The Black Tax

For the African-Americans reading this title, they will immediately know what it means. For those who are not and do not know, it is important that you do know. The best description of what it is can be found at the end of the most recent broadcast on HBO of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” This show focuses on the impact on sports and society of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter racial injustice protests. A link to his description is below.

For those who do not know who Bryant Gumbel is, he is a long time news and sports reporter who is also a Black man. For a few years, he left sports to host NBC’s “Today Show,” but returned to his roots of reporting on sports. I find his show to be the best sports commentary show around because he and other talented reporters do deep dives on the stories. To be frank, the sport is secondary to the human interest story.

This show is no exception. At the end of the show, Gumbel updates a real life shooting of a promising baseball talent named Robbie Tolan, the son of former major league player, Bobby Tolan. He was shot in his front yard after an office accosted his mother over the belief the car parked out front was stolen. It turned out the officer entered one digit wrong on the license tag number. The mother was in her pajamas at 11 pm. The son said loudly take your hands off my mother and the officer turned and shot. No warning. He just shot.

The young man survived after months of hard recovery, but Tolan’s dream of a baseball future would not come true. The police officer was acquitted of any crime, returned to the force and later received a promotion. Tolan has written a book about his travails called “No Justice: one white police officer, one black family.”

Then, Gumbel told us about the Black Tax. It not monetary – it is a burden that is paid everyday. It is the daily burden of being treated as an unequal citizen. It is the daily burden of worrying about the life of yourself, your kids and your grandkids. It is the burden of being pulled over or accosted by police officers for being Black like the suspect they believe you are. It is the burden of being considered less able for a position you are applying for. It is the burden of having to check your response to obvious racial denigration. It is the burden of having to suffer people saying something that would not be said to a white person, “you are a credit to your race.”

Gumbel concludes by saying it is exhausting to have to carry this burden. It is bothersome that we have not resolved to fully deal with the racial injustice. Black lives matters is more than just a slogan. It is a hope for equal footing.

https://people.com/tv/bryant-gumbel-explains-black-tax-hbo-real-sports/

A unifying person – a tribute to Carlos Santana, the person (a reprise)

The following was written and posted in 2014. The theme is so very relevant today as a much needed approach to emulate. Carlos Santana is known for his collaboration with singers and other performers.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

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.

Bigotry – you have to be carefully taught (from “South Pacific’)

I have often cited these words, but the following is from a post I wrote several years ago. I repeat it here due to its relevance today.

For those of you who have seen the play or movie “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, you may recognize part of the title as a pivotal song in the story – “You’ve Got to be CarefullyTaught.” The play involves a woman who falls in love with someone and then realizes his children are half islanders. She has a hard time coming to grips with her bigotry as according to the song, we are not born hating; hatred has to be carefully taught. A sample of Hammerstein’s lyrics follow:

“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 head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This play was written in 1949 based on excerpts from James Michener’s novel “Tales from the South Pacific.” Rodgers and Hammerstein knew precisely what they were doing with this novel and lyrics as America was full bore in its civil rights crisis and more reasonable people were questioning why? Bigotry, hatred, bias – it has to be drummed into you before it’s too late. Before you can think for yourself.

Yesterday, I saw a picture above a story about the Boy Scouts and their delaying a decision to allow gays in their ranks. As a father of three, this picture was very disheartening as it showed young scouts holding up signs which were derogatory to those who are gay. For all the good the Boys Scouts does for young boys, teaching them to be bigoted toward others who happen to have different sexual preference, is not something worthy of a merit badge. For all of the teachings about responsibility, accountability, advocacy, and civility, to carefully teach them it is OK to hate these people because they are different from you is not in keeping with the mission of the Boy Scouts, nor is it in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said it in many different ways per the bible I learned from. The two that are burned in my memory are “love your neighbors as you love yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And, for that matter, there are no exceptions about them being Black, White, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Agnostic. Words are easy. I have seen people who can inspire with words. Yet, the proof is in the action. What do you do each day? How do you interact with others? I see people everyday treat customer service people or perceived subordinates poorly and treat others in more cordial way.

However, these scouts are learning from us adults, both parents and leaders. I have noted many times before, it disturbs me greatly when spiritual leaders promote bigotry. This is one of the greatest betrayals of their responsibilities I know. Yet, our civic leaders are not much better and tend to be worse on occasion. Right now, Congress cannot pass an act which will make it easier to protect those who experience Violence Against Women. The primary hold up is the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the bill. Violence against anyone is crime, unless it is self-defense. To distinguish who should be protected more than others based on sexual preference is the height of hypocrisy, especially since the push comes from the evangelical right.

Hatred has to be carefully taught. The Congressional leaders who are against the bill to stop violence against loved ones, should truly be embarrassed to be on the wrong side of this issue. Domestic violence is a horrible crime because it happens routinely and consistently until a tipping point occurs. Unfortunately, the tipping point may be a death of a loved one. Women and children are the primary targets, yet others are impacted and should be protected. I have written before about an acquaintance whose sister was killed by her husband and he and his siblings had no idea she was being beaten. They learned the kids, on occasion, would have their father pick them up and beat their heads into the ceiling. What difference does it make if the target is gay or lesbian? This is not right and those Congressional leaders who are against the inclusion of all are “not on the side of the Angels.”

What should and can we do about it? We need to strongly encourage our leaders to think like parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on most issues. Stop thinking like politicians. When GOP Governor Bobby Jindal says “we need to stop being the stupid party” this is an example of what he is talking about.

But, if we cannot alter the bigotry of the adults, please let’s focus on teaching the kids not to bigoted in their views. By word and deed; by encouragement, mentoring, or by corrective action or admonishment, please encourage people to do their best to follow Jesus’ examples and treat others like we want to be treated. The most important thing of all, is to walk the talk. Do everyday what you are telling them to do. That is what they will remember most.

Let me leave you with an encouraging story, which I may write more about later. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra* is a highly successful orchestra. But, that is not newsworthy by itself. The news is the orchestra consists of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranis and Iraqis. The news is the orchestra is right in the hornet’s nest of danger. These teens and young adults come together at great risk to play and collaborate. Many of their friends and relatives judge them harshly for so doing. Yet, they continue because it is important. By working side by side toward a common purpose, they see that the person they are supposed to hate is just like them.

They are being carefully taught, this time not to hate, but to get along and play as a unit. We could learn a great deal from these young people and those who lead them. You’ve got to be carefully taught. My question as a parent – what do you want to teach them?

Today, these words remain very relevant. I am encouraged by parents of all colors taking their children to peacefully and civilly protest the ongoing wrongs which are heightened by George Floyd’s murder. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent notable deaths. And, for those who offer a rebuttal of “All lives matter,” that word “all” must include “Black lives matter.” Sadly, for some in our country, the latter group is omitted from their thinking.

* Please refer to Ellen’s comment below for a quick history of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (I have made your correction on the name).

Home is supposed to be a safe haven

Two months ago, Breonna Taylor, an EMT in Louisville, thought her home was a safe haven. The thought that the people who would break that covenant are police probably was not top of mind. Oh, by the way, this hard working EMT is dead. She was also African-American.

The following paragraphs from an updated article tell the tragic story.

Breonna Taylor: Family files lawsuit after Louisville police shoot EMT 8 times in ‘botched’ drug raid

By: Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group (updated May 13, 2020)

“Breonna Taylor was pulling long hours at two of Louisville’s hospitals as an emergency room technician and certified EMT working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as the disease began spreading throughout the U.S.

Taylor was home asleep with her boyfriend in the early morning hours of March 13 when police officers executing a drug warrant busted down their door and opened fire, killing her. The 26-year-old was shot at least eight times.

No drugs were found in the couple’s home. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had a history of drug arrests, according to a lawsuit filed by her family.”

This wrongful invasion and killing happened two months ago. It is only now making national news. Why? She waa shot eight times in her own bed. Why?

We just learned about Ahmaud Arbery’s vigilante murder a few weeks ago. Why is it that murders of African-Americans are happening and failing to garner attention?

We cannot tolerate vigilantism in our country. And, we must ask our police to get it right before they charge into someone’s house in the middle of the night.

There seem to be open questions about what happened. The warrant said the police could enter without knocking. The police said they knocked first before entering. Yet, there were no body cameras in use to tell us what happened. Taylor’s boyfriend has been arrested for attempted homicide as he allegedly fired at an officer, but has pleaded innocent due to self-defense.

I know police have a dangerous job. Yet, they must do everything in their power to get it right. One of my recurring concerns is why so many shots? Too many times I read eight, eleven, fifteen and even 41 shots, like the infamous Springsteen song, when a person of color is involved. And, why must the warrant be served in a manner which is conducive to confrontation? Awakened people are likely scared out of their wits. I know I would be.

We owe it to Taylor’s parents to understand why their daughter is dead? Why did a devoted EMT, bone tired from helping people, have to die? Why did she have to be shot eight times? Why did police feel a forced entry in the middle of the night was the best route? And, one final question, would the raid have been in the middle of the night if the suspects were white or, maybe more affluent and white?

I do know this. If this were your or my child, we would feel every bit as upset at what happened as Taylor’s parents. We would want some damn answers.

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.

Build bridges not chasms – a revisit

I wrote this seven years ago, but it seems to resonate even more today. The title is a quote I heard from a hero of mine, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was being interviewed on PBS Newshour about her book “My Beloved World.” She said we should “build bridges not chasms” which is a tremendous life lesson. This one resonates with me and echoes my admiration for the “dot connectors” in the world. It is also the serum for the toxic fever of tribal-like chasm building we seem to be infected with.

Well, how do we go about living this lesson? How do we build bridges and not chasms?

– First, we should look for ways we are similar. While we remain diverse, as humans there our similarities that cross all faiths, ethnic groups and countries. We want a safe and secure future for ourselves, but especially for our children. When I look at various religions, I am not surprised by the common thread of the Golden Rule which permeates them.

– Second, find these common threads. When I walk into someone’s office or home, I search for common experiences. I look at pictures of children, diplomas displaying education, trophies or pictures of sports or activities, etc. What can I talk about that will connect us better? Also, I take delight in finding out a similar passion or story. The other day I learned of a similar passion to help the homeless people among us from an unexpected source. We are now sharing information, books, etc.

– Third, an old boss said, “you have two ears and one mouth” use them in that proportion. We cannot listen if we don’t hear. We need to know what people’s concerns are before we can begin to help them. We have far too many people who like to hear themselves talk. My wife is the best of listeners. As a result, people flock to her as she will listen to their issues, interests, aspirations and problems.

– Fourth, look for the opportunity to compliment someone or reinforce an action. I am not advocating false praise, but I am advocating a supportive word or gesture. When you step up to the counter to be served by the exhausted clerk who is doing the best he or she can when the boss understaffed a shift, you can make a world of difference by some acknowledgement of their tribulations.

– Fifth, along this same line, you can never thank people enough. We tell our kids “people don’t have to do anything for you.” So, when they do, you should thank them for it. And, mean it. Even in this Twitter, text, Facebook and email world, a call or handwritten note speaks volumes. Yet, use whatever media you prefer to say thanks.

– Sixth, an old colleague used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Remember that and reach out. It is a low-key investment of time as it is not as intrusive as a meal. And, conversation will occur.

– Seventh, never hesitate to include others in meals or outings. Especially meals. If a friend of your child is over, ask them to stay. My wife and I made a conscious decision to have a house the kids like to come over to. Our kids love this. Their friends do as well as we make them feel welcome. Trust me on this. There is no greater sound on earth than hearing your children laughing.

– Eighth, laugh at yourself. Let me say this loud and clear, “you are not perfect.” Neither am I. So, be prepared to laugh at your mistakes and don’t be afraid to tell the stories. It will truly endear you. I found that my kids like me telling about the times I screwed up. We sometimes are in stitches. Why? Because they see it is OK to screw up. The world will not end. And, the old line is true, “laugh and the world laughs with you.”

– Ninth, LTFU. This is a pre-Twitter acronym. It stands for “Lighten the Eff Up.” We take ourselves too seriously. We make mountains out of very small mole hills. Many of the things we fret over are not that important. Trust me. Those folks that are reading texts and emails at stop lights (and God forbid in traffic), I can tell you right now, that text is not that important, even without reading it. I told a colleague one day, “I am going to take your I-Phone and throw it in the ocean.” He was constantly reacting to the messenger and not the message. So, issues got blown out of proportion.

– Tenth, help people in need. You both benefit from the transaction. Those in need benefit if you are helping them climb a ladder. You benefit from the psychic income of helping someone. It is a powerful elixir.

– Eleventh and last, getting back to the Golden Rule, treat others like you want to be treated. That is by far the best lesson in the bible and the ones some religious leaders tend to forget. If we do only this, the world will be a better place.

These are a few thoughts on how to build bridges. I am sure I have left off several good ones, so please feel free to share. We are a planet of fixer uppers. We should give each other a break as we need a break from them. Justice Sotomayor has it right – let’s build bridges.

Voting for Trump is not a favorable vote for Bernie

Note the following is a comment I made on our friend’s Jill’s recent post. See link below.

I have written separate posts on the relative veracity of Biden and Sanders. I have commented on a couple of progressive sites as well. I will vote for Sanders if he is the nominee, but I favor Biden. I am an independent who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive. I believe in helping people, but we need to make sure we pay for it and are getting a ROI (i.e. – is this the best way to help?).

Biden and Sanders are genuine and decent people. Neither are perfect, but I don’t find myself questioning the veracity of what they say. None of these descriptions fit the bill with the incumbent. I also recognize what too many don’t that America’s economic system is a blend of fettered capitalism with socialist underpinnings. That simple statement would blow people’s minds.

The question we need to ask is what is the proper balance? That question does not fit on a bumper sticker which is how the president got elected. I am just saddened that our reputation around the world has declined with 64% of Europeans not trusting the president trusting Putin and Xi more. To be frank, I am surprised it is not higher in distrust, as I don’t trust a word he says.

And, neither does Bernie Sanders who calls him a “pathological liar.” So, when I see Bernie fans say they would vote for Trump over Biden it is a puzzlement. I think it is an insult to everything Bernie stands for. I would also caution my more ardent Bernie friends to make sure who they are getting their information from, as it easily might be a Trump supporter masquerading as a Bernie Bro. Trump has and will stoop low to get reelected.

Finally, my friend Bernie is not getting the votes like last time. I was pulling for a good interview on “60 Minutes,” but his subtle answer to a question about Cuba cost him Florida in huge way. One Democrat said it may have lost Florida for the Dems if he wins the nomination. Trump cannot win if he does not carry Florida.

So, I do hope we rally around Biden. Otherwise, the climate change and environmental fights will be lost for a key four year period (per Greta and AOC) and SCOTUS will likely become a 7 to 2 conservative majority along with other judges. This point galvanizes Republicans as Mitch McConnell knows he can shape a future of jurisprudence that favors big business and is diminishes civil rights for forty years.

Discord & Dissension — Part X — Bernie or Bust?

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?

Those imperfect candidates

The search for nirvana, whether it is the perfect partner, job, setting, workout, dinner, vacation, etc. is an endless search. There is no such thing. The same goes for presidential candidates, regardless of party, country, state, locality, etc. And sadly, the better candidates get tainted once they have been elected as they make compromises and decisions which you may not like. Or, maybe when looked back on with a different context, those decisions look foolish.

I have been watching the circular firing squad of the Democratic party candidates for several months. I see more fanatical followers of candidates use a scorched earth mindset to destroy the candidates that are not their favorite. I witnessed this in 2016, when some Bernie Sanders were so adamantly against an imperfect Hillary Clinton, they could not bring themselves to vote for her. The current US president used this ammunition to create even more distaste and get those voters to stay home, vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or even vote for him as a change agent. It worked as he needed less than 100,000 voters spread among three states to win.

Every Democratic candidate has good selling points. And, every Democrat candidate has faults. I will not belabor either one of these lists, as my purpose is not to analyze the veracity of one or the other here. I will save that for a future post, when the slate gets more manageable. I will add every Democrat candidate has a better moral and ethical compass than that of the incumbent president. Conservative writer David Brooks noted that Trump does not seem to be able to show empathy. Almost every situation is exploited to elevate himself. Yet, in so doing, he reveals a very shallow and egomaniacal person. At times he reveals his corrupt nature.

Yes, I want the next president to focus on climate change, healthcare, career training for new and emerging jobs, better gun governance, etc. Yes, I would like them to deal with the debt and deficit. Yes, I would like them to restore America’s reputation as a trusted, fair and reasonable global partner. But, I would like my president to represent our better angels, not our worst demons. The current one does not. Issues are used to divide, not galvanize. I want a president to shine a spotlight on poor behavior, not condone it or discount it.

So, as people look for perfect candidates, remember this biblical example. We had only one perfect person walk the earth – and we killed him. Let’s not kill the Democrat candidate in search for nirvana.