Thursday, January 24, 2019

What We Ignore About Senseless Violence

Zephen Allen Xaver, 21, was charged with five counts of first-degree murder after allegedly killing five women in a Sebring, Fla., SunTrust bank.
Courtesy of Highlands County Sheriff's Office
America is a violent country. We are the descendants of a violent people who committed genocide against this land's original inhabitants, we based our early agrarian economy on the violent enslavement of Africans, we fought a violent revolution to separate ourselves from the British Empire, we fought a number of violent wars to maintain and grow "our" country, we fought one of the bloodiest and most violent wars in history of the world amongst ourselves. Violence is embedded in our genetic code.

Every generation has had a "great" war. Every generation has taught the next generation the virtues of violence. We have fought wars for land, strategic resources and to protect our position as the global hegemon. Every generation has benefited from this violence: especially those who pretend like our violence was/is for noble reasons. Our problem isn't violence; Americans don't like violence that doesn't make our lives easier. 

Zephen Allen Xaver is the latest product of our violent culture. I know I'm supposed to feel sympathy for him. He's not like those violent "thugs" ruining our cities. He's not like those violent Muslims waging Jihad. He's not like those violent Mexicans coming to take our jobs. No, he's a real American, so we must try to understand where his violence comes from. America has to make sense of the senseless. 

By the time investigative reporters track down his friends and family he will be another "lone wolf" with mental health issues. There will be people working overtime to make sure he doesn't reflect poorly on the rest of real America. Zephen's actions had to happen in a vacuum.

He, like the other real American mass shooters before him, is a victim of society. Not a victim of the violence that is a constitutive part of the American ethos, but a victim all the same. He was ignored, rejected or made to feel less than. In other words, his real "Americanism" didn't afford him what he thought it should have so he lashed out. Real Americans spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about everyone else while Billy, Timmy, and in this case, Zephen are locking and loading. Five people lost their lives and the response has been muted. I have a hunch real Americans would be responding differently if this crime was committed by an immigrant or Muslim. 

The Government Shutdown in a Nutshell

The government shutdown is entering its fifth week. This could go on for another five weeks- if not longer. Why are we here? The simple and truthful answer: the president got his feelings hurt when Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and other right wing talking heads called him weak. Donald Trump shut the government down because the legislative branch wouldn't give him money for a wall he assured us Mexico was going to pay for.

Almost every statement he's made since being sworn into office has been a lie, but especially the claims he's made concerning Mexico, the wall and illegal immigration.

Fact: border crossings have been declining for the last decade. Fact: the overwhelming majority of drugs coming into the country come in through legal ports of entry. Fact: immigrants, whether here legally or illegally, commit less crime than Americans. Fact: Mexico is not paying for Trump's wall.

None of this matters. Donald Trump has been lying since he coasted down that gold escalator and his base refuses to hold him accountable or even acknowledge the fact that he's a habitual liar.

The government shutdown has been the worst consequence of his incessant lying. As I type, comfortably in my home, there 800,000 people working for free or laid off without pay. This could have been prevented. Donald Trump had complete control over the U.S. House and Senate for two years. The Republicans could have used reconciliation to build his wall but they didn't. The border crisis he's pushing didn't manifest until the Republicans lost the House of Representatives.

There are a lot of important emergency spending bills that need passed, but those bills, like the 800,000 workers affected by the shutdown, are collateral damage.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Biblical Look at The Service, Sacrifice and Faithfulness of MLK jr.

Photo: Chicago Tribune
Since 2007, I have given close to 20 talks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many of these talks have been in churches, but some have taken place in "secular" venues: libraries, a courthouse and an office building. 

I always approach a talk about Dr. King the same no matter where I may be speaking (or who I'm speaking to). It's not necessary for the audience to believe in the Christian God (or any God) to understand how Dr. King's religious convictions inspired his actions. With that said, I never proselytize, but I do ground his speeches and the actions he took in the Bible. Dr. King's service, sacrifice and faithfulness can all be traced back to the scriptures that shaped his life. 


In Galatians 5:1 Paul writes, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Dr. King often made reference to Paul's letter. Later in verses 13 and 14 Paul writes, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself." 

Galatians 5:1-15 were often referred to as the "Christian Freedom papers" by many Black denominations going all the way back to the early days of the abolitionist movement. The same Bible that was (mis)used to justify the enslavement and brutal treatment of Africans in America was also a source of inspiration for Dr. King and countless others. 


It's impossible to serve anyone or anything without sacrifice. Dr. King had a one way ticket to a professional life in the north. Sure he would still be living under a lesser form of Jim Crow, but he could have built a lovely home, pastored a church and raised his children in relative obscurity. He could have done all of those things and been a success in the eyes of his friends and family. In the second chapter of Philippians Paul writes about some of the sacrifices that are necessary to be a humble servant. Philippians 2:1-8 reads as follows:

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Dr. King's ministry and the life task he believed he was called to fulfill prevented him from running away to the north. Martin didn't want to be a martyr, but he believed disobeying God would be worse. this leads me to his faith.


In Revelations 2:10 John writes, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested... Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." 

Dick Gregory once joked that it would be hard for Dr. King to get into heaven. He said he asked Martin how he planned on explaining all of the time he spent in jails. Jailings, assaults, death threats and government counter intelligence tactics were all things that challenged Martin's faith. Through it all he held to his convictions. 

Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech ended up being his sermon on the mount. As aspirational and inspirational as that speech was it was also a testament to faith. King was acutely aware of the sacrifices many of the participants of the March on Washington made. He knew all to well the scars he carried with him to the lectern. His faith  made his service and sacrifice possible. We don't have to believe what Martin believed to respect the way his beliefs guided his steps.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What Do You Think He Does During A Traffic Stop?

We've all been there. One minute you're driving along and out of your periphery you see those flashing lights. You squeeze the wheel and look at the speedometer to see exactly how fast you are going. Everything was normal until it got real.

This feeling transcends race, class and gender; however, it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the fact that race, class and gender can all factor into how the rest of the stop goes. This leads me to the brother in the video, What do you think he does when he sees those flashing lights?

For the record, I know the majority of police stops end without incident. I also have heard the "just comply" talking point, and I know "not all cops". I'm talking about the psychological stress that comes with watching an anthology of videos starring people who look like you being choked, beaten and shot for no reason. How do uber-patriotic Black people process these images and deal with these situations?

America means different things to different people. I don't know a lot of Black people who feel as included in the "American family" as this man does. I've asked the few Black people I know who Own MAGA gear if they've noticed any difference in the way they are treated when they wear their hats and t-shirts. For the most part they say Black people stare at them, some white people stare at them, but people who may not normally talk to them give a nod and a smile.

Immigration is a complicated issue. There is no economic incentive for the Black community to support mass immigration. In many cities Blacks compete with legal and illegal immigrants for the few service industry, manufacturing and construction jobs left. This argument doesn't negate the issues at the center of the mass exodus from Central America. I understand why poor and working class people are so emotionally invested in this debate, but I can't, for the life of me, understand how people of color can hear the rhetoric espoused by the America first crowd and believe they are included.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Bird Box, R Kelly and Trash Hot Takes

Here's a hot take I'm tired of: while you were busy watching _____. Did you know such and such was happening?

This trash hot take is usually offered by that overly "woke" person you know trying to overcompensate for their own deficiencies. News flash: neither Bird Box nor Surviving R Kelly changed how people lived their lives. This take is garbage for a few reasons.

1) It's possible to do more than one thing at a time. Most movies are two hours. Most docuseries run 4 to 6 hours. Most books, depending on the length, can be read in a few hours. Watching a movie/docuseries or reading a book doesn't constitute a huge distraction for most people. I watched Bird Box. I didn't watch Surviving R Kelly. Neither of those choices altered the trajectory of my life.

2) Just because something is trending on social media doesn't mean it's truly captured the nation's attention. Most trends, good and/or bad, are caused by an enthusiastic group of people tweeting, subtweeting or retweeting the topic over and over. Once a topic trends on Twitter, people on Facebook figure out they should be part of the craze. This still doesn't constitute a massive distraction. 

3) It's pseudo-elitist. The underlying sentiment is that the person offering this viewpoint should be setting the agenda for the things we think and talk about. This doesn't mean the issue(s) they are attempting to highlight isn't worthy of thought or discussion, but it does assume they are the only ones thinking about or discussing said topic.

4) It's counterculture virtue signaling.  Nothing says I'm trying my hardest not to be like the rest of society than someone waving a flag and pointing out the fact that they didn't participate in a thing that has gained a certain amount of notoriety. You have every right not to get caught up in the moment, but beating people over the head with the fact that you didn't get caught up is just as annoying as being caught up.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hannity vs. Smith = Entertainment vs. Information

Fox news has made a fortune by giving their viewers what they want: entertainment! The average Fox news opinion show is part Jerry Springer, part WWE, and part Ringling Brothers with a smattering of breaking news and human interests stories. This is their right. They can provide whatever service they choose. It's up to us to know better. 

Fox news has created and disseminated some of the most vitriolic and harmful propaganda on television the last 20 plus years. Sean Hannity is the current leader of the assault on decency and the truth. 

The Fox formula is genius: for 22-23 hours a day "opinion" shows cloud the water. The few non-partisan journalists on staff get about 2 hours to cleanup the mess. This is what passes for a news organization these days. 

Sadly, the few shows on the network  grounded in objective facts are the least watched and most despised by the average Fox news viewer. Sheppard Smith is the most hated person on the network by Donald Trump's base. Smith's propensity for grounding his arguments in facts irks some of Fox's more partisan viewers. Watching side by side video of Smith debunking Hannity's lies is amusing, but also depressing. The fact that Hannity is allowed to be so reckless with the truth proves the network is more concerned with entertainment than information.  

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Lies Are True We Just Don't Get It!

"If the only trade that occurred between the United States and Mexico was my buying 10 Mexican avocados for $30 and someone there buying a T-shirt from me for $10, the trade deficit would be $20. But if I only bought five avocados, dropping the trade deficit from $20 to $5 ($15 for the avocados minus $10 for the shirt), it is not the case that the U.S. government is suddenly $15 richer. The feds don’t suddenly have $15 more to spend on wall building; the $15 is in my pocket."

Phillip Bump

On December 13, 2018, Donald Trump tweeted the following lie:

Donald Trump has convinced his followers that reducing the trade deficit with Mexico would pay for his wall; this lie, like the 7,000+ other lies he's told since becoming president, has been swallowed up whole and regurgitated by his base.

Phillip Bump's analogy disproving this trade deficit lie is spot on; sadly, it, like basically every known fact, will be ignored and/or explained away. For the better part of three years the truth has been getting its proverbial ass kicked by the constant lying of this administration. The only thing we can do to restore any since of sanity is to let Trump and his base have their version of the truth.

We need to quit arguing with them. We need to quit trying to convince them. Blog posts, newspaper articles, fact checks in real time and scholarly think tank pieces have all failed. We are wasting our time and ruining our relationships. There isn't a better argument.

America has to admit there's a third of the country we have to let go. I know this is a hard pill to swallow for some progressives. Trump's base is their ultimate afterschool special. There are progressives who sincerely believe that the lies, racism, xenophobia and misogyny Trump feeds his base is something other than food for their souls. What we've been witnessing aren't the symptoms of economic anxiety. This is a full on attack on sanity and reason. To paraphrase Lil Duval we have to stop going back and forth with his people.

“When during the campaign, I would say ‘Mexico is going to pay for it,’ obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re gonna write out a check, I said they’re going to pay for it. They are.”   Donald Trump

Mexico was never going to pay for the wall. Anyone who believed they would knows absolutely nothing about how sovereign nations operate. The fact that he has wiggled on this so much matters to the Conservative media, but it means very little to his base. There's some nuanced way to understand him that we just don't get. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Divided We Stand

It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South… I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.
George Wallace

George Wallace was right! Not the sick and dying Wallace who apologized at the end of his life for the role he played in spreading racism and bigotry, but the younger, fitter champion of the segregationist and populist movements in the south. As a Black man, it pains me to admit this.

Race relations are better today than when George Wallace was sworn into office as the 45th Governor of Alabama, but in many ways our society is just as segregated. The push for Civil Rights and equal access to resources was the right thing to do, but I’m starting to question the notion of a fully integrated society. I don't understand why some Black people so obsessed with the idea of assimilating into social clubs and organizations that want to remain separate?

Black bodies in predominantly white spaces are almost always scrutinized and policed in ways that make it crystal clear our presence is not welcomed. Over the last calendar year, we have been bombarded with cellphone videos of Black people being detained, forcibly removed and even arrested. These incidents have taken place in coffee houses, gyms, hotels, parks and golf courses. Each of these transgressions was followed by a lawyerly crafted apology and a promise of more diversity/sensitivity training.

At the end of 2018, a story about an all-white rifle club denying membership to a Black medical doctor made the rounds. Dr. Melvin Brown is an accomplished man. He graduated with an engineering degree, served 20 years in the Navy and is a member of the Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees. He was nominated for membership by a friend. There were 13 other people up for membership on the night he was denied admittance into the club. He was the only person rejected. He was the only Black person. A lot of people were upset by the blatant racism on display. I didn't care then and I don’t care now. Civil rights leaders didn't march, protest and die so bourgeois Black people could join the good old boys club. The risked their lives for equal treatment under the law.

Dr. Brown's story highlights what’s wrong with an overly assimilationist mentality. In 2019, Black people need to focus more on appreciating ourselves than seeking the acceptance of others. I understand the mystique and allure of navigating what was once forbidden territory. For some Black people, white acceptance is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Internalizing America's lies about Blackness is the psychological equivalent of breathing in poisonous gases. Sadly, too many of our brothers and sisters believe the grass is greener and that water freezes at a lower temperature in the presence of white people.

It would be nice if America took Dr. King's dream and added a dash of Rodney King's dream. We would all be judged on the merits of our character while getting along. There's nothing wrong with closing your eyes (and in the words of John Lennon) imagining, but I would suggest waking up before your wake up call. The last three years have seen a spike in hate crimes. Black people are being surveilled and questioned by people with no legal authority to do so. It's one thing to deal with these issues in every day life, but to put yourself in harm’s way for the sake of “prestige” seems a bit needy.