Friday, December 2, 2016

Is the Label of "Racist" Overused?

I’ve come to the conclusion that people overuse the word racist. Please let me explain what I mean. Racism is a complicated thing, and most people mistakenly believe that racism is simply overt hatred for a person of another race or ethnicity. That would be prejudice, and while that can certainly be seen as a symptom of racism, it goes much deeper than that. Racism is usually cultivated over time. It becomes woven in the very fabric of cultural norms. It begins with negative attitude about another group, and maybe mistreatment and discrimination. In our own history, for example, African Americans began as slaves; property. Once freed and extended citizenship, the attitudes people had about African Americans didn’t change. They still saw them as lesser Americans, and passed laws that limited their rights and ability to participate equally in our society. Over the course of centuries, that systemic treatment of African Americans became the norm. No one questioned it. If you were born white (even poor), at least you didn’t have to deal with the crap African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, or Latinos had to go through. There was a level of racial and social privilege that came with it. People of different races were kept in separate communities and separate in all social facilities. In no way was it ever equal. It was deliberate, and largely that segregation still exists today.

Here’s what changed. The Civil Rights Movement made this division and inequality a national conversation. Suddenly, people were standing up and fighting for their rights. Aside from the abolition of separate but equal conditions, this movement made outward, blatant prejudice socially unacceptable. Beforehand, it wasn’t uncommon for people to use racial slurs as part of their normal vernacular. But after the movement had finally settled down, not only could businesses no longer turn people away over skin color, it became wrong to call people by these racial slurs. But while we taught America that being racist was bad, we didn’t really define it, and we really only addressed certain aspects of it.

Racism is more commonly defined today by social scientists as a condition where one dominant racial group uses social and governmental institutions to limit the rights of people of a non-dominant racial group. For most of US history, this has been true. When people say that we’ve moved past that time, we have so in one sense, but the infrastructure is still there. We no longer call each other by those words used in the past. We may not even harbor any ill will or negative attitudes for people in the minority, but we have to realize that those systemic aspect of racism still lie beneath the surface in the form of stereotypes, segregation, and even the discounting of the lives and conditions often experienced by those who come from those minority groups.

It’s hard to see that from the perspective of a white person. We have largely experienced a different America, and it’s almost impossible to see the world through the eyes of others. That should be acknowledged. Here’s where I say the racist label is overused, and perhaps a little unfair.

One of the things white Americans are most sensitive about is being deemed a racist. That’s a powerful word; a powerful label. People get really upset when you call them a racist, or even imply that they are. I would even go as far as to say that saying, “that’s racist” may cause a person to think you’re calling them a racist. Truly, in their hearts, they believe they are not. They don’t hate people of other races or ethnicities. Perhaps they have friends in those groups. Maybe they occasionally step into that trap where they are either ignorant to something they didn’t realize about the other group, or they might mistakenly say something that plays into a stereotype or something that is insensitive. Hell, I do it from time to time. But I don’t think that makes a person racist.

People break the law all the time. I’m sure I drive faster than the speed limit at least 95% of the time. I have run red lights and driven with my seat belt unbuckled. Does that make me a criminal? I have committed crimes, but am I deserving of the label? The label changes everything. It comes with a stigma. If you were to tell someone who didn’t know me that I’m a criminal, they might assume that I rob people on a regular basis or something worse. They wouldn’t be thinking about traffic violations. I don’t even think we really view people with DWI convictions as criminals, and that’s something we take very seriously as a society. Furthermore, placing a suffix like –ist at the end of a word implies that a person is actively operating something. A motorist actively drives a car. You’re not a motorist if you’re a passenger. A racist, to me, might do more to describe someone who actively uses a prejudiced attitude and sees people of a non-dominant race as inferior. David Duke? Racist. Neo-Nazis? Racist. You’re Uncle Joe that uses the n-word every five minutes? Probably racist. I believe that most people, when they say they’re not racist, are probably being truthful. They don’t dislike another on the basis of skin color or ethnic background. They may say things, often without realizing, that are part of the remnant infrastructure of racism. They may even say or do things that are racist. But I don’t think that necessarily makes them deserving of the label of racist. Why not reserve that word for true, blatant racists? Don’t cheapen the power of that word by using it to describe anyone who says something insensitive. It corrupts the conversation about what racism is, and how to change its presence in society. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Moving Forward: The Trump Presidency

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, there are a lot of emotions taking hold. Supporters are gleeful, if not perhaps a little bit shocked themselves. Some may see him as a Godsend of an alternative to the partisan establishments. Others see him as a reprieve from what they consider the loathsome Obama years.  Of course, on the left, there is sadness and horror. How could someone as pompous and disgusting be chosen as president? Can we trust him with the nuclear codes? We see the scatterplot of triumph and dismay apparent in every conversation you’ve heard since Election Day and in your social media feed. With much speculation about where America goes from here, this what I think to be a reality.

From a legal and legislative perspective, chances are that not much will change. With a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, there is a great potential for some policymaking that conservatives might champion. But with that said, I don’t think you can expect massive rollbacks in laws that exist. Obamacare comes to mind. They’ve tried to repeal it dozens of times since 2009, and it always fails. The truth is that there are millions of people that actually benefit from it despite rising premiums and whatever your racist cousin might say about it all. And these beneficiaries fall both in the liberal and conservative spectrums. At this point, only two years from midterm elections, the GOP has a vested interest in holding control over both houses for as long as possible. The last thing they need is backlash from the working class costing them conservative votes, as well as energizing Democrats in 2018. If anything, you’ll see some Republican tweaking of Obamacare, not a repeal. And maybe, just maybe, red states will now accept the Medicaid expansion money now that Obama’s cooties aren’t all over it.

I certainly don’t think you will see a lot of real backtracking on civil rights. Americans are very conscious of this—even conservatives to some degree. In the age of social media, we are all plugged in, and we are all watching. Social views are changing, and anytime there is a threat to civil rights, there is an immediate response. I don’t think the GOP wants to continue to be the party of archaic social views. They might not want to go as far as progressivism on these, but they’re not going to undo marriage equality for gay and lesbian people. Again, they don’t want Democrats energized for 2018, and they don’t want to be the prejudiced party. Plus, it’s hard to overturn Supreme Court precedence.

And that’s another element I’m not quite as worried about. There is an open seat on the Supreme Court. And as you may well know, the Senate, controlled by Republicans, has obstructed the appointment of a new justice for the last two hundred-plus days since Antonin Scalia’s death. So now, as was the plan, they will fill that seat on the bench with another conservative. But try to understand that though this will be a conservative pick, he or she will replace another conservative. Really, Scalia was one of the most conservative justices they had, and yet marriage equality was still approved. Yes, a conservative majority Supreme Court will sometimes lean right on certain decisions, but rest assured that they are still bound by the constitution, and when it comes to equal protection and civil rights, they will usually rule in favor of American equality.

That being said, I’m a white guy. Almost nothing will change for me other than not feeling aligned with many of the views of our new president. But I have no need to fear when I step into public. I won’t be met with racism and discrimination. I’m a white male raised as a Christian. So my experience with this election and the days, months, and years to follow will differ from that of gays and lesbians or Muslim Americans. And I can tell you that my friends and students who are members of minority groups are frightened. Can you imagine being a Muslim woman who wears a hijab (head scarf) for your religion, and feeling afraid enough that you can’t even carry out religious duties? Muslims, Latinos, gays, lesbians, and African Americans all tell me they’re afraid. They’re not afraid of what Donald Trump will do. They’re afraid of what his supporters will do.

That statement isn’t meant to equate Trump supporters in general with bigots by any means. But consider this:  the KKK and the American Nazi Party both endorsed him. And I think it’s safe to say that there were a lot of actual racists and bigots that did support and vote for Trump. You can see this in his rhetoric throughout the campaign. With all the things that he has said about Mexicans or Muslims throughout his campaign, it’s quite possible that very little of that aligns with his actual beliefs. He said those things to get elected. There is no wall. Never was. A real estate developer with contractors on his speed dial has a year and a half to come up with estimates, dimensions, and plans for a wall, and right after the election, still has none of those things? It was just something that some conservatives wanted to hear. The same goes for his position on Muslims. He’s playing to the cheap seats—the people that actually believe Sharia Law is coming.

That seems relatively harmless, I know. Oh, maybe he’s not as racist or xenophobic as we thought. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. That remains to be seen. But here’s what I do know. There are people out there who voted for him because of that rhetoric, meaning there are some people out there who hate Mexicans, Muslims, gays, and African Americans, and they voted for Trump. And since he won, perhaps they feel represented, and thus emboldened. And for the people in these minority groups, this is a terrifying thought. Again, before you shrug off this notion, please take a moment to remember that if you’re not a member of those groups, you might not understand this the way they do. You haven’t walked in those shoes.

Folks, it’s probably going to be okay. And if you don’t like the result of this election, get out there and vote next time. But please don’t perpetuate hate, regardless of your views or who you wanted in office. We are all Americans. You may feel like you took your country back or you had your country taken away from you. But this country belongs to all of us. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Be Bold. Stand For What You Believe. And Take Responsibility For the Consequences

Can we talk for a moment about Colin Kaepernick? I’m not a huge 49-ers fan. I’m a Saints fan. Moreover, I’m not a Colin Kaepernick fan. But honestly, I fully support his right to protest in the way he wants to protest. If you haven’t been paying attention, Kaepernick opted to sit through the national anthem during two pregame football games so far. When asked why he did it, he revealed that he is staging a personal protest, citing that he refused to show pride in a “flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Since then, plenty of people have shown just how they feel about that. One video I’ve seen shows a man torching a Kaepernick jersey while saluting the flames and playing the national anthem.

It’s important to remember that we are a nation of diversity; a nation of varied individuals with all sorts of different experiences and outlooks on life. While that may hold relevance in the overall conversation about Black Lives Matter and Back the Blue alike, it also holds relevance in how we express ourselves. We have the freedom to speak our minds or boycott products we don’t agree with. We have the right to criticize our government or drone strikes in Pakistan. We also have the right to sit down during the national anthem or refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag. You may not agree with it. It might anger you. But this is well within our rights.

To be honest, what Kaepernick is doing is mild compared to how heated BLM rallies have gotten. Some have even escalated into riots. Silent disobedience is essentially what Kaepernick’s actions boil down to. Something akin to Gandhi’s tactics against the British in India. He didn’t trample a flag. He didn’t disrespect anyone directly. He made a simple choice, and wasn’t even super outspoken about it in the beginning. Someone had to ask him why he didn’t stand. And he has been crucified over it. He and Gabby Douglas are met with outrage far beyond the severity of our social sanctioning of Ryan Lochte and his buddies. Vandalize a gas station and lie about the police robbing you in an Olympic host city? No big deal. We’ll get over it. Forget to place your hand over your heart or refuse to stand during the national anthem? Outrage.

At the same time, free speech and expression isn’t free. It comes with a price. That’s the other part about this. People are going to react. If you willingly dissent—if you say or do something out of protest—that can be an honorable thing for some. However it won’t always be popular. If fact, it usually isn’t, at least at first. Martin Luther King, Jr., were he alive today, would tell you that. His legacy has been a positive one. But at the time, he was well hated by most white Americans in his time. Your public words and actions have consequences. Your freedom doesn’t make you immune to the outcome. Just ask Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty or Don Imus, who on his radio program called the Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy-headed hoes”. He was fired, and people were outraged that his “freedoms were being infringed upon”. No. He had every bit of freedom afforded by the Constitution. No one locked him up on a federal prison for what he said. But what you say can get you into trouble. People will react. And if we’re talking about an employer, that can be a rocky situation. Colin Kapernick may even see some of that sanctioning come his way. Who knows? Stand up for what you believe. There is honor and respectability that is due for having that courage. But it’s not easy. Expect consequences.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cleveland, Louisiana

The great American playwright Tennessee Williams once wrote that America has three cities:  New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everything else is Cleveland. That’s nothing against Cleveland. It’s just that Cleveland, is Anytown, USA. Vanilla middle America. New Orleans is unique, and what makes that happen is the people and their diversity—a collision of culture and history that could only have happened in that little crescent on the Mississippi River. But like a lot of unique American towns and cities, from San Francisco and Austin, TX to Honolulu, Hawaii, what makes these places vibrant and special is slipping away. And it isn’t some natural cultural erosion. It’s kind of on purpose.

I was just recently visiting the city I call home. It’s worth noting that I was not born or raised in New Orleans proper. I grew up in the area—close enough to call it home. It’s my favorite place on earth. Her Southern US meets Northern Caribbean vibe continues to inspire the stories in my heart and the music in my soul. I was there promoting my upcoming fourth novel, The Barataria Key, which is largely set in New Orleans and involves some of her darker history and lore. While there, I had the opportunity to catch up with some old college friends, and for some reason, the conversation turned to the gentrification of the city.

The guy I was talking to took the position that this was a good thing. Local and out of town developers coming in and transforming old, dilapidated sections of the city into nice, attractive, high-end neighborhoods, thus running out all the crime elements. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? It’s first worth noting that these areas are particularly predominantly black neighborhoods with a history of poverty and desperation. So of course there is a crime element. There are two common denominators in these high-crime neighborhoods. The race of the inhabitants and their socioeconomic status. So let’s ask which of these things causes the crime? Race? Would you be insinuating that somehow the melanin levels in someone’s skin drives them to rob, steal, or murder? That’s like saying the spots on a dog makes it more aggressive or not. I couldn’t think of many more sentiments that are more racist and vile than that one. So it has to be the other thing. Think about it. A neighborhood purposely segregated for most of its existence and bypassed by opportunities for adequate employment. A dumping ground for poor black citizens in a city where public education is among the worst in the country. Areas like this breed desperation and a mentality of survival, which sometimes drives people to rob, steal, deal drugs, and form gangs.

These are all things that should go away for sure. We want people to visit the city, but who is going to want to if they are afraid of getting murdered? But is gentrification really the answer? This is a topic that really got stirred up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What a perfect opportunity for a modern group of carpetbaggers to come in and take advantage of a suffering and devastated city. I remember that in the years following the hurricane there was a renewed national intrigue with New Orleans. That city everyone thought of as just a humid Las Vegas—a place of gambling, excessive drinking, and college girls flashing their boobs—was back on the map as a cultural Mecca right there in Cleveland’s backyard. The hurricane stirred up a renaissance of sorts as people in Anytown became interested in gumbo, jazz, Mardi Gras, and the second line. Movies were made about it. And of course we got to witness the wonder that is Scott Bakula pretending to be a New Orleanian in CSI: New Orleans. If you’re a New York or Texas developer, you see this and you also recognize that as people from Anytown will visit unique cities around the world, but don’t want to be too far away from their Starbucks and Olive Garden. Americans need some level of familiarity to travel. A person from Madison, Wisconsin will visit New York City for the first time and despite the great local restaurants one can choose from, they will still eat at the Times Square location of Applebee’s. So you go into NOLA and transform all these poor neighborhoods into high end real estate. If you build it, they will come.

But here’s the problem. Where are the people who lived there going to go? Here’s a bit of a history lesson. When the French founded New Orleans in 1718, they brought slaves with them. But swamps and humidity bred disease-carrying mosquitoes, and on top of that, famine plagued the settlers. They could barely feed themselves, much less their slaves. So they let them go. They were freed—some of the earliest freedmen in all of what would become the US. They were allowed to set up residence outside the all-French (and all white) colony now referred to as the French Quarter. These early French-speaking African Americans (who often gave birth to mixed-race children) became known as Creoles. The neighborhoods they founded have been predominantly black Creole sections of the city ever since. They invented jazz in these neighborhoods, and still give residence to some of the best jazz clubs in the city. They also invented Creole cuisine in these areas. People. Culture. Uniqueness. The very elements that give New Orleans its soul—the whole reason people visit.

Are we then willing to sacrifice the local musicians and cooks, not to mention the people who work in the hotels and businesses throughout the city, just to get rid of the “crime element” within it? Let’s say you find a trailer park where one of the residents has a meth lab. Do you get rid of everyone the in the trailer park and build a strip mall with an Old Navy and a Chick-fil-a? And where are these people going to live? What about when Bernie Madoff stole billions from investors. Did we kick every millionaire out of Wall Street or out of their penthouse apartments? No. We went after stock swindlers and increased regulations. We attacked the problem, rather than the people. Why can’t we do that in New Orleans? Why can’t we improve public education or transit systems so that people in these neighborhoods can get to the better-paying jobs? Instead, there are those who want corporate restaurants and themed blues bars on Frenchmen St. in place of the local venues and flavor. They want these neighborhoods to be too expensive for the residents and once they’re all gone, they can up the rent or tear down 150-year-old Creole cottages and shotgun houses to build million-dollar high rise apartments for Hollywood actors and pretentious pop stars. The look of New Orleans will change. The sound will change. Street performers will disappear. Your crawfish etouffeé will cease to taste authentic and become a processed, preservative-filled version of its former glory. You will ruin New Orleans the way Silicon Valley has ruined San Francisco, and Carnival Cruiselines will ruin Havana. Austin, Honolulu, Key West…all facing the same fate. I’m all about making NOLA safer, cleaner, and better. I’m just not willing to make it Cleveland in the process. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Unity: Why We Don't Have It

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled, in a landmark decision, that segregation in schools and in society was unconstitutional. It would take another twenty years to integrate schools. In the meantime an entire Civil Rights movement occurred and even a Civil Rights Act, all with the intent that previously second class citizens could have equal rights and equal protection under the law. Did it do some good? Of course it did. But if you think true equality has been achieved, you haven’t been watching the news for the last year and a half. There are actually people who would tell you that racism died with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Those people would be white. Then there are some who will admit there is a problem and throw up their hands with the attitude that nothing can be done about this. It’s just what we do. Racism will always exist. It’s human nature. I say that’s bullshit. I’ve seen proof of it. Here’s the primary reason racism continues.

But first, we need to clarify something. Everyone has bias. It’s hard not to. I have a positive bias for the New Orleans Saints. I love my team. I have a favorite. I might also have a bit of disdain—a negative bias—for the Atlanta Falcons. That comes with the territory. I also have a bias for my own family. I’d generally make my own family a priority in most cases. Who wouldn’t? Everyone has bias. It’s not even out of the question to prefer to hang around people with similar ethnic, cultural, or religious particulars. Prejudice, however, is a strong negative bias against a group of people with some kind of commonality. It lumps everyone in that group together, regardless of a person’s individuality. Combined with unfair stereotypes and assumptions about everyone in that group, prejudice becomes a strong negative attitude that breeds hatred and can lead to discrimination, which is prejudice-based action against members of that group. It assumes the worst in people, rather than the best.

Racism, however, takes on a different social dynamic. Racism occurs under the social framework of the powerful and the powerless. This dynamic exists throughout society. Bosses and workers. Teachers and students. Parents and children. There are people or groups in power. They want to stay in power. So they do what they can to maintain the status quo and remain dominant. The wealthy want to preserve their wealth and influence. Politicians concern themselves with reelection. Teachers enact rules and consequences to maintain order in their classrooms. With racism, there is a dominant cultural, racial, social, or religious group who seeks to maintain that status quo. Muslims, in some countries, are intolerant of Jews or Christians. In South Africa, the minority white population has historically sought to restrict the rights of blacks. In the US, you could be a minority in a certain neighborhood and be singled out for racism; white in a black neighborhood, black in a Hispanic neighborhood, and so on. And of course, there are plenty of white Americans in our country who seek to restrict the rights of black, Hispanic, Muslim, and even Native American groups.

Whether we’re talking about prejudice, discrimination, or racism, there is one thing in common with all of it. It’s indoctrinated. It’s taught. What you learn about people of other groups depends on one’s environment. That doesn’t mean that a person brought up with prejudice can’t change their minds. That decision to evolve one’s viewpoint also is a product of environment. As an educator, I’ve taught in a variety of these environments. Personally, I was schooled in a small, all-white private school in a little south Louisiana town. I went to college with thirty thousand people of all kinds of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I have taught in 100% black schools in impoverished neighborhoods. I have taught in predominantly white suburban schools. But currently, I teach in a school situated in the most richly diverse neighborhoods you can imagine. Every day, I teach white, black, Latino, Muslim, Catholic, Mormon, Native American, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Buddhist, Bengali, Arab, German, British, Hmong, Laotian, Samoan, Tongan, gay, straight, transgender, and Jewish kids. And I’m just scraping the surface. Do you know what I don’t see a lot of in my school? Racism. Prejudice. Bullying. Discrimination. These kids all grow up together. They see each other as people, and only people. No one is vying for dominance as a group. There is no us or them. No status quo. Everyone gets to be unique, and everyone gets along despite the differences in view, culture, language, and creed.

This has taught me that de facto segregation in our country is one of the primary culprits in perpetuating hate and prejudice. When legal segregation ended, and schools were beginning to integrate, the white population responded by founding all-white private schools. People uprooted their families and moved further out into what became the suburbs. They could afford it. Black and Latino families couldn’t. These white families took with them their superior consumer buying power and their businesses. Job opportunities and tax dollars left these minority families and ensured that these low income slums became more desperate. Desperation breeds crime. Suddenly dads start going to jail, leaving single-parent households with less income. People sell drugs to get extra cash because the Quickie Mart doesn’t pay worth a shit, and so addiction rises. Prostitution becomes rampant, and then so do STDs. Without an adequate tax base, there is no money to properly staff and furnish schools. Thus begins the cycle.

Neighborhoods are now often segregated by race and ethnicity. They develop their own culture. People grow up with different states of mind and different values. In poor, minority neighborhoods, survival takes priority. These are people that have never seen education better a person’s life. They have never seen a school or a teacher who truly cares about their students. You have to do what you have to do to survive. That’s life. In the suburbs, kids are raised with relative privilege. Good schools, a path to college, a new cell phone for their birthday, and access to healthcare. Wealthy kids are raised with yet another set of conditions and values. With these values come attitudes about the world, about life, and about people outside of their own communities. One person might be raised in an all-white area and taught to view black people as lazy, ignorant, thieving, welfare leaches. He or she might be taught to call these people all kinds of horrible things. They tell racist jokes rife with stereotypes. They avoid black people in the supermarket. They avoid any unnecessary contact. Another person might be raised in an all-black neighborhood across town. The grandparents still remember the days of open racism. They remember the fire hoses and segregation. They remember being specifically targeted by outright racist police officers. They remember what people called them to their faces. They teach their kids, and their kids teach their kids. They teach that those white people across town don’t care about you. The cops don’t care about you, and will even target you over anyone else. No one will ever lift a finger for your well-being. YOUR LIFE DOESN’T MATTER. Sometimes they’re right. But that’s not the real problem.

The real problem is that people are indoctrinated without any way to challenge that upbringing. Segregation limits who you grow up around. It limits contact with people that are different from yourself. You grow up with stereotypes for other groups, and all it takes is even the occasional example of truth in them to confirm what you have always been taught. A person needs long-lasting exposure to people of different groups to undo the prejudice and hatred that is often learned from birth. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it work. I’ve experienced this myself. I am one of those people. My mind has changed gradually over the years. The more people of diverse backgrounds I talk to and come to understand, the more clearly I see. The longer we segregate ourselves and shy away from diversity, the longer our problems persist. Look beyond your biases and your cultural indoctrination. People are people, and yes there are bad ones. But if we are to defeat the division and achieve unity—black, white, cop, civilian—we must cast aside all notions of us and them. Come to know your brothers and sisters. Spend time with people of differing backgrounds and viewpoints. Converse with people who disagree with you. Open your mind to someone else’s perspective. Start today. Please…hurry up.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Choosing Sides: Choose Justice

Seems simple, right? Choose justice. A murderer goes to prison. A thief, a rapist, arsonist, whatever. Why should that change given the color of someone’s skin or the type of occupation the person holds? Our society is rife with contradiction. We hold ideals of democracy, yet allow corporations and wealthy people to buy candidates through their donations. People claim to hold Christian values and then complain about poor, food insecure people being on assistance. We hold the Constitution as our compass, and then then talk about banning Muslims. We idealize freedom and then want to limit gay and lesbian couples from getting married. All men are created equal, unless you’re black, Hispanic, non-Christian, gay, transgender, or homeless. Why don’t we get back to basics? Disregard a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, political party, or occupation. What’s right is right.

I’m sick of the immediate, blind choosing of sides any time some kind of outrage emerges in the media. A black man gets shot by a police officer, and like clockwork, the NAACP calls for the mayor to resign. People start raising hell, assuming that all cops are racist, and then Jesse Jackson shows up to organize a protest. At the same time, others go on the immediate defensive. Backing the Blue! No matter what. These are public servants, they put their lives on the line, any traffic stop can turn fatal, etc. And these groups just yell at each other for a few days until we find something else to distract us or something new to be outraged about. How about this? Sometimes the perp deserves it…and…sometimes the cop fucks up. There is no automatic either/or. Why don’t we hold off on the verdict until we have all the facts in place?

I understand Black Lives Matters. I understand why that phrase holds significance apart from “all lives matter”. Of course all lives matter. What Black Lives Matter should have been called is Black Lives Matter, Too. It’s not a stretch for a person to recognize that murder, addiction, crime, and poverty in poor, black neighborhoods is downplayed in the media and taken as a given by people who don’t grow up in that environment. In fact many people end up just attributing those kinds of problems to the people—that’s what those people do; that’s how they are. They… Those people… Disregard. Get my latte. Binge watch Fuller House on Netflix. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s what Black Lives Matter is about. When a black man or woman is murdered in the slums, we don’t give a shit. When they suffer excessive force, profiling, or are shot while unarmed by either a police officer or unofficial neighborhood watchman, we don’t give a shit. We side with the officer. We side with the white guy. Two teenage boys in two different neighborhoods get caught with weed. Guess which one goes to jail and guess which one gets dropped off to his parents for some in-home discipline. There is a real problem. There is such a thing as a racist cop. There is such a thing as police brutality and abuse of power.

But…this doesn’t excuse you from committing crime. Commit crime, and get arrested. Resist arrest, and get your ass whipped. That’s common sense. If you pull a gun on a cop or try to grab his weapon, you might get shot, and the officer is going to be in the right. They have the right to defend their lives and the lives of others. In fact, that’s their duty. Serve and protect. We cannot automatically assume that a black man killed by a white cop is racially motivated. We cannot assume immediately that this is an injustice. Sometimes, the guy deserves it. Sometimes (actually most of the time), the actions of the officer are warranted and justified. When we start making the cop the bad guy, it erodes public faith in our law enforcement. We can’t have that. These officers and their agencies must maintain integrity and authority in the community.

That being said, the officers, have to conduct themselves with integrity to maintain public trust. Respect isn’t a given. It’s earned. Law enforcement agencies must be cognizant of the actions of the people within their employ. Every business in the world fires people who either can’t cut it, mistreat others, or otherwise cause a negative view of that business. Shouldn’t police departments? Misuse of power should not be tolerated. If you’re bad at being a cop, you should go. That includes killing another citizen who is unarmed. Sometimes, when a cop screws up at their job, innocent people lose their lives. That’s not something to take lightly. These are people. Their lives do matter. They have a right to due process before losing life or liberty. Police departments cannot allow corruption, needless brutality, and committing criminal acts. Hold your officers accountable. Show that you strive to make your agency fair and honorable. Show that you are on the side of justice. The vast majority of American police officers are normal people. Law-abiding, decent, people with honorable intentions and values. But it’s ridiculous to automatically assume that about all officers. There are bound to be some bad apples.

My point is this:  we cannot assume that a police officer is always right any more than we can assume that the perpetrator is always in the wrong. When a new story or new video of a black man getting shot by a cop hits Facebook, CNN, and Vice, don’t just automatically choose a side. The victim might be in the wrong. The cop might be wrong. It might even be more complicated than that. Throw aside your bias. If you’re going to pick a side, pick the side of justice, wherever that may fall. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

It's Going to Be Alright: The Fight Over Bathrooms in America

I remember the day I finally understood gay people. I worked with a guy named Adam in the last year or so of college, and he was openly gay. I obviously knew what it was to be homosexual, and I can say with all honesty that I held no prejudice for them. But as a straight man, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how a person could be gay, and that was simply because…I’m not. It’s not that dissimilar from the idea that as a white male, I could really never understand what it’s like to experience racism as a black man, or experience sexism as a woman. Adam changed my life because he finally put it into terms that my straight mentality could understand. I remember asking him (and perhaps it was a bit forward, but he was cool with it), “so when did you realize you were gay?” I totally expected him to give me this story about suddenly realizing he had a crush on Lance Bass when he was a sophomore in high school. Up until this point, the extent of what I understood about my sexuality was rooted in my adolescent years—the time period where I took more of an active interest in girls. But he didn’t answer like that. He didn’t even answer with an answer. He answered with a question:  “When did you realize you were straight?” I was taken slightly aback by the question, and then I started thinking about it. No, really thinking about it. I realized that it was long before my hormone-driven adolescence. It was that day in the lunch line when I was in kindergarten—the day that this little dark-haired girl named Lee Anne ran up and kissed me on the cheek. I remember how excited I was, and I realized that was probably the earliest moment I could remember knowing I was straight. And then Adam said, “yeah, it was right around that age for me too.” From that moment on, I understood what it really is to be gay, straight, bi, or whatever. It is what it is, and at that point, this wasn’t so foreign, and therefore, it wasn’t at all frightening.

Fear plays the most active role in this hotly burning social issue over transgender people and what bathroom they use. Fear of the unknown. Fear of things beyond a person’s common capacity of understanding. Fear of something that challenges the status quo. Everyone wants to feel represented in society. For some people, a black man in the White House challenges their status quo. Or turning on the TV and seeing two men kiss on How to Get Away With Murder. Or calling their bank and finding that there is an option to hear the instructions in Spanish. Or seeing a Mosque being built in their community. Or seeing that there are politicians who aren’t huge fans of guns. What often scares people most is people that are different, and have the exact same Constitutional rights as the people in the majority. Sociologists would call this the classic social conflict that permeates every culture in the world—the powerful and those with less power. The powerful like to remain powerful, and that means restricting others.

We’ve seen this before. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s inspired a lot of other groups to directly challenge social norms. After Dr. King, hippies openly opposed the Vietnam War and promoted free love. After that, feminists began staging their own protests of inequality between men and women. Another movement in the 70s was a mass, collective “coming out” of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans, despite a society that grossly misunderstood and mischaracterized them. Harvey Milk was one of the best known organizers of this movement who fought against, among other things, a push to disallow gay people from being teachers, for fear that they might molest your kids. Because few people before this time had ever really decided to live in society as openly gay, this sudden rush of closet vacating was new and scary to the heteronormative status quo. People didn’t understand, much like I didn’t in my youth. This fear generated and then perpetuated by lawmakers and officials drove an angry movement to deny gay people of their civil rights. Today, the notion that a gay person is somehow more likely to molest a kid is preposterous. We know better. Regardless of whether or not you feel it’s morally okay or whatever, almost all of us can now agree that gay people are not, by nature, sexual predators.

We may be over the fear and outrage, for the most part, over openly gay people. People are acclimated to it. Gay people aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t hurting anyone. And they’re probably having more fun than you. But the same thing that happened to gays and lesbians in the 70s is happening to transgender people today. Just like being gay, it is a thing, and it is here. And…it has always been around. You can find evidence of it throughout history and across cultures. But it is the newest scary thing to Americans. Yesterday, it was Muslims. People freak out and then try to characterize perfectly normal people as dangerous simply because they are unknown and misunderstood. And how could you understand what transgender is? You’re not transgender. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that these folks are dangerous.

Try to think of it this way. As Adam asked me all those years ago, “when did you realize…?” A hundred years ago, Freud did some work on this. He observed that people commonly come to understand themselves as “boy” or “girl” somewhere between the ages of 3 and 6. It’s a period of time he called “identification”. Largely, these notions of boy and girl are laden with social norms, social expectations, and gender stereotypes. We even attach sexuality with the concept of gender, which is incorrect (look no further than Laverne Cox’s character on Orange is the New Black to see that a transgender woman can still be attracted to women). Either way, little kids learn early on what boy and girl is, and they identify themselves based on a combination of personal traits/feelings and social pressures. When you know what you are, you just know what you are. Ask any LGBTQ person, and they’ll likely tell you the same thing. And if a person “suddenly decides” in adulthood that they are a transgender person, it’s more likely that they always were, but only now have the courage to live as they truly are.

What’s happening today with this bathroom issue is exactly what happened to gay people in the 70s. It’s new and it’s scary, so people saddle transgender people with all these negative mischaracterizations. Let’s face it, when people are suddenly concerned with safety of people in the restroom, they’re not just worried about people who would take advantage of more accommodating policies. They’re often outright equating transgender people with sex offenders. They’re viewed as simply men dressed as women, and therefore entering the women’s bathroom is sexual offense. But the thing is, this kind of thing has been happening forever. Men have been caught mounting hidden cameras in dressing rooms, tanning beds, and bathrooms. They’ve assaulted women and even kids in public restrooms. We learn to look out for this. We inform and prepare our kids. We keep a watchful eye. If anything looks wrong, we take action. And chances are, the transgender person entering the bathroom is going to go unnoticed. They will look the part and they’ll just go to the bathroom, and then leave. That’s it. They just want to pee. If you see someone of ANY gender identity doing anything inappropriate like taking pictures, assaulting someone, or ogling your goods, you take action. It has always been this way. These acts are inappropriate regardless of whether a person is male, female, or transgender. And there has never been mass outrage. None until now. Now that it involves people who are different, therefore scary, therefore demonized.

So the way I see it, this will pass. There will be a fight. Gay and lesbian folks know this struggle all too well. Society will evolve on this. With enough time, they will come to see that, agree with it or not, trans people aren’t dangerous. They’re just people. They eat, drink, love, and poop like everyone else. And they are Americans. That means they have the same rights as anyone else, whether you like it or not. Please, can we return this non-issue to being a non-issue and get back to figuring out poverty and starvation?

Monday, April 11, 2016

You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'

Have you ever watched some heartwarming video shared on Facebook or somewhere on Youtube, and found yourself shedding a few tears? Maybe even full-on sobs of joy or compassion? I do. I love stuff like that. Admittedly, I usually don’t like to show people that side of me. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting in the lobby of a doctor’s office weeping over a compilation of deployed military parents surprising their kids at a tee ball game (although, most people would likely give me a pass on that). But I keep that type of response private—usually on the toilet as I mindlessly pass the time scrolling through social media. Probably the last time I made a public display with it was at the 9/11 Museum in New York, and of course I wasn’t the only one in the place in that condition. But doesn’t it feel good? Doesn’t it feel natural? It just happens. Every time I watch Rudy’s dad so proud of his son finally playing in a Notre Dame football game, I have a good cry, and it feels great. So why do so many people opt out of human compassion?

There is a common argument that I hear from people in the United States. Violence is natural. Aggression is part of human nature. Fight or flight. And to a degree, they’re correct. We do possess an autonomic nervous system. Our amygdala helps us trigger a response involving fear or anger and a burst of adrenaline from our adrenal glands that increases our heart rates and breathing so that we may fight off an attacker or run away from danger. And surely we experience a wide range of severity of this from light irritation to complete rage, even in situations when only our mental well-being is threatened—someone hurts your feelings or you get rejected by The Voice judges. But I think violence and aggression are, themselves, only a small part of our “natural” behavioral tendencies. They serve a situational purpose. But how often do you experience stimuli that call for violent reaction? Perhaps the claim that violence is “part of human nature” is a bit of an overgeneralization meant for the purpose of rationalizing a deeper truth, and something that I’ve argued for some time, that Americans live in and maintain a violent society.

There is scientific research to support the idea that actually, humans are more prone to gravitate toward compassion and empathy for one another, as opposed to aggression or violence. A study was conducted decades ago in which researchers set out to explain a phenomenon long documented in maternity wards and hospital nurseries. When one baby starts crying, the rest begin to cry as if it’s contagious. And what the research seems to suggest is that when these babies respond to one another crying by crying themselves, they are displaying a rudimentary form of empathy. Read further on this: Such compassion may be innate and completely natural. I’ve never seen a newborn respond with aggression. Really, if you follow a child through toddlerhood and into school age, they more often want to kiss your boo-boos or give you a hug if you’re sad. They express true empathy. It’s natural to them. And when they do begin to display violent or aggressive behaviors, it always seems to be the imitation or Ninja Turtles or something—a kid-friendly show with mild aggression and violence. Kid-friendly violence. You know, to start them out light. And then, according to some research, by the time you reach 16, you’ve seen approximately 20,000 homicides through TV, movies, and video games. What happened to that sweet toddler who wanted to snuggle with you when you were feeling blue?

Just ask Albert Bandura. Bandura is a psychologist famous for the Social Learning Theory. He argued that some of our learned behavior is observational. He did an experiment in the 1960s where groups of children observed an adult playing with one of those old-school inflatable punch-me clowns (yes, I had one, too). One group watched as an adult played nicely with the clown. The other group watched as the adult punched, pummeled, and even hit the doll with a mallet. Watch this video to see for yourself: The group that watched the adult play nice did exactly the same, and as you can see, the children that watched aggression mimicked almost exactly the actions they saw of the adult they observed.

So get to the point! Yes. Here it is. I think we’ve trained human compassion out of the common behaviors of American citizens. It’s hard to deny the violence in our media, in our language, in our sports, etc., is a very present and integral part of our culture. We are a country almost perpetually at war with someone, and have been since our founding through a Revolutionary War. We glorify our violent past and present, and it seeps into the way we influence our citizens to act on a daily basis. And this begins from birth. It’s a process of socialization. That sweet toddler mentioned before was cute for a while, but especially if he’s a boy, we start influencing him to “toughen up”. Eventually that turns in to “act like a man”. We actually discourage kids to shun sensitivity. And then they take that attitude with others around them. Trust me, I get it. There is such a thing as being too sensitive. There is a level of toughness a person must have. However, I think we have to be careful that we’re not inadvertently doing away with that person’s naturally-occurring sense of empathy. As if having a culture of violence and corresponding murder rate isn’t bad enough, it’s almost worse that we have a culture of callousness. And if compassion comes naturally, callousness is learned. When you look around you and find that even people who claim to be devout Christians take an apathetic or even negative attitude about the plight of others, it’s troubling.

A friend of mine today stated that “a society should be judged by how it treats its weakest citizens”, and she’s right. And so far, as a society, we’re doing a bad job at this. People want to do away with government assistance altogether over an average of about 2-3% of recipients abusing it. People want to ban Muslim refugees or even Muslims altogether over a handful of extremists. A woman gets raped, and you blame the victim. You argue that affordable healthcare is a “privilege”, and not a right—that your life means less if you have less money. Thirty-three people get killed in Brussels during a terrorist attack, which is horrible, and we’re still covering the manhunt. Seventy are killed the same weekend in a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan, and it barely makes the news. Who cares? “It’s over there. Pakistan…figures…” We take the same attitude when a school shooting happens in the suburbs versus South Chicago. We discount the lives of people sometimes based on socioeconomic status or ethnicity. Hey, I like football and MMA. I like The Walking Dead. We are all products of the system. Trained to thrive in violence. But we are all born with a strong sense of compassion and empathy. I’d like to see this again find its way to the forefront of our behavior. I’d like to see it trump violence. I’d like to see people care for others, shedding the callous attitudes so many have come to be indoctrinated with. And that kind of socialization starts from birth. Am allowed to hold optimism for our generations to come?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Apathy and the Common American: Why I Dislike Americans

I’ve come to the conclusion that I really kind of dislike Americans. Before you start chastising my lack of patriotism and telling me to “not let the door hit me in the ass on my way out”, let me explain what I mean. I don’t hate America in the slightest. I don’t hate being an American. I totally appreciate what I have here. I have a good life. But that’s just my point. I appreciate what I have. I hear people say that a lot. They claim to have a deep appreciation for the life they have in the United States; all the freedoms, rights, and opportunities afforded to most (yeah, not all) people born here. But I’m not sure they have the full picture of what that means. Sure, people generally understand that there are places in the world plagued by warlords and malaria. All you have to do is stay up late enough for early morning crap TV to see the commercial asking you for fifty cents a day. You understand there are hungry children in the world. It’s a general awareness that never seems to permeate the hard outer shell of spoiled entitlement and apathy for the less fortunate. It’s an afterthought. It happens waaaay over there. Can’t be bothered by it. And in the next thought, I can’t believe they give me the choice to press 8 for Spanish when I call my bank! What’s this country coming to?!

Let me begin with my recent adventures in London. This was a unique opportunity to visit a contemporary country with a comparable economy and culture. I also found it to be an opportunity to interact with non-Americans. I was curious to see what they really think of us. Answer? Maybe you don’t want to know. I have long been of the impression that a lot of the world community sees us as overfed, undereducated, gun-toting maniacs. But that seemed a little harsh. Maybe it isn’t that bad, right? But the more I talked to Londoners and they caught on that I an American, I began to realize that I was a walking stereotype. Several times a day, usually over a nice pub ale, I had the same conversations. A: How in the hell could we entertain the idea of a Trump presidency (yes, they keep up)? B: What’s the deal with all of the murders, shootings, and open carry laws? Every day. And that’s a tougher conversation than you think as you look around the city and see that even the cops don’t carry guns.

But it wasn’t the interaction with Londoners that put me off—it was my encounters with Americans while I was there. I’m not lying when I say that every single one that I happened upon overseas was the “ugly American” you always hear about. The one that perpetuates the stereotypes. They’re ignorant, yes, but not in a way that you genuinely don’t know and would like to be corrected so that you might be enlightened. No. Nooooo. This is the type of ignorance that’s loud and unapologetic. I’M TOTALLY IGNORANT AND I DON’T GIVE A SHIT BECAUSE I’M AMERICAN AND I’M BETTER THAN YOU!! Every. Last. One. Example:  On my way out of a pub, I hear one of my countrymen ask the guy next to him, “Hey, are you English?” I’m thinking, In London? What are the odds? As it turned out, he was not, indeed, English. He replied, “No, I’m Irish”. The American then said, “Oh. Same difference, right?” I walked out of the pub with a face-palm. It was like that friend or family member you have that you love dearly but you’re embarrassed to go into public with. And the guy boisterously lecturing a pub crowd over the fine attributes and foreign policy prowess of Donald Trump. And as I sat in another pub watching London news TV, which covered mainly local politics and the fact that it was going to rain every day for the foreseeable future, I took a hefty, somber gulp of ale with the news that in my 5 day stay in England there had been three mass shootings in the US, and most of you didn’t notice because it doesn’t even make the news anymore.

But what really solidifies my new dislike for Americans comes from a recent cruise vacation to the Caribbean with my family. It was a lovely trip of course, and as always, I love to interact with the wonderful people of Montego Bay and Grand Cayman. The ports of call were not the problem. It was what I saw on the ship that turned my stomach. Every passenger on that boat was at least middle class. They likely live a relatively comfortable life. That’s not to say they’re necessarily rich, but as I have come to find out, you don’t have to be rich to be oblivious to your own sense of entitlement. To preface, if you’ve never been on a cruise ship, you should know that they are staffed almost completely with international employees. Only a few are American or British, and one hundred percent of the time, those workers are the director of something and get payed far more than anyone else. You begin to detect a pattern when you see nationality printed on the employees’ name tags. Cruise lines hire heavily from countries like Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bulgaria, and India. These are places where malaria and starvation are common, or the economy is thirty years behind the rest of the world. You hardly ever see French, German, or Swedish employees. Nope. The ones from India will work for less. And most of these employees send every bit of their pay home to their families that they get to see a total of about two months out of the year. But hey, they made sacrifices and that’s what they had to do to provide for their families. More power to them.

Still, to compare that to the passengers allowed me to finally realize how ugly we can be as a people; as a culture. From time to time, when we cruise, we will sit down at a poker table which is the way to go if you insist on gambling. You can play a lot longer and for a lot less money than pouring your bankroll into a slot machine. And it’s a great way to chat with other people from other places in the US. You can be there for hours on the same buy-in. Sometimes, as you get to know these people, you can quickly see that you don’t like them. Others, obviously, are pretty nice. And all of them…were highly entitled. To listen to these people bitch and what they bitched about was so petty. [in my whiny, spoiled voice] The soup was so bland tonight. Oh yeah? Well my steak was between medium and medium well, when I clearly asked for medium. And my stateroom wasn’t turned down the way I like it. My kids were expecting towel animals and they didn’t get one tonight. The chocolate extravaganza at the buffet was a joke! And I look at this girl dealing cards—the one from a country where 1.6 million people have AIDS, there are over 500,000 orphans due to AIDS, and there is massive starvation—and I lock eyes with her. I could see it. She didn’t say a word, but I knew what she was thinking. Poor you. You have it so tough here in the US. That’s when I really began to dislike these people. And that’s when I realized this attitude accounts for most of our population. Maybe it isn’t conscious or by choice. But that’s the nature of ignorance. And you have a choice not to be.

The cherry on top was the buffet and dining rooms. To watch people pile food onto a plate at the buffet and eat half of it is a common sight even if you’re not on a cruise ship. Where it really hit me was to see people in the dining room at literally every table order three appetizers and two main courses(for one person). If you’re a big eater, fine. If you ate it, fine. What sickened me was to watch that waiter from the Philippines or Indonesia have to come by, pick up a plate with one bite taken out of it, and dump it all in the trash, knowing that in the Philippines, one in seven people are starving. I saw it in their faces. Most people didn’t. Maybe they weren’t paying attention. Maybe they didn’t want to or didn’t care. But again, it’s this hardened shell we have round us that is impervious to the plight of others in the world. And with this comes a lack of empathy, even when it comes to similar problems within our own borders.

Here’s my conclusion. I currently dislike Americans. That doesn’t mean I dislike America. I love my country. I just have a problem with our culture of apathy and entitlement. And I’m not talking about the word entitlement as someone complains about poor people on welfare. I’m talking about the since of entitlement possessed by that person bitching about welfare recipients. Because those are the same people complaining that their steak is overdone or that housekeeping was too slow to bring them a third pillow. You have a good life. Enjoy it. No one is saying you have to be ashamed of having things. I, too, enjoy the finer things in life. I just wish Americans had a deeper appreciation for those things they have and more than just a passing awareness of the kind of suffering experienced by others in the world. Your bland soup is not suffering, nor is it suffering when McDonald’s forgets to hold the pickles. So please Americans…make me like you again. Make the world like you again. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Capitalism? Socialism? How About Neither?

Bernie Sanders has caused quite a stir, in more ways than one. To supporters, he’s the alternative to establishment liberal politics. He’s the anti-Hillary. She represents the party. The party surely views this go-round as her turn. But to a lot of younger voters, she represents business as usual—something that has frustrated many Americans, liberal or conservative. And just as conservatives seem to have chosen Trump as their anti-establishment figure, Bernie serves the same purpose for liberals. The difference is, obviously, that Bernie is smart. And has a soul. And while he enjoys a fierce grassroots support movement and has had a meteoric rise to almost the level of a folk hero, the kind of reaction he is getting from conservatives is seismic and fearful. And it stems from one powerful, cringe-worthy word…socialism.

There is a reason this word isn’t as big of a deal for younger liberals. Milennials were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Action movies produced in their lifetime pit our trigger-happy good guys against the likes of jihadists. Older generations grew up in an era when our common enemy was the commie. We were fighting Russians and Ukrainians, whether it was Maverick and Goose shooting down MIGs or Rocky avenging Apollo Creed. And it was okay for us to dislike those people. We were cool with it because for decades we had been told, first that communism was bad and that communist countries were part of an “Evil Empire”. Evil. Yup. Evil. An economic/governmental system was considered evil. EVIL. That was the word used by President Reagan. Secondly, we were taught that socialism is essentially the same thing as communism, or at least the welcome sign on the outskirts of town headed into communism. According to a lot of high school economics textbooks, socialism is defined as an economic system in which the government owns some of the factors of production, usually in the way of basic necessities that all people need. A communist country with a command economy would own all of those factors. Therefore, on the other end, our capitalist country would be completely privatized. There is no government ownership or control over resources. And according to decades of propaganda, you’re not a real American if you don’t choose the latter.

Therein lies the problem. Our society often applies an all-or-nothing approach to choosing ideology. Take the Back the Blue movement, for example. Backing the blue, to me, sounds a bit like an ultimatum. I have to choose either to back the blue and unequivocally support all law enforcement officers no matter what, or I’m not supportive at all. No one wants to seem unsupportive, so they back the blue. But if I use my own brain, I can take the position that I understand the need for a police force and the protection that comes with that. I can support the officers and their families in the face of a sometimes dangerous job. But I also recognize that there are some cops that are racist or dirty. There may be some who use their power to hurt others or advance themselves. Or maybe they’re just bad at their job. Or what if one wrongfully shoots and kills an unarmed man? Do I still have to back the blue? I’d rather not. But that doesn’t mean I say Screw the Blue. It just means this is more complicated than a simple slogan and ideology. We do the same thing with capitalism and socialism. We put together an ideology and place all the tenets of that ideology into a neat little box. Here’s the capitalism box, and here’s the socialism box. You can choose only one. And when you choose, you have to stick with all the things that goes into that box, no matter what. People actually think this way. We do this with being a Democrat or a Republican. Pro-choice or pro-life. iOS or Android. You’re forced to subscribe to the ideology. Sometimes people willingly choose the ideology. It’s easier. Because when you choose an ideology, you allow that ideology to think for you. You become an easily labeled drone that spouts the popular catch phrases and scripted arguments handed down from the establishment, diffused through media, and indoctrinated into millions of Americans who choose to not use their own brains. They choose not to inform and educate themselves. Instead, the politicians educate them; the talking heads educate them.

Easily labeled ideologies and propaganda go together like Krispy Crème and type two diabetes. And to an underinformed populace, it’s just as attractive. So here’s what you get. Bernie Sanders proposes that we move to a single-payer healthcare system—a system that everyone pays into through our tax dollars in lieu of private health insurance. Health care becomes a human right. Or Bernie proposes that college should be free to the student who commits to making the grade and is willing to work for the degree. And you know what people say? Well of course…he’s a damned socialist. He wants to give away free crap. And on my dime. Typical… B-b-but wait! Then what is Medicare? Or tax-funded public safety? Or national defense? Or public education? Or corporate subsidies? According to the capitalism-indoctrinated American, the government using tax dollars to fund healthcare is socialist. So it’s evil. But didn’t we say that the textbook definition is that the government has to own the factors of production? According the Bernie’s plan, the single-payer system would be more of a reallocation of people’s income, just like we do so that we can have a military and fire departments. So my question to the naysayer whining about socialism is this:  Does the textbook definition of socialism need updating, or does single-payer healthcare and free college just simply fall short of being considered socialism?

What about just saying to hell with both notions? We seem to be the only country not doing that. We seem to be the only one clinging to archaic propaganda-driven ideologies and not thinking for ourselves. And it is proving to be counterproductive. We’re so hung up on the labels—capitalism, socialism, etc.—that we’re not having a coherent conversation about what we actually need. Every other country out there sits down, addresses a problem in their society, and decides what is best for the people. I have to imagine that’s the way our founding fathers viewed the creation of an elected government body. I would guess that’s what they meant when they said that the government should promote the general welfare. They didn’t once write the word capitalism or socialism into the Constitution. They simply wrote promote the general welfare. So I would suggest that we do what every other country does. They assemble the adults, have an adult conversation, and decide what works. We need to figure out what is best for our unique society with our unique demographics. And we need to do it having erased the labels and ideologies. Dump the contents of both the socialist and capitalist boxes onto the table, and sort the things that don’t work for us from the things that do. And at that moment, as a nation, we will have grown up.