Archive for ‘History’

February 28, 2011

Deconstructing the American Dream

Image via Google

The American Dream is a term that is very common in American culture. Turn on the news on any given night and you might see a politician or three relying on it to drum up support for their policies. On the other hand, it has also been used as a way to attack opponents or political rivals. For example, Mitt Romney, a prominent Republican in an upcoming book accuses current President Barack Obama of trying to stifle the American Dream. He claims that the president’s policies will lead to the death of the dream. But what exactly does this mean? What is the American Dream?

According to Arnold Schwarzneggar, the former governor of California, the American dream is that “a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the president of the United States”. Yet David Abrahansen felt that “the American Dream is in part, responsible for a great deal of crime and violence because people feel that the country owes them not only a living but a good living.” Obviously, this simple phrase has taken on a complex meaning. However, for the man who coined the phrase, it’s meaning was much simpler.

In his book, The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams wrote that the American dream is a

dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Simply put, the American Dream was intended to mean equality and opportunity for all.

This idea that America is a land of opportunity often brings immigrants into the country. These people come with the hope that they can make something of themselves by taking advantage of the resources that are available. Instead, they find that this notion is just a dream.

Perhaps, it never existed the way that Adams pictured. For one, America is not a land of equality. Back when Mr. Adams was coming up with the phrase in 1931, Black Americans could not even vote. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement helped secure that right. And even in the 1960s, the dream still didn’t exist. Martin Luther King Jr., the most prominent Civil Rights activist of that era had a dream that “one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'”. His use of “one day” implies that in those days, America had not risen to those heights.

That day never came in the 1960s and it still hasn’t come today. The American dream is a pipe dream. It doesn’t exist in the real world and the fact that it is pursued keeps the American public hostage. As Florence King once said; “people are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be that they’re all asleep at the switch. Consequently, we are living in the Age of Human Error.”

February 17, 2011

Learning to Listen

xcd.com via Google

One of the best things you can do for anyone is to listen to them. By so doing, you are affirming them, confirming that they are alive and that they do exist. Think about it. Without a voice, you do not leave a mark or a dent. Our voices are the ripples that we make in the pond of humanity. And with no one listening, these ripples go unseen. Yet, we do not listen to others. Taking things a step further, we do not know how to listen. There is a lot of vitriol, angst and pain around the world today and I believe that what we need are more ears.

It begins by asking the right questions and then doing more than just hearing an answer. You see, listening is more than just hearing what someone has to say. Listening is active while hearing is passive. To hear what a person says, all you have to do is receive the sound waves out of their mouth. Listening on the other hand, involves dropping all of your preconceived notions and ideas, and engaging a person with the goal of understanding them. Dropping our own perceptions, notions and ideas is the hardest part. Every time we talk to people, their voice is distorted by the soundtrack we have playing in our heads. To listen we have to turn off our music or take off our headphones and then we can hear the speaker’s song. When we do this, then they feel like they exist and are understood.This is most important when the person doing the talking is underrepresented in society. These are the people whose voices are the faintest. To continue with the analogy of music, their songs are almost inaudible and we need to turn up the volume.

But the underrepresented are not the only ones that should be listened to. Everyone should be listened to. Questions like; “How do you feel about…….?” or “Why did you do what you did…..” are very powerful. They give the person a chance to respond and be heard. We don’t have to agree with them, consensus can almost never be reached, but compromise can be achieved and that is more than enough. For example, I was in favor of the Health Care Bill that President Barack Obama’s administration passed. To me it was a no brainer that we needed a way to stop “pre-existing conditions” from being a part of Health Care conditions. But then I heard a parent of one of my students talk about the issue. He was losing a lot of work because of the new law and his family was being negatively impacted. I listened to him, not so I could formulate a response but to understand his story. He didn’t exactly cause me to change my stance but he did force me to re-examine how I saw things. Now when I meet someone who is anti Obamacare, I don’t automatically get defensive. I just wonder where they are coming from because of my new understanding. I probably won’t ever reach a consensus with them but I can definitely strike a compromise.

The current protests in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., present a wonderful opportunity for those of us in the United States. The people there want to be free from tyranny and we can definitely relate to that. But we haven’t always done that. According to Nicholas Kristoff in this article, American Foreign Policy has always seemed to revolve around our own selfish interests. We’ve made alliances with dictators in exchange for stability in the Middle East. This has caused us to appear to be anti democracy in the region. It was also responsible for the current Administration’s hesitancy to jump into the fray during the protest in Egypt. However, we can learn from this experience by listening to the people. Some of the Egyptian demonstrators kept saying that they wanted “freedom like there was in America”. This is great news for American interests and I think the Egyptians will work with us as long as we allow them to direct their country’s future. People will always tell you what they want and sometimes what they need if you’re listening.

February 14, 2011

The World’s newest Country facing new problems

On January 9, 3.8 million Sudanese turned out to vote on a referendum. The issue at stake was the fate of the people to the South of the country. Much of the nation’s resources, with oil being king, is found in the South. In spite of this, the region has largely remained poor and underdeveloped as the government in the North diverted most of the benefits to their own ends.  In 2003, this friction between the Northern based administration and the Southerners boiled over into war in Darfur. This war has been very controversial with much of the casualty unclear and Human Rights Groups calling it a genocide.  It ended with a cease fire in 2010, about seven years after it had begun.

The aforementioned referendum was to determine whether Southern Sudan should secede from the rest of Sudan. According to the results, 99% of the voters were in favor of the South being its own country. Surprisingly, the Sudanese government accepted the results and Southern Sudan was born. However, the Global Post reports that this new nation is facing some health issues. Hopefully, the United Nations and the rest of the West can come to their aid.

August 24, 2010

At the mercy of the system

Glenn Beck

This man likes pie (Image via Wikipedia)

This morning, I went to court to take care of some traffic issues. I knew I was guilty and I pled the same, yet when my punishment was handed down, I felt like it was unfair. After all, I hadn’t meant to break the law so that had to be taken into account right? This got me thinking; what exactly do I deserve? And while we are at it, what do you deserve?

Glenn Beck’s answer; “I want all of my pie.” I can understand that philosophy. I mean it is his pie. I am sure though that Mrs. Beck probably taught little Glenn, just like my mother taught me, to share. No word on whether little Glenn yelled “socialist!!!” at her. Anyway, I digress.

I spent the first 15 years of my life in Africa. People there work just as hard for a lot less than we do here. A pie is definitely out of the question there. However, Africa is a world away. Here in the United States, there are lots of people who cannot catch a break. They work hard, they put in their time, what do they deserve?

According to the founding fathers, we all deserve “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Herein lies their genius. They created a system which although flawed, could be corrected from the inside out. It remains our place to keep the system honest, to challenge it and by challenging it to force it to grow. When nothing is done, we run the risk of having the system start to decay and come apart at the seams. Everything else is a privilege that we ought to be grateful for. Things like the running water, electricity, indoor plumbing etc. And when we remember to think this way, it’s easier to help others less fortunate than ourselves.Flash back to this morning. I thought about all the times I had broken other traffic laws and hadn’t gotten caught. I didn’t immediately drive over to the nearest Police station to turn myself in.  I thought about how lucky I was to even have a job and be able to pay for my car. I thought about all the people in the world who would kill to trade places with me. And I reached my hand into my pocket……

August 22, 2010

The “N” Word and Dr. Laura

Earlier this week, Dr. Laura Schlessinger announced that she will not be renewing her contract. This means that she is effectively ending her radio show. Dr. Laura, as she is more famously known, said that she is ending her show so as to regain her First Amendment rights. This comes on the heels of an incident two weeks ago, where she used the n-word 11 times in a five minute span. A black woman who was involved in an interracial marriage, called her for advice on how to deal with the occasional use of the word by her husband’s relatives. Instead, Dr. Laura went off on her own personal tangent.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not listen to Dr. Laura. Therefore I believe that this disqualifies me from making general statements on whether she is racist or not. What I am going to do is respond to some of the issues she raised.

Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n****r, n****r, n****r. I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.

I agree that this is very confusing. The black community is not united on how to deal with this word. There are people like me who will not use it but I have friends who do use it. A lot of comedians and rappers use it for various reasons. Some feel that by using it, they’re taking what was a negative and turning it into a positive. This is something we’re still wrestling with. Dr. Laura is allowed to comment on this but could have done so without uttering the offending word. It is not her place to figure out how black people should deal with the n-word.

My dear, the point I am trying to make … we’ve got a black man as president and we’ve got more complaining about racism than ever. I think that’s hilarious.

The premise here is very faulty. The issue of racism has nothing to do with a black president and is definitely not hilarious. Dr. Laura here is showing a lack of understanding that considering her job, scares me a little. She should have known better but frankly, she doesn’t. To be fair, this train of thought did not originate from her. I’ve seen it used elsewhere and it was also wrong then.

It really is simple Dr. Laura, black people want respect just like everybody else. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. When you use that word the way you did, you aren’t being respectful.

August 17, 2010

Uganda and the Invisible Children

You may have noticed by the banner to the right of this page that we support Invisible Children Inc. I had assumed that everyone knew exactly who they are but it has dawned on me that this might not be true. Who am I to determine where you’ve been or what you have experienced? So, let’s start from the beginning shall we?

There was a civil war in Northern Uganda from the early 80’s to about 2008. It started as a rebellion against the Ugandan government in 1987, when a rebel group was formed; The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). No one is sure exactly what the LRA’s motives are since they seem to change from month to month. On one hand, they claim that their beef is with the Ugandan government and that they’re seeking to remove dictatorship and end the oppression of the Ugandan people. In reality, most of their atrocities were visited on the Ugandan people. The leader of this group, Joseph Kony is as mystical and mysterious as the group itself. He has been described as everything from demon possessed to Christian to Muslim. One thing he is though is cruel, heartless, evil personified etc.

The LRA has made a habit of using children as soldiers. Their modus operandi is to raid villages, killing adults and kidnapping children to be forced into battle. Along the way, they’ve raped, maimed, pillaged and so on. Their rationale is that children can easily be replaced by more raids on schools, villages etc. This is where the Invisible Children comes in.

In the spring of 2003, three young filmmakers traveled to Africa in search of a story. What started out as a filmmaking adventure transformed into much more when these boys from Southern California discovered a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them, a tragedy where children are both the weapons and the victims.

After returning to the States, they created the documentary “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” a film that exposes the tragic realities of northern Uganda.s night commuters and child soldiers.

The film was originally shown to friends and family, but has now been seen by millions of people. The overwhelming response has been, “How can I help?” To answer this question, the non-profit Invisible Children, Inc. was created, giving compassionate individuals an effective way to respond to the situation.

Joseph Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda but have moved on to neighboring areas such as Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The movie “Blood Diamond” shows an accurate picture of the kind of horror this group has inflicted and is inflicting. The good news is that the Ugandan Army, the Republic of Congo’s Army and the Sudanese Army are hot on their trail. Meanwhile, in Uganda, the Invisible Children Inc. is part of the healing process. You can find more information on how to help here.

Social Vibe has also made it easy to help. By clicking on the badge to the right of this page, you can do a few quick easy activities to help raise money for the cause.

June 6, 2009

A Letter to the Baby Boomers from my Generation

Dear Baby Boomers,

We would like to take the time to thank you for all that you have done for my generation. You gave us the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Women’s Rights, Hippies etc. You taught us a lot of lessons that no doubt will be useful for years to come. Lessons like “All you need is love…..” and you spoke out for the downtrodden. Which is why it saddens me to say this; with all due respect, you’ve lost your way.

Where did it all go wrong? When did you become fine with being the same establishment that you loathed all those years? Was it too much self love or were all those things fake? Is this who you really are or did you just get fat off the nicest piece of the pie?

It certainly appears that way when you consider the huge National debt that we have right now and the current state of the economy. I find it ironic that while you were spending and mismanaging the money, you never once thought of us. Now all of a sudden your big bubble has burst and now you don’t want to pass on “this huge debt to our children”. A little too late for that isn’t it?

Well don’t worry, we’ll be just fine. We are going to change things and they will be for the better. We still remember those lessons and we know that money isn’t everything. We still remember that what made America great was not her government, rather it was her people. People who were willing to sacrifice and to share. People who were willing to give and yes, to love. So while you argue over policy, we’ll still be here. Look up the statistics, we are mentoring people younger than us more than ever before and we are taking up causes like you used to a long time ago. When Katrina happened, we were there to help and we’ll continue to go where we are needed.

There is a revolution coming and it won’t be legislated. You won’t be able to call it “Socialism” or “Capitalism” or put it in a box. We are going to change the world and we are going to do it by affecting one person at a time.

So thank you for the final lesson you have taught us. Greed and selfishness never pays. Money comes and goes but people remain.

February 13, 2009

A year and some odd days

Just about a year ago I started this blog. Back then I didn’t know it would last this long. I hoped it would but I just didn’t see how it would. I had a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of fire. I knew that I was too intense at the time and I ran the risk of burning out before I started to see the benefits I longed to see.

I started out like gang busters and I thought that I was going to take on so many problems at once. I definitely bit off more than I could chew and while I tried recruiting others to help me, it was very difficult for me to articulate my vision enough to share it. So, it didn’t work like I thought it would and I figured it was doomed.

Yet here I am a year later and the dream is still alive. Above all, I have grown more in this last year than at anytime I can remember. As a result, I am more focused in on what this is about, what I try to be about. The Round Table doesn’t have all the answers. It is about a search for the answers. It is about a sort of think tank. My vision is to get people interested and involved and by doing that, get them thinking of ideas and solutions. I am also about bringing people on board that have their own ideas since there are other viewpoints and perspectives that I might otherwise not think of.

Here’s to another year and better results than the past one.

December 1, 2008

When enough isn’t enough

Juliet Schor in her book “The Overspent American” talks about the current American culture being one of over consumption. She makes her case by providing evidence that the “average American now finds it harder to acheive a satisfying standard of living than 25 years ago.” She points out that despite the fact that we are working harder and for longer hours, making more money and buying more stuff, we aren’t satisfied with what we are spending it on. She also argues that consumption in this country is social, we are trying to keep up with other people or we simply buy things because it is the thing to do. A country as rich as ours shouldn’t be looking to get more money, instead we should be spending time figuring out how to spend it more wisely. Of course this is made infinitely more difficult because billions of dollars are spent every year to convince us to spend money on what we don’t need. Schor’s book came out in 1999 so things are probably worse now than they were with her research.

It can clearly be seen in the economic mess that we are in. It wasn’t that people didn’t know that something like this was bound to happen. Instead, we were all content on trying to accumulate more and more stuff with every single extra dime we made. You might think that you are immune to this because you didn’t lose your house and could afford to pay for it, but just consider just how much debt you are in. Americans are up to their eyeballs in debt and for what? A bigger car with speed and power that we don’t need? A house that is bigger than what we actually use? How many countries around the world actually have a full fledged storage business? Think about that for a second. We have so much stuff, that we actually have to pay someone else to store it for us.

I am not going to keep harping on all our excesses. Smarter and much wiser people than me have written about that ad nauseum. My focus is on the what now? Is this something we can’t fix because it is too much a part of our system? Is it just the curse of capitalism? I don’t think so. I think we can take back our wallets and fight this extreme consumerism. The first step would be changing our priorities. We need to get away from trying to find self worth from what we buy. We need to stop trying to keep up with other people and focus more on what we need. It doesn’t make sense to me for a father to pull 60 hours a week working just so he can afford a huge house when he can cut those hours in half and spend more time with his family. We should put our money into things that matter like our schools etc., instead of buying that new car. Or maybe I am just in denial.

September 14, 2008

Where do the people fit in all this?

First of all I would like to thank rawdawgbuffalo for his unwavering support and kindness. You are a good man. And a shout out to Tera for the love. Your words were very encouraging to me and it is always refreshing to have people rooting for you.

Let me now stress that it is late and I should either be in bed or be at a club or something. Afterall, I am a 20 something and this is Saturday night/ Sunday morning. I shouldn’t even be tackling a serious subject such as this one but I have been bouncing it around in my head and I am sick of procastinating. Like I said in my last blog, I had two people recently join me in my vision and we are working together to bring it to life. As we were thinking of new ideas and what direction to go, one of them posed this question to me randomly and seemingly off topic; “what are your thoughts on McCain and VP running mate?”

Well, I haven’t given her my answer yet. You see, I am sick of this whole election thing. I am sick of the big circus around the two parties. I am sick of the drama, the theatrics, the high wire act, the lies, the attack Ads and the politics. Truth be told, I was sick of it as early as the Democratic Primaries. I got fed up as I watched Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama duke it out. It became about them and less about what America needed. The same holds true for John McCain and his pick of Sarah Palin. He didn’t pick Palin because she was capable. He didn’t pick Palin because he thought she’d make a good Vice President, he picked Palin because he wanted to win an election. I find all of it disgusting.

Lost in all of this is the voice of the people. Lost in all of the hoopla is the fact that we live in a country that is supposed to be democratic. Government of the People for the People and by the people. Do we have the ear of Washington? Obama can you hear the frustration? McCain can you see the despair? Do you understand that there are hardworking families out here, who work three or four jobs just to survive on the barest of minimums. Can you feel that our system of education is broken and that lots of students continue to slip through the cracks? Do you know that important programs are being cut from our schools to divert funds to other things?

I could go on and on but these are some of the issues that are important to me. This is why I am doing what I am doing. I am tired of waiting on the system to realize that it is decaying from the inside. While they try to figure and sort out who the next president is going to be, I am going to spend my time taking on these tough questions. I don’t know that I can ever solve them but I am not going to just ignore them. For one, I know I am doing the right thing and I also know that I am not alone. I hope the next president will take it back to the basics and what matters; Americans. Meanwhile, wake me up when they get to the important stuff.