Friday, December 21, 2012

Identity Theft pt 3 – America’s Macho Ego & Ammunition

It’s a shame, but I have to admit it…I’ve become numb to the violence that seems so common to American news headlines.  And yes, I’m speaking about Sandy Hook, and the thousands of other nameless people that die from guns.

When I stop to think about why I feel numb, it’s not because I’m emotionless or don’t have any empathy for those who are victims of  gun violence. The real reason I feel numb is because I feel powerless against it.

What can I do? And this is not a rhetorical question. At the end of the day…what can I do? Yes I can sign an online petition…but after that…clueless. It seems like the agents of change around legislation and gun laws are all caught up in red tape.  So nothing gets done while people die from the trigger of guns daily.

Perhaps I’m too extreme in my personal thought that we should just get rid of guns altogether…I mean, we saw what happened with alcohol and Prohibition. But just take a moment to imagine a world with no guns? I know it seems hard…but just try.  Hunters, you can still use your bow and arrows.  Of course there’d still be crime…but I’m sure the drive-bys, massacre killings, and pre-meditated murder would decrease significantly.

Sometimes I feel like America is just as backwards as it is progressive. America is suffering from an identity crisis. And I’m not calling America insecure, but it sure has an “ego” and issues with feeling powerful.  Why does America cleave to its guns like gum to the bottom of a shoe?

A gun was created to kill…sure initially the right to bear arms was meant as a form of protection against rowdy soldiers, but come on ...we modify a lot of laws to reflect the times we live in.

The wars that have taken place on American soil have all involved guns…when Americans have gotten involved in other foreign conflict affairs & wars…guns are involved. Americans like feeling powerful and they use guns as a means to flex their muscles.  Guns are used for recreation sport, for hunting (on a full stomach), threatening, intimidation and for killing.  And what we’re saying through our gun laws , gun usage, and glorification of gun culture is that  we don’t value the loss of life that comes through guns. We value the person’s right to own the gun. We value feeling powerful, and letting someone know that if they mess with us…they got another thing coming. We value feeling like God, because with our guns we can decide when and how someone can die or be caused pain.

I know that a lot of people argue that guns help defend and protect, and I know there have been cases where a gun has helped protect someone from a robbery,  etc. I’d like to zoom out from those micro-incidents and say, if no one had a gun to begin with – there’d be less robberies.  And if guns are really so suitable for protection – where were the guns for the people in the movie theater in Colorado? Why shouldn’t we all just walk around with loaded guns and be ready to pop off on someone who tries to mess with us? The idea sounds absurd because it is.

In a lot of our movies, music, and video games gun violence is celebrated or seen as a justifiable common solution to resolve disagreements and complete an agenda. The years of our fascination with guns is starting to really unfold in dangerous destructive ways. I don’t know what it’s going to take to thaw our icy hearts and hands from the triggers of guns…I wish I could end this with something more hopeful. I’m not a pessimist, but I am numb.  And the person who owns and shoots the gun is winning…they feel powerful. I feel powerless. America has robbed me of my identity to feel like my voice, my safety and my life counts.

Confessions of a Clinger

1. I don’t like taking out the trash…I will allow it to pile up and spill over, or smell really bad before I finally throw it out. What’s wrong with me?
2. I save old papers and documents that I will probably never use again, but all I can think about when I attempt to throw them away is – “wait, you may need that.”
3. I save old grocery and shopping bags…and they take up too much space in my home.

As I was addressing the three aforementioned occurrences in my home,  it got me thinking. Now, I’m not a full-blown out hoarder, I can walk through my home with ease. But was this a brief manifestation of a larger issue I have? Do I have attachment and detachment issues? If I’m going to be honest and admit it to myself, I can be clingy at times.

I cling on to what I think provides fulfillment, safety, stability and other forms of happiness enhancement. And if I don’t have those things, I cling on to the pursuit of bringing them to fruition. Writing that I can be clingy is mildly embarrassing because it has such a bad connotation to it, but allow me to explain.

Clinging to things that improve my character and quality of life seem to be justifiable. Or we can just wrap that in a prettier bow and call it dedication and discipline. However I’ve been known to cling to people and I see the cling at its best in romantic relationships.  My relational cling has little to do with my family and friends. My parents didn’t abandon me and I had friends growing up.

 I think the source of my relational cling is rooted in the stifled emotions I felt about my attractions. I didn’t date at all when I was younger and for a long time my sense of worth with respect to liking someone who liked me was pretty…low.

As I’ve been dating as an adult, I know in my mind that I’m a sufficient catch. I’ve done a lot to affirm myself and recognize what I bring to the table. I’m handsome, loyal, compassionate, funny, intelligent -I could name a bunch of things. What tends to get me though is that when I get affirmation from someone I desire, I cling on to that person as if they are the last person on Earth who will think good things about me. I’m not too prideful to admit if I’m insecure, but that isn’t the case. While we’ve all got insecurities, I don’t lack confidence about what I have to offer. I lack confidence that someone will consistently choose me and stick around through the good and the bad.  With each relationship that I’ve had, an underlying fear for me has been...are you going to leave me? While some of the blame to that question can be placed on people not valuing commitment and monogamy, my clinginess can perpetuate it until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What I’m learning about my tendency to cling in relationships is that it may always be there, and  it’s not my partner’s responsibility to soothe it, rather my own. Sure my partner can accept it, empathize and do their best to make sure I don’t feel like they are going to just leave me; however, at the end of the day, it’s not their issue…its mine.  I’m actually glad to be so self-aware that I can pin-point my strengths and all the reasons someone should be with me, and the things I need to work on. And I’m clinging on to the idea of managing my clinginess.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Identity Theft pt 2. – Black Masculinity & its trouble with Education

“Black males are overrepresented in every category associated with failure, and underrepresented in every category associated with success.”    
                    - Dr. Pedro Noguerra, NYU Professor of Education

The heaviness and truth of that quote is what drives this post. The quote starts with two words, that have everything to do with classifying a group of people who have a shared sociological identity – BLACK MALE.

I am not an expert on this topic, but perhaps maybe one day I’ll stretch my wings and at least be a thought leader that contributes some solutions to what I see as an epidemic crisis.  The fact that some prisons are built based on third-grader’s test scores speaks volumes to the trajectory of which black men and their education have real consequences. Don’t assume consequences are all bad, it is merely the result of an action and or decision. Some black men and their education have awarded them a lot of positive consequences, while others…not so much. Here’s my take on where we stand presently…celebrating our successes, and accepting some real obstacles ahead.

I’ve included two video clips in this post to help articulate my sentiment(s).  The first video highlights Urban Prep Academy (UPA). UPA is a predominately black all boys Chicago high school set in a low-income neighborhood. For the past three years 100% of its graduating class has been admitted to college. The school doesn’t stop there, they view college completion and retention as the ultimate goal. While Urban Prep Academy is not the only solution to helping fix the black male education crisis, it is certainly one solution and a forerunner of promoting positive change.

Another clip I’m sharing is a trailer for a documentary called Beyond the Bricks. It’s a film that documents two young black males experiences struggling through the Newark New Jersey public school system.  While I can assume some of the systemic entities that have probably contributed to these men’s struggle (poverty, lack of positive male role models, lack of proficient teachers, textbooks & relevant curriculum, etc) one of the things that the film’s costar points out is: “ It had a whole lot to do with me. At first I tried to blame everybody else, but the only person to blame was myself.”

Let’s just stop right there…call Bill Cosby and tell him someone has admitted it. “Black men are doing this to themselves!“ And to be honest, …on some levels, that is completely accurate.  Black men (and other members of society) are affirming black maleness identity in ways that have nothing to do with valuing a formal education.

More often than not, young black males are not conditioned/taught to see themselves as learned, smart, nerdy, brainy, etc. or through the lens of a formal education. While there may be just contextual reasons for this behavior, the unfortunate aftermath is that it steers young black males away from the importance that education plays in our society. Whether we like it or not, education is our social capital to navigate our way through society…to have life choices in plain speak.  Black men are often told that school smarts are for “white” people, and are redirected to be street smart. Don’t get me wrong, street savvy skills can get you very far – but they aren’t typically qualifiers for job postings. Most job postings require some degree of formal education…and while we all know a degree doesn’t guarantee a job – it’s a foot in the door to be considered. Again, this is about having life choices…and education opens that door.

I’d be lying if I said that young black male children who show a sole interest in learning and scholastic endeavors without any other type of “appropriate black male” behavior to balance that out (sports, rapping, clothes, etc) are usually ostracized and/or ridiculed.  Of course we want to encourage our young boys to have social skills and be well rounded, but isn’t an avid interest in relevant societal topics like science, art & history well-rounded?  If a young black boy is only interested in school – something MUST be wrong with him! Quick – get him on a sports team, to the church, or a girlfriend as soon as possible. The message that we are really sending through that idea is that his performance of blackness and maleness is lacking....he is insufficient. I know this all too well because I was that boy…luckily I had parents who affirmed my scholastic interests.

I think the takeaway charge that lay ahead for us all is that we have to continue to monitor our own beliefs and be intentional about language. Words have power.  Even if we’re not in a position to expose little black boys to the things they need/should see to broaden their identity horizons, at the VERY LEAST use words that can affirm them as competent thinkers who take part in the education process.  I haven’t always been the most consistent at that myself, and I’m a black male teacher who teaches young black boys.  It’s easy for me to praise and affirm the ones who show an interest in learning, and get frustrated with the ones who can’t sit still or show no effort for their work.  “Stay in school” means nothing to a black boy who will go through the motions of school but never truly connect and identify with how school can help him lead his best life.  I know it can be done though…one person at a time.  

Leave Madea in Jail so Middle of Nowhere (& other good black films) Can Be Seen

Last weekend I had the privilege of seeing The Middle of Nowhere with my sister, her best friend, and one of my best friends visiting me from out of town. “So what…who cares…everyone goes to the movies,” you’re thinking. “And I’ve never heard of Middle of Nowhere!” – EXACTLY, you’ve never heard of Middle of Nowhere…and that’s what this post is about.

My motive for going to see Middle of Nowhere came from the suggestion of one of my closest friends, who just happens to be a therapist. (I trust his opinions a lot). He said I reminded him of the protagonist in the movie and that it was an amazing film.  The first thing that struck me was…why hadn’t I heard of this amazing film? I’m not always up to speed on the latest and greatest trends or current events, but I don’t live under a rock.

The most obvious reasons I hadn’t heard of Middle of Nowhere is because there aren’t any television commercials for it, it’s not in the previews for other movies, there are no billboards, and/or any other guerilla marketing tactic to spread the word about the movie. 

“So what Brandon, a lot of indie films go through that same thing. Does Middle of Nowhere have a niche audience? Perhaps it’s just intended for a small group of people.”

WRONG again.  Middle of Nowhere won the 2012 Sundance Award for Best Director. It’s message is not unique to insightful upwardly mobile blacks, or indie film followers.  Why is it that it’s not in all theaters near you, but Madea’s Witness Protection, Madea Goes to Jail, Madea in Space etc. are always in theaters with sufficient box office numbers?

This post isn’t even going to touch on how I feel about Tyler Perry movies, the point I’m pushing for is balance.  More often than not films that feature all black casts  depict black characters that live in the South, primarily Atlanta. The characters are either very successful (sometimes unrealistically) or working class and overly downtrodden. The themes that continue to resurface in mainstream black films are the importance of Christianity, traditional family structures, comedy and food. While I certainly think all of those themes are important, they lack the range of feelings and moments that black (and all other races) people experience and can connect with.  For some reason, the financial entities which sponsor movie production and marketing have all agreed that black films pretty much are all the same: Make ‘em laugh, throw in fried chicken, make them cry/show struggle, remind them of Jesus.  I’m sorry movie marketer decision makers that be…BUT I’M TIRED OF FRIED CHICKEN! I want my black movie healthy tonight…and if I want some fried chicken, I know where to go for that too!

Please view the trailer for The Middle of Nowhere. I’ve also included a link to the AAFFRM – African American Film Festival Releasing  Movement.  ( They are making a point to show the depth and range of black filmmakers.

 Remember, just because a film is all black and/or made by a black person – doesn’t mean it’s only for black people. No one thinks twice about movies made by white people…we assume it’s for everyone. I love a ton of white filmmakers and movies with all white casts… Steel Magnolias being one of them. I think the all black cast that remade it should have left it alone…but that’s an entirely different post. 

The Scale of Selfishness

There is a unique scale of selfishness that all relationships require. The scales have to be wiped clean of past experiences and both people must dump their selfish load on the scale and do their best to maintain balance.

Throughout our lives, there will always be stages where individuals need a developmentally appropriate amount of selfishness (an infant, identity-forming ages, early adulthood, etc).  Given that some amount of selfishness is needed for one’s own life, how does that selfishness factor when you join forces with someone with the (assumed) intent to be unselfish and giving? Should we look to see what we can get from a partner and recognize what we can give as well? Some see that as a solution, but that’s not what I’m advocating.

I believe there are some fundamental truths about selfishness that are simple and can lead to a healthy and sustaining relationship.

1.           Do your best to engage in a relationship with someone who has a similar life stage and/or selfish weight as you do. The full-time PhD student and business-owner’s selfishness may be a match made in Heaven because they both can understand each other’s needs.  It’s more likely they have similar selfish weight. The “in-search-of-myself” person may not be the best match for the “established & willing” persona. One needs time to invest in their own identity and well-being, the other feels content with their life and is looking for someone to reciprocate what they can give.

2.           Love for someone else IS SELFLESS. Isn’t that enough said? Don’t get into a relationship with the intent or unexpected outcome of constantly taking/receiving for yourself. Love your partner back in ways that have any and everything to do with making them feel loved, not yourself.

3.           Love someone who’s willing to love you as selflessly as they can

4.           It’s only selfish when you inconsiderately get your needs met at the expense of others…besides that, go for it!

To end this post, I’ll leave you with the words of RuPaul. “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?” 

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