Raising Nonviolent Sons

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Almost always, what I see of society leaves me with more questions than answers. Not unlike most other experiences, I was left with questions after observing an exchange between parents and a son whilst doing some shopping. It was a simple conversation between the three that made me think about why our society might be so violent. It went something like this:

Son: I can’t believe that boy thought he could hit me like that.

Father: You hit him back, right?

Mother: I hope you don’t get in trouble at school because…..

Father: That damn school better not say a word to him for hitting that kid. He had it coming when he acted like he was going to hit my son. It’s not like I raised some pussy. My boy defends himself.

Son: Yeah. I’m tougher than that kid.

Mother: Did he actually hit you?

Son: Nope. I never gave him the chance.

Father: That’s my boy.

I’m not sure I can unpack everything about this conversation that bothers me—there’s just so much wrong. The most disturbing to me was that even though the child had not been assaulted, he found it necessary to strike with violence anyway. According to the words of his father, he’d apparently been taught that the only way to be a man is to be the toughest, the most willing to raise your hands to another, the first to strike, and the one who will use violence in all circumstances.

Neither parent asked him why the other child was upset, or about their own child’s role in the altercation. The mother does begin to question, but the father is too busy applauding his son to really get to the root of the issue. Dad doesn’t care about conflict resolution. He only cares that his son wasn’t a “pussy” (another bothersome thing for another article).

This is how we teach boys to behave, and if they don’t we call them names and make fun of them. Then, we expect them to be nonviolent in school? It’s counterintuitive to tell our sons to raise their fists whilst expecting them to know how to peacefully resolve conflict. We tell them to never lose, to never let someone have the upper hand, yet we expect them to respect other humans. We teach our sons to be supreme narcissists who only care that they are the top dog, yet expect them to treat others with respect. It’s the real paradox of raising sons in American culture. Be strong. Be a winner. Fight. Don’t be a “girl”. But don’t hit women, don’t fight in school, and respect other people. It’s no wonder our sons are so torn and confused.

I think the one thing we need to tell our sons is that more often than not, the true measure of a man is not who is quick to raise his fists for fear of being made fun of, but he who knows it is most often best to walk away no matter who might laugh. If we keep teaching our sons to be violent, folks, we can expect to continue living in a violent society.

Drug Testing for Food Assistance: But Who’s Testing The Man?

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Recently, many states have begun drug testing state assistance recipients and applicants. So many people are pro-drug testing of that particular group of people, but I take much exception to this new trend.

The pro argument seems to be based in the theory that people who work must submit to testing to earn money, so then people asking for assistance should be forced to submit in order to receive benefits from the money working folks pay into the system. I get it. Working folks feel slighted because A) Part of their tax dollars go to folks they’ve been taught to believe don’t work, and B) they are forced to submit to a test that crawls up into their private lives. I’ve heard many a person say “You shouldn’t worry if you haven’t been doing things to worry about.” The truth is, they’re wrong on both accounts.

Americans by and large do not understand poor people unless they are poor people. It’s easy to stand in judgment and use the example of a family elder who worked their fingers raw and lived without assistance. The staggering reality is that life is infinitely more difficult than in decades past, and this might come as a shock, but even working folks need assistance.

People really do want to work, most people anyway. Many of those applying and receiving state benefits do have a job, but when a person meets tough times, they still need to eat or have medical care. The road to government is assistance is not just paved with laziness or drug addiction. For some, it might very well be, but for others that road is paved with illness, death of a spouse or loved one, losing a home, job loss, and too many other tragic events to list. Moreover, not that many people who are in the system are using drugs. In fact, many states have found those numbers who do test positive to be miniscule. Take for instance, Tennessee.
In this article, we are told that of the recipients and applicants in Tennessee, Florida, Utah, and Maine, very few actually tested positive for drugs. In Tennessee, that number was less than 1%. Testing for drugs, therefore, is unfounded and an utter waste of tax payer dollars.

The disinformation in which testing is based is really troubling. During the Reagan era, former president Ronald Reagan invented the image of the “welfare queen”. She was the woman with more babies and baby daddys than anyone could keep up with. She was driving her Cadillac while spending the tax payers’ hard earned cash in the form of food stamps. She probably bought crack cocaine, alcohol, and cigarettes with most of her funds, according to the stereotype. The one factor we often keep hidden behind a veil is that when this stereotype was created, this woman was probably also African American. This stereotype was used to not only shame those in need of public assistance, but also to disenfranchise and shame people of color, specifically women of color. Moreover, everything about this stereotype was a delusional fantasy. This woman does not exist in the world I know regardless of her ethnicity.

That’s another problem with the drug testing trend, we shame poor people—even the working poor, although we don’t understand what it means to be poor. We make some strange assumptions, but we don’t really understand.

See, being poor means when you’re sick, you probably stay sick because even if you’re able to afford one trip to the doctor, there’s no way to afford the subsequent testing or medication. What person can afford to pay out of pocket for an MRI, CAT SCAN, X-Ray, blood work, or expensive prescription besides the very rich? Who can pay for follow up visits at more than $100 dollars per visit? Very few. So, while you feel your symptoms worsen, the aches and pains spread through your body, your blood pressure remains high, your vision dims, and your energy escapes your body, all you can hope is that you just miraculously improve. You can’t even hope to die because you know your family can’t afford your funeral.

When you’re poor, it means dreading checking the mail because it’s time for the utility bills to come again. You were careful and suffered through the milder days without heat or air, but you know it’s still going to take most of your pay to keep the electricity and gas on. It also means choosing whether or not you want cable or internet, if you can even afford either one, because those are luxuries.

New clothes are a luxury, too, and as a poor person, you become an expert at thrift store shopping. $100 shoes? That’s never going to happen. $300 jeans? Hell no. That’s a month’s worth of groceries. That’s all okay, though. You just buy what you can afford. Not that you never wish, but you would never make a splurge like that. If you did, you’d be homeless.

Poor people can’t afford to make bad decisions, and in fact, most of them don’t. Many poor people are too busy educating themselves, working, and trying to better their lives to become involved with drugs and alcohol. Of course, there are those who are addicts, but those are people with a disease. Some say it’s self-chosen, but I disagree with that, too. Sure, they chose to use the drug, but there was a psychological issue that drove them to that point. And I want to make this point loud and clear—No one chooses to remain a drug addict. Their psychological and physical states may lead them to act in a way that seems converse to that statement, but they are not really making a conscious choice. It’s the addiction talking—not the addict, which is the other problem with this state testing. What forms of help are being offered to those found to be using drugs?

Do we just cut them off assistance and tell them to come back when they’re clean? How does a poor person just go get clean without assistance? To me, all this system does is create a system of discrimination. If states are willing to offer real help, then testing is fine, but if the intent is to throw addicts away like they don’t matter, then it’s exclusionary and wrong. Moreover, the other qualm—the “I have to be tested at work” argument, is also little ridiculous.

People aren’t drug tested at work because of some bad stereotype or discriminatory act, they’re tested because they might cause harm to a co-worker. Someone who’s been using meth, has been awake for a week straight, and just happens to be operating a piece of machinery next to me is a danger to me. I’m sorry, folks, that testing just makes sense.

There is also another testing I’d actually like to see: White Collar testing. Yes, those of you on Wall Street, working as legislators, senators, congressman, let’s start testing you, because the one thing so few address is that drug use and addiction does not discriminate. Rich folks are addicts, too, meaning that those making decisions that just so happen to effect all of us and our money could be shooting up as we speak. Don’t for one second think money and power make one exempt from drugs and alcohol.

I once heard the saying “Never fear Rome, the snake lies coiled in Naples.” How true is that? We are looking so hard to blame those whom the stereotype was built around that we rarely glance to those who might cause us more harm than we ever imagined possible. The Man built the monster to keep the heat safely away from him.

In a way, I’m glad some states implemented drug testing because I’m hopeful it breaks down the misinformed notion that people who are receiving government assistance are bad people. I do hope we can look forward from this moment in time to more worthwhile causes—like questioning the actions of those we’ve covered our faces to for so many years. Poor people aren’t the problem here, folks, and neither are addicts. Our problem lies with those we trust too much, and it’s past time to end that.

Conversations With Racists

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Having conversations with racist folks is usually awkward and frustrating. It can also be eye opening. Unfortunately, it’s usually only eye opening for the non-racist party.

Last night I spoke with a childhood friend. He no longer lives in my state, and now resides in a large metropolitan area. My assumption that once one moves away from a tiny town like the one in which we grew up into the higher populated city they grow from some of the small town mentality, was horribly wrong, at least in this case.

As we discussed the goings on in the world, we hit on the Ferguson, Michael Brown,racism, and white privilege. His initial comment was “I don’t believe in white privilege. It just doesn’t exist. I’ve never been given anything extra in life, and in fact, I can tell you a story showing how stupid this all is.”

Not only was moving away from his rhetoric about having to “work for a living like everyone else” a nice vacation, but I couldn’t wait to hear how he was going to outline for me the supposed non-existence of racism and white privilege. My ears were at full attention.
His story follows:

My son and I were at the movie theatre the other night. As we left, the light turned red,
but no traffic was coming, so I just made a rolling stop. Apparently, there was a taillight
on my truck, too, and the policeman pulled us over. He approached our vehicle, and tried
to be really tough with us. I basically argued with him a little bit, and we both handed
him our credentials so he could check for warrants. I’d forgotten my NRA card was
behind my driver’s license, and I inadvertently handed it to the officer along with my
ID. When the officer returned to the car, he let me off with a warning, thanking me
for supporting the 2nd Amendment Rights of American citizens.

According to the man, his story was supposed to prove that A) white folks get pulled over and questioned just like everyone else. B) The police officer wasn’t friendly with him, a white male, until he knew they weren’t criminals, and finally, C) That officer was just doing his job, not harassing anyone.

My answer is the story he told makes the exact argument for white privilege. There are so many things about this scenario that might have, and probably would have, played out differently had he and his son been of color.
1) Arguing or disrespecting law enforcement would have probably led to an immediate call for backup.
2) They probably would have both been breathalyzed due to running the light, as that would have been documented as erratic driving.
3) Reaching for their wallets could have been misconstrued as reaching for a weapon.
4) Showing an officer, inadvertently or not, a card denoting gun ownership would have led to removing both parties from the vehicle, handcuffing, and searching the car.

In other words, the incidents that night would have made them suspects, not respected members of a community, and this is where so many white folks go blind. Yes, you may get pulled over and questioned, but you aren’t a suspect unless you give good reason. People of color are suspects from the moment some officers approach the vehicle.

Growing up and living in a tiny, racist town, this isn’t the first illogical argument like this I’ve heard. It’s not the first discussion I’ve had with someone who tried with all their might to prove to me (the liberal whackjob of my town) that racism went away in the 60s, and definitely with the inauguration of President Obama. They all try to prove there is no white privilege because white folks have to work, too. For whatever reason, they all seem to believe people of color just don’t want to work for anything, and they call it “white privilege” because they think white folks just hang out in the shade somewhere. They don’t even try to understand that all people of color have ever done is work. Be it in chains or to overcome and survive—they have worked. That’s not the privilege of which they speak. What they speak of is the privilege to be able to work, go to school, and achieve without discrimination. They want to be able to walk down the street without fear of false arrest or being beaten and/or murdered. And that’s exactly the privilege we white folks enjoy every single day.

I’ve lived here all my life, with brief exceptions. I’ve heard the slurs thrown about like they’re meaningless. I’ve witnessed the stern objections to anyone of color being part of our town. Aside from complete lack of diversity and culture, my town is okay. It’s quiet. The school system is advanced enough, yet small. If the citizens could move beyond their own biases, I’d say it’s a pretty great place to live.

I don’t know shit about what it means to be a person of color in the US, let alone in my hometown. Sure, I’ve gone to college. I’ve taken a cosmic ton of sociology courses. I’ve studied multicultural literature.I know what the books say. However, I do not personally know the feeling of fear and anger a non-white must feel in a community like mine. Some of the horrible comments I’ve heard white folks say around here are enough to invoke fear and anger in anyone.

What I have been is lucky enough to have lived outside this town as a very small child, so my initial years were complete with experiencing diversity. My parents were not racist. That made all the difference, too. I was taught to never mistreat anyone. I’m also lucky to have friends beyond the white friends I have here. I listen to them as they tell me how they feel and the struggles they face. They teach me to be a better human being, and I can never fully repay that.

As I remain in my tiny town, I see the ignorance and fear from which racism is born. Some of these folks have their white privilege turned up so high it screams from far away as they commit crimes, yet the police let them walk away. They’re no better than anyone because of the level of melanin in their skin. Somehow, though, they fear what they have never taken the time to understand—the people who look different from them, different cultures, different languages. What’s more, they fear the loss of control they have over our tiny town. Someone might come in and make changes. They might lose complete charge. I, for one, would embrace some change. Some culture around here would be nice. These old timers though, they just keep passing on their racism to their descendants like a sick inheritance. It’s not going away anytime soon.

Look, I’m just some white chic from a small town with only some thoughts I record for others to read. I’m often accused from the aforementioned fellow citizens of my town of having “white guilt,” and to answer that, no, I do not have white guilt. I’m not ashamed because I was randomly born white instead of some other color. What I do have is what I call Human Responsibility. It’s my job to speak out to these white racist fools who can’t see beyond their own stories to understand the experiences of someone else. It’s my duty to try to teach folks that racism is founded in fear and ignorance, and the white privilege does exist. If I’m ever going to even try to repay the debt I owe my friends who helped me understand what life is like for them in the country which is supposedly “the land of the free,” I must speak out—not for them, but with them. Finally, it’s my job, not as some great white hope, but as a human being to try to make the world a better place. That, my friends, is everyone’s job.

Just a Note for Your Sunday

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When a person is not willing to examine his or her own philosophical or political systems of belief, little progress can ever be made in the world. If a person refuses to question the authority of political and religious leaders, nothing in the world will change. If a person does not recognize that religion and nationalism, while at times binding, mostly create a divisive atmosphere, we will continue to live in chaos. If a person follows tradition simply for traditions sake without questioning if they are harmful, we will continue to live in a status quo.. We must be willing to take a stance to change the wrongs of the world, regardless of threats from authority, if we ever want peace. We must recognize that knowledge is power, and knowledge only comes from opening one’s mind to question all he or she has believed to be absolute truth. Question authority and what you’ve been inculcated to believe always! ~TLN

Let’s Debunk Those Bad Arguments

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Gather ‘round, folks. We need to have a chat.

I know I’ve been talking a lot about #Ferguson lately, but it deserves the attention. I’m sorry if that makes some people uncomfortable, which is sort of a lie. I’m not really “sorry” in the truest sense. It really should make some people uncomfortable. Actually, the whole discussion should make them squirm in their seats, and hopefully realize they’re doing the entire Be A Human thing wrong.

During the last few days, I’ve written about the tragedy that is unfolding in a St. Louis suburb, and I’ve read a plethora of articles, news reports, opinion pieces, and the like. Whilst reading electronically published pieces, I always take the time to scroll through the comments. What people are thinking and saying about issues means a great deal to me. It’s the equivalent of surveying the land before stepping into unknown territory. I need more than one thought about a situation. It helps me orient myself to some of the raw emotions surrounding an issue.

In any case, as I’ve read through many an online discussion concerning the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of a law enforcement officer, there are a couple remarks that make my head spin—Exorcist style. Let’s just address these individually.

1) “What about reverse racism?”

This one belongs in the racism denial hall of fame. There always has to be one person who says they’ve been treated poorly by someone of color. You know what? Sometimes folks just treat each other like shit. Maybe someone has been conditioned to distrust white folks. Maybe their anger just runs that deep. Whatever it is, this mistreatment does not count as “racism”. Racism is keeping people in chains, buying and selling them like chattel, raping them, controlling their economic situations, discriminating against them—whether blatantly or slyly, and profiling them. Racism has multigenerational effects. We’ve gone from chains to jail cells, but racism exists—and this is important,for people of color and nationalities other than American. White people have not had that experience within the United States.

2) “Why can’t I be proud to be white?”

Do you really need to be proud over something you had no control over? Let me break this down: Your parents had sex. Some cells joined together, randomly forming a fertilized egg. Magical DNA shit happened. Then voila—you were born. Nothing more luck of the draw ever happens in your life. Your parents could have been anyone of any nationality and ethnic background. Maybe you should just realize how stupid it sounds to say “Proud to be white”. Should I be proud to have green eyes? That’s pretty ridiculous. I’m proud of my accomplishments or my children, not something biology took care of. I guess I should also say nationalism is equally as ignorant. It was luck of the draw you were born in whatever country, too. There’s a massive difference between embracing cultural practices and customs and sharing those with others and being “proud”. Proud of randomness is just weird and completely divisive.

Also, no one has ever told you that being white is bad. You’ve never been told to assimilate or that the closer you look to white, the more attractive and trustworthy you are. By the way, the latter is called colorism, and it happens in the African American communities because old white slave owners raped black women. Did you read that? They raped them. Then the lighter skinned slaves were treated slightly better than the darker skinned, causing a social divide within an ethnicity. Thanks, assholes, for projecting your whiteness by socially unacceptable means, only causing a group of people to think if they were white, the world would love them more. If I was them, I’d be damn proud I was able to keep my ethnic identity and culture alive, too.

3) “Yeah, but that kid was committing a crime”

I don’t care what in the hell that kid (who, by the way was named Mr. Michael Brown not “that kid”) was doing. He wasn’t in the process of killing someone. Deadly force was overkill. No matter how you break this down, there was a policeman who in the best case got scared and overreacted. In the worst case, he’s an animal. Either way, he has no support from me. All I can feel is empathy and sorrow for a family and community that is suffering a tragic loss of life.

4) “What was he wearing? Did he look suspicious?”

If I never hear these questions again it will be too soon. Let me just get one thing straight: I have walked into a store wearing a ripped up pair of jeans, a baggy hoodie, a hat, and sunglasses. I looked shady as fuck. No one ever questioned me or even so much as looked at me funny.

I’ve seen white kids in my community wearing sock hats and hoodies with their bagging, sagging shorts in 100 degree weather. If that isn’t suspicious, then neither is anything any kid who isn’t white could wear, and the cops don’t bug these white kids (at least not here).

Profiling someone by what they wear is the same as saying a woman is guilty for her own rape because her skirt was too short. Don’t come at me with this argument. It holds no merit. It’s like we look for reasons to victim blame here. Are we trying to create criminals?

If I had the first twenty years of my adult life to do over again, I would become a public defender specifically defending folks just like the young African American men and women who are judged in the street every day.

One of the problems we face is that the first stop in the Road of Justice is what a police officer thinks someone did. If cops were always right, courts wouldn’t exist. Problem is, even those trained and sworn to not only uphold the law, but to protect and serve make mistakes. Moreover, and infinitely worse, police officers are still human beings with individual thoughts and biases. Sometimes that variable leads to the death of young men such as Michael Brown. Other times those biases lead our most vulnerable to a path of incarceration.

Our prisons are full of not only cold blooded criminals, but the mentally ill, the indigent, and people of color. Because, even though many people of color have attained and overcome obstacles, many others are still fighting income and education inequality leaving them in difficult circumstances and the lower socioeconomic rungs. They are often targeted by law enforcement because society has been taught to fear anyone poor or of darker skin tone.If you live in a poor neighborhood and you’re African American, for instance, you’re automatically the suspect. Without the resources to pay quality attorneys, they often face accepting plea agreements, which in turn leave them labeled as “felon,” one of the groups in our society which it is still acceptable to discriminate against. It’s the new way to keep those our society deems unacceptable locked away and under white control.

I only wish I could do more to change that dynamic. My only weapon is my words. My only hope is that someone reads what I say and helps me change the world.

If you’re interested in this subject, check back for a forthcoming article about growing up in a community sans ethnic diversity, and the racism I’ve witnessed all my life. I’ll talk about how it formed the way I think, why I’m not a racist, what I believe is at the root of racism, and how the new paramilitary police forces and some media outlets perpetuate it.