20 December 2014

rental cars blackness and invisibility

I wanted to write about as it happened, but I also didn't want the experience to sour what was an attempt to do my wife a favor and to spend some time with my brother from another mother in on of my favorite places. And this all happened in the process of renting a vehicle to drive to Las Vegas. When you rent with a debit card, there's a process you have to go through to verify your card: proof of employment (most recent pay stub) and a current paid balance bill with your address. This is an obnoxious process, but one I've been through. On Friday, when the rental car company called, they indicated to me that i needed a credit card for payment and my license. This means I didn't think I needed this extra stuff as I was told what i would need...

...I arrive with all my stuff and I'm ready to get in the car and drive- it's about 1pm, and this window means I'll get to leave town before traffic starts, hit Bakersfield before their traffic and will be on the 15 before LA traffic gets 'thick up in here' and I get to sit behind all kinds of traffic- the Friday to Vegas drive has to be handled with kid gloves: just being 60 minutes off can add as much as 3-4 hours on the overall trip. So I arrive, and there's one person in front of me in line, and it appears there are some problems, but it also appears the manager is going above and beyond her duties. I decide to listen (read: eavesdrop) in on the conversation, just because I was bored and there. Apparently, the man didn't have all the materials he needed to rent the vehicle with a rental car: many of the home bills aren't in his name and/or a couple of bills were in the process of payment. In the end, the manager waived his need for a pay stub and let him use his wife's bills, as they were married and that proved he lived there (no wedding certificate provided). I provide all this context, as it's relevant to the next couple of things i plan on writing...after about 15 minutes, she gets him into his Chevy Malibu and he hits the road...

...I then head to the counter. She informs me that she's the one that called me to make sure I had my credit card and license, which I then pulled out. She sees it's a debit card and asks me for my pay stub. I tell her I don't have it on me, it's at my job. She asks if I can look it up, and I tell her the directions to do that are also at word. She tells me they won't be able to rent to me. Remember, I was in line minutes ago when she let a white guy who didn't have this exact form rent a vehicle. And she's about to send me home carless. Anyone that knows me at all knows it's about to get live up in this spot. She's being petty, which I only know because I watched her eschew pettiness for an older, unthreatening white man, who, upon reflection, was in the exact same situation I was in- except her bending over backwards at every turn to make it happen for him, and to be putting up roadblocks for me in the exact same situation...

Enter another employee at the rental car place, who happens to be black. He reminds her that she JUST did this for a man who just left the store, and that she should offer me the same instances- which essentially was prove two other factors.  I tell her that some of the bills they're asking for aren't in my name, but they're in my wife's name, but I can pull them up online (something she offered when she didn't think i'd produce the paperwork) . She informs me that the name on the paperwork has to be the same as on the rental, and that maybe my wife should come rent the vehicle (which was said in a way that was probably more condescending than she intended: this is not to say she didn't mean it to be condescending, just not THAT bad). I inform her that the bill i need is at my house, somewhere and i needed to find it. She offered to cancel my reservation and offered me a ride home (they pick you up and drop you off- not a favor by her- she'd have a been a bigger bitch to not have offered it). The Black guy working there told her she could just put it on his desk and that the driver would give me a ride to find the form. As he grabs my forms, he asks me to sit down, and tells me: "I'm getting you this car today- you bring back two forms on this list, in your name or your wife's name, just like the guy in front of you- and i know you saw that and thank you for not making the kind of scene I would surely have made" [aside: and that I would have made had he been 45 seconds slower in his intervention]. "I'm sick of this office pretending like everyone is treated the same- we don't get the same treatment they do- I'm gonna make sure you do today- if that's all I can do." I tell him the form I need from home and he lines me up with a driver...

...The driver is this 20-something Rastafarian (self described- not making generalizations) who has moved to the Bay about a year and a half ago (from where he didn't say). He started talkin to me about what he just saw on the way to the apartment, and he lets me know that, "if i was white" that I wouldn't have had to do all this mess." He let me know that he'd been there awhile and this is just how it worked out. And it wasn't the company, and it's not that these were bad people. "They do it and they don't even notice- and when you tell them and they realize- they feel bad- because they mean well- like that matters."  I explained to him what was going on, and he told me to "take my time" and "don't worry about it" as I attempted to explain that it might take a few minutes to find a bill (we have a mass of unopened mail, and the bill i'm looking for is paid in the rent but sent separately, so our need to do anything with this is zero- which is why i was sure i can find a copy of the bill, but the most recent one- unlikely at best. But it will have the requisite information for me to pull the information online (which they offered, remember?) which will let me get the car. I'd have printed it up, but my computer- and everything I planned on taking with me- was in the van they gave me a ride over with (so if i could find nothing- i could just take my stuff and be done with me). So I just got the copy of the bill, got all the information i needed to print out the most recent statement of the bill in my name, went to the computer and pulled the most recent statement online to print to verify. This process only took me about 90 minutes, which means the processing for the paperwork for the vehicle was being finalized around 2:50pm, and I was in the vehicle at 3pm.  (note: if they'd let me use a bill in my wife's name, like she did the guy in front of me- I'd have been able to rent the vehicle when I there the first time- about 1:20pm). As I described earlier, the difference in leaving at 1:30 and 3:00pm in the Bay Area, headed south, on a Friday, is monumental. The entire trip took about 3 hours longer based on traffic I encountered that would have not been present with an earlier departure, just magnifying my frustration...

...Why was I frustrated? Well, a couple of things. 1) f the woman had initially reminded me that if I was going to be using a debit card that I needed to bring additional verification, maybe even going as far as to remind me what i would need to bring, that would have been helpful. Where might I have come up with such an idea? The manager told me, while apologizing for not doing so, did inform me she has a specific protocol to prevent this from happening, and then acknowledging that she failed to do that with me. This seems to be a reason, if there was going to be one, to relax rules if you can. If you can't, I get that, too. Some places are Draconian in allowances. And as annoying as that is, it pales in comparison to 2) she violated these rules. rules that she defines as rigid and inflexible were just magic wand whisked away. by her. 15 minutes earlier. in front of me. For this to have happened this way, one of two things have to have happened in her mind about me: a) she thinks I'm an idiot and that I somehow missed the guy, who was in the exact boat I'm currently in, and you're treating us fundamentally differently, and i'm too dumb to catch it or b) you just didn't see me, at all, when you waived these rigid rules. Let's not even get into the subliminal things in your head for this to even be an issue, because they may say things about you- things you're not really willing to admit- like that a black man can't be trusted as a white man can, and despite them having the same issue and the Black man asking for some of the same concessions, those request being made to deaf ears until another Black man working there decided he'd had enough and got me the help i needed...

...like I said, it's the kind of thing that could ruin a trip if you let it. I didn't.

19 December 2014

the war is on poor people, not poverty

I remember being a kid and reading LBJ (note: this is Lyndon Baines Johnson, and if you thought I was talking about LeBron James, you should hit yourself in a delicate region for me) discuss the War on Poverty. I remember watching his speech in US History, and being enthralled with the passion of LBJ as he spoke about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and that seemed to be capable of motivation of action.

Turns out that the War on Poverty, transitioned over time, became a War on People in Poverty, which ended up being a de facto War on Marginalized People of Color in general, and a War on Black specifically. How do we do this? In more ways than you can imagine, but I'll just mention a couple of them here and now, and if I know myself, some of these will be discussed more at a later date.

Let's keep it real: people sell drugs. There are a couple of reasons behind it, and for most, it's money. You need it to live, and in a lot of places, money is hard to come by, and legitimate money is especially hard to come by. Multiple studies have indicated that, given identical applications, it harder and takes longer for Blacks to get job offers than whites, and that even whites with criminal records have an easier time gaining employment than Blacks without a record, so it needs to be pointed out that many who don't have jobs find themselves in a stacked market- well stacked against them market. And if you need money to live and you can't get a job, you have to move towards more nefarious means of generating capital, and the most effective means of doing so a lot of times is selling drugs. So in some worlds, the reason to sell drugs is a lack of options: let the baby starve or sell drugs, let them turn off the heat or sell drugs, live on the streets or sell drugs. [Note: this is not to say that I'm for drug selling, but it is to say I am for babies not starving or having to live in a car]. But in lot of states, this choice can lead to devastating implications.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 placed a small, seemingly harmless stipulation of anyone receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds would receive a lifetime disqualification for a conviction of a drug offense. This means that, if a member of a household is convicted of a drug offense, that means that all members of that house are now ineligible for SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp program) and for TANF (which is key to obtaining Section 8 housing- a subsidy that allows poor families to live in housing facilities- so they can not live on the streets). But remember, not everyone has access to the same marketplace, so not everyone will be eligible for a legitimate means. Also, this allows for a world where the responsible party of the house may not be involved in a scenario, but a member of the house may be. So for example, Grandma is the person who pays the bills and she has no idea her grandson is selling drugs. But when he gets popped for selling drugs, the FAMILY gets hurt. So Grandma gets kicked out of her Section 8 housing, and no longer has access to SNAP benefits. If the function of welfare is to provide some sort of Safety Net, then it seems almost criminal to, when people have been determined to be most at need, to pull the rug from under their feet. Now some might say that those who take drugs shouldn't be allowed to get benefits, and some even think that recipients should have to drug test in order to get the benefits: 1) the evidence against it's necessity is devastating, as way less test positive than the average population would if tested, and 2) it's probably illegal if really tested, as Florida recently found out.

But what does this all really mean? The implications of this are pretty devastating from a legal standpoint. When you commit crimes in this society, and you're convicted, you serve your time and once you're done, the implications of that action are supposed to go away. You've paid your debt to society. But with welfare recipients, you're doubly jacked- as they can test you to determine whether or not you get benefits (which, if you have a job, you pay into, regardless of your ability to access them- seems a lot like Taxation without Representation, and I think we fought a war over that) and if you're caught you're PERMANENTLY BANNED from accessing these benefits- so regardless of the need, you're left out in the cold. This seems to reify a cycle of poverty that we spoke of ending with the War on Poverty. Oh, I forgot, that changed to be a War on People in Poverty. Seems a minor semantic distinction, but inevitably it's huge. It also says "if you're on the margins, and you can't get your Horatio Alger on, then you're smooth out of luck- and if we catch you selling drugs, you can lose your benefits."

Prostitution. Sex Slavery. Murder. None of these will lose you benefits. But a drug felony, in your house, even if they're not YOUR drugs, can have you removed from the Safety Net system for life.

Seems like people who have gone to selling drugs might need that net more than most.

And it seems fucked to take that from them.

18 December 2014

All I wanted was some Orange Juice and what I got was racism...

So this happened to me this morning...

My wife left for a debate tournament early this morning, and as I leave for work, I decide that I want to stop off at the Safeway, to grab an Orange Juice and maybe a low quality but oh so sweet donut. As I get in line to make the purchase, there's a woman standing in front of me, probably in her late 50's to early 60's. As she reaches into her purse to grab her wallet, something falls out of her purse onto the floor. I see it fall, and try to get the woman's attention...

"Excuse me, I think something fell out of your purse."

She says thank you before she turns to see me, and when she does, you'd have thought she saw a ghost. Her eyes almost popped out of her head and her mouth was just hanging open, like she was waiting for me to throw a brass ring into it. And this stare went on for a long enough time (five seconds or so) that I felt the need to ask what was up.

"What's wrong?"

"I didn't expect you to be Black."

Now this is one of those instances in life where, if i were cut from a different kind of cloth, I would have just tried to ignore her, and leave the store. But I'm not cut from that kind of cloth: i'm cut from the kind of cloth that, at the expense of my own happiness sometimes, have to ask the critical question...

"Why didn't you expect me to be Black?"

Now we ALL know this is a loaded question. There are a variety of was to answer this question, however, all of them make you look kind of like a jackass. But being able to read people, I knew where this was going, and I knew I was in for what could only be classified as "unintentional racism 101"...

"You're so articulate."

Preface: I've lived around white people my entire life. This means that I see how white people treat other white people. I've seen how white people treat smart white kids as opposed to how they treat smart black kids. I've spent large chunks of my life with some of the smartest people, white and black, that anyone could ever meet. And I can think of exactly ZERO times when a smart white kid ever had anyone use the words "articulate" or "well-spoken" to describe intelligent white kids. Why is that? Because it is expected for white kids to be intelligent and articulate. Don't get me wrong, it's allowable for them to not be, but those are kids who fall below expectations, and even some of those kids get to be President of the United States of America (a much easier job once the Scion has had it), but it's not a surprise when a white person is.

However, the degree of arrogance, the dismissiveness of experience and the inherent racism in her claim was something that was not to be ignored. That being said, it's a situation that has to be handled with sort of kid gloves. The disadvantage to being Black sometimes is, when you bring up issues of race, people assume you have too much of a vested interest, and thus you can't be objective- which means your information is to be questioned. In the academic world, that specific lived experience gives an unique perspective to your experience, which gives further authenticity to the experience: nobody would ever say that the experiences that an anthropologist has with the people he works with would give them a biased interpretation of the experience and should be rejected or scrutinized, it's that experience which legitimates the knowledge in an academic setting. This means I have to recognize that because these words are coming from a Black face in a Black place within a Black space, that I had to explain this to her in a way that didn't run her off, making her unwilling to interact with other Blacks in these public spaces...

...then i realized I was tired and didn't really care what she thought...

"What is your your level of education?"
"Didn't graduate from college."
"Why would you assume I'd be less articulate than you, seeing as you don't even have a college education. What is your parents level of education?"
"They're both college grads."
"Mine are both PhDs. Once again, why would you expect me to be less articulate than you? Oh, it's because I'm Black. I can't stop you from BEING racist, but if you'd stop SHOWING your racism in public, I'd be most appreciative. Now I'm gonna get my OJ and go to work, as opposed to selling drugs."

Now if you think that's the way I wanted to start off my day, you're on a bad batch of Heroin. I'd rater get kicked in the balls than to have someone look at me like a ghost and then tell me, for lack of a better word, "i saw your black skin and assumed you'd be stupid, and when "articulate" stuff came out of your mouth i was SO STUNNED that all i could do is stare and say offensive shit when asked what was wrong."

And here's the kicker: if you'd asked her, she'd have probably thought she was giving me a compliment on sounding smart, not noticing the overarching claim it makes of my people to make that assumption...

11 December 2014

Anxiety and Blackness

I haven't written in this for quite awhile: it's not because of a lack of things to write about as much as a lack of energy to put to pen the concepts that run wild in my mind. But with all the issues going on in the world: the CIA and the Torture report is something I could spend days writing about and never run out of ideas. There is without question an deep investigation on the purposes, legitimate and otherwise, of rectal rehydration (pun totally intended). But today I'm going to talk about something: anxiety.

I'm a pretty mellow person. Sure, I have topics of intensity, as we all do, but in general, the amount of fucks to give about whats going on with things is generally somewhere between zero and needing to borrow some fucks to get back to zero. I also have painstakingly low expectations of people in general, and am pessimistic of the operations of the state with respect to people of color in general, and Black people in particular. It's the reason why, when the Michael Brown debacle came about, I was bothered but unmoved by the "I support Darren Wilson" t-shirts then as I am currently unbothered by the bars in Missouri that offer the Michael Brown drink special. Not because these things aren't disturbing at best and hate-filled racism at worst, but because when you have low expectations of people, it's hard for them to be exceeded in the "bad" direction. So even as these issues are happening: Brown being shot in the street in August, Garner being choked the phuck out in July, I was something- but it wasn't shocked or amazed. 

Despite how this may sound, I always find it interesting to wee when white people get a small glimpse into the word of "justice" and "democracy" that Black people see all the time. Eric Garner was a better example, because without video, the presumption against Black skin never garners a fair and equitable response. Hell, even when there IS video, people will come up with some reason for it's justification. "Well, if Michael Brown hadn't stolen those cigarillo papers," or "If he'd just gotten out of the street when the cop asked he'd be alive today," or "If Eric Garner hadn't resisted arrest, he'd be alive today." I call bullshit on all of those. All those actions mean is that, maybe, just maybe, they'd not have been killed BY THAT COP AT THAT TIME, MAYBE. It's not like being innocent is a legitimate mechanism for safety, as Daniel Holdsclaw (no relation to Chamique Holdsclaw ironically) should be a fine example of why you can't trust a cop, even one that isn't choking the shit out of you or shooting you in the street. Our interactions with the police have always been confrontational at best and deadly at worst. For good portions of our history, the police that should protect us and the Klan racist that were trying to kill us were the same people. It's hard to call the cops to protect you when you know the call will be answered by the Klansman you're calling the cops to protect you from. Now while I know it's not 1918, 1939, or 1957 all times when these things would have been public and nobody in power would have cared, we now have "laws" and "policies" that should prevent these types of things happening. But let's not kid ourselves, we all know those laws and policies, like really all laws and policies, almost never HELP people of color, especially when their necessities come into conflict with those of the dominant and/or power structures (in case you didn't know- laws are crafted to benefit the people who craft the laws most- you want the laws to have your back- write them- you think it's a mistake that in a country that originally only extended rights to white men that the rights of women and people of color have always lagged behind? did you think that was a coincidence, as opposed to systemic? here's a clue- when negative implications hit a specific part of the population despite there being rules/laws in place to protect these people and they still they find themselves disproportionally effected, it's the system).

As I write all this, I realize this was initially about anxiety, so I should actually write about that. As I said earlier, I'm pretty mellow, but recently, I've had battles with anxiety. It's not an issue when I'm at work, or spending time with the kids on my team, or even when I'm at home with my wife. The times I'm my most anxious are 1) when I'm in my car and 2) when I'm home alone. Now these are actually quite odd times to be anxious for me. Usually my anxiety is more driven by being around "people" especially people I don't know. But recently, it's been driven by my solitude. I've spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out exactly what it is that's been getting to me. When I went to my therapist about it, he had very little to offer me, but asked me to think back and see if i could remember the first time that my anxiety was caused not by crowds, but by being by myself (and yes, I realize that if I'm anxious alone and with people, I'd always be anxious- other people don't make me anxious anymore, but I am still particularly annoyed by them, which I don't think is better, rather just different). So I sat around and replayed my mental rolodex, pressing rewind on my memory to get to the point where I found that something different was driving my anxiety- and I found the date:
July 14th, 2013. 

The date that George Zimmerman was acquitted. And as I thought about it, here's what ran through my mind: man, if a 17 year old with a bag of Skittles and an Iced Tea can be shot and killed with no recourse, what's the world coming to. At the time this in in the backdrop of Jordan Davis, the Black boy who was killed by a man for having his music play too loud at a store (a trial you may remember- as Michael Dunn was convicted, but not for the murder of Jordon Davis, but for the Attempted Murder of the three others who were in the car when he shot the car- which seems to ask the question of whether black lives matter or not). I had a couple of anxiety attacks but I think they were more tied to tension about an inevitable trip I was going to have to take to Florida. But I figured as long as I didn't have to be there I would be fine. But as the acts continue to pile up: Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner. And I begin to do even more research I come across Kajieme Brown, and John Crawford and Victor White and realize that my safety is not guaranteed, but that any, and I mean ANY interaction I have with the cops could lead to my death. And it occurred to me that my anxiety involves times when I either a) have to deal with cops alone or b) leads to a possible scenario where I may have to interact with the police with no alibi. 

This may seem like straight paranoia to you, but to a guy that's been pulled over by the police on 70 occasions, that has had his car searched by cops in 11 different jurisdiction and has had a gun pulled on me while driving a school van, my cop paranoia was already on Code Orange. [Note: if any of you all think this is odd, I'll ask if any of you give a specific play-by-play of EVERY action you make in front of an officer BEFORE you do it- if your answer's no, it's because YOU DON'T HAVE TO. My parents told me about that when I was training for my license, but I didn't really believe them: until the day I got pulled over and reached to my back pocket for my drivers license when i realized that one officer was yelling for me to stop moving while the other POINTED HIS PISTOL THROUGH THE FRONT WINDOW. The look in his eyes was one that I've seen multiple times, but one I never expected to see in a guy holding a gun on me: fear. He seemed legitimately concerned that I was reaching for a weapon (despite being told to give him my license and registration- aside: seems way more likely i'd have a gun in the glove compartment rather than in my pocket, not tryin to go out like Plax Burris, who ironically served time for shooting himself). I've found myself interacting with the police more than most (when you live in a neighborhood where not many blacks live, they assume you don't "belong" there and are quick to question your motives/reasoning for being there, rather than "it's America and we have freedom of movement" being a sufficient response) and as i do more research, i realize that any of those times I've been pulled over, and during more traffic stops than i care to think about, I came at cops in very similar language to that used by Eric Garner, you've been messing with me for too long- this stops now. I've threatened cops with legal suits and just browbeat them for unauthorized stops- realizing that at any time they could have just said "let's kill this nigger" and that would have been it. Or that if a crime happened and they looked like me, that saying "I was at home alone" would mean nothing to them, and probably is fodder for my inevitable charge. 

So when it was all said and done. I figured out what was the cause of my anxiety: Being Black in America and knowing that, when it's all said and done, that the system is no real protection for me, as the only time it seems to work at it's best it to put us away, and it seems to work in exactly as ineffective and inefficient way when it needs to protect me.

So I guess one of the gifts of blackness is anxiety and fear over The State perpetuating violence against me. 

It's like the Klan changed to Blue Uniforms.

31 August 2014

This racism is STILL killing me inside...

I'm a pretty smart guy, but the initial connection between Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and the and the embarrassment that is the Michael Brown tragedy totally slipped right past me. The scenarios vary, but the conversation, as well as the Terminal Discussion stayed the same, despite the passage of 25 years and America's post-haste move into the Post-Racial era.

But wait: didn't Obama end racism by being elected? This is for a later date. But the question that always get asked is this: Why is the response to an unjust action a bigger story than the story that lead to the response?

1) We all have varied social locations. Who you are, where you're from and how you're brought up colors (pun totally intended) how you look at a given situation. If you're an upper middle/upper class white person, chances are your interactions with the police have been, at worst, neutral. If there were actual negative interactions, chances are, you did some shit wrong- and even these interactions with the police vary substantially from those of, well, really any black person, regardless of age, job or socio-economic policy. I enter every interaction  I have with the police like it's LIFE or death, because, when it's all stripped away, every police interaction i have CAN BE life or death. The second reason is, although harder to articulate, but is equally true

2) They don't give a fuck about black people.

I don't mean the average everyday White person, although i suspect that, in general, this is true as well, but instead it's the Institutions: our government, our police- who don't give a fuck about black people. There are many, many, many examples of this. but the one that sticks out most (and with Garner and Brown in the minds of most, I'll take you on a different, albeit no less spectacular.

Most people hope to never be arrested- we hope to never find ourselves handcuffed, in the back of a police cruiser. But if we did find ourselves in that situation, we'd like to believe that, at a bear minimum, there would be zero chance that we would not make it back to the police station for question. That, once in police custody, you were safe from any external threats. If you're white, it's a very reasonable to assume you could be arrested and not be shot and killed in custody.

Only problem: This didn't happen to white people.

Louisiana illustrates this point well: last week some previously held information came to light that an African American man from Iberia, LA, "committed suicide" in the back of a police vehicle. By shooting himself in the back. While handcuffed.

Let that soak in for a hot second.

If the story stopped there, with a black man committing suicide in the back of a police cruiser while handcuffed, that would be a really hard sell- how did he get the gun from the officer? Was there just a gun in the back seat? How did he maneuver to shoot himself in the back? was the trajectory consistent with the claim?

Really, just boils down to: do i really look that fucking stupid?

But remember, we've already indicated the story does NOT end there. But what could make this story more outlandish? What would make this more preposterous?

Well, after the autopsy was completed, it was pushed under the rug for 6 months (and historically, we never hide things that could help us, and we also don't hide things that don't hurt us). When the information of the autopsy came to light, it became apparent that something was missed- that a mistake was made in the initial procedure. Upon closer examination, it was disclosed that he was shot IN THE CHEST, as opposed to in the back. This is devastating news- this means that, at best, the police lied about the procedure and at worst, we're looking at criminal malfeasance and and anything necessary to cover it up...

it's at this time i feel the need to state the somewhat obvious: when your hands are cuffed behind your back, it is impossible to shoot yourself in the chest.

I know I shouldn't have to explain that- it's obvious. Idiots all over America have no idea why I needed to explain that- clearly if your arms are behind your back and you're handcuffed you would be incapable of shooting yourself (for a fun experiment, place your hand behind your back, lock your fingers and then try to place both hands at your chest- stop before you dislocate your shoulder though).

...so it's obvious that this was a mistake, the coroner will speak of the mistake and we can move on, hopefully, with the prosecution of the officer that, obviously is in the wrong....except, we're still not done...upon further investigation, the coroner determined that, because of his body habitus he was able to manipulate himself to shoot himself in the chest. Because body habitus makes you into Stretch Armstrong.

To give a fuck about someone is to have some degree of empathy for them: you may never be able to be sympathetic but the ability to understand someone else's feeling is critical for advancement at all facets in society. It means that when bad things happen to someone that isn't you, you can feel their pain, and thus it becomes easier for you to help with solutions, as you can imagine what you might need in a general situation. it also means you would be willing to ask for help: as someone that has needed more help than i can allow.

also, when you give a fuck, you notice this: Black people and white people have FUNDAMENTALLY different views on issues of race, and it has to do with having a DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE than that of white people. It can be classified by the killing of Josh Crawford and the other four unarmed black men shot in the US in the last 4 weeks. Crawford was in a 22 year old boy who just happened to pick up a BB gun at a Walmart and was "accidentally shot"- Eric Garner, proving that Jay-Z was incorrect- you CAN knock the hustle- to the point NYPD choked the piss out that man. These are just small examples of the lack of transparency on these issues- and how we need to have these discussions aloud to facilitate any true change.

So when people ask "why are they protesting?" because it's their right. I think I have an answer: this isn't an isolated incident: it goes from emmitt till to amadou dialo to rodney king to michael brown is a long free-flowing time line- and since i see theses as a series of the same event, it 1) mean i'm not sick and/or being around this many people doesn't make me sick. I protest because killin a black man has to be seen by SOMEBODY as a problem, one worth resolving. I protest because people still believe that blacks living in their neighborhoods lowers property values and education levels at the schools. I protest because a white family that makes 100k a year can live wherever the market allows them, whereas a black family that makes 100k a year can live where you're allowed to live, but you 1) won't live around people that make the kind of money you make, and 2) you'll live around white people who make considerably less than you do.

They'll be on the first White Flight to Outer Loop Suburbs, which is how things like Ferguson started in the first place....

Since I started writing this blog this morning, I have had an interesting day, in which i got up at the crack of dawn (lets not front, we were up an hour and a half before dawn) and went with my wife to the Disney Half Marathon- she ran, I spectated. One of the big things is people like to get into costumes and run- something I'll never understand. As I'm watching and waiting, a black woman runs by, dressed as Snow White (sans dwarves). An older white couple in front of me makes a backhanded comment about the woman: "She can't wear that, it's Snow White, not Snow Black (a comment he was quite proud of). Apparently, he had no idea that anyone black was even around). Upon hearing this, I tapped my hand on his shoulder and asked him "why shouldn't i just punch you in the fucking face?" Seems there should have been a better way to resolve this in the future, but as of today, me threatening to knock someone out did the trick.

Here the kick in the junk: this dude was a douchebag at about 615am, and it's now 430p. And i felt I handled it with grace and diplomacy. But the kicker is that i've needed all day to get the fact that this guy was a d-bag out. I remember a day when someone else's stupidity had to be curbed, I just made fun of them and then ignored them. But now that I teach HS, I can't blow off stupid things that ADULTS say because I have to let what KIDS say to me slide- I can't get MAD at a student, so all those times I used to let adults slide, now i can't- and the level of stupidity as MIND NUMBING- it's exhausting.

Dealing with the weight of racism is actually exhausting- in the same way carrying 2 30 pound bags with you everywhere you go. And that is why...

28 May 2014

a #tbt story...or roommate revenge...

I went to a variety of academic institutions: my desire to debate and my general thriftiness meant that i ended up in some places that I really enjoyed for one reason or another. California State University-Chico was one of those places. I spent a year there, and it was one of the more liberating experiences I've ever had, and many, many of the event on that campus play a critical role in the person I am today.

David was not one of those experiences. This dude was someone I could have lived without. 

This was a really weird dude. When I walked into my dorm room, he was already there- and was just sitting at a table- just staring at the door. When I saw him, it became really apparent to me he did not feel comfortable with me. This is not new to me. But because this isn't new, I'm pretty good about making connections with people. We talked for a few minutes and then i decided that, after a long day of travel, I should shower up, and explore my new environment. I ask David if he's going anywhere, and if he could either leave the door unlocked while I'm in the shower OR to just not leave for a couple of minutes. I jump in the shower and as I get back to the door, it's locked. I beat on the door (thinking this is maybe a joke) and no answer- but i hear a snicker from the end of the hall. It's David. That motherfucker did this on purpose!!

So I take off down the hallway, in a full sprint and in only a towel to cover up the unmentionables. But it's a towel, with open edges at the sides, so it's not doing a bang-up job at cover up. That being said, it did serve it's only purpose: to be on my body long enough to grab my roommate by the back of his shirt and litetrally drag him up a flight of steps to unlock the door, explaining to him (in the way you explain something to someone you're literally dragging around) that, if he ever tried anything like this again, that I would "kill him in his sleep." When we got in the room, he decided he wanted to fight- so he takes a swing- the ass-beating i gave this kid while still in a towel- i only wish there was video of that ordeal- i'm sure it would still be good for some laughs. The conflict ends in front of a disciplinary board, who in the end, thinks his provocation in both the initial issue as well as the fight would indicate that i was not in the wrong. It did teach him to leave me alone-but he wasn't as wise to the guys in the hall...

...so one day, after he pulls pranks or just does total d-bag moves to a ton of kids on the hall- the kids come to me with a favor: they want me to hang out with everyone drinking and gallivanting around, and they want me to make sure that Dave gets really really drunk- this would not be complicated- independently of Dave's small stature (5'2", maybe 120 pounds soaking wet), he was a belligerent drunk that sometimes can't even have those first couple of drinks before he becomes an asshole. So I'm just supposed to draw him here- and then what's gonna happen? I really wanted to know what to expect- what i was agreeing to. But over and over, as if it was the official party line: you're better off not knowing. Let me tell you, if you ever want to get a cryptic feeling from a response- let someone tell you "you're better off not knowing". So then, the drinking starts: we decide to play a game called century club: where the players square off against time- trying to consume one shot of beer per minute for 100 minutes. This mandates that everyone does their drinking as well as requisite shit-talking. There are 6 of us that start, and after about 45 minutes, Dave gets up and tries to excuse himself to go to the restroom. He immediately wakes up, walks to what he thinks is a urinal, pulls down his pants and proceeds to piss in HIS open suitcase, then returns to the table to continue. Clearly, this is not his real cup of tea- this heavy drinking thing. Independently of any drinking going on, there was also some of the that Wacky Weed present, and since I was in college, I enjoyed some of that as well. Dave was a military brat, so this "weird smelling stuff" was something he was unfamiliar with- but since everyone else was partying, he had to be too. So we decided to give him a "muscle relaxer and world spinner" which anyone who has ever drank a ton and then tried to your evening blunted off right, you know that it's a rough experience (once in my spins, i spun head over heels, and not the typical way one spends). I repeat- don't drink (until you're 21- i was when this took place) and don't smoke pot (unless you live  in CO or WA, or you have a medical card, or you have legitimate reason for having a card, etc) and really, don't do them in mass because i want to. But anyways, Dave is HAMMERED. He's falling down drunk, and that's when the dudes on the floor, who hated being around this dude, were the first (and- only) person on camp that would be willing to help this poor gentlemen back to his (read: our) room.  I thought it was odd, but not even the strangest thing that had happened that day on the hall...so i rolled with it- went to smoke some Ganja and go the fuck to sleep. 

I get back to my room and my roommate is passed the hell out in the middle of the floor- mouth wide open. That's odd, they didn't even help get him in his bed, which isn't but maybe 3-5 feet from where it all started. I don't worry about it, and go to sleep...

...after waking up and cleaning myself up, i decide to walk over to breakfast. on the walk over, i see a picture of my roommate: on a wall full of campus posters. He's laying on the floor of our room in the picture, and his mouth is wide. open. And then i notice there are other things on the picture- what are those things around his mouth? Those look like...

Those look like dicks. Those look like 9 dicks (yes, you read that right- nine), all surrounding this guys face, pointing towards his open, some might even say pouting, mouth. The contrast in colors in man-meat made it look like a Benneton Gone Porn advertisement.  

And these posters were EVERYWHERE on this campus- they were in the student center, on bus stops, in classrooms, all over the dorm bulletin boards...i got called in, but because my dick obviously wasn't in the picture (no blacks in it at all), they wanted to blame me but couldn't. I wasn't part of that plan at all. Which then helped me understand the "you're better off not knowing" was for my benefit. 

But it did force him to move out, so I can't really be hating....although taking out behind the building and beating him like we were Django Unchained would have been better...

But that's just me.

And I'm kind of a dick.

21 May 2014

Brown v. Board was never going to desegregate schools...and they knew it

I sit here, 60 years after the passage of Brown v. Board of Education, which made it actually illegal to have separate schools for blacks and whites in America. And while I think the implications of Brown v. Board are widespread and prevalent throughout of society, I do feel that, with regard to education, it was doomed to fail from the beginning.

And it's all tied to White Flight.

Segregation Academies. When Brown was made into law, it was clear that it would apply to public schools only. This meant that if you were white, the only way you could maintain a world where your children didn't have to share a classroom with a black child was to pull them out of public school and send them to private schools. But here was the problem: rich white people already sent their kids to private schools, and there wasn't enough space in the good, high caliber private schools to fill the void. But the awesome thing about capitalism: when there is a insatiable demand for something, there will be, without question, an unwavering supply of that item provided. Once it was obvious there was a demand for new private schools, those schools started popping up all over the country- more so in the deep south than in other parts of the country. Gerald Rosenberg in his book, The Hallow Hope, that between 1961 and 1970 that there was a 242% increase in non-sectarian private schools in the southeast- a numerical implication always makes things easier to conceptualize. This is not to say these schools didn't exist in other locations, but they thrived in the south, where the hostility to a claim that blacks and whites are equal will still find some hostile to this idea.

What is the basis of a segregation academy? It is tied to the premise that blacks, as inferiors, can only bring down the achievement of the surrounding whites. It presumes that in order to have excellence, you didn't just need to have whiteness present, but you also need the absence of blackness was also necessary. And although I am describing the time of Brown, I could just as easily be describing what times we're in right now. In the south, schools are more representative than they were in the days immediately following Brown, but in most of the country, in big cities collectively, in the Northeast, schools are more segregated now than they were in 1954. This isn't because there are physical barriers to keep kids from going to school (nobody standing at school doors with a gun) but there are many structural barriers to prevent it from happening (cost of neighborhoods, schools being determined by your physical address) independently of a set of codified laws preventing those interactions. And when it's all said and done, the parents pulled their kids out of public school, where based on how many people went to public school, was more than an adequate means of an education, to put them in private schools, which in some cases were vastly inferior to the public schools they are replacing. White Flight: from the public institutions to the private ones...

The Suburbs or How we kept the Blacks out: After Brown passed and it became illegal to discriminate based on race, it became necessary to discriminate by class, which based on our history, means it has a tendency to follow racial lines. The 400 years of providing slave labor, the 100 years of second class citizenry don't offset the 60 years of "equality" I'm sorry to say. When blacks could go to school where they wanted to to and live where they wanted to live, it seemed that whites were looking for a way to get out. Enter Levitttowns. What these pre-fabricated, cookie cutter communities lacked in originality they made up for in other areas. When the originators of the town started, they were infused by a ton of money in no-interest loans for GI's retuning from the war, a ton of money infused into interstate highways, which allowed people easy freeway access from their work to their jobs, and last but not least, a culture and maybe even an actual policy, of not letting blacks into their neighborhoods. So it seems the federal government was subsidizing, at the transportation end as well as the housing end, the flight of whites to the suburbs. Because the way cities are structured, when a ton of people leave the city, that means the city no longer gets any taxes from them- their property taxes are at use in the city they live in, and they end up taking more from the city than they give. Also, because it's Standard Operating Procedure to give tax breaks to businesses so they can locate in a city, it means that the businesses that are there aren't really contributing, the people who used to live there are gone, and it leaves only those who can't afford to leave: the poorest of the poor, who is a terrible group to rely on to for a tax base. The fact that they live in the areas indicates a lack of mobility we need to recognize. As Chris Rock, nobody wants to live in The Ghetto. This means the people who need the services most are the most hurt. This is generally how things work themselves out- the poor and marginalized are the hurt the most...Let's start with those no-interest loans...there were a ton of returning GI's coming back from the war and getting their lives started- and they were going to need a place to stay, so they started building new houses on the outskirts of cities, where the houses would all look and be built similar. As an incentive, the government offered returning soldiers no-interest loans to motivate people to make the move. There were a lot of black GI's who also just got back from the war and wanting to start their lives. They also were beginning to notice the inconsistency between what they were doing in the war (fighting against a kind of insidious prejudice and hate that spurred the killing of 6 million Jews) and coming home and not being able to eat at a table with whites or use the same restrooms. Blacks coming back from the war also wanted a piece of the American Pie, and to live in these no-interest loan homes. There was a problem- the banks and companies wouldn't sell to them. They wanted to keep their neighborhoods white. Or at least not black, because as they "knew" anything black automatically taints it.

The remnants of those actions are still present today. My wife and I were looking for a place to live last summer, and while my wife was in Boston, I was given the task of trying to find a place to live. So I go through the newspaper like my life depends on it (i guess it does, I'm not hard enough to make it on the streets anymore) and find a variety of houses. This was the process: I call about the house, the owner and I talk, we have a good rapport, I tell him about myself and my wife, that we're teachers, long term employed and that we have cats. They hear all of this and want to meet me. More than once I'm told to bring my checkbook, because if I like it, they're going to rent it to us. I get excited (well, I did the first couple of times), get in my car and drive over to the location. I'm always the first one there, as i have a fear that someone who isn't me will beat me there and they'll rent to them and not me. So I sit in my car and wait for the owner to arrive, which he (I'm not using gender neutral because in every instance I'm describing it was a guy) always does. I get out of my car and approach the owner. The owner, without fail, does one of these things: 1) looks at me and wonders what I'm doing there, 2) fails to recognize me as the person they spoke to on the phone, or 3) just has the color leave their face as they figure out I'm the person they talked to on the phone (all three say something about their personality that would give me pause renting from them). But as they figure out that the person in front of them (the black man) is the same person they told to bring a checkbook because they saw themselves renting to me, they try to figure out ways out of the situation. It not only clear they don't want to rent to me, it's also clear they know what they're about to do is messed up, but it NEVER stops them from doing it. This is the kind of subtle racism that Eric Holder and Michelle Obama have been talking about in their speeches in the last week, and the subtle, insidious racism I've been talking about for years.  Outside of specific portions of the county, you can be racist but it's can't be your public mantra. You can't say you don't like niggers, nobody will allow you to say that. But you can say I'd not be OK with my daughter/sister/mother letting some black dude marry her. And you can say it's because "she can do better" and nobody blinks an eye- even though "do better" is code for "find white"and everyone knows it but nobody is brave enough to say it.

Interstate Highways or On the road again: for most of our existence, where you lived and where you worked were connected: you worked in your neighborhood and you lived near where you worked. This meant if you work in the city, you live in the city, and if you work on a farm, you'd live in the country. In 1954 when Brown passes, if you live in the city and you work in the city, you're kind of trapped there. And if you don't want have your kids go to school with black kids, you have to send them to private schools. But with the growth of the suburbs, a white enclave outside of the city, there were options, but the means of getting to work was still problematic, as there weren't high quality roads to get people to and from work. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 established there would be interstate highways to connect all major cities (really, 1956 was when we figured out that would be smart?) but it also set up a variety of roads to facilitate access to the city: spur routes to take you from the outside of the city to the center, as well as loop routes, which went around the outside of the cities, which ironically is where the suburbs were- so now there was a set of roads that facilitated a worker getting their grind on in  the city and traveling to the suburbs, their white (because they didn't allow blacks) oasis, free from the problems caused by all those people we left in the city. In addition to just providing an easy route to and from the city, it also allowed the city planners to set up physical barriers with these interstates, which further divide these cities- in cities like Chicago, Interstate 94 is almost literally a color line, with rich whites on one side, and poor blacks on the other- a new version of  "wrong side of the tracks" except you put the tracks in after the neighborhoods were set up specifically to divide those areas.

These things in concert have led to a world where white people can just leave the areas where they would have to interact with blacks in any meaningful way- and by that i mean they could keep their kids away from blacks. The things I'm discussing above happened in almost immediate proximity to the passage of Brown, and I think it's folly to believe they're not related.

Inevitably, what did you think they meant in Brown when they said "With all deliberate speed?"

18 May 2014

The Invisible Man Sits Then Rants...

Sometimes I really do think that Ralph Ellison was talking about me sometimes- I sometimes really do feel like the Invisible Man. At work, in the store, or eating flapjacks in a restaurant, it seems that I get to hear people having conversations they clearly hope to be having privately.

Today was one of those days.

I decided that I wanted to get some breakfast. Ideally, I'd have hit off some Chicken and Waffles, but the only place that makes them in the area does not open until noon, and is only offering the buffet, which means the Bacon Waffle I was looking forward to wouldn't be happening. So I decide to head over to some place to get some breakfast, when I drive by a guy with a sign for a spot called The Bold Knight. It's a spot Carol and I had been to before, so I decided to give it a try. I walk in, get a table by the window and begin to read my book to fill the blank time you have at a restaurant alone. A couple of minutes later, two gentlemen dressed in workout clothes are seated behind me. Immediately, they seemingly continue what must have been an emotional conversation from the vehicle. As I sit there, the conversation increases in volume and intensity...as this conversation is happening, i'm just running my own internal dialogue to this conversation, hoping this can just be something entertaining to myself as opposed to me turning to this dude, who clearly has no idea i'm here, and having what they call in academia "a teachable moment"...

"Look, I'm not a racist..."

All of a sudden, my ears perk up. Almost all minorities understand that the phrase "look, i'm not a racist" has a couple of things that are generally true: 1) there's usually a "but" on the end of that phrase, and  2) what follows is something that could be seen as racist, and they really hope the "i'm not racist"caveat will absolve them of the implications of the toxicity of their language and thoughts.

"...but I just don't know how I feel about my sister marrying a black man."

Well, sir, you do know how you feel about your sister marrying a black man. it bothers you. but it bothers you more that it bothers you, because you like to fancy yourself as a progressive, free thinking individual. i can't possibly be racist: I voted for Obama!! Michael Jordan was my favorite basketball player, and I love Denzel Washington and 12 Years a Slave!! So clearly i have no problem with black people.

"I mean, he makes good money (he's an investment banker as the conversation would offer) he loves her unconditionally and it's clearly reciprocated, but I know she can do better."

Really? How much better can she have it? I've met many many married and divorced people that would tell you that the unconditional love part, minus the money part, is necessary and sufficient for a happy marriage.

But then that begs the question: what does he mean by better?

At one time I worked at a school where I was one of the few Black people, much less teachers. The entire time I was there, I could never help but to feel that they didn't dislike me being there, but that if they had their choice, and they could find someone who can do my job and was white and religiously affiliative with the school, that they would replace me as fast as they can, and that my job being hard to fill, and not the schools love for what I'm doing, was more tied to my job security than anything else, including my competence. Someone might ask why someone would think these kinds of things? It's because "I know she can do better" isn't just a comment he was making that only applied to his sister- but has applied across the board in this country: Jazz as a platform of music is one substantially dominated by Blacks, but even in the height of the Jazz age, it took two whites (Paul Whiteman- the proclaimed King of Jazz and Benny Goodman- the proclaimed King of Swing) to take the music and bring it to the masses (the degree of offense to make Whiteman the King of Jazz is only magnified by the absurdity of his name for this role- White-Man is the King of Jazz). Rap has been a genre of music for 40 years with a virtual cornucopia of styles and variations of incredible artists and Eminem and The Beastie Boys are among history's top sellers in the genre. The underlying premise is this:

Things that are black aren't legitimate until they have been granted legitimacy by whites.

The idea that Benny Goodman was the King of Swing pretends that many of Goodman's best songs were songs he got from Fletcher Henderson, the band leader at over the Roseland Ballroom in NYC, or Chick Webb  over at the Savoy, and that they had been playing many of those same songs for years. If you doubt me, please feel free to run your own sample. We'll start with Benny Goodman's Stompin at the Savoy...

A nice little ditty. Smooth. Very together.  And now, Chick Webb's version of the same song...

But we gravitate to that which is most comfortable to us- which is why when you look at hiring patterns, we notice that overall patterns of hiring look a lot like the administration thinks it should look, that's what it ends up looking like. It's the reason Salon and Slate can bang the drum about how racist FOX News is because of the stances they take, but then when you look at their editorial staffs, you notice their hiring patterns also are a mirror to this racism: minorities only account for 13% of editorial staffs in the country (when the total percentage of the US at 37% and the attempts to make newsrooms more reflective...). But at Slate, only 5/75 editors are minority (6.7% for those doing math at home) and Salon only has 2/25 (8% at home). Why does this work this way? I can tell you, as a black man that has to let people know that I'm the person in charge, it takes time for people who have never had to trust a black man with responsibilities they can't envision one handling, it's a harrowing and simultaneously enlightening experience. People will ask you questions with regard to your competence that, if you were to ask them a equal question about their work they would take offense, and they'd have the right to. I was asked if "am allowed to be left alone with students" by a parent before we leave for a field trip. It's similar to asking a teller if she intends to "steal from the till" or if a doctor was going to preform an unnecessary surgery. I've had parents ask my assistants, random parents and even students questions they should ask me, i'm standing there and they never think to ask. Occasionally I'll offer my help and they'll tell me they want to wait for "the person in charge"- only to be dumbfounded and embarrassed to find out that I AM the person in charge. I don't think the average person sees the racism in their actions-this belies the benefit of privilege...

But I sure get to...

So, to the guy behind me who thinks his sister can do better than the black guy: Why does she need to do better? What would make him better? Why is who he is insufficient?

This is the problem with a color blind society: we're not colorblind. So what happens is we act colorblind- until that blindness effects us in a way we find problematic. Then we're really conscious of it. Which magnifies the benefits of privilege an makes the gap between us larger than smaller. The only way to make change is to convince people who have no reasoning or impetus to make change to be the flag bearers for that change. And we can't get that if we think of ourselves as the same with different skin color until one of us impregnates your daughter.

Two Stories That Give The Finger To Post Racial America

Over the course of the last 48 hours, I've been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster: can't really pinpoint what it is that's causing me stress and strain: all things considered things are going well in life. I have a loving wife that probably cares more about me than I do myself. I have a job that I know I'm doing well as, as well as doing good at. I'm in relatively decent health, and I think most people in my boat would be looking for ground to kiss. 

But that's just not how I roll. 

The world we live in has a lot of things going on that, when I read about these things, it blows the mind, kills the spirit, and frankly, makes me hate people more than I currently do, which is a arduous task. But on Friday, as I'm surfing the web, i come to an article titled:

Town's Racial Tensions Laid Bare After White Baseball Player Leaves Game To Join Fight Against Black Man. 

I can't make this stuff up. Summary of the story: Baseball Player in Spiro, OK, a Thriving Metropolis along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, was playing in a game when he realized his family was in the process of beating the shit out of a black man, who had been dating the stepsister of the player for four years. Apparently, they believed the warrant for his arrest (for an outstanding speeding ticket) was the result of some argument. After the fight was over, the player was allowed to continue playing the game. There are a variety of things that are mind-numbing in this situation: 

1) There was one arrest: The Black man. Devon Perry, who was attacked by the baseball player and by his family, was arrested at the end of the confrontation- he was accused of punching and kicking wildly (not an uncommon response when you're getting jumped). Now if you arrest him and the entire family, i get it. But for him to be the only person arrested? As the NFL Prime Time crew might say: Come on, man!! At least make it look like it might not be racially motivated, 

2) The baseball player was given a degree of latitude unheard of in sports. Now in general, it is frowned upon when players leave the field of play and get into physical altercations with members of the audience. The Indiana Pacers in general and Ron Artest specifically learned this lesson the hard way.  

The fact that a coach let a player leave the field, attack a black man and return to the field of play speaks volumes about a) the coaches character, or what I'd like to call, none, b) the racial tension in the town must be off the charts for this to not be an issue for anyone playing (for example, if I'm in the game, I'm probably pretty pissed off about having to wait for you to fight some dude so I can play). 

3) The school board and the administration of the school must also be of weak will to not put up more of a fight. This is one of those things that, even if you thought "that nigger had it coming" as an administrator, would probably not want the negative press behind racial tensions not only swept under the rug by their school, but probably made worse by their inaction. The Black students at the school protested, with many of them sitting out of school as a protest to the inaction perpetuated by Spiro High School by not only failing to punish the student, but by allowing him to continue playing in the playoffs. 

This story had me in a bit of a tail spin. Don't get it twisted, I don't harbor any thoughts or beliefs we live in a post-racial world. For example: I think I'm really good at my job, but I feel like white assistants of "significant" programs are more highly evaluated than I am- when if you just looked at my record vs. theirs in only the time they've been "ballers" I still crush them- and this pretends that all the time when they were in short pants that I wasn't producing team after team after team. I recognize that Mark Jackson and Lionel Hollins can't get NBA jobs after producing at the NBA level and people were pushing each other out the way to see who could get Steve Kerr fastest, who has ZERO experience as a coach and, other than a connection to Phil Jackson, no reason to believe he'd be better than an experienced coach. I get it. It kills my spirit, but I get it....

...I know it's not post racial- I know racism is everywhere- and that the way society projects itself on its most marginalized citizens has deleterious effects on them...that it might lead to some long term trauma. Turns out that it does: that 30% of all kids that live in the inner city have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD- and that it has devastating effects on kids ability to learn. One of the things about PTSD is, usually, the stressor that causes the PTSD is a temporary one: if you're in Afghanistan and you see your unit blitz attacked, you won't have to worry about that when you're back stateside. If the stressor was the devastation after a major hurricane, that will eventually go away. The problem with PTSD for these kids is that the stressor is their home environment, which means as long as their home is their home, the stressors never leave. This makes it a unique form of PTSD, one more dangerous than your father's PTSD. And since this PTSD is more insidious than the type soldiers coming back from war face, the kind that rattles soldiers to their core and is a major cause for a lot of the homelessness among returning veterans, you'd think you'd give it the kind of name that would generate the necessary mobilization to make things happen. And, with all the might of the Harvard scientists that did the research could muster, they come up with: 

Hood Disease 

Now I guess I could just be happy they're making an attempt to point out a problem. And maybe I would be, if I believed, at all, that their goal was to resolve the problem. It's obvious this has not been a concern. Why do I think that? Let's first start with the name. Hood Disease. This indicates that only people in the inner-city will get it. This creates a means for all those for whom it would be near impossible to get to brush it off and not concern themselves with it- and as we all know the only way to get a problem resolved is to get the average person behind it. And the average person knows that if they're not from the hood, don't live or know people from "the hood" then they never have to worry about it. I think it would fall in the category of Sickle Cell Anemia- a blood disorder that causes the body to create sickle shaped red blood cells which reproduce at different rates, cause clotting and generally lower life expectancy by 15+ years. If you've never heard of it, it's probably because you're not black- as it's a disease that, in America, effects Blacks almost exclusively. I'm not saying that whites say "fuck niggers and their sickle cells"- I think it's more like it's not an active action, but much more like passive inaction- i'm not NOT looking for a cure to Sickle Cell, but this also means they're not LOOKING for it, either. And really, most problems don't get resolved if you're not trying. 

I guess the most frustrating thing to me is that this would have been incredibly easy to make a neutral interpretation of. PTSD is a clinical term, one you might find in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). And we can all recognize that the term "Hood" is not a neutral term- it's not the abbreviation of neighborhood that it used to be. It draws a very specific connotation, one that is by definition not neutral. It seems we should make an effort to not conflate our neutral medical terms and our racially charged identification terms. The negativity of those terms will, at best, neutralize attempts to mobilize action- at worst, it gives people that might have helped (because they understand how messed up PTSD is- and the idea of not being able to remove the stressor might hit home in the same way the gay member of their family allowed them to change their views on gay marriage) a reason to not help (they're in the hood- if they want help they need to follow Horatio Alger and pull themselves up by their bootstraps- something they'd be enraged if you told a Vietnam Vet to do that). Our connection points are the avenues where we can see difference and hold it up to the light and see that those points are not that different than ours. And it's with those actions that we can move beyond where we are. So one day, calling something Hood Disease would piss off someone other than me. 

Or that one day everyone in a town like Spiro might think, when they hear a baseball player leaves the field to go beat up a black man, does so and re-joins the game, they might think what i did:

That's fucked up.

06 May 2014

A Letter to my Seniors who won't be able to read this for 3 weeks...

Dear Seniors,

I just made you write a letter to incoming freshman about what to expect at Saint Francis and how to get the most out of that experience. It only seems fair to offer some of the same sage advice to you as you begin your journey from high school into "the real world." And what does the real world entail? The same things the "fake"world does, except you can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But seriously, what things do you need to know to fully succeed in college and beyond? Well, here's a list of things that may help- at least I wish someone had told me these things (correction: i wish i had listened when I was informed of this stuff)...

1) Everything in moderation. Why do I start here? Because unless you go to college and live at home, one of the first choices you're going to have is whether or not to party that first night. And unlike the new high school parties, these will have kegs. And Jungle Juice. And Marijuana. And lots and lots and lots of peer pressure. Whether or not you choose to partake in these is clearly your choice- my only recommendation is to do whatever you do in moderation. Almost all of your friends that start at a college away and find themselves returning to a college closer to home usually have taken moderation out behind the building and beat it like Django Unchained. But moderation is an issue with academics as well- sometimes students immerse themselves in their academics- so much so you never meet students and expand your horizons.

2) Most of what you learn, despite the money you spend, will be learned outside the classroom. This is not to say that you will not learn A TON of important things in your classes. Insofar as an academic endeavor, there won't be very many things capable of exceeding a college education. For that, college is the goods. But lets not kid ourselves: ask all of your "grown up" friends about how much they use any specific thing they learned in a specific class on the job. I'm a teacher and I still find most of what i use on the job wasn't obtained in a classroom- i use my ability to communicate to different kinds of individuals from different backgrounds that i learned by living in the dorms, i use the organizational and research skills i learned in speech and debate, but even when I'm teaching English 1 I find myself telling them more about the best way to prepare for a test than teaching them grammar, and my test preparation skills weren't taught to me in a class: they were taught to me by a freshman from Lowell High School who lived on my floor (and is now a dentist in San Francisco).

What does this mean in real-time? It means that sometimes, the true learning will happen when you don't go to class and do something with the people around you. These people will end up being some of your best friends and confidantes. I thought I had a ton of close friends in high school- or so I thought. Of my high school friends, I think I still have one or two- but for the most part- the ties that bound us together are no longer as strong, or even relevant, as they once were. This isn't to say you'll not keep any of your high school friends, but it is to say that the people you go to college with will be particularly close to you- it's essentially your surrogate family. One of the down sides to being human is that need for connection to something bigger- the people around you serve that function. Sit around and shoot the shit with kids in the lounge. Join into a heated conversation about politics. Go out and play frisbee golf with those hippy kids. Play hoop with the psuedo ballers from downstairs. Study with the girl who digs anime and that dude down the hall with the great head of lettuce. All these experiences are as integral to your college experience as that Organic Chemistry or History of Sexuality class (not as cool as you think).

3) Don't Procrastinate. I know. I know. I know. I'm not the first person to suggest this to you. You've been told your whole life to not sleep on your work and to stay on top of things. But here's the thing about college you don't really know: the amount of work they give you is reasonable to do, but it's actually probably too much to do all at the last minute. But because college classes are way less focused on jumping through the hoop kind of BS that fill a high school grade book, and instead only focuses on a few major assignments- this means when you wait too long, cram last minute and don't get it done, it hits your grade so much harder than when you were in high school. A bad couple of days in the testing chamber could leave you with a sub 2.0 grade point average. The amount of work you're given for a class can feasibly be done in between classes and it still allows you time to go out and have your fun (kind of ties to the everything in moderation). This will happen to everyone at some point in time, the difference between people who get to stay in college and people who have to come home is how often your procrastination gets the better of you.

4) Be yourself. Everyone wants to take their initial college experience and use it as an opportunity to re-make themselves- to be the better, smarter, cooler version of their high school selves. People do it all the time and they do it in a variety of ways: they decide after  4 years of not doing any partying in high school that they want to be the party girl and goes out drinking every night. The boy that was kind of a dork in high school and since nobody knows him essentially becomes a cartoon version of themselves, acting in ways the real them would be ashamed of. The shy peaceful kid gets in with a crowd of kids that eggs and toilet papers houses and cars. All these kids are doing what they think is expected of kids who everyone wants to hang out with. But eventually the real you comes out, and all those fake ass busters you were hanging out with will figure you're not one of them, but someone of substance, you'll end up where you are right now: confused and not sure who your friends are. If you use the same standard you've always used, then you'll come up with a worthy set of friends. And let me make this point: not everyone you meet will be your friend- and that's good because most people kind of suck. In my world, a friend is someone that has stood up to the test and passed. If your friendship hasn't been tested, then you ain't friends yet. And don't assume all the people you want to pass the test will- that's the thing about tests- some motherfuckers will just fail it- and that's not on you- unless you accept their failure and allow it to happen again.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun. If you don't have fun in college, it's probably not gonna happen- the last place where responsibility has a pause button...


04 May 2014

the hate is strong in this one....

Over the last couple of weeks, a conversation that is at the center of my existence has been at the forefront of discussions in this country. The conversations of Cliven Bundy and of Donald Sterling have made the discussion of race something it has been necessary to have. Important to have.

Safe to have. 

And I think this is where the problem lies. We only have conversations of race when they're safe to have, they tend to be short in length and memory, and rarely, if ever, hit at the core of issues. And, because we only have the conversations when it's safe to have them, we tend to miss the forest for all those damn trees in the way. 

It's OK to call a racist a racist. That seems obvious. But it is actually only true in some instances. For example, it's fine to call out a racist if they've done something so egregious that everyone will have no problem standing up and saying that's wrong. Nobody has a problem calling Donald Sterling out as a racist when he says he'd doesn't want his side piece bringing black people to games (note: V. Stiviano is part black). In 2014, it's unbelievable that someone could hold those views: says someone who doesn't live the life of a black person. The things that Donald Sterling said on that tape and everyone was so offended to hear, those claims he made are being personified in your everyday lives: the lives you lead, as well as most major indicators you might want to look at. It's safe to call him a racist. 

Just last week, in Boston, the beloved Boston Bruins lost Game One of their 2nd round playoff series to the Montreal Canadian (preface: not a huge hockey fan, but for different reasons than your racism is steering you to- NHL crushed my loyalties). In the 2nd overtime period, defenseman PK Subban breaks through and scores the winning goal, to beat the Bruins 4-3. This was Subban's second goal of the game. Now I'm a fan of a variety of teams, and when my team loses, especially a close, hard fought game, I can be quite frustrated. I could see myself yelling, and maybe even making a comment or two, but not this. Boston fans tweeted the word #nigger so much it was trending in Boston. The Boston Bruins came out and said that the people that did that have no affiliation to the Boston Bruins team or the organization. Really?!?!? So a bunch of people NOT tied to the game, not watching the game, just HEARD that a black man scored the game winning goal and decided to, absent the game itself, put out a campaign of hatred? Come on, Cam Neely. You have some racist ass fans. Own up to it. But everyone wants to treat this instance as an Isolated Incident- one that isn't reflective of how people in Boston feel about blacks. Having been a guy that spent almost a month in Boston for a few summers can tell you that the racism is strong in that town. I remember listening to someone bad mouth blacks in front of me, and when called out about it he reminded me that "i'm different" (read: an acceptable black man- to him) and when i asked about David Ortiz or Kevin Garnett, i felt like i was in the movie Do The Right Thing when he told me that they're "different" too- different meaning he can't use his general excuse of race hate, so he just carves out exceptions, not recognizing that if you carve out enough "exceptions" you need to re-evaluate the "rule". Nobody wants to say "Boston Fans are racist" especially Cam Neely, so instead of admitting what is obvious (you had some racist fans say some racist shit) he says "it's not indicative of the Bruins organization, which is just not true.

The fact that the PK Subban issue, the Donald Sterling issue and the Affirmative Action in the Supreme Court issue all came up the same week, and they somehow lead to three entirely different narratives in this country. Subban's narrative averts light from the fans and an attempt for team to distance themselves from those claims (even as those claims are interwoven into the team narrative), Sterling's narrative shines light on the actions of a particular racist (as opposed to shining away from a group) and the attempt of the team (and the league) to distance themselves from discussion, and the SCOTUS discussion of affirmative action falls the way that almost all important conversations about race will fall: onto deaf ears.

The NBA is all up in arms about Sterling, but for a league that's 80% african american, they have only 30% of the coaches are african american, and only 20% of the general managers. If you're at home thinking this sounds messed up, go to work tomorrow and count up the african americans where you work, then divide that number from the overall number. the number at my employer: 4/160 so i can't really front- but i've been beating the drum about it loudly since i was hired, and there are twice as many blacks here as when i started. I've worked for a Fortune 500 company as a scientist, and my most vivid memory was knowing that were no other blacks who worked IN THE BUILDING I worked in, and thinking how i always wondered where everyone else was (dr. neil degrasse tyson deals with this here) and I literally felt like i was carrying the burden for my people in every thing that i did (i found out day 3 i was the first black they'd ever hired to work in the lab). I've been the only black in most of the jobs I've done, and in all of the jobs there have been so few blacks it was hard not to assume mal-intent.

And even as these issues are at the forefront of discussions, lets not kid ourselves and believe these won't continue. It seems like not that long ago i was watching a receiver talk about how he would "fight every nigger" at a Kenny Chesney concert (aside: how many "niggers" did he anticipate would be there? did he see Cowboy Troy? Darius Rucker? I'm sure all 5 "niggers" there were worried) and the league was all up in arms, talking about how there was no place in the league for that kind of thinking. I wonder what happened to him? Oh, yeah, the Eagles re-signed him and he'll be a starting wide receiver next year. Meanwhile, Deshan Jackson gets cut from the Eagles on the accusation he might have gang ties. At the same time, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts was caught in his car, under the influence of alcohol and drugs and had $29,000 in cash in the car, and as of today, has received no penalty from the league. So we have 3 "crimes"- one is using the word "nigger" on tape, one was being impaired while driving and having drugs and money in the car, and the final was "alleged" gang ties. And the only one to really pay any penalty was the black with the "alleged" gang ties. Because it's easy to make that call. It's safe. The other two are too much like things that could "just happen" to someone, so we try to whitewash (no pun intended- no fuck that- pun totally intended) those issues away. 

At one time in my life, I taught at a private high school. it was an excellent academic institution, but one thing it seemed to lack in my eyes was diversity. when i got hired, i decided to ask the number of African American students there were at the high school. The number i heard back from them was surprising, but nonetheless, for me, a really easy number to remember: the number of my favorite basketball player and possibly the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) Michael Jordan: the number 23. I was a bit distraught when I saw that number, but I was confident I would be able to help those numbers increase. I was at that school for over a half dozen years, and when I left that school, I was curious to see the number of African American students at the school. I was dismayed, but not surprised to see the number at the end was a Jordan number. But not the 45 he rocked when he went HAM in Madison Square Garden and dropped that Double Nickel, but the same 23 when i got hired. A full class of kids had entered and left, and somehow, the numbers did not increase. The school made many claims about increasing African American numbers had, in over a full graduating class set, not increased the numbers even one student. You can make whatever kind of claims you want to about wanting to increase numbers, but if you don't actually increase numbers, your words fall on my deaf ears. The reason why schools don't increase the numbers of African Americans in the schools is, somewhere down deep, in those places nobody likes to even admit exist, whites think blacks going to school with their children will hurt their kids academically, like academic failure is endemic to black kids- so much so that it makes white parents want to avoid the possibility of truth. They don't know if it's endemic (and i guess that makes it communicable?) but they'd rather not have their kids be "guinea pigs" in this "sociological experiment" (words in quotes are words USED TO ME to describe the blight black kids might put on white schools- note- he only listened to me talk and thus had no frame of reference i was black). We can make all the structural changes we want to make, but until we can makes some mindset changes, we'll condemn the Donald Sterlings for their actions, while pretending that our choices to send our kids to "good" (read: white) schools as opposed to "bad" (read: minority) schools, while pretending that the world is post-racial until your white daughter brings home a black man for the first time (and regardless of how "enlightened" a parent wants to pretend to be, when they first meet me, i, almost without exception, get "the look"- that perplexed "i can't believe you're black" look or "i can't believe my daughter brought YOU home" look- which hurts my heart every time i see it even though it's not a surprise)- when you have to go to "that" part of town to do something and you're "afraid to leave your car there"- when you see a black man when you're walking and clutch your purse "just to be safe". These are things people do all the time, and don't think of them as racial issues, they "justify" these actions under a variety of concepts, but the biggest one: safety. 

These kinds of mindsets personify themselves in many instances. I remember once was at meeting of african american teachers talking about race and one offered me an experiment to try: give each of the kids in your class a notecard and have them write six words about race, to describe how they would feel if their loved one (mother, daughter, sister) brought home an african american-what would your six words be? Some of the answers I got in these classes (as the students offered their comments anonymously and printed them on notecards so i couldn't identify handwriting) were simultaneously disheartening and enlightening. I will list three below: 

Bad way to make mom mad. 
Dad's turning over in his grave.
Can't you bring home white people?

These are three statements, from 14-18 year old kids, who, when asked honestly how they felt about their loved ones being involved with a black person, we see comments that are very consistent with Sterling's views. But why does any of this matter? Why does it matter if Donald Sterling thinks like he does and if you students think like they think?

Because when Sterling does it, it's easy to condemn. When it's your child, your brother, yourself: it's harder to do. It won't make a difference until we can call out Sterling for his actions, but also the Bruins for their fans, and more importantly, call out small snapshots of racism, as well as the big ones.

30 April 2014

Marriott treated me like a second class citizen

Issue: Marriott was racist.

Asked Compensation: An authentic apology and Marriott points for ONLY the room I stayed in for the 2 days I was there- shouldn’t be made to feel like a second class citizen and get the pleasure of offering cash to make that happen.

The story…

On February 13th, 2014, I was staying at the Walnut Creek Marriott on a business trip (Round Robin held by the College Preparatory School) when Sharon Hopkins (director from Detroit, her two students, myself (all African Americans) and Elyse Conkin (who is white), all enter the elevator to head to a debate round. In the elevator is a hotel employee named Nolette, who asks what floor we’re going to, and hit’s the button. Once the doors close, the employee turns her back on the four blacks in the elevator and sparks a very friendly conversation with the only white woman in the elevator, until the employee gets out of the elevator. The conversation was so friendly but the situation was so awkward I had to ask Elyse if they’d ever even met, to which she says no. Everyone in the elevator noted the racism. It was racist, but I deal with racism every day. So I just planned on letting it slide (like most things).

The next day, as we’re planning on leaving the hotel (we didn’t clear and needed to get across the bay to check 75 kids into a hotel in Berkeley, which is close enough to walk and I never need buses (which is the only reason we didn’t stay in a Marriott- our team doesn’t even ask where they’re staying- just “courtyard, res inn or spring hill). As I’m about to head downstairs to start a debate I was to be judging in, I walk by Nolette who asks me “how my stay has been?” I feel this gives me the opportunity to tell her what she did, to which she apologized (but not a “I’m sorry” but an “I’m sorry you feel that way”- which is only definitionally an apology, but not an admission of wrong doing- which in this instance is critical- because her claim just says “sorry you saw that as racist” which denies that it was racist, as opposed to “sorry I did this racist thing” which acknowledges fault in the speaker. I responded in the exact way I described above- I felt the apology was hallow and forced, since it seemed she had a superior standing next to her (who turned out to be one of the hotel managers- Frank). As I go to walk off, he stops me and says he wants to talk- so I stop right there and begin talking (remember- we’re in the lobby when he approached me AND I had a round I needed to judge, so I was headed to do that so I could leave the hotel and check kids in another hotel 25 miles away). He also realizes this could be an uncomfortable conversation in the lobby, so he wants to go to his office. I tell him I don’t have time to go to the office, I have things I need to do for my job, and why couldn’t we finish the conversation here, as I needed to be out of the hotel by 1pm. He repeats the desire to have it in private, I repeat to him I have an job I need to do, so I can’t and that I’ll be leaving by 1p. He then talks to the woman running the tournament to set up a meeting time to discuss all these issues and I was invited to attend this 1:30pm meeting (seems like rather coincidence the meeting was set at a time I needed to be somewhere else- or it got the intent it wanted- a meeting without me at it). I have no idea what happened in that meeting, or even if there was a meeting- I was en route to Berkeley. The situation still bothered me, but a job is a job…(this made it an open issue b/c my complaint and then they closed it because I “chose” not to meet with them- which is Hobson’s choice- stay and have this converation and possibly be at risk for 75 kids in a city I wasn’t in yet OR walk away from a conversation I needed to have with the hotel, but it seemed the hotel manager set a time he knew I couldn’t meet.

…a week later I decide to call Marriott to talk about this issue, and to get some modicum of compensation for the miserable experience. I speak with people at customer care, who tell me I need to speak to the hotel directly (the people that made me feel like a second class citizen) to explain my complaints and ask them for compensation (not quite like making a rape victim relive her experiences, but traumatic nonetheless- if you’d like the studies feel free to ask me- just don’t feel like providing cited references in this). I told them they could have the hotel call and/or email me and we can correspond that way. Customer care says they’ll have someone call or leave an email….

…a few weeks pass and Customer Care calls for a follow up, to see what the resolution had been. When I informed them I had not been contacted at all, they told me someone called. I have a voice mail as well as caller id- the only way they called is 1) they didn’t use a business line, and 2) they didn’t leave messages, which would not be particularly professional. They tell me they will follow up with the hotel and have them send me an email. They do. Quicky. Holice Travis emailed me in under 24 hours. But his email was problematic: it never acknowledged any fault and treated the experience as if I perceived something that didn’t happen (remember- there were witnesses). Once he sent the email- it became a closed issue again. This email comes for me at a time where I have zero free time to do anything- we have state and national qualifers for speech and debate, practices everyday as well as this is an evaluation year for me, which means more things that take more time. Because of this, I didn’t get a chance to respond to his email until April 17…
…on April 17th however, I did respond to the email, and told him that these things DID happen to me, despite his claim that “there has never been any discriminatory behavior exhibited from any member of our staff” and that despite “bias and discrimination is not who she is” her treatment of ME in the elevator would be true of that, and how it’s possible that, as her supervisor, she might be different around him than around 4 blacks she doesn’t know (or obviously feel she doesn’t need to know). He also felt that I “could have met with them but didn’t”- which assumes I don’t have kids in another hotel in another city- the manager in his claims to both the general manager and the corporate office seems to leave off the claim I openly made that I needed to be out of the hotel by 1pm…in the letter all I ask for is compensation for the room I stayed in- and not even the money back. We stayed in 3 rooms and I only wanted the points for the room I stayed in for the 2 nights…

…On April 30, I decide to call Marriott to find out why there has been no response and that the case has been CLOSED since March 8th, when Mr. Travis sent the email that essentially called me a liar and said if I wanted to deal with it I should have come to the meeting they held (at 1:30p, specifically after being told I needed to be out of the hotel at 1p). Customer care tells me there’s not a lot they can do so they transfer me to Mr. Marriott’s Office of Customer Affairs, where I explain the situation- she asks me 3 questions: 1) Did Nolette apologize? 2) Did they offer you a meeting? 3) Did the hotel manager email you about it?

You don’t have to have a 178 on the LSAT or a 36R on the MCAT to see the writing on this wall.

I explain to her this is frustrating because I have a real complaint of racism, and you’re literally going over a checklist to see if they met procedure- which will allow them to be racists as long as they followed the procedure. The woman on the phone gets mad AT ME because I said that their policies allowed for racist actions. “I’m sorry that you’re offended by that (see what I did there?) but the idea that me describing an instance where racism is happening to me and describing how those policies allow you to act in fashions that perpetuate that racism offends you is actually laughable. And offensive. And dismissive.” She then tells me “I’ll evaluate your case and get back to you soon.” 

I don’t expect a positive response. I actually don’t really even expect a response. Because that would be respectful, and I feel my interaction with the Walnut Creek Marriott in particular were only magnified and compounded with the consistent runaround and dismissiveness .

Until this gets some form of resolution, I’ll never give the Marriott another dime.