Conditional Pity


Here’s a confession…

As I hear more and more about police shootings and other types of violence against youth, I sometimes find myself sliding frighteningly close to the edge of CONDITIONAL PITY. See, CONDITIONAL PITY occurs when an individual or group feels sorry for what has happened to someone else, but believes that, to some degree, the victim was simply at the wrong place, or with the wrong people, or doing the wrong thing. And that somehow, if maybe they’d been in the right place, or with the right people, or doing the right thing, this tragedy could’ve been avoided.

I admit that I’ve fallen into that mindset on occasion. I’ve had to actively steer my thinking away from trying to make some sense out of violence that is in many instances all too often a senseless act. Perhaps the reason this happens is because to do so provides us with a false sense of security. Unfortunately, to rationalize the behavior of a criminal in hopes of protecting yourself from becoming a victim as well, not only trivializes the situation, but demeans the victim, and offers no real opportunity for commiseration.

Perhaps the biggest fallacy of CONDITIONAL PITY is that as long as you (or I) relegate victims to that space, you are using victim blaming to effectively convince yourself that it could never happen to you because, you know… you avoid those types of people/places/scenarios, right?

Wrong.

It’s been 11 years sense my nephew was gunned down in a drive by shooting. He was in a car, in the driveway with his cousins, preparing to go to the movies. He wasn’t in the wrong place, or with the wrong people. He was targeted for no reason that he himself could’ve changed or avoided.

I still think about him.

And it still hurts.

It’s only when we allow ourselves to recognize and acknowledge the innocence of these victims, that we can then understand and accept that no one, myself included, is truly safe. Because, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world is not safe. And that reality scares people. I understand that. I get scared sometimes too. But CONDITIONAL PITY is not the answer.

Instead, let us use this truth as a call to action. Safety begins at the moment of clear perception. It’s when we decide that participation is more important than observation. Be more than a spectator. In the moment one person decides to move forward, everything around them is changed. How much more so when 100 people decide to move, or 1000?

So I’m moving forward. Maybe in seeing me move, 99 others will be inspired to join me. Maybe if you move, you’ll inspire 999 others. Wouldn’t that be worth the effort? Shouldn’t it?

Opinions welcome.

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Categories: commentary, opinion, personal, relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wakandan Ruminations


I went to see Black Panther this past Friday with my extraordinary and insightful wife of 14 years. As we pulled up to the theater and found a parking spot, we had an interesting exchange before going in. It had to do with perception, assumption, and judgement.

In our two decades of knowing one another – which includes 3 years of dating before getting married – one constant annoyance for us has been the misperception that we are an “interracial couple”. That is, in the commonly accepted sense of the phrase. The reason this is significant is because, at first glance, know one would know – and some may not believe – that my wife is, without question, African American. She is no LESS African American than I am, even though to many I more readily… look the part.

It is common knowledge that the spectrum of African American complexions is wide-ranging, making it nearly impossible for someone to look at anyone else these days and deduce with any certainty that they are, or are not, “black”.

You don’t know, so don’t assume.

But assumption is the recurring theme of our public interactions with people who look askance at the “interracial couple” going to see the “black” movie. Never realizing the two of us are far more alike than we are different. Despite the apparent difference in our skin tones. The truth is that the evidence of who we are, who we really are, cannot be ascertained from a glance. Much like the truth of this movie’s significance can’t be defined by the opinions of professional (or unprofessional) critics.

See, within that truth lies the beauty of what it really means to be… African American. Within that truth is the careful, deliberate, often meticulous navigation through society that takes place daily for every African American, regardless of their shade. Within that truth is also the reason why, after watching Black Panther, this movie, this work of fiction, this stylized drama… why it is a watershed moment.

Let me be clear that I fully understand that this is a “super hero” movie. It is a live-action, film adaptation of a comic book, and as such, has no bearing on real-life events. That being said, my head and heart were all over the place.

Why?

There are several reasons. Far too many to fully convey here. But I will attempt to pinpoint the larger one in the context of my feelings.

The African Nation of Wakanda

Wakanda is a country unspoiled. Unsullied by the invasion – or colonization, as the characters point out – of those who would trample its rich culture, prohibit the expression of its traditions, exploit its resources, and enslave its people. Simply put, Wakanda was free to evolve into a highly developed, technologically advanced civilization, while retaining all of its history, customs and beliefs.

For those of African heritage, nothing like this exists in the real world.

Not.

One.

Thing.

To this day, many African nations are considered third world countries. This label typically refers to economically poor, non-industrialized nations who are often reliant upon foreign aid. But seeing Wakanda on the big screen was like a glimpse into an alternate reality. Even stripping away all of its supernatural elements, it stands as a future that could have been. Could have.

But… it isn’t.

For me, segments of the movie stood out as an extended expedition into an incredibly complex and engaging world established through tribal unity, ingenuity, and intellect. It was the answer to the nagging question… what if? What if there was no slavery? What if there was no colonization of Africa? What if there was no systemic racism? This is Wakanda!

But… it isn’t.

Or rather, it never was, and maybe it will never be. And that… that is heartbreaking.

Because it has nothing to do with the lack of supernatural intervention, or the existence of Vibranium. It has everything to do with systemic racism, the deterioration and intentional disruption of the black family unit… the lack of community awareness and concern as a country, not just isolated pockets of effective collaboration … and a society that seems to have lost its compassion and consideration for others.

Wakanda then becomes a sad reminder of unrealized potential, all that has been stolen, and what now feels unobtainable.

But… it isn’t.

Even without vibranium, the technological marvels of Wakanda are not completely fictional. The unique customs, arts, and social institutions exemplified in the movie are very real. We now have a space and an opportunity to discuss errors of the past and make corrections for the future.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

There may be some who think that what I’ve said and what I’ve seen… that it’s simply too late for us.

But… it isn’t.

Categories: commentary, current events, opinion, personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

English, Thou Art Cruel


You may have heard this before. But there is good reason to despise the English language. Especially for non-native speakers! Thing is, I love to write. I really do. So it pains me to admit that sometimes my writer’s block stems from loathing the English language and all of its dysfunctionally absurd “exceptions” to established rules of grammar. Follow me for a moment…

  • WOMB is pronounced “woom” and TOMB is pronounced “toom”, but BOMB is pronounced “bahm”.

Oh, uh… okay. :-/

Image result for wait what

  • A “pair of glasses”, a “pair of scissors” and a “pair of pants” actually refer to one item or article. But a “pair of shoes” refers to two items.  It could be argued that you’d look pretty silly with only one pant leg. But I think you’d also look pretty silly with only one shoe.

Here is a list of words that at first glance you would think rhyme. Think again. All of them are pronounced differently. ALL. OF. THEM.

Tough
Trough
Though
Through
Thought
Thorough

  • Colonel is pronounced “kernuhl”. So Colonoscopy should be pronounced “kernoscopy” right? WRONG.
  • It would also stand to reason that “take out” should not be “brought home”, but yet, it almost always is.
  • If one person doesn’t “show up” for a “showdown”, it ain’t gonna happen.
  • A “flight of stairs” involves no air travel whatsoever.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on Contranyms. That’s a can of worms even the most confident native English speaker would find disconcerting. If you dare, here’s a list.

Yet, I persevere. Because my love for writing outweighs my disdain for the words from which I must choose. 🙂

Categories: commentary, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Life As A Decoration


I recently attended an informative and deeply inspiring (read: long) industry conference in Anaheim with my wife. It was held in one of the second-floor ballrooms at the Anaheim Hilton, a hop, skip, and a jump from Disneyland’s front door. There was Magic Kingdom spill over into all of the surrounding stores and buildings that made the whole place feel like an extension of Main Street USA. It’s one of those places where everything feels like a souvenir. 🙂

Anyway, after snaking our way into the parking structure (a process that added at least a good 20 minutes to our overall travel time), we found a parking space and headed toward the venue. We arrived late (because of the crazy parking) and managed to grab a seat in the 5th row from the back. It was a great turn out. All together there were about 350 attendees, with a majority coming from various parts in and around L.A. County, along with a good contingent from Las Vegas I believe, and then a smattering from locations other than the West Coast.

Throughout the program, which lasted from about 8am to 4pm (or as the homeschoolers might call it, first subject to second snack), there were multiple speakers who took to the stage to regale us with their personal stories of triumph over circumstance, the virtues of perseverance, and general advice and suggestions on how to obtain success. All while juggling chainsaws and baking cookies. (Ha! Not really, but it feels like that sometimes.)

In usual fashion, each speaker was given a brief introduction to the audience so that we would have a better understanding of who they were, and would appreciate the experience or level of expertise from which they would be speaking. But in all of what has become very typical of these types of events, there was something that REALLY stood out to me… glaring gender disparity.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the guy that goes looking for “issues” to champion, or conjures up faux social injustices to expose. But this just sort of nagged at me throughout the day. The part that really puzzled me wasn’t the fact that the disparity was so obvious (at least to me), but that so many people seemed to be completely oblivious to it, or at least indifferent toward it.

Let me explain…

One introduction went something like this, “Mr. such and such is an amazing individual who did X, Y and Z! In addition to being wildly successful, he’s also friendly, humble, and a real go-getter! He lives in a beautiful house in such and such city, has X amount of children, AND AN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL WIFE. I MEAN, SHE IS DROP DEAD GORGEOUS!

To be fair, in and of itself, there was nothing wrong with that statement. This person was simply offering a compliment to the speaker’s spouse. But there are two very important implications that lie underneath that benign statement…

1) that there was some apparent correlation between the beauty of the speaker’s wife and his success, and,
2) that what was most important to disclose about his wife was how attractive she was.

And these become the ongoing subliminal messages we transmit…

Men, become someone so accomplished that you can snag a drop-dead gorgeous wife.
And women, the most important thing about you, 
and the only thing that anybody really cares about, is how you look.

Now, I must state that there were also several speakers who were female. But not one of their introductions included references to the attractiveness of their husbands. No one mentioned how “stunningly handsome” or “captivatingly good-looking” the men were. It was usually a reference to what he did, such as, “…and her husband is an engineer,” or “…he comes from a military background.”

In an age where being arm candy could easily be the extent of someone’s aspirations, it doesn’t surprise me that no one noticed this pattern of referring primarily to a woman’s appearance, and by contrast, mostly referring to a man’s accomplishments. It seems to happen all the time.

shiksa_evolution_illo

Illustration by: Zohar Lazar (as it appeared in a Hollywood Reporter article dated June 19, 2015)

Next time you’re out with someone, pay attention to how other people refer to the men and women they know, or how they are introduced. There’s a good chance it’ll fall along the lines of “she’s pretty” and “he’s successful”.

I have one daughter. And it saddens me that she’s growing up in a world that constantly reinforces the idea of beauty over brains. Especially when to me, it is a person’s intelligence that really makes them attractive. So I plan to do everything I can to make sure my daughter understands that being smart isn’t a liability, and that her purpose in life is infinitely bigger than simply being a decoration.

I’m curious what other people think about this.

Do you believe gender disparity exists? And if so, what can we do to eliminate this type of default thinking?

Categories: commentary, opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

KNOWING LOVE


This is a picture of my wife at 4 years old.

andrea-at-4

Every time I look at this picture, I smile and think to myself, “I wish I’d known her then. I would’ve been her friend!” Seriously, I would’ve friended her so hard. lol I would’ve rode bikes, made mud pies, endured protracted doll activites, discovered bugs in the yard, and listened to every fantastic tale her young mind could conjure. I would’ve done all of it. Gladly.

I used to lament the fact that I didn’t know her when she was younger. That is, until I understood something very important…

She is still that little girl.

That 4-year-old little girl lives inside of her. And every time she shares with me stories of her childhood, or introduces me to cousins she used to visit in the summer, or I sit and watch while she reminisces over faded, old photos of Canadian farmland, I learn more about her 4-year-old self… and her 13-year-old self… and any other year-old versions of her that I may not have witnessed firsthand. And I fall in love with each and every one of them.

Because they are all still there.

As I picture this beautifully blonde, rambunctiously creative, spirited little girl, I realize that I love and have loved… all of her, throughout time. It is impossible to separate the woman she is, from the girl she was. They are one and the same.

So I no longer wish I’d known her at 4-years-old, because… I do. I know her as a preteen in the school performance at Play Mountain Place. I know her as the high school graduate who set off on her first year at UC Santa Cruz. I know her as the coed who took a summer trip to a lake house with friends. And I know her as the woman who bought her first house in Pasadena. I know… HER.

Instead, I now wish that I will continue to know her until she’s 104-years-old. Because I can’t imagine a more amazing gift than over a century of knowing and loving someone like her.

Happy Valentines Day, my love. ❤

Categories: marriage, personal, relationships, stories | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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