Archive | March 2006

COTET: The Bigger Picture on Double Standards

I’d like to point you all to the second question posted on Chronicles of the Expecatant Tenth, and my comments in response to it. The question deals with how a woman are treated and addressed in the midst of the misogyny that is commercial hip-hop. However, I see this as openning up discussion on the broader issue of double standards and how we confront/destroy/embrace them.

I look forward to your commentary, as I see this as an extension of the things we have been discussing on The SuperSpade with regard to personal and familial and community relationships.

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The Black Family Movement pt. II

Old rule: Black people cannot talk about a movement of any form until we heal our families.

Back in January, I wrote a post on the Black Family Movement and how Black people can not talk about a revolution until we heal our families. That post seemed to really strike a chord in the people that posted comments and I hope it helped those of you who did read it. And I promised I would come back with more so here it is.

SWhat bothers me profusely is the amount of generalizations Black people use to define themselves. You know what I’m talking about, “The Black family this, or Black women are that”. So what I am trying to do with the Black family movement series is to make it personal and to help your actions answer this question, “What am I doing to help heal/improve my family?” Often times, we take our family for granted and think that we are born with an innate love for them. But as with any relationships, they require sacrifice, understanding, flexibility, and communication. So please add to this list as you see fit, but make sure you are spending life energy on your family. “We all we got!!!”

1) For those of us who hold on to the anger related to an absent father (either physically or emotionally), know that that hurt is only weighing you down. Find a way to forgive them for their actions. This is not a matter of us comparing who went through the most painful childhood and this obviously will not happen over night, but it is a step in the right direction. Start walking.

2) Stop getting offended when a family member asks you about what is going on in your life. The chances are that they asking you because they care about you, not just to get in your business.

3) Have a meeting with your family to talk about building a trust fund and stop thinking that once you “make it” you are going to be able to take care of everybody.

4) Stop forgetting people’s birthdays and if you are getting a card/gift, give it to them on or before their birthday.

5) Keep track of what younger people in your family want to be when they grow up and constantly push them to challenge themselves for the better.

6) Think of all the reasons why you love the members of your family and tell them!!! What’s the point in waiting to tell them at their funeral?

7) Here’s something interesting. Start a family blog such that only members of the family can view the site and post comments.

8) Engage your family; learn about their politics, their philosophies on Black empowerment, and their thoughts on family and raising children. You would be surprised at how much you don’t know, trust me.

9) Your friends are not the only people you can have fun with. Why is it that so many people are appalled at the thought of going out with their family? (I’m talking about siblings, parents, cousins, etc.) Tear down these artificial social barriers in your life and find a way to weave family and friends into your social scene.

10) And this last point was number 10 on the first Black Family movement post but it bears repeating; the best reason is just because. This relates to everything.

And if you haven’t noticed, I end every post with “Stay up fam,” because we are all family. I don’t care how much of our bloodline we have in common because we all come from a great people whose sacrifices, love, and hard work made it possible for us to be here today.

Carpe diem,

Stay up fam,

Brandon

Is the Black Man in America doomed?

The NY Times says that Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia say that we are close. In “Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn,” Erik Eckholm goes over many statistics that show how the un/undereducated Black man is the rule and not the exception, and how that is leading them down a path from which recovery may prove difficult.

(Random thought: Before digging into this topic, I’d like to first note the irony in Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia doing studies about Black men. Princeton has 8.2% Black students, Harvard has 8% Black students, and Columbia has 5.3% Black students. I just find it interesting when I hear/read authoritative on Black people written by non-Black people. Now, I am in no way saying that the message is worthless because of the messenger, but I am saying that it is in some ways disheartening. I digress…)

With that said, the story and the studies it references raises some important facts. I applaud the approaches to measuring joblessness that include the incarcerated as well as those not looking for legal work. Though it is an interesting theory, I do not agree with the implication that child support law enforcement have contributed to joblessness.

There are some concrete steps that I see that can be taken to address this rampant joblessness.

The first set is psychological. For starters, many associate unemployment with vagrancy. I believe that in many cases it is a myth. Vagrancy, laziness, triflingness, whatever you want to call it does occur, but I think that’s less common than it is perceived. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that many individuals who are not seeking work are “working” illegal occupations; you can’t be lazy and stay out of jail. The second psychological step is to remove the stigma of the man or woman who has come home from prison. What is tripped out is how many people show a lot of “love” to people when they get out of jail (remember Chris Rock saying people got more love coming out of jail than coming home from college), but they don’t get a lot of love from business owners (including Black business owners) when they are looking for legitimate work. This is part of the reason why people who come home are so likely to commit and be caught in the midst of illegal activity within 6 months of their release and end up right back in corrections system. What needs to happen here: People need to have positive attitudes towards their people. Do not confuse a positive attitude with stupidity, but instead confuse it with educated optimism. There is nothing wrong with giving someone a conditional hire. Do not confuse conditional with opportunity to humiliate. People are amazing in the sense that they will excel when people show faith in them. The article quotes a brother who says he and his peers suffer from a “general state of hopelessness.” Hopelessness is overcome by having faith in yourself and others having faith in you. Think about it, when was the last time you felt like you could do something when people were constantly putting you down saying you “never did it before” or that you were “incapable” of doing it? We need to invest psychologically in our brethren.

Secondly, there are opportunities to educate outside of traditional school. Ideally, everyone would matriculate through elementary, middle, high school, undergrad, grad, doctorate, post-doc, etc. In cases where that has not happened, that does not mean that education should not be an option. What can be done here: Maybe we can encourage young men/women to seek opportunities that they feel are more practical. What I mean by that is this: usually people leave school because they do not see immediate benefit. I more than anyone wish to eradicate instant gratification ideology from the world, but in the mean time, I feel like we can use it to demonstrate both immediate and future benefits gained from education. For example, why not identify trades/talents that students have in say, 8th grade. In their high school (9th thru 12th grade years), why not provide access to training in their fields of interest (e.g. web design, auto repair, cosmetolgoy, medical assistant, whatever)? Why not provide access to the training and tie performance in “regular” school together with the vocational training? Meaning, we should reward high performance in the vocational education equally. That way, there is recognition (who doesn’t like that?) for those that excel in economics and those who excel in electrician training. We should embrace Adult Education and Professional Certification programs. If/when people demonstrate hunger and willingness to work, then they deserve to have a chance taken on them (see above).

Re-entry. The article calls out programs that focus on prison re-entry. The same attention needs to be paid to juvenile re-entry. Programs like Detroit’s Partners for Success are great examples of taking a proactive approach to confronting the issues the will be present in the lives of young men/women when they leave the system. We talk a lot about this on the site, and some of the posts on the subject can be read here. Keys to successful re-entry are showing confidence and providing opportunities.

Those sound a lot like the keys to life in general.

Indifference, Insecurity, and Assumption Transference

I am the biggest fan of The Weekly Dream on the planet. The most recent Dream on General Indifference has sparked some very interesting discussion on and off of the site. Rather than post an obnoxiously long comment, I thought I respond with a post that sums up my feelings on this topic. After all, that is my right as this site’s owner :-).

Attention is important. What is interesting to me, how people respond to it. Some people respond differently to the same levels of attention. That is not problematic, except in cases where we expect other people to respond in the same way(s) we do. A very basic yet illustrative example here is eye contact (similar to what Steve alluded to in the Dream). Some, when having another make intense eye contact with them, become nervous, begin fidgeting, and break the contact at the first opportunity. Others are compelled to return the stare, perhaps more intensely than the one they received. Is either response right or wrong? I don’t think so. Why is the same not true in relationships?

For me, the amount of time I spend on something/someone does not many times translate to my level of love for them. If that was the case, I would never leave my grandparents house. Yet we expect people to do things because “they should love us enough” to do it? I don’t know if that always works.

“If you loved me more, you’d…”

I’m not so sure that I could make the above statement. It is based upon a problem that all-too-often rears its vicious face in relationships: assumption transference. This can be defined as having your own notions on something, and then trying to force another individual or group to live within your notion. What’s worse is that often times when I’ve talked to people about this topic, they often reveal that the reason they said it was because they were unhappy with their own emotions. What that means to me is that they were trying to have someone else do something that they themselves did not even feel good doing! The example here is something like, “I love you so much that I didn’t eat all day. If you loved me more, or as much, you’d do the same.” You can replace “didn’t eat all day” with just about anything: “didn’t go to class,” “didn’t take that job,” “didn’t go see my family,” etc. to see my point. My questions is, why would we want to do that to our loved ones?

We need to have better ways of communicating our feelings. Perhaps we instead should be focusing on addressing the reasons we feel negatively about our emotions in the first place. In the above example, maybe the parties can talk about why they feel bad about the things they do because they “love each other so much.” This will likely be a very revealing conversation, so it will only be successful if it is honest and does not contain accusations. If you’re lying to the person, and cool with that, y’all shouldn’t be together in the first place (and probably won’t be together much longer). If you start accusing people of things, you’ll be in trouble because the accusee will be spending their energy defending him or herself instead of addressing the negative feelings that were the motivation for the conversation.

Now to the “Cater to you” sidebar. Let me submit a question and a theory to those who find the lyrics troublesome: do you view your current/previous relationship [or relationships in general] as a power struggle? As some abstract (or concrete) competition or back-and-forth game of 1-up? If yes, then I think I can understand why you would take issue with the ideas of this concept. However, not viewing these intimate interactions as struggles for power or dominance can unlock the door to mutual catering in a way that is fulfilling to all parties involved.

Why are relationships seen as power struggles so much? My theory is that this perspective is founded upon personal insecurity. If I feel weak and I am uncomfortable with my feeling(s) of weakness, then I will be on the defensive to try to stop anyone from exerting “power” over me. Likewise, if I feel strong, I may seek out opportunities to demonstrate my “strength” over others. The commonality between these two extremes is that they are founded upon insecurity. To feel one or the other is not insecure in and of itself. To feel one or the other and to project those feelings upon other people to “protect” or “exert” yourself is demonstration of insecurity.

Now a concrete example. Someone who feels weak will have a problem doing something for another person because they feel that it makes them look/seem weak. Also, they may be hesitant to do these things because they fear being exploited as a result of that “weakness.” This adds another element, also introduced by insecurity, which is distrust. It says, “I know that if I was in your position and you were dealing with a ‘weakling’ like me, then I’d exploit you.” This is what I mean by projecting your insecurities onto others. This sort of assumption transference leads to lots of misunderstanding and miscommunication and unhappiness. The assumptions, especially when they are wrong, will then lead to your counterpart becoming defensive, and then everybody loses, including the ‘weakling.’

How do we address this? By changing how we view our interactions. If you see your relationship as a chance to exert power over another person, that perspective may need to be re-evaluated. Similarly, if you see your relationship as a place in which you feel weak, perhaps that relationship should be re-evaluated and you should focus more on what is the basis for your feelings of weakness. My pastor has been talking about family and marriage over the past two months, and he can be paraphrased as saying, “real, functional relationships cannot be power struggles because in these cases two people become one and you cannot have a power struggle with yourself.” This is simplified, but it is true nonetheless. Does your right eye engage in a power struggle with your left eye over which will dominate your vision? They work together without struggling. The same can be true for people and their interactions.

We need to get to a point where we can face our personal insecurities and not pass them onto others. This would have implications not only in personal relationships, but in group social and even political interactions (you know I had to tie this back in to social and political issues somehow :-)).

Just my thoughts. I’ll let Steve stick to writing the Dreams from now on.

Chronicles of The Expectant Tenth

I’d like to welcome to the internet’s network of Black Thinkers the Chronicles of the Expectant Tenth. People have seen this site on my profile and said “you’re writing for another site?!?!?!” The answer to that question is: kind of. This site has been started to create discourse on a series of questions that Black people are facing today. The topics will range from the political to the social to the psychological. My contributions to this site will be as an avid participant and commenter on questions posed. When I post comments, I will provide links to them here. I encourage you all to do the same by commenting on COTET and also posting your COTET comments on The SuperSpade.

You can read my comments to the site’s first question on “An All Black World” here.

Community is about mutual support. Let’s make our voices heard.

The Weekly Dream: General Indifference

“If you want to be somebody/If you want to go somewhere/ You better wake up and pay attention”
-Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit

“The seeds of great discoveries are constantly floating around us, but they only take root in minds well-prepared to receive it.”
-Scoop Jackson

“It means so much just to be present and bring all of yourself to the task at hand.”
-Cory Nettles

It is a miracle. Whatever we devote our attention to automatically grows and flourishes, because it is a tell tale sign of focus/priority. For instance, my mother has house plants over twenty years old, yet they grow to the ceiling. I thought it weird that as she cared for them, she spoke to them also. I always wondered what it is you say to a plant to make it grow, but what I realized is that it did not matter. The important thing only that time was taken out to tend to the needs of the plants at the moment.

The Gravamen

Attention is linked and rooted in so many other things. And based on the context, can be called many different names. One of the most valuable gifts we can offer to others is our undivided attention. I recently participated in a conference where we performed a listening exercise. For a few minutes, I sat across from my partner and “beamed” at them while they talked about whatever they wanted. Then it was my turn, but I could not respond to what had been said before. It was a little unsettling at first to have someone so intently focused on you. Yet, it helped sort out some things I did not know was there. I realized that having that attention is all too rare, although it costs us nothing.

Why Don’t More People Pay Attention

All of us have dealt with an individual who was not attentive and the frustration that comes as a result, yet how often do we find ourselves doing the same thing. Most of us live day to day on autopilot anyway. How much of your day are you conscious of what you are doing? How much is involved in active thinking and analyzing?

This normally plays itself out on the phone. During phone conversations, we are doing the dishes, talking to other people, watching other people. So many things compete for our attention and time is so limited, it is difficult to really “beam” in on the person/conversation/task. But I cannot help but wonder how many things pass us by because of this. Think about it, when was the last time you were totally present in a conversation or activity. Your mind did not wander, you were not multi-tasking, but you were completely focused on what was in front of you. I have found that life is far more rewarding when we are present and ready for action.

Inattentiveness can be a coping mechanism because with awareness, comes responsibility. I refer to this as being “decidedly ignorant.” A lot of people make a conscious effort not to educate themselves. In this Age of Information, I am amazed at how little the general public knows about how things work (e.g. politics, the economy, government, etc.). What’s more, they take pride in not knowing. Perhaps, these issues are not immediate as opposed to meeting daily needs, so there is no urgency but these things are important nonetheless. I have learned that ignoring a problem will not make it go away. So it is best to “man up” and work with what you have (Shameless Plug: We can directly conteract this trend by directing people http://www.TheSuperSpade.com).

Pearls before Swine

Some of us place our attention on things that are negative or just plain dumb. Forgive me, but is what is going on with Britney, Paris or Brad going to help you pay your bills. Sure, the beautiful people can be interesting and watching someone else’s life can be relaxing. However, some people get so wrapped up in things that do not matter or in other folks’ business, that they life is in shambles. They commit a cardinal sin: letting other people problems become their own.

People also have the tendency to only focus on the negative. One little thing happens and their day is shot. A change of focus is needed. Too many individuals are problem orientated instead of solution motivated. The church mothers said it best, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

Make sure you are handling your business and maintain proper perspective.

I want to cater to you…: A Sidebar

Attention varies based on the situation and context. And different things require varying levels of our attention. No doubt, you can wash the dishes and talk on the phone at the same time, and do a pretty good job. But if you want to do a great job (e.g. company is coming over), then you have to focus to drill down into the detail. This is more so true in the area of relationships.

There is a song called “Cater to You” by Destiny’s Child in which they discuss pampering their man. Yet so many of my female friends were offended by the song and dismissed it as sexist and one sided. However, I took it to illustrate the mutual concern and attention that is necessary for true intimacy. If your counterpart is doing their part, why not pamper them every once and a while. A little gratitude goes a long way.

It is unsettling to me how my generation and the generations that follow treat love and companionship as a pure arm’s length business transaction, where everyone is after their own interest. I have seen numerous individuals who consciously or unconsciously disregard the needs of their partners, or seem indifferent, but expect the world in return. This inattentiveness is selfishness. This type of relationship cannot prosper. In any relationship, we should key into what we can bring to the situation. How can we make it better? Giving it the attention and priority required. I believe that this is the key to a thriving relationship and what is meant by a helpmate.

In the End

Being attentive takes discipline and can be exhausting. Why? Because attention is not just attention, it demands so much more. The antenna does not need to be up all of the time. Sometimes, you do need mindless activity-it is called relaxation. But habitual inattentiveness is detrimental because it lulls us into a false sense of security; especially when it comes to people. God gave us five senses for a reason. Use them.

If you are alert, then you are harder to deceive.

Where your attention is, your heart will follow.

Attention is a commodity, spend it wisely.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas

Question of the Week: Who or what is currently holding your attention and why?

Why we went to war, Bush responds

“The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.” -Socrates

After being denied direct questions for years, Bush finally took a question from journalist Helen Thomas. She asked (and I am paraphrasing), “Why did we really go to war?” Seems like a simple enough question right? Read on to see how Bush responded.

Let me first say that I have a lot of respect for Helen Thomas but I would have revised her question to say, “Why did we go to Iraq?” and then let Bush goes for what he knows. Because for anyone who has seen “Fog of War,” you know that politicians and public officials are notorious for responding to tough questions by answering the questions they would have preferred to answer, regardless if the answer has nothing to do with the question being asked. And at this point in his Presidency, Bush has his script so down-packed, we shouldn’t expect any kernel of truth to slip out.

Regardless of all that, Bush took an uncomfortably long time to answer Helen’s question so I am going to give you an in-depth analysis of their exchange. I pulled part of the transcript from the Washington Post and the relevant exchange proceeds as follows and my comments are in italics.

QUESTION (Thomas): Why did you really want to go to war? This question already provides a way to Bush to avoid the spirit of the question.

BUSH: I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist – that I didn’t want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect. And Bush sneaks out the back door.

QUESTION (Thomas): And … Thomas tries to catch Bush at the back door.

BUSH: Hold on for a second, please. Excuse me. Excuse me. Bush is trying to gather his thoughts, trying to remember the script.

BUSH: No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. When we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Bush gains his confidence because whenever war is the topic, you can never leave home without your 9/11 card, even though we are approaching 3,000 military deaths in Iraq.

BUSH: Our foreign policy changed on that day. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. Apparently, Bush forgot about that atomic bomb thing in Japan.

BUSH: And I’m never going to forget it. And I’m never going to forget the vow I made to the American people, that we will do everything in our power to protect our people. Part of that meant to make sure that we didn’t allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy, and that’s why I went into Iraq. So in other words, we went into Iraq because we wanted to make sure Saddam and/or Iraq didn’t provide a safe haven to an enemy. Even though Bush doesn’t define people and Saddam Hussein wouldn’t have any Al-Qaeda or Taliban rebels causing mess in his country, Afghanistan’s housing of the Taliban was simlar to Iraq’s housing of Al-Qaeda. Come on man!

(CROSSTALK)
BUSH: Hold on for a second. Excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al-Qaeda. Didn’t Bush mean to say that Iraq provided a safe haven for Al-Qaeda? Nevertheless, if we follow Bush’s logic, Saddam provided a safe haven for the Taliban and the Taliban provided a safe haven for Al-Qaeda, so that’s why we went into Iraq. Are you confused yet?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)
BUSH: Helen, excuse me. That’s where – Afghanistan provided safe haven for al-Qaida. That’s where they trained, that’s where they plotted, that’s where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans. So did Afghanistan or the Taliban provide a safe haven to Al-Qaeda? Why then should we draw a distinction between Afghanistan and Taliban?

BUSH: I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That’s why I went to the Security Council. That’s why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. This is the line of the week. “I also saw a threat in Iraq.” Now I know see how we went from Afghanistan to Iraq, it was because Bush saw a threat, although it was totally based on his misuse of evidence and language.

BUSH: And the world said, Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences. And therefore, we worked with the world. We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. Have you noticed how WMD have completely left Bush’s vocabulary?

BUSH: And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it. So we went into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. OK So how did the mission change such that we are now nation-building based on democratic ideals and simultaneously providing national security until the Iraqis stand up?

To be clear, I don’t want the Iraqis to suffer but when an entire war/invasion is based on the misuse of language AND evidence, I can’t imagine anything good coming from it. Can you?

Stay up fam,

Brandon