Saturday, December 26, 2009

Giving to the Needy

A year ago, some people in a very affluent suburb wanted to do something good and helpful for Christmas. They passed around the hat, collected some money, and made an anonymous donation to a family in the inner city. It was a very generous act, they are truly good people, but was this act thoughtful, or even helpful?

I feel a bit like Scrooge even asking that question. Well maybe it’s the rhetorical nature of the question that has me feeling Grinch-ish, because I already have an answer. No.

This group of people gave the gift to someone they knew of, but did not know. They gave it to me.
Why me? Without asking it was easy to surmise; they first, knew I exist, and second, knew I live in the “inner city”.
They knew of my family’s existence due to our both being part of a larger religious community. My activities in this church often bring me in contact with those who do not attend my regular congregation, so it would be easy for someone who does not know me personally, to have some small familiarity with my name. That would easily combine with their knowledge of the geographic boundaries of my actual congregation, but this is the extent of our intimacy.
These well meaning people have a view of what it means to live in the inner city, and in many cases it is accurate, but they never go there. Not only do they not go there but people who live “there” rarely if ever, venture out. News cameras broadcast reports from the grimiest of places and tell the saddest or most sordid tales, and an image is permanently cast.

This image is not entirely false. I could introduce these people to countless associates of mine with stories worthy of “Extreme Home Makeover”, or more likely” Cops”, either way, people in need of a gift. I am surrounded by those in need. But those are not they to whom the gift was given, it was given to me. At the time I was in the fifth year of a career with a Fortune 500 company, enjoying a nice salary, a regular bonus structure, a company car complete with gas card, and even a healthy expense account. Of those who attend my congregation my family would have surely qualified as one of the least in need of outside assistance. This has made me think a bit.

Many want to help. Many even take steps, especially at this time of year, to do something helpful. I fear most of these efforts are wasted. Maybe not wasted but rather squandered. How can any of us help another without first knowing what help they really need? That is the hard part, identifying the true need. It’s the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts of helping, it’s the dirty work. Not only is it dirty, but it takes time, more time than December provides.

Maybe it would have been a better idea to have given me a phone call first. I could have passed them along to someone else more deserving, or accepted the gift with the charge to pass it along to someone else.

I would hate for those who have, to stop giving to those who don’t, but we can do better. Let us start thinking things through to the end. Let’s take the next step and make sure we know the situation before we act. Let us try to actually solve the problems we think are out there rather than just make a little dent in them. I know it’s hard. I know most people don’t have the time. I understand. In the end, maybe these folks, while a bit unknowingly, did the best thing.

If you don’t truly know the needy, give to those who do.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rugby Movie!

The first time I saw “The Power of One” was with my friend Pete.
It was the night before he was to leave on a two year mission for our church. Now what you do on your last day before leaving is significant. During the next two years a 19 year old missionary will not watch any TV, listen to any radio or secular music, not email or make social phone calls, and no movies.

Pete despite his popularity, was never all that social of a guy. On his last night of social freedom he just wanted to relax and watch a video. I had never heard of that movie, nor had anyone else I knew. I have no idea where he picked it up or why. There was no preface, we simply popped it in and sat back.

I loved it. A coming of age tale wrapped in a message of the individual’s responsibility to stand up for what is right. It seemed appropriate for one about to embark on a religious mission. I filed it away in my memory. Wished Pete well, and then followed his footsteps two weeks later. I went to Atlanta.

Upon my return, older and strangely aware of race in a way I wasn’t before, I went on with my life. Part of that life, a big part, was rugby.
A big enough part that I have suffered two broken noses, surgery on that nose, two broken thumbs, or rather the same thumb broken twice, two concussions, 32 stitches on my head or face, I am not sure how many times I have lost the toenail from my big toes, and I experienced the joy of surgery to replace my ACL.
This affair with the egg shaped ball has continued over thirteen years, four states, and five teams. I plan to nurture the romance as long as the lady will have me, or as long as I have insurance.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of playing with or against all sorts of people from all sorts of places once touched by the British Empire; Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the islands of the South Pacific, and of course, South Africa.

Every Afrikaner I ever met, at some point, lived up to the negative stereotype “The Power of One” planted in my mind. The first was a coach whom I overheard telling another group of players how Polynesians are not meant to play rugby as they are not built for endurance and are simply not mentally capable of sticking to a game plan when the game is on the line. This was my first day with that team and I immediately went across town and joined a Polynesian team.
The second encounter was in the office of my employer. I was alone at my desk when one of our contractors walked in and had a seat. He was a former professional in his native land, a prop forward. He was waiting for the boss to show up, but he never did. During the boredom of our wait he entertained me with feats of strength, one of which was tearing a phone book in half with his hands. After the demonstration he turned to telling stories. He told of how he used to play all over the world, how he used to hunt wild game on safari, used to drink unheavenly amounts of Guinness, and of course how his country was ruined by the end of apartheid. This included him telling me how the “natives” used to kill each other by tying someone up, placing a gasoline filled tire around their neck, and lighting them on fire. He continued that he wished they would have done it too all the black people so he could go home.
The third time, in another state, on another team, we were running a warm-up lap around our practice field. We shared the field with a local little league football team. On this particular day the football team was having a scrimmage which forced us to alter our usual course by a whopping twenty yards. As we passed behind the stands of Moms and Dads watching their kids, one of my teammates shouted something in Afrikaans that neither they nor I understood. But I did understand that one word, which allowed me to get the gist of what he must have said.

I cringed when I watched the Springboks win the most recent rugby World Cup. Why them? How could the most dominant All Blacks team ever, loose to those guys? Where is the Karma?
Then I saw Invictus.

I read some reviews from writers who get paid to write, writers who said things like, “the soundtrack is melodramatic, the slow motion is over used, but the whole feel-good cheesiness of it all is overshadowed by the fact that this is how it actually went down”.


Matt Damon, Morgan Philanderer Freeman, and Clint Eastwood have etched their way into my heart with this one movie.
Matt Damon; preppy poet, super spy, pick pocket, card shark, and janitor genius, can now add Afrikaner flanker to the list.
Morgan Freeman has been a lot of things, including God, but to me he was Jull Pete (sp?), the boxing trainer/prisoner in “The Power of One”. Jull Pete now playing Nelson Mandela? There is justice!
Clint, the king of cool, Dirty Harry, you have done what no other sports movie director has done, remained accurate.

The greatest sports movie is of course “Rudy”. So much so that I refer to that clamming up feeling one gets preceding a cry as “the Rudy feeling”. Yet that movie, as well as all other football movies, messes up the football.

There will be a clip of the team in the huddle where the quarterback will call, “flanker left 26 veer”, and then the team will run to the line and run a pass play. Or the classic final touchdown scene where the hero is running down the sideline behind the fat guy who blocks one, then another, then another opponent till the ball carrier makes the touchdown. Most players are happy to get one successful block per play let alone three. That is Hollywood. Thank you Mr. Eastwood for not doing that to Rugby.

Your scrum may have been a little long, and if I recall correctly the whistle was blown while the ball was still in play, but that is far outshined by the fact that all the players on the field looked forty years old.

The actors playing ruggers were not pretty, they did not look like top flight professional athletes, but they did look like rugby players. There was an actor who was only in a few bit parts, who said no lines, who actually looked a bit like Andrew Mehrtens. Jonah Lomu looked like Jonah Lomu, maybe a bit smaller. There were no helicopter tackles and by any movie standards everyone looked a bit slow while running.

It was real rugby!

But most of all, above all else, it made me forget my disdain for a group of people. I will not be ordering a gold and green jersey any time soon, but I will admit that Schalk Berger may be a better flanker than Richie McCaw. I will cede that they scrum better than everyone else. Mostly I will admit that they helped provide a great sports story. They proved that while I dislike most everyone I have met from there, they were worth cheering for.

Go All Blacks!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Drawing Done On Location


Above all else, above the cold, above how genuinely friendly everyone seemed, above everything, I noticed Steelers gear.

Everyone, everywhere, wore black and gold, and the team is doing horribly. I am not a Steelers fan but hats off to the Burgh for showing support...

I also noticed, written on the wall of a restroom, the sidewalk in front of the Fort Pitt Museum, and lastly on one of the rails of the Andy Warhol Bridge, was the "N" word.

One was a joke about death and Cadillacs, the others just a negative adjective followed by the word.

I know anyone who scrawls on public property with a marker is automatically the lowest common denominator, and I see graffiti of all sorts everywhere I go, but not that word, and surely not repeated.

You can't judge a city by the writing on the wall, but a city with "that" written on it does leave an impression.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Show your support

Living or working in Philly can be rough. Crime is not some theoretical political issue to be argued about, but a reality that is lived through.
In 2007 we averaged more than one murder for every day of the year. The thing about murder statistics is that it only counts those who die, it does not tell us how many people actually get shot or stabbed, or just plain beat up.

When the numbers, or rather the chaos, gets to this scale it can be assumed that a portion of both the deaths and the killers, will be cops.

Things have gotten better in the past three years. But not all better.
Last year, in my neighborhood, an officer was killed while responding to a bank robbery. The next day, while the department was still searching for the suspects, a news camera caught 12 officers severely beating a black man they mistook as the robber. Turns out he was not.

No one got fired. I think three were suspended.

Stories of Police beatings are many and come regularly. They don’t do all the dishing, I can recall three times last year where I had to wait for a city long motorcade carrying an officer to his final resting place.
It has gotten long past ridiculous.

Let me tell you a little bit about my neighborhood.
During the day the narrow, short, streets have few parked cars; everyone is at work. In the evening those same streets are lined with panel vans, work trucks, and cop cars. Most of the kids attend catholic school, and most of those kids’ grand parents can be found sitting on a stoop somewhere nearby saying hello to people by name as they walk by. The neighborhood is very stable and nearly all white.

The day the cameras caught the gang of cops beating the suspects in the street, I had a conversation with my next door neighbor. I expressed my disappointment in the officers’ behavior. She did not. I should have known better, her Dad was a cop. She regularly wears a t-shirt in support of the officer who was famously shot by Mummia. I expressed my understanding that theirs is the hardest job there is, along with my feeling that along with the risk comes a responsibility to hold yourself to a higher standard. She did not agree.

We got a flier in our door informing us that someone would be coming along soon to offer us a blue light bulb to use in our porch light to show support for the Police Department. We don’t have a porch light. Most here do and in the evening the streets have a blue glow. There is no doubt where allegiances lie.

Two weeks ago, in our neighborhood, an off duty police officer shot and killed his 21 year old neighbor. There was apparently an altercation at a party in the officer’s home that spilled to the streets. The officer brandished a gun and most of the crowd left. The story goes that the victim stood his ground saying, “you aren’t going to shoot me.”

He did.

The Department is making no statements but the officer is currently on desk duty. An investigation has uncovered multiple past complaints about the officer including him shooting an opossum in the street, and him threatening, with a pulled gun, kids who bullied his 8 year old son.

Now there are orange ribbons everywhere. Our next door neighbor has one. She told us that the ribbons are a show of support for the victim’s family. I see those ribbons on street signs, on the counters at the corner store, and hanging from the porch lights that used to have blue light bulbs.

I don’t really want to talk about the cops here. Who am I to say one thing or the other when I am not the one getting paid far too little to risk my life for people who generally don’t appreciate it? While I have opinions and think right and wrong are not negotiable, I have as much right to give them as advice as I do Donovan McNabb.
I want to talk about the people in my neighborhood.

Why are they supporting the victim this time? Cops shoot people all the time and in the past, when there in controversy, support is without fail, given to the cop.

The difference here is that this time, the kid was someone they know. In the past it was always somewhere and someone else.
Funny how a little familiarity changes one’s perception.
In the past it was almost always just some black kid in the bad part of town, not one of “us”.

I don’t think anyone around here has noticed the irony, or the lesson. Next time a person is shot on the other side of the tracks and the family cries fowl, will we hesitate to screw in the blue bulb?
I doubt it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Port Royal, Jamaica

Its snowing in Philly today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Corporate Hair

“Good hair”
Some things have racial aspects but aren’t racist at the root.
I have listened to conversations about hair, grooming, and corporate dress that seam to miss something. The conversation lacks completeness. Lacks perspective.

Chris Rock has a movie about it (not just this but touching on it), I have heard two NPR roundtables on the subject, and read countless articles on the subject. None of them really got to the heart of the matter. They could have talked for hours and still never gotten there. They would never get there because they were headed the wrong direction. The discussion was really one sided. It was black sided.

It was all about black hair in the professional world.

They all talk about what is or isn’t accepted. They talked all about how African hair is frowned upon, rejected, forced to change. There was talk of how woman must have processed hair, afros and braids are outlawed, and heaven forbid someone have dreadlocks. They talked about the implications. They talked about cultural differences and the history of rejection of all things culturally black or African. Some were upset at the system, some were less so, but most all attributed it to race. They lamented that in the corporate world, one must dress and look, white.

My Dad and I had one repeating disagreement throughout my youth. One thing that never seamed to resolve, one wedge between us.

My hair.

In fourth grade everyone had a rat tail and shaved stripes like Brian Bozworth. I just wanted the tail. Dad said “no”. I would let the back grow out till it curled up around my neck and ears, then Dad, after arguing with my Mom and sisters, would drag me to the barber and turn me into a Marine. If you let a “high and tight” grow for about six months you have a nice preppy comb over, then shave off the sides and you have a respectable new wave, skater, do. Dad hated it.

By high school I pushed a little more. I liked the top long. Not hippie long, just to my chin. I kept the sides shaved. Dad thought it looked like someone grabbed me by the hair and stretched my head till my ears lowered five inches. Another adult said I looked like Bert from Sesame Street. I loved my hair.
Once, during my sophomore year, I actually hid in my locker (oversized football lockers) while the seniors, clippers in hand, looked all over asking, “where is the kid with the surfer hair?”
Before senior year coach asked us all to make a sacrifice to show our dedication to the team. He asked us to sacrifice our hair. My best friend, who had hair half way down his back, and I were distraught. What would we do? We found the answer in a Van Dame movie, “Bloodsport”. The bad guy looked awesome and we decided we would too.

We went with the team to make the sacrifice and both came out with shaved heads; except for a long tail from the crown of our heads. I was thinking tough guy kickboxer but in retrospect looked more Hare Krishna.
Dad was inconsolable.

To Dad’s credit he never said “because I said so.” He always explained. He explained a lot. I can’t count how many discussions started with, “I’ve been teaching for 30 years…”
Dad explained that people always make assumptions about people by how they look. He said kids always group together with similar styled kids. While he did not teach at the school I attended, he said he knew the type of kids who looked like me. He did not approve.
He told me he did not think my style meant I was bad. He expressed fear that others would not take the time to know me but simply make assumptions by looking at me and treat me accordingly. He was afraid that if everyone treated me like one of the bad kids, I would eventually start living up to their expectations.

Most importantly he worried that I loved my hair so much, and really I did. He worried about me serving a mission. In my religion serving a two year mission is more than a right of passage, it’s a religious responsibility. Every young man is expected to live worthily and serve. Missionary’s have strict grooming standards… especially concerning hair. While officially representing the church one is required to appear in the most culturally accepted, and wholesome, way possible. No bloodsport tails.

He worried my love for my locks would give me pause. He worried that this pause would grow into something more.
It didn’t.

Years later I was working in sales. I covered a $4,000,000 territory and would regularly present to purchasing boards, followed by a presentation to a team of janitors.
I remembered what my dad taught me and updated the lesson. I would regularly start the day in a nice dark colored suit, complete with conservative tie and cuff links. After the PowerPoint I would quickly loose the jacket and tie, roll up my sleeves, and rub the gel out of my hair.
How the different audiences saw me directly affected my sales results.

Back to the original subject.
The corporate look is in deed a white look. But make no mistake, it is not THE white look.
What all these African-American commentators and experts failed to recognize and acknowledge is that corporate culture is not only forcing black people to look a different way, but is also forcing other whites to look a certain way.
When I walked into the professional world I sacrificed a little part of who I am, a little part of my soul. Someone else dictated how I looked, what I did with my time, and even what I would drive. In return I got a check and insurance.

Some things have racial aspects, but are really not racial issues.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Worst Saturday of my life

As the bus pulled of the turnpike and we started on the back country roads, the kids pulled out their earphones and started looking out the windows.

“Yo, it’s just like the movies! Where are we?”
“Where’s all the people?”
“It’s just too perfect out here, it makes me nervous.”
“Yo, I just saw a person! We been driving like all day and that’s the first person I saw.”
“Wait, where’s all the black people?”
“Yo, maybe this is like some Hitler type stuff and we only think we are going to play football.”
“They don’t like black people out here yo, we better look out for the reffs, ya know?”

I didn’t say anything. I just sat, listened, and watched the well tended corn fields and silos roll past.

The Milton Hershey School is a private boarding school founded by the Chocolate magnate with a charter to help troubled youth. The campus would make any college proud. There is a large, surprisingly modern main hall, a big athletic center, two huge outdoor swimming pools, one complete with a twisting water slide. I’m sure the sight of an actual stadium with a real locker room stunned many of the kids into silence, but I have no idea as I was distracted by all the “oohs” and “ahhs”. We filed out onto the pro grade synthetic turf, ran through some drills, and looked ready to play.

We had two weeks to get ready for this game. The first day of the two week build up was a Monday morning session that roused about 15 young men at the unheavenly hour of… 10 a.m. That Wednesday was study hall. Thursday it rained and ten kids showed up at the field. Friday Sarge called me to say only four kids checked out their pads today so don’t worry about heading for the field as no one would be there.
Monday was great weather, great turnout, and great practice. Tuesday was better weather and worse everything else. {Name withheld} was A.W.O.L. so later that night I went to his house. After using all my detective skills I found his home, not the address listed on school records, and he let me in. He was just feeding his little brother a dinner of chips and cool-aid. Turns out Grandma was rushed to the hospital, Mom hadn’t been heard from (which is normal), and {name withheld} had to watch little brother. We talked a bit about life and telephones and made sure little brother was spending the rest of the week at Dad’s.
Thursday was well attended but poorly executed.
Friday’s run through had key guys missing for good reasons (school), but many present were mentally missing. Jogged routes, inattentiveness, and plugged ears had me ready to strangle someone. We did our best to press through and I did my best to keep my words positive for the day before a game.

They ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
We fumbled the ensuing kickoff giving them the ball on the 20. They scored on the first play from scrimmage. We punted after three plays. They ran their first play in for a touchdown.
As the touchdowns began to pour down, so did the rain. The torrent of both water and points on top of us seemed to imply that heaven and the other team were allied. Game time is chaotic enough under normal circumstances but we coaches began to flounder a bit. I did my best to refrain from negativity, which comes so easily when it is deserved, but not everyone made the same attempt. Some coaches fumed, while a couple simply disappeared. I mostly watched, trying to figure out exactly what was happening.

Just as I didn’t know the school would let non-players, including girls, on the bus, I didn’t know they would let parents onto the sidelines. During the debacle a short, round man with a long goatee was yelling, “It’s the fundamentals coach! Teach them to tackle coach! Your fundamentals suck coach!” He went on a loud continuation of that theme. By halftime I had had enough. I warned the other coaches I was going to try to talk to someone I would rather punch, and approached the man. Trying to keep cool, I asked the man to not address the players unless he had encouragement. He argued. I explained that he was not there on Monday through Friday and because of that had no idea what the kids are capable of. He got loud. He said he would start showing up every day because as a player and competitor he knew our fundamentals sucked. Now I got loud. I told him he was right, our fundamentals suck, but they are surely not going to learn fundamentals today, so his words were not helping anyone. He agreed, and shut up for the rest of the day.
The second half was highlighted by our 120lb. running back single handedly, or footadley, bouncing off of, and running around, every member of the other team, for a 50 yard touchdown. Our defense mostly shut down their sophomores. The guy at the clock let it run the whole second half and at the end, the score was 70-8.

70-8! I have never been a part of anything like that.

I wish I could say this was a wakeup call but I fear it wasn’t. It was for me.
When one starts at a huge disadvantage, how do you get them to the level where they can compete?
Do circumstances dictate that rules and expectations need to be adjusted?
Where is the balance between discipline and understanding?
These aren’t football questions, they are society questions. That game on Saturday wasn’t just a sporting event but an allusion to bigger things.
That is why my weekend was so hard. Not just losing a game, but the idea that my best efforts were/are inadequate.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

White Supremacy

I was aked via email to respond to the following quote.

"The word racism ceased to be the term which best expressed for me the exploitation of black people and other people of color in society and... I began to understand that the most useful term was white supremacy"

I was not told who said it or what they were talking about. Only told that the original emailer was offended by the statement.

Am I offended? Not at all.
Do I agree? I couldn't say without more context.
I think the key word in the statement, at least to me, is "useful".

We white people, especially white ones with a rightward lean, are far to thin skinned when criticized generally on matters of race. We, who place high value on personal accountability, or agency, and hard working thriftiness, have an Achilles heal with all things racial. We see all accusations of racism or wrongdoing as personal attacks and unknowingly begin defending our self, which leads to blaming minorities for their own problems, or at the very least fostering an attitude of skepticism when accusations are made.

I will not respond with anything I have read or learned academically, but only with my own personal (admittedly anecdotal) experience.

Racism is alive and well from both black and white. I would even say in equal proportions. Till the current President's campaign, I will strongly forward that black people were very accepting of overt racist comments regarding white people. Chris Rock is famous for his barbs, Rev Wright, etc etc... while Trent Lott, Imus, and others get in trouble far far more subtle remarks.
How unfair. White people are growingly upset by the double standard.

Not me. Why?

For starters, I have heard what white people say about black people when we are alone. I have heard the "N word" tossed about casually. I have heard elements of black culture condemned while the negatives in white culture go unmentioned. There are plenty of white racists, a fact which is scary once you realize that white people outnumber black people more than ten to one.
Who has more cause to be worried, black or white?
Which group has been actually injured by racism? Any white person who complains they have been injured by racism in any lasting way is lacking in understanding of the black experience. HUGELY lacking.

The general black populace is so far behind proportionately when compared with whites in general that one would have to ask why.

Here is where I think it could be argued that an attitude of white supremacy prevails.
A conservative white, who thinks racism is now impotent and the system now offers opportunity equally, must find some way to explain why blacks lag. Since it can't be racism or the system, it must be the irresponsibility, laziness, and immorality of the blacks themselves.
The more I look at it this is the root of most conservative arguments when dealing with issues of race.

To think that those who suffer are their own problem, while believing that you yourself are not enjoying any favoritism, that you have what you have simply by your hard work and aptitude, is inherently finding ones self superior.

Simply put, if the system is fair, and blacks lag while whites advance, than whites are simply superior to blacks.
Most would never say it, but most, whether they realize it or not, propogate that idea.

I, from experience, know that man for man (or woman), black and white are the same.
I know from experience, that as a group, life is much, MUCH, harder for black Americans.


I would be interested to know who the author of the quote is and in what context it was written. If the term is most useful I would naturally ask useful toward what ends?
Useful in helping white people understand the inequity in our system and history? No, we aren't ready to hear it.
Useful in mobilizing the left? No, it is no longer the 60's.

Useful in exposing the intellectual inconsistency of arguing that the system is fair, black people continue to fail, and not considering ones self racist?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Color vs. Culture

I read a blog today written by a mixed race man, explaining how his Grandmother hated his father’s race, but loved him (the grandson) despite him sharing his father’s DNA.
It seemed to be an illogical inconsistency in racial bias. Was it shared blood? Maybe.
More likely it’s more than that. Its race, plus culture.

I have written before about instances where one claims to have no racial bias, pointing to a black/white relative, who they love, as proof. How can one be racist when they truly love someone of a different color? Easy. Because it is really culture not color.

Many who claim to be racially blind will point to ideals or tendencies in the “others” culture that they see as unacceptable to their own, or detrimental to society at large. White people point to disproportionate crime rates, lower test scores, and unwed motherhood statistics as the root of what ails the black community. Racism is dead and no longer an issue. It’s their own shortcomings that hold them back now. Stop whining about racism and fix your own behavior… your own selves are the problem!

Many of the criticisms leveled by one race at another have a level of legitimacy. Single parenthood is a problem. Criminal behavior is a problem. Bad behavior is one’s own fault and consequences should be suffered.

But legitimacy of the accusations, or critiques, does not make one free of racial bias.

I would like for one race to find one single misbehavior, or social ill, that they see as a problem in another’s race, which is not also a problem in their own.

Does black or white have a monopoly on drug use, infidelity, or crime? Is either group free from hate, greed, or selfishness? The answer is obvious that any human or human group, at the root, is the same.

So when one finds themselves looking at numbers that skew one way or another at an unusual rate, or one begins to think that a particular problem is more prevalent in a single group, don’t stop there. Go the next step and ask the important question why? Why would a problem have a greater affect on one group rather than the other? Is it DNA or is it social?

If you think it DNA, we are done here. If it is cultural, then how did it get that way? How and when did our cultures form? What shapes who we are and what we find acceptable? If one does not identify with another group, ask why not. Ask what it is that separates one from another, and then go the next step and ask how that separation was created.

That is not racism that is cultural. Here is where culture gets tinged with race:

When one blames Hip-Hop for the poisoning of our youth’s morals but ignores Rock n’ Roll.
When one rants about the race based hate coming from the “others” but ignore when your own do the same.
When one ignores the color of a friend when they act in a way you approve of, but then wonder at or disparage the actions of the greater group.
When one cries out against crack use in the inner cities, but ignores the meth in the suburbs.

We are all the same. So ask yourself why things affect us differently? Are you looking out while ignoring the mirror?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is it a black thing and Kanye West.

Back before I even met my wife, I was asked a question.

A family I know had just returned from a Disneyland vacation. While there, they found themselves in a long line of mostly black people. After waiting in line for some time, they watched a small group of black kids trying to sneak in front of them in line. They were not really that sneaky and apparently no one made any attempt to stop them.

“Brohammas, you have been around black people before. Was this a black thing? Did everyone let them butt in front of us because we are white?” the mother asked in all sincerity.

This was years ago and I recall being somewhat stumped on how to answer. Not stumped because I didn’t have an answer, but more shocked at the question.
Why would the actions of these kids cutting in line be somehow related to race? Have you never seen a white kid do the same? Seriously?

Why did the family watch, closed mouth , expecting everyone else to do something? Why the expectation that bad behavior by black kids, was somehow out of your personal jurisdiction? Why not simply stand up for yourself and demand fairness? Did they assume all the black people knew each other and should police themselves, or were they simply intimidated, thinking any attempt to correct a black kid would rouse all the others to come to the defense?
Why would you assume they cut in front of you because of your race? Were they the last ones in line? Didn’t they in essence cut in front of all the black people behind you as well?

This memory came back to me, inspired by Kanye and Serena’s recent tirades. I have seen and heard observers ask similar questions. Its both sad and interesting to me that the actions themselves have nothing to do with race, but the reactions to the events are tainted by it.

I have not followed tennis seriously, but I do not recall anyone EVER attributing John Mcenroe’s behavior to his race. I’m not sure I have ever heard anyone reference Mcenroe’s race at all, unless it was in conjunction with a reference to a black player (ie Williams sisters).

Kanye West’s behavior set off an impressive flurry on twitter. Even more impressive is how quickly the “N” word was used and repeated. I do not care how badly you want to insult someone, or how much they deserve to be insulted, the use of that word is to insult someone because of their race.

Back to the Disneyland vacationers:
I would not consider myself tight with these folks, but close enough to have a general impression that they are good people. The question was asked honestly, not accusingly. An event occurred and they did not understand it. They are not the type that hate black people, or hate anyone for that matter. They would never consider themselves racist and would never give someone else reason to accuse them of racial hatred.

They are prime examples of today’s racial issues.

We are so inexperienced that ignorance prevails. Never thinking of race at all, but being intimidated and frustrated when dealing with it. Thinking all instances in which black people are involved is a result of race and representational of black people in general, or every isolated incident being a representation of a larger societal one. Better yet, many of these people do not think they attribute the actions to race while assuming all black people will defend other black people, no matter how wrong. Its a sort of blanket attribution, once removed. To call those with this mindset racist would shock them and be rejected, while at the same time placing representational burdens on all black people is inherently unfair.
That is where we are. Otherwise good people who simply don’t get it and thereby make things worse.

(on a related note I should mention that I have never kissed a dog on the mouth, find the idea of that repulsive, can dance and sing, can’t jump but know white guys who can, have never met anyone named Muffy, but I do wear boat shoes)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thank you officer

My wife woke me up at 5:30 this morning with a sharp elbow, saying someone was at the door. I stumbled down the stairs to find our neighbor, open Miller-Lite can in hand, talking about how he caught a guy breaking into our truck. Our other neighbor was at her door, we share a stoop, excitedly asking if the cops caught the guy. I excused myself to go put on pants, so I could join the fun outside.

I found the truck’s driver door open, we had mistakenly left the window open about three inches to let the air and passers-by into the cab. The center panel of the dash was off, the stereo was still there, the contents of the glove box were all over the passenger seat, and on the floor was a cell phone I have never seen before. Mr. Miller time told me how he saw the guy in the truck so he called 911, three times. A police car showed up coming the wrong way down our one way street, the burglar took off on a bicycle, and the cop went after him. Upon discovering the discarded phone, neighbor man began urging me to use it to call 911 again to get the cops back, or to call the last dialed number as he saw the guy in the truck using a phone.

I was scrolling through numbers in the phone when the cops came back.

The first guy back had a shaved head and a smirk on his face. “ya get ‘im?” inquired my also shaved headed, yet drunken, friend. “Yeah. Not me, but we got him down around the corner.” More cops began coming up the street, two squad cars in front of the house, one at the end of the block. They looked in the car again, asked me about how I left it, took the phone, and then began talking with each other about paperwork.

The original shaved head cop, who chased the burglar from the car, said, “we got the guy back in the car. You wanna work him over?” Two other cops who heard the offer volunteered, “Yeah, we didn’t see nothing”. My lady neighbor chuckled at the proposition saying, “not this guy. He aint’ one of those, not like us,” referring to me, as well as herself. She went back inside to put on coffee. The cops shrugged and asked the other neighbor, still nursing his beer, if he would come down to give a statement. “Naw, it’s his car,” again referring to me. A young cop smiled at the neighbor remarking, “5:30 and you’re still hangin in there?” “F you, I work third,” and he went back to his own stoop.

I agreed to go down to fill out the paperwork and crumpled myself into the unnapholstered back of a cop car. As the cop and I were in the elevator at the station I asked if that was a tazer in his belt. “He replied, “yeah, but I haven’t gotten to use it yet. Maybe if I can catch someone where no one can see.”

I answered two brief questions, signed my name at the bottom, and headed back home.
I was glad they caught the guy. The whole block is happy, the guy had gotten many of us before. I was grateful the cops showed up and caught him. Part of me wanted to take them up on their offer of some ‘alone time’ with the criminal, but the rest of me was thinking about the tazer, the offer, and what the morning would have been like if the cops were in a bad mood.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Coach Birch was a towering man. He loomed over us, all powerful and all knowing. His word was final.

As a junior I was the smallest offensive lineman to take the field on any varsity team in our division, 175 lbs. The second week of practice I looked up at the depth chart taped to the wall of the locker room and saw my name, starting at weak side tackle. I was happy. I looked closer and saw my name was also listed as second string at every other position on the line. This made me nervous. It was a hard year.

That was Coach Birch’s first losing season, the school’s first in two decades. I and a few other underclassmen took the blame and we deserved it. Every week a senior, or some super sophomore, would try to take my spot. They never did, I was better. I was better than them, but rarely better than the other team. Long live competition!

Mid season, during practice, Birch exploded.

“D@#$! Brohammas! Pull your head out of your @$$ and play football. I swear you would do a better job for this team if you went and stood in the corner somewhere.”

Half the team stood still in fearful shock, while the other half snickered. I silently seethed as the only acceptable response would be improved play. It wouldn’t happen that day. That was one of those many days where body and mind could not agree. Practice ended and we all just went home.

Birch called that night. I had never heard him apologize to anyone before, in my mind he never needed too. He told me his words were out of line and he regretted them. He explained he had a bad temper, which we all knew, but he continued.

“I will continue to yell at you till you begin to play better. We need you to play better. I wish I knew a better way but I don’t. The problem is I know you are better than you are playing. You can do a lot better. Son, just know that I only yell because I still believe in you. If I ever stop yelling at you, it’s time to worry because that means I have given up on you.”

For all I know Coach had read this line in a Vince Lombardi quote book, but it worked. I gained more confidence from that phone call than anything before it. I was too young and hopeful to be properly skeptical. Sinicism takes years to develop. I believed every word of it.

That was roughly sixteen years ago. I have done many things, been many places, and known great people, but few had the impact he did. I still think about that call. I still think about those years. The older I get the less I speak of them, but their memory hasn’t dimmed. For good or bad, those years and that man are one of the cornerstones of who I am, part of the foundation I am built on.

Mariana Bracetti Academy, in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, was founded in 1999 and now has an enrollment of 1155 students (grades 6-12). They have never had a football team. We have equipment for thirty kids, but no blocking sled, it wasn’t in the budget. We will play in the public school league next year, but this season we are on our own. We have three games scheduled; maybe we can pick up another. Odds are we lose them all. I hate to lose. I hate it with a deep burning hate. We don’t even have a field. We will take the subway to a public field some blocks away for practice and all games will be “away”.

I enjoy evenings with my family. At the moment, my wife enjoys my company. Still, I often find myself thinking of Birch. I am better for having known him. I have explained my motivations to my wife but my words lamely fall flat. She says she understands, I’m sure she wants too. What I do know for sure is that starting next week, I will be smelling grass, wearing a whistle.

Where can I find a pair of those polyester shorts?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crying wolf, keep the race card for special occasions

Today’s battle for a better world in terms of interracial harmony is primarily a war for minds and hearts, or at least it should be. For the most part needed legislation has been enacted, protections are in place, and a prevailing idea that discrimination is unacceptable exists. While the legal work is mostly done, the battle at the real heart of the issue has been neglected. No one is fighting the battle for hearts and minds, the organs where racism generates.

White people think racism is for the most part, over. They may admit to themselves that there are still some racists lying around but they are mostly old people or Nazis, and neither should be taken too seriously. Now while they (we) think racism is mostly dead, there is the idea that there are sentinels standing on watchtowers on the lookout for racists. These lookouts have itchy trigger fingers and there is a fear that with the lack of real targets, pot-shots are being taken at anyone with an open mouth. Consequentially the general white populace no longer appreciates the work of the guards and digressed to living in fear of them. We are afraid that if we talk about race, or even recognize its existence, a shower of accusatory bullets will rain down from the ramparts. These white citizens in our post racial world are feeling oppressed and growing uneasy.
No matter your opinion on how justified this perception or attitude is, realize that it exists and paints all racial interactions with a conspicuous bull’s eye. How the two players interact, and the consequences of that interaction will determine how those players view all racial issues afterward. That is just how our minds work.

A few years ago I moved to Philadelphia and began working with the youth organization of a local church. What I saw was amazing. One young man, whom I will call Jay, had figured out quite well that there were lookouts ready to shoot and that they were on his side. He had also learned that his youth leaders were young white folk, inexperienced in dealing with black youth, and saw the ground littered with egg shells.

Jay was 17 years old and probably weighed 95 pounds. He did not have the money to dress nicely and spoke with a high pitched lisp. He obviously had little to no power in his daily life, but when interacting with these white folk, the guards made him power hungry. He did and said as he pleased. He never followed instructions, made lewd comments to grown women, and no adult ever corrected him. In observing this I had had enough. I stepped in when he made an indecent proposal and all the adults stood in shock as I scolded the youth for saying things he knew were wrong. He said a word unacceptable in a religious (or really any) setting and I sent him to the hallway.
During the interaction he did it. He tried to call for the guards,

“[Brohammas], you doin’ racism to me. Why you pickin on me? You a racist!”

I chuckled at his accusation, looked him in the eye, and told him I was the wrong guy to play that game with. I told him he knew he was wrong and… knock it off. He did. The other adults stood in shock that it was that easy. I’m sure they thought only I could have gotten away with it because of my wife, which isn’t true, any one of them could have said the same thing long before, but they didn’t know that. They still don’t.
No big deal here, stupid kid saying stupid things, that’s all. Problem is that really, most white people have a story like this, or at least they think they do, meaning a friend or a cousin had an instance like this, and it gets told around.

Stories of false accusations of racism are like brushfire in California; they travel fast, do a lot of damage, and whether it’s a threat or not it gets taken seriously. Stories like this hurt “the cause”.

In the mind of a person who thinks racism doesn’t exist these false, or even questionable, accusations just further entrench the belief that there are no justifiable complaints at all. The too oft pulling of the race card has two affects: one, the stifling of any honest discussion of race across racial lines, as the white people are afraid the card will be pulled and the guards will shoot, and two, the destroying of the race cards power for anything but trifling matters. In other words, any time the card is justified, be it a police beating, a loan denied unfairly, or a professional glass ceiling, all those who should take notice and learn, or even better ACT, will assume the this is simply another case of someone crying wolf and do nothing.

I know, it’s a hard thing to ask, and who am I to ask it, but if there is any doubt, and if you really want to make things better, don’t pull the card. Save it for a special occasion. Save it for a time when it will have some power, some affect. Racism is nowhere near dead, and pulling the card when it isn’t justified is helping keep it alive.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Interracial Dating

The following is a response to a blogger asking why white men don't date black women. This is an old post, and since this time I have seen mixed couples, like mine, all over the place. Maybe the movie "Something New", had an influence, but I'd rather think that I'm simply a huge trend-setter.

You can read the original blog post and follow the conversation from back then, but I thought this could be entertaining over here as well. We are a slightly different audience.

Now before we get too far I must add one thing that usually ends up irking" me when discussing interracial dating. Dating is a game of individuals and we should be very careful when interpreting the actions of one as a societal problem rather than a personal one. In other words, sometimes the two of you don't get along, or there is no mutual attraction, and it ISN'T race.

I said it, now here we go....

"Wow, I get to speak for all of us!
I'm game but just wait as I'm sure C1 or one of your many other readers will follow behind and disagree with me, completely blowing my spokesman status, not to mention the idea that all us white folk stick together (remember that is the secret to our success).

Now if that opening hasn't stirred up enough dust to distract you, I'll address the issue.

Rather I should say this is a whole bundle of issues. Race, gender, sex, and you even threw in age. We can not boil down an individual’s behavior in this/these instances to one issue or the other. They are all in play.

Different types of guys approach women in different ways and for different purposes. (remember I have been out of the game for 9 years now). "Type" can mean; white or black, marriage material or fling, shy or aggressive, racist or open minded, on and on and on.

A scuzz ball will proposition anyone/thing they think they have a chance at, and a few they think are out of their league. This is a guy who has no long term plans and as a result has little time for build up flirtation and gets right down to business. He may get shot down often and does not mind as much, he’s playing the numbers game in hopes it will pay off. This white guy will probably approach a Shaquanda, Becky, Ming Lee etc. and usually do it in some potentially offensive or sexual way. Now it should be mentioned here that I have known many white girls, who confuse a direct approach from a black man with the scuzz ball, earning said black man a style of rejection he may not deserve… or a measure of success with the types of white girls he isn’t quite ready for.

I will admit here, in this section, that Scuzz ball may very well be more inclined to ask Shaquanda than Becky. I have heard white guys say or imply black women are looser than uptight little Becky. Of course these are rarely guys who have any first hand knowledge, pride themselves in simply not being afraid to “tell it like it is”, and in regards to their racism I must repeat, THEY ARE SCUZZ BALLS.

You say the guys you are actually attracted too insert themselves into the “friend zone”. I am usually skeptic of any man who is great, close friends to a girl/girls. I know I’m a jerk, sexist. Whatever, but in my experience these guys are usually just lurking, waiting for their shot at someone in the group. Not lurking in a shark way but in a Duckie way. They are a little afraid, awkward maybe, but generally good guys that just don’t quite exert themselves like other alpha males. Rather than flexing the shoulder, they offer it for you to cry on. You call him a pansy, he may be, but at some point in life, most guys have dabbled with the friend zone and learned from it.

Can race play a role here? SURE it does. It may not be right, but white people are ingrained with the idea that black people hate us. This friend guy is already not the type to meet social challenges head on within his own race, so of course he isn’t going to do so cross-racially. Is he racist? I don’t know, that is a whole other conversation about how much greater society’s racism and connected responsibility filters down to an inexperience individual. But the friend zone guy lacks some confidence and social finesse. Race would naturally magnify that.

Now we will take what for lack of better terms I will call “normal” guy. The guy who may have actually enjoyed high school, has had a girlfriend before, may or may not have dabbled in the friend zone and or the scuzz ball stage, and most likely fits your ideal white guy caste. He may have been a scuzz ball and is now tired of that scene and ready for a real relationship. He may have dabbled in the friend zone and got his shirt sloppy with mascara, followed by a handshake and the door. Now he finds himself in a high stakes game where rejection may be a little more personal, the pay off is long term, and catching someone worth keeping may be tricky. –I should insert here that “old guy” may be a scuzz ball, or a scuzz ball who played around during his prime and now finds himself a bit desperate, tired of games and more willing to take a risk, or once again…a scuzz ball. I mean to a scuzz ball, young+black must = easy right???-

Back to normal guy.

Most white guys, if they are used to white girls who don’t like scuzz balls, are forced to play a little cat and mouse game in an attempt to show interest, but not desperation, all the while trying to prove they are not a scuzz ball. This is the ploy of the movie Swingers three day rule to call a girl (of course T is a scuzz ball trying to pose as a normal guy while Mikey is trying to bust out of the friend zone mode). Call too soon = scuzz ball. Normal guy usually has options as well. Of course he does, or he should appear that he does, because no girl worth having should feel she was a last ditch effort, or the figurative last one picked for kickball.

If we assume he does have options race will probably come into play big time. Once again I go back to the notion that black people hate white people. Add to that the scarcity of WM /BF couples. If we back out the WM who is interracially experienced or specifically seeking out a black woman, this would seem a large hurdle to overcome. If he has other options the easy way out would be to go there, or, this must be an Alpha male indeed who is looking to prove something, or, this black girl must be unusually HOT and worth the risk. (my wife is/was unusually hot)

All this being said there will always be the curve ball guy who doesn’t fit any category. I cannot account for him. The games we are forced to play in trying to lure a mate may be different from one geography to another, the same it may be from one culture (be it class or race) to another. In the culture I was raised in the only acceptable way, to not be a scuzz ball, was to play the long drawn out flirtation dance over a period of time, be it hours days or months.

The first time I saw a black man use the verbal, direct, or in my view at the time, overly forward approach, and not get the scuzz ball treatment, I was astounded and a bit jealous. This was not part of my culture in either the presentation or the reception. When I met the woman who would be my wife and I decided to give it a try, I could not bring myself to attempt the, what in my mind was the overly direct/forward approach, because it was not me. I could not try to be something that is not me, especially when it comes to attracting someone you really hope will be attracted to you.

This has been the longest response in history, you are probably sleeping, and you asked for it.

I know here it comes…. Bring the heat.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Eric was a kid I've known for about three years or so. A good kid, one of the more respectful and pleasant guys in the group. Preston would drop by his house once a month or so just to see how he was doing. They would sit down stairs, talk about sports, talk about church, talk about school.
We come in contact with lots of kids, they come and go. Some cause trouble, most ooze apathy, but not Eric. If he was there, he was present. He was awake and connected. That is not the norm for most of the 16 year olds we deal with.
I liked him.

While reading the paper today I came across this:

"About 3:35 p.m., police said, Eric Dixon and Hector Soto, both 16, ended up in a fistfight at the playground, on Lehigh Avenue near 4th street, after they exchanged a few cross words, apparently over a girl.
The fight ended quickly, with Dixon falling to the ground, unconscious. Less than an hour later, he died at Temple University Hospital from unspecified injuries suffered during the scuffle, homicide investigators said...

[Eric's Grandfather was quoted at the scene a few hours later] It was another senseless killing. There will probably be another one tomorrow, and you'll be talking to another family."

This is a young man who was not out running the streets causing trouble. Yesterday would be just like any day in the life of any 16 year old boy anywhere in the country, except the ending.
He deserves more than just a blurb in the ever so present murder section of our Daily News. He will be addd to the list of statistics and it is not fair. He is not a number, he is not one of the notorious "them".

I'm sitting here at the keyboard, have been sitting here motionless for at least ten minutes.
I have nothing else to say.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


My young friend was found guilty today of aggravated assault and robbery.
He was identified by the victim the night of the crime (which happened outside at 10:30 pm), the arresting officer said he found the stolen cell phone on his person, the victim claimed the young man punched him in the face, fracturing his jaw and cheek bone.

I'm sure the victim and the cop think he is the one who did it.

I'm sure he is guilty of being a stupid 15 year old. I'm also sure he isn't capable of punching his way through a wet paper bag... he didn't even have the strength to flatten out his back when in a three point stance.

They never asked me what I thought.

Friday, July 31, 2009

In the Deep End

Saying, “I don’t know why I continue to do things like listen to Glenn Beck,” seems the easy way to begin this but it wouldn’t be true. I know why I do. It’s the same reason I write this blog. I have ideas that formulate a mind frame, and in order to maintain perspective, I search out dissenting opinions and offer mine, to try to keep a balance. I am making a feeble effort to ensure I don’t drift over the edge, even though many are convinced I have already done so.

“Brother” Beck would be one to think I didn’t drift but dove. He went on TV proclaiming his belief that our President is a racist. He isn’t the first person I have heard say that. He cites Obama’s calling of the actions by a Boston police office “stupid”, his attending Rev Wright’s church, and…….? Beck has reached a conclusion and now he is preaching it. Glenn, what do you really know about this stuff? I would really like the answer to this question.
I listened to Beck go on a rant, citing scripture, that a man must be punished for his OWN sins, and not those of his father. He insinuates that the racial divide that exists today is caused by black people wanting to punish white people for historical instances. He moaned about how he has done nothing and now the govt., now our president, wants to punish and blame him for everything.


Mr. Beck is this about you? I got t o thinking about a series of things that I have seen or read somewhat recently, NOT delving into history. I would ask what in this list of things has to do with Mr. Beck, or the greater white aka “American” people he speaks to and for?

Ask yourself how equal is today’s playing field?

Can you be arrested in your own home if the only thing you have done is insult a police officer?

A bunch of kids were instantly kicked out of a private pool for “safety” reasons. The initial concern was the “complexion and atmosphere” of the club’s pool. A member of the club asked “why are all these black kids here”.

Black Phila police officers are suing the website, an online forum for Phila police officers, for hosting racist comments. The owner says it has nothing to do with who comments and refused to edit racist commenters. The website was/is a bastion of racist remarks and only open to Police officers.

A PA state senator, who happens to be a former police officer, while waiting in traffic, saw an old man being arrested. He saw the officer pull a stack of money out of the suspects pocket, place it on the hood where the wind proceeded to blow it away. The senator got out and asked if he could help. The officer told him to get his black a—back in his car. The senator informed the cop he wasn’t the right person to talk to that way and so the cop arrested him for disorderly conduct. Turns out the old man was being arrested for driving a “stolen” car… which he owned and the money was his cashed paycheck.

My wife while driving with her sister was pulled over for having a broken taillight. The officer told her both her lights weren’t working, crumpled the ticket in his hand, and threw it at her through the window.

Audra Shay is elected chair of the young Republicans after she posted “you tell ‘em” to a wall post urging us to take our country back from all these coons on Facebook.

In Jersey the Republican candidate was involved in a dispute with neighbors where he was quoted as saying “if you want to act like Ni---- go back to Paulsboro.” When asked about the incident he responded that he did say that, he added that it’s his freedom of speech, and nothing is wrong with what he said under certain circumstances.

Pat Buchanan said on MSNBC that he has no problem with the majority of supreme court judges being white because white men built this country and white men died invading Normandy. He claimed Sonia was unqualified for the supreme court because she was just an affirmative action selection.

I watched a fox and friends host say that Americans are less happy because they are not a pure race like the Swedes, because Americans marry other “species”.

Jack Wiswall, who just retired as the luxury products division pres of Lo’real, was successfully sued for ordering the firing of a black counter manager. When questioned on this order due to the managers superior performance, he retorted “Da—n it” get me one that looks like this ” pointing to a blonde counter manager.

Sheri Goforth, an executive assistant to Republican senator Diane Black received complaints after sending an email forward from her office entitled “Historical Keepsake Photo” that displayed a picture of every president from Washington to W. Bush, then a black square with two Scooby Doo eyeballs in Obama’s place. When asked if she regretted sending it or could see what was wrong with it, she replied she only regretted sending it to the wrong email list. She received no disciplinary action.

Rusty DePas,a Republican activist responded to a news story about an escaped gorilla by commenting that the gorilla was “probably one of Michele Obama’s ancestors”. When questioned on his comparison he responded “that was her comment, not mine”. Efforts to uncover any comments by Mrs. Obama regarding gorillas were unsuccessful.

Obama curious George T-shirts sells out at a Georgia bar.

Political cartoon depicts a cop shooting a gorilla and remarking “now someone else will have to write the stimulus package.”

I watched a video of an Oakland cop shooting an unarmed black man who was sitting helpless on a train platform while others watched. It was possibly the most disturbing thing I have ever watched.

I watched a video of Phila police officers entering a corner store, locating all the security cameras and cutting the power chords, (except the one they missed that recorded it all). The team of officers then proceeded to take the money from the register and various snacks.

A Phila police officer lost his job after using the N word regularly in talking about black people to a college reporter who was riding along for the day.

It may seem I am picking on Republicans and Cops here, but rather than pointing out a slant in the examples provided, pause a moment and realize all these were taken from mainline news sources. Say what you want about media bias, these things still happened, the reporters didn’t commit the acts.

What conclusion would you come to observing these things? Is Mr. Beck really the one who should be upset and feel besieged?
What do you think?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Train of Thought

I saw a commercial for a new cartoon today. At first I thought it was for Family Guy. There was a clip animated in the same obvious style, but there was a father and son, both black. I don’t watch Family Guy so I paid little attention, till the closing shot.
It closed with a family shot, an animated black family, and a “coming soon” sort of voice over.
My first thought, an instant thought, was, “why are they doing a black Family Guy” spin-off? That is some obvious pandering and I can hear the “age of Obama” complaints now.
Then it occurred to me that I never thought, “look, a white family” the first time I saw Family Guy. Why would I instantly think that an all black family on a cartoon would be pandering? Was it because it was from the same animators as the original?
That’s messed up that the image of a black family on TV would evoke any sort of knee jerk reaction, let alone such a cynical one. What does that say about our society? What does that say about me?
I wonder how many other white people had the same involuntary reaction at this commercial as I did? Worse question is how many of those white people later realized how sad and wrong such a reaction is…. even if the cartoon is in fact pandering.

This whole train of thought took about ten seconds. My wife in the kitchen, had she been watching me at the time, would have had no idea what was in my head, if anything at all. I’m sure I looked like an imitation of Al Bundy in front of the TV.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Its Hard To Say, but I Wouldnt Be So Quick to Defend the System

I spent an afternoon at the Philadelphia Family court house waiting to see if my young friends case was going to trial. The courthouse has four football field sized waiting rooms in which people sit on benches waiting to be called into the courtroom. I took the time to wander from room to room and observe.
Looking at the people here raised a lot of questions. The answers to the questions are not obvious.
At first it seemed I was the only white person here. After the third person asked me if I was a lawyer I realized there were a few white people, but they were all wearing nice suits and carrying legal pads, or wearing a badge and a blue uniform. I thought I must be seeing things wrong so I made a few more rounds over the next couple hours.
I did not see one white face sitting on a bench with a worried or tired look. Not one out of thousands.

I looked at the cops. There were plenty of black and white but I noticed the white ones more. Maybe it was the cop with flames tattooed all the way up both fore –arms, or maybe the one with a skull clearly visible just below his elbow. I know this is 2009, everyone has a tattoo, and this is Philly where being a cop means someone will shoot at you sooner or later, so a little ‘grit’ is to be expected. But I started keeping track. There were more white cops that had tattoos than those who didn’t. What made it more interesting is that I saw no tattoos on any black officers. Interesting.

Lawyers were easy to spot. They were male and female, middle aged or late 20’s, but all well dressed, and all seemed comfortable in their surroundings.

So what?

So what if some white cops are tatted up and all the people awaiting trial are black? I have often been told you cannot judge a book by its cover and I have learned enough about people to know you can never know someone’s motivations just by looking from the outside, but that’s all I had here.
Here is what I do know.
I grew up in an extremely stable, middle class, all white neighborhood and people got arrested all the time. On top of that I saw people doing things that should have got them arrested on a regular basis. Granted this was thousands of miles from here but am I to assume no white kids commit crimes here in Philly? Was it that the jurisdictions here are all black so it’s a natural consequence of the racial makeup of the area? Nope, I live in this area and there are no minorities for blocks and blocks. Now I do see cop cars in my neighborhood but they are always parked in front of a home, a barbershop, or a diner. I don’t see patrols, yet I did see some twelve year olds smoking pot at the local park the other day.

Again I am not claiming to know the ‘why’ to what I observe, but I did, and do, see it. Do you think I am the only one? What impression do you suppose my young black friend gets when he sees these same things?

Let’s assume for a moment my young friend is innocent. He is taken to a place where all the “bad guys” are black like him. White cops all look scary and mean, a bunch of rich looking people argue with each other about his fate, and he has little to no control of it all. What assumptions do you suppose this 16 year old will make about our world? What lessons are being taught?
I will not call tattooed cops racist. I do not assume all these black kids are innocent. I do not think all lawyers are rich blood suckers. I will not assume these things, but how can I expect an immature black youth NOT to?
What picture has been painted before him and what hope is portrayed?
His Mom is single, has four more little kids in the house whom she supports by working temp jobs. Is it reasonable to expect her to make note of what her son may be observing and then encourage him to not look on the surface? Why would I expect her to give any of these people the benefit of the doubt?

I’m taking extra time because I believe in this kid. I think it’s important to see some white faces who really are on his side. I have to explain to him that wearing that tie makes a difference in a judges eye the same way those tattoos make an impression in his. I have to explain to him that white cops see a sea of black faces sitting in those benches and it makes an impression that affects how they see him when he’s on the streets.
I have been told and taught that race does not matter. After seeing the scene at the family court, after knowing the circumstances of this kid’s life, can I say race doesn’t matter in his life?” How do I teach him not to judge while at the same time warning him that he is being judged all the time?

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Than Just a Color

I’m sitting in my upstairs office reading and reflecting. The black kids who were kicked out for “safety” reasons are now being asked to return to the pool. There have been no communicated adjustments to remedy the safety concern, but there is a law suit.
A potential Supreme Court justice is sitting before congress and her past words and views are being scrutinized.
My young friend who is navigating the wrong end of the justice system has a final court date early next month and things are looking better. Turns out the original police report corroborates my friend’s story which will most likely lead to an acquittal and the question as to why this has taken over six months. I think his cousin did it.
Another friend is questioning her faith not because of doctrine but social issues. She hasn’t said as much but race has something to do with it. Not directly, but those with whom she has issue, all share the same complexion.

The kids are sleeping, my wife has yet to return from her day trip to New York and I’m listening to Jack Johnson. Whenever I listen to Jack I mentally wander off into lamenting that I have never learned to surf. I always wanted to, but never lived near a beach. My mother in law once told me of how she used to go by the beach all the time while in L.A. I asked her if she ever wanted to surf and she replied, with a surprisingly thoughtful look on her face, “naw, that was always just for white boys.”

Swimming pools, Supreme Court, the justice system, church, and surfing; none of them are really about race. When you add race to all these things you have an added layer of complexity and issues. Sure I could try to ignore it but no matter if I do, my wife will still be black. I will still be white. One day my daughter will realize that those two things aren’t just a color.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bad Math


In math you cannot know the sum before you know all the numbers to be added.

If you pre-suppose the sum is ten, then find the added numbers are 5, 3, 2, and 2, you are wrong. You cannot simply throw out one of the 2s to make yourself correct.

It is ridiculous in math yet we do it all the time in social situations.

We all have opinions and make generalizations whether it be about class, race, gender, age, whatever. We think we know the sum but very few make an attempt to find the individual digits to be added up.

Of course I know white/black people, I see them everywhere. I know because I watch, I pay attention. So goes perception.

I can look at a number 9, but if there is no context, I'll never know if the paper is upside down. Now if I can find 3+3+3 then I know it is in fact a 9.

What happens more often is people find 3+3 and then try to make up another 3, rather than accept that they might be wrong. Rarely does one consider the 6.

Most of us don't really want to know the answers, we only want to know if we are right.

The more I ponder this, the more I think I'm right, which helps prove my point.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who's Keeping Track?

Perception is not always reality.

I have an idea for an exercise. It might be uncomfortable but my curiosity is getting the better of me.
I write under a broad generalization that the average American does not have much meaningful interracial or intercultural interaction.

Is this true?

Not only is this true for others but is it true for me?
What I propose is that starting Monday, we start keeping track. The more detailed the better. Keep track, mentally if that is most appropriate, written if needed, of the race or ethnicity of everyone around you in every situation. Now I know that we may not know the actual racial background of all we see, or the ethnicity of the guy crossing the street while you are pulling into the parking lot, but for this experiment just guess. Do this for an entire week and next Sunday, report what you found.

I know, I know, race isn’t supposed to matter and many are uncomfortable paying attention to this sort of thing. Others may seem to pay attention to little else. Either way, as with most things, an occasional closer look can be revealing. You may find you were right, you may not. Sometimes you could be both right and wrong.

Take the church I attend as an example.
I once heard another member describe it as predominantly African-American. I always thought it was more 50/40/10, black, white, Latino. I was unsure who was right, so before opening my mouth, I decided to investigate.
The next Sunday I counted. I sat in a place where I could see almost everyone and took notes. There were about 170 people there, 80 white, 80 black, and 10 Latino. I kept track for a couple other Sundays just to see if that one day was a fluke and found the numbers remained fairly steady. I was ready to claim a victory (in my mind as I told no one what I was doing or even that I disagreed with the original person’s description), till today. Today I attended a Sunday school class I do not normally attend. The same one that other member usually attends. This class had about 5 white people, 12 black people, and two Latino. That class would surely be seen as predominantly black. I think it was worth noting that this Sunday school class would be where more actual interaction takes place.
Seems we were both, in a way, right.

I think it would be an interesting topic for discussion, and if enough of us participate we may find some norms. At the very least, you may find if your own perception of your surroundings is accurate. A reality check of sorts.

I think it would be useful to share with each other. Most of us see our own existence as indicative of the norm and somehow exceptional at the same time. Reading what others find will also help us understand others as well.

Who is willing?
(you can comment anonymously, not everyone is comfortable with this sort of thing)

Friday, June 5, 2009

the "other" side

Invisible Man, Soul Man, and Black Like Me all try to show white Americans what it is like to be black in The United States. One is a metaphor, two are chronicles of white men going undercover, one fictional one not. I found another way to learn the same lesson, maybe more powerful, surely more modern.

When leaving lily white Sandy Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, people told me Atlanta was a black city. I did not realize how black till I stepped out of a panel van with my luggage at the corner of Ashby and Bankhead.

I looked like no one else. Just in case I was unaware of how much I stood out, people would stare at me everywhere I went and occasionally children would loudly point out my race. Billboards were different, they had black people on them. Not just the ads on busses but everything. Even the two greatest icons of whiteness, Jesus and Santa Claus, appeared black hanging on the walls of people's homes. I did not own a TV but they were everywhere and all tuned to shows like Moesha or Martin. I did not have a radio but everyone else did. Not once did I hear a screaming guitar lick or even a folksy ballad. What I did hear was a beat, sometimes smooth horns, and lots of rapping or singing. No rock style screaming.

It was fascinating at first. I was not used to the attention and enjoyed talking and learning with everyone I met. The fascination soon wore out and got tiring.

I lost my identity and just became the white guy. I could not have a conversation without race being brought up. I had other things to talk about, there was more, but I was rarely allowed to get there. Police regularly stopped me to ask if I was lost or needed help. When they found where I lived they would call me names and predict my needing their help soon. A few promised my surely needed help would not come from him, because I was just asking for trouble by being in this neighborhood.

I felt vulnerable and scrutinized all the time. I got used to it and achieved some comfort, but it never completely went away.

Occasionally I would get what would seem a brief rest when visiting white areas or white friends. Not really. White strangers would not, could not relate to my experience and I had no reason to feel I was anything like them. Friends and family would often joke about some new mannerisms and tastes, claiming I now thought myself black. They questioned my awareness of my own identity.

I found this ironic since I had never been aware of my whiteness before entering this black world. Once in that world, everyone and everything reminded me that I was in fact white. This new self awareness was met with other whites questioning who I thought I was. It was very lonely. I lived there roughly two years. It was almost 12 years ago.

I still haven’t forgotten those days and I still visit.
I remember those lonely days when I hear a white person question why the black kids sit together in the cafeteria or ask why there would be such things as historically black colleges. I remember it when I listen to some white person complain about what words they aren’t allowed to say or how it is unfair that a network named BET is allowed to exist.

I think about those days often and how small that area is geographically compared to the whole country. I realize that without me making a real effort, I will never experience that again. I realize how easy it was for me to leave that black world and retreat back to my white one. My white world is all over. It seams to just be wherever I am, and I move a lot.

I realize that for those who don’t look like me, that period of life, the one where they are the outsider who sticks out, IS their life.

I got worn out after six months, what does one do after 40 years?

Monday, May 25, 2009


If you want the area where the worlds of black and white diverge the furthest, I vote hair.

Hair is big business in both of these worlds and a big part of most people’s personal life. It takes time to groom, money to style, is a form of expression, and a part of how we tend to judge others. With this in mind, let’s talk a little bit about how race and hair intersect… or rather how they don’t…or both.

Most white people in general know nothing of the world of African-American Hair. To give you a small idea of the place hair has in African-American culture I should mention that the first women to become a millionaire by her own merits was a black woman (C.J. Walker) who started a company producing hair care products for African American’s. This was around 1908, a time when black people were discriminated against and excluded from most anything that could lead to success. It’s a big deal.
Now if you are new to interracial discussion, even if you are not so new, I would suggest that on the subject of hair it is best for most of us white people to simply listen, ask occasional questions, but avoid like the plague any exclamations or declarations.
The things you find out may surprise you but shouting out something is crazy or stupid will very likely end in violence. Like I said, hair is a big deal.
If you listen you will learn all about hot irons, weaves, microbraids, Koreans, relaxer, wigs, all sorts of things. Many white people are completely unaware that microbraids are hardly ever someone’s real hair. White people are clueless that so many black women, even younger ones, wear wigs. Just today I listened to a group of black women argue loudly over whether or not Oprah’s hair was weave.
These are mostly issues of style and preference and are interesting or even mildly amusing. But it can be much more than that.

Hair in the black community is loaded with extra judgments. All of us are judged by our looks, no matter our color, but it is deeper than that for African-Americans. Believe me when I say white people do not realize this. There is no equivalent in the white community, some of the terms may be the same, but the depth is no where near.

“Good hair,” does not simply mean well behaved tresses but carries an implication of a person’s heritage and worthiness in society. “Bad hair”, or any description like it, can become a despising of blackness itself. Imus knew this well enough to in essence call the Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of N@#$$ without actually saying the word.

Hair can be an expression of not just your style but your politics. Afro’s or “naturals” connection to the Black Panthers and the black power movement is well recognized. Less known across racial lines is the recently watered down expression behind dreadlocks. Popularized by Rastafarians who were rejecting Europeanized standards of straight hair were letting their hair grow and matte itself naturally. Dreadlocks were a symbol of returning to one’s African roots, mimicking the roots of a tree. White kids listening to reggae and celebrating drug culture missed all this meaning and have gone to great lengths to grow a hairstyle foreign to their own heads, all the while missing the rich irony.

I should mention here that dreadlocks are usually lengths of hair twisted or rolled together till they begin to grow that way, not braided. If I hear one more sports commentator call cornrows “dreadlocks” when talking about NBA players I may just gouge my own eyes out.

Black people don’t realize how little they know about white people and hair either.

We say “good hair” too, but there are no deeper meanings. It is just a description of hair, that’s all. Many, many, white women spend hours, many hours, styling their hair. There is no standard of whether curly or straight is better, or rather I should say there is no persisting notion other than those fluctuations dictated by style magazines and the fashion world. Many women with straight hair spend fortunes on perms. When white people say “perm” they are talking about making hair curly, not the other way around.
Most white women don’t have weave, and if they do, they will never admit it. Publicly accusing a white woman of wearing weave would be a social knife to her back.
What may seem like just plain old hair to a black person is very likely an actual style that took hours to accomplish. White people take great care to look as if they don’t try but keep in mind that they have to try and try EVERY day. There is no such thing in the white world, even a perm, as a hairstyle that last weeks. Every morning white folks start from scratch.

Most black people are generally unaware of the many variations in Caucasian hair types. We come in all sorts of colors and textures. Our hair does not smell like wet dog when wet and having curly hair does not indicate some sort of racial mixing in one’s genealogy. Blonde vs. brunette issues are well known among all, and most blondes are not naturally blonde. I, a lifelong white person, have still yet been able to accurately describe a hair color I simply call “hair color”. I have heard it called “dishwater blonde” or “dirty blonde”, I think it looks sort of grey, that mid tone between yellow and brown. I don’t know why I add this, other than to communicate that there is enough variation that we haven’t named it among ourselves.

It may be unfortunate, but we white people generally tease redheads. Red hair is not automatically cool, usually quite the opposite (most black people don’t know this). Despite this many white people with brown or blonde hair will call themselves red heads. They are not completely delusional, as many people have reddish highlights when the light is just so, yet having some way to uniquely describe yourself is of high importance, even if it means declaring oneself a red-head.

Consider this intercultural hair 101. In course 201 we will discuss the social implications of facial hair between black and white. As homework, try to find a corporate professional white man with facial hair, then try to find a corporate professional black man without facial hair. You may find it interesting.