The Residue in the Melting Pot

As the years pass I think what I find more frustrating than direct racism is its residue. For example, the other day I deposited a check at the bank – a national bank. It wasn’t a really large check, though I suppose that point is relative, but let’s just say it was large enough that I would not be in the best mood had I lost it. I roll up to the bank in what would be considered an “economically challenged” area and deposit the check at the ATM … in part because I didn’t have a deposit slip but (and here comes evidence of the residue) also because I didn’t feel like leaving a thumbprint or a DNA sample or whatever other ridiculousness customers are subjected to inside banks nowadays.

The beauty of this bank’s ATM is that you can just deposit the check without a deposit slip. So, “beep, boop, boop, beep, bop” code in … annnnd… enter … “We cannot accept this check at this time” … spits the check – from another FDIC regulated bank, mind you – out. What gives?! Reinsert … “BEEP! BOOP! BOOP! BEEP! BOP!” CODE IN! ENTER! Took the check but only made available about a third of the total. That news wasn’t foreign to me and I expected as much. Usually later in the day human eyes will review the transaction or actually see the check and realizing it’s not bogus, make the remaining balance available. But not this time. The receipt goes on to explain that the remainder will not be available until almost a week from now. WTH?! This wasn’t a personal check.

MeltingPot

So what does this have to do with racism and its residue? My friends of color may need no explanation but some (not all) of my white friends, those who are not as experienced in traversing those areas deemed, by many, to be “economically challenged” may need a bridge. In many major cities this challenged area is preceded by the word “East” and followed by the city’s name. Pardon the digression, but why is that? Anyway, here’s the connection: I immediately thought, “I bet if I had deposited the same check in another part of town I wouldn’t have to wait that long!” In an instant, the great start to my morning was altered by the residue of institutionalized racism. No other person had called me “nigger”, no other person had denied me one thing, and no other person was even around … yet I felt denied and somehow violated. Now, the exact same scenario could have occurred at the same bank chain on the “other” side of town, It could have been universal company policy but it just didn’t feel like it to me at the moment.

The problem is not whether there is or is not a difference but the perception that a difference exists. Albeit my personal problem it is still a problem that causes me to step back and recalculate my thoughts and attitudes more often than a GPS device with Stevie Wonder at the wheel. It is mentally exhaustive and even though many of us have learned to make these adjustments subconsciously on the fly, the residue still lingers.

Ready. Aim. Tired!

Over the weekend I heard the pundits offering their opinions with regard to the impossibility of moving some type of legislation regulating gun control. Thankfully, most didn’t seem to be of the belief that some form of gun control wasn’t warranted but held to the prevailing notion that Congress is incapable of standing up to the NRA, National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyists, arguably the most powerful lobbying group on the Hill. Before you go beating me over the head with the 2nd Amendment hear me out. The 2nd Amendment was adopted in 1791. At that time there was no Property Rights law, no police force or National Guard – at least not as we now know them to function today (some 221 years later) and there were certainly no semi-automatic weapons or assult rifles with clips that hold multiple rounds. Many will argue the 2nd Amendment’s primary concern was for individual citizens’ protection against corrupt government or tyrannical government officials. Whatever the case, it is an amendment that is birthed in fear. Whether you fear your government or your neighbor, is the answer to take up arms and shoot them?

The Washington Post reported the NRA spent $6,700,000 on the mid-term elections of 2010. Over the last twenty-plus years the NRA has spent over $75,000,000 on political campaigns. The Association’s four million members have many in their ranks who are “one issue” voters meaning they decide who they will or will not vote for based soley on where that candidate stands on one particular issue. As a former legislator, one issue voters, for me, were always maddening. These were the folk who were most likely to “cut off their nose to spite their face” and there was rarely any room for compromise.

As politically impracticable as it may appear something real must be done concerning gun control. This is not a new necessity to those of us who live or have grown up in America’s big (and sometimes not so big) cities. Growing up there were times I would lay down to sleep and hear gunfire in the distance. I would wonder what the papers would read the next morning if the media bothered to investigate at all. Unfortunately, gunfire and death in the city was not an anomaly. By the grace of God I never fell victim to gun violence though I had friends and friends of friends who either died or were irreversibly altered – mentally and/or physically by the same. I do not mean to appear “gangsta” nor as some “survivor” of a war torn inner city but I write to give voice to that reality as most “gansta’s” don’t really take time to write. But I digress. The point is gun violence has been an issue in America’s cities for decades yet the cry for “something to be done” is only heard when an “unspeakable tragedy” like what happened in Columbine and Aurora, Colorado, Virginia Tech University and yes, even in a neighborhood in Sanford County, Florida occurs. If George Zimmerman had no gun he would have kept his _ _ _ in the car.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2006 through 2007 there were 25, 423 murders by gunfire in America’s inner cities. If those numbers remained constant through today, guns would account for more than 100,000 deaths in America’s inner cities alone never mind movie theaters, schools and institutions of higher learning. The CDC goes on to mention that almost 70% of all firearm homicides are from people in 50 of the nation’s largest cities. I find it interesting it’s the CDC that keeps the murder stats. This could lead one to believe that murder is a disease … an illness … a symptom of systems gone awry. We should respond to it like a first time parent to an infant’s spiking fever. Every murder is an abomination and every life is just as precious as the next; whether the blood is shed in a movie theater’s aisle, a school’s cafeteria or the hard pavement of the city streets.

I would like to think we have grown as a human race beyond the savagery of our past but here we are … again. For what are you waiting Congressional representatives? More lives to be lost? Is the fact that fighting the NRA may cost you your seat worth the continued consequence of not fighting at all? For what are you waiting my fellow Americans? For the next victim to be related to you before you act? Just because we have the right to bear arms doesn’t mean we should. Do we not find it ironic that we have a “right” to bear arms but no “right” to healthcare to fix the damage wrought by our “right” to bear arms?! Prayers for the victims of gun violence anywhere. Prayers for the victims of dumb silence everywhere.

Women’s Tennis: Layin’ It All On The Line

Earlier this week there was an interesting article written by Megan Greenwell entitled, Where’s the Next Serena Williams? Its focus is not on finding the next Black Women’s Tennis superstar as the title may lead you to believe, however, it speaks to the declining popularity of Women’s sports overall. Greenwell’s premise is based on the fact that Women’s tennis has been the benchmark for the success of all Women’s sports. But trouble is lurking. With the exception of the Williams sisters, who are aging out of the sport, who is on deck? Who will be the next big draw? And if Women’s tennis can’t survive the other Women’s sports are doomed. Ms. Greenwell goes on to make her point by looking at other organizations like the WNBA and the LPGA but I want to stick with Women’s tennis for a moment.

There is still too much money in and around Women’s Tennis to begin writing its obituary. In the meantime let’s ponder these questions: Is the downfall due to a lack of talent or could it be a lack of interest? Does one beget the other? Whatever the answer to those queries there remains one psycho-socio-political time bomb of a question when it comes to tennis (and golf) in particular: Are those who have supported the primarily elitist, predominantly white sports in the past suffering from a cultural fatigue? Are they consciously or subconsciously losing “interest” because not enough of the athletes currently dominating (or threatening to dominate) these sports are Americans? And of those who happen to be American, could the fact they are people of color have anything to do with this lack of interest? It doesn’t have to be true but it does beg the question and should be examined. I am sure my detractors will read this and argue against my “cultural fatigue” theory but the larger question still exists. Why? Why the lack of enthusiasm? What other reasons could explain this decreasing alacrity where these sports are concerned?

In ten of the last twelve years either Venus or Serena Williams has won the Women’s Singles title at Wimbledon. In four of those championships they played each other.  In 2004, Serena was in the finals but lost to Russia’s, Maria Sharapova. In 2006 and 2011 there was no American in the running. France’s Amélie Mauresmo defeated Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne in 2006 and it was the Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitová over Sharapova in 2011. Some of those who read and commented on the Greenwall article dismissed the issue entirely, choosing rather to claim tennis is a dying sport. I find it rather arrogant for some to declare tennis is “dying” simply because the people they would like to see win, aren’t. Megan Greenwall’s article makes it clear the focus has shifted and the appetite may not be as strong yet I still lean toward the idea of cultural fatique though I expect many detractors. Despite those defensive few the larger question remains. Why? What other factors could be contributing to this foreboding necrosis of Women’s Tennis in particular?

All things considered, perhaps Women’s Tennis doesn’t need “the next” anybody … let’s look for “the first” someone else. There are great players on the horizon in every sport in Women’s athletics. There is the extremely talented nineteen year old, Sloane Stephens, the daughter of two parent athletes. Stephens, who reportedly stands 5’7″, 134 lbs., is a strong tennis player with a style that is exciting to watch. Sloane’s serve has been clocked at speeds of up to 120 mph. She has one of the most powerful forehands in Women’s Tennis and is ranked not far behind Venus Williams. Coming up behind her is an unknown 5’8”, 135 lbs. athletic, twelve-year old named, Clarke Phillips who also has a great forehand and just happens to be my daughter. She is young but promising with a remarkable work ethic and she finds Stephens and the Williams sisters inspirational. She has a genuine love for the sport and if she stays with it, she and dozens of young ladies like her can breathe life into Women’s Tennis and, according to Greenwall, perhaps Women’s sports overall.

ENOUGH! (for Trayvon Martin, et al.)

Like many of you, I, too, am outraged at the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin. I am sure there will be those who will speak of the tension between Blacks and Latinos or Black and whites; and those discussions will deal mainly – if not solely – with blame and victimization. In that discussion there is little talk of solution. Depending on what they believe, one picks a side and is either declared “racist” or “not racist”. If you side with those who are being blamed you will be considered “racist”; side with the victim and you are cleared. But what if I suggest that while we aren’t all racists, we are all victims? Of what, you ask?

We are all altered, if not victimized by what social psychologists refer to as identity contingencies – the things we have to go through based on our social identity (i.e., race, gender, political affiliation, age, sexual orientation). Claude Steele, in his book, Whistling Vivaldi, speaks specifically to a particular type of identity contingency that he calls “stereotype threat”. It has a negative effect on our performance, our psyche, how we view others and even how we view ourselves. Unfortunately, Trayvon Martin is the latest victim of this phenomenon. My prayers are with his family and all parents ( like Christa Olgesby of CNN ) who live with this fear daily.

The common denominator is “Black”. “Black” seems to carry an almost universal nefariousness. Black Monday. Black October. Black Market. Black Male. I have never been any other race but I can assume that white parents don’t have to have “the talk” with their children before they walk out of their homes and into the world. By, “the talk”, I don’t mean sex … I mean survival. The laundry list of “don’ts” that every Black male has heard from one or both of his parents regarding how to simply be in the world; all the things that must be done just to exist. Growing up it was just another inane rule, we didn’t know any different. As an adult and, especially in light of Trayvon’s murder, I shudder to think of the foolish things I did. Trayvon obeyed every rule.

These rules were and (sadly) still are universal. Washington Post columnists, Jonathan Capehart and Eugene Robinson felt compelled to weigh in on this tragedy. First, Capehart stated “one of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. One minute you’re going about your life, the next you could be pleading for it if you’re lucky”. Jonathan was raised in New Jersey and had the same rules that I had growing up in Baltimore, Maryland years earlier. His colleague at the Post, Eugene Robinson, being raised in South Carolina and nearly ten years my senior certainly knew the rules. “For every black man in America”, says Robinson, “from the millionaire in the corner office to the mechanic in the local garage, the Trayvon Martin tragedy is personal.” Trayvon’s demise struck a low, deep chord that united all Black males in sorrow regardless of social status. It could have been anyone of us growing up.

These statements get at the crux of Steele’s “stereotype threat”. Steele contends while some identity contingencies influence us by constraining behavior, the greater danger, a tad more subtle but exponentially more dangerous, is “putting a threat in the air.” I could recite stereotypes for every social group but since Trayvon is Black, I will summarize the “threat(s) in the air” to which much of society subscribes as it pertains to Black teenagers: they are suspicious by nature, abnormally prone to skullduggery, crime and drug dealing; untrustworthy and generally guilty until proven innocent. Of course all of this is utterly ridiculous but there are those who hold these as self-evident truths. We can place George Zimmerman’s name high atop that list.

What will it take for us to speak life in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s senseless death? What will it take for us to vote those out of office who support legislation that promotes vigilantism – like “Stand-Your-Ground”? Since the passing of that law in 2005, deaths due to self-defense are up over 200 percent. The Tampa Bay Times reported 132 cases where the “Stand-Your-Ground” law was invoked; 74 defendants (56%) were cleared. Now, almost half of the states in America have similar legislation on the books. Laws like these coupled with a growing desensitization to violence and a disenfranchised electorate work to create and embolden the George Zimmermans of the world.

Trayvon Martin was a victim of the stereotype threats that Steele defines. We have allowed these threats to pollute the air for far too long. We will never conquer what we will not confront. Let’s clear the air because all of humanity is gasping, if not choking…pleading for help in the same way Trayvon pleaded for his life. Let it not be in vain.