Books-the one vice I'll never give up!
For quite a while, I have read one hundred books a year, or about two books a week. Some years I don't make the mark, but I always learn a lot.
A quick synopsis of the books I read this month:
The Promise of Paradox was written at the beginning of Parker Palmer's writing career, and the takeaway is that the opposite of a profound truth is not a falsehood, but another great truth.
Reich's The Common Good takes us through principles of civic engagement and how what is good for all of us is good for each of us individually. It calls for more acts of service and equality in public policy and day to day American life.
To the End of June is an incredible account of foster care in America. It traces the history of public policy surrounding foster care through firsthand accounts of foster families.
Why Does This Keep Happening to Me? chronicles seven issues the author believes get in our way and how we can overcome them.
Freakonomics is an interesting application of economic principles to social issues like how Roe v. Wade lowered abortion rates and other phenomenon.
What the Dog Saw is an anthology of articles Malcolm Gladwell published in The New Yorker. It is organized into three sections, with the last--on human behavior and ethics--being the most interesting.
The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Speeches is a compilation of famous rhetoric by luminaries of the last century.
Markings is the philosophical diary of a United Nations administrator.
Gang Leader for a Day is the autobiographical account of an Indian sociologist who integrates himself into the gang life of one of Chicago's low-income housing projects in the 1990's.
While Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse is clearly partisan and liberal, it also sheds light into current events as well as duties of various offices of the White House.
The Mask of Masculinity is a book written for men to teach us how to take off the masks we wear in order to be more vulnerable and show up for life in an authentic way.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
A dream is a wish your heart makes.
When you wish upon a start, your dreams come true.
Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make
As I was recently reading Why Does This Keep Happening to Me? by Alan Downs, I was inspired by a chapter about dreams. Today, I am living my own dreams, and through various service positions, I have a part in realizing the dreams of others. Some excerpts from this wonderful chapter are:
Our dreams are our teachers and guides, helping us discover more about ourselves. Sometimes what they teach us is that we really don't want what we think we want. On the path to our dream, we may discover something unexpected that pleases us even more than our original dream. Those wonderful opportunities can make us happier than our original dream ever would. Some dreams come true, and some do not, but without dreams we have no compass for our lives.This is what a dream gives us: a journey. A dream isn't a destination at all, it is a process for living. When we refuse to dream, we begin to lose our way and our hope in life.
Dreams are only ours to hold for a period of time, and then we must let them go. If we cling to them they become like yesterday's manna--they rot in our hands. Dreams are meant to guide our lives, not to be our life's destiny. They take us by the hand and lead us along life's path, and when they can no longer be of service to us, we must let them go.The best dreams always die. Our dreams will never last forever; they all eventually die and new dreams rise up to take their place. Part of the resolution of this crisis is learning to live in the present and to savor today's dreams. They are wonderful guides given to you for a very special purpose. Consume your dreams wholeheartedly and take every bit of inspiration that they can give, knowing that they won't last forever--better yet, knowing that they will eventually be replaced by tomorrow's equally satisfying and exhilarating dreams.
Where is your dream taking you, today?
I have had many dreams throughout my life, but they have always seemed to revolve around certain themes: the arts, seeking knowledge, helping others, being a leader, and striving for greatness at whatever I do. At various parts of my journey, I have been ashamed of these elements, but today, I believe that I am constructed this way for a reason. When I embrace my gifts and my ambition in positive ways, I am at maximum effectiveness and usefulness to my fellow man.
When I was a child, my greatest dream was to leave Four Oaks, North Carolina and find a way to be myself. I wanted to learn as much as possible, see the world, and live in a city. Classical music was a way of discovering myself, and it was also my ticket out of a small town and eventually to Houston, my forever home.
Throughout my twenties, my dream was to be a successful musician, a dream that was more about my own unmet childhood needs than service to others. However, it allowed me to see the world, have incredible opportunities, make powerful connections, and establish credibility that would allow me to pursue the new dreams that came once music faded.
In my mid-twenties, I started working with teenagers and emerging adults who were trying to get sober from various addictions. I did it for free, and yet I found it ten times more exhilarating than my career. I felt that pursuing a career in the arts was removed from reality when so many people in the world are suffering.
So a new dream emerged. My new dream was to quit travelling for work, to live in one place, to pursue a career in social work advocating for teenagers and young adults, and to embrace a life based on connection with others. My dream was to find meaningful work in Houston and create a community, family, and home in this city that is my refiner's fire.
I assumed that the fruition of this dream would be clinical work with LGBT teenagers in private practice, but I secured an internship at a school in HISD which morphed my dream yet again. I work with 25 teenagers, and I began to see that although the details of each students are different, they all have similar root causes. These similarities led me to a new dream: pursuing public policy. I feel like I am helping people out of a hole as a counselor, and I want to use a career in public policy to fill in the hole so people quit falling in the hole to begin with!
My past career in the arts has become an integral part of my work with these teenagers, because it is often an artistic discipline that give these students the most dignity and sense of self. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states in Article 29 that "the education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential." In Article 31 it declares that we "recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity."
The most fulfilling part of my internship has been connecting students with resources to more fully realize their dreams. Under this model, anger issues can become political activism; depression can be reduced through engagement with meaningful interests; grades improve when students find a passion they want to pursue which requires a college degree; and self-esteem, sense of place, and dignity emerge as people become a part of something greater than themselves which is a positive force in the community and in themselves.
I am currently working to create a non-profit which will help place teenagers and emerging adults with the tools and resources to find their dream and pursue it. When I was a teenager, I struggled with depression, addiction, and self-worth. Music was my way out, it was a positive force. It was my dream. In Downs' words, it was something that guided me. It was my compass. I believe that providing a way for adolescents to pursue their dreams will decrease crime and addiction and improve our sense of community in both measurable and invaluable ways.
Today, my dream is to help others find and pursue their dreams. In my current state of mind, it seems to be a pure and noble way to spend my time and energy.
What is your dream?
I recently finished an anthology of twentieth-century speeches just south of 500 pages. It was fascinating to hear some of the most influential policy makers of the last one hundred years speak on matters of war, poverty, race, and inequality; many of the words are just as timely now as in the generation they were spoken.
As I read, certain excerpts on issues we currently face stuck out. Rather than expanding on them, I curated them by issue. These powerful words speak for themselves.
The 2020 Election
Richard Nixon: As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night. we see Americans dying on distant battlefields...we see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home. And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish: did we come all this way for this:? Listen to the answers to that question. It is another voice, it is a quiet voice in the tumult of the shouting. It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans, the non-shouters, the non-demonstrators. They are not racists or sick; they are not guilty of the crime that plagues the land; they are black, they are white; the are native born and foreign born; they are young and they are old. They are good people. They are decent people. Like Theodore Roosevelt, they know that this country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless its a good place for all of us to live in. America is in trouble today not because her people have failed, but because her leaders have failed. And what America needs are leaders to match the greatness of her people. And this great group of Americans--the forgotten Americans and others--know that he great questions Americans must answer by their votes in November is this: whether we shall continue for four more years the policies of the last four years.
Edward Kennedy: Now is the time. Some men see things as they are and say, why? We dream things that never were and say, why not? Now is the time.
Vaclav Havel: The best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would also be wrong to expect a general remedy from them only. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all.
Richard Nixon: I see a day when the President of the United States is respected and his office is honored because it is worthy of respect and honor. I see a day when every child in this land, regardless of his background, has a chance for the best education that our wisdom and schools can provide, and an equal chance to go just as high as his talents will take him...that child in that great city is more important than any politician's promise. He is America, he is a poet, he is a scientist, he is a great teacher, he is a proud craftsman, he is everything we have ever hoped to be and everything we dare to dream about.
Dignity and Worth of the Individual
Robert Kennedy: At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.
Robert Kennedy: We must recognize the full human equality of all our people--before God, before the law, an in the councils of government. we must do this not because it is economically advantageous-although it is; not because the law of God and man command it--although they do command it; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.
Robert Kennedy: Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Salman Rushdie: What is my single life worth? Despair whispers in my ear: Not a lot.' But I refuse to give in to despair.
Salman Rushdie: Our lives teach us who we are.
Eugene V. Debs: I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.
FDR: The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and our fellow-men.
Barry Goldwater: Now those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth, and let me remind you they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyranny. Absolute power does corrupt, and those whose seek it must be suspect and must be opposed...I see a a day when all the Americas--North and South--will be linked in a mighty system--a system in which the errors and misunderstandings of the past will be submerged one by one in a rising tide o prosperity and interdependence. .
Roy Jenkins: A few people, whether out of political opportunism or personal inadequacy, have deliberately whipped up prejudice, playing on fear and ignorance, and blaming the immigrants for problems which were none of their making--but stemmed from previous parsimony in housing, schools and welfare services. Of course there are some who have legitimate individual grievance against an immigrant, just as white men can have against white men, or black men against black men. But this is not the root of the problem. the root is community prejudice, and it is that with which, whether it springs from fear or inadequacy or less reputable motives, we have to deal.
Super PACs/Citizens United
FDR: We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Nelson Mandela: There must be an end to white monopoly on political power, and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratized.
FDR: In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor--the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and ,because he does so, respects the rights of others--the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.
Emmeline Pankhurst: What we want is the combined intelligence of man and woman working for th salvation of the children of the race."
Betty Friedan: Men will only be truly liberated to love women and to be fully themselves when women are liberated to have a full say in the decisions of their lies and their society.
Harold Evans: A free press provide an indispensable feedback system from governed to the governing, from consumers to producers, from the regions to the center, and not least from one section of the bureaucracy to another. It is one of the strengths of a society with a competent and plural system of free communication that feedback happens automatically.
Clarence Darrow: Every human being's life in this world is inevitably mixed with every other life and, no matter what laws we pass, no matter what precautions we take, unless the people we meet are kindly and decent and human and liberty-loving then there is no liberty. Freedom comes from human beings, rather than from laws and institutions.
Stanley Baldwin: What the world suffers from--and I have said this before--is a sense of fear, a want of confidence, and it is a fer held instinctively and without knowledge very often...we have never known mankind go back on a new invention. There are some instruments so terrible that mankind has resolved not to use them.
FDR: So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory."
FDR: In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want--which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is unity of purpose."
JFK: For courage--not complacency--is our need today-leadership--not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously.
JFK (speaking in Berlin): Freedom is indivisible and when one man is enslaved who are free? When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe.
Bishop George Bell: What we do in war--which, after all, lasts a comparatively short time-affects the whole character of peace, which covers a much longer period.
LBJ: In this age when here can be no losers in peace and no victors in war, we must recognize the obligation to match national strength with national restraint.
LBJ: We often say how impressive power is. But I do not find it impressive at all. The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure. The are necessary symbols. They protect what we cherish. But they are witness to human folly. A dam built across a great river is impressive. A rich harvest in a hungry land is impressive. The sight of healthy children in a classroom is impressive. These--not mighty wars--are the achievements which the American Nation believes to be impressive...this generation of the world must choose: destroy or build, kill or aid, hate or understand.
Nelson Mandela: The whites enjoy what may well be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery...the present Government has always sought to hamper Africans in their search for education...he other main obstacle to the economic advancement of the Africans is the industrial color bar by which all the better jobs of industry are reserved for whites only...poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about...because they have no schools to go to,...this leads to a breakdown in moral standards...to growing violence which erupts, not only politically but everywhere...the only cure is to alter the conditions under which the Africans are forced to live, and to meet their legitimate grievances."
LBJ: We will carry on the fight against poverty and misery, and disease and ignorance, in other lands and in our own.
LBJ: The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice,..The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents.
LBJ: Dignity cannot be found in a man's possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position: it really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others.
Nelson Mandela: I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity.
MLK: There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'when will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negros basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
MLK: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
In a day where our national leadership demoralizes many of us, may we take comfort in the legacy we come from. Our past has much darkness and evil in it, but it also has hope in people who truly dared greatly and dreamed of a more equal and safe world.
This Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for the great leaders of our past 100 years: FDR, Truman, Wilson, MLK, JFK, Bobby Kennedy.
May we all work to elect policy makers who reflect something greater than self-interest. May we all work to elect policy makers who work for the common good.
Markings is the spiritual memoirs of Dag Hammarskjöld, a public servant who put service to others over his own self-interest. Written while he was Secretary-General of the United Nations, his memoirs speak to the humility and devotion to a higher power/higher cause one needs in order to serve in positions of power.
While serving at the UN, Hammarskjöld upheld the dignity and worth of the individual. He shook the hands of as many workers as possible in every department, frequently ate in the cafeteria, relinquished the private elevator designated for his office for general use, and planned and supervised the creation of a "meditation room" at the UN headquarters.
While in his second term, he was tragically killed in an airplane crash while en route to cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis. JFK called Hammarskjöld "the greatest statesman of our century" and he is only one of four posthumous Nobel Prize recipients.
In an era where we are hungry for selfless leadership, Hammarskjöld's writings have never been more timely. Written as short vignettes in diary form, his thoughts need no interpretation or expansion. Below are a few of his entries which resonate deeply in our present time:
Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible--not to have run away.
He bore failure without self-pity, and success without self-admiration. Provided he knew he had paid his uttermost farthing, what did it matter to him how others judged the result.
At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many I's. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one--which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you try, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your I.
The consequences of our lives and actions can no more be erased than they can be identified and duly labeled.
Don't be afraid of yourself, live your individuality to the full--but for the good of others. Don't copy others in order to buy fellowship, or make convention your law instead of living the righteousness.
The present moment is significant, not as the bridge between past and future, but by reason of its contents, contents which can fill our emptiness and become ours, if we are capable of receiving them.
Dare he, for whom circumstances make it possible to realize his true destiny, refuse it simply because he is not prepared to give up everything else?
Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience or convictions.
Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.
The only kind of dignity which is genuine is that which is not diminished by the indifference of others.
He broke fresh ground--because, and only because, he had the courage to go ahead without asking whether others were following or even understood.
In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.
Without the humility and warmth which you have to develop in your relations to the few with whom you are personally involved, you will never be able to do anything for the many.
Everything in the present moment, nothing for the present moment. And nothing for your future comfort or the future of your good name.
Do not look back. And do not dream about the future, either. It will neither give you back the past, nor satisfy your other daydreams. Your duty, your reward--your destiny--are here and now.
To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is--is nothing, yet at the same time one with everything.
Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who "forgives" you--out of love--takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.
I don't know Who--or what--put the question, I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone--or Something--and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
In the documentary Inequality for All, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich asks "when does wealth inequality become a problem; where is the point where inequality no longer works democratically?”
Reich goes on to state that the United States has the highest inequality of all developed nations today. The typical male worker in 1978 earned about $48,000 adjusted for inflation while the average person in the top one per cent made about $400,000. By 2010, those same groups earned about $33,000 and about one million dollars respectively. Today the top 400 richest people have more wealth than half the population of the United States.
The problem of income inequality is framed using history, politics, economics, and interviews from people of different classes. The fundamental question posed in the documentary is: how did income inequality get this bad, and why?
Systems theory is the idea that the individual intersects with both local systems (school, church, community, etc.) and larger environments (media, nationalism, globalism, etc.).
In one case study Reich presented, a husband and wife who worked at Costco and Circuit City. They earned enough to purchase a small condo, but when the market crashed in 2007 they moved in with friends because the husband lost his job. The failing national economy directly impacted family life due to the parents' increased stress and the children no longer having their own home. The husband attributed the loss of his job to the creation of Amazon, which employs 10% as many people as traditional mom and pop stores; the creation of an international business designed for profit directly impacted the family. The husband turned the situation into an opportunity to go back to school, where he was a student in Reich’s class and learned about wealth and poverty. His personal story impacted viewers of this documentary around the world and allowed Reich’s information to resonate in a more personal way. In this story, there is a constant influence between the private/family sphere, the community, and the national/international environment.
Another example of systems theory in the documentary is Reich’s life story. He grew up in the era of MLK and JFK, which inspired him to believe social change was possible. His family owned a business, which gave him a sense of autonomy and an interest in economics. These role models empowered him to obtain a world-class education and was a Rhodes Scholar with Bill Clinton. Their friendship allowed Reich to practice and implement his economic theories as Secretary of Labor and subsequently disseminate his practical experience through books for citizens and university teaching positions.
The events and situations in this documentary can also be seen through the lens of conflict theory, which states that conflict is the norm in human interactions ("us vs. them"). Conflict theory is seen throughout the documentary as Reich explains the widening income inequality gap.
As the workforce became more educated under the GI Bill, more workers were part of labor unions, which was a buffer against income inequality. Reagan, who decreased taxes for the wealthy, also fought the air traffic controller union, beginning a war against unions which made way for income inequality.
A present-day example of conflict theory in the documentary was the American middle class worker (the old economy) vs. the wealthy (the new global/technological economy). Scenes from the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements clearly depicted resentment people felt over decades of stagnant wages and increased costs of living while the rich got richer.
Throughout the documentary, Reich used the suspension bridge graph shown at the beginning of this article to show how the middle class suffer in the moments of greatest wealth inequality. Reich charges that this conflict between reality and our democratic values is the moment when we need to stand up and advocate for social change.
It was particularly interesting to think about the documentary through the lens of Social Construction theory, or the ways we think about and use labels to structure our experience and analysis of the world. Four common labels are Advantaged, Contender, Dependent, and Deviant.
In the 1970s, as wages stagnated, one way the middle class coped with widening income inequality was to take women out of the home and into the work force. Women moved from Dependent to Contender.
Depending on which era of U.S. history Reich spoke about, the middle class and wealthy also switched categories. In the moments where income inequality was less disparate, the wealthy were portrayed as Advantaged and the middle class were portrayed as Contenders. As Wall Street became more deregulated, finance became the fastest growing sector of the economy, which led to the crash of 2007. In this scenario, Wall Street and its wealthy investors were portrayed as Deviants rather than their usual Advantaged status.
When a Democratic process or institution disenfranchises the middle class, the Advantaged become Deviant. For example, when Reagan, who holds the honorable office of president, decreased taxes for the wealthy dramatically. When Clinton weakened regulation of Wall Street leading to the creation o stock options, he can be seen as Deviant. When the Supreme Court passed Citizens United, which allowed corporations to give enormous sums of money to campaigns in exchange for access to politicians, the Supreme Court was can be seen as Deviant.
I think Reich’s closing remarks, which try to empower the viewer to use their voice and energy to motivate social change and narrow the gap of income inequality, can be seen through the lens of each theory. In systems theory, he uses a widely disseminated documentary to empower the individual with the knowledge and inspiration “to change your community, society, and perhaps, the world.” In conflict theory, he encourages the viewer to challenge the current norm that the United States is the most unequal developed country in terms of wealth distribution. Through social construct theory, Reich asks those of us in the middle class to become contenders, so that we may all become Advantaged through the Virtuous Cycle, where prosperity begets prosperity.
Jesmyn Ward’s The Men We Reaped is a tragic personal account of how racism and oppression intersected in the untimely death of five men she held dear. I believe the most immediate cause of these tragedies were addictions (four of the five boys chronicled are addicts and come from broken homes with no strong adult black male figure). But the addictions of Ward’s friends and father are only symptoms of a large-scale, pervasive oppression of African Americans males since the dawn of U.S. history. The New York Times article Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys states "black boys are disadvantaged to 99 per cent of white boys in America. They are more likely to be disciplined in school, detained by police, and stereotyped as scary, intimidating, and violent."" In Bryan Stevenson's powerful Ted Talk "We Need to Talk About an Injustice," he states that the prison population has increased by two million people in forty years, which has led to despair in black communities since one out of three black men aged 18-30 is in jail or prison.
Issues of economic and judicial racism are seen in the life of Ward's brother Joshua.
Joshua was perhaps the most compelling figure in the memoir because he held the paradox of boyhood innocence while dealing crack cocaine in order to pay bills (he worked legitimate jobs as much as he could, which speaks to racial inequality in terms of job opportunity and income in this country).
When Joshua is killed by a white drunk driver, the perpetrator barely receives a slap on the wrist. Ward paints a clear picture that in courtrooms--like most rooms--a white man’s life is unjustly worth more than a black man’s.
Bryan Stevenson states “we have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent.” In the case of Joshua, it is clear that a rich, guilty white man was treated better by the justice system than Joshua's family, who deserved justice in the sentencing of his perpetrator. Grief and anger over an unjust sentencing flow from Ward's pen when she writes "by the numbers, by all the official records, here at the confluence of history, of racism, of poverty, and economic power, this is what our lives are worth: nothing.”
How can we battle the systemic oppression of black men in America?
For one, we can stop talking about how we live in a post-racist society. People see color. Racism is real.
We can learn about historical trauma--a topic I will write about in a later entry--and where our prejudices of black men come from. Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel is an invaluable resource in this regard.
White people talking about white privilege--unearned assets simply because of the hue of our skin--can bring clarity and sobriety. Stevenson states “ultimately, you judge the character of a society, not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated."
Since boys benefit more than girls from same-sex adult mentors (as illustrated in the NY Times article above), it is important to connect positive male figures to every community. Moonlight, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture, centers on a young boy whose only male role model was a drug dealer.
The same drug dealer who sold his mother crack cocaine.
We can do better. We are the United States.
We put a man on the moon. We can do anything. We can provide male role models when research says male role models are a driving tool for change. As a social work intern who counsels fifteen non-white boys a week, I directly see that my presence as an adult male with values is an unquantifiable asset in their lives.
Young black boys need to know they are worth more than being murdered or ending up in prison. If we can create more positive adult black male role models in afflicted communities, black boys will respond positively and progress can be made. Would Joshua still be alive if his father was addiction-free, dedicated and loyal to the family, available and present, and capable of connecting and relating to his children and the community?
Racism is everywhere, all the time. It is sometimes as obvious as the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville 2017, but it also occurs constantly in countless subtle, insidious microaggressions.
Racism is a major public health problem precisely because it is ignored, downplayed, or unacknowledged by a majority of Americans. My hope is that in some small way, I can shed light on the hidden, dark, scary parts of our individual and collective stories so that we can heal and become better than we were before.
I hope that I can do my part to move the national needle toward this goal: never again will a bereft sister write that "by the numbers, by all the official records, here at the confluence of history, of racism, of poverty, and economic power," a black man's life is worth nothing.
Positionality is the idea that we judge and label ourselves and others in various ways including race/nationality; gender; socioeconomic class; age; sexual orientation; religion/spirituality; ability/disability; and sense of place. Examining our positionality allows us to gain a deeper understanding of what these labels mean to us, how the meanings developed in early childhood and shaped our life, and how these labels impact our stance toward difference, toward "the other." This work creates personal insights which shifts our public policy opinions and conversations in ways that uphold the dignity and worth of all people. To become better public policy advocates, we start with the man (or woman) in the mirror; after all, he is the one most in our locus of control.
“Who am I” and “how do I relate to others, especially those who are different than me?” are questions I have struggled with throughout my life. I have some answers, but I have learned the hard way to try and embrace uncertainty on the parts that are still developing rather that foreclose on that growth by pretending I have all the answers.
Race/nationality/language: I identify as a Caucasian, white, United States citizen who is a native English speaker and grew up in a racist community in small-town North Carolina. For example, as a middle school student, I was handed a business card by a Ku Klux Klan member as the group marched in those evil white garments and cowardly hoods in the Mule Days parade near my hometown in Benson, North Carolina. When I was in seventh grade and I watched the twin towers fall on TV, I was programmed that “foreigners” (Muslims) were to be feared. Once I left North Carolina to pursue a career in the arts, the racism I was programmed to believe began to dissipate through friendships. Love beats fear every time. In Cleveland, Ohio, I lived with close friends who were Muslim or Hindu and hailed from India, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Saudi Arabia (they are now medical researchers, a radiologist, and a lawyer for the United Nations). When I first came to Houston, I lived in Third Ward, an African American community, and now live in Sharpstown, a Hispanic community. I had the opportunity to live for a year in Germany, and I got to see life and culture in Poland, Germany, and France. All of these experiences have helped me see that being a white American is not better than (fill in the blank with any minority). I think that almost anyone who grows up in the United States has some form of racism. However, because of the people I have met and the work I have done on myself, I am pretty quick to see my own racism and nationalism and address it in healthy ways that allow me to be better than before.
Gender: Being in a man in America taught me “don’t feel, be perfect, don’t ever make a mistake.” However, my father modeled that it is okay to cry, even in public; a rare gift few boys receive. My mom allowed me to play with barbie dolls and other “girl toys.” One of the hardest issues around my gender was losing some of my male privilege and being seen as effeminate when I came out as gay. Today, I am pretty secure in my manhood and am seeking to understand more about gender fluidity and the transgender community.
Socio-economic: I was born into a white, middle class family. Growing up, we always had more resources and money than my extended family or schoolmates, and I was embarrassed to have newer clothes and drive a nicer car than my schoolmates. I felt it was deeply unfair that I was given more than my peers simply because of the family I was born into. My experiences with economic privilege in childhood challenged me to educate myself on income inequality in this country, perhaps most expertly discussed by Robert Riech in his documentary Inequality For All (Dr. Reich served in the administrations of Presidents Ford, Carter, and Clinton and was Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997).
Age: I used to hear "when you're older, you'll understand." Ugh. Today i often here "why are you still in school at age 30?" Ugh. I have to admit I keep those messages in my head and replay the tape. One tape that has been deleted with age is from a difficult moment when i was 17. A man I respected at church told me I would die of AIDS before I was thirty, so making it to thirty years of age disease free has eradicated an unhelpful message. Outside of my own age, I am working to treat others with equal dignity no matter what their age. It is very easy for me to give patience, understanding, and care to teenagers and children. It is more difficult for me, personally, to assume the best about adults. Because I watched my grandparents suffer slow, painful deaths, I used to be uncomfortable around the elderly because I associated them with hospitals and funerals. However, today I serve at an LGBT-friendly church fueled by love and social justice where many elderly people are still out and about, making a difference and creating meaning. They have changed my view on what it means to grow old, create a legacy, and pass away with dignity.
Sexuality: When I think about my homosexuality, I think about people and events. I think about realizing I was gay in kindergarten when my friend asked me if I wanted to see his Power Rangers underwear; about having to change in gym class for the first time and being terrified the other boys would just somehow "know;" having my Jeep Grand Cherokee packed in case my parents found out that I was gay and kicked me out; a family member throwing up when I came out as gay at age 17; and other traumatic events that eroded my self-worth and wrote on the slate of who I was. As I began therapy and recovery in my mid-twenties, these frozen traumatic events thawed out and I began a long, painful process of sorting them out. The more recovered I get in my sexual identity, the more I seek to understand other sexual minorities, such as the transsexual community. A great strength I possess is an ability to relate and mentor young adults who are in the process of coming out and reckoning with the pain of growing up gay in a straight world.
Religion: Growing up Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt of North Carolina, religion was synonymous with authoritarian, rigid, black and white thinking. In middle school, the church I was born and raised in split apart over a heated, contentious debate about evolution and whether the Bible was literal or should be interpreted. In my youth, I knew that the church my family attended did not have room for how I thought and the gender I wanted to love. After working for the Anglican church for fifteen years, I currently serve at a church which is in line with my values and fosters spiritual growth.
Abilities/disabilities: Although I grew up uncomfortable around people with disabilities and family members in palliative care, I had to come to terms that I had within me several interconnected disabilities in my twenties: alcoholism, drug addiction, a nasty binge eating disorder, and clinical diagnoses of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Working through these issues for myself changed how I look at differently-able people. For example, I share joy on a weekly basis with an autistic sixth grader through games of Jenga, Uno, and eating Funyuns (but only the spicy kind. We have standards).
Sense of place: The greatest struggle I have had in life is finding a sense of place, finding belonging. I was a gay, artistic, creative child who was born into the Bible Belt of North Carolina. Racism, homophobia, and gender roles influenced me to write a script about myself that declared I was not worthy of love and belonging in my community or family. I decided at a very early age to get out of Four Oaks as soon as I turned 18 because I was afraid I might die if people found out who I really was. I learned to be a chameleon, to be a mask and pretend to be the best little boy in the world. Anything to avoid the Scarlet Letter. Naturally, I could not belong or have a sense of place where I could not be my authentic self. I belonged nowhere and with no one. I was not centered. I was not grounded. I was detached from life. I lived in a fantasy land. Gravity barely had a hold on me.
I finally began to find a sense of place when I moved to Houston in 2012. I found a community of people who truly accept me for who I am, flaws and all. I eventually moved away from Houston for a job and remember watching the news coverage of Hurricane Harvey with sadness that I was not in Houston with the people I loved. Harvey was a devastating natural disaster. People were fleeing the city. I desperately wanted to return. I decided that a sense of place was more important than career success, so I moved back to Houston with the intention of staying here for the rest of my life. I want to use the roots and relationships I have here to support me in finding meaningful work and finding someone to create a family with. My sense of place is in Houston, and I am grateful every day that I get to wake up here.
Although I have struggled with a sense of place because of my sexuality, I have never had to struggle with a physical sense of place. I have never been homeless, and on most days I take that for granted. I have never been treated poorly or told I do not belong because of the color of my skin. I have never been subtly told to shut up and look pretty because I am a woman.
Through seeing how these labels create the position in which I see the world, I am more able to understand myself, others, and my environment in new ways. I understand more fully how I think and feel (and why). I am able to more often extend myself for the nurture and care of another, which is one of my favorite definitions of the word "love." I am able to effectively help the teenagers and emerging adults I work with in the various institutions I am a part of.
Being able to see more clearly how my labels affect myself and the people I serve and care has also helped me see how much of society is created on positionality, labels, and judgment. We live in a society that has deep roots in racism and inequality. Understanding the unconscious bias I have has direct consequences to how I see public policy.
I believe if more people took the time and were given the resources to examine their unconscious biases around race/nationality; gender; socioeconomic class; age; sexual orientation; religion/spirituality; ability/disability; and sense of place, that we would be having very different conversations about immigration, bathroom bills, economic inequality, health care, poverty and homelessness, and other major issues our country faces. In the words of Michael Jackson..."if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change."
One of the best books I have read this year is the 2008 New York Times Bestselling Gang Leader For A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh (you can find a fascinating interview about the book here). The book takes place in the 1990's and chronicles Venkatesh's experiences as he integrated himself into the projects of Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes. The housing project was one of the nation's most notorious housing projects, known for gangs, prostitution, and crack cocaine before it was torn down in the name of gentrification. The book examines how race and poverty intersect; how to make a living in the projects; how a man's home is his castle, even in the projects; and how national public policy affected the tenants of the Robert Taylor projects.
Venkatesh says the book is about "that difficult place people are in when they have to turn to a gang in order to survive."
I believe the book is about the dignity and re-humanization of marginalized people that we as a society all so often ignore and erase.
Venkatesh spends most of the book allowing the reader to fall in love with otherwise-easy-to-dismiss characters. Once he connects us to these figures, he challenges us to come to terms with how our society uses public policy as a tool to continually marginalize disenfranchised groups through racism and poverty. He creates space for the reader to rumble with this discomfort by being vulnerable and sharing his own challenges and transformations as a person of privilege spending every spare moment in one of the poorest areas of the United States. Only after he has created a personal investment between the reader and himself/the Robert Taylor community does he discuss how city, state, and national public policy directly displaced the poorest of the poor.
As I read the memoir and struggled with the thought-provoking challenges the material poses, I could not help thinking of the places I lived and how poverty/race was separated through housing. I come from a small town in North Carolina; growing up, there was an unspoken measure of worth between me and other classmates. You either lived in a trailer park or you lived in a house. This measure was also tied to race. I was lucky enough to grow up in a nice two-story house which seemed to be as much a part of the family as any of its occupants.
When I lived in Greensboro, NC as an undergraduate student, I lived in apartments a few miles from the university, but it was "dangerous" to walk or bike to school (code for "you might pass homeless people, someone of a different race, or a drug dealer").
Cleveland, Ohio was perhaps the largest indicator of housing segregation. As a graduate student, I lived in University Circle, a half mile from Severance Hall and the Cleveland Museum of Art on East 105th street. A half mile in that direction was also Case Western Reserve University; all indicators of wealth and prosperity. If I went a half mile in the other direction of my apartment, I would enter the most crime-infested part of the city. Depending on which direction I went, a few hundred steps could lead me to promise, prosperity, abundance, or crime, poverty, destitution. Downtown Cleveland had similar disparities. I worked at a church on historic Public Square, an institution which housed stained glass by Tiffany and where President Lincoln's body was toured after his assassination. Buildings like Tower City reminded us of the Gilded Age, when Cleveland was one of the most powerful economic forces in the country. However, at night, the "underworld" came out. Downtown Cleveland turned from white middle-class workers, retiring to a comfortable evening in the suburbs, to a land of drugs, crime, and prostitution.
Here in Houston, where I've lived since 2012, there major neighborhood disparities. On the one hand, we have the River Oaks community, one of the richest zip codes in the world. On the other hand, a February 2018 article in the Houston Chronicle reported that Third Ward (where University of Houston is located) and Sunnyside are two of the most dangerous communities in the United States. I lived in Third Ward for the first four years I was in Houston as I pursued a doctoral degree at the University of Houston, in a part of the community that had been re-gentrified. I had no idea I benefited from my housing at the expense of a less privileged previous tenant. I now live in Sharpstown, which used to be a white middle-class neighborhood but is now primarily Hispanic.
Although Venkatesh's book focuses on Chicago housing in the 1990's, it is a specific and emotionally compelling account of problems in cities and communities across the United States. Some of the most powerful moments illustrations include:
J.T. (the gangleader Venkatesh befriended) asked Venkatesh what sociologists thought about gangs. The response was sociology's notion of a culture of poverty, that poor blacks don't work because they don't value employment as highly as other ethnic groups. J.T.'s response was "So you want me to take pride in the job, and you're only paying me minimum wage? It don't sound like you think much about the job yourself."
Ms. Bailey, a tenant and president of the Local Advisory Council, basically ran the Robert Taylor Homes. When Venkatesh addressed the 60% drop-out rate of the project's high school kids, he stated "research today says that if kids can get through high school, they have a 25% greater likelihood of escaping poverty. She interrupted, saying, "if your family is starving and I tell you that I'll give you a chance to make some money, what are you going to do." Venkatesh humbly replied, "Make the money. I have to help my family. School will have to wait until my family gets enough to eat."
Because community based organizations, churches, and government cuts reduced donations to the housing project, Ms. Bailey took it upon herself to find resources for the community, sometimes by cutting unethical deals, in order to advocate for her people.
The following passage brought tears to my eyes : "People in this community shouldn't have to wait more than a week to get a new front door. People in this community shouldn't have to wonder if the ambulance or police would bother responding. People in this community shouldn't have to pay a go-between like Ms. Bailey to get the services that most Americans barely bother to think about. No one in the suburb where I grew up would tolerate such inconvenience and neglect." The author spoke truth to injustice and his own privilege, striking a chord deep within me.
There was an economy of women who sold food, made clothing, offered marital counseling or baby-sitting, read horoscopes, styled hair, and prepared taxes.
"Many of the women of Robert Taylor had protested for civil rights in the 1960s and campaigned for black political candidates in the 1970s; they took the need to fight for their community very seriously. But during the 1980s and 1990s, as their plight was worsened by gangs, drugs, and even deeper poverty, they struggled just to keep their families together. By then the housing authority had grown corrupt and supportive, the police were largely unresponsive, and the tribe of strong women had been severely marginalized.
"While the official statistics said that 96% of Robert Taylor's adult population was unemployed, many tenants did have part-time legitimate jobs. But nearly all of them tried to hide any legitimate income from the Chicago Houston Authority, lest they lose their lease or other welfare benefits."
"Until a few years earlier, men in Robert Taylor could have gotten a few hundred dollars a month in welfare money, but by 1990, Illinois and many other states eliminated such aid for adult men. The conservative revolution launched by President Ronald Reagan would lead eventually to a complete welfare overhaul, culminating in the 1996 directive by President Bill Clinton that made welfare a temporary program by setting time limits on just about every form of public aid--for men, women, and children. For men like the ones in Robert Taylor, the welfare changes only exacerbated their poverty."
"In early 1995...members of Congress and the Clinton administration had begun serious discussions with mayors across the country to propose knocking down housing projects. Henry Cisneros, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, claimed that 'high-rises just don't work.' He and his staff spoke of demolishing these 'islands of poverty,' with the goal of pushing their inhabitants to live where 'residents of different incomes interact with one another.' Cisneros singled out Chicago's projects as 'without question, the worst public housing in America today.' The Robert Taylor Homes were said to be at the very top of the demolition list. They were to be replaced by an upscale town-house development called Legends South, which would include just a few hundred units of public housing." Venkatesh wrote that tenants were struck with disbelief. The overwhelming sentiment was "do the politicians really have the will or the power to relocate tens of thousands of poor black people?"
Our public policy has dislocated Native Americans, Japanese Americans, African Americans, and other marginalized populations throughout the course of our history. Our politicians really do have the will and power to relocate tens of thousands of people.
Venkatesh continues by saying "from the outset urban renewal held the seeds of its own failure. White political leaders blocked the construction of housing for blacks in the more desirable white neighborhoods. And even though blighted low-rise buildings in the ghetto were replaced with high-rises like the Robert Taylor Homes, the quality of the housing stock wasn't much better. Things might have been different if housing authorities around the country were given the necessary funds to keep up maintenance on these new buildings. But the buildings that had once been the hope of urban renewal were already a short forty years later, ready for demolition again."
Venkatesh goes on to say that "while the goal of the demolition was to move families to safer, integrated communities, the Chicago Housing Authority was so inept that nearly ninety per cent of the relocated tenants wound up living in poor black areas that left them as badly off as being in the projects, or worse. In place of the projects, the city began to build market-rate condominiums and town houses...Robert Taylor tenants had been promised the right to return to the community once construction was done, but fewer than ten per cent of the units were set aside for public-housing families...the Daley administration and the powerful real-estate interests, rather creating new and improved low-income housing, in fact knocked down the projects to initiate a land grab."
Who we elect matters. The national conversations we have matter. What our elected officials choose to do with their power matters. Not just in matters of the economy or war or the other big things. It matters to the children of Robert Taylor in this book, who are now the same age as I am.
I don't have to wonder if, like me, the children of Robert Taylor had the chance to travel the world in pursuit of the dreams, if they obtained a doctoral degree. I don't have to wonder if, like me, they have a totally clean record or found resources to get sober from the addictions plaguing their community. I don't have to wonder if like me, they have never known hunger or never had to do things that went against their values in order to provide for their families.
To loosely borrow from Laura Mayo, an orator and writer in Houston, those children in Robert Taylor did not need our prayers. They did not need our sympathies. They needed the system changed.
I currently attend University of Houston's Graduate College of Social Work, where every first year student completes an assignment called "Engaging with Political Difference." The idea of the assignment is to find an op-ed article we disagree with, summarize it it in a values-neutral way, find some common ground with the author, and only then disagree with the position of the author. My essay on an article about polar bears (and subsequently climate change) taught me a lot about how to more effectively engage with people I disagree with:
The op-ed piece I chose for the assignment “Engaging with Political Difference” was Polar bears keep thriving even as global warming alarmists keep pretending they’re dying, authored by Susan Crockford and published in the Canadian-based Financial Post on February 27, 2018.
Crockford’s argument is that polar bears are thriving even amidst declining ice, thus it should no longer be an icon of global warming. She states that thinning ice means more availability of seals to hunt in areas where ice was previously too thick; cites the failure of a 2007 model of future polar bear survival by Steven Amstrup, who is now at an NGO called Polar Bears International; and writes that starvation is historically a leading cause of death for polar bears when she questions the validity of a National Geographic video of a bear that, by all objective accounts, is starving.
On her personal website, Susan Crockford talks about length of experience in the field of zoology and specifically brags she has written for non-scientists, but lists no credentials except “she has a Ph.D.” Although Wikipedia is not a reliable academic source, the Susan J. Crockford page states she is currently an adjunct professor in Anthropology at the University of Victoria and that “she is best known for her blog posts on polar bear biology, which oppose the scientific consensus that polar bears are threatened by ongoing climate change.”The article goes on to state that most of her career has been work on paid contracts; she currently runs the private consulting firm Pacific Identifications Inc.; and that she signed the International Conference on Climate Change’s 2008 Manhattan Declaration which virtually negates human impact on global climate and states global warming has been beneficial throughout history. She has received regular payments from The Heartland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank. Her blogs have been cited by 80% of climate change denying websites as their chief source on polar bears. The American Institute of Biological Sciences states
Notably, as of this writing, Crockford has neither conducted any original research nor published any articles in the peer-reviewed literature on the effects of sea ice on the population dynamics of polar bears. However, she has published notes and “briefings” through a conservative think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and is described by them as “an expert on polar bear evolution (Harve et. al 2018).
In a New York Times article on the controversy surrounding this op-ed piece, Erica Goode stated “Dr. Crockford has published some peer-reviewed articles that touch on polar bears. She has also published reports and articles that have not been peer-reviewed, like those through the Global Warming Policy Foundation.” Although sources vary in her reputation, it is reasonable to conclude that Susan Crockford is a for-hire scientist who has written more blogs than peer-reviewed articles. Furthermore, the op-ed article being discussed was published by Financial Post, a conservative Canadian publication which, by its name, is obviously not geared on academia or science.
While Crockford and I disagree on almost everything, there are a few facts we can agree on. She states, “more than 15,000 polar bears have not disappeared since 2005.” This very confusing sentence is true, since there are somewhere between 22,000 and 31,000 polar bears alive today. It is also true that the polar bear’s global numbers have been basically stable since 2006. I agree with her that Ian Stirling reported about spring sea ice becoming so thick that polar bears cannot hunt seals, and that has been reported in various journals; I also agree with her that science has become political. I agree with her when she states studies show polar bears are less weight that in the 1980s.
The most frustrating part of Crockford's ideas was her academic incompetence. Although she holds a doctorate in science, this “scientific” article was written in a financial publication with a complete lack of references; the closest she came was very vaguely mentioning two reports that she then invalidated. The world of Polar Bear/Arctic science is a very specific expertise. It is a completely different world, with different terminology; it takes a bit of reading to even conceptualize the reality that ice is to polar bears what ground is to humans.
Another disagreement I had with Crockford was about the current stabilization of the polar bear population. According to Polar Bear Specialist Group, there are nineteen subpopulations, and eleven of those regions—more than half—are data deficient/unknown. Polar bears live in five countries—Canada, Denmark, Norway, the USSR, and the U.S.—in some of the most remote, anti-human conditions on the planet. It is my un-scientifically proven, lay belief that as ice continues to melt, polar bear populations are not actually stabilizing. Rather, polar bears are migrating to different parts of the regions where ice is more conducive to mating and fishing, as well as spending much more time on land. I believe there is a polar bear migration happening to places where we are currently able to track them, and while the overall population is declining in remote areas we cannot track, this migration is skewing the decline. Since this is unprovable, any reputable scientist with integrity can’t make this claim publicly.
Finally, I disagree that polar bears are a symbol of global warming. Crockford states “the polar bear’s resilience should have meant the end of its use as a cherished icon of global warming doom, but it didn’t. The alarmism is not going away without a struggle.” I do think that the polar bear is a resilient species—it lives in an environment hostile to most living organisms! —but that does not mean it can survive with more ice loss with each passing year. Since 2008 a million more square kilometers of summer sea ice (the way scientists measure) has been lost. That is roughly the size of Egypt! More ice loss means more swimming, which takes up much more energy than walking, which means a lower weight and a greater chance of starvation. I side with Erica Goode’s article that “In effect, many scientists say, the bears have been co-opted by climate denialists, and in an article published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal BioScience, 14 prominent researchers argue that denialist blogs with wide followings are using the bears to spread misinformation about the causes and consequences of climate change.”
Two of my earliest memories were of polar bears. The first was the Coca-Cola Christmas commercial with a parent polar bear and two cubs. I remember seeing how big and cold and stark the landscape was, and how alone they were. When I went to the zoo for the first time a few months later, I saw a polar bear in real life and was absolutely enraptured; I learned that the bears can change the color of their hair to blend in with surroundings. Looking back, I can see how as a gay boy in the Bible Belt of North Carolina, the polar bear was my spirit animal. I was isolated, lived in hostile conditions, and did everything I could to blend into my surroundings and survive. I have not had a car for a while now, and have made other difficult choices to reduce my carbon footprint, because I like to think that I am making a difference for polar bears. I want to adopt a child when I finish school and get on my feet in the social world field, and I want to take them to Churchill, Canada, to see the bears in their natural habitat.
Because I have been following the story of the polar bear my entire life, I thought I knew a lot about the policy issues of global warming and environmental conservation surrounding the species. However, one thing I learned was that Polar Bears International accepts donations from Exchange Petroleum, which seems highly lacking in integrity when carbon emissions is the greatest threat to ice loss and subsequent polar bear decline. Through this writing assignment, I learned some important tools, like how to look up an author and see whether they are credible/biased, as well as how to find out whether a journal is conservative or liberal in its leanings. I read many articles from both conservative and liberal blogs and journals, and I feel like I learned how to seek the truth just a little bit better than I knew how to before.
Initially, because I am susceptible to anything I read in print, it took several readings and critical thinking to really remember where I stood. In my critical thinking, I got to see just how hard it is to prove that polar bear populations are declining; it’s impossible. The realization that I am just as opinionated as she is, and I see things with my own bias, can help me discuss this issue with someone who does not agree with me. I can ask them questions about why they think the way they do, find common ground, and then talk about the limited information I have and how it has informed my opinion. I think being transparent about how my life experience helped me relate to the polar bear in a visceral and emotional way, so I can never fully see the issue of global warming and polar bear endangerment objectively, is a way of disarming an argument and gaining a discussion.