Diversity is an American strength (a reprise)

The following post was written almost ten years ago. It remains true, although there are fervent groups that want to tell people that they have superior rights and claim on this country. We would be a very boring and less talented place if we did not let our entire citizenry have opportunity.

Having lived more than half a century, (plus ten) it never ceases to amaze me how varied we are as a people in our great country. America is truly a melting pot and our diversity is at the heart of our greatness. Quoting the line of Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Stripes,”our forefathers have been kicked out of every country.

I mention this now as we have a wave of intolerance that permeates our public debate that is unhealthy. The marketers learned back in the late 1980’s (and leveraged further with the advent of social media) to segment the audiences. Unfortunately, we have taken this segmentation to a fervent level in political debate. People get their so-called news from biased sources which perpetuate generalizations and stereotypes. People walk around with their own set of facts. Stephen Colbert termed this “truthiness” and he was on point in his observations. So, some folks have been led to believe that most people on food stamps are African-Americans. That is not true.

In the book “That Used to be Us” that I have cited numerous times and encourage all to read, there is a highly pertinent and very illuminating anecdote about our armed service, in particular people staffing a naval vessel. The allied and opposing forces were amazed by the diversity of our navy and military. The book references a ship of women, which was a misnomer, as the leadership of the ship included several women. The allied and captured opposing military initially only wanted to deal with men, but when they witnessed that the leadership were women and competent officers, they were impressed. What also impressed them was Caucasian, African, Hispanic and Asian Americans working side by side. The opposition had presumed all Americans were white. These diverse teams of people working well together were clear messages that people with perceived differences can not only coexist but function as a unit.

This was not always so in our country, but it is amazing what can happen over time. We still struggle with civil rights issues, but we are in a much better place than we were back in the 1960’s, although we seem to have backtracked some. The oppression of lesbians and gays is slowly dissolving, but it is the 2000 version of the Civil Rights movement.

I think most Americans are tired of the evangelical right legislating their version of morality on the rest of the country. I go back to “what would Jesus do?” He hung out with the disenfranchised more than the church leadership of the day. He would speak of the Golden Rule, which is as good today as it was then. So, as a self-professed “old fart,” I would say we should call out intolerance when we see it and defend those who are being put down. LGBTQ+ people deserve every right and opportunity that other citizens have in this country.

Yet, it goes beyond that. The Middle East will not be as successful as possible as a region until women have the same rights as men. Using an example from Malcolm Gladwell’s book called “Outliers,” if you limit your talent pool to only half of the potential candidates, you are competing with your arm tied behind your back. His specific point was Canadian hockey identified at early ages what they believed were precocious kids. What turned out to be the truth, the precocious kids were merely older than their competition based on age cut offs, so were more skilled because of their maturity not talent.

If a society puts down its women, they are dismissing the opportunities for success as a people by 1/2. It is not lost on me that over 50% and closer to 60% of college students in the United States are women. And, I was not surprised when the two top winners of the Intel Science prize for high school science students were girls. One of these young ladies may have come up with a cure of cancer. Her thesis is being tested as we speak. The second place winner is not only female, she is also homeless. So, she had more working against than anyone could imagine. She is very much involved in marine biology.

So, taking just this first example and placing her in Iran or Afghanistan, this young lady, who may have discovered a cure or, at least, a significant treatment of cancer, would likely have been suppressed or even killed for going to school. It does not get any clearer than that. This is why the separation of church and state is critical. Misguided religious zeal is not a good thing as it holds back the opportunities for all.

Yet, we have some of the same intolerance in America. We have a misguided focus on things that may be very important to the religious body of people, but infringe upon the rights of others. Most people who are overtly religious understand this, yet we have a zeal that causes people to say and support positions that run counter to why we are a great country. I do not know the original author of this quote I believe it may have been Upton Sinclair back in the 1950’s, but when I first heard it was back in the early 1990’s, It was used to reference the Republican Party’s catering more to the evangelical right. A Republican leader at the time felt this was a slippery slope and said “When terrorism comes to America, it will be carrying a cross draped in the American flag.” This was before the ostracizing and assaulting of gay people, the emergence of extreme White nationals, the killing of Black people by law enforcement officers or vigilantes, the Koran burning minister in Florida, the military funeral picketers from the small mid-western church, the foiled plot by a Christian terrorist group to kill Detroit police and other examples.

We cannot and must not support intolerance. When we hear it and see it, we must call it out for what it is. Being tolerant and inclusive of others is not only the right thing to do per the Golden Rule, our constitution and our ideals, it means we as a country can be more successful. We are embracing the rights for all of our citizens to contribute to our society and make us greater than we can be as individuals.

The Harmony Project – Sing, Serve, Share – an encore

The following brief post was written five years ago, but deserves an encore performance given its theme. It is a quick read, so please indulge a few minutes of your time.

What do you get when you have a choir which does not require auditions? You get a tremendous amount of harmony, but not just the musical kind. From a recent CBS Sunday Morning report, David Brown has formed a choral group whose primary purpose is to bring different kinds of people together to sing, serve and share.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, its members must serve the community in various community projects, as well as practicing and performing. During the interview, Jane Pauley talked with what sounds like the set-up to a joke – a CEO, a warden and a Rabbi. These diverse people epitomize what the group is all about – getting to know people who are different from you, then realizing how similar we are.

Brown has even taken this concept into the warden’s prison where female inmates have their own chorus. Recently, the incarcerated chorus joined the larger one for a performance, which brought down the house.

Brown’s history has been one of being diverse. It started in high school when he moved into a new school district and was the lone white student at an African-American school. In college, he came out as a gay man. So, getting along as the non-main stream person has formed his bent toward diversity.

The Harmony Project is such a positive effort to bring out the best in us. While these examples happen on a daily basis, we need to celebrate them and our humanity by sharing our common threads. This is what America is all about. It is not finger pointing and hate speak. Let’s bring America together by celebrating our diversity, as well as these common threads that bind us.

Tuesday’s truths

Tuesday will arrive shortly Greenwich time, so let me borrow tomorrow for a few truths of the day.

An interesting dichotomy occurred courtesy of the US Supreme Court which ruled discrimation on the basis of sex in employment includes sexual orientation. This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community and allows the US to join 74 other countries who have a similar law. The dichotomy is only last week, the Trump administration rolled back equal treatment for LGBTQ people under the Affordable Care Act. The SCOTUS ruling could very well be argued that it should apply to the Trump change finding it discriminatory.

One would think the police would be a little more careful with detaining African-American civilians, with the active protests going on. Yet, in Atlanta the police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a black man running away with a taser. Now, I realize the man had a taser he took off an officer, but why shoot at all and why shoot to kill? Did an intoxicated man doing something stupid need to die?

COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise in the US and elsewhere. As of today, the US has around 118,000 deaths about 27% of the global total, with only 5% of the global population. Yet, the US president is in desperate need of his ego being stroked, so he will risk people’s health and lives, just so he can hear applause. We know about his tone deafness to scheduling it on Juneteenth, which has now been moved, but Tulsa has its own horrific racial history.

On top of all of that, anyone attending a Trump pep rally, must sign a hold-harmless statement should they catch COVID-19, meaning they cannot sue the Trump campaign. Think about that. Trump wants your money, your applause and your vote, but if you get sick, you are on your own. And, that is a good metaphor for the US president.

Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

“Don’t Let be Misunderstood” is a song written by Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott and Sol Marcus for the singer and pianist Nina Simone, who first recorded it in 1964. The song has been covered by many artists, most notably by The Animals, whose blues rock version of the song became a transatlantic hit in 1965. (Per Wikipedia). Cat Stevens does a meaningful interpretation as well, as he tempers the sound so the words seep through.

The song has an important message, but first here are the lyrics.

“People, do you understand me now,
If sometimes I feel a little mad
Don’t you know no one alive can
Always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem a little sad
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

You know sometimes, I’m so carefree
With a joy that’s hard to hide
Sometimes seems that all I have is worry
And then you’re bound to see my other side
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy, I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has its problems and I get more
Than my share
But that’s one thing I never mean to do
I don’t mean it
People, don’t you know I’m only human
Don’t you know I have faults like any one
But sometimes I find myself alone regretting
Some little thing; some foolish thing
That I have done,
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

Don’t let me be misunderstood
I’m just someone whose intentions are good
Don’t let me be misunderstood,
Don’t let me be misunderstood”

My wife suggested I include this song in a post. She feels people are being misunderstood as others are not taking the time to listen. If we listen to each other, the context of a comment will finds its way in. Once you listen, you then have earned the right to be heard in return. A key part of the song is to start out with assuming the intentions are good. That may be giving too much credit, but if we listen first, we can ask better questions.

I have often written about Daryl Davis, an African-American man who has convinced more than 200 white men to leave the Ku Klux Klan. He said he did it by listening. Then, he would ask a few questions and listen some more. He observed that people, even with strong opinions he disagreed with, just want to be heard. By listening, he would ask probing, thoughtful questions that made the person think.

I truly admire this man, his courage and his approach. If we emulate him, we can have better conversations.

Different, not less

I spoke recently of a movie that caught my eye the other day which is well worth the watch – “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes as the title character with Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara in key roles. It is a true story of Grandin who overcame her autism to get a Ph.D and become one of the foremost designers of cattle management systems. It is well worth the watch, but please pull out the Kleenex, especially when she first speaks up for autistic kids with her mother beside her.

A key moment in the movie is when her mother, played by Ormond is trying to find a high school that will help her daughter navigate a world with autism. To her credit, her mother defied those who said she needed to institutionalize her daughter back in the 1960s. A science teacher at the prospective school, played by Strathairn, hurried out to convince Ormond to stay as she was leaving with her daughter. He said, Temple is “different, not less.” Grandin had a brilliant mind, but understood better through visualization. She could see things we could not.

“Different, not less.” The line is so powerful, Grandin uses it later as she speaks to searching-for-answers parents of autistic kids. It reminds me of a similar line in a movie about a fictitious band from the 1960s, “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Michael Pare plays Eddie, the lead singer and driving force behind the band. He looks like a “cruiser,” but is well-read and intelligent. He drafts into the band an English major played by Tom Berenger, whom they call “Wordman” because of his profound lyrics.

During the movie as they are playing a college campus, Eddie tells Wordman these people are not like them. They are different. Wordman innocently replies, “they are no better than we are.” Eddie corrected him saying “I said different, not better.” Given the reference, this comment is the same as the above title and equally powerful.

We are different. It would be rather boring if we all thought, learned and said the same things. While we may be different, we are no better or worse than the next person. Grandin designed a system that is now used in over 50% of the cattle business, but she was laughed at because she was a woman and autistic. Her simple questions were pertinent, yet ignored. Her autism allowed her to see what the cattle sees and she factored that in her designs.

As for Eddie, we should always be careful with our first impressions. People dress differently, look differently, and act differently. Yet, Eddie was a deep thinker and knew literature. We are all different, but we have the same rights, responsibilities and need to be heard. My rights are no more important than yours and vice versa.

Both of these movies are worth the watch. They each will help us appreciate what others go through. Different, not less. And, not better either.

Unity is not uniformity

I saw this title on a Presbyterian church sign last week. I thought it speaks volumes, especially given that it is a church sign. “Unity is not uniformity.” So true.

I am a huge fan of diversity in people, thoughts, and perspectives. It makes life colorful and interesting. It makes our food choices better, our music better, our relationships interesting and opens are eyes. I firmly believe diversity makes our country far greater.

America is as imperfect as they come, especially with the people in leadership. Yet, I have witnessed reporters who have said America integrates other cultures better than other places. That sounds so strange with such an unwelcoming president. The point is other people will reach beyond their boundaries in America moreso than in other places.

So, whether people believe that premise or not, it holds up the theme of the church sign – unity is not uniformity. Unfortunately with the good comes the bad, so we do have some people who do not like diversity. They hold close to their vest the idea that purity of culture is more important than overall diversity.

Yet, when I see folks who espouse this, I think of the many and significant contributions by people of different cultures to our country. Our country has benefitted from the contributions of many cultures both from within our boundaries and from far away. Away from our shores, a number of higher mathematic disciplines are traceable to the Middle East. Democracy itself traces its roots to Greece. Genghis Khan let multiple houses of worship function in his capitol city to learn from all.

Within our shores, the inventor of a key cellphone communication technology is an immigrant Austrian woman, the inventor of a flexible heart surgical implant that helped blue babies is an African-American, one of two minds behind Apple is a Syrian immigrant, some of the best legal merger minds are the children of European immigrants who did piece goods work in New York city, the best golfer in recent memory is the son of an African-American man and Vietnamese-American immigrant, a viable presidential candidate is a gay man and the mayor of Chicago is a lesbian woman to name just a few examples.

United we stand (and flourish). Yet, unity is not uniformity. Isn’t it great?

A true lesson in correcting racist action

I heard this story yesterday while visiting with friends dating back to grade school. One of my friends was a catcher on a good college baseball team.

As they played an arch rival, my friend was catching an African-American pitcher, whom I have met as he was a good friend of my catching friend. That day, an opposing player got a single off the pitcher and, while standing on first base told my friend’s first baseman, “Tell that ‘N-word’ I will own him all day!”

The next time up at bat, the African-American pitcher dusted him back with two pitches (meaning he threw pitches closer to him than homeplate). The opposing coach came out to complain and the Black pitcher’s coach told him what was happening. The offensive batter’s coach told the pitcher’s coach “to throw at him two more times.” After the batter walked to first base after four balls, his coach removed him from the game and told him why. He told the pitcher’s coach after learning of the racial slur, “We are not going to put up with that s–t.”

While I am not condoning a pitcher throwing toward a batter, I repeat this story as it is an exemplar for people in leadership – a coach, minister, teacher, boss, mentor, representative, governor, senator, or president – they can make a huge difference in condemning racism. His quote is priceless, “we are not going to put up with that s–t.”

Just think if these people in leadership positions or, even the rest of us, said “that is not right” or “I do not agree with your saying that.” Or, just by actions, to show support to a target of racism. We need our leaders to be among our better angels. Yet, we must also walk the talk. If our so-called leaders fail to lead, we need to share our disappointment and ask them to do better.

You have to be carefully taught

On the news today, I saw the UK Labor Party has been accused of having a few anti-Semites. Not to be outdone, the UK Conservative Party has been accused of Islamophobia. And, as I wrote last week, hate crimes are on the rise in the US largely due to a rise in white nationalists who feel more empowered these days.

People are not born hating. They have to be taught. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote a key song in the musical play and movie “South Pacific” called “You have to be carefully taught.” The lyrics are noted below, but I wanted to mention the context of the play first.

“South Pacific” is a play about the idiocy and harm of bigotry. It was written in the 1949 as a clever metaphor to address the Jim Crow period in the US. Rodgers and Hammerstein knew they had to use a different setting to get their point heeded.

These lyrics are powerful. Please let them sink in as we all need to counter bigotry and racism we see and understand some of our own prejudices.

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

Let’s use this Thanksgiving to be thankful for and embrace our diversity. In fact, the first Thanksgiving brought two different groups together.

Echoes of past blogposts

If you have been blogging for a few years, you likely witness some of your older blogposts resurfacing with more interest. In my case, it is not uncommon for some older posts to be more widely read than at the time they were written.

Now, I am not referring to those blogposts that have consistently drawn attention. The ones that pop-up in your most-viewed list after being long absent are to what I am referring. Here are a few late-blossomers that are getting more attention:

“Don’t laugh at me” written in September, 2013 – This one resurfacing is less a surprise as I think people are alarmed by the divisiveness in America and western democracies. The Peter, Paul and Mary songs resonates saying quietly and pleafully “we are all the same.” It’s message is place yourself in the shoes of the person who is being ridiculed. At some point, each of us has been ostracized. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/dont-laugh-at-me/

“Who is Paul O’Neill and why should his opinions matter?” written in March, 2013 – This one is more of a surprise, given the relative anonymity of Paul O’Neill. Yet, I think people are craving leadership with the dearth of such in the two largest English speaking democracies. O’Neill is a quiet, studious and effective leader who deserves notoriety for his ability to observe what is wrong and how to arrive at solutions. Plus, it shows great leaders facilitate communications up and down organizations as the best ideas often come from those closest to the action. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/who-is-paul-oneill-and-why-should-his-opinions-matter/

If you do not remember these posts or were not following my blog back in 2013, please check them out. I am delighted they are getting a little more interest given their subject matter. Also, please share a link to similar posts of yours. I would love to revisit them or read them for the first time.