Archive | May 2006

Stopping Sexual Assault: A Guide for Men and Women

I normally like to have nice introductions that lead in to the main post, but this topic is so far under the radar that any attempt to nicely summarize the issue would be futile. Recently, I learned that a friend of mine was a survivor sexual assault. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard similar stories and I am tired of this issue being swept under the rug. So because I consider myself an ally in the fight against sexual violence towards women, I made a list that will help both men and women combat this issue. We have to get back to basics fam.

I normally like to have nice introductions that lead in to the main post, but this topic is so far under the radar that any attempt to nicely summarize the issue would be futile. Recently, I learned that a friend of mine endured sexual assault. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard similar stories and I am tired of this issue being swept under the rug. So because I consider myself an ally in the fight against sexual violence towards women, I made a list that will help both men and women combat this issue. We have to get back to basics fam.

Men

1) If you think engaging in sexual assault is OK if you are drinking stop it. Drinking does not excuse your behavior in much the same way you shouldn’t drink and drive. But on a deeper level, for any man that would use this lame excuse, just know that you if you were drunk as you claim to be, you would either be passed out or in the hospital. Because really drunk folks cannot hold conversation, drive home, actually get in their house, and plot to take advantage of a woman. I’m yawning fellas because the drunk excuse is real tired.

2) No doesn’t mean yes. No woman desires to be sexually assaulted. But if you are of the childish mindset that no means yes, let me hip you to some game. If a woman wants to have sex with you, you’ll know. Now if that is too difficult for you, then before you take it to that level, ask the person you are with, “Are you sure you want to do this? Because if you don’t that’s cool.” This way, you can cut through all the pillow/double talk and give yourself a small level of reassurance that your encounter was truly consensual.

3) I’m yawning at what I label as the “at least clause.” Here is an example of the at least clause at work.

John: Man, she was actin’ like she wanted me to make the first move but once I started putting it down, she started trippin’.

Bob: John, that sounds a little weird man. Plus I saw her today and it seemed like she was crying.

John: I don’t know what she’s crying for, I mean at least I ain’t rape the girl!

I am sure you can think of many variations of the “at least clause,” but 99% of the time, this clause is flawed because the person using it tries to justify their actions because at least it is better than what could be the worst possible outcome. But when it comes to sexual assault, not “entering” someone does not spell out your innocence. In fact, you are just as morally wrong as the dude who actually does enter a woman. As a general rule, it is always better to see how far away you can stay from the edge rather than trying to see how close you can get without falling off.

4) Being horny explains only a small part of men’s engaging in sexual assault. Engaging in this behavior is a sign of deeper psychological and emotional issues that MUST be worked out. Only thinking of this issue in terms of sex itself misses the point by a long shot.

5) Being able to empathize with women is difficult, but it is necessary to help you become an ally in helping to end sexual assault. Now imagine a dude bigger than Shaq forcing himself on you, knowing that no matter how loud you scream, he is going to forcefully enter you and then threaten to beat you down if you tell anyone what happened. I am under no illusion that there is an adequate comparison for women being sexually assaulted but for men to have at least some idea of what it could be like is a step in the right direction because empathy has always been a critical catalyst in the fight for positive change

6) Stop thinking it can’t be you. I think it is better to think that it won’t be you. And here’s why. When you act like something is beyond you, this in and of itself does not remove it from the real of possibilities. Domestic abuse is a good example for comparison. Most young men think, “I could never hit a woman,” so when they end up hitting their wives, they end up having a nervous breakdown because they didn’t think it was possible for them to do so. On the other hand, when you say you won’t do something, it requires you to be educated on that trait so that you can take the proper steps to safeguard your standards. I remember Mark Cuban in an interview saying something to the effect that, “Most people have the will to win, but few have the will to prepare to win.” So just because you have the will to not commit sexual assault, you have to constantly examine yourself and be honest with your shortcomings so that you can nip problems in the bud before they get out of hand.

7) Know the facts and the laws. Let me stay here for a minute because we all know that any substantive debate about who is the best player or team in a given sport would not be complete without having a vast array of statistics in the clip. Now apply this same logic to discussing sexual assault and think of the positive ramifications.

8) I always thought that when sexual assault was tied back to a man’s sister/daughter/mother; this would be enough for men to realize that every victim of sexual assault is someone’s sister or daughter. Unfortunately, this is not the case, but I will continue to use this example because like Garlin discussed earlier, we shouldn’t wait until something bad happens to our family before we decide to care about certain issues.

9) Sexually explicit jokes are not funny. If you are in a situation where someone says an inappropriate joke, speak up and let it be known that the joke is not funny. But don’t just leave it there because if you get backlash, explain how jokes like that make people take light of rape and sexual assault.

10) Intervene. This one is real touchy because often times in the rush of the moment, reason takes a backseat to adrenaline. This is not wise because you can seriously put yourself in danger trying to do the right thing. For example, a couple weeks ago in Detroit, a man tried to help a woman who was being assaulted and ended up being shot dead. So if you are in a situation where you don’t know the people, “yell at them, tell them you’ve called the police, or call 911 if you know that others are within ear shot.”

However, a far more effective approach would be for families to rally around women in their family who have been assaulted. Now I know it’s not easy but what happens to day where a woman could be in a bad situation and she could say, “Wait til I tell my cousins,” and dudes knew what time it was? Fellas, we are those “cousins” that the women in our family should be able to call on to help them out of an abusive situation.

Ladies

1) Stop getting wasted with dudes, especially when you don’t know the dude that well. Does this mean you can’t drink? Of course not, but I pray that if you do drink, you know your limits.

2) If you are at the club with a group of your girls, don’t let your friend just disappear. And if your girl stepped aside to talk to a dude for a long time, occasionally just go up to her and just talk about anything. You don’t have to stay long, but at least that lets the guy know that your girl is not alone.

3) This is a touchy one, but I hate being told stories of rape/sexual assault only to have the woman not tell me who the guy is. I know there are justified reasons for not doing so, but what gets me upset is that if this guy has violated 10 women that don’t say anything, what public pressure will he get to stop if he keeps the secret and each rape/sexual assault survivor keeps the secret? I don’t know how to address this one, but I am more than open to suggestions.

4) If you are a survivor of rape/sexual assault, I highly encourage you to talk to someone you trust about it, whether it be family, friends, or professional help. Ladies, correct me if I’m wrong but I think that by talking about it, you gain the strength to make the mental and emotional transition from victim to survivor.

5) Stop thinking it can’t happen to you. This vicious problem is no respect of socioeconomic factors, race, attractiveness, etc.

6) I encourage all the women I know to be constantly aware of basic self-defense moves if they are ever in a situation where they have to fight off a guy. And packing some Mace along with the Mac wouldn’t hurt either.

7) Even if you feel like you have lead a dude on, YOU DON’T OWE HIM ANYTHING. But let’s keep it real, if you are in a situation where you have been kissing and some clothes have been removed etc., some women might feel somewhat obligated to go all the way. And here’s the rub, the dude doesn’t even deserve an explanation because nine times out of ten, if you are with a person predisposed to sexual assault, he will do one of three things; try to persuade you to have sex anyways, put you on a guilt trip for leading him on, or worse, get really upset and use force against you. One way to safeguard yourself against this is in the next point.

8) Before you go on a date, start a relationship, or whatever, don’t ever be hesitant to tell a dude what you expect in terms of being intimate. In other words, if you don’t want to have sex, say so. If you just want to kiss, then say so. And so on and so forth. And if he is talking about sex and you’re not, then there is a misunderstanding that needs to be resolved. But what happens in reality? People just want to go with the flow. Forget the flow!!! If you are hesitant to tell a dude what you expect, ask yourself why? Because if you are afraid that he won’t be as interested if you say you don’t want to have sex, then why in the world is this guy still being considered?

9) Often times, sexual assault and rape are committed by men who you know or are already friends with. And unfortunately, there is no test you can do that can determine if you are at-risk. Just always be aware and don’t feel obligated to let your guard down.

10) Know the facts and the laws. States differ on how they define sexual assault and as a result, there are different penalties for how people are sentenced if they are found guilty. These lines of demarcation are important because they define what type of evidence you need to provide to actually bring an assailant to justice.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, nor do I claim to be an expert on this issue. So please add to it as you see fit by posting comments. There is one thing I know for sure and that is like you, I am tired of waiting to have these discussions until one of my friends confides in me that she was raped or assaulted. The only way to take the taboo out of talking about sexual violence is to talk about it before the next crime is committed. My prayers go out to men who are trying to reform themselves and the survivors of sexual assault in their physical, emotional, and spiritual quest for healing and restoration.

Let’s get back to basics,

Stay up fam,

Brandon

The Weekly Dream: Work and Adjustments

“Nature abhors a vacuum”

Good day all. The phrase another day, another dollar has an entirely new meaning for me as I have begun my summer job. Change and working in the real world is quite an adjustment from school. Now I understand how life speeds up, time becomes scarce, waistlines and stress also increase. Maintaining equilibrium and perspective becomes a tremendous task. However it can be done.

On my very first day on the job, one of my coworkers gave me this piece of advice “once you know who you are, work is easy.” This relatively simple resonated with me as I made the adjustment from full-time, laid-back student to full-time employee. I tend to view the work world with more trepidation than most. I have seen jobs grind people up and make them shells of their former selves. I witness people who have allowed their occupation to grind the life out of them to the point where all they talk about is work and that is their universe. Until one day, they wake up and they are old and alone. This has never been me. I made a vow to never allow a position to change me, but to leave my mark on the position. I promised I would stay true to myself and the man I am on the journey of becoming.

This brings me to the issue of vocation or purpose. The majority of individuals have a job and not a vocation. If you ask a random person on the street, what their vocation is, they probably could not tell you. However, if finding your vocation was not difficult enough, once you find it, do you have the courage to follow it? This is my challenge, as I stand on the threshold of adult life.

What are you in it for?

I know that since the dawn of time, humans have left their homes to provide for themselves and their families. However, it still does not make the adjustment any easier. One way to keep life interesting is to ask “What am I in it for? What are my priorities?” Do not be anxious, but always keep your eyes on the prize. Outside of the deadlines, the hustle and bustle, you need to keep in touch with yourselves. Never let those dreams die. They are a gift entrusted to you to nurture.

These are not easy questions, especially when you are young and just starting out. But as I have often stated, we must take each day as it comes and treat it as an adventure. Find ways to incorporate play into your life and make relaxation a priority.

Parting words

In my former career, I received a wonderful piece of advice from a woman who had been employed at the bank I worked at for over forty years. She told me “Steven, at the end of your life, no one will remember the overtime you put in, or the sacrifices you made for the job. In the end, they will remember the kind of person you are and how you treat people.”

I have always used this phrase to help me return to reality. What good is success if you have no one to share it with? What good is money if you are unable to enjoy it? The book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time and a place for everything. So if you are doing what is right and are diligent in every area of your life, it is not a question of if your dreams will come true, it is a question of when.

I am still learning these things, but this is what I try to remind myself of everyday I put that suit on. There is a totally different man, apart from the suit, that I cannot afford to lose track of.

Keep the faith. Stay encouraged.

Grow where you are planted, but if it doesn’t feel right, make preparations for change. No job is worth your health and personal well-being. Take care of yourselves.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas

Question of the Week: How do you maintain work/life balance?

The Weekly Dream: Excuses & Ownership

“Excuses build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness”
“Do or do not-there is no try”
-Yoda, “Star Wars”

Lately, it has been raining heavily in Milwaukee. Not light rain, but that hard, mad rain. During a break in the weather, my mother decided this would be a good time to cut the grass. So, my brothers and I are in the yard, doing our thing and my mother tells me that the grass is uneven. Mind you, the grass is still very wet, making it impossible to cut the grass well. She then tells me I need to start putting my glasses on.

This whole incident got me to thinking: What is the difference between an explanation and an excuse? In this results oriented world, the line is often blurred. There have been times when I had a valid explanation, but the receiver, who only cared about results, did not want to hear it. My dad always said “excuses are the tools of the incompetent.” However, are there ever times when an explanation is justified?

Well, I went to my good friend Webster and looked up the word and found that it meant “to try to exonerate from blame.” This did not help increase my knowledge. So, I synthesized my own rule. It all has to do with scope of control. If there was an unforeseeable event that you had no control of and was not the result of negligence, then it is a valid explanation. If the failure to perform was due to poor planning, lack of foresight, or general inattentiveness, then your justification is bogus.

“Man Up”: Ownership 101

You can always recognize a lame excuse when there is a lack of honesty and initiative. And who is the favorite victim of these tales? Ourselves. Self-delusion is a favorite past-time of a lot of people and procrastination soon follows. What excuse have you heard or perhaps told yourself for not exercising, keeping your New Year’s Resolution, or taking control of your financial life? People have far more excuses than they have answers. I am not immune to this. I find I make excuses when I think the other party is being unreasonable and unrealistic, but I do not want to tell them the truth. Lord help me, I am working on it (if I have done it to you, sorry, but now you know).

However, the hallmark of maturity is taking ownership of the situation. We are the root of a lot of the good and bad in our lives, and it normally stems from the areas we have not been honest with ourselves and others about. Until you can look in the mirror and own whatever that area is, then you will never be able to perform and grow. Don’t back down; do not make allowances- just do it.

I watched to very good movies this week: “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Mission Impossible III.” These movies drilled into me the importance of execution. The characters in these situations had no room for error and less room for excuses. In times when no amount of justification can change the facts, all you can do is apologize and start working on a remedy.

In closing…

Even on our best day, when we our most careful, most attentive, most conscientious, we still may not achieve the desired result. Does that mean that the justification is not valid? No, but in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? What’s past is past and all we have is the present and the problem still looking us in the face. So, resist the urge to treat your wounds with excuses and hit the drawing board for a solution to the problem. It isn’t easy and it will not happen overnight. It will take tireless diligence to eradicate excuses from your vocabulary. Yet, when you do, you will be far more effective and reliable. I will probably be eating these words later, but hey, you gotta start at home. Hopefully, someone appreciates my honesty. Here’s to growth!

If someone asks you for a reason, give it to them, or else, just keep it to yourself.

If you did not get it done, you did not get it done. Simple and plain.

Find an incentive to get it done. Whatever the “it” may be.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M. DeVougas

Question of the Week: What is the lamest excuse you have ever heard and from who? When do you make excuses?

Strangers

I got very troublesome news from back home last night concerning 2 cousins of mine. Being an only child, they are the closest things I have to a brother and a sister. As such, we are all rather close, and when things happen to one of us, they effect all of us. These relationships can serve as microcosms for the connection that we as a people share and must acknowledge in order to advance in our collective knowledge of self.

Most without siblings value tremendously the relationships they form with their extended family and their “chosen family,” who are more often referred to as their friends. Most are not comfortable losing people, finding out family members are hurt, unheard from, or [potentially] in danger. This is news that is never good, whether you spoke to the people minutes, hours, or days before whatever happened happened, as was my case, or if you have not interacted with the person(s) for an extended period of time. In both cases, you will generally go through the following set of emotions/responses:

Disbelief (Are you serious?)
Helplessness (Could I have stopped/prevented this? Is there anything I can do now?)
Questioning (What happened? How did this happen?)
Action (I’m coming home/over right now!)
Evaluation (Is everything cool now? What can we do going forward?)

These are all things that I thought/felt/said when I got the call about my cousin’s stabbing and my other cousin’s disappearance. Thankfully, the slightly older cousin (slightly because they are both 18) is back home safely and the younger cousin escaped with “minor” injuries. The reason I, and most other people, can literally feel the connection to the individual(s) effected by the happenings.

The question, is how do we create this connection between those who are not family? It is created between friends through choice, trust, and experience. However, can we choose, trust, and share experiences with strangers? I argue that we can, since we are not strangers. What? You don’t know me, therefore you’re a stranger. Well, I say that a stranger is a person with whom you have not connection, literal or figurative. Using this definition, we cannot consider ourselves strangers to anyone. Taking myself as an example, I have shared experiences with others as humans, others as Black people, others as Black men, others as native Detroiters, others as current/former basketball players, others as Christians, others as tall people, etc. We should think about the basic things that we have in common, and from there we can grow in our compassion and community.

Doing this will give us the level of empathy to understand and embrace one another during “happy” and “difficult” times. The “happy” times are important because we often only think of our connection during “low” moments (how many people only see certain family at funerals?). We can change this. Let’s get back to the basics everybody. We can flip the notion of only seeing one another at funerals to seeing one another at graduations. We can flip the notion of only talking to people when tragedies strike to talking to people when we think about each other. If we can change the way we think of one another, not as separate entities but as members of the same collective body, then perhaps we can build a firm foundation upon which current and future generations can create a humanity that is not so divisive or defensive, one that is more practical, one that is more sensitive to the wants and needs of everyone.

Doing this can be the basis for changing the fundamental way that we think about things. What is going on in the mind of a young man or group of young men that attempt to take the life of another? What is going on in the mind of a young person who leaves their mother on Mother’s Day? These are questions that cannot be asked or answered if we consider ourselves strangers. Let’s create a closeness that bridges artificial boundaries.

Successful revolution is not created from hatred, anger, or being “fed up.” It is created out of love for and knowledge of self and love between former “strangers.”

One Love. One II.

Why do they hate us?

Ever since 9/11, Americans all over have asked this fateful question, trying to understand why people would hijack airplanes and fly them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A severe rejection of wrong doings at the hands of the American government I think fuels such bewilderment amongst the American public. So as we witness the confrontation between Iran and the U.S., it might be a good time to shed some light on history that would help explain (not justify) the fiery remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.

This post in inspired by a story I read in the Los Angeles Times entitled, U.S. history lesson: stop meddling, by Stephen Kinzer. In the article, Kinzer illustrates the negative long-term effects of American government ousting the governments of at least 14 countries around the world for the past 100 years. He does this to help inform what will probably be the effects of what will happen if and when the U.S. decides to forcibly intervene in Iran.

Before Iraq and Afghanistan, Kinzer states there were the Philippines, Panama, South Vietnam and Chile, among others. But while military interventions are easier to remember, the majority of US intervention involves “funding of rebel insurgencies, organized military coups, and encouraged popular nonviolent uprisings to overthrow foreign regimes – most recently in Yugslovia.” The sad reality is that “most of these interventions not only have brought great pain to the target countries but also, in the long run, weakened American security.The long-run is an interesting idea isn’t it? But how do we think about the long-run in America? “We don’t have to pay down the deficit now, we can take care of it in the long run.” “Taking action to stop global warming would cost jobs so let’s take care of the earth in the long-run.” Fixing public education? Don’t get me started, but I digress.

Getting back to Kinzer’s article, he illustrates how America played a major role in changing the arc of history in Cuba. Kinzer states how,

“Cuba, half a world away from Iran, is a fine example. In 1898, the United States sent troops there to help rebels overthrow Spanish colonial rule. Once victory was secured, the U.S. reneged on its promise to allow Cuba to become independent and turned it into a protectorate. More than 60 years later, in his first speech as leader of the victorious Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro recalled that episode and made a promise. “This time,” he vowed, “it will not be like 1898, when the Americans came in and made themselves masters of the country.”

Isn’t it interesting how revolutionaries use history to justify their actions and how democratic countries use the future? Fidel Castro was born in 1926 so obviously, Castro, like other Revolutionaries, don’t have a short-term memory. So where most Americans miss the boat is not understanding that many terrorists see Americans as having blood on their hands from administrations that may be before their time. So rather than keep up their end of the bargain, the US has provided the fodder a dictator become a constant thorn in their sides for decades. Iran however, presents a more interesting case because in 1953, Iran was a baby democracy when they elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and he was largely popular amongst Iranians. But as Kinzer points out, things became thorny between Iran and the US when,

“Mossadegh angered the West by nationalizing his country’s oil industry. President Eisenhower sent the CIA to depose him. The coup was successful, but it set the stage for future disaster.” “The CIA placed Mohammed Reza Pahlavi back on the Peacock Throne. His repressive rule led, 25 years later, to the Islamic Revolution. That revolution brought to power a clique of bitterly anti-Western mullahs who have spent the decades since working
intensely, and sometimes violently, to undermine U.S. interests around the world.”

Kinzer later added that, “Today, Latin America and the Middle East are the regions of the world in the most open political rebellion against U.S. policies. It is no coincidence that these are the regions where the U.S. has intervened most often. Resentment over intervention festers. It passes from generation to generation. Ultimately it produces a backlash.”

A backlash? To me this means that any meaningful negotiations between Iran and the “international community” has to address issues from past generations. But after you sort through all the historical mess, Iran and the US actually have similar goals that Kinzer points out, “Both want to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, assure the free flow of Middle East oil and crush radical Sunni movements like the Taliban and Al Qaeda. What prevents talks from materializing is the deep resentment both sides feel over past interventions.”

So let’s stop drinking the kool-aid that the American government only has good intentions when it comes to regime change along with the notion that any country that is occupied by the U.S. should be grateful. And what is lost on many Americans is that they think that if they themselves did not do something wrong, then they should not be held responsible for the consequences. While this thinking is rational and plausible, many terrorists (not just Arabs) cite history from past generations as justification for their current behavior. What this tells me is that Americans claiming that they didn’t do anything wrong fails to account for the ramifications of past decisions by previous administrations. This is chess, not checkers.

Stay up fam,

Brandon

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
–George Santayana
Politics is war without bloodshed. War is politics with bloodshed.
–Huey Newton

How are you eating?

Earlier, I wrote a piece on going to the gym that ruffled some feathers but when it comes to being healthy in our non-stop lives, exercising is only part of the story. I am focusing on eating today because every week, new studies contradict either long-held beliefs or the studies that were published the week before. How do you sort through them all? By getting back to basics.

Now I am no nutritionist, but I know that each of you have learned some tips for eating healthy. So my challenge to you is the share with the world what practices, dishes, mindsets, etc. have had the biggest impact on helping you eat healthy.

I’ll start.

1) Beef, not pork. Hopefully, I don’t have to explain.

2) I had to cut back on eating frozen dinners for lunch after someone told me how much sodium they have. As a result, I now eat turkey or corned beef sandwiches.

3) To help me drink water, I take multivitamins in the morning and I eat nutrition/energy bars in the afternoon which further encourages the water intake.

4) I either eat an orange or an apple during the day and I try to incorporate vegetables for dinner at night.

5) I don’t like taking time to cook so one of my staples now is to get minute rice that you throw in the microwave, add some grilled chicken or steak strips, and top it off with peas or corn. Now I know that eating microwaved foods is not the best thing in the world, but until some of you teach me how to cook fresh food fast, I am sticking with it.

Looking forward to your comments,

Stay up fam,

Brandon

How we see each other

Between the calls for Black unity, Tavis Smiley’s Townhall Meetings, and countless personal conversations, rarely do I find Black people actually challenge the way we view each other. I hearken back to Chris Rock’s famous line where he said, “I love Black people, but I can’t stand niggas!” That joke was classic, but it was also tragic.

The tragedy comes from the increasing social distance between Black folks that would make that quote tickle the core of so many Blacks, regardless of their socioeconomic status. So as we talk about moving forward individually and collectively as a people, do the niggas get left behind? I certainly hope not, but the fact that so many of us (especially those of us with a lil’ ejumacation) are thoroughly convinced there are clear lines of demarcation between Blacks and niggas is troubling. Can someone tell me what they are?

I think what makes matters worse is the lack of probing that allow stereotypes to fester amongst our community. While I am not interested in enumerating various stereotypes, I would like to challenge all of us to check our assumptions against what we think and what we know. And what I know is that the differences between Black folks are not that much. When I mentor young men who are erroneously labeled at-risk, I always tell them that my going to college does not create a gulf between us. In fact, there are probably two or three decisions that made our paths so different.

But here’s the rub, it wouldn’t take that much for our roles to change. I could get caught up in legal trouble and end up in jail in much the same way that a young man who responds to mentoring by changing his life around and starting his own business. And what I hate is this notion that you are entitled to live whatever lifestyle you currently live in, such that negative and positive expectations are set in stone resulting in extreme self-deception.

Take Black people and all people for individuals and learn to absorb their stories. Try assuming the best when you are thinking of the worst. I also encourage us to empathize, understand, and most of all listen because we all have something to learn from each other. In closing, any call for unity will require us to not let our interactions be solely determined by stereotypes.

Getting back to basics,

Brandon

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