After the events of the past week, including last night’s shootings in #Dallas, I fear that my choice of 2040 as the setting for Melting Point 2040 didn’t recognize how quickly our ongoing segregation could tear us apart. The prologue to that book is certainly true today. Below is a portion of that prologue, with a couple of particularly important points highlighted in bold:
“Racial, ethnic and religious tensions have troubled the United States since its Declaration of Independence, and even earlier since Europeans first anchored along America’s shoreline. All that’s needed to again boil these issues over the sides of America’s melting pot is the addition of a few more briquettes to the grill or the quick turn of a stovetop dial.
“America’s founding fathers wrote that “all men are created equal,” but even they failed to recognize that “all men” rightly includes all men and all women regardless of race or other characteristic. So it’s perhaps not surprising that America’s multi-cultural society continues to battle the implications of its diversity 264 years later as the year 2040 starts. America’s challenge is little different from the divides that have tested the world throughout its history.
“Pockets of hate and intolerance have dotted the U.S. landscape in its less than three centuries of existence, though the objects of the greatest vitriol have changed repeatedly. Anti-black laws and sentiment lasted longest and resulted in the greatest cumulative violence. Italians were victims of the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. But many others have faced or still face discrimination as well. Irish. Hispanic. Arab. Asian. American Indian. Jew. Catholic. Mormon. Muslim. Women. Gays.
“Conceptual truths embedded in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights helped shape the United States into a frequently positive global force. Failure to abide by these tenets has, at times, allowed others to surpass America as beacons of democracy, capitalism and freedom. Even on its best days, America must battle with demons of hate, fear and anger – confronting ignorance, narcissism and arrogance along the way.
“At home, tensions erupt into violence when multiple failures overtake the nation’s ability to solve problems. Failures to communicate, understand, tolerate and respect trigger these bursts of animosity.
“Passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s moved America toward a period of integration that increased opportunities and requirements to work together. Then, after decades of progress, Americans started moving to live with people who shared their personal politics, values, religion, race and language. In doing so, the cross-fertilization of ideas and knowledge needed to reach consensus and solve important issues has become increasingly difficult.”
Whether the tragedy is in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, New York, Cleveland, Orlando or any of the dozens of other recent examples, the path forward starts with talking together, finding solutions and implementing them.
Political pandering driven to simplistic sloganeering is creating a common challenge for Muslims and mental illness sufferers.
For Muslims in America, being perceived as sharing a common religion is an increasing burden following Orlando’s Pulse shooting, San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon bombing, Chattanooga, Fort Hood, 9/11 and other incidents. Foreign attacks, including yesterday’s airport attack in Turkey, don’t help either.
For those struggling with any mental illness, being perceived as sharing a common disease is an increasing burden following Sandy Hook, Columbine, the Colorado movie theater, Virginia Tech, and other incidents. The Germanwings crash and other overseas events only add to misgivings.
Since Muslims and mental illness are rarely discussed in mainstream media outside of tragic events, the perception of all Muslims and anyone struggling with mental health challenges is that violence is part of the label. For most, this is far from the truth.
Elections are inherently divisive, with deep contention portending for November, but ruptured personal relationships aren’t a predestined outcome of differing political views. While the ballot box garners attention, groundwork for unification starts in local communities. This concept was reinforced during an engaging recent discussion with a University of Illinois student working to create a campus integration movement.
Although our discussion focused initially on her pursuit of a leadership certificate at the Urbana-Champaign campus and my role as her coach in that endeavor, it was quickly clear that our pairing has a broader purpose. Whoever created the partnership saw past age and ethnicity differences to focus on what matters most; common interests.
The increasing political segregation of our nation and risks associated with this division inspired my first two novels. Having identified potential solutions to these problems, I had thoughts to share. She also imparted her experiences and insights—highlighting safety, inclusion and opportunity concerns based on obstacles in daily life, and compounded by a “Build the Wall” rally held by one candidate’s supporters outside La Casa cultural house and other venues frequented by Latino/a students.
Several integration movement paths forward that don’t need to wait for November are evident, including many highlighted in Brandeis University Professor Susan Eaton’s book: Integration Nation: Immigrants, Refugees, and America at its Best. Continue reading
Only racism, bigotry or hatred could explain the call from presidential candidate Donald Trump for a temporary ban on Muslim travel into the United States or his months-old statements about Mexican immigrants. Right?
How can nearly 30 percent of the 40 percent of Americans who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning voters say they would vote for Trump today. Granted, his support from roughly 12 percent of the overall populace may not be enough to elect him President. Still, how could that many people find his exaggerated political statements anything other than repulsive?
It’s a question particularly perplexing, almost stunning, to liberal Democrats and libertarians, along with many traditional Republicans.
While I’m admittedly no fan of what I view as Trump’s Don Rickles campaign methodology, I’m convinced that the disparity in reactions to the Donald can be explained without labeling all of his supporters in terms so derogatory that no efforts to understand their motivations are necessary.
It could have been one of life’s passing pleasures, a serendipitous opportunity to spend an evening absorbing the insights of 96-year-old civil rights leader, educator and World War II veteran Timuel Black, Jr. on what it was like to create his own pathways through life.
As we talked, however, it seemed that there must be a purpose to our fortunate table placements beyond my simple fascination with his living history. There were lessons to be gleaned, insights that apply to any young adult but seemed particularly relevant to an intensely dedicated and gregarious African American man who has lived as part of our family between college breaks during the past 18 months.
Graciously, Mr. Black was willing to share during our extended conversation.
Timuel Black, Jr. has both endured and created dramatic events. The grandson of slaves, he survived the Normandy Invasion and Battle of the Bulge during World War II before making a lifelong commitment to human rights after seeing the horrors of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. An educator who received his master’s degree from the University of Chicago, he brought in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his first Chicago appearance, organized Chicago’s Freedom Trains to the March on Washington, helped elect Chicago’s first African American mayor and introduced around a young man named Barack Obama who became another important first.
His history is extraordinary: his insights are equally important.
“If Demetrius were sitting here instead of me, what would you tell him?” I asked from my seat next to Mr. Black at a fundraising dinner for the Kennedy Forum, a group founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy to improve mental health awareness and treatment.
“I’d tell him to prepare himself; academically, if academics are the right direction for him. But whatever he wants to accomplish, he needs to be prepared, really prepared. The door of opportunity doesn’t swing open very often. If you’re ready, you’ll find a way through, but you have to be prepared,” Mr. Black replied. “Barack Obama didn’t become President just because he wanted it. He was ready when the time came.
“And I’d also tell him to persevere,” Mr. Black added. “There’s always someone or some institution to stand in the way of your success. If you know what you want to achieve – and you know it’s right – keep working, keep pushing. Don’t give up. You may even achieve beyond your dreams. I didn’t grow up dreaming about a black President. But we persevered. Something greater than my dreams happened.”
As a four-year-old in 1968, I sent my mother into sheer panic at a local McDonald’s when I loudly asked the large man next to her why he only washed the inside of his hands. Amidst the race riots of that tumultuous year, the African American gentleman, rather than mistake my naïve question as mean-spirited, kindly explained a fact of life to which I had been only minimally exposed. He was born with dark brown skin.
March forward to 2014. Despite clear progress, some issues facing America remain as they did when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were viciously removed from our leadership landscape. Regardless of one’s view of whether recent widely covered tragedies were driven by race or other factors, few argue that racial bias isn’t an ongoing challenge in our country.
In fact, research has shown that biases, including self-selection preferences, are inherent in the human condition. It has also shown that the vast majority of biases are held and acted on unconsciously. When made aware of biases and encouraged to explicitly consider them in their actions, most people willingly change behavior.
So how can those of us in at least the second half of our lives encourage continued progress toward a color-thoughtful world, even if we aren’t, for various reasons, interested in joining any of the hundreds of post-Ferguson protests or haven’t yet heard about the tragic death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, whose only error appears to have been not understanding how police would react to seeing him with a toy gun.
To move toward a more united America, I believe we need to start within our communities and with ourselves. Following are a few options to consider:
- Take on a mentoring role. We had the opportunity this summer to invite a young man into our home who needed a safe place to train for college sports, as well as gain access to employment. We were aware of this African American young man through a basketball network from our kid’s AAU basketball days, but hadn’t met him until he showed up at our door with luggage in tow. He learned from us. We learned from him. Seeing the value this type of engagement could bring, I’ve signed on as a volunteer mentor for 360 Youth Services in Naperville, Illinois and have since been paired with a fascinating young man from an immigrant family. Male mentors, I’ve been told, are particularly difficult to attract to these programs.
- Find Ways to Broaden Your Exposure. Geographically, we are re-segregating in the communities in which we live, a shift detailed in books such as The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. If you find yourself in an all-black, all-Hispanic, all-white or other ethnically concentrated communities, look for ways to broaden your exposure to people from different backgrounds. College, working in Congress and global corporate roles contributed to my education. There are many other ways to access diversity, including volunteer work, shared interest groups and military reserve service.
- Consider Your Biases. The Golden Rule concept of treating others as we want to be treated is the sole unifying principle that covers every major faith along with those who don’t follow a faith. Consistency is a critical component of Golden Rule behavior. When you act or speak, ask yourself if you would make the same decision or statement if you changed the racial or ethnic makeup of everyone involved. (As an added exercise, try applying this concept to the actions of political leaders. Are your expectations consistent, regardless of party?)
- Create Integration Sundays. Dr. King often remarked that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. on Sunday. For those involved in a faith community that may be lacking diverse membership, push to create regular Integration Sundays at your place of worship. Integration Sundays (or Fridays or Saturdays) can include attending each other’s house of worship, sharing a meal and/or participating in common charitable activities with worshippers from another ethnic or racial community. Over time, you’ll get to know people from another background on a deeper, human level.
- Advocate for Interfaith. For a diverse nation, respect for those of different backgrounds must extend to those of different faiths as well. (Interfaith experiences include secular humanists, atheists and agnostics, so you aren’t required to believe in a higher power to participate.) Interfaith weekend events offer enrichment. When I recently asked Dr. Paul Eppinger, Executive Director of the Arizona InterFaith Movement, about interfaith experiences conducted through his organization, his eyes lit up about the hope that comes from giving people an opportunity to discuss and respect their differences, and their similarities. My wife and I were raised in different faiths with different holy days. Our backgrounds created distinct perspectives on many issues. We’ve bridged those differences now for 26 years.
- Encourage schools to create integration experiences. While court orders drove integration following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, our movements are now re-segregating our schools. According to a UCLA Project on Civil Rights study, by 2011 the percentage of blacks in majority white schools was less than it was in 1968. Latinos attend even more segregated schools than do blacks and Asians, a challenge exacerbated by growing demands to provide language-segregated instruction for Spanish-speaking immigrants. Repeating the court-ordered busing of the past isn’t necessarily the right answer. Small group projects, through athletics, volunteer activities and extra-curricular activities have proven to be more effective at building cross-racial friendships than simply attending the same school. Can our schools alter schedules to allow for regular, full-day small group work or activities that help to build friendships across communities? Can sports activities include a post-buzzer component?
Whatever your take on what really happened in Ferguson and the need for changes in areas such as mandating police body cameras, our best path to respect, understanding and unity starts with the actions we take. Pick one of the above, or identify your own step forward.
Just don’t wait to start. For Tamir Rice, it’s already too late.
Just a few months ago, political pundits treated tomorrow’s secession vote in Scotland as no more than a passing nuisance.
After 307 years together, Scotland and England are so intertwined that most firmly believed Scots would overwhelmingly vote to remain invested in the relationship. Several months ago, polls suggested they were right.
Now, less than 24 hours before voting begins, polls suggest it is just as likely that the Scottish people feel more than a bit aggrieved by perceived and real transgressions. Even if a “no” vote succeeds tomorrow, it comes only after the three major U.K. political parties promised in recent days to step up Scottish authority if voters reject the referendum.
Regardless of the vote’s outcome, there are real lessons to be learned for the United States and other nations, particularly those countries of the increasingly segregating sort. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, news stories are routinely recognizing the re-segregation of America’s schools. A move toward more integrated living that started in the 1960s began reversing in the 1990s. We are segregating in where we live by race, ethnicity, economic class and, increasingly, language and political party.
At some point, this re-segregation will lead to divide. I believe the point is approaching far faster than most conceive today. Nationalist efforts frequently cloak themselves under the veil of progressive ideology, the idea that target voters are being treated as a separate and unequal underclass able to obtain their fair share of economic and political power only through independence. Do you see any precursors of this movement in today’s political climate?
Peaceful voting and separation is the best secession outcome, but is no means assured as attested Continue reading
“As a general rule, things don’t end well if your sentence starts, ‘Let me tell you something I know about the Negro’,” President Obama observed in skewering infamous Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during Saturday night’s White House correspondents’ dinner. With Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling recently having been exposed for even more inane remarks on race than those of Bundy and President Obama’s approval ratings at an all-time low, it’s as good of a time as any to consider race in today’s society.
National research shows that racism is on the decline. It is by no means eliminated, but clearly racist views continue trending down. The percentage of whites stating they would oppose a close relative marrying a black person has declined from nearly 70% to about 25% just since 1990. Fewer than 10 percent of white Americans say they would not vote for a black President, according to data pulled from the General Social Survey conducted since the early 1970s by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. (Note: A small, but statistically significant difference in racial attitudes exists between white Republicans and white Democrats, according to data pulled from the Social Survey and worth reading at FiveThirtyEight.com.)
While some elements of multi-directional racial fear and hatred continue, ignorance remains one of two core racial problems. Affinity bias is its often-neglected and attention-deserving counterpart.
Ignorance can, of course, be eliminated over time by education, including the ability to live, work and interact with members of various races. Continue reading
The United States has lessons to learn to avoid being the 2040 Ukraine.
Strong parallels exist between the stories in my first two books and the situation playing out in Ukraine today, so much so that a reader teased me yesterday that I had provided Putin’s playbook. Several parallels are particularly concerning.
Russia seeks to expand its territory to include more ethnic Russians ✔
In my books, Mexico is part of a coalition working to annex Southwest U.S. territory heavily populated by Mexican Americans and Mexicans. (The book is not an anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican rant, so you’ll need to read to understand the full context.)
Speakers of minority Russian language considered “oppressed” ✔
Schools in the Southwest and other parts of the country are increasingly teaching in all-day Spanish, including at the community college level. Not expecting immigrants to learn English is increasingly being advocated as a civil rights issue, when it is instead a path to another layer of societal segregation on top of our existing segregation issues. Segregated societies are historically ripe for secession and annexation efforts.
Geographic concentration of Russian speakers provides clear starting point for invasion ✔
There are already several U.S. areas where speaking Spanish is critical to finding employment and fluency in English is not necessary. The scope of these territories is expanding.
Several internal political leaders in Crimea welcome invasion ✔
Too many political leaders focus on their own self-interest. For many in Crimea, the opportunities for political and economic gains may be greater under Russia than under Ukraine. It is certainly conceivable that we will have U.S. politicians who think they’ll have more power if the nation divides.
Weakened, indebted economy in Ukraine undermines border protection resolve and economic response options ✔
My distaste for our high and growing debt levels is driven, in part, by my belief that it substantially restricts our crisis response options. Ukraine’s response options are highly restricted by both Russia’s military superiority and Ukraine’s tenuous economic circumstances.