Saturday, September 24, 2016

'It's not personal, ISIS...it's strictly business.'

I am not one who views the so-called War on Terror as an apocalyptic battle between Good and Evil: the noble, cosmopolitan United State of America versus medieval savages. If there a God, and if that God is Allah, ISIS may be right about us. (If God is possible, that too is possible...no?) We may well be the Great Satan, a nation of hyper-fornication and high finance, where the only real Almighty is the almighty buck. Furthermore, maybe they're correct in that we invited Islam's ire with our past colonialism and vast despoiling of their holy sites. Not a few of my students in Lehigh University's Global Studies program would agree.* 

I am wiling to concede that if this is so, then maybe God (Allah) smiled on 9/11. Maybe we non-believers deserve every beheading, every acid bath, and worse. For who among us knows for certain if God exists and what He wants from us? Certainly I don't. Bottom line, I do not claim the high moral ground over radical Islam, the Koran, Sharia, etc.

But you know what? I don't care who's objectively/cosmically "right," if such a condition exists. I don't care if we're on the fast track to eternal damnation; I don't care if America has conducted itself with such hubris and impunity that we're now reaping our just desserts. I know only that I love America and (on balance) our American way of life. I love my grandchildrenadorable little apostates that they may beand I want everything possible done to keep them safe. 

I am willing to cede to Islam the Afterlife as long as we prevail in this one.

So ISIS, if you're listening, I'm happy to let you have your caliphate...over there. Ditto Iran. By all means celebrate Islam in any way you choose. Kill the heretics, do what you will with your women-folk. It's not my concern, and it's no skin off my American nose, so to speak. Indeed, as I see it, the less my country gets embroiled in these far-flung entanglements and holy wars, the better off we are. As for humanitarian missions, I see plenty of candidates for such largess right here at home. No need to go to Aleppo; Appalachia calls.

ButI'm again addressing ISIS, Iran and the rest of radical Islamif you insist on pursuing war against us, or even simply making my American dream fraught with anxiety, then I am adamant that you cease to be a threat. I will not learn to live with life as it's lived in Israel: being wary in airports or when I sit down to a nice dinner in a restaurant with my family. I want that wariness eliminated. By any means necessary, as Malcolm X once put it in another context. And understand, there's nothing personal about it; nothing at all. I don't hate you for hating me. Just as I don't hate the mosquito that I swat to prevent him from going about his mosquito's business. To reiterate, in some scriptural sense you may be better than I, or any other American, will ever be. I just insist on being able to live my American life without interference from you.

Even if it means that every last one of you, every man, woman or child who is part of your cause, must be dispersed in a thunderous tritium haze. And I want my president, the next president, to understand that that is how I feel.

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* If you would like your horizons broadened as to the degree of American self-loathing rampant on America's college campuses, audit such a course someday. (In not a few classes it is part of the curriculum.) You'll be shocked, as I was...the first time.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Un-black like un-me.

I am so profoundly tired of the argument that goes, more or less,

'You whites have the luxury of not thinking about race. People see my race when they see me.'
OK, fine. So what? People see my brown hair (what remains of it) when they see me. People see that I'm 6-3, and within 5 minutes they probably know that I'm right-handed. That's how incidental, how inconsequential race should be (and can be, if we resolve to make it so). In fact, race should be less meaningful, as I'd guess there are tangible benefits to being tall and right-handed. 

My "black" friends, the fact that racist morons see your brown skin and associate that surface observation with all kinds of negative characteristics does not mean that you have to embrace that line of (non)thought, that bigotry, for yourself. Nor does it mean that you need to overcompensate the opposite way: "Black is beautiful" is every bit as wrong, and every bit as bad, for it too perpetuates the problem, the mythology. Black is not beautiful. White is not beautiful. They are merely shades on a spectrum. That's all we know for sure that they are, for now. 

And if blackness is a state of mind as well as a race, then it's still not innate: It's a set of attitudes and beliefs that are nurtured and reinforced from without, just as racism itself is a set of attitudes and beliefs. So in that case as well, race can be, should be, meaningless. If you feel black because of traditions and experiences (too often sad) that have been inculcated within you, then resolve not to pass those feelings on to your younger friends and children. For the love of God, do not do what Ta-Nehisi Coates did in writing Between the World and Me and dedicating it to his son, Samori. To my mind, passing along that kind of cynicism and, yes, racism borders on child abuse. It is every bit as loathsome as the white supremacist spiels W. Kamau Bell heard in an episode of his popular CNN show, United Shades of America. I shed tears along with the comedian as he listened. 

So needless. So stupid. Hating someone for being brown is as asinine as hating someone for being 5-foot-7. And loving someone for being brown is as asinine as loving someone for being 5-foot-7.

Someday science may give us information about characteristics that are indeed race-identified. Until that time there is no reasonnone; zerofor us to perpetuate any of this. No reason for race to be more significant in our lives than height or hair color. And even after those prospective scientific revelations, such broad racial characteristics will tell us nothing about the individual white or black person standing in front of us. So please, let's throw this race nonsense into the dustbin of history, where it belongs. Please join me in that.

It won't be easy. There are major battles to be fought. We white folk in particular have a lot of work to do. But we all gotta begin somewhere, don't we? 
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PS: I'm counting down the moments until someone tells me on Twitter, "Don't you tell me how to be black, you white m-f-er." It's what happens every time I try to start this dialog.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Yes, this exists. (Did my white privilege just get revoked?)

For illustration purposes only. Not actual motorist.
This morning I'm leaving McDonald's on foot, through its parking lot, when I hear a car rolling up behind me. I do not turn around to look at the driver, but I merely make the familiar waving motion to my side and slightly aft, indicating for the driver to proceed and exit before me. Momentarily the car pulls up alongside me and stops. The driver, a middle-aged black woman, rolls down the window and gives me what-for.
"I don't need your damn permission to drive where I'm going, white motherfucker. You people don't tell me what I can and can't do! No more you don't!" 
She uttered a few more choice profanities in the same vein, then rolled up the window and eased out of the lot, still muttering into her rear-view mirror. For the record, I'd said nothing the whole time. I stood there open-mouthed. Speechless. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen either the car or the woman before today.

We can debate this woman's sanity. We can talk about her being an outlier, which she probably is, at least in terms of the openness of her feelings. But this is out there, folks, even in sane people. And I submit it's out there even more since the advent of Black Lives Matter. (I'm not saying that makes BLM a sinister force per se. I'm saying it means BLM has some sinister aspects/corollaries.) Some of us may have invited this kind of wrath through our own scurrilous behavior over the years...but I'm not one of those someones, and in any case it is Racism, every bit as vile and virulent as anything spoken by the types of people who carve swastikas into their foreheads. It's every bit as unacceptable, too...even, I submit, when covered in a thin veneer of sophistication and/or politesse, a la the like of Charles Blow and Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

We must address both kinds of racismthe original kind and the reactive/resentful kind I encountered this morningbefore we can bridge our yawning racial divide. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A new classified-ad category: jobs for writers who aren't.

Folks, we are witnessing the ongoing redefinition and devaluation of writing: No longer is it a discrete competency of unique pedigree and self-justifying utility. 

This morning I found two more jobs seeking writers who aren't really writers. One ad for a "promotional writer" stipulates that preference will be given to candidates with engineering degrees. (I do not suppose that too many graduates of writing or journalism programs just happen to possess such degrees.) The other job, in "corporate communications," gives preference to those with degrees in pharmacology or medicine. Clearly the built-in assumption is that you can teach just about any idiot to write, so you look for a candidate with knowledge in the subject area most closely aligned with your native business interests. In the case of the latter position, the company is mega-drug maker Pfizer. 

In effect, then, all writing is inching closer and closer to technical writingwhich isn't really writing as my colleagues and I taught it.

This again begs far-reaching questions about the way academia teaches writing and the manner in which curricula should be set up to prepare students for real-world opportunities. It bodes for a lot fewer essay classes and a lot more of what academics call "teaching across the curriculum." I.e., a student who wants to be a writer would also co-major in a specialized area like, say, engineering or pharmacology. Assuming, that is, the student actually wants to be able to make money with their* words. I guess I'm a dinosaur, but I resist the idea that anyone can be taught to write even adequately, let alone well. But who am I to say? What's writing "well," anyway? And maybe writing well doesn't matter. Maybe it's an anachronism, a casualty of our ADHD times. Maybe all that matters now is the conveying of information, period. Maybe all else is window dressing?
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 * we are informed that in these highly gender-conscious days, "their" is now an acceptable singular pronoun. So as not to offend. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Of snowballs and dead black men. The wider meaning of Alton Sterling.

Already millions of words of punditry have been expended on the past week's unappetizing smorgasbord of dead cops and black men, so I'm not going to pile on with the usual fare. I'll just add a few words that you probably haven't heard amid today's uber-PC media coverage of "America's racial divide." What I want to talk about is Alton Sterling and the fatal snowball effect of living a life of varying degrees of lawlessness.

To begin with, I'm going to guess that Sterling was not a private contractor employed by Sony Music, thus the CDs he was selling outside a convenience store were bootleg and illegal (an enterprise that reminds me of Eric Garner and his "loosies"). Sterling also, as a former felon, was barred from carrying a gun, yet on the night of his death he had recently obtained one "for protection." That in itself is a crime that easily could've put him behind bars for a time. What's more, he apparently brandished his new accouterment to an annoying passerby that night; the brandishing incident, another infraction that might've drawn an especially severe sentence given Sterling's record, led to a 911 call to cops. The two cops who responded had faced prior allegations of "excessive use of force." Whether they were trigger-happy on this night we'll never know.

We do know that when the cops confronted Sterling, a struggle ensued. Here again I'm going to hazard a guess, that the struggle ensued because Sterling's greeting for them was not, "Hey fellas, feel free to just reach behind and cuff me." So Sterling is tackled and there's a flailing melee, in the course of which one of the cops noticesor Sterling reaches for?—the gun. There's no ambiguity about what happens next: One of the cops pulls his gun and shoots the 37-year-old father of five dead in the street. 

I'm not sayingAT ALLthat the man deserved to die, or that his singular black life didn't matter. I'm saying that he set in motion a chain of events, a snowball effect, that had a tragic outcome. That snowball effect, more than America's racial strife, explains why Alton Sterling is dead.