Archive for June, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Have you ever been in one of those awkward conversations with someone from another race where both of you are talking to each other about some topic that has racial/racist undertonesâ€”but both people are pretending that what they are saying is race neutral? You both know exactly what the other person means, but no one would dare speak it out loud? And not necessarily big news topics like the OJ trial or the DC Snipers, but regular everyday conversations. Iâ€™ll give you an example of something that recently happened to me.
I live in a neighborhood that is in the midst of full-on gentrification. So for the first time in my lifetime, I have a significant number of white neighbors. The community has become not only ethnically diverse, but economically diverse. You have million dollar homes next to boarding houses next to coffee houses next to rats next to condos next to crackhouses next to art galleries next to low-income rentals. In other words, itâ€™s a Chinese fire drill and thereâ€™s never a dull moment. But my point is, and I do have one, is that it sets up a lot of awkward conversations. Like the one I had walking my dog yesterday.
I ran into my neighbor who Iâ€™ll call, â€œJim.â€ Now, a little quick background info: there is an apartment building in my neighborhood that I pass on my dog-walking route and without fail, there are always chicken bones in front of it. And its annoying because my dog gets into the bones and thereâ€™s nothing I like less than having to wrestle a drumstick out of my dogâ€™s mouth in 90 degree heat. My dog has even begun to develop a Pavlovian response when he gets onto this particular block– his excitement is obvious as he approaches in anticipation of a quick bone nibble before I can intervene.
So anyway, I run into Jim, who also lives in the neighborhood, with his house being right across the street from the Chicken Bone Apartments (CBA). He is also a dog owner and we often talk in passing about our canine companions. Like most neighbor-to-neighbor relationships in the twenty-first century, thatâ€™s all we really know about each other. So one day I run into him, shortly after passing the CBA and wrestling several chicken wing bones from my dog. So sure, I was a little miffed. So I speak to him and start expressing my frustration at our neighbors leaving so much litter and food waste outside of their apartment building.
So here I am, in the midst of an inner-city neighborhood talking to this white yuppie about my neighbors, who live in the apartment building (of whom 99.978% are black), about the problem of chicken bones and trash outside of the building. It was so fraught with unspoken racial undertones. On one hand I almost felt guilty for talking to him about this, which no doubt reinforces stereotypes he may have about black folks, but on the other hand why canâ€™t I talk to a neighbor about a problem that affects everyone in the community? Itâ€™s that damn DuBois duality again. How can I implore my neighbors to keep the neighborhood clean and chicken bone free without it feeling like Im betraying some black chicken brotherhood? And on the flip side if there is a neighborhood meeting and a white person mentions people throwing out too many chicken bones on the sidewalk, heâ€™s viewed as making a racist comment.
So I canâ€™t talk about the chicken bones in front of the CBA and the white guy canâ€™t talk about the chicken bones in front of the CBA, so we all just go about our business and nothing gets done. I understand that black people and chicken are a sensitive topic but jeez louise. As we increasingly live and work together, weâ€™re going to have to figure out how to navigate these awkward discussions. When will people realize that you can have a race-neutral beef with people who just happen to be black? Iâ€™m not some elitist Uncle Tom if I complain, and â€œJimâ€ is not some racist if he complains. Weâ€™re both just people who want the neighborhood to be clean and safe. If the residents in the CBA were white folks, Iâ€™d talk about them too. It’s really quite simple: I don’t care what color you are, stop throwing your chicken bones, red Solo cups and McDonald’s wrappers on the ground.
So, its time to go walk the dog and maybe, just maybe, this will be a bone-free day. I can dream canâ€™t I? And for the smart ass who will undoubtedly tell me to just cross the street, you can get bent.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
To Hell with Beyonce, this is the real “B.”
I wanted to share an excerpt from a speech Barack Obama gave on Father’s day at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago. We need more of this in America. As much as people give me a hard time, I knew I wasn’t crazy… Now this is real talk here:
“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.
But if we are honest with ourselves, weâ€™ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing â€“ missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.
You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled â€“ doubled â€“ since we were children. We know the statistics â€“ that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.
How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands of another child? How many times have our hearts stopped in the middle of the night with the sound of a gunshot or a siren? How many teenagers have we seen hanging around on street corners when they should be sitting in a classroom? How many are sitting in prison when they should be working, or at least looking for a job? How many in this generation are we willing to lose to poverty or violence or addiction? How many?
Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldnâ€™t have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities.
But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child â€“ itâ€™s the courage to raise one.
We need to help all the mothers out there who are raising these kids by themselves; the mothers who drop them off at school, go to work, pick up them up in the afternoon, work another shift, get dinner, make lunches, pay the bills, fix the house, and all the other things it takes both parents to do. So many of these women are doing a heroic job, but they need support. They need another parent. Their children need another parent. Thatâ€™s what keeps their foundation strong. Itâ€™s what keeps the foundation of our country strong.
I know what it means to have an absent father, although my circumstances werenâ€™t as tough as they are for many young people today. Even though my father left us when I was two years old, and I only knew him from the letters he wrote and the stories that my family told, I was luckier than most. I grew up in Hawaii, and had two wonderful grandparents from Kansas who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me â€“ who worked with her to teach us about love and respect and the obligations we have to one another. I screwed up more often than I shouldâ€™ve, but I got plenty of second chances. And even though we didnâ€™t have a lot of money, scholarships gave me the opportunity to go to some of the best schools in the country. A lot of kids donâ€™t get these chances today. There is no margin for error in their lives. So my own story is different in that way.
Still, I know the toll that being a single parent took on my mother â€“ how she struggled at times to the pay bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play. And I know the toll it took on me. So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle â€“ that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls; that if I could give them anything, I would give them that rock â€“ that foundation â€“ on which to build their lives. And that would be the greatest gift I could offer.
I say this knowing that I have been an imperfect father â€“ knowing that I have made mistakes and will continue to make more; wishing that I could be home for my girls and my wife more than I am right now. I say this knowing all of these things because even as we are imperfect, even as we face difficult circumstances, there are still certain lessons we must strive to live and learn as fathers â€“ whether we are black or white; rich or poor; from the South Side or the wealthiest suburb.
The first is setting an example of excellence for our children â€“ because if we want to set high expectations for them, weâ€™ve got to set high expectations for ourselves. Itâ€™s great if you have a job; itâ€™s even better if you have a college degree. Itâ€™s a wonderful thing if you are married and living in a home with your children, but donâ€™t just sit in the house and watch â€œSportsCenterâ€ all weekend long. Thatâ€™s why so many children are growing up in front of the television. As fathers and parents, weâ€™ve got to spend more time with them, and help them with their homework, and replace the video game or the remote control with a book once in awhile. Thatâ€™s how we build that foundation.
We know that education is everything to our childrenâ€™s future. We know that they will no longer just compete for good jobs with children from Indiana, but children from India and China and all over the world. We know the work and the studying and the level of education that requires.
You know, sometimes Iâ€™ll go to an eighth-grade graduation and thereâ€™s all that pomp and circumstance and gowns and flowers. And I think to myself, itâ€™s just eighth grade. To really compete, they need to graduate high school, and then they need to graduate college, and they probably need a graduate degree too. An eighth-grade education doesnâ€™t cut it today. Letâ€™s give them a handshake and tell them to get their butts back in the library!
Itâ€™s up to us â€“ as fathers and parents â€“ to instill this ethic of excellence in our children. Itâ€™s up to us to say to our daughters, donâ€™t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for those goals. Itâ€™s up to us to tell our sons, those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we live glory to achievement, self respect, and hard work. Itâ€™s up to us to set these high expectations. And that means meeting those expectations ourselves. That means setting examples of excellence in our own lives.
The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy â€“ the ability to stand in somebody elseâ€™s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes itâ€™s so easy to get caught up in â€œus,â€ that we forget about our obligations to one another. Thereâ€™s a culture in our society that says remembering
these obligations is somehow soft â€“ that we canâ€™t show weakness, and so therefore we canâ€™t show kindness.
But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so itâ€™s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. Thatâ€™s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that youâ€™re not strong by putting other people down â€“ youâ€™re strong by lifting them up. Thatâ€™s our responsibility as fathers. “
Barack Obama, I love you.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
You know, after running hotghettomess.com for almost four years now, I have been cussed out, yelled at, condemned to hell, and rebuked in the name of Jesus by a variety of Mandarin-minded folk. Generally the feedback I get is overwhelmingly positive so I donâ€™t stress too much about the folks who call me a race-traitor, an elitist, a self-righteous bitch or a (gasp) a Republican. But one conversation I had today, although I had heard it a million times before, really got me thinking.
A gentlemen called me after finding out that one of his friends (I suspect it was his girlfriend) had the dubious distinction of being called a hot ghetto mess by my website. So I speak to him and listen to him tell me what a horrible person I am. As I try to divide my attention between his tirade and cleaning the little hard doo-doo balls out of my dogâ€™s ass, something he said struck me as it never had before. He said, black people just â€œdonâ€™t know any better.â€ Now, granted, Iâ€™ve heard this a million times before and that sentiment has become so clichÃ© and that I never really paid any attention to it, but for some reason those words on that day stood out to me like a virgin at a prison rodeo. And it caused me to wonderâ€¦.
In 2008, do people really â€œnot know any betterâ€?
I feel like the only people who really have a claim to â€œnot knowing any betterâ€ are children or feral people like Nell in that movie. To make the assertion that somehow today in 2008, grown ass people donâ€™t know any better is ludicrous. And itâ€™s not only ludicrous, itâ€™s a dangerous, dismissive and paternalistic way to regard members of our community. It immediately removes from people all responsibility for their actions.
With unparalled access to information, with 10,000 channels on television, movies and magazines can one really argue that someone can go through life in America and not know any better? As uninspiring as most of American media is, you still are shown examples of functional families, people overcoming odds, the value of education, families living in peace, people with jobs, philanthropy, activism, history and the power of your dreams. With regard to residents in urban environments, to whom I hear this term applied most often, there is a usually a very present Black professional class, colleges and universities abound, there are social programs aimed at self-improvement up the wazoo and plenty of examples of young people overcoming odds and excelling. The concepts of education, work and family are pretty standard concepts—So how can one seriously make an argument that people donâ€™t know better?
NOW, I certainly believe that many people may not believe they CAN do better or they may not be certain of exactly HOW to do better, but to imply they donâ€™t know there IS a better is a destructive theory. And sure, there is a â€œfuck effortâ€ contingent but theyâ€™re a different story as well (See: Are you waiting for a check?).
We had an entire generation of African Americans who werenâ€™t even allowed to read, yet those were the ones who pushed most strongly for the education of their children. We had a generation of slaves who werenâ€™t allowed to marry, yet marriages and families were the foundation of the generation to follow. All it takes is the desire to improve your condition. At some point, many of us have abandoned the pursuit of improving our condition in favor of whatâ€™s easy or whatâ€™s fun or whatâ€™s convenient or what feels good at the time. Do we know better? Of course we do. We just donâ€™t always do better. So letâ€™s call a spade a spade.
Come on, I donâ€™t care what your socio-economic status is, you generally know how life fucking works. Instead of making this â€œpeople donâ€™t know any betterâ€ excuse, we should be talking about what it would take to re-instill a broad commitment to improving our economic and social condition in this world.
Generations before got it right, they understood opportunity was valuable and took advantage of it no matter what meager circumstances they came from. Are we now saying that back then they knew better and suddenly now we donâ€™t? Generations who never had the opportunities we have now knew better and suddenly we donâ€™t? I just donâ€™t buy it.
And I think this is important, not just because I like typing long essays for free, but because I think social programs and philosophical frameworks that embrace the â€œthey donâ€™t know any betterâ€ mentality, no matter how well-meaning, are harmful to us as a community.
For example, when I worked as a lawyer in legal services, I felt that, the well-meaning white liberals that worked there basically saw black people as children that shouldnâ€™t be expected to do anything with any level of competency. But it was OK, because we didnâ€™t know any better and were just hapless victims of an oppressive society and needed help.
Now, Donâ€™t get me wrong, those were some of the best people I had ever met and they all really wanted to help less-fortunate members of society, I just donâ€™t know if spoon feeding someone their life is helping. What was so clear to the African-American lawyers there (none of whom ever stayed very long) seemed lost on the limo liberal population. If you treat folks like victims and tell them they have no control over the big bad world, they eventually begin to believe it. They lose the capacity to problem solve which is essential for survival. They begin to become dependent on others even when they are perfectly capable themselves.
I know this is getting long and your ADD is kicking in, so Iâ€™ll wrap this up soonâ€¦..but real quick example: I had a male client who was getting evicted and I was able to negotiate some favorable terms to get his ass out of the apartment. So, thirty days later, on the day he had agreed to leave the unit, he called me and asked what he was supposed to do with his furniture. Iâ€™m like, what are you asking me for? And mind you, this wasnâ€™t an old man, he was in his twenties and was actually kind of fine. If he hadnâ€™t been on welfare with some fake ass disability, I may have taken him out. But I digress.
So Iâ€™m thinking to myself, whenever one moves, the first thing you figure out is how youâ€™re gonna move your stuff. He says, well I donâ€™t have a way to move my stuff, donâ€™t yall have some funds that will help me hire a mover? Iâ€™m like, RUFKM? (r u fucking kidding me)? When I move, I have to figure it out. When my mom moves, she has to figure it out. When my friend moves, she has to figure it out. Youâ€™ve already had a free lawyer, now you want Uhaul service too. Negro, figure that shit out and get off my phone.
But it was this sense of having no capacity to solve his problems, this expectation that the world owed him a solution and this sense of entitlement that he should get what he wants without any effort on his part, that was so shocking. And seeing this type of thing over and over made me question the â€œthey donâ€™t know betterâ€ approach and the long-term effectiveness of the liberal social program models.
Whew! OK Iâ€™m done. There, I said it. So I hope that guy who called and told me that â€œmost black folks just donâ€™t know any betterâ€ is reading this. â€œThey donâ€™t know betterâ€ should be reserved for dogs, children, the mentally challenged, and people like Nell in that movie. People will only rise to the level of your expectations and as long as we dismiss dysfunctional or destructive behavi
or as â€œnot knowing betterâ€ we severely undercut the ability of our community to be self-sufficient, to look within to solve problems and improve conditions and grow and prosper.
Now back to my dogâ€™s ass. I really need a job. As u wereâ€¦.
Friday, June 6, 2008