Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Destruction of Potted Plants (II)

pt. 1 here, pt. 3 coming

There were some fights in that classroom. One fight occurred in the passing period, between two hot-headed students who each would be involved in several other verbal and physical fights the next two years. It started in a flash (although I suppose the warning signs were there if I had known how to search for them) and effectively ended when I was able to wrangle the struggle to the other side of the room to waiting security. I don't remember much else about that confrontation. I don't recall if there was further action directly related to that fight - though I should, by any rights, know. And I don't remember if other students were trying to get involved with the fight (though I doubt it), were trying to stop it or were merely passively awe-struck by it.

But I do remember the toll that the wildly swinging appendages took on the nearby plants. Because that was all I could bring myself to focus on. I remember looking at the floor and being angry at the destruction of my potted plants. And yet I missed the big, easy picture - the metaphorical writing on the wall, if you may: the destruction of the idea of the classroom as a safe place. The two students (as volatile as they proved to be) exploded primarily not over property rights or religious views. I don't think they were arguing over who makes the best frozen yogurt.

They were both at the precipice of fear and danger and one nasty or innocuous interaction led to another, escalating to the boiling point. At this point their own sharp-edged, protective words and body language were not enough to make them feel guarded from the dangers that they represented to each other. They would reconcile their apprehension at each other with many moving fists and pointy appendages.

Struggle to Survivephoto © 2009 Adrian Gonzales | more info (via: Wylio)

The students' social interactions were not cultivated properly. And for this, I sit here, at the center of the blame. I am responsible.

I cannot release myself. I cannot excuse nor recuse. The fact is, as much as it is needed in my environment, I do not know how to greenhouse my students.

I was not taught that in Rhetoric 401 or Pedagogy 315.

pt. 1, pt. 3 coming

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Poor Will Always Be Amongst ...

While doing a quick surf on the interwebz yesterday, I rediscovered why I so much hate Megan McArdle's pseudo-intelligent writing. This famous statement from Jesus was a title for one of her posts that - as usual with this cryptic statement - was used to justify an anti-poor agenda. In her case, she was arguing against the validity of at-risk hunger in the American poor. The logic was akin to, "See, they're all so fat! Ergo, they don't need MORE food money."

It's a pretty despicable show of aggression against the marginalized, but Christians all throughout this country use Jesus' words against his intentions all the time. On Facebook, some of my friends and I were discussing this term and what it means. I like some of their alternative perspectives - that it may be about the "poor in spirit", that it's also a sign that Jesus used the poor as an example to look to when he would no longer be around. We were discussing this term, of course, because we hear it being used as an excuse to do nothing for the poor - or nothing structurally, at least. That and, "All people are sinful. Therefore, whatever we do will simply fail. We will have to wait until Jesus comes."

The thread itself was on this great resource, Let the Churches Do It Is a Deceptive Myth (h/t to Slacktivist), that makes the - all-too-rare - case that churches cannot and will not pick up the slack for government if the "government would only get out of the way." It also clarifies that there is tremendous work still to be done with/for the poor NOW, and we don't have to wait for the gov't to get out of the way, but rather partner with them and fill in missing pieces.

But back to "The poor will always be amongst you..."
Homeless Woman searching for cans and bottlesphoto © 2006 Franco Folini | more info (via: Wylio)

Jesus was quoting the Old Testament. He does that a lot. Sometimes when you're reading your bible, it'll point that out for you. Sometimes you have to dig a bit deeper. Sometimes he makes commentary on and updates the ancient scriptures. Sometimes, he uses the ancient scriptures to put the present reality into horrible context. This is what he was doing in this case.

The original quote is found in the book of Deuteronomy. Not one of the nicest books in the world, let alone the Hebrew canon. But it is within this passage where we discover that all servants/slaves must be released from their debt service during the seventh year. In fact, all debts are to be canceled on the seventh year (pretty outstanding, even by today's standards). And it is here where we find this about treating the poor:

There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15; NIV)

This isn't just about a bunch of nice individuals. This isn't just about being kind. This is to be a concerted effort by the collective people of Israel. In other words, "the government"...

The writer, Moses, mentions specifically that there will be plenty of resources to share, so there should not be any poor amongst them. However, he knows their hearts, and he knows reality enough to say that "There will always be poor people in the land."



Are there poor people among us? Why?

The Destruction of Potted Plants (I)

My primary plant is ivy. Partially because ivy reminds me of my old home on the north side of Chicago. It covered the brownstone like an exoskeleton in the winter, an old, leafy friend in the summer. And the ivy also represents, in Chicago at least, Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field itself (not to be confused with the home team that happens to occupy Wrigley) is the last bastion of hope for baseball as it was meant to be played - as the ultimate beer garden; a deliberately rural-esque past-time in the midst of an urban and rushed setting. Which is how I envision my plants to function and exist.

ivyphoto © 2005 stephen jones | more info (via: Wylio)

Not as an image of beer gardens, so much – but as a pastoral icon – a reminder to slow down and enjoy your days while you can. The ivy (at home and in the classroom) reminds me that life and growth happen all around us, even in inept and regrettable situations. Like the Cubs organization and the overgrown frat boys who infest the spot like so much used hygienic products. No disrespect mean to used hygienic products...

My first classroom came pre-fitted with potted plants. To this day, I don't know what type they were, only that they - like cockroaches - could theoretically outlast a nuclear Armageddon. They were nearly indestructible, which they needed to be at the time because they were under my care. I think they were a variant of purple cacti, with leaves that dry up under the hot summer sun. I soon realized that these thingymabobs are so hard-to-kill that all I needed to do was water them on a regular basis and they were fine. And when I say, "regular basis", I mean, "once or twice a month if I remembered." Or course, they never lived up to their full potential. Which reminds me of too many report-card conferences.

Second grade Teacher: Jason is a very smart and capable young man.
Mom: Why, thank you. (Pregnant pause) But, what else can you say about his progress?
Teacher: He doesn't live up to his potential.
Father: That's what we figured.
Jason: (Scratching the back of his pants.) This doesn't sound good.
Father: You're right. And it won't sound good on your behind either.
Jason: Oh, drats! (Pulling up underwear from the back.)

This scene repeated twice a year for most of the rest of my formative education.with slightly altered language as I was further removed from my "Leave It to Beaver" years.College was different primarily because I was not in a mood to squander perfectly good money that I either earned or borrowed and would pay back through several years of incremental payments. These loans would, I knew even then, come back to haunt me like Kathy Lee Gifford haunts Regis. Cryptic envelopes, monthly payoffs, promises of eternity, ill-timed phone calls.

The odd purple plants managed to survive through the year. But not intact. And, like any group of war combatants, they lost some brothers (or is it sisters - or rather, brosters, being that plants don't really have a gender, only gender-parts. "Sothers"?).


*You know, wearing the knickers, and the little bow-tie. I was a cute little kid. Unfortunately, I was still scratching my nellies to the very end

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shalom Shall Not Come Without Justice, Prime Minister

What came first, the terrorist or the oppressive regime?

Representative Peter King has no problem glorifying the IRA. He sees them as heroes in a fight for the oppressed Northern Irish against the British Empire. And I could see why. The Irish have historically (and up to present, still poorly) been treated amongst the worst in Western Europe. Much of what was later practiced on African-derived populations was first practiced on them.

So, to Peter King, blowing up cars and pubs was a small sacrifice for liberating the Northern Ireland majority and allowing Irish Catholics to control their own fate while receiving economic and political justice.

I wouldn't go so far as King in the least. Not just because King is selective in the types (colors) of terrorists that he supports. I don't like Hamas or any other group that uses terror tactics to try to make their point or get ahead. But I can see where they're coming from. If my family were brutalized, humiliated, killed, tortured, displaced, disappeared, and ostracized like many of theirs were, I'm not sure I'd be so happy myself. I'm not so sure that I'd be able to fight exclusively in a non-violent way.

But that's just it. Palestinians have been fighting and resisting non-violently (passively) for generations upon generations. And how are they rewarded? They're ignored. Called "terrorists". Shot with bullets. With "might, power, and beatings."

And you wonder why any of them would consider taking that route?

And yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to the US Congress (the United States, by the way, has been funding the entire empire state of Israel and is largely responsible for this genocide) and declares that he will not re-establish the 1967 borders of Gaza and the West Bank, but yet he is willing to make "painful compromises" to establish peace in the land.

What "painful compromises" are you willing to make, Netanyahu? To *not* shoot any Palestinian you see? To allow them to find paying jobs? To allow aid in to Gaza? To not applaud Israeli terrorists? To discontinue to illegally take their homes, land, and crops from Palestinians who have been there for eons? To recognize their right to self-rule?

And then what kind of "compromise" are the Palestinians going to have to make in turn that they haven't already? Are they going to have to "swap" more land?

Or are the "painful sacrifices" just that more Palestinian children will have to die in order to secure "peace."

Not shalom, mind you. Not biblical peace. Roman, occupational "peace."

And yet it's my American Christian brothers and sisters who most adamantly defend the practices of Israel. They maintain that they are honoring the Israel of the bible by standing with them no matter whom they harm. I doubt that most Christians who "honor Israel" are doing it out of any other Biblical precept except to fulfill end-times "prophecy."

They certainly aren't looking at the Old Testament prophets. Or the histories of ancient Israel...

Just Like Death, But Conscious (III)

One high school I frequented graduated several of the founding members of The Harlem Globetrotters. Their theme song whistled over the loudspeakers during every passing period. For the entire four minutes. Every day. Every forty minutes. I would imagine "Curly" Neal or "Twiggy" Sanders dribble passing to himself down the halls with his note- and text-books towing, rising, nodding, falling, and rising again behind him in the curious time-delayed force known as gravity. As he passes the dean's office, he smacks the door just below the window. The dean steps out, yet once again furiously shaking his fist and yelling, "You kids!"

With one exception, every class I *ahem* taught at this school took place in the gym. All the guys would dress up for basketball and the gym teacher would have them play ball all day. I desperately wanted to play as well, and often threatened the gym teacher that I was going to come the next day in my Larry Bird-era shorts and Chucky T's, ready to learn them young whipper-snappers a thing or two about passing the rock and other such fundymentals of the game of the basket ball as teamwork and disciplined lay-ups and twenty-five foot jump shots. But we both knew that threat that was never going to materializing due to insurance reasons.
Anthony Stover Posting Upphoto © 2009 J Rosenfeld | more info (via: Wylio)

The rest of this essay will be available in a ebook and, as such, I can only give snippets in other forms. Don't worry, the book will be cheap. And as my own agent, I must add, good.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chicago Tuesdays: Patronagizing

Before I had to leave for a family emergency, I got to be a part of a small gathering of witnesses for a really great, and really intense actually, forum discussion on Chicago corruption called The Chicago Way. Those on the forum included an alderman (Proco "Joe" Moreno, of the First Ward, my old and - depending on the redistricting - possibly future area), an activist (Don Washington, of the fabulous Mayoral Tutorial), a writer/professor (Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader), and a guy who does finances for his uncle's firm. The moderator is the head of the Chicago edition of the Huffington Post.

So, three local political junkies, and one guy sharing chairs with them who doesn't know about politics to keep them grounded. Actually, a pretty good idea.

Although I took some notes on my phone, my thumbs gave up after a few minutes and I just listened in to the drama. Specifically, the drama concerning patronage in Chicago politics. For those not aware, the Machine in the Chicago Machine (especially as perfected by the first Mayor Daley) worked like this:

I, Hizzoner Mayor Richard J. Daley, as the head of the Cook County Democrats, am slating a bunch of candidates. I need them to win, and win well so that I can maintain my power over the city. And I expect them to be loyal to me. And by that, I expect votes. Lots and lots of votes to turn out to vote for me and my slate. Because somebody else may be more charismatic. Someone else may have more money. Someone else may be able to promise and even deliver the world to you. But I get the votes. And I do that by hiring workers who can churn out votes. Those city workers have well-paying (and often low-performing) jobs because they knew somebody, and they owe their jobs to me and my machine. So they will get out the vote for me and my machine.

Marina City, Chicago : i’ve always loved these towersphoto © 2010 John Manoogian III | more info (via: Wylio)
That's patronage in a nut-shell. "I got your back. You get my back." While I was at the event, most of the fighting came as a result of questioning in what realm patronage is/was/could be a good thing, and when it gets bad. Moreno felt that the idea is a good idea, just sometimes abused. But because of that abuse, it couldn't be used any more in the public sector (there was a ruling that came out of it that forbade anybody to get a job because they "know somebody." All city employment jobs [at least in the blue collar sector] need to be advertised and then selected from all available applicants). This is bad, he argued - and correctly, I think - because it's a good character- and relationship-driven way of getting in applicants. Knowing Kelly and knowing that that she does a good job are good determiner for how well that person can do on the job - probably better than a resume or an interview. Further, if Stan recommends Kelly, that puts the pressure on Stan that Kelly would work out well as an employee. If it doesn't work out, Stan won't be trusted as much, so he needs to be careful of his advising.

That system of patronage is actually good. I can't fault Moreno for defending that, so much.

But, Joe also should be aware of how Chicago pols practice patronage. And it's not just a case of "a few bad apples" either. The whole system is corrupt. Patronage had nothing to do with honor, but everything to do with getting out the votes and political power. As such, it stole from the public resources. Good people were not being advanced to their qualifications for a specific job so much as people who could turn about a favor were being promoted to waste away at "jobs" (some meaningful, others had no work or task besides punching a time clock). Patronage workers would spend their clocked and un-clocked hours campaigning, putting up signs, taking down opponents' signs, going to rallies, etc, etc, etc.

So, no, the whole system is corrupt, the whole culture of it was corrupt. It needed to be broken down until something different could replace it.

Unfortunately, that something different just looks like new money...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Christ Culture and the Things of the World

NT Wright, writing on the divide between science and religion (inspired by a curiously controversial statement that Stephen Hawking has already made previously), ponders at the end:
Of course, the old set-up of the ‘science and religion’ debate… needs realigning. In fact, the ancient Christians would have been shocked to see their worldview labelled as a ‘religion.’ It was a philosophy, a politics, a culture, a vocation… (h/t Jesus Needs New PR)
I wonder the implications of seeing Christianity as a culture, a way of life rather than simply a religion (or a religion gussied up as a "relationship" or in some weird sub-culture). In fact, maybe we should disseminate between the culture of Christianity of the first couple centuries AD and the culture of Christianity (in the US, at least) in the 20th & 21st centuries AD.

And here is where I question if it's largely a failure to imagine, as Skye Jethani says. Or is it something deeper? I think our failure to imagine is really a failure to imagine a wonderful possibility here and now. We've divorced the God of this world from the reality and essence of this world. So our imaginings are stuck in "heaven" - a place far and away. The world around us and its culture is "worldly." Hence they are only to be used to get others onto our escape hatch - our other-worldly "heaven."

And away from the world.
Rapture-1photo © 2011 Andres Trujillo | more info (via: Wylio)

But when Jesus and the epistles mentioned "worldly" in its negative connotations, they were referring to the loves of the world - self, greed, envy, strife, division, lust, wealth... When they said we should refrain from the world, they meant we should refrain from those practices. Not the world itself (the very creation that God called "good"), or the people in the world ("For God so loved the world..."), but the fleeting, destructive objectives that run counter to God's Kingdom. If you're not so sure what those might be, check out the Beatitudes and then reflect on the antonyms of them.
Cursed are the rich oppressors...
Cursed are they who are leisurely in others' distress...
Cursed are the haughty and proud...
Cursed are those who obscure and defile justice...
Cursed are the merciless...
Cursed are the wicked in heart...
Cursed are the war-mongers...
Cursed are those who persecute others for doing what is right...
(paraphrase of Matthew 5)

Those are the "things of the world" that we should watch out for, that Christians are to run counter to. The fact that we often celebrate or justify or even practice these actions in the American church (witness our covering for the Iraq War and torture. Notice how we mercilessly hound homosexual couples) while hoping to flee this world (which led to the celebrated lunacy this week with rapture nuts), shows how counter to God's intentions we have become. This theory (which I've deconstructed here) of leaving the earth that God created and is working to redeem is not just bad form, it's horribly destructive and counter to what God had demanded of his people.

It is, to put it bluntly, worldly...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just Like Death, But Conscious (II)

Substitute teaching is widely known - mostly by me - as glorified babysitting. Except with less glory. Also, technically speaking, it doesn’t have anything to do with babies. Substitute teaching high school is more like watching paint dry with teenagers. And the truth is I would feel worse for the students than myself. Since few teachers who are frequently absent leave lesson plans, activities, or a sense of daily accomplishment for their temporarily abandoned students, my job basically deteriorated to keeping the noise level down, making sure that only students that were supposed to be there were there, and ushering everybody else out.

Grandfather Clock Face Waters building EXPLORE 4-8-08 2828photo © 2008 Steven Depolo | more info (via: Wylio)
And watching the clock pass.

With teenagers.

The payment for subbing was upwards of $100 per day. Considering that I'm paid that rate for only five hours of nominal "work" and, that at the time, I was single, childless and living in a shared bachelor's apartment,* it was nice "work" when I could find it. But on average I would only "work" one day a week. Which meant that my mornings were often painfully sad and very slowly disturbing. Like watching Snuffalopolus rummage through the trash in your alley.

The eventual and rare call would come from the central office. The sub-center tells its "workers" to expect a call between 5:30-8:00 am. Most of my calls came at the 6-7 window. Being that my alarm would shake, rattle and/or roll at 4:30, I would be extra sleepy-tired by the time my "work" day would start. Sleepy-tired, as any medical professional would tell you, is a state of sub-cognition wherein one dreams of Winnie the Pooh daintily cascading through the backyard. Extra-sleepy-tired is him being eaten alive by Snuffalopolus in the backyard.

And here's where I make my caveat: I know people hold down two-to-three jobs all the time and usually for a lot less money. On those occasions that I had foolishly risen in the wee hours and foolishly tried to establish an early-morning walking routine, the only other people I had passed on the sidewalk at 4:30 were migrant workers trying to get first-dibs at the Day Laborer's (which are temps of a different sort). There are mothers of my students that don't make it home from work until the middle of the night after a two-hour commute. And, then, of course, there is also the Two-Third's World and the fact that half of the world's population gets by on less than $2 a day. But, please, this is my story, so let me do my whining.

I spent many a morning during this period reading my Bible or a magazine or watching a foreign film. I like saying this because it makes me sound all sophisticated and stuff. And that I am. But, in general, I was trying what I could to not fall asleep while tugging the neck of the phone like a teddy bear, duly and patiently waiting for that one expectant ring to pull me into action like a call from Commissioner Gordon.


*Yes, that sounds sexy. Just like a Three’s Company of just guys. But it wasn’t necessarily so… For instance, we had our very own built-up DIY nerdy loft beds to save room on valuable space. And our Under-Roos wearing was not a sight to behold.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Just Like Death, But Conscious (I)

Welcome to the first of my continuing series of essays! No more adieu:

I have spent an inordinate amount of my waking time waiting. For me, waiting is immaterial, quite literally; it's a state of not-being, a temporary limbo. The location is irrelevant. Waiting at home is only slightly less tedious, and often more infuriating, than waiting at an impersonal office. Waiting in a personal office may not be that infuriating, because I could look at certificates and posters and photos and pretend that that was me, say, in front of that wonderfully back lit and Jamaican sunrise and next to that middle-aged and homely woman. But then, on second thought, I didn't want his life. I wanted my own. I would like very much to have my own vacation destination and family beside me, just with his pay, office and benefits. Well, maybe slightly better.

Waiting in an industrial office or waiting room is wretched. It is purgatory spent with a grandfather's clock that always ticks, but never tocks.

First Class Waiting Room, London Paddingtonphoto © 2010 Simon Pielow | more info (via: Wylio)

... In an effort to finally make some scratch off my writing, I've had to pull most of this series off the blog. Please stay tuned for book details. It'll be out soon. It'll be cheap.

And it'll be glorious.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

And that's tragic... pt 1: Racism 101: Why defenses don't work

The title for this series is taken from the remarks of Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern when the legislators were discussing whether and how to get rid of affirmative action in the state:

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said minorities earn less than white people because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative.
“We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”
Kern said women earn less than men because “they tend to spend more time at home with their families.”
Minorities are lazy?

Before I go any further, I should make note of the fact that I'm white. My grandmother is Puerto Rican. My step-grandfather is Filipino. But I'm so Northern Euro that my daughter is blond, I will end up burning and peeling like an orange pretty soon, and then my will hue quickly disperse into freckles like shattered glass.

So, while I have been pulled over for being in the wrong neighborhood - usually mine or my friends', and at least during one point, mercilessly and sexually humiliated by the officer - I’ve never actually been the victim of actual racism. When I say “racism”, however, it means something a bit different than the classical version of racism that most in the mainstream think of*. Largely because that type of racism has been buried since Archie Bunker in American society (although in many respects, latent racism has come to the fore since a black man became president. Many of my friends can testify to this from personal experience. Of course, all one really needs to do is turn on the news to see someone questioning President Obama's American-ness, or his intelligence. Or photoshop him on a picture of a witch doctor. Then there's the monkeys, watermelons, nearly everything that comes out of Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh's mouths. dot. dot. dot.). It is politically incorrect, for example, to use derogatory terms for black, Latino, East Asian or Southeast Asian, or First Nations** people. It is widely considered offensive and taboo to tell a black citizen to move over for a white citizen. And trying to keep a minority from voting on the basis of a test will get you in trouble with the law.

However, if that black person himself got in trouble with the justice system, laws are set to explicitly ban him from voting. And the chances that a black male will end up imprisoned are more-than-curiously high in the US. Furthermore, although slavery’s long been outlawed, darker skinned Americans tend to work for significantly less than white laborers do - that is, when they are hired. Black and Latino men (especially) have difficulty finding jobs, period. And twice the percentage of black men as white counterparts with comparable education and experience are unemployed.
Hand.Justice.WDC.3apr99photo © 2005 Elvert Barnes | more info (via: Wylio)When the subject of racism comes up, white people always - always - put up their defenses. The first and most outlandish one is, "I'm not racist." Which is a bit of an odd deflection. But maybe it's not a deflection. Maybe the person who says this feels that he is being attacked. It's just that that is rarely the case. Typically speaking, white people have our wires routed differently about this topic. So when the topic of race comes up, a white person who is not as familiar with discussions of race and racism (yet who belongs to the majority culture which gives him or her advantages that a person of color will not receive in this society) will tense up. To be honest, it quite physically hurts - as a white person - to be even hinted that we could be racist. It's not unlike being suggested that one is a child molester. Guilty-until-proven-innocent. So I can understand the defense. But at some time we need to drop the defense and listen to what is actually being said.

Second, and worse, is the defense usually given by people ACTUALLY accused of racism: "I have lots of black/hispanic/latino friends." Let's take it at its face value, however, and try not to laugh at the absurdity of them calling someone that they just degenerated in front of thousands of people "friends"... Let's say that he does have a few non-White friends. Does that qualify him as a not-racist? If a man has a wife and a mother and a daughter, does that mean that he can't be a sexist? Does that disqualify him from chauvinism, or wife-beating, or spousal abuse?

Third, and this is the one that I run into most often is the shock (shock!) that America or society could possibly be racist. Since we don't see a Sheriff Bull Connor chasing down black school children with rotweillers or water cannons, then racism is no longer tolerated in this society. If anything, they argue, the government practices reverse racism by allowing for affirmative action (which some argue is a soft form of paternalism), which discriminates against whites.

But when we look at the inescapable fact of the high proportion of African American and Latino males (and females) that are incarcerated, the ghastly high proportion of African American, Latino, and First Nations people that are in deep poverty, the apartheid state of American education and housing - we run into a tension. Do we still believe that there is no societal racism, do we still believe that the cards are not stacked against people of color? Do we believe that it's a problem of the lack of preached personal responsibility in the black, Latino, and indigenous communities? (Although those virtues are preached probably more in those communities than in white communities, from my experience.) Do we find other factors, such as the War on Drugs that criminalizes large portions of black youth? (Although as high a percentage of whites use and abuse drugs as people of color, yet people of color are checked at unbelievably higher percentages. That is, it's generally higher than us white folks seem to comprehend). Do we believe that the lack of perceivable African American/Latino success is a result of the acceptance of culture-wide victimology? (Although only a handful of black and brown youth - even now - consider their status as colored in America as being that they'll have to work harder, not less, to achieve success.) Or do we remain silent, thinking, however briefly, however under-our-subconscious, that the problem is inherent within that people group?

Seriously, how do we reconcile what we see with our beliefs of who should succeed in American society? How do we reconcile the piss poor way black men and youth are treated by our justice system with our understandings of how the justice system is supposed to be fair and just?

From my experience, part of the problem in this impasse in the whites and minority dialog is that we white folks don't raise our children to recognize and shield themselves from racism. So we come up late to recognizing the system of oppression as it stands. I grew up in a multicultural family, multicultural communities, multicultural church, and multicultural schools - but it wasn't until well after high school that I realized how hurtful some of my words in regards to race relations were. So I don't expect that (or, really I shouldn't expect. I am a little impatient, to be honest) the majority class will immediately grasp our failure in this matter. Further, it's hard and hurtful for our friends of color to have to put up with our mistakes, time and again. Especially if they have a history themselves of being ignored and invisible. So don't necessarily count on them to do the corrections and the history lessons.

You may need to bone up on that stuff on your own. Y'know, read some racial history; listen and begin to trust the words of people of color; bone up on some scholarship; spend some time with your minority friends - without an agenda; realize that there is no singular voice for minority cultures - that it's as wide and varied as our own white culture; invite others into your life and surroundings.


**Commonly, I use two meanings for racism - individual and institutional - but the fundamental meaning behind both of them is the idea of enacting power over a person or people of a different race or ethnicity based on preconceived notions of the inferiority of those within the race or ethnicity. Typically speaking, the dominant culture (eg, Whites in America) are not the recipients of racism.

**One of the biggest concerns for some is not to sound too politically correct. And I can understand that concern, if by that we do not mean not being able to say anything that might be construed as offensive (I honestly don't know where the balance is for that. But I would say that if you're going to say something about another group in public, be aware that others are watching and may call you on the carpet for it. If you don't want to be called on the carpet for such comments, educate yourself), but rather this constant change of vocabulary to what is considered the less offensive term. But I believe in self-identification.
Some of these terms are understood in a mostly regional manner. In Chicago, the term those of Latin American descent tend to use for themselves is "Latino". I've heard few indigenous people refer to themselves as Native Americans, but have heard Indian, First Nations, and most commonly by the specific tribe they are a part of.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chicago Tuesdays: The 55 promises of Rahm Emanuel

Eric Zorn's crib sheet on our new mayor's promises to Chicago is helpful, I suppose. In that it shortens what Emanuel was releasing to the public as his Chicago pledge to make us such a better city in an abridged version.

But it's still full of lofty pledges. Some good - such as the One Summer Chicago initiative which pledges to work with the County Board President (and best thing to happen in local politics) Toni Preckwinkle "and a broad range of civic, faith, community, and philanthropic leaders" to provide a "wide range of academic, recreational, arts education, jobs, and mentoring programs to a great number of at-risk teens" to reduce summer violence.

There's also this pledge about defeating (ending? I doubt it) food deserts in Chicago.

And then some are... debatable. At best.

Change of Subject: Crib sheet: The 55 promises of Rahm Emanuel
12. Introduce a consolidated, comprehensive capital planning and management process

The best-planned cities develop a 25-year vision and prioritize investments into five-year capital improvement plans using a multitude of investment options, including leveraging private resources and capital. Using this framework, all investments will be maximized and sequenced to reach their full potential and deliver the best value to Chicago. An investment management center will plan, coordinate, and oversee all Chicago infrastructure projects across a multi-year horizon...

Sounds good at first blush, perhaps. Maximizing resources for the best of Chicago. But then you realize that banker Emanuel and his banker pals are talking about further privatizing Chicago's assets for cash-flow purposes.

And then there's the TIF promise:

3. Reform [Tax Increment Financing]

The City will appoint a panel of experts and charge it with developing a policy for how the City invests these funds. The panel will identify return-on-investment performance goals for TIF districts and TIF-funded projects and develop guidelines for TIF transparency, including standards for an annual TIF report and audit, to be made public.
ghettophoto © 2010 basic_sounds | more info (via: Wylio)

Anybody who's been in Chicago long enough and has been paying attention (especially to the writing of Ben Jarovsky of the Chicago Reader) will realize that this promise isn't really any sort of actual reform. Whenever a leader who uses TIF funds talks about making the use of TIF funds public, he doesn't actually mean in a way that the public can actually access and grasp that information. Furthermore, this doesn't seem to offer true reform of the Tax Increment Financing districts, funds, or how they're used. In case you're new to this conversation, a TIF fund was originally intended (or so we're told) to help funnel business into blighted areas.

That hasn't happened. And it probably won't happen. And this promise does nothing to ensure that it would happen. Which is what this is about. The promise only promises to evaluate the ROI. In other words, tens of millions of dollars can - and probably will - still be funneled to the Boeings of Chicago, but the important risks, the risks that may give a chance to the south and west sides, may be deemed too risky until they can find just. the. right. person or developer.

In other words, as far as this promise goes, don't expect to see any real changes. Don't expect hope to come from Team Rahm.

For that, we're on our own.

Though it'd be nice if the local government was actually looking out for the best hopes for us...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

blogging updates

due to some snafus at the Blogger universe, a post i wrote and published on racism (ironically titled, "And that's tragic...") got moved back in time. somehow. i'm not quite sure what happened, or why i wasn't warned before i started fiddling with it (and then had to find out through searching the blogger blog) - because now it's stuck and i have to meticulously RE-edit it again.

and as much as i love editing. i hate re-editing. hopefully, however, that post and its second part sister will be up early this week. the final part (i'm hoping beyond hope) should be up next week - if i'm going to actually spend an hour each day actually writing, that is. and not just fibbing away on facebook, et al. (though gotta admit that the upcoming elections are interesting in a "look at the dog whistles that crazy MoFo is blowing" kinda way)

in addition to those three posts, i expect to start publishing excerpts from some essays that i've done on parenting and teaching - along with some newer parts - soon. i had originally planned to do two different books, one on each subject. but i'm starting to think the theme is too strong to not combine them as one.

add in a few last-minute posts, some sudden inspirations (if i'm lucky), and some responses (also if i'm lucky) to some of my friendly blogs and i may be up to regular blogging speed (or more) shortly.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wolf Like Me

One of my good friends posted a video by TV on the Radio the other night. Which made me want to go through my iTunes and play my favorite post-illegal war record of all time (topping Dylan? Perhaps), Return to Cookie Mountain.

Being the generous person that I am, I wanted to share with y'all. It was then that I found that the bass player, Gerard Smith, had just recently passed. He's the one you can't really see, with his back turned toward us. No, the other one.

Got a curse we cannot lift...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mike Huckabee presents ReagaWorship (In Stilted, Colorless CGI!)!

What happens when you mix worthless "historians" with America-first jingoism, abysmal nationalism, horrible writing, and crap-awful animation?

Mike Huckabee presents Learn Our History dot Com! Watch out for the pop-up talking Mike Huckabee, by the way.

You can view the whole video by purchasing it from LOH (hmmm... is this a secret giveaway?) for the low price of $10. In fact, if they sell two copies, they will run a profit!

More at Talking Points Memo, for those who dare...

Alisa made me consider putting in the hilarious (and awfully ironic, coming from the Religious Right theocrats and war-mongers) WWII sneak-peek as well.

Notice how swiftly they move those bikes on the beach to avoid becoming collateral damage!
Notice how passionate the newsie is as he talks about enlistment!
Notice that Hitler is talking about his mission being from God (and how they have to get rid of an inferior race)!
"Even the gals were in on it!"
You go, girl!
All this - AND MORE - can be yours for the low, low price of around fifteen dollars.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Chickens at the Roost: The Sermon I Wish Obama Did Hear

I have no sympathies for any statement that would damn a people or a nation - I just want to make that clear before going any further.

Jeremiah Wright is a misunderstood preacher, to say the least. But I would like to revisit his famous "Chickens are Coming Home to Roost" sermon.

There is a move in Psalms 137... A move, if you will, from worship, to war. A move from the worship of the God of creation, to war against those God has created...
There is another move... They have moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents. The babies; the babies. "Dash their heads against the rocks!" That, my beloved, is a dangerous place to be. Yet that is where the people of faith are in 551 BC. And that is where too many people of faith are in 2001 AD.
We want revenge. We want payback. And we don't care who gets hurt in the process.

I remember thinking, when there was a race- and American Exceptionalism-fueled controversy over Rev. Wright's sound-bites, that he was very, very right. (Even as his most controversial parts were quoted from a white ambassador.)
Hens Roosting photo © 2011 Will Merydith | more info (via: Wylio)
And while Obama's many fans tried to explain this sermon away*, saying that he never heard such a sermon while he was there, I woke up this morning wishing that he had paid more attention to it. I shuffled through my apartment this morning praying that a sermon like this would continue to burn through him a searing conscience. The United States of America is a land founded on and needing genocide, slavery, and war in order to Manifest its Destiny.

Our empire-building has relied largely on emptying the bellies of our enemies, on trampling and building on the land of the inhabitants, on 'bashing their babies against the walls' of poverty and war. Although I don't expect these patterns to end - let alone reverse - anytime soon, I would like to see us face our demons and perhaps begin the process to conquer them.

*It's funny how those who claimed that Rev. Wright is so racist for mentioning the topic of race in his church cannot see that all churches are context-heavy - and many white churches continue to prop up White American exceptionalism and refuse to question White Supremacy, if they're not outright condoning it.

Evangelical Family Affair (Rally to Restore Unity)

This is a part of the Rally to Restore Unity link-up going on this week.

You've probably seen or heard the little ruckus going around Evangelicals within the last few months, since a book by a pastor was leaked to put out the idea that hell may not be as permanent for everybody as commonly taught. That didn't sit well with some, and for quite a few, that stood ugly.

But it's a family affair. And, as with any family, there are going to be broken alliances, fisticuffs, hair-pulling, screaming matches, denouncements, blame-gifting... Families can do that.

In fact, the only real fights I ever got into was with my brothers. I might not have to tell anybody who's had a brother why that is...

Ever get caught in the middle of a public domestic dispute? I'm sure that's what it sounds like to non-Evangelicals and non-Christians (and many Evangelicals). It's rough, but those on the outside of the situation don't understand it - and risk getting involved only at their peril.

But we're family. Sometimes literally.

As in, my brothers and I are all evangelicals and we all are or have been impacted by the Neo-Reformed movement. Only recently have I moved to a different way of interpreting the bible.

But we still all worship a crucified and risen Jesus. We still believe in a creator and creative God who hangs the firmaments of the heavens in place. We all believe in miracles, in a triune God, in a virgin birth, in the coming presence of God.

We all still believe that God's salvation is the answer for peace in our impoverished, neglected, and violence-prone neighborhoods.

And we all believe that God has cursed the Cubs, so that it's time to move on...

We differ on our hermeneutics, for sure, but we all believe that the bible is the inspired Word of God and that it should be taken very, very seriously. As a result, we all try to live by the book and love God and our neighbors to the best of our abilities in whatever function we feel is right for us.

And, despite all else, God loves us immensely.