Archive for June, 2017

06/29/2017

Identifying as “Black” at the “Expense” of Black Folk

 

Recently, I was minding my business online and this article about a German model, Martina Adam (AKA Martina Big) crossed my feed. This article highlighted her transformation from a petite quotidian white female to a woman known for the largest breast implants in Europe. Apparently, she has gone a step further to become a “black woman” – down to getting medical treatment to change her skin tone and change her hair color from blonde to black.

I just sat there, and shook my head. Then the story of Nkechi Amare Diallo popped into mind.

Who is that, you might ask. Well, that’s what Rachel Dolezal changed her name to after two years in the spotlight for being outed as a white woman stated she was black. She had done a pretty good job too: went to a HBC (historically black college, but did have to sue to get in), became a black history professor and the head of the NAACP branch in Spokane, Washington. Once she was outed as being born originally white at the end of a local TV interview, all hell broke loose. Fast forward to two years later and she is having some financial difficulties that are juxta positioned by the release of her book on her experiences.

I have mixed feelings the more I examined both situations and much of my feelings are sadness.

Now, people are free to do as they please, in theory. The thing that is so polarizing in both circumstances is what motivates both women and the social implications of their efforts. Some have argued it reeks of white privilege to have the ability to even undertake this sort of endeavor in a public space. Dolezal/Diallo has expressed her motivations in quite a few interviews since she was “outed”, but it has been a bit challenging to get a sense of Adam’s motive in my initial search outside the impression of creating a unique personal brand.

Unfortunately, contemporary Western society has been built on the concept of race in a manner that those at the top, who appear to still be mostly of white European descent, can seemingly embrace and experience other cultures freely. So, it isn’t anything to hear the stories of some “white person” going to X country to learn more about and embracing that country’s culture and possibly attempting to speak on that culture’s behalf. On the one hand, nothing wrong with that – if you’ve got the means to travel, go see the world and learn new things. Still, within that is that implicit right to do so and be relatively unchallenged that some can argue where the “white privilege” lies. I was watching a cooking tryout show recently and hearing a contest (a young adult white female) taking about living in China for 2 months and developing an appreciation and expertise in the cuisine she experienced. She spoke with so confidence that once she mentioned her length of stay, I had a sense of discontent that hit me initially. Now is that a fair assessment? While she could have developed some expertise during her stay in China, the judges found that she did not execute the basics of her dish well enough to continue in the competition.

I suppose that might be the thing that not sitting well with me when reading about both Adams’ and Dolezal/Diallo’s experiences. On the one hand, there is empathy to be had about their individual struggles and finding their own place in society. But, ethnicity based issues do not happen inside a vacuum and the social implications of both stories are murky at best in their ability to generate constructive discourse. It’s hard to become one of those people in the spaces one is trying to access because you lack the social footing to truly engender those roles. To be “black” in this case isn’t to cherry pick the aspects of black culture that one finds appealing or to merely identify with elements of black culture that are palatable and disregard the rest. As a black male, I don’t get to disregard the fact that the police have the ability based on current set-up to view me with a more suspicious gaze walking down the street, no matter how impeccable I am in other areas of my life or how spotless my criminal record is. The identity of the black woman is so something rich and complex that even as a black male there are parts I wouldn’t attempt to lay calm to speak on as an expert.

Sadly, whenever there is the idea to exploit a group and to keep us separated and unequal based on our ethnicity, one cannot help but be more sensitive to things that have an exploitative feel or at minimum some serious lack of awareness. “To be poor is a crime” Freddie MacGregor sang once; it would appear that same sentiment is applicable to being black in 2017.

So how do we use our access and privileges in our own various circles to facilitate better inter-ethnic relationships to truly create a society that reflects the different but equal experience?

https://www.facebook.com/Model.Martina.BIG/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/01/us/rachel-dolezal-race-social-construct-cnntv/index.html

 

 

06/27/2017

The “F” in Facebook Stands For…

So recently I decided to “renew” my relationship with Facebook. I logged back in, as a part of restarting my current commentary stretch here. To my surprise, the interface desktop wise has gotten very- busy visually, to say the least. But, today’s commentary isn’t about my gripes with Facebook’s current desktop layout.

For those aware, I haven’t actively used Facebook in about 4+ years. Back when I used to use it daily, people had a bit more leeway in terms of what they could put as their usernames. People changed names all the time on my friends’ list, so much so I stopped keeping track of names and went more my profile pictures. I recently decided to create a secondary account for my MMO (online gaming) endeavors under my in-game username and was promptly kicked off Facebook a few days later. Now, I should have seen in coming when I wasn’t able to find the section in the settings that allowed you to update your name in the demographics. I did remember vaguely seeing stuff about this over the past few years, but when you don’t use a service, it’s easy to ignore the changes.

I won’t lie: I was pissed for all of .02 seconds. Then, I started to do some research; the more I dug, the more comfortable I was keeping that account disabled. I think I hadn’t used Facebook in so long that they’d become an IPO in my absence – and didn’t own Instagram either. Now, in my absence, because Facebook now has investors and a slightly different focus on surface delivery, the name issue is more prevalent.

So, what’s in a new? Quite a lot, actually.

Facebook, if one looks at them from a purely social media space perspective, is one of the longest running threads in the social media age. Lots of people use it for the basic reason it was invented: to communicate and keep up with other people in a more unique manner than the traditional phone call/occasional meet up. For some of all ages, it is a very helpful tool. With many of these folks, they use the me that best identifies with them – their government name, and that’s that.

With others, it gets a wee bit more complicated.

Some people in the LGBT community, for instance, use social media sites like Facebook as great outlet to express their evolving identity. Some of those people want nothing to do with their government name and would prefer to use something that doesn’t meet the “traditional definitions” of a name. Some valued the right to change their names because different names may hold different levels of significance at various points in their life course. Now, Facebook could argue (and may have in recent memory) the following points: a lack of a “real name” doesn’t allow them to effectively meet certain obligations by being able to provide a targeted experience to end users (which is important to their business model). Another point is that because some have used Facebook for nefarious means (cyberbullying, coordinating violence and illicit activities), if people could use fake names easily, it makes identifying these people offline more difficult.

While I get that, it still sucks we are having this debate over what qualifies for a “real name” on Facebook. My intent was to not to use my real name because I didn’t want any of Facebook services, outside of accent to content for that MMO. My real account is cluttered as is and didn’t want to add it there. But while my reasons are somewhat superficial, there are others who having access to that ability to use the name they see fit due is of much more significance.

Have social media institutions like Facebook (and Twitter, since these two are some of the oldest), gotten to a point where they should conform more to societal trends? Well, Facebook within the past two years have tried to relax some of their restrictions on what constitutes a “real name” on their site. Yet there are folks who will clamor such concessions do not go far enough. I guess when you’re dealing with a still private entity, you’ve got to play by their rules to access their services.

For some, it’s just another entity trying to pigeonhole people into something they don’t want by dictating to them what names they are allowed to use.

06/24/2017

The Many Faces of Social Media

I’ll be the first to admit I am somewhat of a relic in my peer group – I don’t have a true footprint on social media. I’m not on IG/” The ‘Gram” (Instagram) or Twitter or Snapchat. No Reddit, Tumblr, or Blogger either. No Tinder, PlentyofFish, Match.com, eHarmony or any of the social dating apps. No Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or GoFundMe accounts. I recently started watching YouTube and even that’s most for tech and a very small list of things I’m interested in. If it wasn’t for this space, and 99 months’ worth of handwringing, I would not have been on Facebook either. For a while I was on Google + (mostly for tech chatter) and the most I do now is prattle on here and comment on a forum on a tech blog whose tech focus has shifted in a way I’m not fond of.

So why the fuddy-duddy approach to social media?

Well the answer is simple and slightly complicated. I did some of the ones I’ve mentioned at their very early stages – back in the days when it was only websites and the earliest versions of the apps were atrocious. Back in the days when I used to own an iPhone 3G and developers just started to pick up steam. No Snapchat then, we had Vine and other Snapchat precursors. Teens used Oovoo and other things I cannot remember to IM. I can remember the era when businesses and other social entities just started the branding of following them on social media. So, in part, I experienced all this stuff already – didn’t find that it was for me and dropped them all.

Has a lot changed since my early trial days? Sure. WordPress looks a whole lot different now from what I started out with where a lot more granular controls in how to make the blog look the way you wanted. Facebook wasn’t as convoluted as it is now in terms of the interface layout, but you had to dig harder to find certain things that is more in your face now. As many of the social apps come and gone, the longstanding ones such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have gotten so interwoven in our fabric that if you’re not using social media you’re as much of a relic as Americana items are in 2017.

Yet, the other reason I stopped using social media has a lot to do with human nature. Even back then, I could see the abuse potential for social media. Recent cases have shown this with suicides, illegal activity and violence being tweeted, or livestreamed. People have literally opened up and posted their entire lives online, and there are things I have seen that unfortunately I cannot un-see. Cyberbully, internet stalking are serious concerns. Mr. Trump on Twitter isn’t something I need to explain. It is easy for controversies to spin wildly out of control based on who followed or unfollowed whom, or how a keyboard warrior chooses to interpret the next tweet or post. With the presence of social media, the power to impact folks offline has been magnified – whether it’s for positive means or to destroy lives.

One thing is clear – the feedback from social media is instantaneous. For some people, that’s the most attractive and the most difficult aspect of social media to comprehend.

I suppose I went old school and threw up a middle finger at it all and simply unplugged. Perhaps I have done so for the simple reasons of not wanting to be burdened by some of the rules of social media. My perception has always been some decorum still applies; not everyone needs to know where you are at all times, what you are always doing, what your most private thoughts contain and you most intimate moments entail. But even though I may not use social media much does not mean I am oblivious to its ways or its impact.

 

It boils down to intent, as at the end of the day, social media is yet another tool we have available for use at our disposal.

06/20/2017

The Moral Compass of the Modern Corporation

Modern corporations these days crack me up. If one has followed the news recently, we see lots of moves by corporations pulling sponsorships or ad slots from shows that there has been lot so negative backlash from. The most recent has been Megyn Kelly’s interview of Alex Jones. For those not familiar, Alex Jones is someone in what is been labelled as the Alt Right movement who is controversial shock jock who has apparently stated, among other things, that the parts of the Sandy Hook shooting a few years ago was a “hoax”.

Now, there is much in that to unpack, and while others have discussed it ad nauseam, what I am choosing to highlight is the corporation’s responses. There are reports that some groups have pulled ads from the upcoming airing of Kelly’s interview with Alex Jones. Similarly, we’ve seen corporate sponsors pull out of the recent NCY Puerto Rican Day Parade because of the honoree being a member of the FALN Oscar Lopez Rivera. Why the controversy? Well, in the 1970s, the FALN did commit acts of domestic terrorism in NYC and the history behind it is worth the read. Again – yet another complex issue that has been debated ad nauseam that we see corporations taking a stance on.

So, what’s up with the corporations these days? Are they growing a true conscience? Or is this newly found conscience another way of capitalizing on opportunities to make profits?

My guess is the best way to answer those questions is to decide what is the expectations of how corporations are to operate. That one is still as complicated as some of the issues we have seen corporations weigh in on recently. Some companies and corporations have strived to balance the needs of being profitable with the needs of giving back to the community by supporting social causes. Many Fortune 500 companies have some charity work they do… I remember at the old job some big financial institution would come in annually and do workshop with young people on money management and resume writing.

Let’s state a fact: most of these companies use analytics to understand their markets and target demographics. So, if a company places an ad on a highly visible show or area where there is great viewership, increases brand recognition and potential consumers of the company’s products or services. Now there has been a shift over the past 20 years of social values in some demographics. For instance, my sister is very keen on sustainability – she needs to know where her food comes from and that the other products she consumes are from companies who have a positive environmental platform. Therefore, if big corporations try to appeal to her, she vets them via research and decides what she feels comfortable what she uses.

Some corporations have track records on certain issues, so pulling sponsorship from certain areas is OK by them – maybe their analytics have built in the potentially revenue lost from such a move and they are OK with that. Others may be capitalizing on make that move to get to consumers as my sister in the effort to rebrand their image. Guess it is ultimately up to us as the consumers to decide how best to shift through what the corporations are selling whenever taking a moral stance on an issue.

At the end of the day, companies still aim to make a profit, no matter how morally inclined they may be.

06/18/2017

The Many Shades of Parenthood

Two events where the source of inspiration for today’s impromptu commentary:

The first was a conversation I had with someone last night about the arc of parenting. Neither one of us are parents – she had wanted to be one at some point and it didn’t work out for her, and myself am still delaying such responsibility for a myriad of reasons. But, there was still much parenting related experiences to draw on which highlighted much of the complexities of parenthood. Now, you may think, how can two people who don’t have kids talk about being parents? Well, everyone was a child at some point – at least some of us choose to acknowledge that fact – and not everyone was raised in the confines of the stereotypical nuclear family. What made the conversation stand out was the lessons we learned from our caregivers as children and their impact on our perceptions of parenthood.

The second was a piece in today’s New York Times about the evolution of the concept of the “father-daughter dance”. Essentially the article tried to highlight the different variances in family dynamics and how said variances impacted the preservation of this tradition. Now, for some of us this tradition doesn’t matter; for others, it is very important to either preserve it as is or make accommodations to reflect family variance. I know of men and women who are single parents. I also know of LGBT individuals who are parents (single or co-parenting). Is it appropriate for a household with two moms and two dads to be wished Happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? I may be more inclined to ask them how they want to answer this one; some may say yes, others may say no.

What’s always struck me is hearing women who are single parents use the phrase “my child’s father”. You can often hear the heaviness in those words, many times it feels loaded with the more of the context of the relationship between both parents than it is about the relationship between the male and the children. I can recall many a conversation with single female parents in person and in the media and you would have thought the children were immaculately conceived (although that does happen). While you commend those women for their strength in parenting, you often wonder how the have chosen to handle conversations their children may have with them about the other half of their identity. I can also recall conversations with single men who are parents and how similar yet different their points of focus are.

Many people will handle co-parenting different ways. One of my friends who is a single parent, while her relationship with her daughter’s father isn’t the best has made efforts to ensure he can build a relationship with his daughter as she has placed a premium on the importance of that.  She has chosen to reflect and actively acknowledge the lessons her daughter is learning from her through observation how she interacts with men. Some parents may not see the need to be aware of those things. Some people need to have the courts involved with their parenting because of the continuous nature of the relationship between the parents.

Contemporary society has a strong patriarchal element that may not be going away anytime soon. I suppose my take has always been that if you’re receiving good parenting from one or two sources it’s all that matters. Ideally one may yearn for both to present and in a relationship together as that’s the narrative that has been sold to us for eons, but respect for each other can happen even in the absence of an intimate relationship between parents. For a society that values youth and the potential children possess, there is always conflicting messages surrounding what parents are and how people should parent.

Each human being has the capability to create life, but not every human being has the capacity to parent.

 

06/17/2017

Valuing Experience vs Education

So as a vice I play a popular MMO. MMOs are massively multiplayer online games. We recently had a discussion where there was a huge uproar over a difference of opinion that got me thinking. Basically the people who had experienced the higher harder content in the game where calling out people like me who have done research on the higher content as being “clueless”. While you may say “it’s just a damn video game”, there was an important observation I made upon reflection:

We live in a time where it is very difficult to balance the importance of having practical experience on a subject matter and appropriate theoretical knowledge.

Huh?

Hear me out for a second. Our current traditional and informal education model appears to be built on the dynamics between learning via experience and learning via observation (in this case what I will label education). So, people have had a series of experiences and have noticed some common themes. Instead of having more people have the same experiences to learn the same themes, it was decided it is easier to teach people those lessons without having them physically experience those things first hand – AKA the education system. That way, with those concepts as a base, people’s experiences can either build on those experiences by confirming and developing nuances, or change the course of those concepts by disproving their relevance and replacing it with something else.

Yet, it is more than just doing those things. There are social values being placed on having “more experience” in some situations vs learning through observation. For instance, parents and non-parents are viewed differently when talking about matters relating to child care. I find that still interesting though because even among parents, younger people who are parents are still viewed negatively in terms of their experience levels when talking about child care issue.

Sure looks like we still value first-hand experience over education. But that narrative is problematic in a world where education access for some has vastly improved. In other words, very few areas of industry in some countries you make good money with a HS diploma. On the flipside, too many people with undergraduate degrees have the expectation of being CEO level pay in the field at their first job merely BECAUSE they went to college. Should they get compensated because they have their degree? Sure. But a degree doesn’t always predict how well people will translate those lessons in the field.

So how do you balance the two? Well, that’s the issue there. Both have merits and for me that’s the crux of the matter. IT would appear our contemporary climate is so driven being dichotomy its harder than ever to appreciate difference. It just seems like it always is one way OR the other (experience OR education) as the best fit for ALL situations.

And here I thought true knowledge was the ability to merge both experience and education in a practical manner to grasp an understanding of a specific topic or concept. Silly me, right?

06/15/2017

Interpreting Caesar in Sensitive Times

Since the election of Mr. Trump to the Presidency, his first roughly 6 months in office has been interesting, to say the least. Some would use the terms polarizing, divisive, horrifying, scandal ridden, “noob”, “boob”, among others as terms to describe to what we’ve seen so far.

It’s a significant period of change that is happening for sure, where things in the US will end up from a political and moral sense in many ways, no one knows. Now, with the current administration in office providing enough ammunition, people have been taking shots at government – first, figuratively, in art and comedy, and now literally with the shooting of the House Majority Whip this week at the practice for the annual baseball game.

Now, I don’t condone violence by any means, especially stuff that is politically motivated. I hope Rep Scalise has a full recovery and the others hurt in the shooting make a full recovery. What’s troubling is in this time of political change as old traditions are being stripped away for many reasons, is this undercurrent of emboldened repressed views. Now some can argue that Mr. Trump has that undercurrent present in his platform and the visibility of certain groups we all know existed. But all these headlines seem to miss an important ideological shift that is underway

To me, what may be lost in all this change is the ability to maintain a space to some degree of a difference in opinion. The New York Public Theater recently did an adaption of Julius Caesar in which a Trump like figure was being assassinated in the play’s key scene. There has been such backlash from it from as far as the Trump family themselves. This is on the heels of Kathy Griffin’s recent comedic picture with the decapitated pseudo head of Mr. Trump where she suffered backlash, likely ending her career. While you can debate parts of both stories, what should not be up for debate is this idea of not being able to express a viewpoint which is different from someone else because it doesn’t have equal weight in a discussion BECAUSE it is merely a different viewpoint.

While no one said American was great at trying to be supportive of divergent views, it would appear the value placed on making the effort to do so is being lost. To me, that might be one of the things Shakespeare’s play may have hinted at.