Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Well Spoken Negro's Salon? What!?

I've noticed that there are new people checking out my little corner of the blogsphere, so I thought I would provide a link to the background of "The Well Spoken Negro's Salon" that I wrote back in '07:

Thanks to all of the new folks who've stopped by. Keep coming back. Leave comments.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Boys We Lost to Bullying

A very good friend of mine sent me a message describing the bullying that he endured as a child. He is a straight white guy, who, as he put it, was called "gay" so often that it seemed like a nickname. He is sad that we remain a society that refuses to police bullying, that considers bullying to be a part of growing up, in spite of the damage it can do. He is also sad that so many boys are scared to death ever to be called "gay," the lowest of the low insults one could "suffer."

I was somewhat lucky. I wasn't really bullied for long; I was teased mostly because of the way I spoke. You see, young black boys who spoke standard English were often subjected to being called "gay" or "white." In the end, I think that my size saved me; I was both big and tall growing up, and when I took my head out of a book long enough to play some sport (though never varsity), I was not too bad. For whatever reason, my being the "smart brotha" was alright.

But, my heart goes out to the families of those two little boys, both 11 years old, who felt that they could not bear the burden of being teased anymore. I wish that someone, anyone, could have given the right words of comfort to Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera on the days that they decided to take their lives. Sometimes, I wish that the people who drove these boys to this point would have to look at their images for the rest of their lives, as a reminder of what they wrought. Sadly, I am confident that some of their tormentors had little or no remorse.

"Gay" is used as a weapon against people, because we continue to support the idea that being gay is wrong, dirty, an affliction, abhorent, shameful. We have no idea what sexual orientation either of these boys would have developed as they grew older, and it doesn't matter. We lost them. We will never know what they could have become. Maybe their deaths will help us turn the page on bullying. Maybe their deaths will help us move toward abandoning "gay" as a pejorative term used to hurt those who simply may be different.

There is so much more that could be said, but I just can't do it. May those boys rest in peace, and may their deaths help to trouble the waters and move us away from a place where children feel the need to do such things.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Soldier" On Erykah!

I was roaming around YouTube, and I had a hankering for some Erykah Badu. I love the song "Soldier," so I pulled up the video. In a way that I just cannot explain, Erykah reminds me of how cool it is to be an American black (note the noun and the adjective, respectively; don't get it twisted).

Anyway, as I was listening to the song, bopping my head to the beat, a particular lyric set jumped out at me: "they be tryin' to hide the history/but they know who we are/do you want to see everbody rise to the next degree/raise your hands high if you agree...." These lyrics seem to hit right on the issues we are dealing with right now, from torture, to the financial services/banking crisis, to the land wars in Asia (I still love "The Princess Bride"). The message is simple: try as you might, the truth will out.

Now the song as a whole is cool, though I am sure my conservative friends might take issue with some of the lyrics (and I am no fan of "bow ties with the Final Call" myself), but she hits on so many points. The beat is hot, regardless.

Take a listen to the song. Happy Friday!

Erykah Badu -- "Soldier"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Morality as a Weathercock

Abortion is wrong, but the death penality is fine. Gay marriage is wrong, but divorce (the true threat to marriage) is fine.

For the last two weeks, I have enjoyed listening to people (primarily on the political right) equivocate on the morality of torture. We have been given scenarios right out of the minds of Hollywood screen writers (see here). We have been told that just by looking at people you could understand the evil in place (see here). What we have not been told is why, after so many long years of trying to police our law enforcement, national security and military personnel, have we finally concluded that torture is alright (thankfully, there are those on the right who are quite upset as well).

It is easy for me to say that I cannot imagine any situation that would move me to order to have someone tortured. But, I am also a firm believer in the moral grounding that this country has built for itself over the years. There were things we simply did not do, precisely because we're Americans, and that was enough to end the debate.

We are now tacitly approving tactics for which we prosecuted the Japanese for exercising against Americans during WWII. What have we become?

I don't think that I am stretching it when I say that if this occured under Carter, Clinton or Obama, some of the most vociferous voices issuing plausible deniability or righteous platitudes for the Bush administration would have guns blazing about the moral authority held by the United States over time. We would be hearing about both impeachment and war crime proceedings. The media, smelling blood in the way that only the right can seem to draw, would join the chorus (while suffering blows from the right about how they, the media, are not doing enough to bring down that Democratic administration).

When national security trumps American morality, that morality becomes nothing more than a weathercock ready to move in the direction of the winds that blow the strongest. What's even more sad is that I cannot predict what will actually happen, even when what should happen is quite clear.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The United States: A Global Player or a Nation Apart?

I think this nation is about to be confronted with a question that will roil the populace. Is the United States really a part of the global community, or are we a country apart with a different set of standards to be applied to it?

I am reading through the memoranda from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel right now, but I have also been reading about the reactions to the release of these memoranda, that seem, so far, to provide "legal" justification for torture. BHO has said that he did not think that those CIA members who carried out the "enhanced" interrogation tactics should be subject to prosecution. However, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, begs to differ. According to Nowak, the United States is required to investigate and prosecute when torture claims have been made, and possibly can be found to be true.

That is what prompted my question. I think that there are many, regardless of party, who see the United States as a nation apart, a nation that needn't follow the rules of international law. Yet, these same folks, the many, would have no problem leveling judgment, if these things referred to another country. I believe that we are part of a broader global community, and the moment we signed various treaties, and agreed that those treaties had provisions that also became the law of our land, we affirmed our place within that global community.

It is becoming clearer that torture was done in our name. Torture, however, is illegal. Period. It is our responsibility, as both citizens of the United States, and citizens of the world, to investigate and prosecute, when necessary, anyone who has violated the law. We have an opportunity to restore our moral authority, so sadly shunted to the wayside by the previous administration.

I believe that if we attempt to do what is right and just on this issue of investigating and prosecuting all tied to this issue of torture, the political right will lose its mind. If this had happened under a Democratic administration, the drumbeat from the right for investigations and prosecutions would be like the eerie heartbeat under the floorboards that Poe made famous. That heartbeat needs to be heard by all in political Washington, until they are driven to do what is morally right. Then, and only then, can we re-join, with moral authority restored, the global community where we rightly belong.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Re-imagining Diversity

I went back to my undergraduate alma mater this past week, in order to serve on a panel focused on workplace diversity. I certainly understood why I was asked to participate, since diversity was actually in my previous job title. And, I certainly believe that diversity within the workplace is beneficial.

Yet, I just finished reading Kathleen Parker's op-ed in the Washington Post a bit ago, and I have to say that my initial reaction was to be bothered by her comments. Terms like "social engineering" usually come across to me like excuses white folks can make for not wanting to interact with "others." And, I will admit that I will render judgment as quickly as Judge Judy.

That is not useful.

I have come to the conclusion that I simply want to have diversity in my world. It is a lifestyle choice I made a long time ago. I feel like my life has been enriched, because my network really is a rainbow coalition of folks. I am interested in learning about things beyond what I know. I am curious about other cultures (though I need to be a better traveler, because my adult intercultural experiences have all been here in the United States, and that is not enough).

I love the fact that my neighborhood here in Washington, Logan Circle, is indeed diverse. People of all sorts of backgrounds do indeed interact (in good ways and bad) with one another. It feels like a place where I can be myself without judgment or criticism.

However, I have to remember that there are others who have no desire for that level of diversity, particularly outside of the workplace. People often talk about whites wanting to live in homogeneous communities, but that ignores the large number of blacks, for example, who seek homogeneity as well. Prince George's County, MD is where many black folk with money elect to reside. There are people with pre-conceived images of blacks who would be gobsmacked to see the wealthy black enclaves of Mitchellville and Tantallon. Just like whites in Northern Virginia who are in solidly white wealthy communities, so too are these black folks.

Perhaps there needs to be a recognition of diversity within this context as well. Some people really do want to live among people who look just like them. And as long as there is not a concerted effort to prevent anyone, regardless of who he/she is, from moving into that community, then there is no reason necessarily to judge. I want to live among a wide variety of people. I want to see the world as I walk around my neighborhood, and I do. I love it. I would be miserable in a homogeneous community. And it's that perspective that I have to remember when it comes to the way others choose to live.

To truly believe in diversity means accepting difference. Kathleen Parker helped me to see that a little more clearly today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On Tea and (Little) Sympathy

I thought I would take a little time today to wade into an area of American history I normally try to avoid: the antebellum era. It was a period that never really interested me in my history studies. But I am finding myself looking back to that era, because of the growing shrill of the American political right.

I was reading about this news conference that Texas governor Rick Perry held. There was discussion of the dissatisfaction the Texan felt regarding the so-called growing overreach of the federal government (we will ignore the growing overreach of the federal government when Perry's gubernatorial predecessor was in office, because it doesn't count when Republicans do it). Talk of secession has been creeping into the discussions of segments of the political right.

So, I thought I would do a service. First, we need to step back and look at the Nullification Crisis back in the 1830s (see here), where South Carolina, upset with federally imposed protective tariffs, decided that it had the authority to ignore the law. This theory was essentially debunked by the conclusion of the crisis, though it did help to solidify, over time, factions within the country that ultimately wrapped themselves on either side of the slavery issue.

Secession, in my opinion, was essentially nullification on steroids. If, as in the nullification crisis, a federal law that had adverse effects on a state, and theoretically, that state should be able to ignore the law, then it should follow that when the federal government seems to be gunning for your very way of life, then a state should be able to excuse itself from the federal compact altogether (I hope my fellow historians will correct me where I need to be corrected, or elaborate as needed, because this is not my strongest suit, this period).

Naturally, we recall what secession wrought. Therefore, it is interesting that in this year of the bi-centennial celebration of Lincoln's birth, we have the low level discussion of secession creeping into the political landscape. My hope is that these same people understand the full ramifications of what they are bringing to the table. It is reasonable to disagree with the Obama administration on issues of policy; however, I think that it is bordering on outrageous to begin suggesting that we should consider the potential benefits of secession.

As people gather for these "tea parties," I want the rest of us to consider the aforementioned historical issues I've raised. The moves by some of the GOP governors, attempts to avoid portions of the stimulus legislation and funding, seem reflective of nullification. All of this talk of the oppressive and invasive measures of the Obama administration, can move us, if so pushed, down this road again, if we aren't careful.

What is most amazing to me is that the GOP, with all of its blustering about the "victimology" practiced by the likes of the gay community, and racial and ethnic minorities, seems to have become quite adept at victim peddling. And subtle nullification-like moves and calls for secession do nothing more than buttress my observation. It seems to me that the "tea party" participants should stop taking whine with their "tea."

Monday, April 6, 2009

The "Muslim" Menace

It feels like an age has passed, since we heard the steady and strident claims from the right that BHO was a secret, a clandestine, "Muslim," as though the moniker alone was reflective of something nefarious and evil. The notion that simply being a practicing Muslim, in this country, is suspicious at best, and evil at worst, is a reflection of the ideas put forth by the last administration, even amid the public pronouncements from George W. Bush that countered that perspective; his true supporters understood that he was simply being "politically correct." They knew the "truth" about "Muslims."

This does not dismiss the fact that there are some evil Muslims in the world, and that some of the things done supposedly in the name of Allah should never have come to pass. I understand that. But, people in this country, angry, legitimately, with the actions of bin Laden and crew, took things too far. BHO's middle name, Hussein, became a weapon to be used against him by those on the right. Those who used his full name at every reference knew that BHO's middle name was a liability in "real America" (a fictional land occupied only by people who believe that this nation was established by evangelical Christians, know that the Constitution was a direct reflection of the KJV of the Bible, and understand that everything in American history was good).

That's why it was so good to listen to BHO talk about the way he sees our potential future relationship with the Muslim world. It had none of the misplaced bravado of George W. Bush, nor the sinister sneer of Richard Cheney. See for yourself:

BHO's is a measured and reasoned approach to working with Muslims countries and cultures. He was right to say that this nation is not a "Christian nation" (I am sure that a fair few "Christians" were apoplectic about that dose of reality). I think that if our Muslim neighbors out there are sincere, then realistic decisions can be made about issues throughout the Middle East.

It just feels so good to have confidence in the POTUS once again. Yet, I am sure that others will see this strategy by BHO as being nothing more than confirmation of their deepest suspicions about the man. I say leave them in the fictional realm that they have constructed for themselves, while the rest of us work to repair the damage done over the course of the last eight years.

If this is how a clandestine "Muslim" acts, then I am all for it. Better this "Muslim," than any of the "Christians" who fear him. Those folks are truly scary.

Friday, April 3, 2009

And Iowa Makes Three

I admit that I'd never really considered getting married in the past. It was something that did not cross my mind as necessarily possible.

I cannot believe how this issue has ignited such a firestorm in communities across the country. The California situation, in my opinion, was horrifying. A simple majority of a population was allowed to take away rights given legitimately. For those loathe to see the similarities between the African American civil rights struggle and the gay rights movement, I hate to break it to you, but the similarities remain.

Today, the Supreme Court in Iowa did the right thing. By citing the tenet of equal protection under the law, the court saw clearly that restricting civil marriage, emphasis on civil, is unconstitutional. Today is a good day.