and more to disagree upon, embraces divisiveness, and often eschews (even condemns) the ideas of compromise and moderation.

Given human nature and history, how can this society move anywhere but toward violent conflict? How can police officers not gravitate toward more violent arrests; and criminals toward more exaggerated forms of resistance and obstruction? When we call for the destruction of the foreign regimes over humanitarian violations, and launch wars in the name of the same; how do we reconcile condemning the use of violence or destruction toward a perceived oppressor that will not listen to complaints about, let alone act upon, these rising tensions on our city streets?

We have invaded nations in defence of “democracy”… an ambiguous concept (that we don’t even really embrace in full ourselves… but I digress); and yet we expect portions of our population to sit idly while members of their community are injured or killed without recourse.

Again, I’m not condoning or supporting the violence/riots/protests; what I’m suggesting is that we stop complaining about it, stop pointing fingers over it, stop generalizing, criticizing and stereotyping it, and get down to the dirty business of trying to prevent it going forward. As with all issues and addictions, this starts with admitting we have a problem.

We have a problem of us vs. them, a problem of hypocrisy, a problem of divisiveness… a problem of cultural cognitive dissonance. I often find myself a part of it and, most likely, you do as well. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Full MLK quote on rioting:

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

March 18, 2015

An Open Letter to the Open Letter to Starbucks and USAToday

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , , , , , — sbj @ 10:07 pm

Note: I’ll start by saying that the open letter to which I’m writing is here, and is well worth your time to read. It talks about the importance of addressing and attacking the systemic roots of racism rather than identifying and personifying the issue via individual instances (that summary is what I got from it, apologies to Race Forward if I misinterpreted or misunderstood the intent).


Dear Open Letter to Starbucks and USAToday (AKA Race Forward, AKA Rinku Sen),

I appreciate the focus you have placed on the institutionalized aspect of race and the importance of understanding these underlying tenets of our cultural fabric. I could not agree more (and, in fact, have written numerous times about this very need) regarding the urgency of pulling back the curtain in order to expose and address these issues.

Having said that, I cannot agree that individual conversations are unimportant – or – as stated by Jay Smooth in a tv interview, that it is sometimes better not to have a conversation if that conversation is not focused on the big picture. I get (and, again, agree with) the idea that entering the blame game does nothing but create defensive, closed off people who are no longer a potential part of the solution.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like that. My father, for years, said “that was mighty white of you” whenever someone did something particularly praiseworthy. He grew up hearing it on a daily basis (never as a contrast to something being mighty black or brown by the way… it had nothing to do with race to him). *I* grew up hearing it on a regular basis (from him) and not really thinking much of it… until I went off to college that is.

I played basketball in college, and – as such – the racial makeup of my friends changed significantly (not a lot of diversity in a private Catholic high school in Reno Nevada). I never really got into my dads pet phrase so I never ran into a problem using it, but as I hung out with my new friends I found myself becoming increasingly aware of what was and was not racially charged. Suddenly, for example, the Cleveland Indians mascot was significant to me. Over the years, I sort of forgot about dear old dads expression. But then I went home to visit and *boom* there it was, big as life, and through my new world lens… unconscionable.

So I talked to my father about race, about bigotry, about reinforcing negative (or falsely positive) stereotypes… about “mighty white.” He was shell-shocked. What he was saying (the meaning rather than the words) had never occurred to him. Some would say my father doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, other would say everyone has some racism or bigotry in them and he is no exception; but either way, it is highly unlikely that anyone has ever said (nor are they likely to ever say) he is a racist in any way shape or form. The guy simply doesn’t have “race” or anything like it in his value system… people are people, their actions determine “good” or “bad.”

But here’s the thing, I could have talked to him for days on end about systemic racism or about institutionalized bigotry and it really wouldn’t have been something he could relate to. In his insulated world (he moved to Boise Idaho after I left for college… also not a hotbed of racial variety, especially in 1984) those idea just wouldn’t (couldn’t) resonate with him. His world, consisting largely of one race, didn’t really contain any racism. However, once I was able to illustrate how he, himself, was acting, it opened the door to the bigger, more substantive, conversation. Simply put, once he realized he could be doing racist things (without actually having any racist thoughts or ideals) the idea of a society so conditioned was no longer such a far-reaching concept.

My (long-winded) point is that the individual conversations do matter, in fact, they are important. It’s not the existence of these conversations that cause defensiveness, it is the method of delivery or approach. Most of society is not ready to take on big conceptual issues. Heck, much of society is already pretty occupied trying to get the kids fed and the house cleaned up in time to get some sleep before they start all over the next day. And, if they are potentially open to waxing philosophical about race (or gender, or sexual preference, or gender identity et. al.) they are probably more likely to do so if they are invested or the subject resonates with them in some personal way.

Again, I appreciate your focus on the more entrenched societal norms and how they effect race (and other issues) today. Those are the areas in which real and lasting change can take place. I’d just encourage you not to lose track of the value of everyday, personally relevant, conversation in the mix. It’s not a matter of settling, it’s a matter if being comprehensive and fully vested in your efforts, and I think that goes well beyond the shallow bar of settling for “okay.”

With Respect,

November 20, 2014

All I want for Christmas…

I’ve decided if I can’t beat them, I’ll join them. Since “everyone” is ramping up for Christmas already; despite the fact that it’s still November and Thanksgiving is a full week away I figure I might as well try to do something constructive with the momentum. So here is my Christmas list (fully inclusive of all of my desires for this year).

1. Stop the bigotry, hate, derision, and fear. Break free of the onerous trappings of ignorance and embrace others for what they truly are… people, just like you and I, trying to move through and make the best of their lives.

That’s it… that’s all. Ready go!

This starts with stereotyping, and I’m not even thinking about “little black sambo,” the drunken indian, or the nerdy socially awkward (but super smart) Asian (or any of the other myriad of examples where minorities are marginalized by the generalities we cast upon them). No, today I’l focused a little closer to home (at least for me)… this has popped up on my facebook timeline four or five times over the last 24 hours:

Now, based on the tried and (arguably not) true axiom that “it’s okay if we say it to/about ourselves,” I should be okay going through the machinations of figuring out my redneck elf name. It’s all in good fun, and I’m not making fun of anyone but myself.

Except… I am. In reality this effects everyone. First and most directly, of course, it effects any and all “white” people who see it. Beyond that, though, it effects literally everyone… in so many ways. Once I get comfortable disparaging myself or those who are like me, the bar (of resistance) is lowered when it comes to grouping other people (and subsequently, potentially stereotyping them as well). I am tacitly approving of a society based on inclusion (and therefore also exclusion)… a culture of “us and them,” rather than “we.”

This type of thing is the toughest to get away from as well. Because it seems harmless, and self-effacing/deprecating, so why should anyone else be offended. The thing is, not offending someone (even though, perhaps it should) doesn’t mean what you have said or done is right; or, more importantly, best.

We don’t need to live in a divisive, unkind world. But if we are going to try to exist another way, it will take effort… including giving up some of our creature comforts like making fun of ourselves (and others) in a mean spirited way.

So there is it. my Christmas wish for 2014. And, since I am certainly guilty of doing this myself, I’ll go ahead and double down and make it my New Years resolution while I’m at it.

PS: Not judging anyone who did this and/or had fun doing so. This sort of thing is absolutely a societal norm in our culture and noone should be belittled for taking part in it. I just have a vision for what I believe is a better world for my children and their children to grow up in… and it starts with treating each other (and ourselves) better than we currently do.

September 23, 2014

Which witch is which? Emma Watson and the case for advocacy.

Recently Emma Watson gave a heralded speech to the UN on gender equality and the #HeForShe movement, spearheaded by the UN. #HeForShe is a worthy endeavor attempting to enlist 1 billion men and boys as supporters for gender equality… I am man number 41,039 for what that’s worth…

I have seen several portions of her talk both quoted and gushed about, so I figured I’d do my part in heaping praise toward her effort. Before I begin though, I do have a bit of a bone to pick with the UN and the name of the campaign… so… if you will indulge a short detour (if not just skip the next paragraph)…

One of the oft cited portions of her speech included dipping into the issue of equality from a male perspective. Specifically, talking about how women were not the only victims of gender inequality. Along with many others I found this to be a powerful addition to her words (not unlike President – then candidate – Obama’s speech on race from 2008). The issue is, I find “HeForShe” to be a bit at odds with the overall message (as paraphrased by me: “this effects us all and we are all part of the solution”) I got out of that segment of her speech. I think I would have preferred some sort of “all for one and one for all” type of name (not sure what it would be… but that’s not the point of this post, so I’m not really spending cycles on it right now).

Back to the point…

There was a lot to like in her presentation, but what really resonated with me was this:

“You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN. It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.”

And therein lies the rub. Anyone – and everyone – who cares can make a difference (in truth, by the simple act of caring, they already have). This is powerful, powerful stuff. If we all simply ignored the traditional/perceived blockers to the things we want to accomplish or the change we want to see in the world and, instead, acted upon our passions/interests; neither our lives nor our world would have any choice but to change.

In talking with a friend about this he threw out the quote about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step. I agreed, but countered with what I feel is a more empowering, albeit slightly more prescriptive quote from Arthur Ashe:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Every bit of effort – no matter how small – makes a difference; momentum absolutely matters. You don’t have to be Hermoine Granger to care about equality; and you don’t have to be asked to speak at the UN to make a difference. Every person you interact with is influenced by that experience. Every person who cares about you also cares (to whatever degree) about the things near and dear to you. No matter who you are you have that, and you can use it.

If you’ve ever played the 6 degrees of separation game (or, in terms the younger generations will find easier to relate to… signed up for LinkedIn) you know that no matter who you are, you are not many leaps away from a very large number of people. Shaquille O’Neil, Stanford University’s Provost, and the aforementioned President Obama are all 3rd degree contacts of mine on LinkedIn – meaning someone I know knows someone who knows them. There are literally tens of thousands of people one contact away from me. All I need to do is say the right thing, in the right way (so that it resonates with the right person) and it could explode throughout my personal network, and probably, by extension, yours as well.

So, I’d like to encourage everyone (especially the men reading this) to support the #HeForShe movement… it is important. However, on a bigger canvas, I’d like each of you to take a close look at what is important to you. What change would you like to see (or what do you want to ensure does not get changed)? Whatever that is, start talking about it, because you care and because you want to make it better.

To quote Emma Watson, quoting so many before her… if not you, then who? If not now, then when?


If you didn’t get a chance to see her presentation, here it is.

August 2, 2013

Riley Cooper should not be punished…

… but he should be shunned.


Some folks might think that is overly harsh and personal, to them I say… you just don’t get it. Racism does not exist because a bunch of cowardly idiots wearing bed sheets and dunce caps (coincidence… I think not) burn the occasional cross or harass a random minority. It exists because a bunch of overly entitled white guys in an upscale bar can get together and when someone tells a “black joke” they all laugh and accept it (even if they feel uncomfortable about it inside).

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in our country, and it is so for many very good reasons. I take advantage of that right each and every time i click on “Publish” while writing in this space. We all do it day in and day out, we should, it’s our right, and its a good things. But, while it is your right to think I’m an asshole for some of the things I write and you can elect to stop reading (or even discourage other people from reading my drivel) you are not entitled to punish me for what I say… because, no matter what it is, it is my protected right to say it and I violate no laws in doing so.

Neither did Riley Cooper. Which is why I say he should not be punished. The thing is, as a society, we need to stop trying to punish individuals and start dealing with our tolerance for intolerance (what did I just say???). Racism is a social issue, it gains its power from group acceptance not individual adherence.

LeSeann McCoy hit the nail on the head with his approach:

“He’s still a teammate. I’m still going to block for him. I’m still gonna show great effort. Just on a friendship level, and as a person, I can’t really respect somebody like that.”

Of course those first three sentences are only correct because our acceptance of racism at the corporate level is institutionalized. You see, McCoy, as an individual can make the choice to distance himself from Cooper; however, the Eagles cannot practically say “I don’t approve of your actions and I’m not going to be your friend anymore” (read: cut him). Why? because someone else will pick him right up, probably at a bargain price, creating a situation where the Eagles would be disadvantaged by doing so.

In other words, it’s not a financially sound practice to be morally or ethically upstanding; and when the choice is between money and morality we all know which was that door is going to swing. So the Eagles won’t drop him (some of them will even support him) and the beat will go one, the lessons about economics over ethics continuing to be reinforced, and the mock apologies over future incidents ensured because our corporate culture has given his actions its tacit approval. Even if they fine him (which really should not be illegal) it will not fix anything or send the message that his actions are unacceptable. It will simply set the market prices for being a racist. A price far too many people are willing to pay as a cost of doing bigoted-business.

July 16, 2013

Trayvon Martin (no fancy titles today)

I’ll start with a disalaimer, I did not start following the Trayvon Martin case closely until this weekend… so I am absolutely a johnny-come-lately on this issue. However, that does not mean I do not have things to share. The very first thing I saw this morning (on my computer) was this:

And with that, for the first time since February 26th of last year I felt good about something related to this case. Far to often we focus on who did what wrong and how should we hold them accountable for it. Few and far between are the conversations about what could have been done better and how can we learn to conduct ourselves better in the future as a result of this instance.

Even when we do see the latter, it is usually in the form of “slut-shaming” (perhaps we could call it “slum-shaming” in the case of a hooded teen walking alone on the streets at night?). You know the routine, “what did you expect to have happen wearing those clothes?” “I wouldn’t let my son walk around in the dead of night looking all gangster and stuff” etc. etc. etc.; ignoring the fact that the victim, by definition, does not commit the crime.

At this point I’m going to take a moment to point out that I do not know what happened that night in Florida. Based on the small sample of evidence I have heard from the trial and my limited knowledge of Florida law, I probably would have had a tough time convicting Zimmerman on the charges brought before the court. However, that should not imply in any way that I consider him innocent. I do not “stand with” Florida’s “Stand your ground” laws. For a more detailed look at my views written by someone other than me, check out this piece. His opinions mirror mine to the point that I’m willing to just let them speak for me.

Getting back to my point, what was so nice about the tweet above (if we were to look at it in specific reference to this situation) was that it focused on what could be done different not by the kid in the hoodie, but by the guy who shot him. Even better though, is that it can be applied to any situation where someone in Zimmerman’s shoes encounters someone in Martin’s. Further, and this is the best part, it is a blueprint for life even if you aren’t a volunteer neighborhood watchman on patroll, or even if you don’t run into a kid in a hoodie who you feel might be a touch menacing.

I love this because it says you can be a good person anytime you like. You (probably) do it all the time when you hold open a door for someone else or let them scootch in front of you in traffic when they don’t even have the right of way (what madness is this!!!). This simply encourages is raising the bar a little and doing it when it really matters.

I love this because whether you think George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in cold blood, got caught up in the moment and foolishly took his life in a bit of a rage, or truly was justifiably fearful of his life and acted in self-defense… this advice still works and is a blueprint that would have (most likely) prevented the entire event from occurring.

I love this because, well, I want to live in a world where people hear a result like the Trayvon Martin verdict and respond with “how cool would it have been if he had offered him a ride instead.” Today, I didn’t have to pretend or wish… it was the first thing I saw (on my computer) when I woke up. And while that won’t bring Martin back or allow Zimmerman to undo his actions, it might just give some other people who have not faced their Feburary 26th yet a little perspective when they do… perspective which might save the life (or lives) of the next Trayvon Martin(s).

May 6, 2013

Why stupidity is worse than porn…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , , — sbj @ 4:53 pm

Actually, stupidity may not be worse than porn, but since I was going to write about some of the evils of porn today and that was usurped by this stupidity, I guess, at least for today, I think that is the case.

Rather than attempt to restate ABC’s news report better than them, I’m just going to include it right here… as they presented it:

First of all, kudos to Josh for being dialed in enough to recognize street-harassment when he see’s it (even from a child’s plaything) and moreover for doing something about it. I’d be happy if most people simply recognized this type of sexualization/commodification, given that so many of us spend our days in some blissful oblivion about being surrounded by it.

After the above, the article goes on to point out how he went back and forth with Lego, and they eventually apologized and have taken steps to remove the product from the market and (more importantly) ensure nothing like it will make its way to store shelves again. Should be the happy(ish) end of the story, right???


Here is a clip from the top of the comments section on that story:

Take a moment to note that these are the “Popular now” comments (highlighted in yellow at the top of the image). Not the most recent, not the most distasteful, not the most replied to… no, the most popular. I can only screen capture so many, but let me assure you it goes on (the next one down reads as follows “Wow. dude i think you might want to look around cause I am pretty sure your balls fell off somewhere”).

So, now we have compounded our sexualization of women with gross gender stereotyping; and this, right here, is why I harp on and on about stereotyping. This is the insidious nature of the beast. Would-be defenders of decency are shamed by idiotic gender bias into silence (or at least that is the attempt). “Take his man card away,” “peed sitting down,” and “shouldn’t he be doing laundry or the dishes” are all comments meant to demean Josh for his stance. Why are they “insulting” because they all mean you are more like a woman than a man, and what could be worse than that?

I have confidence in Josh… I believe his response to that question (“what could be worse than that?”) would be something like “if being a man means berating other people for having the courage to stand up for what’s right, I’m pretty sure I’d rather be more like a woman.” He might also go on to say “however, I don’t think being decent is a hallmark of either sex; rather, I think it is a defining trait of someone with character and integrity.”

The problem is, there are a lot more not-Josh’s than Josh’s out there. People – most of them – are cowed by shame, confrontation, lack of approval and any number of other disabling human interactions. Life can be challenging enough without having insults thrown your way or being treated like a social pariah (I’m looking at you “Kat” and your “American needs a sense of humor” comment). You see, while I didn’t choose to highlight them in the image above, “Kat’s” comment along with “G. Manitley’s” “thicker skin” observation they are just as damaging, perhaps even worse at times.

While many reasonable people are capable of looking at the “peed sitting down” comment and dismissing it as being rude, bigoted, or asinine far fewer are able to take a strong stance against someone saying “have a sense of humor.” No one wants to be the drag, the party pooper, or boring. As such this little “helper” comment gives legs to the more egregious ones, it chips away at the defenses of good people, and it emboldens (and as such empowers) the “Michael P’s” of the world.

A good man (Josh) did a good thing, and has since been pilloried for it. If that is not the poster child for stupidity, I don’t know what is. The result of that stupidity is a foundational furtherance of institutionalized bigotry. So, yeah, I guess I do think stupidity is worse than porn… in fact – as what I believe to be the true root of all evil – it just might be worse than pretty much everything…

April 30, 2013

Without tolerance, there’s something missing…

So, I’ll just admit it. Five years ago, I was a hater. A big time hater who eschewed most of what he believed in in order to advocate for what he believed in. I think the technical term for this is hypocrite. And like most things, it got worse before it got better (assuming I can justifiably call where I am now better… I have no idea how I will judge myself in five more years).


This little epiphany came to me shortly after I was sorting through and processing news related to Jason Collins, specifically the reactions of other people to his announcement. This may seem unrelated to what follows, but bear with me… they connect (at least in they mystical ether more commonly referred to as my brain). A friend came up to me and showed me a picture on Facebook with President Bush and President Obama standing together with a caption that read something like “like if you think Bush was a better President.”

Laughter ensued, and a few snarky comments as well. But then it struck me, there are a lot of people who would be inclined to hit that like button. A lot of good, intelligent, compassionate people for that matter. And here I was mocking them, and then… suddenly… I was transported back in time to 1984 with the sage words of none other than the great prophet General Public resounding through my mind and into my soul:

I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it
I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful
Words are so cheap, but they can turn out expensive
Words like conviction can turn into a sentence

Hyperbole aside, this is where my mind went. I pointed out to my friend that, in fact, there is a group of people who really sincerely believe that President Bush was the better leader of the free world. I went on to say (in my mind) “who am I to berate them for that?” Our country is deeply divided right now over… well.. pretty much everything. This is not because one side is clearly right and the other side is clearly wrong (if that were true we wouldn’t be so deeply and evenly divided); more-so, it is because we are investing so much time and energy in pretending that the other side is clearly wrong – and deriding them for it – that we aren’t spending any (or at least enough) time actually trying to come up with solutions.

I, for example, in my excitement to support the candidate I had chosen, jumped firmly on the waxing tide of vitriol being heaped on outgoing President Bush as part of the Obama campaign. Completely ignoring the fact that Bush was not running in 2008, so anything dumped on him had nothing to do with the election that year. What I saw in Obama, a chance for progress toward general equality and tolerance I was conveniently evading in my own political rhetoric.

Coming back to Mr Collins announcement yesterday. I am happy, impressed and (more than anything else) thankful with/to him for taking that all important first step and “coming out.” I was also overwhelmed with the initial outpouring of positive emotion and support for him from athletes and others. Then some of the “other” responses started to trickle in. Mark Jackson said:

“As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family and I’m certainly praying for them at this time.”

This was actually filed under the “positive” responses… I didn’t take it that way (I’m not going to go into how I did take it as that would run contrary to what I’m trying to say with this post… you can be your own judge).

Mike Wallace posted an update on twitter wondering why, with so many attractive females around, a guy would want to mess around with another guy. An ESPN reporter went off on a bit of a rant about living in sin and what it was or was not to be Christian.

It was Mr. Wallace’s comments that really struck me. My instant (in my mind, again) response was something along the lines of:

That’s like asking a football player (which he is) – “with so many good basketball games going on, why would you want to waste your time on football” – or, asking a person who is eating Thai food – “with so many good Italian joints out there, why would you take your chances on Thai”…

In short, it’s a matter of taste. My sister (despite being brought up in a good family and being loved as a child) loves (**LOVES**) mayonnaise. I, by contrast, loath the fact that it exists and might accidentally get on a spoon I could possibly use months (and numerous washings) later. Other than the fact that *I think* she is bat-shit crazy for liking the stuff, there is nothing wrong with my sisters view. Further, no amount of intense personal loathing of the creamy white menace on my part will make her wrong (let alone change her taste for it).

There is also nothing wrong with Mr. Collins being more attracted to men than to women. In a more open, equal society he might be just as confused about why Mr. Wallace likes women as Mr. Wallace is currently confused about Collins predilection toward men. And that’s the thing, we should be able to treat someones sexual orientation (or political views) like my sister and I treat her taste (or my lack thereof) for mayonnaise (with respectful levity if anything at all).

But somehow we can’t. Bush has to be a villain and the worst President in history, God has to hate fags, I’m supposed to hate Mike Wallace (or Chris Culliver before him) and on and on it goes. What we fail to grasp, at times, is that while something may be a complete abomination to some of us (I’m looking at you, mayonnaise), what someone else feels about it is none of our business. Even when we view it as a sin or a blight against humanity we also need to remember that people are blessed with free will and can sin, blight, and abominate to their hearts content… so long as they are not harming others in the process. It is not our job to “fix” them, and even if it were… hating on them won’t do it.

The same friend who brought me the picture this morning also made the point to me yesterday that people shouldn’t be chided for openly and honestly sharing their feelings (ALA Mr. Wallace), even if they run contrary to the feel good mood of the day. And he’s right. He’s right because at the end of the day it’s not how well we articulate our opinions of someone else’s views that will make the world a better place, but rather, how well we tolerate, understand and ultimately respect those views no matter how much we might disagree with them.

April 25, 2013

Go home Ken, you’re drunk.

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , , — sbj @ 9:18 pm

I am sure, all things considered, being a plantation owner can be tough, with its own set of problems to overcome. However, I do not believe that meas that you get equate your issues with those of your slaves. Is this an unfair comparison, am I being too rough on this guy? Perhaps… lets take a look. I’ll describe what went on during slavery, and then we’ll see if we can swap out the word “men” for “slave owners” and the word “women” for “slaves.” If we can, I might be on to something, if not… I owe “Ken” and all of the men of the world an apology, here we go…

Slave owners oppressed, comodified, and degraded (among other things, like raped) their slaves. They build a culture which institutionalized the oppression of slaves while enabling and empowering the socioeconomic and political dominance of slave owners.


Although, to be fair, no one is advocating seceding from the union or a civil war based on the feminist movement (yet)… so perhaps I went slightly overboard.

Going further down the “fair” track, I do not believe that “Ken” really wants to equate himself with Barbie. I think he just wants to say “don’t forget about me, things can be tough over here as well. Everyone has issues, even Ken.” And, if he had said that, he’d be right (and I’d have nothing to write about today). But he didn’t… he said “…just as hard…”

With all due respect, “Ken,” no, it’s not. It’s not and – in all likelihood – it never will be. As I have pointed out about myself many times in this blog… white males hold all the cards in our society; every advantage is tilted our way. Can we still fail? Sure. Can we still have miserable lives? Sure. But, is it “just as hard to be Ken as it is to be Barbie?” No, no, and hell no.

Metaphorical Ken oppresses, comodifies, and degrades (among other things, like raping) metaphorical Barbie. He has built a culture which has institutionalized the oppression of metaphorical Barbie and enables and empowers the socioeconomic and political dominance of metaphorical Ken.

This individual Ken (picture above) might not be doing it, but more of the Kens throughout the years have been doing it than not and they have, through their collective efforts, created an entirely uneven playing field. If one side, in general, is running up hill and the other side, in general, is running down hill… guess who is going to win the race?

I’m not mad at ken. I don’t dislike Ken. I certainly don’t think Ken is a bad guy. Fact is, he’s obviously struggling a little, and I really wish there was some way I could help him out, to be honest. However, what cannot come from that is a notion of implied equality between Ken and Barbie.

Ken and Barbie are not equal… that is what the struggle for equal rights is all about. While men can and do suffer, it is not the same, and it is certainly not “just as hard.”

April 24, 2013

Inspired by segregation???

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 9:30 pm

In a word, no. However, I was, nonetheless, inspired as a result of this story. Today I received links to the following video by three different people:

The reason the video exists is appalling. In the year 2013, it appears, we still have a (partially) segregated south. This is shocking, offensive, mind-numbing, and (perhaps surprisingly) not at all what I want to talk about.

Instead I want to focus on the 7 conversations I have had about it today; each and every one of which contained some version of the following observation on the part of the person I was talking to:

Can this really be happening


This can’t be real, right?

And, as difficult as this is for me (and if you’ve known me or followed my writing for any length of time, I’m sure you know how hard this really is), I want to focus on that for a moment rather than the offense of the situation itself.

Because that is what gives me hope. The fact that every person I know (that I have discussed this with) has moved beyond offended and entered the world of bewildered and a touch incredulous is very encouraging to me.

Change starts (and stops and starts and stops and starts… you get the idea) when people get angry about things; however, change becomes embraced, owned and institutionalized when actions contrary to it are more befuddling and more of an assault to common sense than they are infuriating. I think we, in general, are starting to get there on this issue, and that excites me.

So, a big sticker to these girls (in the video) for taking a stand and working toward righting the ship in their corner of the world… and another one for all of you who looked on in shock and disbelief as the video played out. Your mind set, and that of those you interact with and effect, will be the instruments that will make this cultural shift a reality.

And to the folks tearing down the signs and trying to maintain the segregated dance… no sticker for you.

Actually, on second thought…

April 14, 2013

Sexpliotation, is it really that big a deal… you tell me. (somewhat unsafe for work)

Filed under: Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — sbj @ 5:07 am

“What’s wrong with caring what you look like/wanting to look your best all the time/being pretty.” I have been asked some variation of this question literally dozens of times since I posted “Putting your worst foot forward” on Thursday.

As I stated in my responses to these comments, I don’t have a problem with any of those things. In fact, I think doing your best is an admirable (and, if you want to be successful, mandatory) thing to do. However, as I pointed out to my good friend who has a sister who is (according to her) widely considered the “pretty, smart one” vs. her description of herself as the “helpful, quiet one”…

And there, in the final paragraph, is the rub. Women today are ranked first and foremost by their looks, and if you don’t “get it done” from an attraction standpoint in that area, you are instantly a second class citizen (you aren’t hopeless… but the deck is definitely stacked against you). Further, lets say you do make the grade. Lets say you are attractive… even “hot”… what happens then?

Well, you might be suitable for uncomfortable sex in the front seat of a car (although what you are really doing is selling Axe… for men):

You might be equated to (confused with?) an airbag (for the purpose of selling luxury cars… for men):

Your sexual past might not be considered important enough to eschew you (but **only** if you were hot enough, and you were willing to be used to sell used luxury cars… for men… of course):

If you are super hot and a philanthropist, you could even be a positive force for change in the world (if you were willing to imply indirect sexual conquest/consent… for men):

Orm best yet, you could be afforded the fantastic privilege of spreading ‘em for whoever happens to spray on a touch of Tom Ford cologne (you guessed it… for men):

All of this, mind you, is for the “winners,” for women who are at the top of the ladder in the category most commonly related to their success and closely tied to their value in society… attractiveness and sexuality.

Are there other ways to be successful as a woman? Sure, you could be a tennis player for example:

But two out of the top four Google search results would be about how sexy you were or were not.

You could be a soccer player:

Three out of the top six.

You could even be one of the most powerful people in the world. However, if you decided to not wear makeup and maintain your appearance you would be talked about for having been forgetful, having given up your ambition, or both.

And there you have it. You can, as a woman, reach the the pinnacle of success – Clinton could very easily have been our last president and she was a Senator and our Secretary of State – however, if you elect to go without make-up or contacts, you are news.

The simple fact is that women today are evaluated by how good looking they are… their waist, bust and hip measurements… how they dress and present themselves… and how they interact with men. If we are being honest – and speaking in general terms – that’s pretty much it. Certainly there are exceptions, but again, taken on the whole this is the state of our society.

So I say again, while I have no issues with the attributes of “pretty,” “beautiful,” or even “hot” in and of themselves, and I certainly appreciate attractive people and things… I do have an issue with those being the primary tools for evaluating another human being. Collectively, we need to get over judging our women by their covers. If that starts by letting our guard down a little regarding how we present ourselves on a regular basis, so be it.

April 11, 2013

Putting your worst foot forward

Filed under: Make the world better,Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 3:27 pm

Yesterday I posted a kind of ranty, kind or preachy, pseudo call to action piece. The theme (at least at the end during the “call to action” part) had to do with the exploitation of women, particularly their sexuality, in today’s society. In response to this (one of a few interesting responses I received) I got an email with the simple subject “practice what you preach!” and this link:

Bad Picture Monday

For those not inclined to follow the link, it suggests – in short – that people post a bad picture of themselves each Monday in order to reject the idea that ones value is based on your appearance. Don’t hide the real you behind a wall of flattering posed pictures taken at just the right angle in just the right light… show the real you.

My instant, admittedly thoughtless, response was (and I quote) “Love it… I’m in… you?” And the fact is, I do (love it) and I am (in). It feeds fantastically into what I have said (or want to say) over and over again. To borrow and build upon (which is not meant to imply improving upon… simply acknowledging that I am adding additional words to his quote) a little from Dr King… people should be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin, the shape of their bodies, the clarity of their skin, or the bone structure of their faces.

It also reminded me of my crusade against(ish) make-up. I’ve never been a fan and I’ve yet to encounter a time when I think it has been an improvement to a persons appearance. I acknowledge that it can *change* a persons appearance, which is something someone might want to do (like changing the color or design of a shirt, jacket or whatever they are wearing); but that is not the same as improving. In my mind makeup is a facade placed over how someone really looks. Which, is fine, if they are doing it because they want to look different (much like one might get a tattoo if you want your arm, back, leg, whatever, to look a certain way). However, all too often make-up is worn because the person feels they “need it” to look better (or even acceptable), and that is where this here rubber meets that thar road and I take umbrage. No one should feel forced to change their appearance to fit a norm or a standard.

But I digress (I do that a lot)…

In short, it’s what’s inside that counts. Anything that lends credence or support to that idea is “top of the list” stuff to me. To me, this “bad picture Monday” idea is right in the wheelhouse.

But then I gave it a bit more thought on the way into work today, and, frankly, I’m not as enthused as I was. I still like the idea just as much… the problem is this: I already post bad pictures of myself… a couple of random examples (with varying -increasing, I think – degrees of “bad”):

It turns out that it is no big deal to me to post unflattering pictures. This is probably mostly due to the fact that I am tall, employed, relatively fit and healthy, white, and male… with a good family… in America. What, really, do I have to be insecure about? In fact, when I post those pictures it is typically to get a laugh at my own expense.

Which got me to thinking… have I, in the past, been positive/secure/confident and mentally healthy in posting these… or have I been an oblivious participant in an oppressive culture? Am I, without my own knowledge, poking fun at people who are insecure with their appearance, mocking those who do not have the time or resources to make themselves “presentable?” Am I, in fact, part of the problem rather than my objective of being part of the solution? I’m not sure what the answers to these questions are (I’m game to hear from anyone with ideas).

More to the point, a woman rejecting the idea she needs conform to a certain image in order to have value makes sense because that addresses what is broken in society. For a man it is different, typically we are judged by something like our earning potential… so perhaps I should start there. This train of thought reminds me of this image I saw a while back (which I’ve been saving for a blog of it’s own… which may still happen). It paints about as clear a picture as I’ve seen of how society values the respective genders:


It is something I’ll have to ponder and explore a bit more. For now I’m going forward with the plan to post bad pictures on Monday’s; however, I am reserving the right to pull back after re-evaluation. Perhaps, given who I am and the position of privilege fate has given me… there is something more appropriate for me to be doing that assaults some other stereotype.

However, until I figure that all out… viva la mala imagen!!!

April 10, 2013

The Decisive Element…

Some of the “Facebook history threads” or whatever they are called are hilarious, some are patently offensive… the one I read today, while having doses of both, I found to be more instructive or insightful (even if – perhaps – accidentally so).

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know one of my pet peeves is when someone willingly relinquishes their position of righteousness and joins the madding crowd. This usually take the form of some form of revenge or vigilante justice. I should be up front about this… I’m a prime example of a person who – despite awareness, loathing and best efforts – has done, and most likely will continue to do, this very thing. It drives me no less crazy (in fact considerably more-so) when I am the one doing it.

Getting back to the little comedic history (this one was about WWII) there was this clip:

Note the (very short) journey of common sense in this clip. From a rather… dare I say… common sense response to one charged with anger and retribution. For now I’m going to ignore all of the pro/con arguments about the use of atomic power at the end of WWII, that is not the point of this piece. Rather I want to talk about how our emotions effect our thinking, judgement, and finally actions.

Literally years ago (it will be 5 years in May… unbelievable that I have been at this that long) I wrote about the somewhat famous Stanford prison experiment, the effects of the war in Iraq on our soldiers and other manifestations of stress et. al. Like the clip above, these are all cases of seemingly normal, healthy, and good people going bad.

At the very least, without context, their actions would be taken as bad, and in some cases even with full disclosure there is seemingly no excuse for what transpired. In the case of the clip above, in an attempt at humor, the creator has captured the essence of how so many bad decisions are made and bad actions taken. Given the right stimulus the human brain can rationalize any action. Note, for example, that the motivation for the sudden change of heart was actions taken by the Germans… while Japan received the atomic treatment.

Atomic (and nuclear) weapons will never do the bulk of their damage against the perpetrators of atrocities, but instead the majority of the victims will be the (at least relatively) innocent people having the misfortune of being born within the borders of the “evil doers” country. At best, tens of thousands of civilians (again, arguably completely innocent) will die for every truly “bad” person killed in such an attack. Morally, practically, and certainly with an eye toward justice, it makes absolutely no sense as a solution… and yet…

I had an online conversation yesterday and today regarding a rape/suicide and the perpetrators who walked away pretty much scotfree. The conversation was ripe anger (perhaps more accurately: rage) frustration, and helplessness. What was disturbing to me though were the calls for retribution rather than justice. There was talk of meat grinders, forced suicide etc. etc. etc. I understand the anger and hopelessness, and feel it myself, but I do not think sinking to an equally destructive position does the world any good. It might (or might not) make an individual feel better, but what has it done to reshape the rape/sexploitation/comodification of women culture we live in? what had it done to prevent the next Stuebenville, or Halifax, or wherever?

Slap on the wrist sentences are ridiculous and no more equal to justice than meat grinders. However, trivial punishments are something that we can reasonably attempt to address, without becoming part of a spiral of anger and destruction. Moreover, when it comes to changing the culture we live in, punishing the perpetrators of these crimes to the extreem is a bit like putting a mattress on the spot a jumper landed when they threw themselves to their death. It won’t bring them back, it won’t save the next person (even in the highly unlikely situation that they land in the same spot), and it won’t change the circumstances that led that person and anyone having already jumped or considering taking their own lives from following that path.

What we need is a fundamental societal shift.

When determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a crime their actions, and only their actions, need to be considered. It doesn’t matter what their victim was wearing, singing or doing with their cherry stem… what matters is what the accused did with their hands (or other implements). This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


When the US patent office receives a copyright application for “breastaurant” they need to reject it on the spot and initiate the biggest sexual workplace harassment investigation in history. Cause, seriously, I can’t say “you look great in those jeans” to a co-worker (not that I want to… just making a point) but that joker can call his bikini clad employees (all of them, nationwide!!!) “breastaurant workers” and that’s totally cool???? This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


And, when a car company tries to sell used cars by saying “you know you’re not the first, but do you really care” we all need to say enough! If the workplace is the only place a woman can feel protected from being reduced to a commodity (not that she really can, but at least there are some laws that *should* protect her there) we are doing something drastically wrong. This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


I could go on, but you get the point (and I’ve drifted a bit from mine).

The things that we see, hear, experience in the world effect us… at times they infuriate us. What we do about that is up to us. It is – often – not easy to find a productive reasoned response to what we are exposed to (as I said at the beginning, I often fail at this); however, in the long run, doing so is exactly what will help us manifest the change we want to see in the world. At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure that restraint and constructive reactions are and will be what separate us from being the worst that we can be… and provide the potential for attaining some much more than we can imagine ourselves accomplishing.

Or, put better, by someone far smarter than I:

Much ado about something…

I have heard a steady and incessant stream of criticism for Brad Paisley’s new song (featuring LL Cool J) today. Let me start by saying most of it is bush-league and unenlightened and if you don’t have the ability to discern the difference between ignoring history and trying to create a better future, you do not belong in the “critiquing game.” Small minded people with limited depth of thought really need not apply.

bra and ll

Here is what I see in the song, first and foremost, an attempt by two artists to do what the rest of the country (world?) should be doing; specifically, moving toward a better place. The lessons of the past should not be forgotten, and I’m certain that no one, Paisley or Cool J included, wants to pretend slavery didn’t happen. However, in the real world of today, established social conditions of fear and bigotry are a real and tangible problems and attempts to get beyond those are worth far more than clinging or giving deference to atrocities of the past.

There is not a single black person alive in the United States today who has felt the sting of a foreman’s whip on a plantation, who has been denigrated and treated as less than human by their “master” or who has had all of their liberties systematically striped from them (assuming they ever had them to begin with). There is not one who cannot vote because they are property rather than people and they can drink from the same water fountains (et. al.) as everyone else. However, each and every black person in the United States today, does continue to suffer from the residual effects of slavery. They do not enjoy parity as citizens, equality in the workplace, or uniformity of perception by their peers. They live their lives cast in an inescapable societal role defined by outdated and in most cases never accurate assumptions, perceptions and stereotypes. Or, in simpler terms, they exist in the context of institutionalized ignorance and (hopefully an ever reducing amount of) bigotry.

Therefore, while I agree it is important to remember our history so that we do not repeat it, I do not agree that we need to let it take priority over anything attempting to promote communications and understanding. There is no greater potential power against inequality than knowledge. Comprehending someone else’s reality allows one to understand that they are not the enemy, simply another person (or group of people) moving through life, just like you and me. This is the crux of this song, Paisley trying to clear up what his flag shirt means to him, as opposed to what it might mean to someone who has seen it without any context with which to interpret it. LL hits the nail on the head with this (much maligned) line “I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air but I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here.”

I am flabbergasted that critics have elected to point out that “conversate” is not in the dictionary while ignoring the significance of this outreach (the same critic who used the oh-so-compelling argument of “oh LL” – full stop – to make a point and said “…you can’t be no…” ’nuff said). The intent (read: the substance) here is a stated interest in understanding and a candid admission of what scares him about going down that road. There is more actionable content in that sentence than in the entirety of all of the articles/blogs/videos I have seen bashing the song combined.

If people can begin to understand each other and stop crossing the street in fear because a bunch of black kids are approaching from the opposite direction (or because of a bunch of tattoo’d white kids, or whatever) then that is real progress, something that can make a difference in the world. Understanding that a guy can wear a do-rag without being in a gang, or whistle Dixie without being a racist is a worthy goal… something for which we should be saluting these two artists, not disparaging them.

There are some historical issues in the song, for sure. It is even debatable if the song (musically) is good. However, what is undeniable is that two people from opposite sides of the spectrum got together to produce a piece of art that attempts to unify rather then divide. And if you can’t get behind that, then frankly (and bluntly), I can’t get behind you.

August 17, 2012

Pigskin Feminism??? Not in New York (or Sunnyvale, CA)

So I read this today, and I’m not sure that I came away from it with the same thing everyone else did.

The article, in short for those not interested in reading it, talks about LSU’s “Honey Badger” (Tyrann Mathieu), his dismissal from the football program and a former LSU players attempts to mentor (and later, even reach) him in an effort to help him get his life together.

The article turned, for me, when LaRon Landry (the former Tiger and currently playing for the NFL’s New York Jets describe his feelings for being ignored as follows:

“Don’t treat me like a female.”

Clearly, this is not what I (or, I suspect, most of my regular readers) would call “good form.” Connotatively speaking, denotatively speaking… any old “atively” speaking this is offensive, unevolved and (depending on the intent of the speaker) entering into the realm of misogyny.

This piece might turn, for you, with what I am about to say… because while I don’t hold harmless LaRon Landry, I choose to focus my attention and disappointment on Yahoo Sports and the articles author Eric Adelson.

I can completely see where, why and how that comment could come out of Mr Landry’s mouth. Fact of the matter is, I’m a bit (pleasantly) surprised the last word was what it was. Again, that is not to condone it. If I were to send a message directly to LaRon it would be along the lines of:

“clean up your own back yard before you worry about that of your neighbor. If you can’t be bothered to speak respectfully about half the world… I’m pretty sure I don’t want you trying to influence *ANYONE* let alone someone who is already clearly struggling with his role in society.”

… but that doesn’t prevent me from understanding the world he lives in and how there might not be an automatic filter that says “oh wait… I shouldn’t say that” let alone a base mind set the precludes even having the thought.

Yahoo and Mr. Adelson enjoy no such quarter from me. They not only should know better, they not only have staff editors etc. that should also know better (an entire system built around massaging their message to the point that it is maximized for profit), but they are, as members of a mass media outlet, a big part of the reason we have these types of stereotypes in the first place.

I spent a good part of this year traveling back and forth to Wickenberg Arizona where a family member was an in-patient resident of a eating disorder treatment center. Why? Partly because our society… our media… shapes the images our children have of themselves and the people around them.

What does “Don’t treat me like a female” say, if not, “I am a man and therefore deserve better treatment” “this would be fine if I were an inferior woman, but i’m not and therefore it is not” etc. etc. etc. Once more, I do not believe Landry meant it that way (or at least to that degree), but that’s still what it says (and if you read the article, and it didn’t cause you a moments pause, congratulations… you too have been indoctrinated into societies little game).

Back to Yahoo, Eric and the article. I have read it about three times now in full (more after to pull out the quote etc.) and what is abundantly clear to me is that while saying that may have added meaning and aided understanding regarding Mr Landry’s position during the interview process… it added nothing of value to the article. go back and read it again (or for the first time), omitting that sentence/paragraph. Guess what…nothing about the article changes…other than its (un?)witting assault on women.

Yet, they, the fine literary minds at Yahoo, elected to keep it in there, and kick that can just a little further down the road. Inexcusable.

It might not be a hate crime, but for a professional media outlet I would hope there would be a higher bar than “not outright misogyny.”

July 12, 2012

Girls, Girls, Girls!!! (Part 1)

Filed under: Just life,Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 5:09 pm

I have two things I want to write about on this topic, and I can’t decide which to do, so I’m just going to do them both separately, in no particular order.

This one is shorter, so it goes first.

I saw this picture today on Pinterest:

It had the caption “Fact: Bella Swan is not a role model for girls.”

Now, based on my limited exposure to the Twilight saga, I kind of agree with the caption. However, given the context of the picture, I do not think I agree or support what they are trying to say.

First of all, while I have nothing MORE against a woman leading an army, fighting a dark lord, or starting a rebellion than I do a guy doing these things, I do question whether any of them (or any male counterparts out there) are really the kind of role models I want my children to emulate. These are things that a person, in the wrong place at the wrong time, might do out of necessity; but there’s nothing there that I would want for my children in a peaceful, civilized world.

Perhaps if they had chosen Elizabeth Blackwell, Harriet Tubman, or Marie Curie (I could go on, but you get the idea, real women that did real things in the face or real adversity) I’d be more inspired.

My bigger point, though, is that there is nothing wrong with getting married… in fact its quite cool. It’s cool for men, it’s cool for women, its cool for everyone (if you’re into that sort of thing… if not, being single is just as cool for you). There is absolutely nothing wrong with “winding up married.”

I’d be a “house husband” in a New York minute, and be damn proud of what I did day in and day out. I cannot imagine anything more important than crafting members of the next generation. Frankly, I think if more people prioritized that and stopped imagining themselves leading fictional rebellions the world would be a better place.

I agree that a world where women are relegated to marriage, child rearing, etc. alone is an affront to women, a massive disservice to humanity, and a backsliding continuation of a horrifically misguided past; and I absolutely love seeing (at least parts of) humanity (all to slowly) moving toward more a more balanced society with women as CEO’s, legitimate Presidential candidates, and occupying any other role previously thought of a mans position. However, a future culture that disparages marriage and cast a pall of failure on someone (of either gender) simply because the (very early) return on their life’s effort is a wedding is, in my opinion, a culture that has failed.

There is little in the world that I respect or admire more than a couple celebrating 40, 50, or 60 years of marriage. In fact, if you put two 80 year old people in front of me and one said “I was CEO of a fortune 500 company for 50 years” and the other said “I have been happily married for 50 fantastic years” I wouldn’t waste a minute calling the second person the greater success.

There is no shame in marriage, some of my greatest personal role models are people who have been doing it for decades… I’d be willing to bet some of yours have as well.

April 26, 2010

Mea Culpa?

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 5:09 pm

Friday night, at the local watering hole, I found myself in a conversation with three women of varying feminist proclivities, regarding the role of a historically anglo-patriarchal society in shaping todays culture and equality environment (come on, it’s the same stuff you talk about when you get a drink after work on a Friday night, admit it! ;) ).

Part of the discussion involved white men admitting that they had been “jerks” for several hundred years. There was general disagreement, in fact bewilderment might be the better word, on the part of some of the women in the conversation as to why “we” couldn’t just say “yeah, that happened, it sucked, now lets move on.” My response was along the lines of this:

Because (white) men are scared (not individually, but as a group). If we admit we oppressed women (or blacks, or native americans, or anyone else for that matter) we are on the hook for it. We are responsible, and that doesn’t work for two reasons. 1) it puts at risk our position at the top of the “food chain,” our entire society is set up to favor white men, if we have to make up for centuries of favoritism (longer, in the case of women) in the form of reparations, that is going to change. 2) even if (as was suggested by my drinking companions) the women (or other groups) were willing to say “bygones, thanks for owning your mistake,” no one wants a tarnished history. Everyone wants to be the good guy in the story… tough shoes to fill with 400 years (or more, depending on which group you are focused upon) of oppression on our back.

Well, little did I know that we were in such good company. For, also on Friday, no less August a source than the New York Times ran an oped about the slave trade, culpability, and reparations. The article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html?scp=1&sq=slavery%20blame&st=cse

I didn’t see the actual article (until today), however while reading the Times on my way to work (on the bus, don’t worry, I don’t read and drive!), I stumbled across three letters to the editor about it (here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/26/opinion/l26slavery.html). The article, and all of the letters are written by respected college professors and none are the type of whiny drivel you might find in some letters to the editor section, they are all well worth the read.

Clearly, reparations are still an issue, and, I believe, a big part of the reason that those who might be otherwise inclined to give a communal “my bad” are keeping their heads buried. No one wants to be punished for something they didn’t do, and it is fairly safe to say (except for a couple of yahoo’s here and there) that the folks that would have to admit to wrong doing today, are not guilty of the wrong doing in question (don’t get me started about any wrong doing that is takig place today… this piece is long enough already).

Over the course of my life the demographic breakdown of my friends clearly indicates that I am neither bigoted nor sexist. In this very blog I have championed equal rights in both popular and … lets say… less popular ways. Clearly (at least I like to think) I am not the bad guy here.

However… while I did not commit the crimes, that does not mean I am not enjoying the fruits of that unsavory labor. I am a healthy, tall, white male… as far as “advantages”, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Using only the history of this particular parcel of land (the United States) dating back to early colonial times, “I” have been a respected, participating, and in every measurable way a real part of society since day one (lets call that 1492), or, roughly 520 years.

Women got the right to vote (which should not be confused with full equality) in 1920 (or, roughly 90 years ago). *If* voting right translated to equal rights (they don’t) that would mean that men had a 430 year head start in shaping the country the way they wanted it. (Lest you think that the US is too back woods and behind the rest of the world, Finland was the first country to give full suffrage to women, in 1906).

Discrimination by race is only moderately better (15th amendment – 1870), or moderately worse (MLK was assissinated only 40 short years ago) than that of gender, depending on your perspective

Obviously, the dates on which groups received the vote do not equate to equal footing in creating our national culture. However, even if we (generously) grant those dates as being the watershed moments for those groups, That would mean that men of a race other than white have been involved for what would amount to 26% (the 4th quarter of a basketball game), and women (regardless of race) 17% (entering a metaphorical baseball game in the bottom of the eighth inning).

As talented as Mr. Jordan (Mr. Bird, or Wilt the Stilt) was, I don’t think he would make a very big impression on the game playing only the fourth quarter. Similarly, as talented as Mr. Ruth (or Mr Cobb, or A-Rod) was, playing less than the last two innings, the game would likely be decided well before his involvement. Clearly there is an advantage to the guys who play the whole game.

Perhaps this is what we need to recognize. Perhaps people like me need to stand up and rather than saying I’m sorry I caused the hardships your forefathers experienced (which I didn’t); we need to say, I recognize that I am enjoying benefits from a history that was greatly tilted in my favor (which I am), I feel compassion for your position (which I do), and where I can, I’m here to help.

Recently I said, to a very dear friend, “I’m not dealing in fault… it is a fleeting and temporary placebo for action and accountability.” I believe that applies here as much as it might anywhere else. I’m not sure about reparations. I don’t know that they are feasible/practical, nor do I know if I think they are that right course of action if they are. But I do know about action and accountability. I am perfectly capable of acknowledging my advantages, and taking whatever actions I can to level the playing field.

This feels like a good start…

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