Time For White People To Act Up For Racial Justice

Thursday 17 August 2017

As a teenage white boy in the late 1990s, learning about the Civil Rights Era in my Holgate HS history class, I remember asking myself, “What would I have done if I had lived during that time?” Would I have marched with Dr. King or others like him? Would I have stood up against racism, bigotry, and oppression where I lived? Or would I have sat idle on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to challenge the status quo of a white-topped hierarchy?

The unfortunate events that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend are a tragic reminder that I need not wonder how I would have acted had I lived five decades ago; my opportunity for action is now.

Violent actions by white supremacists and calls by white citizens to “Take Back America” are a stark reminder that we do not, as many claim, live in a post-racial society. These events, along with recent government actions that seek to restrict people of color from voting and claim discrimination against white students applying to college, clearly show that race is still a defining construct of our country.

And as such, each of us has the opportunity to stand up and act out against the same vile beliefs and actions many hoped were relegated to history books.

So what can we do?

We—white people—need to learn the history of racism and begin to recognize systems and structures that are still in place that continue to oppress people of color. These include an unjust education system; unequal policing and jailing practices; and continued banking and mortgage discrimination, just to name a few.

We need to take the lead in addressing policies and practices in our government and the organizations we’re a part of that perpetuate racism. We need to recognize that white supremacy has been baked into our country and most of its institutions and work to eliminate it.

We need to openly and regularly discuss issues of race and racism at our workplaces, schools, places of worship, and dinner tables so we can become more comfortable when it’s time to have the tough conversations.

If you’re a white person sitting idly by, avoiding taking action against the systemic and interpersonal racism present in your life and community, you’re complicit in allowing it to continue.

The time of action is now. What are you going to do?

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After Cubs victory, pushing for end to other generational longings

Friday 4 November 2016

Here in Chicago, we’re celebrating. After more than a century of waiting, “Next Year” is finally here; the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

As I watched the post game celebrations with my roommates and girlfriend—none of them sports fans, but all of them swept up in the excitement—they asked me to help them understand the significance of this win for Cubs fans.

I made a few attempts—someone getting a job in their chosen field after years of trying, a young adult being the first of the family to attend college—but none got it quite right. The Cubs’ Game 7 win ended a generational longing, fulfilled a desire to prove we were “good enough,” and provided a feeling of accomplishment and acceptance that had eluded Cubs fans for decades.

There are few among us who were alive the last time the Cubs won the World Series, and most certainly no one who remembers it. But focusing on the living leaves out the countless stories of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and grandparents who all cheered for the Cubs but never lived to see this moment.

I’m sure most Cubs fans have that huge fan in their lives who is no longer here to join in the excitement. For me, it’s Ron Santo, the former Cub and Hall of Famer who called games on Cubs Radio for 20 years. Ron’s radio antics are legendary, and while I never knew him personally, he’s certainly the biggest Cubs fan I’ve ever known. But having died in 2010, he’s not here to experience the joy of this historic occasion.

In pondering the generational longing of Cubs fans, I couldn’t help but think about the many other groups of people who have endured much more pain and suffering over the course of generations and still yearn for an end to their trials and tribulations. What would it mean for African Americans to be fully accepted and valued in our country, for their generational longing for justice to come true? What would it mean for women to achieve complete agency of their bodies and their lives, to be treated as fully human and not as objects or accessories?

In a city like Chicago, examples of continued injustice seeking recompense abound—lack of police accountability and continued issues of police brutality; gentrification and hyper segregation; and an underfunded school system, to name but a few. Many have died in the fight and the wait for justice, and yet these problems still persist.

We are conditioned to think that change will happen eventually, that if we’re patient enough, it will come. “The Cubs will win, some day, they have to,” we said. But their win was not inevitable; it took the concerted effort over multiple years of Cubs management to create the team that pulled this off.

Similarly, to create a country and world where justice reigns, to fulfill the generational longing of so many, it will take a concerted effort. But so many of us sit back, waiting for some inevitable day of justice that has yet to come. And as the days and years pass, more and more individuals depart us who were never able to experience justice, never able to shake the generational longing that had been plaguing them since their memory began.

Achieving that goal is the work of us all. We must diligently look at how our government, our institutions, and our own selves prolong the longing felt by so many others in the US and beyond. The joy and exuberance that will be felt when that longing has ended will pale in comparison to any joy being felt by Cubs fans today.

With “Next Year” having finally arrived for Cubs fans, we must all join in doing the work to end the generational longing still felt by so many.


Fighting Fear

Monday 5 March 2012

My roommate came home tonight and said, in walking the few blocks home after having dinner with a friend she was a little apprehensive, not wanting to get mugged. There have maybe been a few extra reports of some purse snatching and a holdup at a nearby Subway, but nothing that I would consider a “crime wave.” In reality the neighborhood is probably just as safe/unsafe as it was a few weeks ago, but for her, the perceived possibility of an attack, even though minor, was still a cause for an added level of vigilance.

It’s no secret that fear is used to get people to do a lot of things they might not do otherwise. Most people would agree that fear was the driving force behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and likely the reason the USA PATRIOT Act (does that name still gross anyone else out?) was able to get the support it needed to pass through Congress. Fear is a powerful tool often used to convince, and it continues to be used by those in power to keep control and avoid rebellion and retaliation by those being oppressed.

This past Friday night, a group of 30 students occupied an upper level floor in the DePaul Student Center in the late evening, calling for a discussion with trustees about a vote the next day about possible tuition hikes. As I followed the story via twitter and time approached the 1am closing time of the Student Center, news came across that students were being threatened the possibility of losing their financial aid if they did not leave. Fear. The 30 students discussed with one another their desire to stay the night or leave together in solidarity, knowing that they might be putting their education on the line should they stay. In the end, while students voted 16-14 to all stay, because many feared losing, only 14 stayed behind to continue the occupation.

The next morning I woke up, thinking about the situation. What would happen (there may be forthcoming repercussions, we don’t know) if the administration cuts grants and financial aid? It would probably be a shit of a PR fiasco, I would imagine. Many local news stations covered the occupation, so likely the financial aid controversy would be an interesting story, too. Or what if the students had been arrested? The university obviously knew this wouldn’t be good for business (it is a private school, so technically an educational business), so students were actually allowed to stay, though were moved to the ground floor.

Then today, Monday, my twitter feed told me about the passing of the bill H.R. 347, the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.” It basically ups the ante on the penalty — now a felony — for protests or actions in certain conditions and locations in restricted area. This informative article on a socialist website tells the (frightening) details. If I want to protest, now I have to be worried about the possibility I might be committing a felony — something that in many states would even restrict my right to vote! Fear.

When I think of “restricted” areas, I’m hearkened back to my time in the West Bank. Areas in the West Bank are often called restricted to keep Palestinians out, either temporarily or long term. Are these oppressive practices what the US is now turning too?

It continues to worry me the way this country is moving, continuing to support the rich and powerful while oppressing others, using the government and courts to provide legitimacy for the oppression while still seeming to be acting in the good of all. In Syria, we see the results of an oppressive regime taken to the extreme: death to those who resist. I hope we may possibly turn things around in this country before that happens, but the more days go by, the more I wonder what this country will look like in 50 years.


American American

Monday 4 July 2011

It’s July 4, y’all, the day we celebrate the creation of these (wonderful) United States of American in 1776 with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and I’m back blogging with a vengeance!

I’m not going to pretend the U.S. doesn’t have some pretty great things going for it; if you check out the kind of overt oppression happening the last few months in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, I think all of us citizens of the U S of A can all be thankful to live where we do.

But, if you know me or have read my blog in the past, you know I like to get critical.  And I figure what better day than this one, a day we think with inflated egos just how great and awesome we are, to look a little deeper at some of the ways I think we’re getting it wrong:

Economic Disparity: If you ask me, this is from where all the problems stem. We’re a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and with a system where those with money are in power or paying to get their friends into power (see below), the cycle will continue. A few infographics (Inequality, Stupid; 15 Facts) and this amazing article, “Who Rules America,” tell the story pretty well, but the basic idea is that the top 1% of Americans has as much money and wealth as the bottom 90%, a group that itself is fairly stratified. Thus, the $1 you and I might spend on a meal means Oprah gets to spend $90. Does that seem right to you?

“Free” Speech: In the past few years, the Supreme Court has basically determined that the right to free speech means the right to as much speech as you’re willing and able to pay for. This means that should I run for office, I can choose to forgo getting in bed with corporations and wealthy individuals and stay true to my ideals, but if someone else is well-financed, they can pretty much drown out me and my voice. Basically, free speech doesn’t mean equal amounts of speech, and in this game, if you have money, you win and get to make the rules that help you get more money, though this has been true for awhile, it’s just become even moreso as of late.

Health Care: I’m guessing I don’t have to inform you that we still don’t have universal health care.  Yes, there was a bill passed that requires everyone to purchase health care, I’m aware, but universal health care this is not.  Instead, what this does is create an even a larger pool of participants for private insurance companies to reap more money and profits from the estimated 50+ million without insurance.  And with Medicare and Medicaid on the ropes, those who would lose such benefits would now also be required to “buy” insurance, again putting money in the hands of private companies.  Why is health care not something we feel is a human right, afforded to everyone, like a high school education?

Education: While we’re on the topic of universal rights, can we discuss the horrific state of the education system of this country?  In Chicago, the high school graduation rate in 2010 was only 56% (an improvement from 1999’s 47%, but still a travesty).  Big cities across the country have similar stories.  A lot of this, again, comes back to money.  With all the states of which I’m aware using property taxes to fund education, this means more money is spent on education in wealthy areas than poor areas.  And if you have money and don’t like your school system, you either move or simply send your kids to a private school.  If we truly valued education the way we give it lip service, we’d fund it as such.

Competitive Eating: If anything is representative of the excess that has become this country, it’s the event held on Coney Island each July 4: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.  This year’s winner, Joey Chestnut, ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes (and of course the 20 or so other contestants ate a lot, too).  Yet there are still families heading to soup kitchens and food pantries because they have nothing to eat.  What drives something like this?  Well, this year’s event was (again) broadcast live on ESPN, with Pepto-Bismol as a top sponsor.  I’m going to guess advertising money.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I don’t have time today to write about issues of housing, transportation, Social Security, unemployment, prisons and criminal (in)justice, war and foreign policy, and many others — I want to enjoy my day off, too!

But as we celebrate today and in days to come, let’s not be complacent with the current ways of our country. We still live in a democracy, which means power to the people if we choose to claim it.

I leave you with a great op-art piece with a humorous look at our nation’s not-always-so-pleasant-looking history: Like It or Unfriend It

(The title of this blog post is meant to be read as an adjective followed by a noun.  The second “American,” the noun, is meant to signify that I, being someone living in the U.S., would colloquially be called an American.  In the first word, the adjective, I am affirming my belief that to act in an American way is to challenge the status quo and to work to make  a better country for everyone — EVERYONE — and that’s what I believe I try to do, and hopefully this blog is just one such example.)

(Oh, and why not a throwback to a post I wrote in September 2007, too: economic oppression)


Tea Party thoughts

Friday 16 April 2010

I was going to make today some (likely) pretty controversial and assured remarks, but doing some more reading and thinking, I decided to tone it down a few notches, but hopefully still make my point and jump start some conversation.

15 April was tax day, and it also marks an important anniversary for the current Tea Party movement, as it was the day of the first true and major Tea Party protests.  A recent NY Times/CBS News poll raises some interesting questions and issues about the makeup of those who consider themselves Tea Party supporters.  (You can see the full report, or general trends, in addition to a descriptive NY Times article on the poll.)

A conversation was also held on the NY Times “Room For Debate” page (fast becoming one of my favorite places to read about trends and topics), titling the discussion, “What Tea Party Backers Want.”  Contributors looked at some of the  basic findings of the poll — which include racial and class background — and tried to infer (as we all do) larger ideas going on inside the Tea Party movement.

From the poll itself, I wanted to pull out question #72 for specific examination:

72. In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?

Too much Too little Just right Don’t Know/NA
All Respondents 28 16 44 11
Tea Party Supporters 52 6 36 6

I also particularly liked a few comments by Alan Brinkley, the Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University, is the author of “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century,” a forthcoming biography:

The other striking finding in this poll is the importance of race and diversity, something that Tea Partiers do not emphasize in their rallies and literature. But they show very clearly the racial anxiety that many of them appear to feel. This is not traditional racism, although there are almost certainly traditional racists within the movement.

The real issue, I believe, is a sense among white males that they are somehow being displaced, that the country is no longer “theirs,” that minorities and immigrants are becoming more and more powerful within society. And, of course, they are right about that. They just fear it more than many other Americans.

In particular, let’s look at a phrase Mr. Brinkley used: “traditional racism.”  I think what he means is bigotry, the overt feelings and declarations that whites are better than others, and certain rights should only be allowed to a particular group.  This “traditional racism” brought us things like separate water fountains, “white’s only” clubs, and the illegality of interracial marriages, to name of a few.  While some great civil rights laws prohibit these kinds of things, there are probably still those around who wouldn’t mind of some of those things were back.

But the larger problem here is the systematic racism that pervades society.  Looking at question #72 from the survey, I’m curious how one could say too much has been made of the problems of any group.  If there are problems, there are problems, and they need to be dealt with.  I guess the argument might come that one believes the amount of attention given to “the other group’s problems” are too large proportionally compared to “my problems.”

And here we get to what’s happening: internalized racial superiority.  As defined on the website for the People’s Institute For Survival and Beyond, IRS is:

The acceptance of and acting out of an superior definition of self, rooted in the historical designation of one’s race. Over many generations, this process of empowerment and access expresses itself as unearned privileges, access to institutional power and invisible advantages based upon race.

As Mr. Brinkley, I think, rightly posits, the Tea Party movement is a largely white movement based on those concerned with losing the privileges they hold based on their white race (and similarly their class status).  This is, however, an issue for all of U.S. society to deal with (while 52% of TP supporters answered “Too much” to question #72, so did 22% of the rest did, too — see below).  Practically, who would want to lose privileges they have?  If you have a company car or extra vacation days, to see them go away would not be enjoyed.  Similarly, many seniors have spoken up about cuts to Medicare — if you have something, you don’t want to lose it.

However, if we desire to be a place where all are treated equal, we must come to terms that the current structure (capitalist as it may be) privileges whites and oppresses black.  Much of this has to do with the economic that favors the haves (generally whites) and oppresses the have-nots (generally people of color).  It’s a cycle that many people are trying to end, but it is also one that isn’t know by many and often not talked about.

If some or all of this is news to you and you’re white (or anyone curious about all this), your next step is to read the article (just click on the title) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It will help you recognize the ways you gain privilege in ways that probably go unnoticed to you every day.  When you see how much you get without even realizing it, maybe you’ll think more clearly about the ways we’re oppressing people of color by failing to recognize the problems and issues of others are really the problems of all.

**(The calculation that 22% of non-Tea Party supporters answered “Too much” to question #72 was found by showing 52% of the 19% of TP supports who said “Too much” was about 10% of the total.  That meant 18% of the total who said “Too much” were not TP supporters, and 18% of the whole relating to the 81% of the group remaining leads, by ratio, to 22% of the non-Tea Party supporters responding “Too much.”)**


another health care post

Sunday 11 April 2010

I started reading T.R. Reid’s book “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care” this week, which I picked up at the library after talking about it in a past post, so I hope to write more on that later.  So far, it’s a pretty easy read, not too dense or technical but contains a lot of readable information (which should be true for a good journalist’s writing), so I still recommend it.

What starting that book has helped me realize is that what I care most about is health care being universal for all people.  There are many countries doing it in many different ways, but they cover everyone with some kind of basic care that allows people not to have to worry about general health care costs ruining their life.  You would think people could get behind that much and then it just be the “devil in the details,” but I still wonder if everyone believes health care coverage is a right and not a privilege.  Perhaps that’s the debate we need to be having now that a bill has been passed — winning the hearts and minds of people regarding the issue about universal health care so we can be better able to make more changes that will (almost assuredly) need to happen.

I read two articles this week that I wanted to share in relation to health care.  The first article is simply Governor Mitt Romney on Health Care, regarding his take on the health care bill and how it relates to what was passed in his state of Massachusetts, a bill he backed.  His big beef, at least how he wants to portray it, is that he thinks health care is a state issue and should be treated that way as opposed to a national mandate to carry coverage.  However, because there is so much mobility of people within the U.S., and because you’re a citizen not of a state (only a resident there), I have to disagree and say this is rather a national issue.  If the U.S. were more akin to the E.U., then maybe I could get behind that argument, but from what I can tell, all I needed was transportation to move from Ohio to Illinois to Wisconsin (and on and on, like I have), whereas  trying this from Germany to Italy to Spain, etc., would take visa upon visa upon visa, and simply living in Germany wouldn’t get me free health care any more than me showing up in Boston tomorrow would get me free health care there.  The U.S. is one country (for the foreseeable future), and health care needs to be looked at in that way.

The second article that sparked my interest was another in the NY Times “Room for Debate” series, titled “Stupak’s Abortion Deal and His Exit.”  It gives an interesting debate on how abortion policy and positions affect politics.  I’ve always been the kind of person who felt like not much would change in the political spectrum because of the views of whatever politician I was electing, so I never really even take their views on the topic into consideration.  However, many people do, and many people will not vote for someone who does not hold convictions regarding abortion they can support.  If you believe that laws banning abortion will end abortions, you need to watch Vera Drake or 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (or both), movies about those who have and carry out illegal abortions in various societies and time periods (1950s Britain and 1980s Romania, in particular).

Having never been a situation where I had to think about whether or not to have an abortion, I  find it very hard to think about what I might do if put in a situation where abortion might be seen by some as the best option.  And because I’m not really one to tell others what to do, I don’t want to say what is or isn’t the right decision in such situations.  I think if it came right down to it, I don’t think I could go through with an abortion, but instead of forcing others to do that themselves by law, I think we need to discuss the issue in a way that helps people first avoid as much as possible putting oneself in a situation to make that decision, and also to help people realize there are other options beyond abortion.  Perhaps that puts me in the middle ground that the article notes may be fading, but I think that instead of moving toward the edges, we all really need to be finding ways to grow closer together.


health care reform bill: day 5

Friday 2 April 2010

I’ve had some great comments about my series this week on the health care reform bill (though not directly to the blog), so I hope you, too, have enjoyed it.  In case you missed any of my previous day’s topics, here’s the recap:

Day 1 featured my main thoughts on the new health care reform bill. (If you haven’t read it yet, it’s the place to start.)
Day 2 contained multiple views and comments on the health care bill via a link to a NY Times article.
Day 3 contained links to Democracy Now! clips relating to the continuation of the for-profit system and palliative care.
Day 4 featured more of my comments in relation to the cost of health care mixed in with articles and other comments on the same topic.

I want to close out this week thinking about the ethics and morality of the United States’ health care system, especially in lieu of what goes on in other “wealthy” countries around the world.

This week I was keyed into a man named T.R. Reid.  In his article for the Washington Post, 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World, he starts out this way:

“As Americans search for the cure to what ails our health-care system, we’ve overlooked an invaluable source of ideas and solutions: the rest of the world. All the other industrialized democracies have faced problems like ours, yet they’ve found ways to cover everybody — and still spend far less than we do.

“I’ve traveled the world from Oslo to Osaka to see how other developed democracies provide health care. Instead of dismissing these models as “socialist,” we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems. To do that, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad:”

He goes on to share some very interesting facts (see below).

Many other countries provide health care to everyone, though the way it is structured and paid for in each country is a little bit different.  Mr. Reid‘s article debunks some of the myths, as he did in an interview for the program Inter Compass (click and scroll down to episode #1011, Healthcare Around the World, to watch or listen) where he explained things a bit more.  He spoke about the ethics of health care, how the systems in other countries differ from that of the U.S., and many other issues I touched on in my first post.  But there was one exchange that I think is so poignant and powerful that I’ve transcribed it here to make sure you hear it (the total interview is 30 minutes, and this quote comes just at the 20 minute mark)(Thanks to Karen Saupe for sharing this):

Host, Shirley Hoogstra: Well, there’s something [referring to a previous statement] that goes against the grain of the American individualism with that, right: this idea that in Canada, well as long as the rich Canadian has to wait as long as the poor Canadian has to wait…

T.R. Reid: They’re into that, yeah.

SH: Yeah, you know, and I think in America, it’s sort of like, “Look: if I’ve earned it, if I’ve got my own wealth, I want to be able to get to the head of the line, I want to be able to buy what I want.  So would that kind’ve have to change? Would that mentality of, you know, “Look I’ve done it, I get it?”

TRR: Well, there are a lot of commodities where we say, “If you’ve worked hard and have the money or inherited the money, you get it.”  The question is whether health care is that kind of commodity, and the economist term for this is the distributional ethic.  What’s your ethic for distributing goods?  Well, we have a distributional ethic for votes: everybody get’s one.

SH: Right.

TRR: Bill Gates gets one, his chauffeur gets one.  Right? Uh, we have a different distributional ethic for yachts.

SH: That’s true.

TRR: If you have money, you can have ten of ’em; if you don’t have money, tough, and we don’t mind that. So here’s the question: do you think health care is more like voting or is it more like yachting.  Well, what I found in my book is all the other countries have said, “No, this is, this is like voting. This is like education.  This is like equal treatment.  Everybody should have the same.” But the U.S. hasn’t made that commitment.

Isn’t it time the U.S. made that commitment?  Should health care be more like education, where the U.S. provides a basic service to all people, or do we want to keep our current system where only those with certain money or connections obtain basic, life-giving health care?  This reform bill claims to accord everyone care while still letting people make money from it, but I think we’re going to see that you can’t do both, and then we’ll have to choose how we want to more forward.

As Mr. Reid notes in his interview, universal health care — which comes in many shapes and forms around the world — would take a massive overhaul of the system, not just attempts to tweak the system that this health care bill tries to accomplish meaningful change with.  Perhaps this is a good first step, but hopefully more and more people will begin to recognize the moral imperative of universal health care and call for a system that no longer discriminates and kills in the way our current system does.  I encourage you to be someone who does just that.

(Reid also has a book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, which I think I’m going to look for myself.)

Some of the more interesting facts I found in Reid’s column:

As for those notorious waiting lists, some countries are indeed plagued by them. Canada makes patients wait weeks or months for nonemergency care, as a way to keep costs down. But studies by the Commonwealth Fund and others report that many nations — Germany, Britain, Austria — outperform the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries.  In Japan, waiting times are so short that most patients don’t bother to make an appointment.

U.S. health insurance companies have the highest administrative costs in the world; they spend roughly 20 cents of every dollar for nonmedical costs, such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing. France’s health insurance industry, in contrast, covers everybody and spends about 4 percent on administration. Canada’s universal insurance system, run by government bureaucrats, spends 6 percent on administration. In Taiwan, a leaner version of the Canadian model has administrative costs of 1.5 percent; one year, this figure ballooned to 2 percent, and the opposition parties savaged the government for wasting money.
The world champion at controlling medical costs is Japan, even though its aging population is a profligate consumer of medical care. On average, the Japanese go to the doctor 15 times a year, three times the U.S. rate. They have twice as many MRI scans and X-rays. Quality is high; life expectancy and recovery rates for major diseases are better than in the United States. And yet Japan spends about $3,400 per person annually on health care; the United States spends more than $7,000.

Overseas, strict cost controls actually drive innovation. In the United States, an MRI scan of the neck region costs about $1,500. In Japan, the identical scan costs $98. Under the pressure of cost controls, Japanese researchers found ways to perform the same diagnostic technique for one-fifteenth the American price. (And Japanese labs still make a profit.)

The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people’s medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.