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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Do you know “the other”?

In behavior, cities, education, life, news, parenting, politics, religion, travel, U.S., urban life, world on July 10, 2016 at 3:09 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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The level of poverty in the U.S. is deeply shocking — given the astonishing wealth here

It’s been a week of horror, shock, dismay.

It’s been a week of disbelief that American police officers are gunned down in cold blood in Dallas during a peaceful march — and disbelief that even more black men have been shot and killed by police as well.

In Dallas, local residents are approaching police officers, many likely for the first time, to hug them and pray with them and thank them for getting up every day, ideally, to serve and protect them.

In normal life, barring bad luck or criminal behavior, very few of us ever talk to a police officer.

Few of us are likely  to know one socially unless police work, as it is often is, is part of your own family.

As a career journalist, for whom aggressively challenging hierarchy and questioning authority is key to doing my job well, interactions with police have been been few and far between — I didn’t cover “cops” as part of my job and, more generally, the way police are trained to think and behave is very different from that of journalists.

 

So how, then, do we ever meet, sit down with and get to know “the other”?

 

That “other” — i.e. someone whose race, religion, politics, ethnicity or socioeconomic class is wildly different from our own — is someone we really need to know and care about, more than ever.

The divisions, literally, are killing us.

How, then, and where, do we meet one another?

In a world now devoted to narrowed and narrower niches of communication — Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, blogs, media slanted in one direction or another — how do we find and listen thoughtfully to other points of view than our own?

How do we sit down face to face and have a civil conversation?

 

It doesn’t have to be about anything serious. It might be about baseball or music or what books you’ve been reading or your theory about Dany and her dragons on Game of Thrones.

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A tram ticket in Dublin. Travel, to anywhere new to you — if you’re curious and open-hearted — can broaden your vision and understanding.

For me, there are only two places like this right now, and I wish I had more.

One is the church I attend, although less and less of late. It is in a small, wealthy, white and conservative town near me. Of those labels, I’m white.

It’s a polite crowd, but deeply corporate and high-earning, with no one who really understands why I and my husband would choose such a poorly paid industry as journalism. What we have done for decades, and done very well, seems like an amusing hobby to them.

I’ve stayed partly because of those differences, although they are starting to wear me down.

The challenge of engaging with “the other” — beyond stilted chit-chat — is initial discomfort. They might have grown up somewhere far away you’ve never seen or attended a college you’ve never heard of. Maybe they didn’t go to college.

They might out-earn you by a factor of 10, or vice versa. Your collar might be white, blue or none, because you work, as we do freelance, at home in a T-shirt.

The discomfort of “the other” — and theirs with you! — is the point of friction we have to move beyond to create and enjoy dialogue, understanding and friendship.

Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not well worth the effort.

The other place I frequently meet a wide range of people and experiences is with a group of men and women, ages 20s to 70s, who play softball on Saturday mornings. We’ve been doing that since 2001, an unimaginably long time to do anything in a world that changes daily.

Here’s my New York Times essay about them.

In a time of economic and political disruption, even chaos, it’s a haven of comfort and familiarity — even as it brings together a disparate group: a retired ironworker, several physicians, several lawyers, several editors, a gallerist.

After each game, about a dozen of us sit under a tree at a local cafe for a long lunch, whose conversations can turn surprisingly personal and intimate.

It’s not some Kumbaya moment and the group could be even more diverse — people find us through our friendships, generally.

 

If you never meet or talk to people who are very different from you, how can you credibly listen to their experiences and concerns, giving them the same validity you do your own group(s)?

 

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Try climbing those steps in the dark, wearing a headlamp! My week in rural Nicaragua, working with WaterAid, was an extraordinary education. Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere

I grew up in Toronto, one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, in a country whose population of immigrants remains higher than that of the U.S. — 20.6 percent.

In the  U.S., with 10 times the population of Canada — it’s 13.3 percent.

Statistically, there, your odds of encountering someone very unlike you — in your classroom at school or college, on your hockey team, in your apartment building, on the subway or bus — are high in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. Calgary now has a Muslim mayor (as does London.)

So it’s normal to know, like and respect people who worship on different days, wear different clothing, eat different foods. They’re just…different…not, per se, a threat.

When Jose and I think about moving elsewhere for retirement, our first question is not just “can we afford it?” or “what’s the weather like there”?

It’s — how comfortable will he feel as a man with brown skin?

Donald Trump’s dog whistles of hatred and racism are deeply shocking to many people, in the U.S. and beyond.

My husband is of Mexican heritage, and well established in his field so the taunts can’t hurt him professionally.

But they are a disgusting way to dismiss a nation of people whose hard work has helped the U.S. for decades, if not centuries.

In  a time of relentless, growing fear and xenophobia, I hope you’ll keep talking to, listening to and staying close to “the other”, however that plays out in your life.

Without that, we’re lost.

 

A country splintering into angry shards

In behavior, business, cities, culture, domestic life, immigration, news, politics, urban life, US on February 20, 2014 at 12:37 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Americans know the expression, E pluribus unum.

(Here’s a definition)

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The idea is that, with more than 300 million people sharing a sense of national identity, we’re all just American.

Not really.

Not any more.

Every day now seems to offer another horrific story of racial, economic and political division splintering the country into angry, gun-toting, vitriol-spewing shards.

Two men shot and killed two people who were behaving, they thought, disrespectfully — one, texting in a movie theater:

It started with a father sending text messages to his daughter during the previews of a movie.

It ended with the 43-year-old man shot dead amid the theater seats, and a 71-year-old retired police officer in custody.

The shooting Monday during a 1:20 p.m. showing of “Lone Survivor” at a Wesley Chapel, Florida, movie theater escalated from an objection to cell phone use, to a series of arguments, to the sudden and deadly shooting, according to police and witnesses.

the other, annoyed by music from a nearby vehicle:

It was November 23, 2012, when Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in Jacksonville, parking next to a red Dodge Durango full of teenagers.

The teens had pulled in for gum and cigarettes; Dunn, meanwhile, had just left his son’s wedding with his fiancee, who’d gone inside the convenience store for wine and chips.

Dunn didn’t like the loud music — “rap crap,” as he called it — coming from the teens’ SUV. So he asked them to turn it down.

What followed next depends on whom you believe. Dunn claimed Davis threatened him, and he decided to take matter into his own hands upon seeing what he thought was the barrel of a gun sticking out of the Durango.

But prosecutors asserted that it was Dunn who lost control, firing three volleys of shots — 10 bullets total — at the SUV over music he didn’t like.

Here’s a recent New York Times piece on the ongoing battle to integrate poorer Americans into the wealthy precincts of Westchester County, which stretches from the Hudson River in the west to Long Island Sound.

I live in this county, in a town that has always been, and continues to be, economically and racially mixed: subsidized housing for the poor; rental apartments and houses; owned single-family houses, owned multiple-family houses, co-op apartments and condominiums.

In our town of 10,000, you can find a $10 loaf of bread at one food store while another shop sits between two projects — New York jargon for government-subsidized housing. Here’s a recent story I wrote about Tarrytown, explaining its diversity and appeal.

It’s one of several reasons I felt at home where when I arrived in 1989 and, even though the town has changed with the influx of much wealthier residents in recent years, (many fleeing Brooklyn and Manhattan’s real estate prices), I still like that diversity.

But the town of Chappaqua, a 15-minute drive north of us, is home to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with a median income of $163,201.

From the Times story:

Few places on the planet are as enviable as this Westchester County hamlet.

Stately houses are set on spacious, hilly lots shaded by old trees; its village center has gourmet restaurants and bakeries; its schools are top notch and its 9,400 residents have a median household income of $163,201, ranking the area roughly 40th among America’s wealthiest communities.

It is no surprise that Chappaqua is the home of a past president and perhaps a future one, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as a Hollywood star or two.

But the hamlet — like many other affluent, overwhelmingly white localities across the country such as Garden City on Long Island, Wellesley in Massachusetts, Marin County in California and several neighborhoods in New York City — has been churned up by plans to build new housing for people of much lower incomes, including black and Hispanic newcomers.

A developer is offering to build 28 units of affordable rental housing with caps on family earnings, though with no income floor; families of four earning no more than roughly $64,000 would qualify, as would poorer families, including those who receive federal vouchers.

It’s been said that Americans today have very few unifying experiences where rich and poor alike are subject to the same stresses and challenges — as they were in the Depression and WWII.

Today, with income inequality the highest since the Gilded Era, the nation feels as though it’s splintering into armed camps, whether the armaments are literal guns or a six or seven or eight-figure income.

Here’s a post from The Root:

Although economic downturns disproportionately affect black unemployment and home ownership, working-class and college-educated whites are now feeling the sting of restricted opportunity. In his book Angry White Men, sociologist Michael Kimmel describes how these men often blame the trifecta of feminism, affirmative action and immigration for their woes.

The relative devaluing of white privilege has been interpreted as racial oppression of whites and “reverse discrimination.” Opinion polls (pdf) suggest that half of all white Americans now see themselves as the targets of racism, and that number pushes past 60 percent among self-identified Republicans and among those who watch Fox News.

It’s a frightening and depressing trend, certainly for those of us who chose to come to the United States from another country with all the idealism and hope that every immigrant brings.

(And yet, watching terrible images of Syrians fleeing their homeland, and Venezuela erupting into protests and Ukraine killing protestors there…this is not [yet] that.)

How do you feel?

Do you see this sort of class warfare or random, ugly violence playing out where you live?

What, if anything, could address it?

Since When Are Latinos “Alien”?

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, immigration, life, love, men, news, politics, urban life, women on April 26, 2011 at 11:21 am
Percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents by ...

The percentage of Latinos by county.Image via Wikipedia

With a green card that formally and officially names me as a “resident alien”, I’m the certified foreigner in our household, not my Hispanic partner of eleven years who is first-generation American, of Mexican descent, but who is resoundingly and red-bloodedly American.

He wears khakis and polished black loafers, loves to golf, reads business magazines like Fortune and Forbes. He works at The New York Times, arguably one of the most establishment of employers, and has for decades. He drives a Subaru, drinks gimlets, takes the commuter train to Grand Central Station every weekday with legions of lawyers and media guys and non-profit executives.

He’s just one of the guys — even if he keeps a bag of pozole in the freezer and a beloved black pottery pot of his Mom’s from New Mexico, where he was born and raised.

But that’s about it. Issues of race and identity are much less compelling to either of us than the usual mid-life, mid-career questions:

When and where will we ever be able to retire? What’s for dinner? What are we doing this weekend?

Which is why I found this Wall Street Journal op-ed, by Janet Murguia, decidedly odd:

Like others who brought demographic change to America, our presence has stirred anxiety among some of our fellow Americans. A century ago, people expressed the same concerns about waves of immigrants from Italy, Ireland and Eastern Europe. It was understandable—but it also turned out to be unfounded. As the number of Latinos grows, our fellow Americans need to overcome the natural human anxiety that accompanies change and look for common ground…

It’s time for people to stop thinking about Latinos as “foreigners,” “aliens,” or “others” and start thinking of us as their fellow workers, classmates, colleagues, worshippers, neighbors, friends and family.

I’m clearly missing something here. I don’t see someone Latino and make any specific assumptions about their education or income or legal status.

We’ve attended meetings of NSHMBA, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.

When I hit my local grocery store, in suburban New York, an aisle is devoted to Latino favorites, many made by the successful firm of GOYA, founded in 1936.

My local car wash is run by a man from Colombia,  a successful and hard-working man who employs other Latinos in his community.

Two of the most talented young recent college graduates I know are a photographer and a journalist; he’s won major national awards and she’s heading off to the Los Angeles Times soon for a job there.

When I see Hispanics and Latino(a)s, I see my in-laws, friends, neighbors and colleagues, all of them hardworking, talented, ambitious — and American.

Yet when Jose and I started dating, after he found me on-line, (under the truthful headline “Catch Me If You Can”), friends started pelting me with absurd cliches:

“Does he dance salsa?” “Does he wear a guayabera?”

Excuse me?

This is a guy whose Times colleagues dubbed “the preppy Mexican”…which left him nonplussed. Was this a compliment? Can’t Mexican men wear Brooks Brothers and Barbour and LL Bean?

I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico for a few months when I was 14 and have been back to Mexico many times. I speak Spanish and it feels like home to me in some strange way. I have never understood why brown skin and a Hispanic surname offer license for all sorts of appalling stereotypes.

I’m aware there are millions of illegal aliens of Hispanic descent in the U.S. — while millions more, legally resident, also work hard, pay taxes and yearn for the same successes we all do.

Do you date or live with or did you marry a Hispanic or Latino(a)?

How, if at all, has this changed your life or your ideas?

A Handgun Or A Doughnut?

In behavior, business, Crime, Money, news on August 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm
Doughnut covered with coconut flakes
Image via Wikipedia

The other night Omar Thornton led the national news, shooting eight co-workers and then himself at a Connecticut beer distributorship. He was about to be fired. I blogged about it here at theopencase.com, but think there is more to it than that.

The second big news item, pun intended, was how rates of obesity are rising. Still.

Yes, Thornton was being fired for cause, stealing beer. But his feelings of rage, despair and desperation are in no way unique to the man who shoots and kills in a murderous rampage. Millions of us feel them, over work, family, illness, grief, job loss, unemployment. A new sub-category of misery are the “99ers”, people who have used up every bit of their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and have not yet found a job.

From The New York Times:

In June, with long-term unemployment at record levels, about 1.4 million people were out of work for 99 weeks or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not all of them received unemployment benefits, but for many of those who did, the modest payments were a lifeline that enabled them to maintain at least a veneer of normalcy, keeping a roof over their heads, putting gas in their cars, paying electric and phone bills.

Without the checks, many like Ms. Jarrin, who lost her job as director of client services at a small technology company in March 2008, are beginning to tumble over the economic cliff. The last vestiges of their former working-class or middle-class lives are gone; it is inescapable now that they are indigent.

Ms. Jarrin said she wept as she drove away from her old life last month, wondering if she would ever be able to reclaim it.

“At one point, I thought, you know, what if I turned the wheel in my car and wrecked my car?” she said.

Nevertheless, the political appetite to help people like Ms. Jarrin appears limited.

That piece elicited 697 comments and no more are being accepted.

We are dying by inches — adding them to our bellies and asses and thighs by consuming the wrong food and drink in enormous quantities. Every time we stuff too much of something greasy, fatty, sugary and/or salty into our mouths, we are often really desperately reaching for comfort, for ease, for a quick, cheap way to feel better. If we were truly joyful and at ease in our lives, would we behave thus? I think not.

We are dying by inches — of homes and dreams and degrees and graduate degrees and years of experience, training and skill worth nothing to an indifferent job market. I see a very clear correlation between these two forms of despair.

Every time someone goes on a rampage in their workplace and kills co-workers, there is such surprise, such shock. What exactly, people demand, pushed him over the edge? As if you can parse lethality so tidily. You can’t. The sub-text? If it was X, then we’ll make sure X isn’t part our our lives or workplace. It is never that simple.

We forget how many people, millions of us now, already live on the edge. We are terrified of losing our partners, kids, homes, jobs, status, cars, bank accounts, retirement savings, our physical and mental health.

It can take a mere zephyr of a breeze to send someone hurtling over the edge if that has been their neighborhood for weeks, months or years.

Whether you reach for a handgun or a doughnut, the choices are ultimately self-destructive, devastating, lethal. One is faster, bloodier, criminal and public.

But surprised?

No, we should not be at all surprised.

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