Friday, December 20, 2013

The economic benefits of destroying public education

A recent conversation on a blog I frequent had me reminiscing back on a morning a few years ago when I was listening to my favorite Monday afternoon radio show.  It was a political show that analyzed my state’s politics from a Christian perspective.  I enjoyed it because each week they had guests who were state senators, city councilman, school superintendents, or other governmental representatives.  Some were more versed in politics, others Christianity, some were strong in both, but all were trying their best to tell the public what they did and why they did it.

That day the discussion centered-around the state’s cuts in education.  One of the key issues was the 300+ teachers who had just lost their jobs due to budget cuts.  Since our representatives didn’t want to increase revenue (read: raise taxes) to help the state’s financial crunch, the only option was to cut spending.  And since there is only so much money you can save in education by eliminating rulers, basketballs, tampon dispensers, and school buildings, salaries were cut.  Ironically though, while listening to my favorite morning news radio show earlier that same day, I heard state politicians complaining that Obama’s/Democratic economic policies weren’t working because our state lost several hundred jobs the previous week.  Why is this ironic?  Because the politicians who were complaining about losing jobs based on Democratic policies were the Republicans who cut teachers’ jobs with their most recent legislation, and those were the several hundred jobs that were lost.

Having listened to many of those folks give sound bites speeches, I know they aren’t rocket scientists… and they probably would have trouble following an episode of Pinky and The Brain involving building a rocket with kitchen utensils.  Still, they were far from stupid.  Actually, their plan was pretty smart.  It’s like a crook stealing money from the police station and then donating the money to PAL for a tax write off.  You make your enemy look bad and you profit from it financially, and while the original action is immoral/illegal, your profit from it is perfectly legal. 

But why would they do it?  How does destroying public education benefit anyone, and why would any politician want to do it?  I say two reasons: 1) to control who gets into education and what they get out of it, and 2) because the educational process is a service; and the sale of any service is profitable. 

For #1, who gets into education and what they get out of it directly impacts the ability of the rich to stay rich. Prior to falling into the recent period of double digit unemployment, the percentage of millionaires was increasing by double digits annually.  Now I’m not talking about silver spoon millionaires that inherited tens of millions of dollars, I mean self-made millionaires that fought, clawed, saved, invented, reinvested, and sold their way into the lowest level of millionaire-dom.  They exemplified the American Dream.  Their money was not based on market speculation, but on customers.  They were not heavily subsidized by the government; they earned their money by offering products that people wanted.  But with more and more money being sucked up by the growing upper middle-class and new rich folks, there was also an increased demand for a say in what goes on in local and state governments by those same people.  This, of course, cut into old money’s ability to control the environment.  Hey, if everyone can get an education and get rich, being rich doesn’t make you special anymore. Then you don’t get to make the decision on what areas are built up or torn down, where your population of workers will live, and what other choices they have for employment other than you.   So what do you do to maintain power?  You cut down on the number of new rich folks fighting you for money and power.  Of course the rich can’t attack the Capitalist system that enabled them to get rich, so the logical thing is to cut off the tools needed to be successful in the Capitalist system… the primary long-term asset being education (the primary short-term asset is customers, which is why I believe this recession was planned… but that is a blog for another day).

In the case of corporations, control equates to control of the means of production… i.e., low-wage workers.  As the old song said, “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree (Paris).”  Once you’ve educated the people of an agricultural or manufacturing community, or of any poor community, whether urban, suburban, or rural, they naturally seek the potential quality of life improvements that education makes available.  This is why so many of those communities have suffered massive “brain drain” over the past few decades.  The best and the brightest go away to college, but never come home again.  When the “C” students are your brightest workers, production issues will follow.  Just imagine what would happen if our country was run by a “C” student (Oh yeah… been there, done that).  So limiting A and B students to a C level education keeps smart folks at home and available for future exploitation.  It’s cruel, but it makes dollars so it makes sense. 

Now as I said, the #2 reason to destroy public education is the fact that the educational process is a service, and the sale of any service is profitable.  In the not so good old days, there really was no Middle Class.  While there were a few people who “made a good living”, generally there were rich folks and poor folks.  Since you had to pay for education, rich folks were educated and poor folks weren’t.  Having control of information, rich folks controlled the poor folk.  So generation after generation the rich folks stayed rich unless some poor folks had some luck added to their hard work, or they did something like build a better mouse trap, Pocket Fisherman, or Tae Bo tape. 

Then the new old good old days came, and they brought public education with it.  The industrial revolution’s assembly line labor system made people that were able to read at a basic level important for increased productivity.  Putting kids together in a building where they practiced a certain skill for a short period of time, then at the ringing of a bell moved them to another skill for a short period of time, was perfect training for work in a factory.   They even gave them the summer off for the benefit of those who needed to focus on helping out with the family farm.  And 150+ years later we still have the same system… except now some schools use buzzers instead of bells (gotta love technology). 

So for the last 150+ years, more and more government money has been funneled into education so that our citizens can get it for free.  Since *equal* education is the ultimate equalizer for a country that prides itself on equal opportunity, it was a necessary expense.  But as with anything else, if the government is funding something, then private business can’t make much money from it.  In the past, when public education was utilized solely by those who couldn’t afford private education, this was not an issue.   But now there is a viable middle class, many of whom could pay for private education but choose to utilize public education because cost-wise to the family finances it makes sense.  But what would happen if public education became so qualitatively poor that it lost its overall value.  The middle class would opt for private/charter schools.  This idea was floated during the original Bush II years through the concept of school vouchers, but it didn’t get too far.  The middle class did it’s cost-benefit analysis, and the difference in educational quality between public and private school in many areas was so close that the absolute value of the vouchers couldn’t surpass the comparative value of a free education (don’t tell me I didn’t learn anything in Economics 201).  But if we continue to make cuts in education that increase classroom size, reduce educational supplies and co-curricular experiences, and chase good teachers into the private sector for higher pay and more security, then the middle class en masse will be willing to revisit pay/voucher education as a viable alternative.  Putting the squeeze on the middle class may be cruel, but if it makes dollars, it makes sense. 

(I feel a Jesse Jackson moment coming on)  So in an effort to avoid anything that could be deemed socialized, teachers’ unions, free pre-school and subsidized college have been demonized, with the goal of making education privatized.  Understanding that a loss of basic education will leave our populace demoralize, we must understand that those who aree being most vilified and scrutinized, are fighting to hold onto educational policies that are more humanized.  Thus, we must make sure that our use of the ballot is maximized so that growing citizens over growing currency is prioritized, until a time when equal education for all citizens is realized.  Until then… keep hope alive!!!   Word!!

Being only three generations away from it being illegal for me to learn how to read, I understand the power of education to get us from where we were to where we are, and from where we are to where we want to be.  Mitt Romney said that corporations are people.  If education were totally privatized, those “people” would control the economic and informational wealth of our country.  Slave masters were people too, and they controlled the economic and informational wealth of their time and place.  I’
ve heard too many family stories about the bad old good old days to ever take education for granted, and way too many to let anyone take it away.  What about you? 

Let me end by saying this is not an anti-Republican or anti-capitalism post, it is a pro-education post.  I understand that there are Republicans and Democrats are pro and anti-public education, and Green Party, Libertarians, and other factions that have unique answers that don’t get any attention.  I don’t know all the answers, but I do have a basic understanding of what we should be doing.  And I do know that privatizing education in a global economy is absolutely not the answer, despite the economic benefit of destroying public education.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

(God's) Timing is Everything

Someone once asked me, “did it ever seem like a situation worked out so that it was obvious God was working on you or through you?” After I thought about it for a few moments, I began rattling them off. There were long-term commitments that lasted years, and short interactions that came and went in a blink of eye. There were those that allowed me to make a major impact on someone or someplace, and those where the impact on me was life altering. I have always known that God used me in special ways, even when I hand little belief and almost no understanding of Him. I’ve been told that I’m like Forest Gump in that my friends and I have had so many experiences that “ordinary people just don’t have”. Well, my Gumpishness is definitely God driven.

Of my Godly experiences, the last thought that came to my mind was actually the one of the most special ones to me. It was during my adventures in Iowa. After my first year there, I had amassed a large contingent of minority students. As the Dean of Enrollment, I had been given the job of increasing the minority enrollment from 8% Black and 11% total, to 11% Black and 15% total. Seeing as the state was only 2% Black, and 5% minority total, no other college in Iowa history had ever had come close to those levels. Well, my second fall recruitment brought us up to 25% Black, 10% Hispanic, and 7% “other minority” and international students. Having done a lot more than “window dressing”, I wasn’t very popular with many of the people who liked having mostly “normal” students (their word, not mine) on campus. Still, with the kids that came from as near as Chicago, and as far as Jamaica and China, I was pretty well respected. I did have one problem with my original class, and that was despite my ability to supplement their tuition money, a private school education was still brutal on their family finances. So two weeks into their second semester, many were faced with the prospect of getting their packing notices.

Of course, my position was that I never wanted to lead lambs to the slaughter. For them to leave school with loans and no degree because of me was unacceptable. Then, on the second Saturday of the semester, we were entertaining the last minute potential registrants… something I hated. One man came in with a potential student from Chicago. I didn’t want to be bothered with them since I was in the middle of praying for a way to keep the kids I had become really close to from having to leave. I don't like my prayer time interrupted, and besides, they came two weeks lateGrrrrrr!!! But as I listened to the counselors go through the spiel, I realized that the man who brought the kid wasn’t his father, but just a guy who went to the kid’s church and took an interest in him. Well, if he can bring a kid five hours to see a college, I can at least go out and talk to him. So I went out and made some small talk. After about three minutes, we realized that we were kindred spirits. I offered to show him around the campus, he accepted, and off we went

First we established the mutual admiration society by talking about how we got to where we were in life: I being the only African American employee at a college where I was in charge of all admissions and financial aid; and he being the only African American millionaire building contractor in Chicago. As the conversation went on, and got into the Christian realm, we started talking about serving others. He told me about how his church, a massive 20,000 member spot in Chicago, gave scholarships to a bunch of kids every year. He said he was tired of giving kids who had a support system extra support, and he had been praying for an opportunity to give some kids who were basically on their own some help... AND... he was willing to use his own money… he just didn’t know where to find the kids since there were none like that in his circle.

I’m thinking, “It couldn’t be this easy. I pray. He prays. God brings us together. Let me keep talking and find out where this thing is heading.”

I told him that if he wanted one, I could find him a kid who needs help in about 3 minutes. He said that wasn’t good enough, he wanted to help a bunch of kids. I said “that could be arranged.” I asked him what he wanted to do, and he said… “What can I get for $30,000?” [Blink... Blink... cough... cough... 30 G's?!?!}] Since most of the kids were short anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500, that gave me a chance to save about ten or so of them. We shook on it. I found the kids and sent him the list. He brought me to a banquet in Chicago where he could give me the check in front of some folks to rub it in their faces. I also got to meet Andrew Young who was the Keynote speaker for the event ,and hang at my new friend’s mini-mansion.

Hanging out with this modest, hard-working new millionaire, I found what he considers to be the secret to his success. He constantly gave away as much of his time and money to others as his schedule would allow. One afternoon, he took me and about 120 Boy Scouts, youth home kids, and others to a football game at $68 dollars per ticket, which included busses for the kids. He likes football, and didn’t want to go alone. He never did anything alone that he could bless some other people by doing it with them. He constantly planted some seeds, and watered others. Every morning, he and his wife got up at about 5:00 and had the prayer-line and counseling line of their church forwarded to their house, where they ministered to people until it was time for them to go to work. Sometimes I listen to people talk about how they question God’s ways, motives, abilities, etc. But he had proven very consistent in how God does things… at least to a layman like me. Meeting this brother and hanging out with him for the next six months showed me so many Biblical principals at work: stewardship, sewing and reaping, do unto others, etc. The only way I could not acknowledge how God works… would be if I had never read The Book. Timing is everything, and God is not only always on the clock, He is The Clock.

Try Him for yourself. Get on THE CLOCK, ‘cause time is ticking away.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What did Martin Luther King Really Say?!?!

Today we will be inundated with Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech. What we will generally be hearing is the last four or five minutes of a 17 or so minute speech. We will hear him eloquently repeat a vision he had expressed on several other occasions, but never on a stage that large. I know it was God that made Mahalia Jackson stand in front of the podium nagging at him to “tell them about the dream” until he gave up his prepared text and went into it. That change in his presentation that day had world-changing ramifications, but it reduced King to a “dreamer”. What people don’t hear is the pragmatic power of the first 2/3 of the speech where he gave America a report card of our poor treatment of its citizens, and what our fate would be if we did not become accountable. What they don’t hear are the words of a man who not only dreamed of a better world, but was constantly fighting for it.

I love King. He is one of my favorite military strategists, and he was a pretty good speaker as well. I tend to hang onto every word he said, particularly, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!” As an adolescent, I got into studying war and military strategy. In addition to The Swamp Fox of the Revolutionary War, and The Desert Fox of WWII, I studied The Country Fox of the War on Segregation. I absolutely fell in love with King's primary military strategy...Non-violent Aggression. It sounded like Judo to me. Put yourself in such a position that when your enemy attacks you, he actually beats himself. King chose cities where he knew the abuse would by strongest. He calculated the loss of blood, and how many woman and children had to be brutalized on national television to get as many as possible of the 90% of the population who were not Negroes to join his army. I imagined the pain he felt sending sheep off to be slaughtered for the sake of a better future for coming generations. He had a hard job. I couldn’t do it. At the base of the dream there was always a harsh reality.

Two of my aunts marched with him that day. Like me, they are disgusted by his military strategy being distorted by revisionist history. “Dr King preached Non-Violence” WRONG!!!! Non-violence was the adjective; aggression was the noun… ie, the thing. Dr. King preached Nonviolent AGGRESSION, and at the very least, Non-violent RESISTANCE... but both active, not passive concepts. I won’t go into who pulled this Jedi Mind Trick with his legacy, but it’s probably the same folks who convinced some of us that “they gave us the shortest month of the year” for Black History Month rather than Carter G. Woodson choosing February to honor Frederick Douglas’ birthday. The only thing worse than being denied the truth is letting someone convince you that the truth you know is a lie.

The FBI labeled King a "subversive", and targeted him with their COINTELPRO spy program. Politicians labeled him a Communist, and wanted to try him for treason. He had his home bombed. People forget that his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" was written... from a Birmingham jail. He should not be on a pedestal because he is a mythical figure of love and peace, he should be on it as a majestic figure of fearlessness and undying devotion to doing what was right. He organized groups of people across color lines all over the country. When he died, he left his family penniless, because there was no corporate sponsorship or kickback money. He gave everything he had to his cause. Had he not started expanded his cause to include young folks being sent to an unjust war in Viet-Nam, and the rights of poor White garbage workers and other poor White people, they may have let him live. But history shows that... somehow... a man who had multiple death threat in the hours before his death found his police security mysteriously missing at the time of his assassination. Nothing happens by accident.
I hate that Marty King has been turned into a passive “dreamer” instead of a military strategist. I’m going to continue to take every opportunity I get to tell what MLK really said. Somebody’s gotta speak up, ‘cause like he said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” King had a dream, but he was not a dreamer… he was a visionary, a warrior, a strategist, a religious leader, a revolutionary, etc, who was jailed, beaten, and died to achieve his dream. If we truly respect him, we won’t allow ourselves to base his legacy on a snippet of one speech. In addition to the “FULL” I have a dream speech, everyone should also listen to his “I’ve been to the mountain top speech”. A true hero will stand in the face of the people who told him they would kill him in the next two days and make a speech about the fact that they were going to do it... just like he did. Also, read the text to his “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool” speech. If we are still struggling to fulfill Dr. Kings dream, maybe it’s because we really don’t know what he said.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

HIV - If It Walks Like Genetic Engineering...

So I was reading this book of facts on planet earth. Although it’s a kiddie book, it’s a good book with information on history, science, politics, geography… pretty much a synthesis of some of the more interesting stuff that kids learn in their first 8 years of school rolled into one 144 page book. It’s called Don’t Know Much About Planet Earth by Kenneth C. Davis – put it on your kids’ summer reading list. One highlighted article in the book showed the effect that AIDS was having on Africa. It said that by 1999, 84% of the 16.3 million AIDS deaths worldwide were in Sub-Saharan Africa. I know that the situation has only gotten worse since that time, since I’ve seen the stats updated and reprinted every year. Scenes from Save the Children came through my mind, and I felt my usual disgust with our inability/inattention dealing with this issue.

As I ran the computer known as Dwane T.’s brain through a myriad of questions and scenarios on the issue, I came across one of my favorite conspiracy theories; one that I am absolutely sure is true. AIDS was genetically designed as a way to slowly get rid of Black folks. Now, of course I don’t believe this will ever happen, because in the true Bae-bae Kids tradition, we don’t die, we multiply. Unfortunately, while we do multiply at a greater rate than we die, AIDS is definitely killing us globally.

After a few moments, the internal computer landed on something I had read years ago. Back in my cancer treatment days, while sitting in the hospital getting some outpatient blood transfusions, I came across an article in Scientific American magazine that I felt almost single-handedly proved this theory true. It was an article about whether race actually exists. I remember at the time thinking, "boy, this is sure going to open up a Pandora’s Box of research and expose’s". But after seven years… nuttin’. I thought I remembered it was in the December 2003 issue, so off to the internet I went; and this is an excerpt of what I found:

Genetic variation also plays a role in individual susceptibility to one of the worst scourges of our age: AIDS. Some people have a small deletion in both their copies of a gene that encodes a particular cell-surface receptor called chemokine receptor 5 (CCR5). As a result, these individuals fail to produce CCR5 receptors on the surface of their cells. Most strains of HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, bind to the CCR5 receptor to gain entry to cells, so people who lack CCR5 receptors are resistant to HIV-1 infection. This polymorphism in the CCR5 receptor gene is found almost exclusively in groups from northeastern Europe.

Several polymorphisms in CCR5 do not prevent infection but instead influence the rate at which HIV-1 infection leads to AIDS and death. Some of these polymorphisms have similar effects in different populations; others only alter the speed of disease progression in selected groups. One polymorphism, for example, is associated with delayed disease progression in European-Americans but accelerated disease in African-Americans. Researchers can only study such population-specific effects--and use that knowledge to direct therapy--if they can sort people into groups.

Does Race Exist? Scientific American, December 2003

Okay, so it doesn’t say that AIDS is a weapon of biological warfare. But if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and attacks your immune system based on your genetic make-up like a duck, it must be a genetic killing machine of a duck. This is not like the Sickled Cell developing in Africans as a way to combat Malaria, and eventually leading to Sickle-Cell Anemia. That developed over thousands of years. The basic argument for the development of AIDS is that it came from being bitten by, or having sex with, a monkey. Africans were getting bitten by monkeys for thousands of years without getting AIDS, and if they were having sex with monkeys in the late 1960’s they were probably doing them for thousands of years before that too. But the research shows that African Americans are higly suscesptible, European Americans are highly resistant, Northern Europeans are immune, while native Africans are being wiped out. For a disease that supposedly came into existence in the last 40 years to be that strongly defined along racial lines is the best case of racial profiling since Jonnie Gammage. By the Laws of genetic adaptation, for Northern Europeans to develop immunity to AIDS, it would have had to exist there for many generations, and a few million people would have died while that adaptation was taking place.

Hey, you have to give the evil scientists who created this thing credit… what better way to kill off a people than to poison the process by which they create life. It reminds me of an experiment that I learned about in Freshman Biology, where they tried to get rid of the roaches in Miami. They used female roach pheromones to lure the males in, then sterilized them and released them back into the sewers. They thought they were making babies, as did the females… so the roach population dropped. Unfortunately, the rat population started to grow from the extra food, and they had to reintroduce the roaches to keep the rat growth down. Anyway, my point is I would be a fool to believe that the concept of killing an entity by contaminating the procreation process began and ended with that experiment three decades ago. And as a man of preponderantly genetically African decent, I can’t afford to be that foolish.

I know that people of all races are susceptible to HIV... I've had family/friends across the board that died from it. But the reality is that HIV is one of the only sexually transmitted disease that leads to the death of its host (without treatment), and that is transmitted to the child ***prior*** to the natural birthing process leading to the death of the child. By the process by which it kills, the spead at which it spreads, and it’s resistance to “cures”, had the HIV virus existed even 100 years ago, medical science had not evolved enough to prevent the possible extinction of mankind. Scientist had identified which genomes were exclusive to which groups decades ago. Science is not perfect, and governments know that you sometimes have to sacrifice your own in a war of attrition. The Tuskegee Experiment showed that our government has no problem using sexually transmitted diseases to kill off African Americans. Why wouldn’t they, or some other First World country do it now . Basic war strategy is to identify a weakness in the enemy and exploit it. In this case, I guess my weakness is my CCR5 receptor cells.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Mended Fence… More than an Apology

Of my many jobs throughout my life, I still trip on my first job “on the books”. I worked as a carpenter and roof repairman in a summer youth employment program. Yes, back in the “old days”, summer youth workers didn’t file and make photocopies... we worked. I spent many a day in 90+ degree heat on hot tar roofs trying to earn my $2.65/hr. thinking, “I don’t know what I’m going to do for a living, but however long I have to stay in school I’m gonna make sure it’s inside”. I didn’t like the roofing part (fear of heights), but I did like the carpentry part. I like building and fixing things, and mending porches, doorways and fences was right up my alley.

I always thought the phrase “mending fences” was an interesting way to look at people fixing a relationship. I looked at it from a couple of ways. One way I looked at it was a fence being different parts with different purposes that have to come together for a reason that is bigger than the any of the parts themselves. In freshman psychology class we learned that was Gestalt theory: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. So the people involved realize that they are better together than they are apart, and focus on the good rather than the bad. Another way I looked at it was the process of working on a fence together. People can often work out their issues when they focus on a mutual interest rather than on the relationship. Then the conversation can ease into and out of their issues as they feel comfortable talking about it, but as long as the fence is being mended they feel something is being accomplished, and they don’t feel the pressure of the focus being about them.

There were a couple more ways I saw it, but as I thought about them, my mind got to the point where I was preoccupied with the damage to the fence, and does mending the fence sometime gloss over the damage done. So much of mending fences comes down to one or more of the parties involved apologizing for something they said. Once the apology is given and accepted, things move on. But it is often the case that an apology is not enough. Looking at the fence as an example, if someone drove a nail in a fence in a place that it didn’t belong, it would damage the stability of the wood. You could pull the nail out, but it will still leave a whole. You can paint over the nail hole and it will look like new, but the damage to the wood still exists underneath. After a time, the stability of the fence as a whole may be weakened by that point in the fence, and may break down the line despite the fact that “things look fine”.

And so it is with hurtful words and the apologies that are given to correct them. Every time you hurt someone, it’s like driving a nail through wood. The apology then becomes like pulling the nail out; while the action to apologize/pull the nail is done with an honest effort, there is still a hole left behind. The person receiving the apology can choose to put a new coat of paint on the hole, and they may function as strong as a freshly painted, freshly mended fence. But deep inside, whether they ever show the effects or not, the damage is there. Many people look at relationships they have with people that have overcome rocky times, and they are happy about it. But for some reason it seems like despite the fact that the other person says everything is alright, they “have changed”. The truth is, they didn’t change, they “were changed”, by the nail that was driven into them.

So how do you really mend the fence? For an actual fence, there is always wood filler. If you fill the hole in with this simulated wood product, it returns the original integrity to it. Sometimes it even becomes stronger than the actual wood around it. In the absence of the wood filler, the hole can fill up with water, insects, or some other thing that will begin to hurt the good wood around the hole. When someone experiences hurtful words: false accusations; unfair or untrue characterizations; constant negativity, disrespect, or degradation; etc.; they are weakened by them… just as the nail weakens the wood. Sometimes, even after an apology, the hole becomes filled with anger, or insecurity, or sadness, or an uncaring attitude, or sometime just an empty feeling. What began as a small thing can eventually affect other non-related qualities of the person, and even their spiritual strength and health. So the hole must be filled with what was taken away by the nail. If you falsely accuse someone of lying, you need to compliment their honesty. If they were hurt by being told they can’t do something, they need to be reassured that you have confidence in what they can do. If you tell a child they are ugly, you need to repeatedly tell them they have a special kind of beauty. The bottom line is, you need to fill the hole. And what if there is not damage left after the initial apology? Actually, that is usually the case. Usually, there is no further need to address the situation. But then again, you can’t go wrong reinforcing something good… as long as it’s attention and not overkill.

Fixing the damage to the fence helps the carpenter as well as the fence. Isn’t it good to know that you care enough to make sure you don’t leave a damaged situation behind. Guilt over doing someone wrong is a tough thing to deal with, but not nearly as harmful long-term as an attitude that “what’s done is done”… or “oh well...” or “deal with it”. When your mind and heart become as calloused as a carpenters hands, it makes it just as hard to show gentleness… or to have that gentleness accepted when you do show it. You should always apologize when you’ve wronged someone, but when possible you should also make “amends”. It is good for both parties. And if the person isn’t ready to accept the apology, give it time and come back again (the key is not ready to accept vs. not willing to accept). Sometimes wood filler works better after the wood dries out a little.

I’m into chain link fences now, so it’s a lot harder for me to damage them. But while I may deal with different people, people are still the same. When damaged, they still need mending. But I also know that the best way to avoid having to mend a fence is to watch what nails I use and where I place them. As for people, the best way to avoid having to mend them is to watch what words I use and how I say them. Old ones or new ones, you can’t go wrong mending fences.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Piece O' Man

“Don’t nobody want no old ‘piece o’ man’.” That’s something the older women in my family, and other older women used to say when I was a kid. Of course, when you’re five or six years old you don’t have much to say, so you just listen. I remember one time at that age, hearing them talk about men so badly that I began to cry. I never wanted to be like those people they talked about, but I didn’t think I had a choice since I knew I had be a man someday (…and yes, there will be a post someday about the negative things little boys hear around women that speak their future manhood issues into existence). Thank God my mother had a different perspective of men, and it was her view of what kind of man I would be that I tried to grow into. She thought I did an incredible job… I think I did alright… I’m definitely a piece o’ work.

I’ve heard other things that reminded me of the piece o’ man thing over the years. I had a secretary whose grandmother told her she really didn’t want to marry her grandfather but couldn’t find another man, and “half a loaf is better than none”. Her grandmother said that for the rest of her life she had what she asked for, because he was never better than half a loaf. When my mother told my grandmother that she was marrying my father, grandma asked her, “did you ask the Lord for a husband?” When my mother replied, “no ma’am”, grandma said, “well you’re not gettin’ one, you’re just marryin’ a man.” They definitely didn’t have the greatest relationship in the world. I’m glad my father had a better relationship with my step-mother.

My original social networking hangout was Black Planet back in the day. I found an interesting pattern to the pages of some of the sisters who wrote me. They let me know in no uncertain terms that:

  1. The were strong
  2. They were totally independent
  3. They made their own money
  4. They had there own house/apartment
  5. They paid there own bills
  6. They didn’t need a daddy for their children (if they had any)
  7. They paid their own way when they wanted to do something
  8. The had their sh*t together.
  9. They didn’t need a man, because there is nothing a man can do for them that they weren’t already doing for themselves.

Then they went onto say they were just looking for that missing piece… that special someone to share their time with. I’ve been looked at as that missing piece in the past, and it wasn’t the best spot to be in. I’ve had my clothing style, my career path, my spiritual journey, and other highly personal things mapped out for me by sisters who barely knew me in an effort to make me into the person they thought I could be. When I didn’t think the changes made sense and/or were beneficial, I was being ungrateful for the love and effort they put toward making me a better person. When I suggested some changes they could make as well, I was accused of being threatened by a strong/successful woman, or not loving/accepting them for who they were. Anyway, how dare I not want to conform to their image of what they thought I should be; I was lucky they were dating my old, short, skinny, broke a$$ anyway. And besides… (see #9 above).

It seems just a little contradictory to look for a “complete man”, and then relegate him to the status of a “missing piece” (while looking down on a piece o’ man for being incomplete). Maybe a missing half if you look at it technically, or missing whole if you look at it scripturally, but not a missing piece. My belief: in a relationship you have to leave room for growth together as well as separately. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving up or ignoring what you have, or what you’ve achieved, but it does mean that you have to be open to compromise (both of you give up something until you reach a point where you can be both self-reliant and interdependent). Iron and carbon combine to make steel, which is significantly stronger than the other two alone. But it takes a lot of heat to convert them, and afterward neither the iron nor the carbon will ever again be what it used to be . So it is with relationships. Once you’re married, you can never be unmarried again. You are separated, widowed, divorced, or re-married… altered states of marriage. You can be as strong as steel, but you first have to be willing to change…. and then be willing to stand the heat.

Partner connotes equal, piece connotes lesser; if you don’t order what you really want from the menu it will leave a bad taste in your mouth. If you’re willing to compromise who you are with someone who is willing to compromise who they are so that two (wholes) can become one (whole), go for it… God will bless your effort. But hey, if you’re complete as is, and you just want that missing piece to go to movies with, have sex with, attend concerts with, eat dinner with, or any other recreational activity, but don’t want to deal with any growth/sacrifice/compromise, then it shouldn’t matter whether you do those things with just one man or rotate ten men… in fact, all you’ll really need is a piece o’ man.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Relay Race - Race

As an old Hempstead High School alum, I have a great respect for track and field events. For the last 30 years, my alma mater has had nationally ranked track stars. So… what was the secret? Is it in the food? No... Is it in the water? No… Is it that good Long Island air coming off the Atlantic Ocean? No... It’s the building itself. Hempstead high school has three buildings and plenty of stairs. Just going to class builds strong leg muscles on even the laziest kids. A special secret is our ability to train indoors in the winter time. The oval shape of “A” building allows students to run on all three floors like running around a three-tiered track. And for basic training… we just did the stairs. With year-round training, our track team always had great camaraderie. So it was a logical progression that we specialized in relay race events. Anyway, I never did join the track team because I was born velocity challenged, but I did learn a lot from watching the training and the meets.

As I like studying about greats of the past, I found myself reading about one of the greatest track events ever held. It was an amazing race because the rules for the race weren’t actually established before the race began. Just watching how the race unfolded gave me great insight into how people interact in the real world. The members of the visiting track team ran into problems right away. One of the runners hurt his foot and never made the trip. Because the bus was old and run-down, another runner got car sick and couldn’t compete. When they reached the event site, the remaining runners found that they had to compete at alternate event sites, so they could not all compete together. Then things got interesting…

The remaining group of runners was told that their race would be a relay race, and rather than the winner being the team that finished a designated number of laps in the shortest time, it would be the team that completed the most laps in a designated time. Also, each team would be required to hand-off the baton every 40 seconds. The first two opponents lined up, and got ready to run. Then the judges came out and told the visiting runner that he had to run with a ball-and-chain on his leg. Flabbergasted and confused, but ever the competitor, he lined up ready to give it his best effort. And… they were off!!!

Both athletes did their best, but the ball-and-chain made it not just impossible to keep up… it made it painful to try. After forty seconds, the racers made their first handoffs to the next runners, with the new runner for the visiting team also pulling a ball-and-chain. After about three minutes of exchanges, the host team had a sizable lead and some of the judges began to question the rules. After debating the rules and seeing the need for a change based on the problems of the ball-and-chained runners, the race was stopped at the 4:07 mark. The ball-and-chains were cut off, and the racers were restarted from the spots where they were stopped.

With the ball-and-chain gone, the visiting runner began to make up ground quickly. Having worked so hard with the weight on his leg enabled him to move that much more quickly with the weight off of him. The judges, all coaches for the host team, quickly halted the race after only 31 seconds. It was decided that the first change was too drastic, so the visiting runners could continue without the ball-and-chain but they could only run in the outside lane. Again the contestants began running. Running in the outside lane, the visiting runners stayed even on the straight-aways, but continued to lose ground on the curves. During this segment of the race the judges were still conferring. After another minute (actually 58 seconds), the race was stopped again. The judges accepted that they had overly favored the host team and told the visiting team they could again run on whatever part of the track they wanted to. Ten seconds after the runners began running again, the judges decided they needed to give the visiting team a chance to make up for the problems resulting from the previous rules. So they gave skates to the visiting team and started them off again. The next scheduled baton pass came not long after this, and the new runners gave it everything they had, with the host runner running normally and the visiting runner on skates.

Looking at his competition flying around the track, the runner for the host team ran to the judges’ booth after just 14 seconds. He told them it wasn’t fair that he had to run in sneakers while his opponent used skates. Some of the judges explained that it was to make up for the unfair advantage that his team had in the beginning of the race. But the host runner didn’t care because he wasn’t running then. He only wanted a fair race now, while he carried the baton. Some of the judges agreed, while others still differed. While the debate continued, both teams stood on the track and waited.

This race may seem crazy… and that’s because it is. This relay race has been run for several hundred years in America. While this story is a representation of what has actually happened, everything is it actually happened. If you let your mind allow seconds to become years, it will become much easier to connect this relay race with our beloved “rat race” of life in America. The visiting runners are the Africans who were brought here as slaves, and the host team are the colonists that brought them here. The runner who was hurt and didn’t make the trip was the African who was killed during the slave hunt. The runner who got sick during the trip was the African who died along the middle passage. The runners who were sent to participate at other sites were the Africans who were sent off to Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands. The forty second intervals between runners were the forty years of each generation. Now we have a framework through which to see “the race-race.”

While Blacks and Whites had lived as both free men and indentured servants in American going back to the beginning of the fifteen hundreds, the arrival of the first slave ship at Jamestown in 1618 represented the beginning of slavery as a generational institution. The 4:07, or 240 seconds, that the visiting runners ran with a ball-and-chain on their legs represents the 240 years that slavery existed before the Thirteenth Amendment ended “race-based” slavery in 1865 (the “end of slavery” issue is a story for another day). The 31 seconds after the ball-and-chain period represents Reconstruction. This period ended for the runners when the visiting team was required to run in the outside lane. Like the Supreme Court decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896, it was done with the belief that you could be Separate But Equal. But the way the rules were introduced in both situations was such that separate was inherently unequal. Thus after 58 seconds race time, or 58 years historically through the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruling in 1954, separate but equal was abolished. Ten seconds/years later, the Civil rights Act of 1964 was introduced, and socio-economic skates were given to African Americans in the form of Affirmative Action laws. This lasted only another 14 seconds/years before a host team runner named Allan Bakke filed his suit with the Supreme Court on the basis of “reverse discrimination”.

This is not a pro or anti Affirmative Action piece, because I have pros and cons of my own on the issue… too many to discuss at this point. But like I said, I know track, and I know how to survive in our rat race of American life. I understand the concept of fair play, hard work, and living by the rules. I also know enough about American history to know that whether you divide your demographics by race, religion, gender, age, indigenous, immigrant, or enslaved, Americans have always worked hard as individuals, groups, and as a whole. Still, while the time frames between acts and actions, and the ability or inability to benefit from the systems of rules and laws in the United States for the past four hundred years can be debated, one comparison stands out: 240 years with a ball-and-chain vs.14 years with skates. Now that the baton is in our hands, we really need to decide what is fair and get “the judges” to move on it. But in the meantime, we need to run our own individual races… and run it like we respect and appreciate the people who had to run with a ball-and-chain on their legs for 240 years, and in the outside lane for 58 years. They ran with those impediments so we wouldn’t have to, which makes them winners in my book.