Thursday, September 19, 2013

Miss America Proves We Have a Ways to Go Regarding Race


Undeserving? Some think so.
America is getting better about dealing with racism. I’m always running into folks striving to do the right thing when it comes to people different from themselves. Some go so far as to admit they harbor unwanted prejudice but are fighting hard against it. I count myself as one of these flawed yet honest human beings. On those days I breathe easy. But sometimes I rub up against something else.
It felt like a punch to the gut when I got wind that the newly crowned Miss America (an Indian American) had been attacked with a flurry of racial and cultural epitaphs. Against today’s backdrop in which many insist we now live in a post-racial society, this incident should be a wake-up call.
There’s no room to share the numerous repugnant comments folks tweeted online via Twitter that graphically illustrates racist bias against Nina Davuluri in particular and apparently people of color in general. A simple web search should satisfy those interested in determining what I did: that a lot of folks still refuse to get comfortable with the fact that Americans comes in all shades and ways of being.
Perhaps the biggest gripe I have regarding those nasty tweets is that they infer, because Ms. Davuluri is a person of color, she is less of an American than other folks and therefore undeserving of the Miss America crown. But nothing could be further from the truth. To my mind, it’s unpatriotic to figuratively and literally wave the Stars & Stripes, dutifully recite the Pledge (condescend those who don’t), rise to your feet for the Star Spangled Banner, then go home, kick back and trash fellow Americans – just because they are different from you in some ways.

With liberty and justice for all (...if you're of a certain ilk)
A little about Ms. Davuluri: the 24-year-old was born in Syracuse and lived in Oklahoma before moving with her parents to St. Joseph, Michigan, and later graduating from the University of Michigan (Go Blue), earning her share of scholastic honors along the way. Among them: the Dean's List, Michigan Merit Award, and National Honor Society Award. Her college degree is reportedly in Brain Behavior and Cognitive Science. Not rocket science but dang close.
Why does being a person of color always seem to trump all the other trappings of Americanhood? Bet Obama has some insight into that quagmire. Nevertheless in my experience, liberty and justice for all can often evaporate when persons of color rub up against historically all-white institutions. In this case the Miss America pageant. In Major League Baseball it happened to Jackie Robinson, an African American. In our judicial system, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Hispanic American. There are many others.
'American' Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
The great thing about the Internet is that we can instantly connect with each other. The down side is that we can instantly connect with each other. That means if you’re not careful, your first thoughts about something (or someone) can appear instantly for all the world to see. What can result is that a person’s true thoughts and feelings about a topic (or group of people) are ‘on blast.’ Forever.
What’s rather stunning about the Miss America affair is how many folks were using their real names to post what they felt about an Indian American being crowned. That’s especially telling because many believe, as I do, that the levels of racist attitudes among individuals is less of a concern than institutional racism, which is the more significant issue. Time to reconsider that assumption.
Still, there’s cause for hope; it resides in the hearts of everyone who tries to live into their belief of equality for all.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Your Experiences Influence How You See Others

Traveler? Homeless? Other?

Sunday morning while driving to church I spotted a man walking along North Avenue in the direction of downtown. He was pulling a black luggage bag with one hand. The other held a mobile phone, which he pressed firmly against his ear. The gait of his stride suggested he was on a mission but he didn't seem to be in that much of a hurry. Since it wasn’t raining or anything, I decided not to offer him a ride as I sometimes do when foul weather is afoot. Besides I was late. However, I still think about that guy and here’s why.
               I could be wrong but my sense was that he was headed to the train station and walking there was his only option. I've been there and done that myself in leaner times. You know the scenario: you need to get somewhere, don’t have a ride and the only option is hoofing it. Or maybe you don’t know that scenario, because you’ve never been broke. Like I was. Like probably he is.
               It can be easy to make value judgments about how people live. Especially when you yourself have been experiencing a certain way of being during your life. Or maybe have forgotten how things used to be back in the day. In the case of the intrepid traveler, based on the quality of his clothes and having a mobile phone, I was fairly confident he wasn’t homeless but had few assets.
Cold blooded suspect or cold civil rights activist?*
               Misunderstandings often arise when people mistakenly assume other folks have the resources to acquire basic necessities. Things like food, shelter and safety. Many people in this community simply don’t have these things because they lack the means. And in a lot of cases their friends and family don’t either.
               Things can be tough when your closest supporters have as little as you. For instance: you have some extra money the same time one of your friends or family are hit with financial crisis. Where do you imagine the spare resources go? Some say you should just take care of yourself or find new friends. Easier said than done.
               People of lesser means have fewer options. But your kids need help so you help them. Parents need assistance, you do the same. This isn’t about springing for a new video game or carton of cigarettes. We’re talking core needs, like a winter coat, paying a water bill or buying baby diapers. Yeah, it leaves you with little or sometimes nothing but what’re you going to do? Nothing?
Respected businessman, convicted felon?
               Working with less means you’re left with less after you help. Yet we blame the poor for being poor when all they’re trying to do is get by in life, just like folks with three-, four- and five-figure bank accounts. People with means have support systems around them who have the same resources or better. Therefore it's easier to support a lifestyle that doesn’t include welfare or food stamps. Need a lawyer? Call cousin Cherie. Need to get into a doctor fast? Uncle Tyson can help.
               Yet even as I think about it, I could be totally wrong about the guy walking on the street, and not about him going to the train station. What if he wasn’t out there walking because he had to? He could just as well have been on foot because he cares about vehicle carbon emissions and the environment. Or he could have been walking for health’s sake. Bottom line? Be careful about assigning value to the way other people move in the world. You might just find that the assessment you’re making is more about yourself than them.
*(photo credit: Nikkolas Smith courtesy of Deviant Art)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Materialism, Commercialism Harms Americans, Erodes Values

Becoming enlightened
I was changing a burned out light bulb the other day and noticed it was made in Mexico. No big deal. When I went to screw in a replacement, I noted that bulb was manufactured in China. Then I began to ponder an age old question but with a twist: how many people does it take to manufacture a light bulb? Zero in America, or close to it, if you’re referring to the kind that fit into typical household lamps.
I did a little research and discovered the last major General Electric factory manufacturing the familiar incandescent light bulbs in the United States closed in 2010. More digging uncovered an energy conservation bill, passed by Congress in 2007, set new standards that will make incandescent bulbs obsolete by 2014. Fun fact: the newer spiral-shaped fluorescent bulbs use about 75 percent less electricity than their incandescent cousins to produce the same amount of light.
Now I'm no economist but what troubles me about light bulbs essentially not being made in the United States is part of a larger problem affecting our country: much of the work that keeps laborers employed is being shipped overseas.
Ring in the new (but at what cost?)
It’s a business’ right to do so, of course. After all, this is America. It’s just that it says a lot about their values. And ours as consumers, since we buy their products. Many believe it’s okay not to fold social implications and moral obligations into business strategies. They say net profits should be the primary, if not sole force driving business.
What does all this have to do with humans being? Everything. That's because understanding some of the less desirable values associated with capitalism – or more precisely corporate capitalism –provides insight into many of the social ills plaguing our nation.
It’s sad but true: a chief priority in America is making money. Yet so many of the social issues affecting us are rooted in the acquisition of wealth and material goods. I've noticed whenever there’s little or no money to be made, there is little value attached to it overall in society.
It's no wonder why many of us care so little about our broken food system, or that as a society we cast aside our aging population like human waste when they no longer are productive in the monetary sense. Or that we treat disabled members of our society like broken items. It’s insane.
Rose-colored glasses blur the truth, doggoneit
Sadly, with great regularity I bear witness to or have eagerly participated in this insidious obsession with material things and money. Consciously and unconsciously. When I’m not paying attention I like to tell myself, especially when I’m wearing my favorite pair of rose-colored glasses, “It’s not for my own personal sake that I want to make as much money as I can. It’s security; the ability to keep my family safe and to take care of those closest to me.” Yet place the opportunity in front of me to earn an extra buck and my thoughts go first to buying a new mountain bike or MSU Spartans swag, before savings.
Yeah, I usually come to my senses and try to park the lion’s share of unexpected money in savings or investments, but that’s beside the point. My first thought was to spend it on things I could easily do without.
The point here is that American corporate enterprise might benefit from taking greater inventory on the influence and impact it has on U.S. citizens, even as it pursues its quarterly profit. It is said with great power comes great responsibility. It doesn’t take a light bulb going off to realize the benefits of such thinking.