Friday, July 31, 2009

My How Time Flies

In a matter of weeks it will be time - for school!

I know.

I don't mean to throw a damper on the last few days of carefree summer relaxation. But for parents with school age children, no date seems to be far enough away to not sneak upon them. And besides, whether school starts in mid-August or September, education demands are such that school never seems to end anyway. Summer reading assignments, summer school and all manner of prep courses and camps seem to interfere with summer fun. But that's the world we live in now and of course those who fail to adjust to the new reality get left behind. The danger of going back to school having 'forgotten' where you left off has consequences far beyond having homework the first day of class.

This is why programs that help keep young people in 'learning mode' are growing increasingly more important. We try and do that at Central Dallas Ministries with our University of Values Summer Program. But there are others who have ingenious programs which try to make sure that kids don't 'forget' school on summer vacation.

Here's an example of one of those programs.

The challenge of making sure that kids don't fall behind means that adults have to start planning even earlier for vacation - or is vacation even the right word anymore?!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

What if it's not Just Race?

There is indeed another side to the Gates arrest issue (is this an official cultural event now? Do we call it 'Gates-gate'?!). And it can cut against what has become the popular take on the incident.

Suppose, just suppose, the predominant factor in the whole episode isn't race. What if it is something that is much more subtle in the national political and social fabric. What if this is more a matter of class than race?

William Julius Wilson, Harvard sociologist and another member of their academic 'Dream Team', has written two books (one of which will be reviewed in Central Dallas Ministries' Urban Engagement Book Club next month): an earlier work entitled, 'The Declining Significance of Race' and the more recently released 'More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City'. Wilson posits that in the latter part of the 20th century into the 21st century, class issues are much more pertinent than race.

Take for instance this brief passage from Dr. Wilson's earlier work, " I examine the historical stages of race relations in the United States, I find that the patterns of black/white interaction do not consistently and sometimes not conveniently conform to the propositions outlined in these explanations of racial antagonism. In some cases, the orthodox Marxian explanation seems more appropriate; in other instances the split labor-market theory seems more appropriate; and in others, neither theory can, in isolation, adequately explain black-white conflict."

Could it be that given our country's rush-to-cover/rush-to-judgement take on complex issues that in the Gates' affair, we've latched onto the easiest and oldest source of conflict, without recognizing the extent to which things have changed in our nation?

In 'More Than Just Race', Wilson states his goal as, 'reexamining the way social scientists discuss two very important factors associated with racial inequality: social structures and culture'. By social structures, he refers to, '...the way social positions, social roles, and networks of social relationships are arranged in our institutions, such as the economy, polity, education, and organization of the family. A social structure could be a labor market that offers financial incentives and threatens financial punishments to compel individuals to work, or it could be a "role', associated with a particular social position in an organization such as a church, family, or university...that carries certain power, privilege and influence external to the individuals who occupy that role.'

"Culture", he goes on to say, "on the other hand, refers to the sharing of outlooks and modes of behavior among individuals who face similar place-based circumstances (such as poor segregated neighborhoods) or have the same social networks (as when members of particular racial or ethnic groups share a particular way of understanding social life and cultural scripts that guide their behavior). Therefore, when individuals act according to their culture, the are following inclinations developed from their exposure to the particular traditions, practices, and beliefs among those who live and interact in the same physical and social environment."

William Julius Wilson, has consistently made this argument that (at risk of oversimplification), class trumps race in our society. While I don't totally buy into, it is a prism through which one could look and interpret the whole episode of Skip Gates' arrest: a cop, responding to a report of a break in at a home only to find the resident there. Perhaps the officer is tired, maybe its nearing the end of his shift - perhaps he's given to being particularly brusque in fulfilling his duty (like a doctor without bedside manners). A Harvard professor, unaware of the report, returning from a long trip from China, filming a PBS special no less - confronted by a cop who, from his (Gates') perspective unceremoniously demands to see evidence that he is the homeowner and who, when asked to do the same in turn grows even more discourteous. Two men acting, at least as much out of their 'social structures' and 'culture', mixed with race, male ego, class pride and an imperiousness borne out of their respective roles.

The problem is not with the two men. One word different on either side - someone, either one - deciding to say something they didn't say or not say something they said, and the whole incident becomes a non-incident. But eventually the world watches and with a 24 hour news cycle and simplistic knee jerk analysis we all forget that we live in a much more complex world - even when it comes to individuals and race relations than we did even twenty years ago.

There are plenty of African-Americans who believe that this has nothing to do with race. Perhaps they and others who believe the same way are right. There are some, like me, who think its at least naive, at most dangerous to be dismissive of race as a factor. But perhaps there is a third, more helpful way to view this: two human beings whose altercation can be overblown in one sense, and which speaks volumes about an issue that looms on our immediate horizon that can be much more dangerous than race in another sense.

Class is becoming a much more real issue than I think we realize and if class is at play in this incident, then it should be discussed in a substantive way - or we can all find ourselves in very serious trouble.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Juvenile Profiling?

Sherrilyn Iffill, in a compelling call for us to put the unwarranted arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates in some perspective she provides us with an chilling account of a recent Baltimore, Maryland incident...

"Ironically, in the same week that the media has devoted so much attention to the unwarranted arrest of Gates in his home, three boys -- two black and one white, ages 7, 9 and 11 -- were handcuffed and arrested at their homes in Baltimore for stealing a scooter and a wagon from their neighbor’s yard."

"The neighbor chased the 7-year-old to his home and called the police. The boy’s mother was present when the police arrived and clearly did not condone her son’s actions. “Let’s talk to my son,” she reportedly asked. “I don’t have time. I’m locking him up,” the police officer reportedly responded. The second-grader was questioned and tearfully identified the other youths who attempted to steal the wagon with him. The police handcuffed all three boys and took them to a juvenile detention center."

"Each boy, accused of attempting to steal a scooter and a wagon from a neighbor’s yard, will return to elementary school in the fall with an arrest record. These are the stories I hope will constitute the center of Gates televised examination of race and criminal justice system."

Teaching the young boys a lesson? Overreacting to boyish pranks? Juvenile profiling? Or just being 'tough on crime'?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Looking Below the Surface

Think the sub-prime mortgage meltdown is something 'new'?

Generally, our current crisis is compared to the Great Depression, but there is a more recent and more related corollary in what is called 'contract mortgages'. I learned about this over the past couple of weeks, watching Beryl Satter, a professor at Rutgers University, author of the book, "Family Properties: Race, Real Estate and the Exploitation of Black America". Dr. Satter's father Mark was a Chicago attorney who fought against the practice of white real estate entrepreneurs 'invested' in purchasing properties in transitioning communities buying them at low prices and selling them 'on contract' to African-Americans at exorbitant prices while holding the title. The new homeowners were responsible for maintenance and insurance, for the most part, just barely able to afford the inflated mortgage costs, most often unable to afford maintenance costs or insurance. In the meantime, the person holding the contract, could sell the paper to another investor, thereby making a profit.

Think urban sharecropping (you can see a longer version of another presentation here)...

[Beryl] Satter's story is incredibly interesting. It is, indeed, a story of greed, individual and institutional racism, but neither the villains or victims are as sharply defined. White homeowners who fled deteriorating neighborhoods, were not, in many cases, fleeing because they didn't want to live next to black people - they had the resources to escape plummeting home values. Blacks who were unable to keep up their properties, were not, in many cases, lazy, or lacking pride in their homes, they were being charged as much as three times the actual value of the house, being led to believe that they would one day actually 'own' the home. Speculators, financial institutions and even the federal government, were actually more culpable than many of the people the general public list as 'the cause' for urban blight.

Our attitudes toward low income neighborhoods are often shaped by personal experiences, personal encounters, observations from long distances, prejudices and bias that all too often never go deep enough into the issues at the root of the phenomenon. There are those who are quick to point out the need for personal responsibility, in order to avoid being 'blamed' or in an effort to search for a way to avoid addressing these problems with public policy that transgresses their ideology. Even those who believe that government intervention alone will solve the problem, dismiss the fact that systemic factors that make life enjoyable for some, can make it possible to exploit the hopes and dreams of others.

Or have we already forgotten September 2008?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Let's Spread the Joy!

Preachers are sometimes accused of being notorious plagerists. Heaven forbid! We just happen to have a calling in which being authentic means that we never say anything which hasn't been said before!

On this post, however, let me admit my lack of originality - especially to those of you who read Central Dallas Ministries' president and CEO, Larry James' blog. It's just too good not to share...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Arthur Ashe
1943 - 1993

Tennis Professional

U.S. Open Winner (1968), Wimbledon Men's Champion (1975), Activist

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Be It Ever So Humble...

There are some controversies I've decided to stay away from for the time being - Michael Jackson, for instance (way too complex and way too much coverage for the time being). And I was going to put Harvard University's Henry Gates imbroglio in the same category, but let's just say I can't help it...

There is a since in which its hard for me to describe the whole incident as sad.

In the first place, Gates' arrest is in his own home. Now, don't get me wrong, people are arrested at home everyday - usually because they are suspected of a crime, and most often a warrant of some sort is involved. Dr. Gates' arrest doesn't even involve the crime that the police were investigating - he was arrested for 'disorderly conduct' because he was evidently incensed that the police officer followed him into his house, was provided information that proved that he was the owner of the house and the investigating officer would not provide Dr. Gates' with his identification. I have a hard time imagining anyone not getting irate at this point. Gates' at that time 'plays the race card'. And I can't blame him.

Don't get me wrong. I don't know that I would have handled the situation the way that Professor Gates did. But, then again, I'm not a wealthy, celebrated Harvard professor, either. I don't have a long list of accomplishments that would lead me to think that, standing in my own house and having proved as much, that my veracity would be questioned to the point that an officer of the law wouldn't, out of sheer professionalism, identify himself.

Gates' reaction is the reaction of someone who has discovered the humiliating suspicion/confirmation that there is nothing one can do, no professional, academic, or otherwise honest noteworthy attainment that one can have that would keep one from being treated from being treated with respect.

I think, also, that Dr. Gates' was surprised by the 'non-academic' nature of his circumstances - no longer was 'driving while black' an abstract. He wasn't driving a 'nice care', nor was he cruising through a 'nice neighborhood', he was in his own home! There is also this sense in which you realize that the vulnerability that everyone African-American male feels when a police car drives up too close behind you, or doesn't take off along side you fast enough, or stares too long at you on the street or in a convenience store is something you cannot afford to feel as if you can ever transcend. It is, if you will, a 'Spidey-sense' with which you must always live for your own protection.

This is what a number of white people still don't get: the experience of African-Americans with police (and actually authority figures in general), is different than that of white Americans. For the most part, white Americans can feel 'comforted' and protected by the presence of law enforcement officials. African-Americans, while dependent upon law enforcement for the protection of life and property, know of history - in not personal experience - where law enforcement has victimized them, exploited them, arrested, falsely and yes, done violence, executed and even murdered them with impunity. There are people who can still remember family members who have been the victims of police brutality. When Skip Gates, Harvard professor and a celebrated member of what was at one time called Harvard's 'Dream Team' (African-American Harvard professors, widely recognized and highly sought after because of their intellect and insight), becomes one who - even if in his own mind - has to undergo such humiliation then who really is 'safe'?

Because we are over our shock, we are now begin to hear the other voices - Officer Crowley excellent record, he taught a diversity class for police officers, his sterling reputation. And there is no reason to doubt any of this. But Henry Louis Gates' record is also 'sterling': a prolific author, a highly respected scholar, nationally and internationally, a PBS contributor on subjects ranging from history and genealogy, to sociology, and a tenured Harvard professor. How is it that his perspective can be any less credible at any point than the officer's? And if Officer Crowley was 'just doing his job'? What was Gates' doing - in his own home?! Why isn't Henry Louis Gates, in his own home just as credible as Officer Crowley's 'just doing his job?'

There is one other thing. Think of the message that this relays to the young African-American boys and girls who watch this (because they are watching!). Because we tell them that they have to 'stay out of trouble'; 'get a good education'; 'get a good job'; 'make a contribution', 'give back to society'. Do we add the caveat now, 'But always watch over your shoulder because you could be doing nothing at all and be arrested - even in your own home'?

We are sending so many mixed messages to the black children and youth whom we consider to be a problem. Those who have a problem with President Obama's politics and policies, cannot argue against them on their merits - the personalization says, again, that there are no heights that can be attained that keeps blackness from being an unforgivable sin. You can be president of the Harvard Law Review, a constitutional law professor, a politician who rises to the highest office in the land and have not only your patriotism, but even your citizenship questioned! Even if succeed, there must be something dark, sinister and alien about you. And so the admonition of whites for blacks to be 'responsible' gets to be seen, not as compassion and caring, but a desire for African-Americans to become less threatening and less scary.

But in the case of Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates - no less vulnerable. Even in his own home.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Helpful, Inspirational Television - No, Really!

Couple of things...

KERA the local PBS affiliate has an laudable and excellent effort going on to help people deal with the recession. Its called 'KERA the Economy'. This initiative is designed to arm viewers with information and possible solutions in grappling with facing home foreclosure, job loss, health care issues and other challenges resulting from the current downturn in the economy.

I caught what I believe to have been the first installment of the series recently entitled 'Facing the Mortgage Crisis' and it was incredibly good. The story of Jesus and Milagro Irizarry who faced loss of their home by sale at auction, is a poignant, cautionary tale for those who have fallen behind on their mortgage through job loss, health care issues, or inflated mortgage payments, to seek help and to do it quickly!

There was also a very helpful segment on dealing with unemployment. There were practical suggestions from dealing with everything from the need to file for unemployment insurance immediately, to seeking counseling for the emotional impact of losing your job during a recession.
Great work KERA! It's really worth checking out.

Speaking of television...

The word I heard most often associate with CNN's Black In America 2 is 'inspirational'. While last year's 'Black In America' focused almost too much on the problems and pathologies of the African-American community, this season Soledad O'Brien shows much more of the promise of efforts that are transforming lives. Such as Capitol High School in Hartford, Connecticut where every child that graduates goes on to a four year college.

Nothing short of inspirational, and again, worth checking out!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And The Winner Is!

There obviously is a race going on that I knew nothing about: the race to marginalization and irrelevance!

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Respect and Frying Bigger Fish

I'd like to invite you to check out my column in today's Dallas Morning News. It's about how Dallas struggles to recognize the contributions of African-Americans and Hispanics with street name changes.

Now admittedly, this is pretty low grade stuff when it comes to the fight for justice and equal rights. I don't know of any one group of people for whom such an honor can said to be 'owed'. But as a society we do it because of the significance we attribute to the lives, the history and heritage of peoples and individuals. Dallas struggles with that.

We have gone through a protracted debate on whether or not to name a street for migrant worker rights activist Cesar Chavez. To me that's amazing! You would think that the city would come to a screeching halt if a major street were named for a Hispanic historic figure. I could understand controversy if we were talking about Che' Guevara - but this is Cesar Chavez, for goodness sake.

If you don't live in Dallas, we have a streets named for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. They actually cross one another (I have heard that this is true only in Dallas and Harlem. I'd appreciate it if someone would correct that if its wrong...). These two streets are in predominantly black South Dallas. But why couldn't Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard be downtown? Why is it that the collective, prevailing wisdom is that only minorities can identify with the contributions of minorities? In the case of King's contributions, his fight and victory in helping to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn't guarantee citizenship rights solely for African-Americans. We all benefit from his work, so why do we think relegating recognition of historic figures to communities of color and ethnicity is 'fair'?

Again, this is low grade issue, relatively speaking. If you want to argue that there are bigger fish to fry, I would agree with you. But there are two things that are important here:

1) This is a matter of respect. It is saying to the citizens of a city that our history and heritage includes you. It is an effort to move beyond stereotype and acknowledge the contributions of peoples who make up a significant portion of the populace as a benefit to the city, if not the society at large. Public thoroughfares, buildings and public spaces should be areas with which all people should either identify, or which should educate and enlighten the citizenry by teaching them that the our growth, our prosperity, our commitment to equality, justice and fairness is the result of the work of many people from across a broad spectrum.

2) Things like this only become an issue when met with resistance and rejection. The 'poll' or whatever you want to call it, that elicited suggestions from Dallasites as to what to rename Industrial Boulevard, resulted in an overwhelming number of 'votes' for Cesar Chavez. Instead of the city leaders acknowledging this and simply saying this is the results we got, let's go with it - they began to issue statements that questioned who called in (whether or not all of the suggestions came from the Hispanic community); whether or not this was 'appropriate' for the intended use of the area (a 'riverfront' type space associate with development along the Trinity River); and that the process wasn't intended to be a 'real' poll. Does any of that really matter?!

And is it worth having the issue come up again and again? And at the end of the day, is there someone whose property values will plummet or will the city get a black eye because it named a downtown street for 'Cesar Chavez'? Again, amazing!

Neither the Hispanic community, nor supporters of the effort made this a big deal. The city of Dallas did, by not swallowing the results of the poll (or whatever you want to call it) and simply saying, based on a popular vote, we'll name the street Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Some people would have whined. Some would complain. African-Americans would have asked for a downtown street (at which point you could have chosen another street named for an inanimate object - like Live Oak, or Wood) and the issue would have been a dead one. Amazing...

By the way, there was one issue that has been settled.

Adelfa Callejo, a local Hispanic activist and attorney was honored by the Dallas Independent School District by having a school named after her. It was a controversial decision. Ms. Callejo made a comment during last year's presidential election that Barack Obama would not be supported by Hispanics because he is black. Now, as I've written before, Ms. Callejo can be tough to deal with. She is fiercely pro-Hispanic. She probably believes what she said and she hasn't apologized. But I believe that she has had a broader record than that statement. And, besides, during that heated presidential primary and election season there were any number of statements that were made that had to be forgiven (anybody remember Bill Clinton?! His wife ran for president - anybody remember the Democratic Primary season last year?!). Personally I can look past the slight and move on. I think given her career overall she deserves the recognition.

I did imply that Kathlyn Gilliam, who was the longest serving African-American school board member (nearly 20 years) and has a inspiring record of fighting for equality for DISD students, administrators, teachers and parents, deserved similar recognition.
Nancy Bingham, a current school board trustee, wrote to inform me that last month, Ms. Gilliam was indeed honored with having a school named after her.

This is one time I'm glad to be wrong...

Now, if only Dallas can get the rest of this right and we can go on and fry the bigger fish!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CNN Presents Black in America 2

Last year, CNN's Soledad O'Brien brought a rather intimate and important look at the promise and the problems of African-Americans in the news series, 'Black in America'.

This year she brings us 'Black in America 2', (July 22-23, 7pm Central) which explores the subject further in light of America's first African-American president.

There are those who saw Barack Obama's election as the closing chapter on race relations in this country. 'Post-racial' was a phrase that was thrown around frequently - as if wishing would make it so. The fact is, seven months into the term of the nations first black president, he has no more been able to solve the racial problem than he has been able to solve the economic crisis. Why? Because the roots of both run deep and tap the bedrock of the soul of our country.

The effects of the racial bigotry are not just social, the are systemic, as Thomas Shapiro, author of the books, "Black Wealth/White Wealth" and "The Hidden Cost of Being African-American," points out.

"Closing the racial wealth gap needs to be at the forefront of efforts to achieve economic opportunity in the 21st century."

"Without sufficient assets, it is difficult to lay claim to economic security or true opportunity in American society."

"Fifteen years ago, my work with Melvin Oliver identified the racial wealth gap as a fundamental axis of racial inequality, finding that African-Americans owned eight cents of wealth for every dollar owned by whites."

"The good news is that the wealth (median net worth) of non-whites increased $6,600 per person from 1998 to 2007. The bad news is that the racial wealth gap is widening."

"The latest Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) data indicates that a much wider breach has opened up in racial wealth inequality from the mid-1990s to now. This pattern reflects a firmly embedded racial stratification."

"In 1998, the net worth of white households on average was $100,700 higher than that of African-Americans. By 2007, this gap had increased to $142,600. The SCF survey, which is supported by the Federal Reserve Board, collects this data every three years -- and every time it has been collected, the racial wealth gap has widened."

"In short: non-white wealth grew slowly and incrementally while wealth in white families grew 40 percent. Why such a huge gap (read the rest of his commentary here)?"

Such a gap is not just a matter of 'the poor being with you always'. There are systemic economic inequities when whole classes of people cannot catch up for generations. And addressing such inequities call for acknowledgement of them and intentionally correcting them.

Race is the inconvenient and uncomfortable conversation to be had in this country. Ms. O'Brien's series and President Obama's election aside, post-racial America remains an unfulfilled dream unless we are willing to correct the damage done by 'racial' America.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Marking the Passing of an Era

Two very significant observations from over the weekend and carrying on into today.

First the passing of Walter Cronkite (1916 -2009). I grew up watching this man masterfully relay the news of the day from behind his desk and with his authoritative voice talk bring the most important events of the world into our living room. Of course it was only as I got older that I really began to understand the breadth of his contributions and influence - and to be honest, its hard to understand any journalist today having that kind of influence, not to mention national respect. His integrity was so well regarded, some of you may have read or remember, that when Cronkite opined that the Viet Nam War was a mistake, Lyndon Johnson said, 'If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost middle America.' No one says that about even Rush Limbaugh (sorry, couldn't help it...)!

Walter Cronkite's passing, sets up the other commemorative observation: man's first walk on the moon.

Cronkite had a boyish and almost infectious enthusiasm when it came to America's space program. And even though I didn't understand it all (I just couldn't make heads nor tails out of the staticy communication between command control and the astronauts), Walter Cronkite made it all seem important. And it was.
I was 12 years old when Neil Armstrong uttered the words 'One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind' from the lunar surface. I remember talking about it with my friends and one thing that comes to mind is that we really couldn't relate to it. In our minds, black people weren't involved and it wasn't something we believed black people would ever be a part of. We mimicked (mind you, it was 12 - 14 year olds talking), what we heard from our parents - that there were other things that money could have been spent on and more pressing work to be done by the government. In fact, my grandfather, who was 72 at the time, steadfastly refused to believe that men landed on the moon!

For the record, I've come to see it as one of the most stunning achievements in the history of mankind. It is absolutely startling to me to think that I have a more technologically advanced computer as a phone, than these men had as a lunar module. When John Kennedy set this as ten year goal in 1963, there wasn't a soul on earth who knew how to accomplish it. Yet within ten years, and with the cost of precious lives it was achieved. Remarkable.

For me it stands as a historical marker that lets us know that men can achieve what they want to achieve, if we are willing to commit ourselves. We can educate ourselves and one another to accomplish phenomenal things, in the heavens and on earth. In my opinion, we've lost something by not going back and by not committing ourselves to even more manned and unmanned real space adventures. Advancements in science, technology and even international relations may have been further along if we had.

Now, nearly every 12 year old can relate. That makes it even more special!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Violence in Black Communities: The Causes and Solutions are Simply Complex

Shawn Williams and Trey Garrison have both written Viewpoints columns addressing the issue of 'black on black violence'. I appreciate both their efforts to provide perspectives on a problem that has reached crisis proportions. When Dallas Morning News' Sharon Grigsby sent me an email regarding her anguish with a recent story and statistics on violence in southern Dallas, I had to confess my challenge in coming up with solutions to the problem.

Trey's take on the matter has to do with a perspective which places the blame on the absence of black fathers in black families. Shawn approaches this scourge from the point of view that the black community must acknowledge the problem and have the courageous determination to deal with it, individually and organizationally. Both have valid points. But both adherents to both perspectives must take into account larger issues that contribute to a culture and a pathology so pervasive that it frustrates any work to help these communities achieve health.

To Trey's point, for instance, families can be significantly healthier when the father and mother are present in the home. But mere male presence isn't the cure all to self destructive or other destructive behavior. Trey isn't saying this, but it has to be realized that a great contribution to the violence that we see in our urban communities isn't due to the fact that the father is missing. Statistics aside, the father in that family has to be a healthy and helpful presence. Working, emotionally mature and available, loving the wife, children AND himself. I wish I could tell you how often I found that not to be the case in two parent families. The result: children, not just boys, who were in someways expressing anger and resentment. This is not a black phenomenon, but it is a problem that is exacerbated when poverty and the frustrations and failures associated with it are daily facts of life.

The other reality that Trey's solution doesn't take into account is the phenomenon of grandparents and even great-grandparents, raising children. These are often female headed households and the parents of these children are either deceased or incarcerated. It is important to point out that neither death nor incarceration are always according to stereotype. These parents sometimes actually die because of the diabetes related illnesses, cancer or heart disease. We have seen, as is represented by the exonerees in Dallas County who represent 10% of the exonerated wrongfully convicted citizens in this country, that everyone in prison isn't always guilty. Aside from that, not only are African-Americans disproportionately represented in the prison population - they also are disproportionately incarcerated for non-violent crimes. So its important to point out that grand and great-grandparents are not always raising the children of drug addicts and murderers.

The women who are rearing these children are, more often than not loving disciplinarians, deeply concerned about and committed to the children in their care, but who also don't always have the energy, perspective or resources to address the needs of growing adolescents.

The other issue to which Trey attributes the problem of the absence of fathers in the home is failure of 'the welfare state'. If heard this ad infinitum ad nuaseum. We often revise history and, in the process demonize old heroes and while sanctifying old demons. The 'welfare state's' failure had more to do with LBJ's determination to fight a war on poverty and a war in Viet Nam at the same time. There was not enough money or public will to do both effectively.

To judge what 'the welfare state' did to the black family, you clear about the causes of failure from the perspective that Trey's talking about. Like the drastic cuts in domestic spending which also took their toll on welfare recipients in the Nixon - Bush I eras (as a matter of fact, a snapshot of how welfare devolved can be seen by looking at the 70's Diahann Carol/James Earl Jones classic 'Claudine'). By the time of the Reagan years and its excoriation of the mythical Cadillac driving 'welfare queen', welfare, which never paid enough for any family to live on and has never represented more than 1-2% of the federal budget, was under constant attack as a drag on the economy and social fabric of the nation, and the damage on the black family. Was there abuse and fraud in the system? Yes. Did it result in the deconstruction of the black family? Not as much as the deconstruction of the economic infrastructure of black communities where jobs moved further and further away to places where it became less and less accessible to public transportation.

Collaterally there was also redlining of black communities: a decades long period where insurance and loans for the purchases homes, home improvement and even cars were difficult, if not impossible to come by. It was not a matter of income, work history or education - it was the systematic devaluing of property in black neighborhoods that led to the flight of the black middle and even working classes, the communities they left behind ultimately drifted into concentrated poverty. The reason being that those left behind were the least educated, the most vulnerable (the youngest, the oldest, the least healthy); they were those whose incomes didn't allow them the luxury of leaving for better neighborhoods and ultimately the city (in this case Dallas) invested less and less in infrastructure, code enforcement, public safety and education. In other words all the things that make neighborhoods liveable.

All of these issues contribute to a hopelessness and despair that lead to something that is hard for most of us to understand: the point where life itself appears so pointless that it becomes nearly valueless. It is the result of the failure of a number of systems that influence the lives of most of us who are in anyway successful. It has been much more than the absence of fathers.

Take for example environment. Sharon's colleague at DMN, Tod Robberson had a post a few weeks ago in which he expressed his dismay at a group of men drinking outside drinking at 9:30 in the morning, while a group of young people were involved in a neighborhood clean up. The fact is, no one can deny that there are people in Highland Park, or Frisco who drink at 10 in the morning. They do it indoors or behind gated communities. It is unacceptable to be seen outside swilling alcohol that early. But in a neighborhood proliferated with liquor related businesses and advertisement it can be taken as a matter of course. Especially when the saturation of liquor related businesses is excused as a result of 'the market.' Well you can't have it both ways: you can't pack an area with liquor related businesses, and then say that people who purchase the merchandise and become addicted are 'irresponsible'. Addiction becomes another contributing factor to the violence in poor communities. Those alcoholics and drug addicts are, more often than we realize, the mothers and fathers of some of the children that we are labeling directly or by inference, as incorrigible. It is, 'the water they swim in', and there are few people to teach them differently.

These addictions are among the physical and mental health issues that also must be dealt with. The difference between mental health problems in south Dallas and University Park is insurance. There are few places where people who are depressed - who suffer the psychological and emotional damage from dead in lives, and life lived quite literally, in a war zone, can go for therapy. In suburban areas people see counselors and doctors, in southern Dallas they go to jail or homeless shelters, where they become either the perpetrators of or the victims of violence.

Young people have few opportunities to play organized sports, too few safe parks and recreation centers. Normal childhood skirmishes in schools, that now have 'zero tolerance' for such, lead to early introductions to the criminal justice system or child protective services, introducing these young people far too early to the very elements from which we claim to want to shield them.

My point in all of this is that we don't have a simple problem when it comes to violence. Trey has part of the answer; Shawn has still another part. But the fact is this is an issue that we all must work on. We have to have communities for all of our people that are safe and livable.

At the end of the day, both Trey and Shawn say something that is right, but which doesn't reach deep enough into the problem: we all, know what the answer(s) are. Those answers include solutions as simple fathers engaged in and supporting the lives of their children and families, organizations and institutions becoming the guardians of the communities persistently working ending the scourge of violence. But I have to insist that there are systemic solutions of public investment and engagement that must be made to address the root issue of poverty. No matter how deep I believe the roots of those problems to be, however, I agree with the fundamental premise of Trey and Shawn's respective columns, as individuals, in the affected communities and regarding the city as a whole, the things we know must be done are the things we must do, no matter how hard they are.

We cannot afford to throw our hands in the air in frustration and surrender.

We cannot delude ourselves into believing that poverty is simply a matter of personal responsibility or laziness. To do so comforts those of us who don't want to be 'bothered' with these problems. We are indeed, deluded if we actually believe that the issue of violence in poor communities can be contained. We will all feel the impact in the explosion of that violence into 'secure' communities or the societal impact of the implosion of these communities as we lose not only the lives of the victims, but the productivity of the lives of the survivors.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Excuse Free Society - Yes We Can!

"We've got to say to our children, yes, if you're African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. But that's not a reason to get bad grades ---- that's not a reason to cut class ---- that's not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands -- you cannot forget that. That's what we have to teach all of our children. No excuses. No excuses."

"You get that education, all those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete. Yes we can."

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I've been hearing about Barack Obama's speech before the NAACP's 100th Convention in New York City. I finally got a chance to hear it and I agree, it is inspiring and challenging - to all of us!

I think all too often we - all of us - don't remember that the challenges of overcoming poverty, injustice and inequality in our country is the responsibility of every American. We all have influence; we all have resources; we all have capacity. It is when we try and make ourselves the delusion of living in comfortable deniability, suggesting that we can pursue our dreams untouched and in no way benefitting from or suffering from the dark failures of our country's past, that we forgeight the greatest prospects for a brighter future.

It is interesting, that near the end of his speech, the President's call for greater personal responsibility can be heard in nearly every church in nearly every inner city community across this nation. There are teachers and coaches preaching this same message in classrooms and locker rooms across this nation saying the same thing.

Perhaps there is no greater partnership needed than that of other suburban communities to not just talk about compassion, but brotherhood. A partnership is needed in which suburban America talks about the shared future of every citizen and wealth not just for personal comfort, but to strengthen the fabric of society as a whole.

We have no excuses for doing less...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thermostats and Thermometers

The Richmond Times Dispatch is now joining the list of institutions offering apologies for past complicity in racism. The join the AMA (American Medical Association), as well as Bob Jones University in admitting that they have been guilty in perpetuating bigotry.

The RTD is confessing their role in and apologizing for supporting 'Massive Resistance' to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling.

"Massive Resistance inflicted pain then. Memories remain painful. Editorial enthusiasm for a dreadful doctrine still affects attitudes toward the newspaper. Many remember. We understand. Words have consequences. Artful paragraphs promoted ugly things. Stylish sentences salted wounds. Euphemism was profligate. As members of the Fourth Estate these pages did not keep a proper distance, either. The debate is over. It is done."

"Virginia long has prided itself on its gentility. The state's political tradition has lacked firebrands such as Gene Talmadge, Orval Faubus, George Wallace, Bull Connor, Theodore Bilbo, and James K. Vardaman. Massive Resistance shattered pretensions. Although the commonwealth's campaign to evade Brown v. Board of Education did not produce the pyrotechnics seen in other states, it was directed toward the same dead end. Pride, humanity learns ever again, is not a virtue but a sin. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

"Hubris prevailed. Those who railed against oppressions visited upon sovereign states by an allegedly imperial Washington relied on government's coercive might to deny the full humanity of their fellow citizens. Massive Resistance was neither a departure nor an exception but the extension of Jim Crow and the attitudes informing it. Segregation and its associated indignities were in retreat. Massive Resistance formed a last stand."

Obviously there is more to their apology than I understand. But all things being equal, I'm not sure I understand what the follow up to the apology will be: will the editorial position of the Dispatch be one of putting more money into the schools of predominantly low income children? Will they advocate for more experienced qualified teachers in low income schools? I'm not sure what they can do to make this wrong right. Not that the apology is not appreciated. More enlightened attitudes on history should be always welcomed. It is far more appreciated than efforts to rewrite history to fit one's comfort level.

Here is one thing I do take away from their apology, however, and that is that media can shape and reflect public mores and views. I jokingly say that I was editor of our high school newspaper for about 25 minutes (long story), but the point is even then, we were taught about 'objective' journalism. Objectivity is rare. The fact is the public record doesn't go away. It is something that will be here for a very long time. The question is not just about degrees of objectivity, its how you will look and be judged 50 years from now. Its about being on the wrong side of history.

When I was a freshman in college, the president addressed us in assembly and challenged us with something I never forgot. He said, 'There's a difference between a thermostat and a thermometer. Thermometers only reflect temperature; thermostats regulate the temperature. Its up to you, to decide what you want to be!'

In 1954 the editorial board of the Richmond Times Dispatch decided to be a thermometer; more than half a century later, another generation is embarrassed and apologetic, when it comes to that decision.

Its a choice both institutions and individuals have to make.

We're not the only ones who live with the consequences.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No One's Life is Expendable

When I became aware of the issue of exonerees last year, I was convinced initially that it was an isolated incident. As a matter of fact, the story of Charles Chatman, the first exoneree of whom I became aware, was 'white noise' for me on the newscast the day of his release.

Of course now we know that Chatman is one of 20 in Dallas county and more than 200 nationwide, who through DNA evidence or some other discovery has been found innocent. The 200 across the nation means that Texas, although it leads the nation in exonerated prisoners, is not by itself.

Sunday evening's 60 Minutes profiled yet another DNA case which helps us to know that this kind of thing happens all too often for any of us to be comfortable.

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In Illinois the latest members of this fraternity are Marvin Reeves and Ronald Kitchens, both of whom served 20 years incarcerated for a murder they didn't commit.

""It hasn't really hit me yet. It's surreal," Kitchen said after the Illinois attorney general's office dismissed charges in the allegedly drug-related 1988 murders of two women and their three children on the Southwest Side."

"Kitchen, who said he was forced to confess by an underling of disgraced former Chicago Police Detective Cmdr. Jon Burge, was originally sentenced to death, and Reeves had been been serving five life terms without parole."

""If you're getting whooped for over 39 hours and you're constantly saying that you didn't do it and they're constantly doing what they're doing, somewhere along the line you're going to realize they're not going to stop unless somebody gives in," Kitchen said."

""I gave in hoping that the judge and the jury would see that, 'Hey, he's telling the truth.' But it didn't happen that way. It took 20 years.""

"Illinois Assistant Attorney General Richard Schwind told Criminal Court Presiding Judge Paul Biebel on Tuesday that after an exhaustive review of both cases, the office determined it could not "sustain its burden of proof.""

"Officials with the attorney general's office would not comment on whether any other suspects have been identified."

Obviously there are some systemic issues involved. Addressing those issues is critical. Failure to do so involves devastating lives, disrupting families and delaying justice.

The case regarding Mr. Kitchen and Mr. Reeves, brings to light another issue with the matter of justice. DNA evidence played no role in their exoneration, and as time goes by will play less and less a role in liberating those who have been mistakenly and falsely incarcerated. As Alan Bean points out in his blog, "Unfortunately, the era of post-conviction DNA exonerations is drawing to a close. In Dallas County, for instance, most of the old DNA evidence has already been tested. Without a steady supply of exoneration stories the wrongful conviction issue will fade from public awareness."

"The only solution is for groups like Friends of Justice to intervene at the pre-conviction stage in actual cases where the building blocks of wrongful conviction are clearly on display. We can’t say the guy is innocent with absolute certainty; but we can argue persuasively that the State is gunning for a conviction in a case built on shakey eye witness testimony and circumstantial evidence."

Bills introduced in the 81st Texas Legislature meant to address the issues that lead to false identification in live and photograph line-ups, failed to become law. It will take strong public outcry, not just to right the wrongs that have already taken place, but to do all within the power of our legal system to make sure they don't happen again.

Happy endings are possible for those whose lives have been so unfairly disrupted as crime victims - and by crime victims, I mean those who have been victimized by a criminal and those who have been erroneously accused of that crime. But those happy endings would be unnecessary if we insisted on laws that eliminated as many flaws as possible from faulty eyewitness testimony and the tendency to rush to judgement.

Incarcerating the wrong person is costly. I don't know of anyone whose life should be considered disposable.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Should We Ever Learn Our Lesson

If there was ever a reason to remain vigilant about race relations in our country, this is it!

We all want this type of thing to be over. But racism doesn't end without vigilence and vigorous reaction when it occurs. When we say 'we've learned our lesson' let it mean that we've made making room for everyone a priority in public policy and in public life.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In Memoriam: Karl Malden 1912 - 2009

News of Karl Malden's death on July 1, was, eclipsed by that of Michael Jackson. But Malden is so worth remembering! "Streetcar Named Desire", "On the Waterfront", "Gypsy" and my favorite, the, television series, "Streets of San Francisco".

Remembering Karl Malden also gives me a chance to share his memorable guestspot on my all time favorite TV show. I don't think I need to tell you what it is...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Will Rogers
1875 - 1935

Entertainer, Philosopher, Folk Hero

"Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Will Someone Help Us in Texas? Please?!

With the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first Black President, almost immediately came the question: do we still need Black History Month? There was this assumption on the part of some, that there were 'aims' associated with the recognition of African-American presence and achievement that were somehow achieved with his election. While there are some black and white, who dangerously question whether or not such a designation was ever needed - the fact is for decades plus, African-Americans (and other ethnicities and minorities), have had their historic contributions to this country as well as their historic journeys 'white washed' by both the traditional myths and legends with America's History and the 'official' record. If history is written by the 'winners', African-Americans, as well as Hispanics, Native Americans and to some degree Italian Americans and the Irish, have been the de facto if not designated 'losers' when it has come to the American story.

All of this is important because of statements made by evangelical minister Peter Marshall who is one of six 'experts' advising the state as it develops new social studies curriculum for Texas. Marshall's report to the Board of Education says, in part, "To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin is ludicrous," says Marshall.

You have got to be kidding!

Franklin's place in history is undisputed, but Texas students shouldn't learn about the leader who called attention to the exploitation of migrant workers in our country because - what?! Helping our country consciously not tolerate a labor force paid roughly the same wages as sweatshops in some third world country is not important?

Someone needs to get to David Barton, who is president of some group called Wallbuilders (talk about an appropriate name!). He says, 'Chavez lacks the stature and impact and overall contributions of so many others.' Like who? Like the statues of Confederate generals that litter the grounds of the Texas State Capitol?

Oh they weren't through though. Thurgood Marshall, our country's first Black Supreme Court Justice and former NAACP lawyer who argued the case before the Supreme Court which resulted in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, is said to be, 'not a strong enough example ' of an important historical figure.

I'm not offended that these men have this opinion. I'm incensed that the State Board of Education would be listening to these people at all! But they were apparently among six to help 'guide' writing teams to draft social studies standards to be considered by the Board. They were appointed by Republican social conservatives on the board to help determine what should be taught to students in Texas schools.

Barton would also have another 'correction' made to the way our children are taught about their country, he says, '...because the U.S. is a republic rather than a democracy, the proper adjective for identyfing U.S. values and processess. should be 'republican' rather than 'democratic.' That means that social studies books should discuss 'republican' values in the U.S. ...'

You can read the rest of the Dallas Morning News article here.

Right now, after our state's governor irresponsibly throws out the prospect of Texas' secession from the United States, another political official comparing unemployment insurance to crack cocaine, and a just recently corrected injustice of releasing falsely imprisoned citizens without money or support to help them get back on their feet - I'm trying to figure out just much farther we need to go to avoid being taken seriously! One more nutty proposal like any one of these and we won't have to worry about seceding from the Union, we'll be kicked out.

A reading of history that doesn't teach the relative contributions of all of its citizens is not history at all - its myth! And we've already got too much of that persisting still.

A recent trip to Austin and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, reminded me of a story, which, if not true, is too good not to share here.
President Kennedy, in his visit to Texas in 1963, first stopped at San Antonio, where he was taken on a tour of the Alamo. A crowd began to gather, and it was clear that if he stayed much longer he would be incredibly late. He asked someone where the rear exit was so they could avoid the crowd. Someone in the group showing him the Texas shrine said, 'There is no rear exit. That's why everyone who died here died a hero.'
This state and this country's story is far more complex than some want to believe.

For the sake of the Texas State Board of Education, here is what we do when we teach 'history'.

We provide a context for our present

We teach young people the responsibility that they have to make a contribution to the continued quest for perfection of our society

We expose them to people who look like them, grew up in many ways like them, and who overcame some of the same barriers they have to overcome to make that contribution

We teach them that purposefulness doesn't come without struggle

We teach them that every freedom they enjoy comes with a price

We teach them that the values of our country (the real values), are being handed to them as a trust

We shape their psyche and minds, we give them a sense of their place in the world

We shape them into patriots, not nationalists

We teach them that the story of our country is their story

The attempts to politicize history by the contributions of non-white Americans is distorting, dangerous, despicable and deplorable. The fact that the State's Board of Education would even entertain a report containing these contributions is, in itself unconscionable.

Here's a newsflash to all who want to rewrite Texas history to reflect the 'republican' values upon which this country is based: we've all ready gone through a period in which the contributions, accomplishments and achievements of minorities were erased from public education: we called that period 'segregation'.

Anyone out there still think we don't need Black History Month?!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I've Been Called Out!

Tod Robberson, editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News' gapblog, called me out on yesterday's post regarding Star Parker's defense (or rant if you prefer), on the moral decline in our society represented by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's affair and pursuant scandal.
My frustration (irritation really), is with what I consider the logic she uses in analysing the source of the moral declension of which Sanford is guilty somehow reaching back to the Kennedy presidency and his sexual indiscretions. It doesn't take into account patterns of immorality and unethical behavior that have nothing to do with sex and cyloes the 'upholding family values' argument by suggesting that sexual purity is proof positive one's integrity. At least that, as I see it, is implication of her argument. I see it that way because she, along with countless other conservatives have the habit of explaining away other morally and ethically transgressions in public policy initiatives and sometimes indictable, if not criminal activities, that have little and in most cases nothing to do with sex. These too, eat away and the fabric of our culture and constitute public 'sin' for which there also needs to be accountability and atonement.

This is the larger reason why Tod calls me out.

Don Hill, one of Dallas' former city councilmen is caught up in an ethics scandal allegedly involving bribery of wealthy developers of low income properties throughout the poorest sections of our city. It is a complex and controversial case and it is fraught with implications regarding racial politics and the integrity of African-American politicians.

Tod says in reaction to my post, "I would like to hear Gerald Britt specifically address the many ethical issues raised by elected officials in southern Dallas using race-baiting tactics to stir up anti-white sentiment while lining their own pockets under the guise of creating business opportunities for minorities and ensuring that "rich whites" don't come in to exploit the community. I raise this because of all of the revelations from the Don Hill trial, as well as the recent controversy surrounding the alleged "shakedown" of developer Richard Allen as he worked to build his sprawling inland port facility in southern Dallas County."

And Tod is right. There are many ethical issues raised when a sensitive and explosive issue like race is used gratuitously and self-servingly. The fact is, not every politician who races the spectre of race is trying to fan the flames of racial pride, or sound a critical alarm. There are some who indeed use race as a cover for their own incompetence and negligence, or a cloak for their own ambition.

Race prejudice provides too easy an excuse for some in our community to refuse to commit themselves to the hard work of taking control of our own communities. And when race is used as a clarion call for a fight that doesn't exist, it is the worst kind malfeasance. And this is especially true when it appears that such leaders derive personal benefit and gain from scare tactics and bullying that result.

But, as someone has said, 'Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean that no one is following you.' And if there were no distress in minority communities directly attributable to racial injustice, there would be nothing to which either unscrupulous or sincere leaders could appeal. What is clear, when it comes to dealing with race issues in this city and this country, is that there are some people who believe that minorities are just making this all up.

Tod implication is right on point; its despicable for race to be used to forestall opportunity and personal enrichment. But it is equally short sighted to not understand that racial injustice is a serious and substantive problem in this country - the 'age of Obama' notwithstanding. In the past - the recent past - naivete on the part of blacks and other minorities regarding this point didn't just mean the loss of property, or employment, it could mean the loss of life.

Can African-Americans hyper-sensitive around this issue? There are times when that is true. Is the black community vulnerable to exploitation when it comes to this issue? The answer is also yes, some indeed are. This is why we have to hold our leaders accountable for producing real results and not use race as a means of fulfilling their ambitions or not fulfilling their obligations.

But it is also true, that we must continue to remind the broader society that there are severe inequities that exist that are directly attributable to the issue of race. The fact that it makes those who hear that message uncomfortable, is not the issue. The fact that it is something for which they do not 'feel responsible' is again, not the issue. It is a fact and no real justice can ever be achieved by ignoring it.

Tod couches his challenge in a very interesting hypothetical, which touches on something I've been thinking about recently. He says, 'Let's dream a little bit. If City Hall and private investors were to devote one-tenth of the financial resources we think they need to invest to raise southern Dallas to a developmental level of parity with the north, then unquestionably there would be billions of dollars in projects flooding into the area. That means lots of opportunities for minority owned businesses as well as for white-owned companies. Everyone should get a piece of the pie. This should be a city-wide effort. But it is destined to fail if an attitude prevails in Dallas 1) that corrupt politicians and their cronies will insist on getting their own special payments for "services" rendered; and 2) if the public continues to be convinced that nothing happens in southern Dallas without someone getting a payoff for it.'

I can't argue with him there. It is clear that either actual or perceived corruption can make the prospect of doing business in southern Dallas distasteful. These reasons are used as excuses for not doing businesses in many of the business suites in Dallas. The prospect of crude, unsophisticated graft and unsavory personalities don't make for enticing business propositions.

But I'm wondering: does this mean every business deal being done in over developed North Dallas done in a pristine, above board atmosphere? No corners being cut? No side deals or kick backs? Why is the challenge to southern Dallas in particular and to minority communities in general, have a caveat associated with it?

Guaranteed profit...

No crime...

Excellent traffic patterns...

Why must the people in these communities be more moral, more industrious, less corrupt, less crime ridden than their North Dallas fellow citizens? Why must we debate the intrinsic 'worthiness' of the poor and the 'merit' of residents of poor communities before we do what we know works in schools and neighborhoods? I don't think Tod believes this, but implicit in his statement is the idea that there is no, or not as much corruption among politicians in the north as can be seen in politicians in the south. I challenge that. There may be politicians who are more sophisticated and business leaders who have know ways that are 'legal' to line their pockets, but I object to the concept of corruption that is the province of any particular group of people.

There is indeed, more than one way to be corrupt.

The argument goes back to something many African-American parents and educators have had to instill in children in their care: you have to be twice as good, to get half as much respect.

Tod says something else that calls for conversation.

"I'd actually like to hear someone speak out in support of the FBI investigation and, instead of condemning this as an attack on African Americans, call for more such investigations until this city's and county's governments are cleaned up."

"But by raising suspicions that the FBI is targeting minorities for prosecution, commentators (and the accused politicians) only help further undermine public confidence. We're left with a situation in which we don't know whom to trust. We can't trust the politicians, but we can't trust the FBI."

It is interesting to me that some people don't understand why blacks and whites view law enforcement differently. Whites tend to view law enforcement as preserving order and security. African-Americans view law enforcement and the legal system as suspicious and threatening. Its not that we don't know that they are necessary. The fact is, there is a history of the FBI having undermined public confidence in the black community on their own. There is a history of victimization that is not a figment of the collective imaginations of black people. And so, even when there is a suspicion that someone might be caught up in the legal system might be guilty, there is also the suspicion that although guilty they will not be treated as fairly or humanely as someone who is white and guilty. Leading to the sentiment at which some white people shake their heads: Hill, if guilty, is no more guilty than other white politicians, but that he is being 'singled out'.

The fact is, if Hill is guilty, there are wrongs that are just wrong;

There is greed that is greed;

There is unethical behavior that is just unethical behavior, the real question is what is the degree of devastation resulting from the consequences. The truth is public confidence is the first casualty of a politicians abuse of power and unethical behavior, no matter what his or her color is. And I don't mind saying it: if Don Hill is guilty he ought to be punished and punished severely. But there is still such a thing as innocence until guilt is proven, and I am more disappointed that there are still many people who aren't charitable enough to allow for that.

As for the persistent questions regarding African-American support or silence regarding Don Hill - if he is guilty no amount of black support can make it right. If Hill is innocent, no amount of black support can eradicate the damage done by his false prosecution.

There's More Than One Way to be Immoral

She's at it again. Star Parker I mean.

The columnist, conservative thinker and evangelical has grounds to be proud of her achievements in life and I can definitely applaud her support of Christian values which, she testifies, were key to her overcoming poverty and discovering self sufficiency.

That being said, she sometimes reminds me of the comedian on late night television who was discussing his recovering alcoholic friend's admonitions to stop drinking. 'You know', he said, 'There's nothing worse than a reformed anything!'

In a recent column, Ms. Parker is seeking to explain the 'fall' of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Sanford's recent admission of an affair, one that had him MIA from the responsibilities of his elected office for days are well documented. To be honest, I haven't believed the incident has been worth commenting on. I think its a clear disappointment to his family, friends and the citizens of his state. But, beyond that, 'nuff said.

But to be honest it can be leveraged into several larger arguments, distinctions regarding public and private morality, the examples of public figures, faith, family, moral decline - you take it from there.

But I cannot get Ms. Parker's line of reasoning. Clearly she's disappointed that a rising star in the Republican Party has been found to have feet of clay.

"When I've been asked whom I thought could be the individual to lead the Republican Party out of the wilderness, my answer has always been Mark Sanford. His vision for his party and his country -- traditional values and limited government -- has always been clear, consistent, and, in my view, correct. And he has always pursued that vision, as a congressman and as a governor, with a boldness and courage rare among politicians.The Cato Institute publishes a bi-annual report card of the nation's governors, ranking them according to fiscal responsibility. In the most recent report, three governors out of fifty received an "A." Sanford was one of the three.So, like many others, I watched with disappointment his confession about his clandestine adulterous affair. Now what? No surprises that most predict the end of Sanford's political career. And, of course, we've got the usual, and gleeful, accusations of hypocrisy that another conservative Republican has been caught with his pants down."

Let's just chalk that last sentence to a poor choice of words shall we?
But then she takes this line of argument somewhere that's quite puzzling.
She says that those who seem to be most stridently criticizing Sanford are, "...those who want to de-legitimize and marginalize...traditional values. John F. Kennedy gave a famous speech during his 1960 presidential campaign to address the question of his Catholicism. Rather than argue that Catholic values are consistent with American values, he argued that religion and public policy have nothing to do with each other. Kennedy turned out to be one of the great sleazes to occupy the White House (not unlike his brother Senator Ted who, in his last hurrah, is now trying to socialize American health care).During the almost half century since Kennedy gave that speech, the moral, social, and legal fabric of our country has steadily unraveled."

What does any of this have to do with Kennedy and his trying to overcome a historical anti-Catholic bias in this country? Anyone whose studied the period knows that Kennedy had to fight the perception that he would be a tool of the Pope. His line of argument was appropriate for the time and the issue he had to address. And in trying to deal with one's disappointment with Mark Sanford, does it help to call President Kennedy 'one of the greatest sleazes to occupy the White House'? And why on earth the gratuitous mudslinging at Ted Kennedy?

She continues her polemic, "Since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, 50 million unborn children have been destroyed. The United States now has among the most liberal abortion regimes in the world. In some of our states, a 12-year-old girl can get an abortion without informing her parents, be assisted by her school administrators, and have it paid for with taxpayer funds.We move step by definitive step to legalizing same sex marriage. By so doing, we will render our most sacred social institution, marriage, meaningless in the official eyes of government and as a nation will formalize the acceptability of behavior our Bible clearly calls sinful and abominable."

"We will soon have a generation of Americans the majority of whom will not have grown up in a traditional family."

What does any of this have to do with Sanford? Granted her argument is that there is a moral laxity in our country of which Sanford's actions are evidence. I get that. There are plenty of examples of that in both Democratic and Republican Party.
But by pounding the 'C' note of sexual morality, she not only goes far afield, she goes way off base.

After all, there is also the public morality of Mark Sanford abandoning, his public trust as governor of South Carolina. Is that not both a moral and ethical issue? Or are we so obsessed with the fact that he committed adultery, that even his one time supporters find themselves incapable of dealing with anything else?

Mark Sanford's handling of the public trust of his office, is also at issue. At least, if not more of an issue to many. Sanford, in his press conferences and recorded interview, comes off as a man in agony. Many may say 'good for him'. Certainly, his wife and children don't deserve any of this. I believe that is a given. But people are reacting to more than the issue of his sexual morality. Politicians (in this case) who abuse the privileges of their offices and ignore public accountability do more to damage trust in government and influence the country's concept of integrity than those who have had affairs.

Calling out the Kennedy administration is off base here. Nearly all of what I hear from people of his generation was how the late president inspired them to a life of public service. They knew nothing of his private dalliances.
No, we've had plenty of examples of 'immorality' that had nothing to do with sex by those who have held office.
We saw it in the Johnson administration and his dishonesty with the press and the American people about Viet Nam;

It continued with Nixon and Watergate, which, people tend to forget, included criminal activity, lies and unethical conduct on such a grand scale that it nearly threw this country into constitutional crisis;

Public distrust of leadership was arguable calcified with the Congressional check kiting scandals, Iran Contra, Willie Horton ads and the prevarications we are still trying to overcome with our current war and misleading statements about the strength of our economy, when the recession was obvious to all but those who were in charge.

"In a world in which there is sin, in which there is right and wrong, there is also repentance and redemption.Mark Sanford's world is that world. Let's pray that he can fix what is wrong inside of himself and that maybe we can still have a leader with the courage and vision that America needs."

Star Parker's conclusion leads where anyone whose basic concept of morality is confined, almost exclusively to human sexuality, tends to lead: if that is 'fixed' all will be right with the world.

It leaves out the fact that a man, or woman can be faithful to their marital vows, and be immoral in a number of ways that do damage to society.

And by the way, what type of patriotism and morality does it take to refer to a president as 'a sleaze'?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Silly Presumptions

The way we allow stereotypes to drive our perceptions of one another can be funny - and embarrassing. We do it with age, gender and, of course race.

Carl T. Rowan, was probably the first African-American nationally known columnist that I ever read. He told a story that reflected how pervasive and how ridiculous our presumptions about race can be.

Rowan and his wife, bought a house in a previously all white suburb. One weekend he was mowing his yard when a white man drove by. Obviously impressed with the work Rowan was doing, the man called him to his car.

"Hey boy!", he yelled, "How much that lady pay you for mowing her lawn?"

Rowan yelled back, "Oh, she don't pay me with money. She lets me sleep with her!"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Are We Seeing Monsters?

I've always liked 'The Twilight Zone' (few people would be surprised!). Rod Serling was one of the most creative television writers of the 50's and 60's. His creation of this television series and genre showed that T.V. could be more than mindless escapism; he was one of a number of writers who demonstrated that this new medium could be something challenging and thought provoking. As an adult, watching these reruns, I began to see these programs as morality plays that gave more and more insight into the human psyche and soul.

This particular episode, 'Monsters are Due on Maple Street', says much about the fear and paranoia of American society at the height of the Cold War and as our country was 'recovering' from the McCarthy Era. But I think it speaks volumes to us today as we have become comfortable with fear and suspicion of one another.

I tried to find a suitable excerpt from the episode, but having failed that, I'm sharing with you the whole episode. Hope you can take time to watch it.

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street