Side Effects of An Uncharming Life

November 24, 2008

As some of you can imagine, it’s not easy recovering from a difficult, drama-filled and impoverished period of life. Even when things are going great, there’s this sense buried deep in the heart or mind that it won’t last, that something bad will happen to take away all of the gains that you have made in your life. You can also develop some coping strategies that become good habits when kept in balance, and nasty ones when out of balance with the rest of your personality. It can make a person who really isn’t all that complicated look almost psychotic, depending on the circumstances.

I can attest on a number of occasions becoming angry and difficult to talk to when pushed into a corner by friends and foes alike. Not to the point of violence, but certainly to the point of dropping any notion that my knowledge of the English language extends beyond hanging out with winos in Washington Square Park in the middle of July. A friend of mine from my Pittsburgh days knows all too well what can happen when I lose control of my mouth in anger. It was the ’92 NBA playoff series between the juggernaut Chicago Bulls and the upstart New York Knicks under the great Pat Riley. As those who read my postings know, I’m a big, die-hard Knicks fan, one who has suffered in NBA poverty for years as a result. My friend — who grew up in Philly, mind you — hadn’t become a basketball fan until Michael Jordan became an NBA champion the year before. All before the series began, my friend went on about how the Bulls were going to wipe the floor with the Knicks. I admitted that the Bulls were heavy favorites, but I also hinted that he shouldn’t be surprised if the Knicks give the Bulls a battle.

And they did give the Bulls all they could handle and more. Patrick Ewing made his first ten shots in Game 1 upset of the Bulls in Chicago. After losing the next two games, the Knicks won Games 4 and 6 at home in New York to send the series to Game 7. The Knicks continued to battle, and they were only down 58-51 at halftime of the big last game. Then the Bulls finally blew them out, going up by 29 by the middle of the fourth quarter. It was a deflating end to a hard-fought series, and I was in no mood to talk to anyone after watching that game.

Not a minute had passed from the end of the game when my friend called me up to tell me what a bunch of losers my team was. He went on and on about Jordan and Pippen and how Ewing and Starks sucked. At that point, I lost it. I told him, “This from a guy who didn’t know what a basketball was two months ago.” Then I yelled, “You need to shut up at get off my f–king phone!” as I slammed the phone down on the receiver (back in the pre-cell phone era). It took me two days to apologize, and even then, my friend said, “I thought that it was just a game.”

This might not be the best example. Folks get into brawls over the teams that they are fans of, much less a war of words. Heck, people have beaten up their spouses and killed the opposing teams’ fans over a loss. Those are examples of rage beyond the pale, rage that can leave us in need of Dilantin.

But there are other examples, recent and fresh, distant and still a bit painful or embarrassing to think about. Like telling a rude Asian woman at a CVS who told me that I didn’t sound Black that “the only reason you’re with a Black man is because you think he has a big dick.” Or just being downright surly at my wife’s family reunion because a couple of her cousins had about as much organizational and communication skill as Rush Limbaugh two minutes after taking a bottle of Vicodin. I’ve always had reasons, some of them really good ones, to say and act the way I do when I get into an almost irrational state.

Reasons aren’t rights, though. There are plenty of other examples, other situations, where I don’t lose my cool or I’m able to oil my duck feathers and let the waters of ignorance, bigotry, disrespect and betrayal roll off my back. In almost all of my work history, as well as in my educational experiences. Growing up, at 616 and in Humanities. With police offices and perfect strangers asking me if I play basketball. With librarians and cab drives complimenting me on how “articulate” I am. In most of my dealing with people, I’m polite, nice, even friendly and joking almost all of the time.

Yet there’s an issue here that I’m still struggling with after all of these years, even with Boy At The Window. I’m someone who can remember on a nearly day-to-day basis what’s happened in my life since the month before I started kindergarten, when Nixon resigned from office on national television. That’s great, I guess. To memorize dates, facts, figures, faces, ideas without even trying. To know that I was born on a Saturday, that my first kiss was in April ’76 with a classmate named Diana, and that I officially lost my virginity on Saturday, June 14 of ’91. But it also means that every ugly thing I’ve been through in life is etched in my memory, at times as if it happened a moment ago.

While I’ve gotten past most of this for the most part, I also know that I don’t fit easily into the typical American easy-going lifestyle that allows for a “live-and-let-live” mentality. That’s good in a way, for it means I care about injustice, equality, diversity, educational improvement and economic balance. It means that I want a better world for everyone, regardless of who they are. At the same time, it means that I sometimes take the view that I’m not taking crap from anyone. Not strangers, not authority figures, and not even friends and family. After all, I spent most of my growing-up years doing just that.

Among my goals at this stage of my life is to find a way to enjoy good moments, to not allow the realities of my past drag me back into the past when I need to be thinking and doing in the present. For my sake and for my family’s sake. Another critical piece to that goal is to balance my anger and occasional rage with the temperament that enable me to overcome my past in the first place. How to feel without losing myself in that feeling. It’s a difficult balance, and in my case, I have no expectations of perfection in this area of my life. Yet even a moderate amount of success in this part of my life would mean a peace I haven’t known in all of my life. Hopefully, I’ll finally be able to exhale soon.


A Timeline to Remember

November 21, 2008

This may be the first blog I’ve done that doesn’t fit in any way with Boy At The Window. But it at least will show that I still have a lot of kid in me left, and a silly one at that.

I couldn’t resist. After rewatching season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I decided to create a timeline that included all three seasons and all 61 chapters of the animated series. It’s been something I’ve thought about doing off and on since Nickelodeon showed the last half of the last season at the end of July.

Avatar%20Timeline.pdf

Some kids — including some I taught at Princeton this summer — seemed interested in tracking the travels of Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph and the rest of the gang over a more specific time frame than the one we all can kind of guess at by watching the show. Certainly more than a few adults on the Avatar fan sites have expressed skepticism as to the plausibility of a short timeline for the progress of the series over the past three and a half years. I think that a timeline of less than a year is not only plausible, it was necessary, especially given the stakes for a group of kids charged with saving the world.

If you click on the link above, you can download a book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter timeline for tracing the Last Airbender’s travels and travails over a nine or ten-month period. I made a bunch of assumptions and used a variety of tools to pull this together, to stay in tune with the spirit of the show and with the thinking of its creators. Among other assumptions:

1. I used a Chinese calendar to figure out how to start and end a year, and attempted to reconcile it with the modern Western calendar. This hasn’t been done well across the board by folks far more knowledgeable than me about reconciling a lunisolar calendar with a solar one. But a few things were clear. The seasons start between six and seven weeks earlier on the Chinese calendar, with the solstices and equinoxes smack dab in the middle of each of the seasons.

The result is, Winter (or Lidong) on the Chinese calendar (and in the world of the Avatar) begins around the end of the first week in November, Spring (Lichun) around February 4 or 5, Summer (Lixia) around May 5 or 6, and Fall (Liqiu) August 7 or 8. Given how DiMartino and Konietzko tied the four nations of the Avatar World to the seasons, it stands to reason that Book 1, Chapter 1 begins at the beginning of Winter (I picked November 15 as a consistent marker for each of the shows’ three seasons).

2. It’s clear that the Winter and Summer Solstices are key time markers in the series. On both calenders, the Winter Solstice date is roughly the same (December 22). The Summer Solstice, however, starts on June 5 or 6 and ends around June 22 (the typical date for it on the Western calendar). I tried to reconcile both of these dates in my calculations for the timeline.

3. The Chinese New Year is impossible to match up with the Western calendar. It typically falls between January 21 and February 20. Picking a Chinese New Year date for Book 1 would’ve completely thrown off the rest of the Avatar timeline.

4. Each Chapter of Avatar (with a few multipart show exceptions) has Aang and the gang at a different location for about a two or three-day period. I assumed a day of travel between each chapter, meaning each chapter represents a window into a four or five-day period of the lives of these young heroes.

5. I found some exceptions to what I said in 4. At the beginning of Book 1, Chapter 4 (“The Warriors of Kyoshi”), General Iroh and Prince Zuko look at a map detailing all of the places that Aang, Katara and Sokka have been since their first encounter at the South Pole. I assumed about 10 days between Book 1, Chapter 2 and Book 1, Chapter 3 (“The Southern Air Temple”), and 10 days between that and Chapter 4.

6. There’s about a two to three-week period between the end of each season and the beginning of the next one, between the end of The Siege of the North, Part 2 and Book 2, and The Crossroads of Destiny and Book 3.

7. I added some extra days at the end of Sozin’s Comet for Zuko’s coronation and the final scene in Ba Sing Se, as if it was the beginning of Book 4 – Air or something.

If any of you think I have too much time on my hands, that may well be true. But I’ve been making up timelines in my head for years, ever since I became fascinated with World War II when I was ten years old. Back then, I would figure out ways to help different nations win battles based on moving their forces more quickly to certain spots on the globe.

This one was done for the sheer pleasure of it, to get a sense of how intense the journey of all of the characters of this great story was. Yes, the creators left a lot of holes in the story. The Avatar story, though, is one of loss and love, redemption and restoration, and a lot of laughter at that. If anything, it should give all of you something to bust my chop about for a while. What can I say? I still have a twelve-year-old in me dying to come out and play.


Only in America

November 17, 2008

The past two weeks of Obama afterglow have left many of us with a sense of American awe. We somehow have it in our heads that “only in America” would it be possible for a person of Kenyan and White American descent from relatively humble beginnings to rise to power as the 44th President of the United States. Obama himself has said on numerous occasions that “only in America” is his story even possible. I don’t buy that. At least not hook, line and sinker. I know that miracles are possible, in America and all over the world. Name any culture, any civilization, any time period, and you can find a rags-to-riches or peasant to emperor story. Only in America is it likely that Americans can only see the uniqueness of their own culture and history, making the leap of hubris that ours is the only society that would allow for a Barack Obama to become its first leader to not be White and Male.

I’m hardly arguing that America isn’t a place of miracles for some. But let’s be real for a moment. Can anyone really argue American exceptionalism when a bigger miracle occurred in South Africa in the past two decades? This time twenty years ago, Nelson Mandela was in the middle of a twenty-seven prison sentence as an ANC terrorist from the early 1960s. Apartheid was alive and well, and even with the global anti-apartheid movement, the White South African power elite retained control of every aspect of South Africa’s social fabric. Yet so much has happened in the past twenty years that many Americans know nothing about the history of apartheid in South Africa, nor about how it ended. Mandela went from a condemned terrorist to the first Black president of South Africa and one of the great statesmen of the second half of the twentieth century. I guess that Mandela’s story could only happen in South Africa. In America, he would still be at Gitmo or in Leavenworth.

The “only in America” refrain also has negative connotations. Like, only in America can someone in their late-thirties or late-forties be considered a “young man” or “young woman” when their combination of advanced education and successful work experience makes them what they really are — gifted, an expert, a highly skilled administrator, or an intellectual. Or that only in America can every American think that they somehow can become rich regardless of education, training, or family background, even though the odds are piled moon-high against such a thing for the worst off of us. Or that only in America can someone serve more time in prison for become addicted to crack cocaine than they could if they committed manslaughter. Only in America can someone with no talent and little education can become a rich celebrity (see Rush Limbaugh or 50 Cent) while someone with both in spades have to fight for every inch of success they end up having.

Just because we elected Obama president of the United States doesn’t mean that we live in an unusually fair and open-minded country, where mere hard work and discipline can make a poor kid into the ultimate success. Just like in the rest of the world, meeting key people in high places, making friendships with gatekeepers usually helps, and helps a lot. Which is why I think what happened to Obama here in the US could’ve happened for him in Canada, New Zealand, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Finland, and other places where diversity and relative levels of open-mindedness make an Obama ascendancy possible. It also could’ve happened in Confucian China, Ancient Rome, the various Persian empires, and in other periods of world history. My point is that America is not as unique as we say it is, and certainly not as accepting as Obama’s election indicates.

I think that we should make a rule that prohibits Americans from saying “only in America” as if the rest of the world or the rest of world history doesn’t count. We should be proud of who we are. But we should also possess enough wisdom and humility to realize that all things are possible anywhere, not just in America.


Inspiration

November 16, 2008

I turn thirty-nine next month, and still find myself amazed that I can still surprise myself. I’ve only recently figured out something about myself that I hadn’t known before. I’ve been learning and relearning lessons about faith, love, salvation, redemption, trust, forgiveness, wisdom, knowledge and understanding for years. Many of these lessons began for me during my formative Boy At The Window years, my tweener and teenage years. But only in the past few weeks have I figured out that what drives me, what keeps me at my best. It’s inspiration, that evidence and personification of faith and hope, love and forgiveness.

It’s always been there, I guess. I just never paid it but so much mind because I assumed that faith — spiritual, religious, secular or otherwise — was always there and would always help keep me going. I’ve learned something important over all of these years of struggle, suffering and success. Without inspiration — whether in the form of an idea, a person or a vision — all of the other intangibles are merely amorphous gases floating in the atmosphere of my mind’s eye or in my heart, without direction or purpose.

Inspiration is why I still remain confident that Boy At The Window will find a good home, that my near and intermediate future remains bright, that my son will have the growing-up years I never had. I see all of the potentials I had at his age in him, but minus all of the chaos and strife that was my family life twenty or thirty years ago. His ability to tell stories, to act — even whine — without prompting, his curiosity about the world, leaves me hopeful and inspired.

I guess that I’ve always sought or had inspiration for as long as I’ve been aware of the world outside of myself and my five senses. My first and third grade teachers inspired me to become a better student. My mother’s hard work in my younger years inspired me to be a more responsible son. My best friend in elementary school inspired me to look at my spiritual side for the first time. The tough years of being a Hebrew-Israelite in the middle of ultimate familial collapse made it difficult to maintain that kind of normal inspiration.

So I sought inspiration and grabbed for any source of it, sometimes in ways that may have been unhealthy. My first true crush — perhaps even my first true love — in seventh grade was as much as source of inspiration in school and in general as she was a source of imaginative romance. I truly admired her as my classmate, as someone even to emulate in the latter stages of seventh grade. Brains, beauty, ballerina gracefulness, tomboyishness, and that weird laugh of hers. What reason would I have had not to be inspired by her?

Of course, when I became a Christian in ’84, Jesus became my inspiration, and not just in terms of redemption. His life on Earth, especially in the three years before his death, has provided lessons in all of the intangibles that I listed at the beginning of this blog for the better part of the past quarter-century. Inspiring because it’s hard to be anywhere near consistent in forgiveness and faith in the face of hatred and opposition, because it requires a supernatural faith in a vision greater than oneself to maintain the kind of discipline that Jesus did in his final days.

Yet I also had other everyday kinds of things to draw inspiration from. The Mets and the Giants, the Knicks and the Rangers, especially when they pulled off miracles or the year the Mets and Giants won the World Series and Super Bowl. Joe Montana and his amazing game-winning drives, Villanova and its upset of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament in ’85. They all served to inspire, to breathe some hope and faith into the miracle that I hoped to pull off in my own life.

Music, too, had to inspire, and not just entertain. That need for inspiration added to my already ecletic tastes by the mid-80s. It would explain my listening to U2, Mr Mister, Simple Minds and other weird (or not-so-weird) artists, even though I lived around neighbors who thought Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam was wack.

But with sports and music, inspiration eventually turned into escapism, especially in the year I went off to college. The pressures were too great, the emotional stresses too much, from my second crush to my second semester at the University of Pittsburgh. I finally had to find inspiration from within in order to move forward in my life.

Inspiration does require balance with hard work, faith, optimism and realism. Yet it must be there, especially when all of that hard work doesn’t look like it will ever pay off. I’ve had visions of my life and career that catapulted me from a good if not totally focused undergrad to a doctorate in history. I’ve been the recipient of revelations about myself and my family that have inspired me to write and to continue to write about more than just multiculturalism over the past decade. I’ve dug inspiration from within to remind myself on the days when nothing seemed like it was going my way that I’ve been through much worse.

These days, my inspiration comes from the silly and the serious. My son, Kim Possible, the recent election of Obama, Avatar: The Last Airbender, my students. All have served in some way to maintain my inner muse, to remind me that even the most accomplished and successful of us need inspiration in order to feel alive, to live out our hopes and dreams, and not just imagine them.


You’re Not Ready

November 12, 2008

“You’re not ready,” my one-time dissertation advisor said to me this week thirteen years ago. Joe Trotter and I were meeting in his spacious Carnegie Mellon office in mid-November ’95 to discuss my progress on my thesis and (at least from my perspective) what jobs I should apply for in the coming months. I was in a somewhat pensive mood. We had only spoken twice since April 14, the day I found out that I’d been selected to receive a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. The $15,000 award meant that I didn’t have to teach — nor did I have to play the role of Joe’s research grunt — during the ’95-96 school year. His response to my news that day was one of shock, not excitement, and though I did some editing and research work for him that summer, he seemed angry with me. I hadn’t figure out why, at least not until our November meeting.

Steve Schlossman, then the chair of the history department, had encouraged me to apply for an assistant professor of history of education opening at NYU. Even though I had only five out of eight chapters of my thesis written — and the NYU gig started September ’96 — I thought that at my pace, I would have a completed (if not formally approved) thesis by then. About a week before our meeting, I emailed Professor Trotter about the position, and received a polite but cryptic “let’s talk about it” response. I knew from the way the email was written that it meant Professor Trotter had some reservations. I had heard from others about how difficult a time he’d given other students as they were completing their doctorates. I just decided to be optimistic — almost oblivious — as I went into my meeting with Professor Trotter that second Tuesday in November.

We met for nearly an hour, going over many of his “recommendations” (more like demands) regarding the first chapters of my dissertation. Professor Trotter wanted more statistics about Washington, DC’s Black community, more tables about Black migration patterns, occupational status, church membership numbers and so on. I was to provide 140 years of statistical background on a community. My thesis was only meant to cover the years 1930-60, and then within the context of multiculturalism’s development among Blacks in DC during this period. Context is important, but even I knew that church membership numbers were irrelevant to the main argument of my thesis.

Trotter never once asked about my argument. Not a single question, comment or feedback on multiculturalism, educational policy, desegregation and how it related to multiculturalism among Blacks. Nothing. Not in that meeting, and not at any point in the dissertation process. It took me a full draft of my thesis to figure out why. But in that meeting, I was more puzzled that disillusioned.

I finally brought up the possibility of my applying for the faculty job at NYU. “I’m gonna have to run interference here,” Trotter said. In the four years he served as my advisor, those were probably the set of words he used most often. Running interference? What does that really mean outside the context of family or the White House, anyway? The image I had in my head was of me trying to catch a football and Professor Trotter trying to pull me to the ground to keep me from catching it. Except there was no referee there to throw a flag and penalize my advisor for interference.

Right after the “running interference” comment was when Professor Trotter told me I wasn’t ready. He didn’t give me much of an explanation why. I just needed to understand that I needed to have all of my doctoral ducks lined up before I began applying for jobs, which meant that I needed to have my PhD in hand — and all dissertation issues taken care of — before he or I could write a single letter. I asked, “What’s wrong with testing the waters?” I didn’t get a response, at least one that was clear and rational. Professor Trotter seemed angry again, like “how dare this kid question me about the job market.”

Technically, Professor Trotter was correct. I wasn’t ready, at least not in November ’95, to go out on the job market and apply for any and all history, education foundation, and African American studies jobs that fit my qualifications. That’s just it, though. Given the relative few complaints my advisor had about my thesis (and with it more than half-done at this point), it wouldn’t have hurt either of us to put a packet together for a few jobs to see if there would be any response at all.

I left Professor Trotter’s office angry, agitated, and confused. Angry that he didn’t want to support me, agitated and confused because I couldn’t figure out exactly why. For a few weeks, I thought it was me. Maybe I’m just a hotheaded twenty-five-year-old who was placing too many demands on my advisor, I thought. Or maybe I really wasn’t ready. Or maybe my then girlfriend in Baltimore was driving me crazy, and it was carrying over to the dissertation process and my advisor. I didn’t know, but I decided to keep working, to finish my oral interviews and transcribe them, and to talk with other folks to get an independent perspective.

At the Spencer Foundation winter forum for the dissertation fellows the following February, I got my answer. I ended up talking with someone who served on the ’95 selection panel, who made a point of pulling me aside. She told me, “Your advisor’s letter didn’t help.” She couldn’t go any further, but she did tell me to pay closer attention to him. It didn’t help that a couple of other dissertation fellows were having similar problems with their advisors.

It all came to a head on Thursday, April 4 of ’96. I talk about this a bit at the beginning of a chapter in Fear of a “Black” America. It was about as bad a meeting as it could’ve been without us coming to blows — God knows I could’ve. I knew from that point on that my advisor was also my adversary.

If it weren’t for a number of my grad school friends, my new girlfriend (who’s also my wife Angelia), and the late Barbara Lazarus, I probably would’ve never finished. But the greatest irony was, I finished the first draft of my dissertation on June 15, and the second on August 6. Between plowing ahead to finish my chapters, revising my dissertation to fit my advisor’s career-stagnating research on proletarianization (I won’t even attempt to explain) and Black migration, and drafting a six-page memo charting every revision I made, Trotter came back with four simple corrections on August 23. That was it until my committee approved the dissertation that fall. I could’ve taken the job at NYU if somehow they would’ve wanted me for the assistant professor position.

I knew by then that my advisor thought I wasn’t ready because of issues beyond my control. I didn’t think that anyone as accomplished as Professor Trotter could possibly be jealous of anyone, especially someone like me. I certainly didn’t realize that I had somehow insulted him by not assuming that I would cover his proletarianization and Great Migration thesis in a dissertation about multiculturalism and Black Washington, DC. I definitely didn’t know that my advisor was deliberately writing lukewarm letters about me to keep me from getting a job or a fellowship. Honesty and transparency were obviously not in his vocabulary or nature.

But, as with many things in my life, I learned some good things from this. I’d always been ambivalent about becoming a full-time professor who just wrote one academic article after one scholarly book and presented papers at one boring academic conference after another. The lack of support from my advisor and elongated job search (I didn’t find a full-time job until June ’99) left me with a lot of time to think about what else I wanted to do in life. I don’t think I would’ve figured out that I’m a writer at heart without this struggle and extra time. So maybe I wasn’t ready after all. It was just for very different reasons than anything my advisor had in mind.


Parent-Teacher Conference

November 10, 2008

In a couple of hours, we’ll be at my son’s school for our very first parent-teacher conference. I haven’t thought much about it. Then again, I haven’t needed to. I’ve had two dreams in the past two days about the conference and all the things that could go wrong during it.

Maybe it’s because my mother rarely availed herself for a parent-teacher conference. In all of my years in school, my mother showed up for a grand total of four P-T conferences, including two in third grade. In fact, accounting for all school events in which my mother attended, she managed to make it to nine of them. If I count my father’s chance meeting with my first grade teacher at a bar that turned into a conversation about my performance in her class — it was apparently a positive conversation — that brings the total to ten. Not much in the thirteen years between September 8 of ’74 (my first day of kindergarten) and August 26 of ’87 (the day I left for college).

Maybe I’m being too hard on my mother. She did work full-time most of that time, and after ’82, there was no chance of her showing up to anything, especially with a toddler, a one-year-old and a sickly baby in the oven. Not to mention my baby brother by the end of my freshman year of high school. Still, it’s interesting. The P-T conference she went to when I was in first grade was about me kicking my teacher because I didn’t get a A on something and because I failed to pin the tail on the donkey during another kid’s birthday party. One of the two P-T conferences she attended when I was a third grader was because my third grade teacher was concerned about my psyche in class (I had a crush on my teacher, but didn’t know how to act around her — the story of much of my life) and because someone with my potential was doing average work in her class. In the nicest way, Mrs. Shannon essentially asked my mother if there was something going on at home that was in my way academically. My mother, of course, said no, which was hardly the truth. She was marrying my eventual idiot stepfather, after all. And I hadn’t seen my father in over a year.

The last P-T conference my mother attended was in ’83, the first month of my freshman year of high school. She went to the first PTA meeting, met with my teachers, and never looked more uncomfortable. My mother hadn’t met any of my Humanities teachers until the end of eighth grade, at the middle school awards ceremony, and even then she only met my science teacher, who absolutely adored me. After this meeting, though, my mother looked as if she’d been a washerwoman in the middle of a Park Avenue cocktail party, and practically said as much. I felt lucky to have seen her at my Humanities awards ceremony at the end of high school.

On the surface, this isn’t a big deal. It’s not unusual to have a parent or parents who, for whatever reason, are disengaged from their kids’ academic journeys. Poverty, domestic violence, alcohol, drugs, criminality and other less mundane things like working one or more jobs or having at least three kids can get in the way of meeting teachers and finding out how your children are doing in school. Even so, taking time out to go to these and to really listen to what the teacher is saying about your kid without looking down on the teacher is a sign of caring and love for your kid. I’m not saying I wasn’t loved at all. Given the record, I’d say that many of my positive feelings about my mother are based on a guess or guesstimate and not a undeniable show of affection or her saying “I love you.” Even with something like a P-T conference, her lack of attendance says more than just her feeling inadequate to the task of meeting with my teachers.

I intend to attend as many of these as I can, even if I can’t stand the sight of one of Noah’s teachers. It gives me a chance to see a side of parenting I’ve never seen before. And it may give Noah some proof that I cared enough about his education to go meet his teachers, even if it only turns out to be a couple of times a year.


What a Week!

November 8, 2008

I understand that we’re in the middle of a global financial crisis and recession that could leave millions of us out of work. But no one has explained to me why our leaders — including President-Elect Obama — have reserved a special place for the American auto industry. The long-term prognosis for the so-called Big Three is horrible. They have done little to keep up with alternative technologies, to build in new levels of efficiency, and to avoid the crisis in which we all find ourselves. The question is whether the American auto industry is worth saving.

Another question that no one has address is what constitutes the American auto industry. After all, many of the Big Three’s operations are in other parts of the world, not just in the US. For that matter, Toyota and Honda have operations, including factories, right here in the US, and Honda passed Chrysler in terms of production several years ago. Why aren’t we talking about these companies when we talk about the “American auto industry?” Wake up, folks. This isn’t the ’80s anymore. Our world is so interconnected that to discuss loans for companies on the brink when there are substantial assets of overseas auto companies here in the US that would be more successful with those loans (if they needed them) is simply dumb. Our government could give GM, Ford and Chrysler $100 billion, and at least one of them would still go out of business, and at least one other will likely be merged with an automaker based in Europe or Japan.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think that we’re looking at the end of the “American auto industry” as we’ve known it since ’84 by the middle of the next decade. Why throw more dollars at this problem when it would be better spent helping American Honda and Toyota “make the cars of tomorrow right here in America?”

It’s been interesting watching the civil rights establishment coming out of the woodwork after Obama’s victory on Tuesday. On the one hand, it’s inspiring. More than a few of these men and — in only a few cases, based on media coverage (not my opinion) — women spilled blood, were killed and beaten and ridiculed so that someone like Obama could come along and win the presidency. On the other hand, there remains that retread narrative about the ’60s and protest and engaged youth, and yes, the promise of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s ironic, considering that it was Generation X and especially Y that put Obama over the top on Tuesday. With few exceptions, the mainstream media spent most of its time interviewing Civil Rights era veterans about the meaning of Obama’s victory. As if folks from my generation or my younger siblings’ generation couldn’t appreciate the distance that we’ve traveled since the end of the Jim Crow era and the Brown decision 54 years ago. Hopefully with the Obama Administration and what results from it, we can finally move past the arguments of the ’60s. I fully expect that some of you will disagree, and that’s fine. We can agree to disagree about this.

One other thing. We’ve come far but hardly far enough. Not when voters can take away the right to marry granted by their state constitutions merely because the people getting married are two men or two women. Besides the mantra of “Who cares?” or “It’s really none of your business!,” there’s the reality that in California at least, Blacks overwhelmingly backed Prop 8 and Latinos helped the Black margin. Some have argued that this is the first time in American history that people have been allowed to take a constitutional right away. Wrong! Anyone ever hear of Jim Crow? All during the 1890s, politicians passed and (in some cases) White voters ratified constitutional revisions that allowed for Black exclusion and segregation in public life throughout the South, including the right of Black men to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution. This isn’t the first time, and likely will not be the last.

Yet it’s a shame that people of color anywhere would vote in substantial numbers for a measure designed to take away the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry. As if civil union laws are sufficient. It reflects a level of ignorance and homophobia that few are willing to talk about in the Black and Latino communities. That folks can’t separate their religious convictions from the secular realm is scary. I mean, we might as well do away with civil marriages altogether if folks feel so strongly that the state shouldn’t allow adults to marry.

It’s been an amazing week, but one that shows that we have a lot of work to do to bring American culture in line with our twenty-first century reality of a multicultural society.


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