Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Humanity of Donald Trump

I always try to remember that everyone was once a baby, new to the world, deserving of all of the love we can give. This goes for everyone, even Donald Trump. He’s a person, and I don’t want to forget his humanity, no matter what his presidential campaign has done or what his administration does.

I am concerned about what will happen in President Trump’s administration. The racism, sexism, ableism, Islamophobia, etc. of Trump’s campaign should be causes for concern. The history of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s treatment of LGBTQ folks is very troubling. Trump has the public persona of a bully, and that is very worrying. Yet, one moment gives me hope. I watched the first season of The Apprentice, and I caught parts of the show over the next few seasons. At the end of Season 4, there seemed to be a good case for both of the finalists. Trump chose Randal Pinkett, but then he said he could be convinced to also hire the runner-up, Rebecca Jarvis. He gave Randal the choice, but Randal said there should only be one hiring that day. Now, maybe I’m giving too much credit it here, and of course this is ripe for critique of the gender and race implications when Trump asked a black man to share the win with a white woman. Still, this seems like a moment of humanity out of Trump. He was willing to say there doesn’t have to be just one winner. He was willing to put aside the way things were done to allow for a little more inclusion. Again, maybe I’m being too generous, and maybe I’m naive, but this is the moment I keep coming back to as a source of hope that maybe Trump’s administration will be okay. I’m still worried. There’s still much work to be done. But losing hope and losing humanity would be disastrous, and perhaps this moment in Trump’s life can remind us of both.

Monday, November 7, 2016

On Trump and the Culture of Racism

I remember the first time I heard the word "nigger." (I'll henceforth refer to it as "the n-word" because I do not feel comfortable saying the word, nor do I think I should say the word. I only used it in that first sentence for the sake of clarity.) I was on the school bus in my nearly all-white small Ohio town headed to Kindergarten. Yes, that's right -- Kindergarten. I was five years old, and another white kid who, if I remember correctly, was a year or two older than me said the word. The bus driver, thankfully and appropriately, told him he was not to say that word again. To be honest, I was so unfamiliar with the word that I didn't even hear it correctly. I thought he said "digger," and of course I had no clue why the word was inappropriate.

I figured it out very soon afterwards. I don't remember how long after that it was, maybe a couple weeks, maybe a few months. I was looking in a book at a map of countries in Africa and I saw Niger. I instantly blurted it out, mispronouncing it as the n-word, and I went to my mom repeating it several times. She must have been so embarrassed. She was sitting at our kitchen table talking to someone who was over at our house (I don't remember who), and her son came up loudly saying this racial slur. She told me not to say it anymore and why it was inappropriate. I said it was the word I had heard on the bus, and she reiterated her response, also correcting me on the pronunciation of Niger.

I also remember the first time I heard the word "jigaboo." I was a trainer for my school's eighth grade boys basketball team, and we were playing an away game at one of the city schools in Lima, Ohio. The school had a large African-American population, and that of course translated to a basketball team made up of mostly African-American players. Some of my team's players, huddled together out of earshot from the opposing team, were trash talking the opposing team among themselves, using the word rather loosely to refer to the opposition's players. At the time wanting to desperately to fit in, I laughed along with the comments, even though I could tell by context this word was inappropriate and I didn't like it being said.

Something must have changed in my attitude by a year later because I remember that as a freshman in high school, I told another boy in my class that he should not use the n-word after I heard him doing so. He physically threatened me for telling him that. At the time, I carried my books in a briefcase. He took it and started trying to damaging it. He went to my locker and started kicking it with his boots, trying to bust into it to damage some of my things. He added a warning that I should watch out for him, all because I told him not to say the n-word.

Later in high school I remember a girl in my grade -- she was white; more than 90% of us in my school were -- telling me that her father had told her if she ever went on a date with a boy who was black, she may as well never come home. I also remember shortly thereafter witnessing her dad being honored at our church -- the same church that was affiliated with the Catholic school we attended -- for his commitment to the faith.

Finally, I remember when the varsity boys basketball team from my high school -- the one that contained a number of boys who had been on the eighth grade basketball team from the incident above -- made the state semifinals during my senior year. The team played a school from Columbus whose basketball team was predominantly African American, and that team beat my high school's team to advance to the state finals. I remember sitting in the stands hearing a number of my classmates, many of whom I had been growing up with since before Kindergarten, saying and yelling out racial slurs, especially the n-word, directed at the opposing team during the game. I was so disgusted that I moved to a different seat, one near one of our parish priests, and I told him what I was hearing. I also told my principal about it a few days later.

I'm writing all of this because I've been thinking about it lately while witnessing what has happened in and around Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Donald Trump's campaign has drawn on and emboldened some of the most racist elements of our society. White supremacists feel very comfortable endorsing him because the things he says and advocates resonate with them. Just recently, someone wrote "Vote Trump" while vandalizing and setting on fire an African-American church. Also, a man who reportedly supported Trump and who had been known to have waved a Confederate flag at African-American folks at sporting events killed two police officers. Anti-Semites, some of whom have used Trump rallies as places to vocalize their anti-Semitism, have also felt empowered by Trump's campaign. Islamophobes have been egged on by the policy positions Trump has advocated, which have been based on damaging stereotypes of Muslims, Arabs, and basically anyone from the Middle East. Trump's comments on Mexicans have also incited anti-Latino/a sentiments around a number of issues.

In the midst of this I have seen people from the town in which I grew up -- both people I know and people I don't know -- voice support for Donald Trump for president. Now, I want to be clear here. This does not apply to everyone from that town. It is, as all places are, a place with diversity, including diversity of perspectives. Many folks from there will not vote for Donald Trump. Additionally, I suspect a fair number may vote for Donald Trump, but they will do so despite him. I can see, for instance, the dilemma of someone who identifies as Republican, who sees voting for the ticket as her or his interest, and thus votes for Trump hoping Trump can be contained. I find a lot wrong about the positions of the Republican party, and so I don't advocate this path anyway, but I can at least understand the rationale. I can also see how dislike of Hillary Clinton and/or how some aspects of Trump, such as his "outsider" status in relationship to government and his willingness to buck elements of the system, might seem appealing. I still find these appeals lacking, but I think I can understand those types of appeals.

Meanwhile, I see a fair amount of enthusiasm about Trump emanating from folks in the town I grew up in and places like it (as well as from, it should be noted, some places with substantial differences). It's easy to try to rationalize this as the kinds of votes for Trump I just talked about. After all, I think people often wish to think the best of the people they know. At least I've often found myself doing that. But then I think of those experiences with which I began this post, and I come to the conclusion that there's a very racist component to many of these folks' support of Trump. In some cases, it's pretty overt. In other cases, it's not so overt, and folks may believe that they are not racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, etc., yet they are products of racist culture -- the very racist culture in which I grew up, the one that produced the kinds of experiences I have narrated here.

I want to reiterate part of that. I grew up in it. At least since high school, I was the liberal one who talked about the Civil Rights Movement, who did things like tell my classmate not to use the n-word, and so on. Yet, even while I learned to speak up against overt racism, I still ended up with some inferentially racist ideas, many of which I didn't recognize until well into my twenties, after I moved across the country, exposed myself to new and different people and perspectives, and dove more fully into my education as I began working on my Ph.D. This is not to claim that I have rid myself of all racist ideas I learned. Anti-racism involves a dedication to being willing to reflect on oneself and one's own practices and perspectives for the rest of one's life. I am, though, suggesting that if one of the more anti-racist folks to come from such a culture has had work to do to overcome racist ideas and practices, then those who have not been so openly anti-racist surely have work to do. In the end, then, this is a call for all of us -- for folks from the town in which I grew up, but also more generally than that -- to commit to a willingness to reflect on the forms of racism that exist in our own perspectives and practices, and to commit to a willingness to change those perspectives and practices so that we do not continue to perpetuate racism. Hillary Clinton is not without fault here. There are plenty of examples of things she has said and done that have perpetuated racism. A similar case can be made for other candidates as well. Yet, Donald Trump's campaign has activated this in a much more overt and violent way. Again, among other things, his campaign has emboldened white supremacists in a way that we haven't seen for awhile. And if you like what Trump has to say, maybe you need to consider that much more fully. Perhaps you will consider that, and I thank you for that. Perhaps, though, you won't, and if that happens, then I suspect you are -- whether you know it or not -- a white supremacist.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Respect: Conviction vs. Submission

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school as a kid. I made my First Communication, got confirmed, all of it. Then, in high school, when I was at mass (which usually meant only when we had mass during school hours), I stopped going to communion. I had come to the realization that I didn't believe in communion; I wasn't sure about whether God existed; and while I believed a man named Jesus had existed, I didn't believe he was God. So, because I had been told that nonbelievers and non-churchgoers were not supposed to take communion, I stopped taking communion. My mom questioned me about it. I saw whispering and shocked facial expressions around me. I was told I was self-centered. And so on.

The thing that I think so many Catholic folks around me did not understand is that I did this out of respect. I took what I had been taught seriously, and I didn't want to make a mockery of their religion by partaking in their practice when I shouldn't have done so. It would have been easy just to go along with everything and keep going to communion. I would have just gone through the motions, finished out my days in Catholic school, and moved on. I knew people who were doing exactly that. But I had been told how meaningful this was to Catholics, and so I wanted to respect their beliefs and their religion, and so I stopped taking communion.

To this day, I get frustrated when I see religious folks -- and in the United States, that largely means Christian folks -- seeking to impose their practices on others, whether those are practices involving birth control, sexuality, expression of belief in God, or any number of other things. It's as if they don't want people to respect their religion; they simply want people to submit to it. Not only does that run counter to my understandings of how liberties in a democracy are supposed to work; it disrespects their own religion as it takes away opportunity for others to respect it.

As I have seen recent discourse surrounding protests of the national anthem at sports events, beginning with and emanating most heavily from the protest actions taken by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, I see something similar happening. I see folks mandating that everyone stand for the playing of the national anthem, often out of what is a problematic appeal to support for the military. It would be easy for Colin Kaepernick to just go along with common practice and stand. That would take no courage and little if any conviction. As Abraham Khan put it so well, the argument for standing to support the military is not the courageous one here; rather, Kaepernick's stance is. Kaepernick chooses to protest, and what so many of critics fail to see is what I think folks failed to see when I stopped going to communion. While those critics argue that Kaepernick's actions are disrespectful, his actions are quite the opposite. He is showing respect for the national anthem by investing it with enough meaning to protest it. If he really didn't respect it, he wouldn't care and he wouldn't do anything. He'd likely just go along with standing for the anthem rather than expressing his convictions. Like religious folks who would rather people do things out of submission rather than conviction, Kaepernick's critics want him to put aside conviction and simply submit to the action of standing for the anthem. Those critics want submission, not respect, and so disrespect is occurring, but it's Kaepernick's critics, not Kaepernick who are doing it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lance Berkman -- A Matter of Character

If you've ever read anything I've posted on this blog about National Baseball Hall of Fame voting, you likely recognize that I have pretty liberal standards -- I'd bet among the most welcoming standards around. (For more, see here.) As part of that, I don't put much stock in the "character" criteria that is part of the process. To me, it's about performance on the field, regardless of my thoughts on the "character," "morality," or other such stuff of the players I would evaluate. That said, I think that if character is something folks who actually vote do care about -- and signs suggest that many of them do -- then recent news about Lance Berkman should cast serious doubt about his qualification.

Now, I begin this by recognizing that Lance Berkman is by no means a sure thing Hall of Famer. In fact, I don't think he'll be a Hall of Famer. His 366 home runs, 1905 hits, 1234 RBIs, and .293 batting average, while probably good enough for my very open standards, fall short of or in the same range as other players who didn't even make it past their first year on the ballot (Joe Carter, for example). Still, I imagine Berkman might get at least a handful of votes and some discussion when his ballot time comes. Yet, if those voters use the character test, they ought to examine Berkman's recent appearance in an advertisement against the city of Houston's Proposition 1 -- a ballot referendum that, if approved, would uphold the city's prohibition of discrimination against individuals for, among other things, gender identity.



Here I'm suggesting that in evaluating character, we ought to take into account willful ignorance, by which I mean not just ignorance (as we all have ignorance of some things; none of us knows everything), but maintained ignorance even in the face of clear exposure to knowledge that would keep one from being ignorant. Berkman's arguments about men using a faux "trans" identity to access women's restrooms to attack women and girls fit that definition of willful ignorance. Studies have shown no evidence of patterns of this kind of behavior. And even if Berkman didn't know that -- though it's been pretty prominently publicized by Houston Unites, which is leading the effort to pass Proposition 1 -- a simple cursory recognition of recent stories involving Penn State and the Catholic Church should demonstrate to Berkman that singling out transgendered folks not only perpetuates a demeaning and harmful stereotype, but also doesn't stop sexual assault and misconduct from happening.

So, if I was voting in a few years when Berkman is eligible, and I was of the mind to consider character when voting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I would have to have serious reservations about Berkman because of this advertisement. More to the point, Berkman would fail the character test because of the willful ignorance he displays in this ad.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Reflections on this Labor Day

On this Labor Day, I'm taking some time to think of all the folks whose labor contributes through a myriad of ways to my country and my world. Of particular note this year, I want to acknowledge folks who work at fast food restaurants. Amid national discussions regarding significantly raising minimum wage levels, I've seen considerable disparagement of folks who work at fast food restaurants, yet I go to places such as Burger King, McDonalds, and Subway frequently, and I see folks working quite hard whose labor deserves respect, not disparagement. The next time we celebrate the contributions of the firefighter who saves someone's life, the soldier who defends the country, the teacher who puts in long hours hoping to educate our young people, the utilities worker who works overtime away from home restoring power, and so on, let's not forget that the fast food workers who provide that teacher's coffee, that firefighter's breakfast, that utilities worker's lunch, and so on are providing valuable contributions as well. This is one reason why I support -- at the very least -- a living wage for folks who work at fast food restaurants and, for that matter, everyone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Long-Awaited Completion of a Voyage

This coming January will mark 20 years since the debut of the television series Star Trek: Voyager.  When the series debuted in 1995, I tuned in religiously.  For the first season or two, if I didn't see every episode when it aired, I came very close to it.  Then, working on my Master's degree interceded; life moved on from there; and except for the occasional instance when I happened to catch it, I didn't see much of the final five seasons of the show.

By the time the show ended its seven-season run in May 2001, I was living across the country from where I was when it began, I was a few months away from starting my Ph.D. program, and I was generally out of touch with the Star Trek television universe.  It had been two years since my favorite show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, had ended, and even though I had remained a little more regular in watching that until the end, I still hadn't been as consistent about it as I had been in the early 1990s when that show first started.

For Christmas 2006, knowing it was my favorite television show of all time, my wife bought me the complete collection of Deep Space Nine, and I began the process of watching the entire series from beginning to end -- a process that didn't take me too long to complete.  Then, two and a half years ago, when I got an Amazon Kindle and signed up for Amazon's Prime service, with access to Voyager available as part of that service, I began watching Voyager from the beginning.  It's been and off-and-on process over the past two and a half years, sandwiching episodes and sets of episodes within breaks in my workload.  Last night, though, I completed my voyage (pun intended) through the show's run, and I'm a bit sad to see it go, for the sake of nostalgia but also for something more.

A couple of years ago, just after I started watching the entire run of Voyager, one of my students told me that the show struggled for the first couple seasons but found its stride in Season 3 and was noticeably better after that.  I would agree completely with that assessment, and I would add that, in my final analysis, Voyager gets an undeserved bad rap.  In particular, the show left on its best note, as the seventh season contained a lot of excellent work that sought to address conscientiously the interests and complexities of multiculturalism.  From its beginning in 1966, Star Trek has always sought to articulate a multicultural vision, starting with the constitution of the original series' cast.  Still, especially with the original series, those attempts were clumsy, a reflection of a 1960s version of multiculturalism from which the show emanated.  Among the many reasons I like Deep Space Nine so much is that the series addressed multiculturalism with complexity and nuance that reflected growth in understandings of power relations and ethics in intercultural situations that had occurred by the 1990s.  Voyager seemed to seek to articulate some of that same understanding throughout its run, but it really hit its stride in its seventh season in doing so.

Interesting enough, Voyager's run ended just a few months into the George W. Bush administration and just a few months before the events of September 11, 2001, both of which facilitated (though, it should be noted, did not originate) a multicultural backlash within the United States that remains prevalent today.  I wonder if the final season of Voyager would have been the same had it aired today.  I tend to think it wouldn't.  I also, though, tend to think it would be worth returning to where Voyager left off in its articulation of multiculturalism and seeing if we can chart a course for a renewed voyage that furthers that mission. Voyager was certainly not free from critique, but it seemed to be moving in the right direction -- a direction that's worth revisiting and (again, pun intended) reengaging.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Long Distance Dedication

My interest in popular music blossomed in the Summer of 1987. Sure, I knew my share of hit songs before then, but I didn't really follow popular music until that summer, starting with watching Dial MTV every weekday and listening to Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40 every weekend.  The story lines of song working their way up and down the chart appealed to me, and soon thereafter, as I noted on this blog a little over a year ago, I discovered Billboard magazine as the source of those story lines and the histories of artists' performances throughout the rock 'n' roll era.

I soon learned, though, that Dees' countdown did not match Billboard's countdown, and I realized that that occurred because Dees took his Top 40 from Radio and Records magazine, not Billboard.  For the Billboard Top 40, I needed to listen to Casey Kasem, and I migrated to his weekly countdown, American Top 40, instead.

Less than a year later, in August 1988, Kasem left American Top 40, replaced by Shadoe Stevens.  I continued to follow along for a while with Stevens, at least until midway through 1989, when I bought a subscription to Billboard and no longer needed to listen to a countdown to learn the Top 40.  Still, Kasem had left his mark.  Listening to Kasem's American Top 40 significantly fostered my interest in popular music that became a fundamental influence on my decision to study popular culture, which I now do for my career.  I doubt I would be the same person I am today without those experiences listening to American Top 40, and so I owe Kasem, who passed away the other day, a dedication of gratitude for the part he played in making me who I am.

Thank you, Casey.  You are already missed.