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.

Not all Republicans are racist

The following is a comment I placed on our friend Jill’s post called “Republican Party – the party of bigots,” which can be linked below. She is referencing an editorial by columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.

To say all Republicans are bigots is a little unfair, but to not recognize those who are the most bigoted white people are tending to be in the Trump Party also misses the mark. The former president’s attorney/ fixer Michael Cohen said under oath to Congress, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.” It meant something to me that Cohen, who has paid off many people to be silent about information damaging to the former president, used the words “Donald Trump is a racist” first.

There have been too many opportunities both missed and exploited by the former president to clearly say he is not a racist. The easiest example is Trump settling a court case on housing discrimination, then being taken back to court as he did not abide by the terms of the settlement (he lost again). Or, the Obama Birther story he perpetuated for several years, which helped jumpstart his political career.. Of course he is racist. Then, there is Charlottesville, where he doubled down on his racist remarks after being chastised the first time.

There is a subtle difference in two mantras that is important. The BLM movement is saying my rights are important while the white supremacists are saying my rights are more important than yours. That distinction speaks volumes. People who look the other way or cheer when a corrupt, deceitful and racist former president stokes fires of hatred are abetting his efforts. That may not make them racists, but it certainly does not make them anti-racist. 

Republican Party … The Party Of Bigots | Filosofa’s Word (jilldennison.com)

Blackbird singing in the dead of night – a reprise

I wrote the following post six years ago after watching an old interview with Paul McCartney. Its lyrics and context still resonate today.

The title is from a line of The Beatles song “Blackbird” which is a tribute to the struggle for African-Americans for their civil rights. The song was sung by Paul McCartney with writing credits to both him and John Lennon, although McCartney was the lead.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Here is what McCartney said about the origin of the song in an interview in 2002.

“I’ve got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing…..I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.”

I added McCartney’s quote as I wanted the clarity around what the song means. African-Americans are still fighting an uphill struggle for their civil rights. What has happened in Ferguson, Cleveland, New Jersey, Charleston, Charlotte and Baltimore is tragic, but evidence of the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The lack of opportunity, the malaise, the maltreatment, the deterioration of the neighborhood, the lack of respect given to people of color in our country continues.

I have noted before that Warren Buffett has said he was born lucky. He was born a white male in America. All three components of that phrase are important – white, male and America. Yes, he worked hard, but he was afforded opportunities that African-Americans do not get.  Not only do many whites like me have a hard time knowing the challenges of being black, but we also do not fully realize the advantages of being white. As I wrote recently, as a white man, there are not too many places I cannot go no matter how I am dressed. But, there are far too many stories of how a black man can be dressed in his Sunday best, yet still be stopped by the police and think “be careful as this may be the last thing I do on earth.”

I would encourage three things. First, please do not look at those committing violence and rioting as indicative of the African-American community. The community knows this is not the path forward. Second, people who look like me need to do our best to understand the challenges we have in America for people of color, but also for all people in poverty. Third, as always, talk is cheap. These issues are complex and solutions have to address many underlying concerns. There are no sound byte answers as some politicians have espoused.

I mention this last point as we must address the wide disparity in American between the “haves” and “have-nots.” This is not just an African-American issue. It is an American issue, as most people on food stamps are white. Please re-read this previous sentence. Poverty exists in urban areas, in rural areas and even in the suburbs. We have to stop the “war on poor people” and make this a “war on poverty.”

We must invest in our infrastructure and deteriorated assets repurposing them. This will spawn jobs as well in places where it is needed. We must revise our minimum wage to be consistent with a living wage for one person, which varies, but is just over $10 an hour. We must invest in education at all levels. We must embrace the Affordable Care Act as it is helping so many people and fully implement it through Medicaid expansion in the remaining 20 odd states. For some politicians to say we have a poverty problem and be against the ACA is hypocritical and shortsighted, especially when it is working pretty well.

Remember McCartney’s words and lets help these folks with broken wings learn to fly. To do otherwise, goes against what our country is all about and any of the teachings found in religious texts.