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 30, 2015

The continuing downward spiral of our standards for greatness…

I’m still (quite) bothered by the moniker of “mother of the year” attributed to the woman who used violence to express her disapproval of her son participating in a violent protest. Not necessarily bothered by her, mind you… that’s her family and her business, I’ve not walked a foot in her shoes, let alone a mile. My issue is with the media and their inability to see the problem with sending that message.

There are so many points of failure there. What would the conversation be if it had been his father rather than his mother beating him up over his protesting actions? Play that one out in your mind. I suspect that at best it would be ignored, alternately it might appear as one of many clips of “black on black violence” running rampant on the streets, further evidence of what is wrong with “them.” Two parents, same action, yet completely different responses… why? Are we celebrating her inability to be violently effective?

What of the mothers who children stayed home and read, or did homework, or went down the next day and cleaned up after the looters and vandals. If this woman was mother of the year… what are they? How about the mothers of the peaceful protesters that never turned to looting or violence, but exercised their right (some would say responsibility) as citizens to assemble. What did the parents of these men – who stood with the police, against the violence and criminal activities going on around them – do wrong to be considered also-rans for the coveted media “mother of the year” award?

I’ve wanted to physically interact with my children before… never done it, but I’ve “wanted to.” I’ve been frustrated by my interactions with them or my inability to make them understand something to the point that I felt the urge to “knock some sense into them.” So I get where Ms Graham was coming from, she did what many parents would want to do in that situation. I just think that sometimes there is a difference between doing what you want to do vs. what you should do, and far too often we seem to validate and even elevate folks for doing the former as opposed to the latter… probably because we can relate to their state of mind while they are doing it.

Maybe part of the problem we are having is that people doing the right thing, regularly and consistently, just isn’t newsworthy to us. Maybe we just aren’t inspired by lives well lived. Absent drama, those lives don’t feed into our more base desires or satisfy our need for some sort of action. When I’m angry or upset about looting, it’s easy for me to get motivated by a woman taking her rioting son out behind the metaphorical woodshed… it’s exactly what I want to do to her son (and all the other son’s of all the other mothers out there hurting people and damaging property).

But… that doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it constructive, and I don’t think it makes you mother of the year.

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 29, 2013

And another thing… (Trayvon Martin thoughts, cont.)


I do not mean to be insensitive to the Martin Family (or any of Trayvon’s other loved ones), nor do I mean to offend anyone who has taken up or adopted his plight but I am concerned about the singular attention this case has been given and the exclusion of so many other stories and other families who are suffering no less than his.

Over the past two years (for which we have statistics ’10 and ’11) there are an average of 42 homicides a day (roughly 30,000 over that time, 22,000 of which were by gunshot). Which means that during the jury deliberation portion of the trial alone (16 hours) 28 people would have been murdered (if the averages were maintained during that time).

That’s 28 people neither you or I (in all likelihood) will ever know the names of, or the circumstances of their demise. That’s also 28 people who are no less dead than Trayvon, with families no less torn apart than his.

We know that only 10% of homicides victims are under the age of 18, so maybe that makes it a bit more palatable that only 3 children murdered while those deliberations took place. The same source (the U.S. Bureau of Justice) tells us that 48.1% of those murdered are black… so that gets us close to only one murdered black child during that time.

Perhaps that child was Darious Simmons, or Nazia Banks or perhaps it was one of the several hundred other black youths that I was able to find that had been shot to death within the last year or so – none of whom I have heard of (including those in this tribute to the 108 Chicago area children killed in 2012)

My point is that while Martin, his family (along and Zimmerman et. al.) have become (certainly unwilling) celebrities, the circumstances of this tragedy continue to repeat themselves each and every day. So, while I think it is great that there is a growth in national awareness that is coming from the Trayvon Martin case, I fear that the wrong conversations are being had.

All of the conversations are important, but, this case has gone on long enough… lets start talking about Darious now. Lets discuss Nazia (and Kentan, and Porshe, and Sergio… and… and… and so many others from the Chicago list… all 15 or younger), then lets get over the racial aspect and talk about Latino children, and white children and every single child that is in harms way.

42 people a day (30 of them murdered with a firearm, for the record – and before the NRA apologists get into the act, these are homicide numbers, suicides etc. have already been baked out of the equation)…and yet for over a year our nation (and news media) was gripped by the drama generated by just one of these cases.

Trayvon Martin has become the face of the problem, the personification of it, and as such, I fear that when the news about him dies down… so will the associated (and very important) conversations. Put another way, the reality of young black people (or people of any age or color for that matter) being murdered will continue but the national awareness will not because our focus will have moved from the ongoing issue to a temporarily sensationalized example of it.

If we are not careful, the tragedy of February 26th may be re-doubled because we miss out on the chance to talk about the entire forest due to our interest in this particular tree.

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).

July 8, 2010

If you’re not part of the solution…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , , — sbj @ 4:43 pm

First of all, by way of full disclosure, let me get the dirty work out of the way (and probably lose half of my potential readers in the process).  I am against Arizona SB1070.  I believe it promotes racial profiling and in doing so perpetuates negative stereotypes. I believe that there is no room in our supposedly advanced and evolved society for such legislation.  That is my opinion, it is battle tested, and I assure you, you are not going to change it.  But that’s not what this post is about…

Now that I have reduced the people reading this to those who also oppose the law – my intended target audience anyway… I will proceed with pissing many of you off as well.

Why, because I don’t believe, for one minute, that the majority of citizens (or even legislators) in Arizona are filled, or even guided by hate, and I think those of you out there who oppose this bill and are touting hate as the root cause of it are barking up the wrong tree and causing more harm than good for yourselves and your cause.

While it is convenient, easy and emotionally stirring to point to someone and say they are motivated by hate, fear, or other “evil” forces.  The fact is that, rarely, is that the case.

In Arizona, I believe the motivating factor is intense – and justified – frustration.  However, as is often the case, a decision made from frustration is not the best (or even close to the best, again, IMO) one available.

US Representative Gabrielle Gifford appears to agree, recently issuing the following statement:

I am disappointed with the federal lawsuit against SB 1070 for the same reason I was disappointed when this bill became law: Neither will do anything to make Arizona’s border communities more secure.

Both the law and the lawsuit challenging the law are unnecessary distractions. Arizonans want our nation to control its borders and bring a halt to the violence, smugglers and drugs that threaten our way of life

I believe SB 1070 is a mistake, and it does bad things.  However, grouping the people of Arizona and their elected officials as hate mongers is not only also bad, it is, in fact, the exact same “bad thing” that many bill opponents are up in arms about in the first place.  It is a grand generalization, launched out of frustration, at a group of people composed largely of individuals to which the accusation does not apply.

If concerned citizens from outside the state of Arizona want to take the time and make the effort to get involved in Arizona politics, I would encourage them to do so in a constructive manner.  Don’t attack the people or the legislators, attack the law, and, if you are going to do that, be willing to stand WITH the citizens of Arizona in forging a good solution to a very real problem.

If not, put simply, you are part of the problem…

May 3, 2010

Razing Arizona

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 11:03 pm

Thank goodness for the clear head of Arizona’s Governor! Now, the racial profiling that is soon to become rampant in Arizona will not be based upon race. Wait… what? Hmmm…

New legislation in Arizona makes it a state (as opposed to federal) crime to be in Arizona without proper immigration papers. Further, it requires police to determine whether people are in the country legally and allows for penalties should a resident successfully sue the police over lack of enforcement.

For a moment, I’m going to ignore the golden opportunity that I appear to have missed over the years; suing the police department for not making sure each and every citizen is not a rapist, burglar, murder or jay walker (or at least ensuring that every perpetrator of such crimes is brought to justice).

I’m also going to spare you my usual “Immigrants (pot) calling the immigrants (kettle) unwelcome (black)” shtick as well. Instead I’m going to jump into the heart of the matter…

This whole thing, to me, smacks of two of history’s less savory moments:

We are supposed to be better than this.

We are supposed to have learned from history.

Why did I have to be assaulted, at far to young an age (is there an appropriate age, really?), by the horrors of German concentration camps, stacks of rotting corpses, human lab animals etc., if we, as a society, were not going to learn the lessons contained within that material?

Why was I forced to digest and understand the concepts of mass panic and delusion that led to the Salem witch hunts, if it was not to prepare me and the rest of my countrymen against such maniacal behavior in the future?

We are supposed to be better than this.

I can hear the collective groans of some of my readers now. I’ve gone too far with these comparisons, I lose you when I get all fanatical, we have a real illegal alien problem, and if the federal government had taken care of it years ago the states (especially border states) would not be put in this desperate situation etc. etc. etc.

Well some of those claims may be right. They all have at least enough merit to have a conversation; however, none of them address my real concern. When you mandate police action, and measurable results for which the police departments are accountable, you introduce something other than simple public service into the mix.

Originally the statute stated that race could not be used “solely” as a factor leading to suspicion, however it could be a contributing factor. With one deft stroke of his mighty pen, the Governor changed all that; removing the word solely, and thus stating that race is not permitted to be a factor in becoming suspicious about a persons immigration status.

Exactly what, then, are they going to use to arouse suspicion at this point? They have to do something, because, well, it is mandatory… or they are going to get sued by citizens because police are not enforcing the law.

Language? If you are, say, speaking Spanish… perhaps then we need to see your papers?

Perhaps we will profile by appearance of poverty, or by what kind of work one does?

58.4% of Arizona’s population is reported to be white non-Hispanic, 30.1% Hispanic or Latino. Should we expect no more than 30% of inquiries to be of Latinos (or no less than 50% to be of whites)? Or, is it probably a touch more realistic to expect racial profiling… implicit in the legislation or not?

And therein lies the rub. From here, this law almost mandates selective and racially motivated screening. I’m not saying the intent is bad, or that the police departments involved are corrupt or bigoted. Rather I’m simply saying the legislation has tied their hands, creating an inevitable state of civil rights inequity.

I completely agree that there exists a problem with illegals, those who do not contribute to the system (pay for emergency services etc. via taxes), and who, nonetheless, consume the benefits of these services (it is a problem, by the way, similar to the homeless and indigent problems faced by our cities and counties). I just happen to think there must be solutions to this problem that do not involve compromising the integrity of our police departments and the implication of potential guilt on a measurable portion of our legal and productive citizenry.

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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