Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Commerce Without Morality

I decided to just post the sin I'll be discussing today in the title of this blog. For those of you unaware, we are still discussing Gandhi's Seven Social Sins and "commerce without morality" is today's topic.

Unfortunately, I feel like I've discussed this topic several times already with my previous posts. One of the endearing facets of American society is a business community that has skirted the rules to make a buck. Actually, I'm sure that's a part of every business community in the world, but since I live in America, that's the country I'm most familiar with.

Then I decided to look up the dictionary definition of the word "commerce" to hopefully get some new inspiration. What I found was not only does the word "commerce" relate to the financial world, but it also has some other meanings

According to dictionary.com, the word "commerce: can mean an intellectual or spiritual interchange; communion.

That definition resonated with me.

"Intellectual and spiritual interchanges" are an important part of my life these days. Whether it be chopping up world events with folks on the Internets, or trying to find a better connection with God and my wife, I've found that establishing different types of "communions" is important to living a fulfilling life.

The thing is, it's a struggle to maintain a rigid and unchanging sense of morality and self in everyday life.

For example, as a married man, I've learned exactly how difficult it is to live with and love another person. When I got married, I thought I understood what it took to maintain a healthy relationship. In fact, I thought it didn't seem as difficult as everyone made it out to be.

I needed to be slapped.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is in a relationship to begin to justify everything you do, and demonize everything your partner does? It's amazing how quickly we become perfect, and our spouses become the scum of the Earth when we have a disagreement. I also thought that my keen, objective mind (lol) would shield me from this behavior, but that was a farce. I'm just as susceptible to establishing a sliding scale of morality or ethics as everyone else.

I'm not talking about massive ethical lapses, like infidelity or abuse. I'm talking about the little things. Like complaining that your wife doesn't clean up after herself, right after you left your sweaty socks in the middle of the living room floor. It's admonishing your wife to be firm when disciplining the children, and then bribing your little boy with gummy bears to get him to stop crying. I think I do a good job of being just and fair with my wife, but, like everyone, I tend to cut myself a little slack.

If I value the practical things in life, my wife is more concerned with the emotional well being of our relationship and our children. My primary focus is whether they are fed, clothed and housed. Happiness and the rest comes after I meet those needs. But, my wife's focus is different, and while I may not agree with her focus, I need to do a better job of understanding that.

An ethical communion is one built on mutual trust and understanding. Like the communion between Jesus and believers, the communion between a husband and wife must be grounded first in love and forgiveness. That doesn't mean we must abandon all standards, but it means that we must maintain a heart open to reconciliation when we see sincere repentance.

I don't know about y'all, but that's been a tough pill for me to swallow. My internal ethical code tends to lean more towards the "eye for an eye" mindset, than the "love those who spitefully use you" way of thinking. Consequently, my communion, or relationship, with my wife and others has been lacking in all-encompassing forgiveness at times. It's not enough to say, "no big deal," you actually have to mean it.

As I've said before, well all need to establish some bedrock values, whether they be biblical or otherwise, and then strive to reflect those values to the rest of the world. That means taking tough stances and holding ourselves to higher standards. It doesn't matter if we're talking about traditional "commerce" or if we're talking about relationships. If we live our lives according to a sliding scale of ethics, we will soon find ourselves capable of doing anything.

And that ain't good business.




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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tangent Time!

I'm still doing the series on Gandhi's seven social sins, but I stumbled across something at Racialicious recently that I just had to write about.

Please read about a little girl namedKatie O'Dea."

Katie is a lovely little girl. She has quite a few friends, a loving extended family and vibrant social life. Katie is also white with black parents. Not mixed or bi-racial, but white. Katie, who was adopted by a black social worker, is just plain old white, and her guardians are anything but that.

What a fascinating look into our racial mindsets in Obamerica.

Katie and her guardians' story is told in a recent Newsweek article, that's actually fairly random. I mean, the article claims to be discussing the reality of "post-racial" America, and it also delves into interracial adoptions, but at its core it's just a profile of an interesting family.

A very interesting family.

Katie's mother was a prostitute and she spent time in several foster homes because of some emotional problems. Finally, a 64-year old black social worker, who had previously spoken against interracial adoptions involving white parents and black children, decided to adopt her. She is now raising the little girl with the help of her daughter and her daughter's husband, who are like surrogate parents for the little girl.

If you all read the article, you will see that it's not easy for a black couple, or a single black man, to walk the streets with a little white girl. The black family recounts several tales of being stopped by strangers who thought they were kidnapping the poor little girl, or being disrespected by other folks who couldn't understand what they were doing with a little white girl. The article's author seems to be trying to dispel the notion that Obama's election has solved this country's race problem, at least that's what I got from it.

The best part of the article is how it discusses the different attitudes Americans have that make us look askance at a black family caring for a white child. Wait, scratch that. The article discusses how strange it is to see blacks caring for a white child, FOR FREE.

After all, black folks have been caring for white children since Plymouth Rock landed on us. Lol. We've been "mammies" and butlers and maids and midwives since we got to this wonderful country. White folks would have died out long ago if black folks didn't know how to care for white babies. Hell, some us of have taken better care of white folks children than we have of our own.

Yet, as the article notes, when this black family is out on the town with a little white girl, all hell breaks loose. I think it's mainly because the interaction between the daughter and her black parents doesn't have the vibe that folks are used to seeing when minority adults and white children are together.

When parents are interacting with their children, they discipline them more obviously, and in more creative ways. Good parents are unlikely to appear subservient to their kids, and it would be difficult to confuse their mannerisms with those of a nanny.

Consquently, quite a few white folks are perturbed that some big black dude is acting like he's in charge of a little white girl. It probably just strikes folks as wrong, as a perversion of the natural order of things. While there is an argument to be made that some of these folks are just being prudent, I wonder if these same folks would have the same reaction if they saw a white couple, or white man, with a little black girl?

Would they still feel the need to protect the little girl? Would they assume she's in imminent danger, and would they aggressively question her about her parents? Would those same folks even care about the fate of a little black girl?

I'm going with not likely. It's a well documented fact that the lives of little black girls are not as important as the lives of little white girls. Moreover, it's equally documented that black people are "dangerous."

Therefore any black person near a young white girl should be viewed with suspicion, and that suspicion should morph into fear and concern if the aforementioned black person appears to be in a position of dominance. Black people should not be dominating white children. It was the main problem behind school busing and it's the main problem Katie O'Dea's family faces everyday.

The article, while missing the mark in some respects, was an interesting look into a world that many of us often talk about. How many times have we said "I bet this wouldn't happen if I was (insert race.)" With the story of Katie O'Dea's family we get yet another answer to that question, and a first hand look at the reality of interracial adoptions from an unfamiliar vantage point.

Unfortunately for black folks the view probably seems pretty familiar.



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Friday, April 24, 2009

Ain't Nothing Common About It

"You got a lot of book learnin', but you ain't got the common sense of a fly sometimes."

Any of y'all ever had somebody say that to you, or something like it?

I have, and let me tell you, that is an uncomfortable experience.

Long time readers of the blog know I'm a fairly intelligent guy. (Let me make sure I don't cramp up from kissing my own butt.) At times in life I've been deemed extremely intelligent. Unfortunately, I've occasionally let that go to my head. My ego has always been a healthy size, but in certain situations, it's been known to start to look like Michael Clarke Duncan.

Whenever that's happened, God has found a way to take me down a few pegs, usually by reminding me of exactly how dumb I can be. Whether it be forcing me to talk about a subject I'm clueless about, or having me make a serious gaffe, any time my ego hits the 'roids, God is quick with the detox. I've learned over the years that just accumulating book learnin' doesn't do much good, if you don't have the common sense, or wisdom, to use that knowledge.

Which brings me to Gandhi's next social sin, knowledge without character.

I guess I could have discussed this topic from the aspect of having morals and letting those morals guide your use of knowledge. I thought about doing that for a while. After all, when I think of "character" I typically think of a value system, a "code."

But, character can also refer to temperament and personality. And that's where I think some knowledge seekers fall short. They allow their new found knowledge to affect their personalities and temperament to the point that it's easy to wonder if they have a lick of "common sense."

Common sense is a misunderstood phrase. Most of us think of some sort of homespun, down-home wisdom when we think of it, and that's only partially true. The deeper meaning speaks to the fact that life is rarely as simple, or as complicated as we would like to make it. Therefore, common sense, is often the ability to cut through the fog of misunderstanding and reveal the truth about situations.

Knowledge is of course invaluable in this process. Information can stimulate our minds in new directions and allow us to see the world from a different perspective. But, that only happens if we have an open mind and heart. It only happens if we have the ability to sift through information and determine what's truly important instead of becoming bogged down in minutiae.

Common sense will not allow you to overlook obvious and persistent warning signs in relationships. Nor will it allow you to inflate the importance of minor issues so that they become major concerns. Common sense goes hand in hand with discernment and wisdom, some would probably say it's just a synonym for those two words.

What I think Gandhi's warns against is the accumulation of information and knowledge without the simultaneous hoarding of common sense. It's a terrible thing to possess power and not know how to wield it.

Unfortunately, there are no shorts cuts to wisdom or common sense. While we may have varying degrees of wisdom from birth, all of us must nurture those fledgling gifts in order to reach our full potential. We must train our minds to think about the world and our place in it. Only then do we insure our knowledge is tempered by character.

Only then do we have common sense.











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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

But It Feels So Good

When I was in grad school I had a bit of a mental crisis.

For a variety of reasons, I hit rock bottom mentally, and began to search for answers in my life. I'd always attended church and considered myself a Christian, but it was during this period that I really established a serious relationship with God.

I was also trying to maintain a long distance relationship.

I mention that because it obviously put a kink in my plans to do God's will. Anybody who has been in a long distance relationship knows that infrequent, short visits from a person you are sexually attracted to do not encourage celibacy. Fornication and frequent flier miles tend to go hand in hand.

So, while a part of me is busy lusting for my future wife's goodies, another part of me is telling me that I should get in line with biblical tenets. Consequently, we would have these marathon "getting to know you" sessions, capped off by me wallowing in angst about failing God. It wasn't very productive or fun.

Which brings me to Gandhi's second social sin, pleasure without conscience.

Clearly, in my example my conscience was present and working well. I was distraught by my fornication, which was a good sign. However, there have been many times in the past when I viewed sex outside of marriage much less negatively. To take that further, there have been times when I've viewed HEINOUS sexual activities outside of marriage much less negatively.

One source of enduring shame is my previous attitude towards "trains." For the uninformed, a "train" refers to a situation when someone, usually a female, has sex with a string of partners in consecutive sessions. As soon as one partner finishes, another steps up.

As a youngster, I didn't see anything wrong with participating in a train. I rationalized this mindset by telling myself that if a young lady wanted to do something like that, it was on her. I remember listening to my homeboys talk about the trains they had participated in and my first reactions was always "Damn, why wasn't I there?"

I almost got my wish once in college. A group of friends and I concocted a scheme where we would all hide in a dorm room, while another friend ushered in an intoxicated fellow student. Once those two got "engaged" we would all pop out of our hiding places and convince the girl that she should have sex with all of us. I actually chickened out at the last minute after fearing that she might feel violated and accuse me of rape. But, I still hid in that tub for a long time before I made up my mind...

It wasn't until I read Nathan McCall's book "Make Me Wanna Holla'" that I really began to understand that "trains" were not benign events, but were often quite close to sexual assault with girls coerced and intimidated into sex. I always assumed that these girls were just "freaks." But, McCall's book made me acknowledge that most young women only acquiesced because they were terrified that the pack of aroused and belligerent young men demanding sex from them in a strange room might do something worse if they refused.

Pleasure without conscience.

It's not hard to see the danger of that sin when you consider the reality of "trains." The thought of a frightened naked girl being tricked and bullied into having sex (often unprotected sex) with a string of random men should chill all our souls. There is nothing pleasurable about that experience for most girls, and therefore there should be nothing pleasurable about it for men.

Our conscience, or if you're a Christian the Holy Spirit, speaks to us when we've stepped from the path that we should trod. The pursuit of pleasure in its many forms, from sex, to drugs, to pain, can consume any of us if we do not have a good relationship with that inner voice.

But, how do we know when we've crossed the line?

I think that if you can honestly say that your pleasure is causing pain for others, you may need to reconsider what you're doing. If your actions, while fulfilling for you, seem to make the world a much worse place, then you're probably committing the sin Gandhi described. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking and finding pleasure in the joys of life, but when the pursuit of your happiness overrides any moral code, you've ventured into deep and dark waters.

No man is an island, and all actions have consequences. When your enjoyment is tied to causing others undesired pain, you are drinking from a bitter and dangerous cup.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Work Is A Sucka Bet

I recently copped a new car.

Some of y'all may remember me talking about my anxiety regarding the purchase and the whole negotiation process. Fortunately, I did my research, sucked things up and played hardball with a few car salesmen. I got a decent deal on a nice vehicle, and when I pay off the balance in a few years I'll probably make some aftermarket modifications to it.

Then, I'll probably buy a gun.

Whoa, a gun, Big Man? I can seem some of y'all taking a step back and wondering where that came from. The thing is, I live in one of the most violent cities in America. The only reason this isn't THE most violent city in America is because Gary, Indiana, has bigger problems than being the birthplace of Michael Jackson. And if I'm going to riding on chrome with candy paint, I'd better be strapped.

I told y'all I would talk about Gandhi's seven social sins and today I want touch on the idea of acquiring wealth without work.

The recent housing meltdown and the implosion of several banks have made all of us painfully aware of the power and danger of greed. If we weren't sure before just how badly capitalism could screw things up, well we know now.

The thing is, in my city, I learned a long time ago just how insidious the lure of wealth could be to those who have no desire to work.

My hometown is the kind of place where carjackings are more common than car pooling. If we have a day without a homicide, well they might throw a parade to rival Zulu. It's so bad down here that a friend and I recently agreed that if we hadn't been born in this city, there is no way in hell we would EVER move here. Ever.

At the root of this city's ubiquitous violence are two things: capitalism and ignorance.

See, it's bad enough to be poor with no viable options to improve that situation. It's quite another thing to be poor with no options and live in a country where your very self-worth is defined by the amount of things you can acquire. Think about it. Our society glorifies the accumulation of wealth, it's like our national religion, and yet for massive segments of the population there are very few legal routes for them to achieve that wealth. For a lot of the cats educated in the New Orleans public school system, they are just as likely to win the lottery as they are to be prepared for college or a well paying job upon graduation.

So, when you want wealth and you don't have the means to acquire it within the system, what do you do? Well, if you're Kenneth Lay, you create a phony energy company, cook the books unmercifully and steal billions.

If you're Ray Ray from Hollygrove, you try to cook up some crack or become the neighborhood stick-up boy. You might clear a couple thousand if you're lucky.

It's not that operating a phony corporation or hugging the block are easy, it's just that they are typically easier than taking the long route to wealth. See, corporate executives and d-boys often share a certain impatience, an unwillingness to sacrifice in the short-term to achieve long-term riches. Both groups are looking for shortcuts, and whenever you seek a shortcut, it's quite easy to get lost in the forest.

Gandhi's first social sin speaks to me because I see its side effects on the neighborhoods I once visited, and the people I used to call "friend." I see how the poor decisions of a mis-spent youth can have unexpected consequences in adulthood. I also see how a willingness to sacrifice and struggle in the short-term can lead to stability and satisfaction in the future.

As long as mankind walks this planet, we will be in the business of acquiring wealth. We will always seek to have more than our neighbors and some of us will even covet the little our neighbors manage to possess. David coveted Uriah's wife, even though he had scores of concubines of his own. Some people will never be satisfied and they will never be willing to do an honest day's work to sate their desires.

It's killing my city one outrageous homicide and armed robbery at a time.





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Monday, April 20, 2009

Next Few Days

I get a lot of inspiration for blog posts at church.

I guess I'm in a reflective sort of mood when I'm perched on a pew. Whatever it is, many a blog post has been partially written in my head after a preacher says something that gets my creative juices flowing.

With that in mind, I plan to do a little mini-series over the next seven days discussing Gandhi's Seven Social Sins. For those of you aren't aware of these tenets here they are:

Wealth Without Work

Pleasure Without Conscience

Knowledge Without Character

Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)

Science Without Humanity

Religion Without Sacrifice

Politics Without Principle


I think each of these ideas is perfect for a larger discussion, particularly given some of this country's current problems. Each day I'll discuss one of the sins and kind of talk about my take on what it means. I hope y'all enjoy it.


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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gum Bumpin' and Other Trivial Pursuits

Never underestimate the power of a good conversation.

I've noted before that I'm not a particularly gregarious person particularly with strangers. However, when it comes to my friends, I can flap my lips with the best of them.

Often, it's my therapy.

I've got a good core group of friends. The type of folks I feel comfortable talking to about a wide range of topics that range from today's news events, to the travails of married life. I think most of them enjoy talking to me, despite my somewhat abrasive responses and penchant for questioning other people's common sense.

I've been reminded recently how lonely the world is if you can't discuss what's on your heart with people who love and care for you. It's a lonely world when you think you're out there on an island. Sometimes a sympathetic ear, that understands your quirks and hangups is the only thing that keeps you sane.

But, conversations between friends don't have to be serious or life altering to be meaningful. A good belly laugh is priceless, and just shooting the sh#t about the crazy things your spouse does can be a balm for the soul. Life is better when you have friends to share it with.

That's all I had to say.


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Friday, April 17, 2009

Quick Thought

Forcing people to own up to their mistakes and miscues makes sense.

Forgiving folks and moving on also makes sense.

There is no cut and dry answer to what is the best way to handle misconduct. You cannot justify your own call for someone's head by saying "Well, they'd do the same thing to me."

Instead, we all have to make decisions based on what our heart tells us, and what our priorities may be.

Just a thought.




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Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Ain't Looking For Trouble

Seems like it finds me anyway.

I'm at the doctor's office with the spousal unit and the youngins' the other day, and...

Wait, let me give y'all some background. The wife and I are relatively attractive folks. We don't stop traffic or nothing, but we didn't get beat with the ugly stick either. We're...cute.

But, while our combined attractiveness quotient isn't ridiculously high, when our sperm and egg join forces like Voltron we make some pretty attractive babies. Some of y'all might think that's just paternal pride, but seriously, I got some beautiful babies. It's to the point where folks are constantly stopping my oldest boy on the street and complimenting him on his eyes. "Bedroom eyes" are what they call them.

Which brings me back to the original story. We're at the doctor's office and this nurse is trying to get my oldest son to give her a smile and some act right. My little man doesn't care for strangers, particularly fawning strangers who want to touch him and talk about taking him home. He likes his regular home just fine.

The entire visit she's talking to my little boy about his cuteness, and then, right before I take him to the car, she drops a bomb on me. I'm moving my little boy towards the door when she says "Yeah, I can never believe you're a (insert white color job here), you just don't look like a (job that requires a college degree). '

Scooby Doo voice: Huh?

First of all, I really can't stress too much the random nature of this encounter. We weren't talking about jobs, or my appearance, or anything. Hell, outside of thanking her for the compliments about my son, I wasn't talking to her at all.

When she decided to shake up my world, I was encouraging my little boy to walk faster, and trying to figure out how to get him past the lollipops without a tantrum. Then she decides to let me know that I don't fit her assumptions about somebody with the job I have. It was like that perfect blob of bird shit falling from the sky on a newly washed car.

Sudden, messy and frustrating.

Now, what do I do? As a certified "race man" it's pretty much my duty to give this woman an education on just how stupid and potentially racist her comment seemed. If I don't read her the riot act, I might as well shut down this blog. But, if I let her have it with both barrels, I'm guaranteed to make every single future doctor visit awkward. After all, once you give somebody a race lecture, they don't forget. And, if you happen to let them know that you think they might be a racist, well get ready for long pauses and sideways glances. So, I'm stuck in a teachable moment, with no incentive to teach.

Long story short, I punked out.

When she let me know that my appearance wasn't acceptable, it shocked me so much that all I could do was give her a wan smile and quickly move away. She must have seen something in my face, and in the face of the black nurse behind her giving her the stinkface, because she tried to clean up her comment with some bland, ridiculous explanation. I didn't bother responding, I just left the building feeling like somebody had pointed out that my fly was open, and the little soldier wasn't really ready for review.

It's not that I don't know how to handle these sort of situations. I regularly use this kind of stuff as a means to discuss race and race relations with white folks. But, in this case I was weighing out the benefits of educating this woman, with the potential drawbacks of letting her know she was ignorant. My wife would later tell me she was glad I didn't say anything because she doesn't want a bad vibe when she goes to the doctor, so I guess I should feel better.

But I don't.

I still feel a little angry, and embarrassed. Not only that this woman felt justified in telling me this, but in my reaction to her comment. I'm embarrassed that I actually wondered if I was dressed poorly, or if maybe it was time to cut my hair so I could look more professional. Hell, I even felt ashamed that the black nurse heard her say what she said. Instead of instantly realizing that this woman was slighting me with no provocation, I began to wonder what I'd done wrong.

Ain't it funny how the mind works? How easily people can make us doubt ourselves, how easily we can be thrust into uncomfortable situations despite minding our business and living our lives? That woman won't think twice about her comment, but for me, it made me wonder if it was time to make some tough choices?

It's these little interactions that define race relations in our country. For me it was a random white woman telling me I didn't fit her notion of a what a white collar professional looks like. For some white kids, it's the black folks at the park refusing to pick them up for a game of basketball because their color brands them as lacking game. Latinos get mistaken for gardeners, and Asians get asked about Chinese food. Little slights that grow into major hurts. We all bear our own burdens, but it doesn't make the load lighter to know that other people are heavy-laden as well.

It still feels like trouble.



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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Grindin'

That daily struggle is a struggle.

Getting up everyday, making things happen, staying close to the people you love.

Ain't no manual on life.

The Bible comes close, but sometimes even it can't soothe a weary mind.

Arguing 'bout this, fighting 'bout that, trying to make time when the only one with that power is God.

Grindin'

The Clipse don't even know.

World feelin' so heavy, you laughing at Atlas talkin' 'bout, "That nigga got it easy."

What y'all know about grindin'?

Crazy world, full of violence, full of hate, make you wanna get your Marvin Gaye on when he went through his changes.

I see why some folks go crazy.

Just grindin'.

It's been rainin' so long, sunshine seems like $1 gas...

Distant memory.

Economy down, crime up. Babies dyin', politicians lying.

Nothing new under the sun.

Some folks say the end times are near.

Other folks say they're here.

I'm just looking for an ending.

Hopefully a happy one.



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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Me, Myself and Every Other Black Person in the World

My wife and I have had some pretty heated discussions over the years.

Partially that's because of our mutual stubbornness, but mainly it's because I used to have a tendency to make people confront the world as I saw it.

My wife had been just fine for roughly 22 years before we met, but I was convinced that it was my job to get her to see the "real world." That meant constantly challenging her long held beliefs and forcing her to defend her position on everything.

Yeah, it's a shocker that we got married.

One of the most thorny subjects we discussed was race. My wife is black, but she was never really concerned with racial issues growing up. The way her life was structured she had a lot of protection from certain things, plus her sphere of interest didn't include many matters that involved race. In addition, we both grew up in a majority black city, which changes racial dynamics as well.

However, as my wife got older, she had to go into situations where she was one of a few black folks, or the only black person. She was then confronted with the unfamiliar feeling of being different, of having to explain and justify her difference and having to figure out the best way to live her life.

Those struggles caused some pretty rocky times in our relationship often because I'd already gone through some of those struggles and had already decided the "right" way to behave.

My wife and I recently dredged up one of those discussions. Back when my wife was in grad school, we had a discussion about how folks are defined through their race. She was struggling with the idea that she would always be defined first as a black woman when it came to her chosen field and she was looking for a way to break away from that. She and I went back and forth about the best way to handle the situation.

See, I've always been of the mindset that despite all the extra baggage it entails, nothing compares to being black. Sure, it means battling stereotypes and dodging police officers intent on violating your civil rights, but I would never trade in my skin for a lighter shade. Too many people suffered and died for me just because I was going to be their descendant. I like having that behind me.

However, it's not for everyone. My wife was tired of dealing with the extra hassles that came with her skin, and she just wanted everybody to let her live her life. She didn't want to have to be a representative of the black race every second of every day. She just wanted to represent the person in her own skin.

Unfortunately, when she told me about this desire, I viewed it as a betrayal of her blackness, and I responded accordingly. This led to a pretty nasty fight, that caused some serious hurt feelings in our relationship. So, when we discussed the issue again recently, I was very careful to tread lightly.

Thankfully, I've matured since our first discussion. My views on race and what it means to be "authentically" black have changed drastically. I'm no longer bound by the same hangups, plus I have a better understanding of how to articulate my feelings.

What I told my wife, is that there are two core issues in her dilemma. First, there is the issue of what she thinks in her head. See, when people constantly treat you like the spokesman for black people, you tend to take on that role in your mind. You start to put your actions and comments through a "What's good for the race?" filter.

That filter makes life so much more difficult because it's pretty much impossible to always live your life as a positive example of blackness. It just doesn't work.

I told my wife that the first step in breaking free from that straitjacket is to acknowledge that you DON'T represent other black people. I mean, you could argue you represent your parents or other relatives, but in an absolute sense, the only person you truly represent is you.

I told her she didn't have to worry about how people expected her to behave as a "black woman." She only had to worry about how she wanted to behave. Other people's hangups did not have to become her own.

That segues nicely into the second issue, which is other people's hangups. See, it's easy to tell my wife to be her own person, but that's kind of hard to do when people are constantly trying to force her into the little box they've laid out for her. The insidious thing about stereotypes is that even if we can train ourselves to no longer believe in them, other folks will keep right on fooling themselves. And, bless their hearts, those deluded folks love to push their stereotypes on us.

What I told my wife is that as tedious as this may sound, she is going to have to deal with folks and their hangups directly. It's not going to help her to constantly tell people that she doesn't want to be seen as a black woman, she just wants to be seen as someone practicing her chosen profession. The people who would take that advice typically don't need it, and the folks hell bent on viewing her primarily as a black woman are going to see that no matter what she says.

My wife, like all of us, has to challenge the assumptions and stereotypes of folks and let them know when they are treating her in an unfair manner. She has to force people to think about the comments they make, and the mindsets behind those comments. It's unfortunate that any of us have to bear that cross, but it's also just a part of life.

So, do y'all think I gave her the right advice?






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Friday, April 10, 2009

Gotta Have It

...Money, like nicotine or cocaine, can activate the brain's pleasure centres, the neurological pathways that make biologically beneficial activities such as sex feel so rewarding. Of course, money does not physically enter the brain but it might work in a similar way to pornographic text, argue Lea and Webley, which can cause arousal not by giving any biochemical or physiological stimuli, but by acting through the mind and emotions.
Mark Buchanan

For the love of money is the root of all evil... God.

Me and the missus recently welcomed a new addition to the family. Yep, a new Lunatic has been added to the brood, and one of the main things on my mind right now is money.

Diapers, car seats, strollers, food, breast pumps, formula, health insurance, college and everything else in between. They call babies bundles of joy, but they should really call them bundles of debt. Those little suckers are like walking ATM debits; every time one of my babies breathes, it costs me some money.

But, I'm not here to complain. Lord knows I'm way too blessed to waste my time complaining. Nah, I brought up my changing financial situation because I read the quote above in a story about how the need, or want, for money affects our lives. Basically, folks can get addicted to the "high" of making money, the same way they can get addicted to lotion loving on the couch. I always knew that money had the power to change folks, I just didn't realize it had that kind of power.

Does the idea that money is addictive change the way you view our current economic crisis? I mean, if the greedy bankers and soccer moms who ran up mountains of debt that collapsed into ruinous rubble were actually addicted to money like Pookie loved crack, well does that make them more sympathetic? Nobody truly likes a junkie, but we typically understand that some of their actions are beyond their control because of the insidious power of dope.

Right?

Wrong.

While I can see and understand that argument about the addictive power of money, I can't quite put it on the level of heroin or, even, porn. Maybe it's because while I like money, it doesn't make me go crazy. I'm cheap as hell, but that doesn't mean I fiend for money. It's hard for me to imagine anyone having the same sort of addiction to money that crack produces.

Maybe I need to expand my thinking. After all, as I thought about all the things people do for money, I started to realize that it's not that far-fetched to conceive of a money addiction. People sell their bodies, they sell their souls and they generally do all manner of evil just to attain little green pieces of paper with dead white men on the front. Just think about the crazy things that happen in the world because of the mighty dollar...

Maybe this addiction thing has some legs.

If we view the love of money as an addictive behavior, does that change how we as a society view folks who are successful? Can we compare the drive to be rich to the drive to get high? If so, how horribly does it reflect on America that we have placed such an emphasis on acquiring money?

I've written in the past that the current tough economic times (TET*) cannot be blamed solely on greedy bankers and unscrupulous Wall Street traders. Most Americans are also to blame for living lifestyles that they knew in their hearts they could not afford. If this information about the addictive power of money is true, then not only are Americans the consummate consumers, but we also might all be junkies.

I don't know, it's a tough pill to swallow that some folks get their "fix" from cold cash. It makes me question my own attitudes about money and wondering if my miserly instincts are really a sign of a deeper problem. Am I frugal because it makes sense, or am I frugal because I can't bear to be without my dough?

I can't figure it out.





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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Monkey Business, Again.

Nope, I'm not going back to chimpanzee thing.

Rather, I was thinking recently about those three ceramic monkeys that some folks have on their mantle. The monkeys that represent the phrase "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Recently, the coach of the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team made a fairly astute observation about race. Wait, let me correct that. He made a fairly obvious observation about race and sports, but since he's a powerful white man, people thought it was pretty astute.

The coach noted that black and white players get certain stereotypes attached to them, regardless of how they actually play their chosen sports. Those of you who keep up with sports are probably well aware of this, but for the folks who would rather gouge out their eyes than watch basketball, let me provide a primer.

The adjectives commonly applied to black athletes are athletic, naturally-talented, undisciplined and brash. For white athletes, the terms are skilled, disciplined, savvy and scrappy. On the surface, those adjectives may not seem like a big deal, but they subtly reinforce the stereotypes that black athletes are good because of superior physical gifts, while white athletes work harder and are smarter. Those stereotypes feed into the overarching idea that black people are physical brutes with limited mental abilities.

Anyway, when the UConn coach made his comments, it generated quite a buzz, mainly because he's a powerful white dude, and when powerful white dudes talk, people listen. Mostly the responses acknowledged that he might have a point and praised him for having the "courage" to bring it up. Typical.

However, there was one comment that really bothered me. It was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response at this website. If you check it out, you'll find that author wonders what purpose it serves to talk about race, particularly if the person starting the conversation isn't saying anything new or profound.

Well ain't that a blip...

It seems that the new rules for discussing racism stipulate that unless you're saying something new or saying something special, you should probably shut the eff up. I totally missed that memo since I rarely talk about "new" racial problems, and while my blog may be decent, it's not like I could be Obama's speechwriter. Guess I've got to shut it down...

Not.

Look, I hate trite, racial conversations as much as the next guy, but I'd be stupid to tell folks that the only time they should mention racial stereotypes or other issues is when they have something really good to say. That would pretty much end all conversations about race because most Americans haven't been educated enough to speak intelligently about race. In fact, the reason why it's important that more people talk about racial issues more often is because hopefully the few folks with good sense will get a chance to reach more people.

The author of the website says that since racial conversations are so uncomfortable and fraught with peril, it makes more sense to avoid them until things get really serious... Yeah, I hope this doesn't offend my white readers, but that sounds like either a white dude talking, or somebody who thinks like a white dude.

You know, when black folks were getting lynched and hosed because they wanted to eat at lunch counters, there were folks who wondered why these uppity Negroes were disturbing the peaceful calm in the south with their rabble rousing. Those folks argued that while segregation might not be great, it was easier to let it continue than it was to try to change things. It was more "comfortable."

Excuse me if I ain't too concerned with comfort.

Honestly, what would really be "comfortable" would be if I could watch a basketball game at any level without having to listen to announcers dabble in race-based psychology. I would be more "comfortable" if I didn't have to worry about folks thinking that my black skin equals inferior intelligence, but nice "handles." (That's the ability to dribble for you sports-challenged folks.)

Life would be a lot more "comfortable" if I didn't have to deal with race-based stereotypes and discrimination on a regular basis, but that ain't life. Besides, who promised me that my life would be "comfortable?" Nope, my life is messy and problem-filled despite the blessings of God, and quite often I'm very, very uncomfortable.

Seems like some other folks need to step outside of their comfort zones as well.





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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ok, What Gives?

I spent a lot of time in college watching cartoons and playing video games.

I did not spend a lot of time getting laid.

Maybe they were connected.

I bring up my cartoon watching because this weekend I saw a commercial that took me back to those mindless college days. One of the cartoons I watched in my friends' dormroom, was something called "Dragonball Z." This was a Japanese anime cartoon that focused on the adventures of several alien martial arts experts who had running battles between themselves and other aliens.

Like I said, I wasn't getting laid, although my friends were.

Anyway, the protagonists in the cartoons look sorta like Japanese men despite their alien origins and they all have Japanese sounding names. I always assumed that that the characters were Asians. Turns out, I was wrong.

Well, let me be clear, I may not have been wrong. I'm basing my new assumption on the fact that I watched a commercial this weekend for the new Dragonball Z movie, that featured a run-of-the-mill white guy in the role of "Goku," the cartoon's main character. Since there is no way Hollywood would cast a white guy in an Asian guy's role, Goku must have been white all these years.

Right?

For the sarcasm-challenged, I know for a fact this isn't right. I know that Hollywood has a long and tortured history of "fixing" stories so that main characters who are people of color, suddenly become pale. Just recently, there was a movie made about a group of MIT students who used a complicated system to break casinos in Las Vegas, that featured a patented "whitewash." In real life, the masterminds behind the scheme were Asians, but in the movie version, the white guy was the genius, and the Asians were just his geeky sidekicks.

Over the years, yellowface, redface, blackface and brownface have been a pretty good cottage industry for white actors. It seems that studios often don't want to go through the trouble of locating talented minority actors, so they just hire white people and add makeup. Presto, chango, and we're ready to rock.

Obviously, I'm not a fan of that practice, but I find it even more bothersome when studio executives change massive, plot points in movies just to write in white people, and write out minorities. It happens so often despite the complaints of minority groups across the country, that it forces me to ask one question.

What gives?

Why is it that minorities are viewed as such bad earners at the box office that studio execs would basically rewrite the entire Dragonball Z story? No longer is the movie about bands of warring ninja aliens, now it appears to be about a white dude who learns the power of martial arts from a random old Asian guy, falls in love with an Asian woman, and then saves the world. All while going through some weird transformation that makes him look kinda, sorta Asian, a little.

What type of world do we live in where it makes more sense financially to alienate your core audience, with the aim of maybe attracting families who prefer their superheroes white?

I just don't get it. If anything, recent history has taught us that making quality "niche" movies is a good way to make money. Every movie does not have to appeal to everybody, and by everybody, I mean the stereotypical random white family. Tyler Perry makes moves about black people for black people and he's a freaking millionaire. And his movies aren't even good!

Why is it that Hollywood execs can't seem to grasp the idea that making movies that insult the intelligence of your viewers, and also dabble in racism, just isn't smart? The loyalists who might normally see your movie three or four times will now stay away in droves, and since the movie is a piece of redundant crap, even the families you're trying to attract won't come out.

Who is on the master committee in Hollywood that decides when movies will be "whitewashed" and what focus groups are they talking to? Who is telling these people that digitally scrubbing colored folks out of movies is the way to go? Better yet, who is telling them that sticking to the same trite stereotypes is the best way to make their movies relevant.

I really want to know who is on that committee because I need to meet them.

And shove my foot up their asses.


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Monday, April 6, 2009

Stay 'Til The End



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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Part Two, For You


You ever have an argument with your significant other and it seems like y'all are speaking two different languages?

You're laying out a point-by-point breakdown of the problems you have with your lover's behavior, and your main squeeze is complaining about your tone of voice. Or, your spouse tells you that she doesn't feel loved, you explain all the things you do that show your love, and she says those things don't count. It's both baffling and infuriating.

Welcome to the logic and emotion divide.

This topic is a dangerous one, mainly because many of my beliefs about relationships are tinged with chauvinism. See, how easily I admitted that? Do I get brownie points for admitting up front that I have a totally "male" view on the world, and believe many stereotypes and generalizations about women because my personal history has borne them out? Or, does that just make me an idiot.

Oh well.

I issued that disclaimer because my honest assessment is that men tend to use more logic in relationships, and women tend to follow their emotions. I know this isn't 100 percent true in every relationship, so those of y'all firing up that angry and obvious response can fall back. There are far too many variables in relationships for anything to be 100 percent, but I feel confident in making the argument that men like things to make sense, while women like things to make them happy.

And that creates conflict.

Look, I know men also want to be happy in relationships. That's why we dominate the remote control and why many of us fall asleep shortly after putting in our time in the bedroom. These things make us happy. But, it seems like we understand better that our happiness does not have the power to change facts, while women seem immune to this reality of life.

For example, ladies, if you cook a nice meal and your man eats it and compliments you on it, then just move on. Don't ask him how it compares to the meal y'all had at his momma's last weekend. Because you might not like the response. Your man is probably going to respond honestly that your meatballs were nice, but his momma's made him do a happy dance. He's going to tell you he appreciated your effort, but that his momma also makes garlic bread topped with Parmesan cheese when she cooks pasta. And, ultimately, you're going to be pissed. See, logically and factually, your meal wasn't as good as his momma's meal and he let you know. But, emotionally, he should have known that telling you the absolute truth was a pretty stupid decision, and he could have protected your feelings.

That's how men and women differ. Unfortunately, men don't tend to filter reality through our emotions as often as women do. Something either happened, or it didn't happen. That's it. But, for a lot of women, whether or not something happened is not as important as how they felt when that thing happened. Men figure that buying flowers for a women that likes flowers is a good look no matter what. But, women believe that the flowers only count if you thought of them yourself, and they were the right color and type. If a man only bought flowers because his women kept asking for them, and he got roses instead of tulips, well he might as well have saved his money.

It's not that men don't have emotions, and it's not that women don't use logic. Like I said, dealing in absolutes is idiotic whenever you're talking about human beings. Men have lots of emotions, but most of us have been taught since youth to suppress those emotions and focus on the realities of life if we want to be successful. On the other hand, women have been encouraged to express their feelings and they've been told those feelings are important since they were children. Consequently, the two genders have vastly different worldviews.

Brief Tangent
Some of this is due to what I call the Daddy Complex. My friends and I have discovered that many women have been thoroughly misguided about the realities of marriage and relationships because of the well-meaning love showered on them by their daddies. (That's not even accounting for the women that have a host of issues because their daddies weren't around.) Anyway, Daddy's Little Girl typically has been treated like a princess by her father since birth, and in many ways she's been able to avoid facing the hard realities of adulthood.

When she encounters a nice young man, she's taken aback at all the expectations this young man has regarding her behavior. See, she has lots of expectations about what a man should bring to a relationship, but she hasn't spent much time thinking about what her "duties" might be. This leads to many fights when her man confronts her with the realities of life, and she talks about the depths of her feelings.

Damn those Daddys.

Tangent Finished

It's imperative for us to understand the difference in how men and women view the world if we want to have successful and enduring relationships. For men, that means understanding that just because you prove your case logically, sometimes logic isn't as important as the way your partner feels about your actions. As many relationship experts have noted, if you "win" every argument with your spouse, you will eventually lose the war. For women, this means understanding that men like things to make sense, outside of what you "feel." That means that when you have a beef with your man, you should distill your disagreement into easily digestible points that are not tied to subjective feelings. Your feelings are important, but so are the facts.

What say you Lunatics?







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Friday, April 3, 2009

She Ain't God


I've been off the news grid for a while now, but it seems like every time I check back in, some bullshit is brewing.

Latest news is Michelle Obama putting her hand on the small of the back of the Queen of England. Turns out, her majesty touched Michelle when they met, so being naturally cordial, Mrs. Obama returned the favor later on in the conversation, and the folks across the Pond are going ballistic.

Apparently, there is a rule that you don't touch the Queen. Well, you can shake her hand if she offers it to you, but you have to give her one of those finger handshakes that my daddy warned me about when I was a kid. (Any man who gives me a finger handshake gets the side eye, it's a rule. The finger handshake and the dead fish handshake are unacceptable on any self-respecting man. Teach your sons people.)

So, folks are adding this to the ever growing list of "gaffes" the Obamas have made since they moved their black asses to the White House. That figures.... I'm not even going to discuss how asinine it is that people focus so much attention on stupid mistakes like this when we still haven't released a cure for AIDS because I trust y'all already know. I want to discuss the rule about touching the queen.

Simply put, who the eff is she supposed to be?

Last time I checked, the Queen of England was an old white lady. That's it. She came from a vagina, and when she dies, she'll get turn into ash like everybody else. To borrow from a famous rap line "She breathe the same air as me..."

Yes, I know that the folks in England believe their royal line contains either the blood of deities, or has been blessed by deities, but that's a little stupid. Ain't nothing special about those folks, and they damn sure don't have some special hotline to the man upstairs. They are just regular rich folks.

I find it hard to believe that people in England could be this stupid. Didn't Prince Harry have some recent problems with drunkenness and racism? Shouldn't that have been a sign that he and his family aren't THAT different from everybody else? The idea that touching another human being is taboo simply because of the circumstances of their birth is so archaic and idiotic that it boggles the mind.

Logically, if English monarchs can't deal with human contact from lesser beings, maybe the Queen should have kept her hands to herself. If she doesn't want folks touching her, she should avoid touching everybody else. That seems to be a good rule of thumb if England is going to continue this tradition. Michelle just reciprocated the touch of an old lady, that's probably all she felt about it. But, instead of moving on, folks are upset because Obama's hands don't belong on the Queen.

She Ain't God...





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Raving Black Lunatic