Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Open Dialog on Race: One Man's Contribution

I came of age in the early '70s in a pair of realms, football and jazz, that were heavily integrated, if not dominated by blacks. As one of my jazz cohorts once gibed to me on-stage, “My man, up here you're the nigger." (Decades later the spicy pronouncement would be voiced by Guy Torry to Edward Norton in that classic laundry-folding prison scene from American History X.) Yes, I'd imagine I've enjoyed my share of white privilege, although I can recall one excellent job that I'm fairly certain I lost due to academia's diversity-mania. But overall I think I grew up as free of actual prejudice—which is to say, consuming racial malice—as any white guy from New York's five boroughs. I'd venture I am freer of said malice than some of the black talking heads one sees each night on TV. 


As I cannot presume to speak for white America, I will not present what follows as a “white manifesto.” I will, however, tell you what this one white male in his seventh decade rejects (and in at least one case resents) about the tenor and substance of the canon from today's black leadership.

I reject the use of the term mass incarceration to sanitize (and project onto society) the misdeeds of the roughly 290,000 blacks who are in state prisons not for being caught with a dime bag but for committing violent felonies. (Toggle to page 15 of linked material.) That includes some 68,000 murderers. (Page 16.) Federal prisons may be a separate story due to overzealous enforcement of drug laws, but still contain thousands of people who were incarcerated one at a time, not en "masse," because they are individually dangerous. To hear the activists tell it, our jails are full only because roving goon squads of cops like to barge into college libraries to waylay black students as they cram for their MCATs. That kind of tendentious sugar-coating must cease.

Which is why I also reject being coerced by #BlackLivesMatter (working in tandem with sympathetic/spineless major media) to accept as martyrs young men like Mike Brown. Even the U.S. Department of Justice, despite pointed marching orders from the Obama administration, did not dispute that Brown committed an act of thuggery in a convenience store and then tried to wrestle a cop's gun away from him after some mid-street confrontation. Brown's death was as tragic as the loss of any young life, but it's not allegory or metaphor for a corrupt police establishment or an uncaring American public. Those to whom black lives truly matter would rail against the elevation of a Mike Brown to folk-hero status. (What kind of role model is that to uphold?) Even when Eric Garner was killed—a gross police overreaction if not a homicide, in my view—he was selling illegal cigarettes and then he mouthed off to the cops who called him on it. Regardless of your color, when a cop confronts you, stop what you're doing. Not every such encounter is a Rosa Parks moment. Don't escalate. Worry about sorting out any possible injustices later. That's precisely what a senior (black) police officer told W. Kamau Bell in a recent episode of the comic's highly original and eye-opening CNN show United Shades of America

'A street corner in the middle of the night is not the place to take a stand for civil rights, especially if cops arrive with sirens blaring and appear to be under the impression that you just raped someone.' 
Similarly, I reject the widely promulgated notion that any and all transgressions by blacks are attributable to the irremovable stain of America's original sin, slavery. Even if there is some truth to the meme, it's unhelpful to undercut personal responsibility in black youths who are already training to find their way in a (presumably) hostile society. Why make our youth feel trapped in some grim destiny or provide a ready-made alibi for all failure?

I reject the idea that opposing today's black sociopolitical agenda is a form of racism. Having never owned slaves, I'm disinclined to be taxed in the name of reparations. Nor do I wish to see my children and grandchildren penalized by coy hiring imperatives that reduce to codified discrimination against non-minorities. Although affirmative action per se has fallen out of favor as both a phrase and a tactic, it is giving way to a stealthy corollary concept, disparate impact, that may be worse. This legal theory increasingly is invoked to micromanage outcomes in cases where data suggest that a “protected class” is underrepresented in a given setting even though the practices of that setting are “facially neutral”
that is, not discriminatory in any patent, intentional sense. Institutional redress and financial settlements may result. That strikes me as wholly unsupportable public policy; had it been applied in the jazz of my youth, there would've been an awful lot of white cats bringing suit. My thinking in this area does not justify antagonism from black America. Although some who oppose the black agenda are surely racists, such opposition is not ipso facto racism—no more than my distaste for Hillary Clinton is ipso facto misogyny or my general preference for foreign cars indicates some covert animus against the city of Detroit.

Finally, I reject and resent the idea that I am obliged to abide obvious black racism. (Anyone of Caucasian persuasion who has attempted to wade into online discussions of race knows of what I speak.) Don't be disrespectful to me because you think my whiteness automatically disenfranchises me or makes me “part of the problem.” I agree to make no a priori racial assumptions about you if you agree to make none about me.

Dr. King would've asked—demanded—that much.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Killing blacks softly with their dirge.*

Let us agree from the outset: We do not, any of us, want to see one more black child shot in the face in reprisal for his parents' missteps in gang culture. We do not want to see any more black adults shot, either. Nor do we want to see blacks in disproportionate numbers suspended from schools, or incarcerated, or otherwise denied the multifarious blessings of our American society. At the same time, I am sick to death of hearing all of those ills, and others, blamed solely on white society and the enduring legacy of "America's original sin," slavery. Not only do I think we've reached a point where we must stop such talkReconstruction was a very long time agobut I'm quite sure it's counterproductive, as it gives young blacks a ready-made excuse for poor performance...a morose mantra to keep repeating to themselves. The worst kind of self-talk. This is analogous to my objections to the fundamental theme of Alcoholics Anonymous, as enunciated in SHAM: When you tell people that they're victims of an incurable disease, have you not made them feel like helpless victims and thus undercut the empowerment with which you're supposedly imbuing them? 
Even if there's a kernel of truth to it, why reinforce their inclination to descend into martyrdom? Mention it in passing, perhaps, and then move on to what they really need to know to do better.

This is why I get so impatient with the likes of literati darling Ta-Nehisi Coates or CNN's insufferable, one-tune Sunny Hostin. If nothing is the black man's fault, then whence the black man's motivation to pull himself up by his bootstraps? If it is always white America who bears the blame, then wouldn't that also make the problem white America's to solve? All we succeed in doing via this kind of thinking is altogether disenfranchising the black person, each individual black person, from any personal stake in his/her own outcome. 

(Interestingly enough, when blacks excels, we give them all the credit. We're only stingy when it comes to apportioning blame.)

That's why I'm so annoyed about this article that I recently came across on Pro Publica. Again here, it is the gun (and the lack of national action on gun control) that accounts for inner-city crime...not the black hand holding the gun. Just as it is racist teachers or uncaring administrations who are responsible for all those black kids who are suspended (or who, later, drop out of college), and it is maleficent cops, juries and judges who are responsible for mass incarceration. To listen to Coates and Hostin, or even slightly less histrionic black columnists Leonard Pitts Jr. and Clarence Page, you'd think no black dude ever actually held up a liquor store or shot up a rival gang hangout.

The federal prison system has its well-document DEA-based problems stemming from the infamous Crime Bill, but state prisons are not full of young men who were caught with a joint! And if blacks sometimes do receive harsher sentences for "the same crimes" committed by whites, research suggests it's because they arrive for sentencing with two or three priors. That makes a difference, folks.

You know, every single day in the American court system, people of all hues are found guilty of violent crimes despite horrific personal circumstances that are far more immediate and personally relevant than a three-centuries-old legacy of slavery. I've said this before, but look at Charlie Manson's upbringing, or the bio of so many violent sexual predators, and tell me that the contextual factors in their coming-of-age had nothing to do with their turning out as they did. But we've made a compact with ourselves as a society that people, especially felons, must be held individually liable for their actions. We can't incarcerate society or their parents or their siblings or the nasty SOBs who bullied them in the schoolyard.

If you transgress, you are responsible. And you must face the punishment. We accept this as it relates to white perpetrators.

It is long past time to take that same approach in dealing with black America. Yes, as that video of the killing of Laquan McDonald appears to show, we have a policing problem. And yes, as the video of that cop hurling that teenage black girl off her chair suggests, there are issues of fairness in schools as well. Few would dispute this. White privilege is real. But there are also issues with blacks themselves, and some of those issues are factors in the prejudices that blacks may encounter from teachers, cops and others in positions of authority. There are factors in the way too many black kids are raised, and in the peer pressure too many feel to reject supposedly white conventions like education, proper grammar, etc., and in the need (among some black youths) to be loud and lewd and rebellious and even belligerent...all of which we too often are wont to dismiss as "cultural differences." The girl who got tossed from her chair, after all, refused to get off her cell phone despite repeated requests, and also gave lip to both the teacher and the (overreacting) officer. Whether or not that's a cultural difference, it is also an unacceptable level of defiance that speaks poorly of her prospects going forward. That self-defeating nonsense must stop. And leading black voices must come out and say so, instead of reaffirming ancient resentments and effectively teaching black kids to be contemptuous of white society and its conventionas Coates, notably, does in his book, Between the World and Me, which he frames as a letter to his son. God help us all.

If #BlackLivesReallyMatter, such considerations must be a part of any legitimate "dialog on race" that leading black voices and the liberal elite keep calling for. Or else we'll still be trying to have that dialog on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and beyond. 
* If you don't get the reference, Google Roberta Flack and "greatest hits."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Brutus, I know that child is tasty, but..."

It should surprise no oneleast of all methat today's "enlightened" approaches to training puppies/dogs are as soft and hyper-indulgent as the child-rearing techniques that have now given us several generations of the most narcissistic, entitled Americans on record. To be clear, when I talk about today's approaches I am pointedly not referring to the methods embraced/espoused by Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan. In fact, today's methods are the antithesis of the "pack leader" philosophy you see from Milan; in some cases a direct challenge to it. In short, it's if Dr. Spock wrote a book on dog training.

"Get off the sofa..? Oh yeah? Sez who...?"
It is but a slight exaggeration to say that in these systems there are no corrections, to speak of; there isn't even really a place for the command NO. Training unfolds as a hierarchy of endless yeses in which you endeavor to teach the animal not that Behavior A is undesirable, but that behavior B is simply more desirable than Behavior A. There are thus no punishments, only rewards. Certainly there are no physical penalties or any consequences designed to produce even an instant of pain or fear in the animal. 

The core assumption of this school of thought is that to the dog, all activities are basically an innocent form of play in which your pet is forever seeking your approval, so when the dog does something you deem inappropriate, you simply substitute another activity and then promptly reward the animal for buying in. Even leaving aside the objectionable notion that this puts the animal in the driver's seatby training the human to continually monitor and adjust to the dog's behaviorI should point out that this kind of training is not always feasible unless all you do is train your dog. It requires of the human being in the equation not just the patience of Job but a 24/7 vigilance and an inventory of treats and props that may not always be at hand at a given momentEffectively you can do little else but manage the dog for the extended period during which the animal is coming of age and assimilating all of these behavioral insights. One is also required to smilingly abide unwelcome activities on the animal's part, like constant nipping for the several months during which the animal is teething. Or routine "accidents" on the carpet during the month or so in which the dog is being housebroken; 29 months if your dog is a shih tzu. 
'Training unfolds as a hierarchy of endless yeses in which you endeavor to teach the animal not that Behavior A is undesirable, but that behavior B is simply more desirable than Behavior A.'   
There are times when you simply need the animal to CEASE what it's doing, like that, and you may not be equipped to substitute a game that the animal deems more fun and engaging. Today's soft-sided training methods make little or no allowance for situations where you and your pet encounter an unfamiliar circumstance away from the controlled training setting, and the proper behavior must be extracted from your pet immediately and without trial and error.
I also questionagain philosophicallywhether there isn't something to be said for the old line from A Bronx Tale, where the kid asks the mob boss, "Is it better to be loved or feared?", and the boss replies, "Fear lasts longer than love." (Please do yourself a favor and watch this entire scene):

No, I'm not saying that training a dog is like being made in the Mob. And yes, for those who just threw their computers across the room, I am well aware of the dangers of inducing fear biting. I am not talking about reducing a lovely animal to a quivering pile of fur and teeth. I am talking about some necessary corrections that will prevent the animal from doing damage to himself or well as the establishment of an environment in which your pet knows, and never questions, who's in charge. Needless to say, this is especially important in working with breeds that are quite capable of inflicting serious if not lethal damage. Like, say, the cane corso pictured above.

Rebuttals welcome....

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A must-read comment from another post.

Please go to this post and read today's comment from Anonymous (currently the final comment). It expresses what I've been trying to do hereand my exasperation with what so many of the SHAMmers are doingbetter and more poignantly than anything I've written in the decade of this blog's existence. 

Thank you, Anon.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Donald Trump: explained. (Hint: He's Tony Robbins.)

To echo what I just tweeted (I say such things lest people think I'm unaware of recycling my words), I am extremely pleased/proud that my fine editor at the New York Daily News, Josh Greenman, saw fit to publish my piece on Donald Trump on the eve of the New York primaries.