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Thursday, August 29, 2013

I am a racist. United States of America fifty years after the dream.

I am a racist

This is not an argument for being racist. This is a description of why I think I am a racist and why many of you probably are as well.

In the lead up to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech there was extensive discussion of the state of racial affairs, equality, and justice. I found several points from Up With Steve Kornacki’s  to be especially insightful.

First several truths. The wage gap, life expectancy gap, education gap, infant mortality gap, and death penalty gap still exist in the United States of America in 2013. In each of these cases, studies show that race is a significant factor for outcomes in every area previously mentioned. Second, our schools are nearly as segregated now as they were before “Brown v. Board of Education.”

A great piece from Christian Science Monitor on "How far we have come."
http://www.csmonitor.com/Photo-Galleries/Infographics/Race-equality-in-America-How-far-have-we-come#720435

So then, what is a racist and what do the previously repeated truths about our American society have to do with racism.  One of the participants in the panel, outlined his insightful train of thought in roughly this way.  If I am a man involved in public affairs involved in the exchange of and debate with others of differing opinions I may find myself confronted by someone pushing a policy that I consider racist. Do I call this man a racist? Not necessarily. Something else needs to happen. The motivation for the policy may not be race. I should endeavor by clear discussion to show him that the intended policy has disproportionate and unequal effects on different races. If after this he continues pushing for and supporting his policy on specious grounds then I have no choice but to determine that he is a racist. A person that continually supports policies that disproportionately affect any one race is a racist.

A second panelist, joined the discussion at this point. “It may however not prove advantageous to call the person a racist. It may not be productive and in the end not lead toward better solutions.”

I believe the second point brings out the underlying tension between intentional and accidental racism. I think most of us would err to the side that says unless someone pursues a course of action specifically to harm or deny a good to a specific race they are not racist. On the other hand, I think the time has arrived for us to move toward the higher standard offered by the first panelist.

I spent some time reflecting on race this week. First, I thought of moments when meeting or even passing by others of a different race I have been more nervous. Let me be blunt. In walking past a group of African-Americans I have felt differently than I would toward a group of white kids. I am not even sure what the proper terms to express that reality are. I also thought about my support of systems of education and economics that undoubtedly produce racist outcomes. Countless studies show that many of the standardized tests that shape education are racially biased. I know employees of different races still are not paid equally for experience and qualifications. I know that being white opens doors for me that are closed to others. I know that I am involved with both of these types of offenses. The stock protestation that “I have black friends” is of no consolation or defense of this.

After fifty years of hearing about the dream it is time to raise the bar. The countless people of color who struggled for the decades leading up to to the civil rights act demand it. The great number of Caucasians, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and others that joined them demand it.  It is time to raise the bar. If you support policies that proaogate these unjust outcomes between races you are a racist.

I can’t stop being a racist by myself. I need neighbors and a community that help me form the relationships and friendships where I will no longer see people of a different race automatically as “the other.” The fear inspiring other who we do not know so often lies at the root of the “unintentional racist.” You may not go out of your way to harm them, but you certainly will not join the fight to help them.

It is time for us to be honest. Fifty years later. We all must fight to form communities of justice. We must fight to tear down institutions that discriminate without speaking the word “race” or “black” or “African-American” out loud. In our struggle to better our country we can all rise together, but to do this the forces that pit us against one another must be brought to light and overcome.


Fifty years is long enough.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Time-Warp and Soul and Friends

Time-Warp and Soul and Friends
This Sunday, I replaced a burst tire on a scoot bike for my two year-old. A friend at work generously gave it to me. It involved a small amount of sweat, some strategy, and a little skill. After I carried the little bike up into our second floor flat, my son beamed and hopped as he chanted, “My bike. My bike.”  Carefully balancing him on the bike, I pushed him back and forth through the living room and dining room. His sense of excitement did not dim. Sometimes a friend appears in an unexpected place with an unasked for gift. This shook my consciousness just enough to open a crack for a new perspective to work its way into my mind.
  
Later in the park across the street from my house, a free concert drew hundreds of listeners. I was struck by the turn-out as well as the planning of the city of Lakewood that makes events and uses of public space a priority. A strong sense of community flowed from the gathering. The crowd included grandparents with walkers down to children in strollers and my baby in my arms. Opportunities for soul and roots are liable to pop up at any time. A strange feeling of witnessing a piece of American nostalgia hovered in the back of my mind as a Souza March bounced down from the band-shell and washed over the crowd. The nostalgia lent the event a sense of purpose not a sense of backwardness.

Finally, at the close of the evening a college friend called. He asked some insightful questions and helped me strengthen my commitment to be more open to forming roots of my own and holding myself accountable for making choices that increase the soul in my own life. The word “friend” peppered the conversation that lasted several hours. I felt challenged to work discovering and creating what I wanted rather than hunting for it in travel. Travel, while enriching, does not erase the weaknesses the traveler brings in his own soul.

Travel helps me be open to people. In the routine of daily life, work, and family it is easy for me to walk past people and hard to take the time to hear about the people and things that give meaning to their lives. Also, a clueless traveler is often afforded a courtesy and people may share with them what they may not share with a neighbor. Maybe a traveler is given the benefit of the doubt precisely because their travel acts as in indicator of open-ness to their culture and life. Maybe cross-cultural travelers are forgiven for breaking the normal boundaries of curiosity. Who knows?
So how do I cultivate my sense of travelers open-ness at home?
How do I nurture a welcoming personality that lets people know I will value what they share even if and especially if their view and life is different than mine?
Do I create a space that allows for sharing without placing my demands or expectations on others?
Do I make the effort to engage with others who share these interests with me or do I keep my interests to myself?


Strong questions for someone who prides himself on being mindful and open to others.
Any thoughts or tips?...I am humbling waiting.

In this light I would like to share a link with a good family travel blog I found...

Sunday, August 18, 2013


HegeMoney- One thing I learned traveling around the world.

In the last four months, my international travel itch has returned.  My first trip outside the United States consisted of a month long trip to study Spanish in Guatemala. Friends questioned me regarding the safety of the endeavor.  Online touts and ex-alumni of Guatemalan language schools emphasized the clarity and quality of Spanish spoke as well as individual attention and affordability.

What I experienced there affected me more deeply than the language which I loved. The teachers in the school not only spoke Spanish but most of them spoke an indigenous language as well.  I encountered and came to know real human beings from another country. I encountered a country with a history, present, and future. For the first time, I smelled the dignity and soul of another land.

I have taken to watching a couple travel shows to scratch this resurgent travel itch. I enjoy them, but they continually beg the question: What is it about travel that draws me?  I have come up with four answers that cover most of what I enjoy. Some of it positive and some of it not so much, but like many things the human experience is never totally pure or clear. First, I value the encounter of authentic people and cultures …what I will call “soul” or “roots”.  Second, I believe travel offers the opportunity for the traveler to enter a liminal space which allows one to see things from a new and unique perspective.  Third, my travels often allow me to encounter life with a level of technology and insulation stripped away. This could be described as quaint by some, primitive by others, or even like the good old days. Finally, travel offers in a heightened and compressed space the opportunity to appreciate the unique and special aspect of my life and the lives of those I meet.

This all brings me to a fundamental question of dignity and intention that Anthony Bourdain summed up so well in the episode where he visited Laos. “What if by doing our job well we hasten the destruction of that which we love?”  Ah, that struck me. It has always been something I feared. You can never go home again and you can never return to a place you visited and expect that it has remain unchanged.

There are many reasons for this. The first and most positive  being the transformation that can occur within the visitor and the host. There are other more insidious changes that can arise. One deals with money and the tensions it brings. “Ah, would you want to rob someone in a developing or third world country of the chance to have a better job or a tv?” questioned one economics professor. Unfortunately I fear that the choices offered each day can be more harmful and long lived than a tv or job might indicate. Possibly more so for citizens of  “undeveloped”  countries than they are for those in developed countries.

I fear this because what I have discovered that I treasure and value most in my travels is the “soul” and rootedness that I find still present in certain places. As I look back on the more than 60,000 miles I have traveled this is the surest indicator of my impression of a country. This is probably because I continue to feel challenged by the sense of rootlessness and soullessness I find in my own life.  I don’t think it is coincidental that “world happiness rankings” are filled with “less developed” countries who are happier. In my travels I would say this is true on the individual level as well. Many “less developed countries” are filled with happier people. Not all countries of course and not all people. This is also not to glorify the “death dealing” poverty that many face every day. These I believe are separate issues.

The money itself carries power and many of the implicit assumptions of a  “modern developed” economy. Even if students and travelers arrive without an agenda their presence and money subtly shift and change the opportunities and choices that everyone else encounters. In economics this is called a “market distortion” and is usually when used in terms of the government buying or subsidizing a service. It could be applied in this situation as well since these “foreign” demands are not indigenous to or arising from within the local market. The assumption of our current system is that an “indigenous market” only has value to the extent that it delivers a greater amount of utility or return to someone, but how can you measure the value or even the presence of “roots” or “soul”.

                I would not want to take away any person’s right to choose that job or that tv, but as a rootless,  cultureless denizen of the developed market I would like to share with them what I see in their lives and ask them what they see in mine. Then they could choose, and I would remind them that they will choose again tomorrow and the next day because the future arrives everyday as the sun rises.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Beginning, Middle, or End?

Beginning, middle, or end?

It was nearly a year ago that I began working as an analyst at Freedonia Custom Research. I had just graduated from the Masters Program in Economics at Cleveland State. The excitement of beginning work as an economist thrilled me. My wife was four months pregnant. My oldest son celebrated his first birthday a month earlier.
So was this the beginning, middle, or end? An even better question, the beginning, middle, or end of what?
One Saturday afternoon, my wife suggested we call our trusty sitter so that we could "go on a date."  Luckily our sitter was available...
My wife and I ordered twin medium cappucino's and settled in at one of the tables in our local coffee shop. She pulled out two index cards and handed me one. "On one side write your dreams accomplished, and on the other side write dreamss you still want to accomplish." Her eyes twinkled with a hint of mischief.
My list of dreams accomplished looked like this...
                                             finish my book
                                             have a great family
                                             go on a world trip/adventure and connect with people
                                                            (blog here... http://tourdeflor.travellerspoint.com/toc/
                                              have a great marriage
                                              find a job
                                             be dedicated to my spiritual life

My list of  dreams to be accomplished looked like this...
                                              Publish my book
                                              have more adventures with my family
                                              start my own business
                                              stay in closer contact with my extended family
                                               play more
                                               see a stage of the Tour de France.

Over the last year, my wife and I have begun having more adventures with the family. Substantial progress has been made on this dream. We took the boys tent camping for the first time. We visited the Toledo Zoo with my Aunt Lauren and Uncle Fred. FYI, the hippoquarium is a winner!  We  have also been visiting the Catholic Churches for the Diocese of Cleveland pilgrimmage.  more on this to come and will be appearing here...http://florethusa.travellerspoint.com/

Another dream I am well on my way to accomplishing is to play more. My son is constant reminder to be present and play with him. His little voice constantly pipes up, "Daddy, come play." "Daddy, over here." "Daddy, play cars." "Daddy, come this way." are just a few variations on the theme. Now his little brother at around six months has joined the chorus. The smiles and giggles are unmistakeable...the time to play with him has arrived as well.

I am trying to breathe a little more, eat a little less, enjoy a little more and worry a little less. The priest at mass last weekend had a great reminder for me. He was what I could only describe as wizened. His gray hair was thinning where it remained and tousled where it was thinning. His neck rose gauntly from the large billowy vestments.  "Why should you worry if you are moving into a future filled with God and his mercy."

Indeed, why should I worry.

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