11 August 2017

Don't forget to tell them how you feel

I've been, for the last week and a half generally, but for the last 48 hours specifically, been trying to get my head around the idea that i have some friends who died.  For lack of a better description, this alone has been a rough, bitter pill to swallow. But over the last few days, some things have come to the forefront of my mind, and sometimes, I just say whatever is running amock in this contraption I call a mind...a very brief synopsis for anyone that happens to not know.

...as a freshman in high school, I didn't have a ton of friends (not that different than now, but for very different reasons) but one of the true confidantes I had in high school was a friend, we'll just call him Chirs. Chris and I went to different high schools, but even through the things that pull kids apart, I felt those things pulled us closer together. I didn't have a best friend, but he would have been the closest thing to a best friend. We would hang out after school, generally vent about how much we hated high school and eat peanut butter sandwiches and reflect on our (read: my) lack of game. One random Wednesday, Chris met me at my school, as he got out of school an hour earlier than I did, and he wanted to chill. So we leave my school, and go to downtown Berkeley and go to Games of Berkeley (looked at a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons stuff) got a slice of pizza (Arnell's- best NY style pizza in Berkeley) and walked around the campus shooting the shit, having a great time. We get on the BART train, head back to El Cerrito, where I walk with Chris to his house (which is about 4 blocks from my house). We say our farewells, and right before I walk off, Chris comes to me and says, "Thanks." I'm not really sure, but I say "You're welcome, man. I'll see you tomorrow."

Fast forward 26 minutes, as that's about how much time it took me to walk home and make myself something to eat. That's when my mom walks in, and she looks like she's seen a ghost. I have no idea what's happening, but that's the same look she had on her face when she found out my brother died, and so I knew there was nothing remotely close to good news.

Apparently, my friend Chris, who I had just spent all afternoon with, and had literally just seen not a half hour ago, was discovered by his mother, in his room, hanging from his ceiling fan. He left two notes: one to his parents, and one to me. The only words on my note were: "Today was awesome. Best way to go out. Too much to explain. Just easier this way. Catch you on the other side."

To this day, I always wonder if the reason he came to my school that day was that he needed to talk to me, and he needed me to talk him out of it. I wonder if he was reaching out, and I was too stupid/arrogant/self-interested to really notice. I spent the greater part of my high school experience carrying the weight of unmanageable guilt, as I felt my friend was reaching out to me, and my arms weren't long enough to reach him. But more than any of these things I wonder about for my own selfish reasons, I really wonder if hearing what kind of person he was, and what kind of friend he was, and the role he played in (at the very least) my life, might this have made him reflect on himself differently, and maybe he...I did this to myself for years and still do to this day. To Chris:

I don't know if my telling him how important in my life would have saved him, but I do know that not telling him fucking haunts me to this day. So I try to remind myself to tell the people that matter in my life that they matter, and I try to remind them how much. It seems small and insignificant, so much so that we almost never do it.

To Chris, Dave Hunter, Vince, Willis, Chuck, Kenny, and the people I didn't list but still weigh heavy on out.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell the people that matter to you that they do. But don't forget to tell them WHY.

Jack, Jill and Akbar or you never know who you'll meet and where

Every once in awhile, usually when the mind is allowed to wander unhindered, I find myself thinking about experiences that seemed unimportant and/or mundane at the time that, upon reflection, end up being relatively important, much more important than I could have possibly imagined. Normally, I just forget about these experiences and watch another episode of Law and Order (or one of the many spin-off shows or mirror image shows put out by other networks), flip on the XBox 360 and play a round of Tiger Woods, or just do nothing and fully enjoy the leisure of the life of a teacher in the summer. Today, I choose to share one of these with my friends...

let's preface this with a couple of caveats. first of all, this is when I was in college, and in college, I had a period of time where I experimented with drugs. That being said, there will be some references to some drugs in this. If this bothers you, I'll just tell you to turn the page now and save yourself from the gang-raping of your virgin ears. Also, this happened before September 11, 2001, so there is no way this story could happen today. Thanks, Osama Bin Laden. Third, any references that might appear to be about Miley Cirus is just an illusion, and you should get your mind out of the gutter...everyone knows she's being turned out by the Jonas Brothers...

...I've done a fair amount of transferring between some of the highest academic, accredited institutions in the USA. I had just transferred from Gonzaga University, a mistake I rank up there among the three dumbest things I'd ever done, and ended up at the Sonoma State of the Wasatch, Weber State University. I was going to school and debating for Weber State and was having a decent semester, not insofar as travel, but in the little traveling I was doing, I had been relatively successful. Apparently, the Heart of America debate tournament, in Lawrence, KS was going to be really small in NDT debate, so Nick and Steve chose not to go and decided to stay home and get ready for districts instead. But since tickets had already been bought, the director tells me that I will be attending the tournament, in CEDA debate. To give a little history, I had debated at the Heart in CEDA the year before when I debated at Chico, and we took a hellified ass-beating, winning a lone debate. Out of eight, which looks a lot like 1-7. It was the worst tournament I'd had since my first debate (another story I imagine I will tell at another time), and we spent weeks getting ready for the tournament. The director tells me (i will repeat, tells me, doesn't ask, just tells) I will be going with two days to prepare. This was a guaranteed beat down, and i wasn't really feeling it. He then told me I'd be going with one of my friends, DL. Now I will also note that DL is my friend, but a good debater, he wasn't. So his going doesn't change the inevitable, it just makes it more entertaining...so the tournament is advancing, and we're doing a lot of things, but winning debates was not one of those things. We're going into debate 7 with a stellar record of 1-5, and we're debating a team from the University of Wyoming, a team we'd been beating like red-headed stepchildren for the entire year. The Heart was experimenting with new, crazy formats, from a total block of time consisting of cross-examination and prep time, and you can use it at your leisure, to giving each team 20 minutes of prep time, which was the wrinkle during this debate. During 2AC prep time, my debate partner says he's going outside for a smoke. I assumed he was going to smoke a cigarette. I was incorrect...

...background: we brought a lot of mushrooms to the tournament. I'm not exactly sure how much, because I had spent the greater part of the semester eating the quarter pound I initially purchased (gave money, didn't know how much I was going to get, was pleasantly stunned, and, with no connections and no desire to spend years in the clink, so selling was out of the question), all I know is I was carrying an extra large ziplock bag with a ton of dry, crushed mushrooms. My debate partner had gotten the habit of smoking the mushrooms, which when you're at home, I really had no complaints....Time is elapsing, and the critic asks me if I know where my partner is, and I tell him I don't know, but we should have some time. Turns out he's been gone 18 minutes, so I go out to find him- he's outside, in some doorway, smoking mushrooms (we didn't have a pipe, but we traveled with a water pipe called the USS Enterprise, a two person, three chambered piece with two tubes where people (theoretically) can compete against each other, and when one person pulls off, the other gets the smoke from all three chambers). DL is sitting in the doorway, alone, smoking out of both tubes of this bong, when I remind him about the debate that he needs to give a speech in about 45 seconds. It worked out like you could imagine, a boot in the junk. We were clubbed like baby seals in this debate, to an inferior team (before your time, Stannard), so much so that this debate was forfeited in the 2NR. DL wanted to go smoke, and I needed to be alone, so we went our separate ways. I'm at the Heart, for the second year in a row, with a 1-6 debate ahead of me. This couldn't have been a more dire time. I was considering quitting, when I decided to go smoke a little pot, hopefully, to make this whole experience a little better. So I walk around the building, look for a couple of places where I could be alone. I know nothing about Kansas except that I couldn't have bought a bottle of alcohol, to drown my misery in something distilled (I would do this later in the hotel bar at the Heart, a bar you'd have to experience to truly believe). Besides, I still had one debate left to deal with (but at that time, I had already decided going 2-6 was not any better than going 1-7, so this debate was a wash- how could I think anything different, we fucking forfeited a round earlier)...

...so i go downstairs outside this massive building the Heart is being held in. Down one flight. Down two flights. Down three flights. Yes, this is the place, debaters would be far too lazy to come way the hell over here to do their business, and I definitely need the alone time. I need to figure out if i should even do this. This is supposed to be the hardest tournament in CEDA debate, and if the best is serving me up like this, maybe I should re-evaluate this. So I find my space, a little ledge, overlooking a side of the campus. I pulled out a pipe (I'm resourceful if nothing else, and borrowed a piece from my friends from the University of Oregon, who rolled tough to tournaments), packed it up and took a hit...probably a hit too big for my britches, and found myself coughing hysterically. Afraid I'd be caught, i went down one more floor, just to be safe. As i was about to take a hit, i hear, in the distance, the spastic, frantric cough that's familiar to anyone that's enjoyed the fine herb. I take a small hit as to not expose myself, and i hear the cough again. For some reason, and relatively out of character, I decide to call out to my unseen smokers, by telling them to join me, as "we're all doing the same thing." Turns out to be three people, two people from the southeast, an NDT team debating CEDA for the weekend (let's call them Jack and Jill) and a stellar NDT debater from some school I can't remember (let's call him Akbar). We didn't know each other, but got to know each other, casually, over a couple of bowls, some from the southeast, and some from Oregon (as I said, the Oregon kids came strapped- but once again, this is way before September 11). We chatted, talked about our homes, a lot of debate and, if I remember, a fair amount of literature...and sometime during that conversation, my desire to quit this activity seems to have disipated...in fact, i went in to the next debate, and lose. But in the debate, I made a critic listen to an entire debate about Hasty-G, something I knew he would hate, but something i wanted to do, just to see how people would answer it if the entire debate was focused on it (something Jill reminded me, debate's for debaters, something I try to remind myself of every day). I'm still friends with Jill, and I consider Jack one of my good friends...so out of the "American Me" raping of my confidence as a debater, or so I would have thought, came the reminder of why I do this, and found a good friend. Better day than i would have expected....

Flashback: That time where my invisibility allowed me to see some progressive racism

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.

Flashback to 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 decided 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 minorities (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 an 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 perform 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 color blind- until that blindness affects us in a way we find problematic. Then we're really conscious of it. Which magnifies the benefits of privilege and 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 want 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.

03 January 2017

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game or Blame Bob Stoops

In the last 48-72 hours, I’ve heard more a ton about Joe Mixon, the University of Oklahoma running back who, in the last month, had a video surface that showed the brutality of a previously adjudicated action- the physical assault of a young woman, Amelia Monitor. I’m sure for many of you, this is the first time you’ve seen that name, which says way more about the way we evaluate assault on women than any of us are really willing to admit, which is another conversation worthy of dissertation work. 

The assault, which happened in 2014, was acted on by the University and the Football team, with Mixon spending the entire 2015 season suspended. Once the suspension was served, Bob Stoops allowed him back on the football team, where he played, pretty much without incident (well not really, but comparatively) for most of the season. But in the same way the video of Ray Rice magnified outrage, once the video of Mixon surfaced, and with the absolute brutality shown in the video, people started calling for Mixon to not be allowed to play, to be punished (again) for the brutality of the action that went misunderstood in the initial punishment phase. Stoops even went as far to say that if he’d known then what he knew now, he’d not have allowed Mixon to return. 

I call shenanigans,  Bob Stoops. 

Why would I call bullshit on Stoops? I mean, he’s a good man, isn’t he? He has the best interests of his players, and more importantly than making good football players, he wants to make them better men. Isn’t that what all coaches want to do? 

Actually, no. Not at all. Coaches want to win, so they don’t get fired.

What would leave me to believe that Stoops would not be interested in making sure that his team wasn’t a place that a domestic abuser might call sanctuary? 

Empirics. I can, without very much thought or work, think of three instances where Bob Stoops seems to have ended up on the wrong side of the domestic abuse conversation: Fred Shannon, Doriel Green Beckham and Dede Westbrook. 

In 2014, the University of Oklahoma Title IX investigation against a player, linebacker Frank Shannon, who was accused of sexual assault of a student. The Title IX investigation found linebacker Frank Shannon responsible for a sexual assault Prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges in the case, due to witness being unavailable for court (which happens a lot in domestic abuse issues- fear of reprisal is strong, so a lot of the time women will just not speak out- I can only imagine that fame only magnifies the impacts of the patriarchy. Oklahoma suspended Shannon, the team’s leading tackler in 2013, for one year. He returned for his final college season in 2015, to about as much uproar as the pre-video Mixon uproar, which could best be described a intense, yet muted- a few people really cared, but most had no real idea what was going on, and when they heard about, their rage paralleled the intensity of lightning strikes- disappeared as quickly as they appeared but with a fiery rage upon arrival. If I had to guess why Mixon got a year, I can’t imagine it not being tied to this experience. “We let a dude beat a woman’s ass, set him aside for a year and then rode him like a stable animal to success before, why not try that shit again?”  I imagine it may have been said with more subtlety, but I seriously doubt it. 

Doriel Green Beckham was the #1 ranked WR coming out of high school when he arrived at the University of Missouri to play for Gary Pinkel. After he was dismissed from the team, stemming from a litany of issues, ranging from arrests for marijuana, to a dismissed burglary charge to a domestic abuse issue, which he pushed a woman down a flight of stairs. Once he was dismissed from the team, many programs were afraid to reach out and take a chance on DGB. They saw at best, a stoner and at worst, a domestic abuser, both things generally frowned upon in Power 5 Conference football (as well as almost every level and league everywhere). Bob Stoops had no such concerns, going as far as bring DGB to Norman, where, apparently, he just torched OU defensive backs like the last dab before bed, before his off the field issues never allowed him to play a down of football at Oklahoma. All of this happened between DGB’s dismissal and the Opening Day for OU Football 2015, while in all honesty, DGB's ability to enter the draft before playing a down at Oklahoma also had significant relevance...

The need for speed has, on more than one occasion, has allowed Stoops to look in the other direction. This involves a current receiver on the team, Dede Westbrook, whose ascension this season from a receiver filled with potential to a Heisman Trophy Finalist and without question one of the top receivers in the country. The University indicated that, despite their in-depth background search they do on all prospective athletes, and indicated that there were no red flags to indicate that he couldn’t compete for the University of Oklahoma. It’s pretty hard for me to buy that they just missed it: they were recruiting Westbrook the same time DGB was on the OU campus, during his transfer year. They had to know the amount of heat they’d take if this became an issue, they weighed it and just decided it was easier to say nothing because, unless they were doing so well that background research was being done about him, and they could always just deny they knew (brilliant actually, the worst they look is the way they do now, which is incompetent not malicious). 

It occurs to me that their claims were very specifically vague: at this point, it is reasonable to think that OU may have known of Westbrook’s issues, but that domestic abuse, especially if it happened before your time at Oklahoma, might not be disqualifying factor to play football at the University of Oklahoma. It occurred to me that this could have been very specifically problematic- because it allows for the papering over of crimes against women- as long as we don’t see them (read: as long as our inaction can’t be specifically frowned upon) then there’s no issue. It’s not a disqualifying factor. Sexual assault isn't. Pushing a woman down a flight of stair isn’t. Punching a woman in the face isn’t. What’s a little domestic battery of the mother of your children among Sooners?