Friday, May 29, 2009

Weekend Video

New serious post next week. For the weekend, please enjoy the offering below:







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A Departure

Update. Please check out this story as a companion piece to the blog as well.



I was pecking out my next piece on the six agents of corruption when I stumbled across this piece and decided it was time for a brief departure.

If y'all click on the link, it will go to a story about another white woman who got herself into a jam and used an age-old trick to free herself. Can anybody guess what it was?

That's right, Blame a Nigger.

For the few folks unfamiliar with this trick, it involves any white person, but typically a woman, needing a quick explanation for some problem in their lives, and deciding to blame some random black people, usually men. This trick is used to escape prosecution for crimes, to distract from infidelity, it's pretty much the go-to move for any unscrupulous white person in trouble.

In this case, a white woman who lived in the Philadelphia suburbs had apparently been stealing money from folks at her job, and decided she needed to make a quick getaway with her daughter. To cover her tracks, she called police with a phony story about getting in a car accident with some random black men in a Cadddy, (nice tough), who abducted her and her young daughter.

Of course, this caused a major crapstorm. After all, nothing sparks police action like missing white women, and this case had the perfect convergence of white women in trouble and hypothetical "ghetto niggers" causing problems. I'm sure more than one cop creamed his pants when this call came out, and quite a few black men had their civil rights violated along the way.

Ahhh, America.

Anyway, when everything had died down, it was discovered this was just another case of Blame a Nigger, and now everybody is kicking themselves for falling for it again. This would be heartening, if I didn't know for a fact that no amount of self flagellation is going to prevent the next incident of Blame a Nigger.

It doesn't matter how often black folks and like-minded white folks remind everybody else that it's not ok to stereotype black males as criminals, it's still going to happen. Sadly, I really doubt that we will ever erase centuries of conditioning.

Black men are the de-facto bad guys. We get stopped more often, we get searched more often and we are more likely to be the victims of police brutality. These are facts. This reality is possible because many folks, in their heart of hearts, see a black face when they picture somebody harming them. It's unfortunate, but it's real.

So, what can we as black people do?

First, we must learn to protect young black men who are not involved in criminal activity from becoming victims of Blame a Nigger. We must instruct them in their civil rights, we must teach them how to interact with police to minimize the likelihood of a violent incident.

We have to forcefully push back against the negative stereotypes pushed by the media and others, even if that seems like a futile fight. Finally, we're going to have to pray.

Lord knows, we need those prayers.


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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Git R' Done

Larry the Cable Guy was on to something when he created his infamous catchphrase.

Git R Done.

His grammatically incorrect proclamation resonates with Americans because most of us view ourselves as pragmatic, goal-oriented people. We see our nation as a country of accomplishment. Americans collectively get things done, and we're proud of it.

Maybe a little too proud.

We're still talking about the six agents of corruption. Today's topic is pragmatism.

One thing I've noticed while writing about these corrupting agents is that some of them have been pretty common in my life at different points. In fact, there was a time when I prided myself on being pragmatic. I thought that meant that I took situations how they came, and made my decisions based on the facts at hand. While I had standards, I thought that sometimes standards had to be set aside to get things done.

It's only been in recent years that I've re-examined my belief system.

I would be lying if I claimed that a pragmatic streak doesn't still exist in my life. My wife would claim I'm a little too goal-oriented. I've been known to criticize friends and family for chasing dreams instead of focusing on concrete realities. I've also shown some unfortunate contempt for emotions and feelings, while concentrating on getting things done.

But, lately life has shown me that while the destination is important, it's the journey that offers the true rewards. Plus, as the Bible says "what does it profit a man to gain the world, but lose his soul?" Finding the correct balance is the true challenge.

I see this tug-of-war in the black community all the time. Often, we feel forced to choose between nebulous standards and traditions, or concrete results and goals. It's not a new debate. It hearkens back to the time when W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington feuded over what was the best way for black folks to improve their lot in America. It continued when Martin and Malcolm exchanged rhetorical barbs over what to do about white racism. There has always been a hidden battle between black folks about exactly what we as a people should be willing to do to advance.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this debate, and I actually believe it can be a healthy and fruitful discussion. Every human being has the right to decide what they are willing to sacrifice to get results. Unfortunately, the world appears to be trending towards a mindset where "right and wrong" are judged mainly through the prism of results.

I see it in folks who justify police beatings by pointing out that criminals need to be brought under control. Some people justify discrimination by pointing to their past experiences with folks of a certain race, gender or religious affiliation.

It all boils down to a society where anything goes, as long as things keep going.

The problems with this mentality are obvious. When you live your life by the maxim that the "ends justify the means" you are basically begging for atrocities to be committed in your name. I do not trust human beings to make the correct decisions about what is necessary to accomplish complicated goals. I do not trust human beings to truly protect and care about the rights and well-being of others. I do not trust human beings to have the correct big-picture view.

No goal is so important that to accomplish it, all principles should be sacrificed. Everyone should have an ultimate right and wrong that they are willing to cling even if that means certain types of success will have to be abandoned. Pure pragmatism leads to a dark place.

Taking it back to black folks, we as a community still are struggling to decide what constitutes success. We still have not decided what goals are worth accomplishing.

For years we've chased after wealth and prosperity, but were those really the right goals? Were all of our little and large compromises worth it? As we kept our eyes on the prize, did we become lost anyway?

I'm not sure, but it sure feels that way.


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Come On, Just A Little Bit

Sometimes you can know somebody your whole life, and not really know them at all.

I recently had a conversation with a family member that blew my mind. See, all these years I've believed that when you get married, that's it, you're married forever. It doesn't matter how much your wife pisses you off, how much she grates your nerves, unless she steps out on you, you're stuck with her.

Not only was this based on my understanding of the Bible, but it was something that I felt had been drilled into me by my family, particularly one family member. Anyway, I was talking to this relative the other day, complaining about some problems, and he said something like "Well, maybe your wife needs to know you have other options."

Huh?

After getting over my shock, I asked him exactly what these other options were. I wasn't getting a divorce, so what other options do I have besides loving my wife and praying hard to God? He said some nonsense about making my wife think I would be willing to leave her, even if I didn't plan on going. I told him that according to my internal man code, that was absolutely unacceptable, and we left it at that.

The thing is, it blew my mind to here this cat casually talking about divorce, like he hadn't preached the exact opposite for years. When I asked him about that he said something like "Well, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do."

And that is the rub. When did it become ok to change your moral standards based on the situation you face?

We're still talking about the six corrupting agents in the church, black community and, I guess, the world. Today's topic is relativism.

You know I've rarely had a problem with relativism, or as I call it, the curse of rationalization. Most folks who know me would say I was a way too harsh, unforgiving and inflexible in my younger years. I've mellowed some with age, but that's more been a mellowing of how I talk to other people about their failures. Truthfully, I'm still pretty inflexible when it comes to the standards I set for personal behavior, I just don't expect other people to follow my standards anymore.

That doesn't mean I don't get frustrated with most people's ability to rationalize any action as long as it means they get their heart's desire. I get very upset. And to be clear, I support nuanced, thoughtful opinions, I just don't support people who don't have any bedrock principles that they stand on. My mom loved to use the cliche "If a man doesn't stand for something, he'll fall for anything."

Why do people have such a tough time drawing a line in the sand, and then holding themselves accountable. I don't mean a line where they decide how they are going to let other people behave, but a line that limits their own personal freedoms. Or a line that says "this just won't do."

I heard recently that the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP gave Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling a lifetime achievement award. The same Donald Sterling who has been sued by the federal government for racial discrimination in his apartment complexes because he didn't want black people living there. The same Donald Sterling who is accused of discrimination by his former employee Elgin Baylor. Yeah, that Donald Sterling.

Considering this guy's track record, how could the NAACP rationalize giving him any kind of award? I don't care if he's helped minority youth, the man has a track record that suggests that he doesn't care for black people. Yet, thanks to what I'm sure was a generous donation to the local chapter, Sterling owns an NAACP award.

Crap like that is what I'm talking about black people. We have to stop selling out to highest bidder, or refusing to admit the realities of life because that might give racists a leg up. Look, it's ok to admit black folks sell drugs at a higher rate than white folks. It's ok to admit we have more babies out of wedlock, and point out that's a problem. You can do that while also condemning the still rampant discrimination and racism that helps amplify these problems.

We can't be afraid to say that folks are moving beyond the limits of acceptable behavior because we're worried about the backlash from looks always looking to denigrate black folks. The truth is, no matter what we do, black folks will never be good enough for those folks to change their tune. So, trying to live up to some impossible standard is idiotic.

More importantly, we weaken our community when we establish a shifting system of morality that values color or allegiances more than objective truth. No longer can we afford to give folks a pass just because "white folks used to do it." No longer can we blindly support behavior that is clearly against our best interests because we don't want to be labeled "haters" or "Uncle Toms."

It's time for all of us to find some solid ground on which to make our stand, and then hold ourselves and everyone around us accountable. It's time for us to refuse to worry about what the "cool committee" thinks, and instead focus on what we know to be right. Anything else is asinine.

A little bit of bad can spoil the whole pie.



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Friday, May 22, 2009

Me, Me and More Me

On its surface, the philosophy of humanism seems to be a pretty good idea.

Since rational thinking and compassion are often in short supply in the world, a philosophy that emphasizes the need for both of those things would typically appeal to me. Honestly, if more people thought about why they do the things they do, and then thought about how their actions would affect everyone else, well the world would be an awesome place.

But, that's not all humanism deals with. At its core, the philosophy preaches that mankind understands right and wrong, innately, and that we don't need religious texts or supernatural beings to keep us on the right path. We, as humans, are the apex of the animal world, the most perfect being on this planet, and as such we have no need of the false wisdom of some far-away God.

And that's where I leave the humanism train.

For those of you who forgot, we're still discussing the six corrupting agents of religion and the black community. It's part of a series I began recently and humanism is the corrupting agent we're discussing today.

You know, I've had a lot of discussions with folks who see the whole "Christian" thing as a bunch of malarkey. They might be folks who dislike organized religion, or who think it's idiotic to think you know which God is the real God, sometimes I talk to cats who believe in another religion or folks that think my concept of Christianity is all skewed. But, the folks I've disliked talking to the most, the ones who I now try to avoid, are the ones who think that anybody who believes that a God exists should be branded with a big "VI" for village idiot and kicked off the Earth.

Yeah, those folks.

It seems like humanism caters to those people. The people who think that they are ultimate example of life, and that if we could just eliminate the corrupting influence of religion, mankind could finally get on with the business of solving all of life's mysteries. You know why I'm not a fan of those cats? Because they think life is all about them.

When you accept and promote the idea that mankind is the best life has to offer, the best result you can hope for is hubris. The worst, is a nihilistic outlook on life where no standards or values are respected. When each individual human being becomes their own god, when they accept the idea that they only truly need to look within themselves for answers, well that seems to be a recipe for disaster.

Welcome to Anyhood, USA.

Folks like to point to crack cocaine, or the decline of nuclear families as the reason for many of the problems in the black community. Sometimes they talk about discrimination, racism and other ills. But, me, well I'm convinced that black folks have begun to believe the hype. Far too many of have decided that it's all about "us."

These young cats on the street, and some of these older cats in the boardroom, have decided that nobody and nothing is more important than them. That they don't owe allegiance or fidelity or respect or anything to anyone. There is no God that can cast judgement on them, no standard of living besides "whatever it takes."

I know that atheists and agnostics hate to hear it, but to me, this seems to be the logical end of humanism. People believe that human beings can set their own "standards" establish their own guidelines and rules, but I remain unconvinced. I'm skeptical of a world without religion and the rules and guidelines religion establishes. From what I've seen in the black community and other communities, a reliance on the shifting internal morality of human beings, a disregard for the authority and power of God, only leads to chaos and violence.

Honestly, I think humans need that big, bad bogeyman in the sky, or at least his blueprint for right and wrong, to truly understand how to live their lives. I think that history shows that while religion is often used for evil, when practiced correctly, it is an incredible force for good. I think that when we puff ourselves up, when we see no one and nothing as having ultimate authority over us, we don't seem to treat our fellow human beings as valuable equals. This can happen even with religion, but I fear it is more common without it.

Some folks will disagree with me. They will say they have their own internal moral compass that is not swayed by the words of some fairy tale God. I say hogwash. I say that with the way religion has infiltrated every aspect of modern life, it is impossible to claim that you live life without any of God's morality. Sure, you may not worship him, but the concepts of right and wrong that govern acceptable behavior in this country come directly from what "thus says the Lord." People may not cling to all of the rules, but they are aware of the gist.

After all, how does the idea of "do unto others as they do unto you" serve the self interest of most humans? Yet, you hear it repeated by atheists and agnostics alike as a guiding belief in their life. They may call it karma, or some other name, but the concept is the same. We are too far down the road to ever truly eradicate religion, and pretending like it does not have power, that it does not serve a purpose is the height of idiotic arrogance.

We as humans, black and whatever else, must embrace the idea that we are not the most important beings on the planet. The mere fact of our humanity does not bestow on us a form of deity. There is something greater than us, and we need to respect this concept. Not only does it serve as a stabilizing force, it serves as a model of behavior for us to aspire to.

We ain't all that.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

S is for Secularism

Man, this post was a chore.

In my first attempt I probably wrote over a 1,000 words of rambling, confusing pap. There was no flow to my piece, no coherence about my ideas. When I had a friend proofread my piece, she said that she read it three times and still didn't know what I was talking about.

Yeah, it was that bad.

I was trying to write about secularism without relying too heavily on my religious beliefs. I was searching for a way to discuss the dangers of a secular mindset, without preaching the values of Christianity. And I failed miserably.

Maybe I should have taken a clue from the basic definition of secularism, which calls it the movement to remove all aspects of religion from public and political life. If you can't even define a word without mentioning religion, then it's going to be impossible to discuss the problems with it without talking about faith.

So, let's begin.

Everybody knows black people and church go together like biscuits and sorghum molasses.(Don't know what that is, google it and then buy it. It will change your life. Also, I saw somebody actually argue that KFC biscuits are better than Popeyes biscuits. I wanted to stab through the computer. Sorry to digress.)

Black folks in America have had a torrid love affair with religion, particularly Christianity, since our ancestors too those ill-fated pleasure cruises from the West African coast. Sure, the religion may have been forced down our throats in an attempt to keep us docile and breeding, but that doesn't mean it hasn't done some good.

The "church" has been a grounding force in black community. It has informed our worldviews, it's provided us with financial and emotional support, plus it's a great place to meet potential mates. While some would argue that the church has been a magnet for predatory preachers and their hate-filled harangues, I personally think it has a pretty strong track record.

Make that, it HAD a pretty strong track record.

Back in the day, seems like going to church meant a little more. I meant you had to make some sacrifices, it meant you had to put up with some stuff to meet God. But, now, it seems like church is designed to make everybody feel comfortable. I'm not saying that there wasn't a problem with sin and secularism among black church folk, but I don't think it was considered normal and acceptable.

Seems like churches today are designed around the concept of making everybody feel as good as possible. The prevailing idea is that whatever it takes to get people in the doors, do it, and then worry about keeping them later. Black folks, their churches and their homes, haven't been immune to this. This weakening of standards has had a detrimental effect on our community because it blurs the line between what is proper and what is not.

There has also been a move in the black community and the world at large to separate religion and religious values from our political process. I find this laughable. The concepts of justice, hospitality and love that are the bedrock of most major faiths are the same values that are lacking in politics.

Yes, some folks have hijacked the political process for their own gains, yes they are attempting to force everyone to live their lives as they see fit, and yes this is wrong. But, these few misguided souls do not represent the mass of believers.

Instead of trying to legislate religion out of the public domain we need to be having honest conversations about how religion can benefit all of us, even non-believers. Instead of black folks turning away from faith-based traditions and standards, we need to be running towards them in an attempt to find some sort of guiding light and moral compass to help us right our sinking ship.

Even more troubling is that so many churches seem to be adopting the methods of the world to attract new members. Whether it hip billboards incorporating rap slogans or slang, or relaxed dress codes that allow sagging jeans and gym shorts, it's almost like going to church has become just another activity. There is nothing special, nothing holy or different about going to worship. It's just another place to meet up with the fellows, here some good music and catch a quick nap.

Preachers, politicians and parents seem to be content with sparing folks the hard truths they need to truly examine their lives and make changes. Instead, they pretend that everything is everything, that whatever feels good or right must also be good and right.

There is nothing wrong with being set apart, with being separate. There is nothing wrong with establishing a sacred place where certain behavior will never be tolerated. There is nothing wrong with telling folks that if they want to be involved in church they need to come to God on his terms, not their own.

I know I promised to offer solutions in this series but it's hard for me to move beyond the most basic solutions for the problem of secularism. It seems obvious that there needs to a be a separation in the black community, a conscious decision to establish standards and make safe havens where those standards are upheld. Instead of co-opting the values of other groups in an attempt to assimilate or seem progressive, we need to concentrate on what works for us, what makes our community strong.

While not all of our faith traditions benefited us, it's clear that many of them gave our community a solid and trustworthy foundation. It's obvious that as we've lost sight of these beliefs, as we've invited in outside influences, we've seen our communities disintegrate around us.

It's time to get set apart on our own terms.



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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back Again For the First Time

The last time I did a series on something I heard at church, I thought it turned out pretty well.

For those of you who don't remember the series it dealt with Gandhi's seven social sins and how they relate to the world today. I enjoyed breaking down Gandhi's profound observations so much, I decided to check back in for round two.

What I'd like to discuss has its grounding in religion, but I think it can even be applied to lives of those who don't believe in God. In fact, I'm going to try to apply it specifically to the black community and the issues that seem to be present there.

During a recent message, my pastor discussed six ways that religion has been corrupted and twisted. I plan to discuss how those six things have corrupted and twisted the black community and the world in general. My viewpoints will of course be guided by my faith, but I think I can make compelling observations without depending too heavily on scripture.

For the record, the six corrupting agents are Secularism, Humanism, Relativism, Pragmatism, Materialism and Mindlessness.

Just looking at those six topics makes me want to write reams and reams of words. For years, I've struggled to understand why the world has the problems it has, why things seem to be spinning so far out of control. In particular, when I've looked at my community, the black community, I've seen such a plethora of problems that I've wondered if there is any real hope. I know I'm not alone in those thoughts.

I think that by dissecting and examining these corrupting agents we can re-discover our hope. When you can identify and define a problem, you can then turn your attention to the solution. I hope this series breaks down these corrupting agents and offers concrete solutions for dealing with the problems they create.

Stay tuned.




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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why You Mad?

Shout out to Darth Whitey for passing along this very interesting article.

If you check out the link, the article discusses a medical school student in New Jersey who is suing the school for discrimination. The interesting thing about the story is that the student is a white guy, who because of where he was born, also identifies himself as African American. So, he's a "white, African-American."

Apparently, the student identified himself as such during some sort of seminar and all hell broke loose at his school. His fellow black classmates took umbrage as his self-identification, and pretty soon school officials were asking him to "lay low" until the heat cooled off. The student didn't really take the advice, things snowballed and the student got suspended from school for at least a year.

Now, he wants to get paid.

What is fascinating about the story is how clearly it demonstrates the fact that all racial designations are man-made creations that poorly define other human beings. I mean, technically, this cat IS African-American. And he's also white, and of Portuguese descent. The problem is that in America, African-American doesn't really have anything to do with where you were born, but it has everything to do with whether you tan at the beach.

Honestly, I was never a big fan of the term "African-American." I mean, Africa isn't a country, it's a continent. I'd rather just be called black, since I really don't know what part of Africa I'm from and identifying with an entire continent seems to be a stretch. It ignores the diversity of Africa and the cultures within its many countries.

I also think it's funny that when blacks, browns and yellows get hyphenated citizenship their monikers are incredibly vague and ridiculous, while whites get to be German-Americans, Italian Americans and Irish Americans. I know that some brown people and yellow people also have more specific designations, like Korean-American or Cuban-American, but their vague designations, like Asian or Latino, are used much more frequently. And black people don't have an option unless you are a recent immigrant from another country.

This reality is a legacy of slavery and the success slave owners had in eradicating most ties that black people had to their home countries. It wasn't an accident, it was a calculated move to isolate and indoctrinate black folks so they would be more docile servants. It's just one more problem to add to the pile.

The thing is, because black folks lack real information about where our ancestors were from and the cultures they had, we tend to be over-protective of anything we can now claim as our own, including stupid, vague names. I'm sure that some of the black folks who opposed this medical student's decision to label himself as "African-American" were thinking "Damn, now the white man gonna take that too?" It's an understandable, albeit unnecessary reaction under the circumstances.

See, while the white student may not have been totally innocent in his thought process--I actually think he was trying to prove a point about how we don't need to worry about race anymore--he was well within his rights, and he was perfectly accurate in his description. This is a prime example of black folks trying to force other people to think they way we think, even though we would hate it if someone did the same thing to us.

The truth is, it doesn't hurt anybody if this white guy wants to be labeled African-American. After all, he also wanted to labeled "white" so it was clear he wasn't trying to claim that he had some special insight into the black experience in America. Whether he was trying to prove a point or not, his desire to adopt the African American label didn't truly hurt anybody. It might confuse some folks, but hey, people are always going to be confused.

See, this is the type of battle I like to avoid. I would have seen immediately that this cat was doing something for attention, and then determined whether I wanted to grant him that attention. What I would not have done was become so upset, so bothered by his refusal to drop the moniker of African-American that I decided to retaliate against him. That crosses a line.

People in this country, people of all hues, have a problem accepting dissenting opinions. We have a problem with allowing people to live their lives in a manner we disagree with. Sure, there are certain actions that cannot be tolerated, but most of the time we're fighting over things that are simply a matter of preference. This student wants to be called African-American, technically he qualifies as African-American, so call him what he wants.

What's it to you?


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Friday, May 15, 2009

Blame Game Burnout

I just need to say one thing to all the folks who remember what city I live in...Email is not your friend.


It's time to nut up.

Stand up and be counted.

Admit your mistakes, take your lumps, live to fight another day.

Can somebody please do this?

I've been thinking about blame, and how it gets passed around more than a bong at the Osbourne house. Whether on a macro or micro level, it seems like nobody wants to admit their mistakes, accept responsibility for the consequences and then move on.

Personally, I'm tired of it.

I'm tired of having to explain simple stuff to black people, white people and all the other peoples of the world. I'm tired of trying to convince people that their simplistic views on race and racism are naive because I need to prove to them that they actually made a mistake. They don't appreciate the assistance and my blood pressure doesn't like the stress.

Frankly, the job doesn't pay enough.

If you're wrong, say you're wrong. Don't give me the excuses, don't try to rationalize your wrongness. Just say "Yeah, I messed up there, I'll have to make amends. Can you forgive me?"

Don't try to convince me I'm the one with the problem. Don't point out the mistakes other people are making. You're not them, they aren't you. You are responsible for what you do, nobody else lives in your skin. Why do you think the screw-ups of other people somehow justify your mistakes? Guess what? They really don't.

Sure, it's hard to accept blame. It's difficult to be punished. But, the alternative is becoming a mewling idiot.

Dammit.




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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Challenge!

Okay, if you have some time and an inclination to read something long and involved, I suggest you check on this piece in The Atlantic.

Ok, the story is about a long running Harvard study that has sought to determine what makes people happy by following around a group of college students since 1937. These aren't just run of the mill college students. These are the creme de la creme and as such, their ranks include some of the most important movers and shakers of the past century.

Anyway, as I read the story, early on I was struck by something. The author makes a point of noting that the study only includes men. The author does not make a point of noting that the study only includes white people.

Now, as a friend pointed out, that might be because the study contained some black people. But, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that given the time, given the pedigree of the candidates and given the criteria established for choosing participants, it did not. After all, I doubt that many folks looking to choose the perfectly "normal" college sophomore on Harvard's campus in 1937 would have chosen a black guy. It's a guess, but I'd call it a good one.

I bring this up because it made me think about something. The study is supposed to have revealed some definitive truths about happiness for human beings, but the only human beings studied were relatively wealthy white men. Can a study of the lives of wealthy white men give us answers about life for everyone?

You know, I really don't know.

On one hand, my first response was, "This means nothing since nobody who looked like me, or had life experiences like me, was included."

Then I thought about. Black people often ask to be looked at as humans first. We ask people not to make assumptions based on our color. We stress that we have the same human characteristics as everyone else. So, if I truly believe this is true, why should it matter if no black people were involved in this study?

These men have the same emotions, the same strengths and the same failings as me, despite our different lives. At our cores, we share the same human foibles. So, ostensibly, I should be able to learn from what happened to them in their lives and apply that knowledge to my life. The truths discovered about them, should apply to me.

But, I'm not sure.

Because it goes back to the question of whether the most important part of human development is nature or nurture. After all, while the stock material might be the same, the lives lived by white men in 1937 and black men in 1937 were vastly different on average.

How much do those differences contribute to the emotions these men display, to the mistakes they make, to the values they hold dear and to the lives they live? The study found that certain decisions, like having a close relationship with a sibling, could make life much better, but does that hold true if that close relationship is shaped by poverty and discrimination? Does the relationship offer the same strength, or is it then a burden?

While we all may be human and our skin color largely unimportant on a genetic level, it is vastly important on a social level? Can we truly learn important truths about the human experience if we only study one race of human beings? Given the importance of race in this world, does that make sense?

I don't know the answer, but I thought it might be an interesting question for y'all to ponder.

If you accept the challenge.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Second and Third Generation

Who pays for the mistakes of the past?

The Bible talks about the sins of fathers dooming their children to the second and third generation. Yet, it also discussed God's willingness to judge all of us individually, and bless us according to our own relationships with him.

I've been wondering about the generational quality of sin, as I watch violence and mayhem engulf my hometown.

I was talking to some older gentlemen the other day, and I ran down to them my own personal beliefs on why things seem so bad these days. First and foremost, there is the existence of more media outlets which serve to inform us about crime that normally would have flown below the radar, or been confined to local newspapers. This serves to create a bunker mentality among Americans who feel like they are constantly under siege, even if they live in relatively quiet and crime-free communities.

However, there is no denying that violence is real in some places. I recently read a story that compared homicide rates around the world to the homicide rate in Iraq, and it was very troubling to see American cities with violence rates higher than some cities in "third world" countries. (I hate using that term, but I don't know a better one.) We like to think that America is "beyond" certain societal ills, but the violence seems to have a stubborn resiliency in this country.

Anyway, after I told these older gentlemen about how the media makes things appear worse than they are, I then talked about the cycle of violence and poverty that is the cornerstone of many black communities. I used the word "cornerstone" because that's how ingrained violence and poverty are in some areas. The school system sucks, the job market sucks, parenting sucks, housing sucks, in fact, everything sucks except for the dope game.

The almighty dope game.

Everybody knows it's fool's gold, but young cats keep jumping off into it. They know they are going to die young or end up locked up. They know once they start getting arrested, it will be damn near impossible for them to ever move into legitimate business. Yet, everyday hundreds of young black men decide that the dope game is their best option.

See, white men may be more likely to use illegal drugs, but it's black men who are most likely to sell it. That ain't just a popular stereotype, that's a fact. But, instead of chalking that up to some innate evilness, I'm of the mindset that something is deeply wrong with the world these young cats inhabit if slanging rocks still seems like a viable option.

In my experience, people are people. Most folks are the same, it's not like there is a plethora of sociopaths in the ghettos. Nah, these cats aren't dark-skinned Charles Mansons, they are more like young idiots who made a series of bad decisions, and now have few options and even less hope.

Here's where I get back to my blog title. See, what I finally told these old cats is that the current state of the world can be directly tied back to the past state of the world. What's going on now in the black community isn't the result of some massive racist plot or some core inadequacy in black people. It's neither that simple, nor that complicated.

Sure, racism helped cause the current problems since the inequities in housing, education and jobs, helped create the depressed economic communities where crime thrives. And sure, black people have some bad traits like drunkenness, sexual immorality and violent tendencies, just to name a few.

But, it's not like there is a cabal of racists making the world jerk and twist like Geppeto. Nor is it true that black people have a monopoly on all the traits I just mentioned. Last time I checked, those things are common in everybody.

Nah, what happened is that the regular old humanity of black folks combined with the inhumane actions of some white folks and the willful ignorance of others to create a toxic mix. That mix encouraged and glorified the worst human traits of black folks, and created a cycle of failure that is reaching its apex in the young adults of today's generation. Whether it be the rampant violence or the declining overall morality, the current state of the world didn't just spring forth fully formed like Aphrodite.

It's been a gradual process where the failures and mistakes of all of our ancestors contributed to the chaos we see today. That doesn't absolve us from our personal responsibility. We still have the power to live our own lives. However, for me, it made it clear that today's problems aren't color-coded and neither are the solutions. There are no white, black, Asian or Latino problems. There are no third world, second world, or first world problems. There are human problems, created thanks to the actions of all human beings, and therefore the responsibility of all of us.

Unless we want to doom some more second and third generations.



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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Know Better, Do Better

I was talking to a friend of mine recently about the way her outlook on the world has changed over the years.

She was thinking about how she handled certain situations, particularly those dealing with race, five or six years ago, and how she handles them today.

In particular, she was noting that she probably wouldn't be comfortable dating a black dude who mainly dated white women. The big change for her is that five or six years ago she would have been ashamed of that fact, and today she feels like it's perfectly acceptable.

My wife and I have also been doing a lot of talking about expectations and change. You know, one of the most difficult things about marriage is identifying habits you have that your spouse despises, and then finding the willpower and desire to change.

In every marriage, both individuals have justifiable reasons to be angry and dissatisfied. Unfortunately, often neither partner can recognize the viewpoint of their mate because they are too busy nursing their own grievances.

It's a nasty cycle.

A similar cycle often exists in our lives in general. We get caught in a rut of living the way we've always lived and doing the things we've always done until self-examination and criticism become foreign concepts to us. Once we stop pursuing knowledge that challenges our preconceptions we guarantee that our intellect and morality will begin to stagnate.

It's a sign of wisdom when individuals not only seek knowledge, but also use that knowledge intelligently in their lives. That can mean learning more about racism, and then challenging folks who exhibit racist behavior. Sometimes that means truly listening to your wife's complaints and not just writing them off as "crazy woman" stuff. It also can mean learning more about God and trying to align your life with his standards.

Ultimately, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to work on improving who we are as human beings. It may not always be rewarding and it definitely won't be easy, but it's necessary. It's truly necessary.


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Friday, May 8, 2009

Might Be Memorex

My pops has this annoying catchphrase he picked up somewhere.

"Is it real or is it Memorex?"

Pops likes to pull out this gem when he's trying to make a point about whether something is dependable or whether someone can be trusted. He must have picked it up recently because I don't remember him saying it when I was a child.
He usually says it to remind me not to worry about stuff cause what's real will be real no matter what, and what's fake will come out in the wash.

I like that.

Folks will try to convince you of anything these days. Actually, folks have been pulling that routine since man appeared on the Earth. Trying to tell you not to trust your lying eyes, to ignore that gut feeling, to just trust them and their expertise.

Pushing Memorex likes it's crack.

I mean, it's like Lakers fans trying to argue that Kobe Bryant's elbow to the neck/chest of Ron Artest wasn't really dirty. Or certain white folks named after Norse gods trying to convince me that my feeble little mind has been warped by liberalism.

People will push all sorts of madness because they've convinced themselves that they alone know the secret to how the world works. And then get mad when you don't agree with them!

I'm not pretending that I'm not guilty of that oversight. Sometimes I can be pig-headed and blind, which is a horrible combination. But, I try my hardest to consider other viewpoints, to give conflicting information an honest review. Unfortunately, I meet folks everyday who don't have those same ideals, and it can make it hard to stick to my guns to treat folks right.

I guess I just needed to vent a little today. Talking to people about a variety of topics everyday makes me appreciate people who make reasoned, balanced arguments. Those people are a dying breed. More and more people are electing to live in their own created realities where they keep out inconvenient facts through a mixture of yelling and earplugs.

M.O.B.

Memorex over Brains.



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Thursday, May 7, 2009

This Ain't Normal

In my city, it's pretty normal for a black male to die from a gunshot wound in a crime-ridden neighborhood because of his involvement with narcotics trafficking.

I suspect that's pretty normal all across this country. Drug dealers die or go to jail everyday and most of the time it's not news. No need for long-involved profiles on how they ended up in a life of crime, no attempts to explain how their lives still had value. They are just dead, and nobody bats an eye.

But, let some white guys rob some banks, and it's a different story.

If you take the time to read that story, you'll find a detailed recounting of white cats in financial trouble robbing folks. And I mean robbing, not embezzling, not cooking the books, but pulling out a hammer and telling cats to "give it up."

It's to be expected that during tough economic times (TET) folks are going to start robbing. If you ain't got something, and something else does, some cats believe that's a good reason to play Jesse James. Shoot, in my city every day brings more reports of robberies and car jackings. I'm sure it's the same in most cities across the country.

The thing is, when these robberies feature young black males, nobody seems to care why they are robbing folks.

Feel free to correct if you disagree, but I can honestly say that I don't remember the last time I read a news article detailing why young black males are involved in the drug trade or the robbing trade. I really have not read an article that strikes the same tone of sympathy, and goes out of its way to blame the actions of the criminals on the circumstances of their lives.

Cause, if we're comparing effed up life circumstances, well young black men in the the inner city just have to win, hands down. It's not even a contest. It's like PacMan versus Hatton.

This story, and the many others like it I've read, are just another example of how this country defines "normal" through the prism of "whiteness."

Y'all think I'm tripping, well let me break it down further.

Black people are expected to be violent, amoral, and predatory. It's assumed to be in our DNA. Therefore, when we commit crimes, such as robbery, we are not responding to our environments or stress in our lives, we are instead staying in line with our deepest instincts. Having sympathy for a black criminal is akin to having sympathy for a hungry tiger. The best way to deal with both is a high-powered rifle.

Conversely, white people represent all that is good, pure and perfect in the world. When they fail to live up to their innate goodness, it is because of outstanding stress placed on their lives. Therefore whenever white people succumb to this stress and commit crimes, we must be reminded of exactly what stress was in their lives so no other white people would believe that the problem was innate.

Do y'all get it now?

Nobody wrote articles talking about how difficult it is to make an honest living in the hood because nobody cares about that. After all, even you gave black folks jobs, they'd still do evil because it's in their blood. Instead, we should devote our time to solving the problems affecting the lives of white people so they can get back to their normal, angelic lives.

Anything else is not only a waste of time...

It just ain't normal.



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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Game Done Changed

When I was a little kid, there was a simple rule that governed fights at school.

Always get the other guy to swing first.

Kid logic dictated that if you enticed the other guy to throw the first punch, you couldn't be held liable for what happened after that. This meant engaging in complicated rituals that involved walking around and around in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, daring the other kid to swing first. Sometimes, unruly bystanders might grab one participant's hand and make him hit the other guy just to get the fight started.

Unfortunately, most teachers and school administrators didn't agree with our rock solid kid logic. Invariably, they would punish both students and turn a deaf ear to our pleas about who started the brawl. Sometimes, not being the aggressor would win brownie points with parents, but there was no guarantee.

I thought about kid logic and adult logic when I read this piece which was linked to at the Angry Asian Man blog.

Seems that a Korean student in Canada was handling his business in some game called "speedball" when one of his pale classmates decided he didn't appreciate his prowess and called him an "effing Chinese." The Korean student let homeboy know that racial slurs aren't good business, and the white dude decided to haul off and punch him in the mouth.

And that's where the story gets interesting. See, the Korean student is actually a black belt in a martial arts discipline. However, instead of unleashing the full fury of his fists, he only gives the white cat one good shot to the nose with his weaker hand. And he breaks the cat's nose.

Now, school officials not only suspended both students, but the police actually arrested the Korean student and some folks are talking about kicking him out of school permanently. There was recently a community march to support what he did, and complain about bullying, but school officials are still taking a hard line stance.

What's really good?

I mean, this seems pretty clear cut to me. The kids got in a fight. One kid started the fight by being racist, and by being a bully. Unfortunately for him, he picked on a kid who actually knew how to defend himself, and who had no problems beating his butt. The End.

Part of me doesn't think the Korean kid should even get suspended. Sure, he was fighting, but when somebody is throwing around slurs and punches, I think fighting is warranted. I know officials want you to run and find a teacher, but that ain't realistic in my opinion. In real life, becoming a snitch will only make your problems worse, and taking the strictly non-violent approach is guaranteed to get you future beatings from bullies. Your best bet is to attempt to diffuse the situation, and then use the bare minimum of force if that doesn't work.

It sounds like that's exactly what the Korean teenager did in this instance, and yet he's the one being punished excessively. This is mindboggling, yet not truly surprising. After all, what this story really boils down to is what happens when minorities respond to racism outside of the "accepted" channels.

During the Civil Rights era, 60 minutes journalist Mike Wallace did a piece on the Nation of Islam called "The Hate that Hate produced." It was an inside look at the black nationalist, religious group that focused primarily on their views about white people being devils, and their paramilitary leanings. The piece catapulted Malcolm X into the national consciousness and forever framed the NOI.

I've often wondered why 60 minutes spent so much time on the response to hate, but nowhere near that much time on the actual hate itself? I mean, there was no show dedicated to the violence the KKK and other domestic terrorist organizations were inflicting on black people at the time. There was no in-depth study of how racism affected housing, education and quality of life. Nope, hatred only became news when black folks started arming themselves and clearly outlining the source of their misery. 2520s.

That seems pretty analogous to the situation with this Canadian teenager. The racism isn't the the school's concern, the violence because of racism wasn't their initial concern either. Instead, the big problem is the fact that this Asian kid had the audacity to strike back, and strike back so forcefully, that there can be no doubt of his ability to protect his interests.

I guess that's a game changer.







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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

All things must come to an end, it is an inevitable part of the cycle of existence, all things must conclude.


Well, we're finally finished.

I said I would write a piece about each of Gandhi's Seven social sins, and now we're here at the end of the line with "Politics Without Principles."

I must admit that this is a tough topic for me because I've tuned out from politics over the past few months. I just got tired of the same trivial arguments, the ridiculous news coverage and the feeling that not much was going to change any time soon. Life, with all of its hardships, was complicated enough that it was easy to abandon my previous devotion to keeping up with the political world.

I offer no excuses, just the facts.

Plus, it's hard for me to think about the concept of politicians and principles. I'm not saying that all politicians are devoid of morals, but it's obvious that becoming a politician requires your morals to be fairly malleable. So, it's seems useless to talk about requiring politicians to have principles if we don't specify that those principles have to be absolute.

And that's a hard concept to sell in a world where people seem disinclined to understand nuance and inclined to distort everything. I guess it makes more sense to speak in cliches and vague euphemisms then to actually speak honestly and directly to the public.

Honestly, I've become so cynical that I don't expect many principles from politicians. I'll admit that I was caught up in the whole Obama movement, and, while I still think the brother will do a good job, the first 100 days of his tenure have driven home the fact that politicians can only do so much. I think he's a swell cat, but his outlook on life differs greatly from my own.

I guess I don't know what else to say about this sin, which is a bummer because I wanted to end this series on a high note. Oh well, some topics lend themselves to deep thinking, and other kind of make you say:

Duh.

Please let me know how you felt about the series, whether you found it useful or not. Thanks.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Give It Up

This cat at my church came to me the other day with a proposition.

Seems like the church used to have a Boy Scout troop before I joined, and they are getting it started again. As part of that effort, they are starting something called "Explorers" and the guy was asking me if I might be interested in participating.

I was shook.

No, it's not because I'm scared of the Boy Scouts and their late night campfires. Nah, I was shook because I thought he was asking me for another chunk of my steadily dwindling personal time, and I was trying to figure out a way to decline without feeling like I was cheating God.

When I first decided to write about Gandhi's social sins, the sin of "Religion Without Sacrifice," was the one topic I couldn't wait to tackle. This sin cuts to the core of what I see as one of the major plagues on mankind.

It's not because all religious folks are bad people, or because they all refuse to sacrifice. However, many of us religious folks have focused on sacrificing in the wrong areas, and instead of making the world a better place, we've screwed things up horribly.

Look, I know we (and by "we" I mean Christians, since that's all I really know) try hard. Most of the church folks I know are just trying to live their lives in a better way. Sure, there are bad apples, but as a whole, I've found that believers of all colors and economic backgrounds care about serving God and being decent people.

As long as it's not too hard.

That's the catch. It can't be too hard. And when I say hard, I don't mean that most Christians refuse to do difficult tasks. Many believers have jobs or hobbies that require them to risk life and limb to make the world better. Or they may give massive amounts of their time and money to volunteer efforts. No, what I mean is that while folks might do difficult tasks, that don't do tasks that are difficult for them.

Now that's sounds kind of screwy, so let me break it down. I once told me wife that I don't have a problem with compromising, I just have a problem with compromising on things I care about. If she wants ice cream and I don't particularly care about ice cream, we can have whatever flavor she likes. If she wants to go to the movies, and I don't care about what movie we watch, then I might get stuck watching The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood. (That really happened.)

Compromise comes easy on those situation because I'm not sacrificing anything. I don't really care about the outcome, so anything can happen. But, when it's an issue that's important to me, like something involving a large outlay of my money, then I become so stubborn that mules passing me by on the street do a double take.

Our faith should push us to places where we are uncomfortable, it should have us constantly reevaluating our lives and how we are living them. In fact, I think the biggest sacrifice any Christian can make is to sacrifice "comfort."

My point is that not only is it important to make sacrifices in the name of God, it's important to make the right sacrifices.

It's not enough to sacrifice money, if time is the thing that's really valuable in your life. It's not enough to be at every function, if the thing you're really miserly about is your money.

Attempting to establish a deep personal relationship with God without being willing to give up things you hold dear is foolish...

Oh, and I agreed to do the Explorers thing at church. Turns out they didn't even need an additional time commitment from me.

Too funy.


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Friday, May 1, 2009

Power Tools

It would be easy to talk about abortion here.

Or maybe eugenics, or plastic surgery, or cloning or even stem cells.

If I was going to discuss "Science Without Humanity" and I decided to focus on any of those topics, I'm sure the activity on this blog would spike. All of those topics are controversial enough that it's a pretty safe bet that folks would feel the need to share their opinions.

I'm going to avoid the easy route.

I read quite a few blogs, and one of them I visit is run by a cat who goes by the name of Denmark Vesey. I find his spot interesting because they are often talking about things I'm not familiar with, which means I'm guaranteed to learn something new. We may not agree on a lot of topics, but I don't have to agree with you to learn from you.

Anyway, one of the recurring topics over there is whether there are genetic differences between the races as far as intelligence. It's the whole "nature vs. nurture" argument, but with a lot more big words and obscure studies. Several of the commenters adamantly oppose the idea that race and intelligence are linked, while others think that's the only obvious conclusion. As a tangent from this argument, the cats over there often discuss whether a large scale mapping of human genomes is an undertaking worth pursuing.

See, scientists have already mapped the DNA of several individuals, but it wasn't until recently that a fairly large scale effort was made to look at groups. Of course, when you're talking about DNA, large scale means slightly more than a thousand instead of millions because of the complexity of the work.

Now, some folks are gung-ho about the project and the information it may provide about genetic differences between the races. They point to the medical benefits of such information and just the pure pursuit of knowledge. It all sounds wonderful.

But, other cats are skeptical about any endeavor that seeks to categorize folks by race, and then analyze their genes. I guess it smells a little too much like the early funk of eugenics. After all, there is the question of how people were divided into "races" in the first place, and then there is the question of how information about differences and similarities is going to be used.

See, the problem is that without humanity, or compassion, science can become a pretty powerful tool of evil. Depending on the results of the study, folks may justify longstanding biases and discrimination as being warranted based on the fact that certain "races" are in fact genetically inferior. After all, people have been trying to prove the inferiority of non-whites for generations, and that is the reason why there has traditionally been a pell-mell rush by folks to avoid being classified as "non-white."

Honestly, I don't have a problem with information, and I understand the value of the genome project. What I also understand is the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. I understand how science and scientific discoveries can be twisted and skewed to represent whatever folks want them to represent.

Gandhi warned against the blind devotion to science and knowledge because he understood that without a higher power or calling guiding us, human beings have a tendency to abuse these very powerful tools. I think Gandhi understood that the urge to build temples to ourselves, to create our own person godheads, is only aided by the power bestowed by science.

Mankind has always had trouble controlling this urge since our creation. Many among us have seen science as the perfect vehicle to allow us to assume a spot alongside God. Whether it was alchemy or the dark arts, mankind has yearned for the power that science can bestow upon us, and often using that power to benefit humanity is an afterthought.

I think science is amazing. It's wonderful and awe-inspiring. The possibility of learning how our genes work and how they control our lives is enticing. But, I also understand that until we as humans learn to temper our power with humanity, with ethics, with compassion, we are like little children playing with assault rifles.

And that's deadly.





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Raving Black Lunatic