Sunday, December 26, 2004

Race and Racism

In this issue of race and racism I am in a very weird position, because - as you both may have noticed -, I'm a black Hispanic, and I received racism from every direction: from African Americans, from Hispanics -my in laws included, so you get the picture-, and from white Americans who think that I'm a compilation of problems: black, Hispanic, woman, and with an accent ;-) !
However, as weird as this may seem, I discovered racism when I steeped in this country, because Cuba it's a very strange place in which, although I was really poor, I had access to the best schools, the education was great and free, and I have never put on a paper what color I was, however, I attended the University of Havana, and got in the most contested career. With me, there were people of every color, who, like me, never had to mention their color of skin.
This is not to say that Cuba isn't a racist place, this is to say that the system works in a way in which you are never faced with the issue -this is changing now for the worst, in many respects, and the economic crises has to do with it, too, but that would be too long to explain here-.
When I got to this country, I started to feel the racism, mainly in the Cuban community in Miami -which is horrible-, and then in the rest of the society, and even though it has not affected me in a personal level, I'm committed to this fight with all I have got, because I can't believe how black people are in such a bad shape in the richest country on Earth.
All that said, I have to say that I understand that someone does not see the problems with racism or he could not read racism when is disguised as a mere objective analysis. This actually was probably the problem for me, because if you asked me 7 years ago what I was, probably the last thing I would say would be black, because that did not even form part of my identity back then. It is now, because it is a fighting identity, not because I see anything in particular in me that makes me much different from anyone else of any race.
I remember when I started to struggle with this issue, as with the issue of gender, I used to quote, and now will paraphrase, the character Sabina, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera: being black, and being a woman are for me a fate I have not chose. What has not been chose by ourselves can not be considered a merit or a failure. I'm not proud, neither ashamed of being black, woman, heterosexual, or Cuban, and I guess we will keep being in trouble as long as we could find pride or shame on being something we did not chose. As science is every day proving with more clarity, race is a fake concept, something society created for the purposes of distinction, and there is nothing in biology that supports it. However, it does not mean is a fiction, since it does have real consequences on people's lives.
Sometimes, people do not confront the issue of race because it does not affect them directly or even indirectly, and they are not even racist, but just have the idea that the issue of race is so clear for everybody now, that it could move away from the front burner, however, that's not the case. Jim does not have a personal implication with the problem, so I would certainly doubt that someone as open as he is would be racist, but just the problems that claims such as the ones made by The Bell Curve would pose for Maryam or for myself are not the first ones that come to Jim's mind when he is analyzing the issue.
Specifically that book, that I consider certainly very ill intentioned - so much so as Hungtinton's Foreign Policy: The Hispanic Challenge: "The Hispanic Challenge"-, made me think of something: what if, actually, by keeping black people in the impoverished conditions they are now, and with the worst schools one could ever desire, we are impeding their development, mentally, and physically, and therefore maintaining and IQ lower that the average? There have been clear evidence of the importance of old fashioned things such as good food, body movement, and conducive environment in mind development. Also, there is now a clear link between breastfeeding and mind development, however, the African American community has the lower rates of breastfeeding.
This issue is a long one, and we are now seeing how the Bush administration managed to use identity politics to implement the most unitarian, and reactionary policies ever, by creating a very "diverse" cabinet, of people that may be black or Hispanic, but have nothing to do with the people that live in Anacostia, or in Wheaton. That's the problem of maintaining the importance of race: for me race has no meaning, because it's just a divisive issue, that could be clearly used against us all, and blacks in particular.

Yahoo! Groups : teachthefacts

Yahoo! Groups : teachthefacts

Why this list is here
The Montgomery County Public School District is implementing a new
health education policy that was proposed by a citizens advisory
committee and adopted unanimously by the school board.

Respect and tolerance
This discussion list supports the rights and liberties of individuals, and
respects the choices that people make in their lives

Controversy
The school district is doing what it can to provide accurate
information to students. Certainly, these topics are controversial,
as various religious denominations have their teachings on the
subject and as parents seek to teach the best values to their
children. We think though that the best approach is to provide
students with facts that they can use in conjunction with the
values they learn at home and in their religious training

Stand up for what's right
We oppose those who are trying to intimidate the school board, who
insist that the curriculum reflect their specific beliefs about the
morality of particular behaviors.

Vigilance

Vigilance

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Worth a Thousand Words... and Two Thousand Sorrows

It's interesting, although I normally agree with The New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman, I can't this time, with his article Worth a Thousand Words.
I do share the sentiments of horror looking at that picture, the sames I have had each time I see a kid the age of my daughters slaughter by American troops - of course, they did not mean to, but that's why war is just wrong, because you do "things you did not mean to"-.
But, that's not the issue now.
You say that the insurgent is just the sunny who want to keep tyranizing Iraq. We don't know who the insurgents are, and we don't have any reason to believe that the insurgents are just sunnies, or that they had any previous access to Iraq's oil.
We do know, though, that when Saddam was our man we supported his killings.
Also, we are trying to impose elections on the iraqui people, because America still believes that Western values and processes are the only ones valid in the world, and that everyone has to agree with them. That comes from assuming that Democracy as we know it here, is a ahistorical thing, is a God-given. That's a false premise, though, as you well know. Democracy has a historicity, as Islam has one, as Christianity has one, as our legal system has one. So, why do we assume that Iraquies want elections Western style?
I'm certain that they do not want people being killed, that much I agree with you.
But, I'm from Cuba, and I can't help wondering how would I feel if, to "liberate" my country, US decides to conquer it (shall we say "again"?) and in the process kills my mother and brothers who are there? In short, when did it happen that it was ok to kill your way to democracy?
The ones organizing the elections, and the democratic process in Iraq have a lot at stake, and are aspiring to more power after the fact, they are very westernized, etc. But, what about the rest?
The other problem is that, as you well know, the power is the one that gets to name the terror: so now the insurgents in Iraq are terrorist, while the ones that US was supporting in Nicaragua were freedom fighters.
On the other hand, if a group of insurgents were meeting in a house in Mosul to organize an antielection rally: what do you think the US army would do to them?
They are also fighting, and the elections and its organizing process may not be considered legitimate by everyone in Iraq, so they are opposing them... and probably they took a page from our play book: the ends justify the means. Wasn't that the rational for going to war?

Friday, November 05, 2004

La verdad de los números

Mi experiencia profesional me ha ayudado mucho en la vida. Desde mis años de estudiante aprendí que, aunque los periódicos quieran dividirla en Economía, Política, Internacionales, Deportes, Salud, Educación y demás, la realidad se resiste a ser parcelada y una vez y otra muestra la profunda integración de todas las cosas.

La relación entre economía y política es tal vez la más obvia, pero ¿qué decir de economía y salud, de economía y educación y de educación y salud? No por coincidencia los estudios insisten en mostrar, caprichosos, que los niños de familias de bajos ingresos – también conocidos como pobres, pero el eufemismo siempre se agradece – suelen asistir a peores escuelas, obtener peores calificaciones, tener una salud más débil, carecer de seguro médico, quedarse solos en casa después de la escuela hasta bien entrada la noche, pertenecer a pandillas juveniles, fumar, usar drogas.. ¿sigo?

De hecho, evidencia empírica y resultados estadísticos de varios estudios han mostrado que la falta de acceso, otro eufemismo para dinero, es el factor más determinante en todo esto. Según estudios citados por Identity, Inc., de Washington D.C., independientemente de raza o etnia, la pobreza es el más infalible pronóstico del uso de drogas, las dificultades en la escuela, el embarazo en la adolescencia y otros problemas de esta naturaleza entre los latinos.

Como los jóvenes latinos menores de 18 años representan el 16% de la población de Estados Unidos, pero representan el 29% de los niños que viven en la pobreza, no es difícil mostrar la correlación.

Entonces, cuando las estadísticas dicen que se crearon nuevos empleos, que la bolsa subió, o que bajaron los impuestos, exactamente ¿qué quiere eso decir? La Oficina de Presupuesto del Congreso dio a la luz un estudio el pasado viernes que indica cómo los cortes tributarios de la administración Bush han beneficiado desproporcionalmente al uno por ciento más rico del país, mientras los beneficios para los más pobres son prácticamente imperceptibles.

Sí, sí, sabemos que los más ricos pagan más impuestos, pero es lógico, puesto que se trata de impuestos sobre los ingresos y el colmo sería que los tuvieran que pagar quienes menos reciben. Pero a la larga los números tienen que analizarse en términos de cuánto le queda a uno en el bolsillo. Y aquí las cifras son claras: el 1% más rico tuvo un incremento del 10.1%, mientras que el 20% de los más pobres sólo vio un aumento del 1.6%.

Hablando en plata, literalmente: A quien gana 6 dólares por hora le devolvieron unos 199.68 dólares. No sé, pero algo me dice que eso no alcanza para pagar el seguro médico de un mes para una familia, ni dos semanas de cuidado después de la escuela para mi hija de 7 años, cuyo campamento de verano era casi 200 por semana. ¿Será por eso que los pobres tienen la salud más mala?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Blacks and Hispanics, the Irrational Fight

What about a program about the racism (this is against blacks) among Hispanics? This is such an interesting topic because it shows several instances:
1. It's hard to forge an alliance between blacks and Hispanics, because they have deep distrust of each other -which has been carefully instilled by the Whites or the power in a divide and conquer fashion- . However, this alliance will serve both minorities quite well: imagine the power they would have, if instead of being fighting for crumbs they demand response to all their needs, for ALL?
2. Many of Hispanics, some of them almost illiterate, are still very racist and consider even Powell or Rice inferiors, because they think that, regardless of how much they (the blacks) may have or know, they could never change their color. This is interesting because this has to do with slavery in our countries (I'm a black Cuban) and with the idea of blacks being lower class, delinquents, etc.
3. Since there have been benefits for both minorities, each minority has the tendency to fight for the benefits the other minority has, instead of demanding its own.
4. The latest effort to divide is the recurrence to the problem of the language, and the insistence on the fact that language is what makes Americans so. Which is recurring to the only thing that whites and blacks in America have in common, and Hispanics -also referred to as the Hispanic Challenge- don't. Obviously, each time other issues of poverty and lack of access are discussed, clearly Hispanics and Blacks would have much more in common.
5. Hispanics supposedly threaten the low paying jobs which are normally the place for blacks. This is a disgusting rational, as you may notice, because it's circumscribing blacks to those miserably paying jobs, that they need not to take, because they actually speak English and could have or should have had the opportunity to have a good education -not even getting into the issue of not needing to exist jobs that don't pay a livable wage, but that's a separate program- and those cleaning jobs are "normally" held by immigrants, because of the language barrier and therefore inability to work more qualified jobs. This fight for low paying jobs (and for control of crime zones, too) have ignited violence among both communities.
This could be a never ending issue, but it is soooo interesting and challenging, and so up to date.

Debates

I really think this time the press wont have the opportunity to spin the facts against the Democrat Party and the democrat presidential candidate. Kerry won the debate by and large, funny enough with the same kinds of strengths Gore presented against Bush last time around, except that back then, because everybody thought that Bush was not able to articulate two sentences in a row, and he managed to do so, it was consider almost a miracle for him, and that gave him his supposed victory on the debate. But, what about the issues? He did yesterday, what he did in 2000 -its obvious because he has no ability to do something else or go out of the script- repeat a tiring list of empty slogans, avoid answering specific points by resorting to a weird speech on freedom, and appropriate as if they were his only the most common points and more shared values that anybody will have to agree with: that a free Iraq is good for everyone, that the world is better off without Hussein, that America's decision on defense could not be left to others. However, once again he left the real questions unanswered: yes the world is better w/o Hussein, but why are we there anyway? Did we go because he was a dictator or because he had WMD? What was the accomplished mission? Is Iraq in the road to success now, how so?
And the list goes on and on. He attacks without any factual response, and, since his mind is rather one way, he has trouble understanding the fact that facts actually should make one change the course of things whose course is wrong.
And he did not miss the opportunity to change the speech and say that "global test" means asking other countries for permission, instead of "passing the global test" meaning passing the test of meeting all the conditions to make it legal and acceptable to take a preemptive action.

Remembering Casablanca

After being awake most of the night, and crying my eyes out, I have now to accept what seems to be the fact: Bush was reelected... by us!
And that makes me think of many things: what is actually the Republican base? Is it the rich? No, because there are not that many of them to get anyone into the White House. Their base is the really poor, not well educated and extremely (extremist) religious people. That's why people whose kids are dying in Iraq, so they can get a way to go to college, for some WMDs about whose disappearing Bush was laughing, are still willing to vote for Bush.
But the point now is: what the democratic party's base is? When I got to clean my tears from my face, I remembered when in the movie Casablanca, the protagonist said: "We will always have Paris."
Well, we will always have 2008, and even if it looks to fast to start thinking about it, just think for how long Republicans have being organizing themselves, and preparing the soil. Also, look how they do not destroy each other in Primaries, and actually concentrate all their efforts on their agenda behind one man.
Now it's the time to Move On, and to remember that the only way we could gain people to our side is to show them exactly how the issues affect them, and not only things like: vote or die.
We need to think, and not mourn, but organize. We need to think, and make people think.
My second mom called me around 10 pm yesterday, when I was totally hopeful we will win, and she was convinced we would not win. I thought, and told her, she was crazy, but then she said: "I have been going door to door in PA, in an African American and Hispanic very poor community, and those families in the most complete poverty are voting for Bush because of religious issues. I entered in a house of a black family with only one chair to sit on and they were voting for Bush."
Well, if the Republican can manipulate them this way, why can't we work with them (not on them) to sort out their issues and move on?
I don't know. It's very weird for me to hear that religious issues or moral values have such an impact in this century. If I ever put a foot in a church again it will be too soon!
We are educating people to be focused on those issues, we indoctrinate them since they are kids on the idea of God, and they have not way of thinking outside those issues even when that means to impose their faith on someone else. And, paired with a religious education, we take good care of given our kids a very, very, very poor quality education, so we can keep a base of uneducated, manipulable people, that keep buying Hollywood movies, and consuming junk as crazes, and going to church on Sundays... and to the army instead of a good college.
We need to be more honest about many, many things, and much more open even if that bring a big discussion, because now what has happened is that we keep things in the same way, we don't discuss the origins of the problems, but the outcomes. We need to go deeper, and start now, if we are really concerned with the future of America and the world.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Una de cal, una de arena... y mucha pólvora

Las armas siempre ofrecen señales contradictorias. ¿Será por eso que no es bueno estar en fuego cruzado?

La próxima semana expirará una ley federal que prohíbe las armas de asalto, que la policía y muchos ciudadanos consideran un contínuo peligro en las calles, en manos de criminales o de personas que quieren defenderse de los criminales.

Hasta el momento, el Congreso, de mayoría republicana, está haciendo caso omiso a las solicitudes de renovar la prohibición, mientras es todo oídos para la Asociación Nacional de Portadores de Armas (NRI por sus siglas en inglés), un grupo cabildero de muchísimo poder. Tal es la influencia de este grupo que cuando preguntaron al Senador John McCain por qué se dejaría expirar esta ley dijo porque “NRI rules here” (NRI manda aquí).

Un informe dado a conocer este martes dice que los fabricantes de armas están con el cuchillo en los dientes – bueno, es un decir – esperando la llegada del décimo aniversario de esa ley, ya que ese día es también el de su muerte si el Congreso no actúa antes. Pero, en realidad, no están esperando con las manos cruzadas: ya están tomando los pedidos de rifles semiautomáticos y de los municiones de alta capacidad que volverán a la legalidad.

No puede culparse a la administración de esto, pues ya la vocera de la Casa Blanca ha dicho que el Presidente “apoya la reautorización de la ley actual contra las armas de asalto” y que los líderes republicanos del Congreso conocen bien la opinión del Presidente. Sin embargo, convenientemente, el Congreso republicano se niega a discutir el tema.

En este ambiente, nos enteramos este jueves de que Bushmaster Firearms de Maine, fabricante y Bull's Eye Shooter Supply de Tacoma, concesionario del rifle usado por el francotirador que mantuvo en vilo a la región metropolitana de Washington DC en octubre del 2002, ha decidido llegar a un acuerdo con la corte y dar 2,5 millones de dólares a las familias de las víctimas, aunque esto, según su abogado, no significa admisión de responsabilidad.

Con este acuerdo, Bushmaster – cualquier reminiscencia que el nombre traiga es pura coincidencia – se convierte en el primer fabricante de armas que acepta pagar por los daños causados por la distribución negligente de armas. Tal vez quiera demostrar buena voluntad, en preparación del banquete de la semana próxima.

Un proyecto de ley presentado en el Congreso a principios de este año y que contaba con el más absoluto apoyo del Presidente Bush le hubiera garantizado inmunidad a Bushmaster y el resto de la industria de armas contra este tipo de juicios.... Por suerte, no fue aprobado en el Senado.

Este sábado, 11 de septiembre, vamos a rememorar a las víctimas de la violencia y el sin sentido. Tenemos, basta mirar los periódicos, mucha sangre reciente sobre la cual derramar lágrimas. Me pregunto, ¿qué de bueno añadirán más armas a esta barbarie que ya vivimos?
Hace mucho he escuchado eso de que la vida humana es el valor absoluto y por tanto, un muerto, mil o un millón tienen el mismo peso, causan el mismo dolor. Cuando una niña recibe un balazo en la cabeza dentro de su casa, no importa en qué capital del mundo eso ocurre, para esa familia es el 11 de septiembre. No hay diferencia. Pero quizás los fabricantes de armas saben algo que nosotros desconocemos.

Monday, August 16, 2004

What's wrong with Jessica Cutler?

Washington Post article:
Blog Interrupted (washingtonpost.com)
When Jessica Cutler put her dirty secrets on the Web, she lost her job, signed a book deal, posed for Playboy -- and raised a ton of questions about where America is headed
By April Witt
Sunday, August 15, 2004; Page W12

Well, my answer is nothing. Or probably a bunch of things if she is unhappy with herself, or with her life or whatever. But, since when happiness was the measure of what is wrong with people? Or, since when people know how to define happiness and define it in a single, specific, only which way?

She, actually, seemed to be quite happy in the life she was having. And, so seemed to be the married senator that was dating her, and he seemed to be happy probably in his both worlds: the one in which he was a powerful man with a Channel dressed wife, and the one in which he was having sex with another woman, probably prettier, certainly younger than his wife. So, why do we turn against Jessica? And the “we” should be interpreted as a written mannerism, because I can't find a single reason on my heart, or mind to be against her.

Then, I question myself: Do I want my daughters to be doing this? And I find myself having a difficult answer to it. What's what I don't like on Jessica's situation? I don't like the lies. And I don't like the fact that having sex was her only access to power, or to what has now become a pseudo-career as a writer – although maybe she is actually good at writing, and I'm prejudging her –. And why does that bothers me? It bothers me because at the end of the day, again we women are changing our pussies for access... And I thought we were past that long time ago!

When they say, “now women look at sex very much like men do: in a casual, unattached, unemotional way,” I have a problem seeing it like that – don't get me wrong, not seeing sex like that, but seeing the similarities between men and women on it. Because certainly, Jessica was resorting to sex to gain things she did not have, and men were providing those things in exchange for sex... So men DID have those things. Is it as common to find women senators having sex with young interns in need of cash, or a career?

And then moralists are saying that Jessica is to blame for muddying the waters of women's careers because “now” everybody in Washington would assume that for women to move on/up they need to move well in bed. Well, it seems that was already the common belief and that MEN, specially those in power, and even most other women already were convinced of that.

Why we are not as tough with all the men that were involved in this thing? Why men still are not feeling as bad for being unfaithful or for lay younger and needy women, and why society does not condemn them as much?

And then, the societal question: why, if all this is soooo bad, is Jessica getting rich out of it? Why there is a Media frenzy about it, with the guarantee of big money for everyone? Why was Sex and the City so famous if, the only episode that I caught once in a hotel room – brief note: we don't have cable at home – had a blonde lady going out with a rich French man in his way to Brazil that after the first and only night together left her $1,000 on an envelope? Needless to say that blonde was a writer, and had a substance abuse problem that she termed “expensive footwear,” that had her on the verge of bankruptcy.

So, Jessica is a bad, worse, and even worst thing ever, but the best rated TV series portrays people just like her getting ahead using all the means available, counting sex among those. That sounds to me like advocating abstinence to kids and keeping all the TV, movies, and else focus entirely on sex.

This society has a serious issue with trying to keep things unrelated to each other: that's why the newspapers are divided into Politics, International, Economic News, Cultural News, etc.. to reinforce people's ideas of separation between the issues, when, in reality, there is only one world and everything goes together and affects everything else. But it is comforting to enjoy Sex and the City as “just” a TV series, and criticize Jessica for making it all too real for our taste. Yeah, it's like when we bomb one city and try to control arm crime in another, or when we are sorry for Columbine, the very same day we have just mistakenly bombed a school bus in Kosovo.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

No, no lid on your double latte.

Referring to a Washington Post opinion piece by Roxanne Roberts.
Ms. Roberts,
I guess when you wrote this piece, you took in consideration the fact that nursing
has become an uphill battle for women and that the reaction -which you consider
overreaction- of many women to new limitations on it comes out of the battle to
make nursing acceptable again as the natural, and actually best alternative for
children.
Since you are in the communications business you know the power of this kinds of
messages -actually, you are using your own power to ridicule those who have no means
to make their voices heard as much, and who actually have to "stage" -that
was your word, right?- things to get attention.
Do you know in how many instances breastfeeding has been prohibited? The lack of
a latte probably won't kill anyone, but women have to do great many things, at many
different hours with their babies attached to them, so I guess you will say that
it is ok to nurse in the waiting hall of the school office while registering an
older sister, but is wrong to do it at a coffeehouse, right? Why? Or what you are
actually saying is that women should stay home and nurse, if they want, but if they
want to have a nice hour with other moms at Starbucks they should not breastfeed
their kids, something like letting the 5 months old know how the schedule plays
out.
Your piece is also ignorant of some medical facts: yes, breast pumps exist, but
they are not fun to use, and there is always the danger of a baby refusing breastfeeding
after being introduced to the bottle, plus what's the point of staying home with
a baby if you will bottle-feed him/her?; second, women DO need that break at a coffeehouse,
without the added stress of a hungry baby crying out -have you heard of postpartum
depression?-; third, have you heard of the concept of "on demand breastfeeding?"
believe me, it does not include a "wait till I finish my latte, sweet girl."
And, then comes the hypocrisy of staging a fight against breastfeeding in public,
while accepting commercials full of nudity at any hour, or accepting the usage of
the woman body for commercials of anything from toothpaste to computer monitors...
Or did you have a piece criticizing that and I missed it?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Prison Abuses

I have been suffering from hearing in C-Span people not condenning and/or defending the abuses of Iraqui prisonners because those people are the enemy, and, as an infamous congressman said, "they may even have American blood in their hands". When we talk and act like that we are being just like the worst of them, because what we are saying is: whoever harms us -even if he may be innocent, as at least 70% of Abu Graib prissonners turned out to be- is entitled to any abuse, and that does not deprive us of our inherent goodness, however, when the enemy does something awfull to us, that shows their true nature. And clearly, some (we don't know how many) soldiers and many of the population population believe that being born in Iraq make people already "the enemy". Since the fact that many of the abused may be innocent but it does not bother us.
But, above all, there is a reason why the Geneva laws were written, and any law for that matter: to avoid barbarism and taking justice on our own hands, to avoid revenge, to avoid acting like terrorists and criminals... If we condone those actions, when we also have the power, we are not like the terrorists, we are worst.
And not to forget that there is a lot of violence and crime here, so speaking of our inherent goodness is just ridiculous.
Like Saint Exupery once wrote about France, we can not appropriate Spc. Pat Tillman and ignore the others that were sadistically abusing prisonners. We have been defeated all together. America is all of us, our saints and our devils included, and there is no point in assuming that there are things "unamerican" as if America has a santicty of its own.

José Martí, the Cuban hero in which statue a young American marine urinated many years ago, and that ignited a protest over the Island, said that for a man is easier to die with honor than to live with order. The issue of the unamericanness of this chapter with the abuse of prisoners in Iraq is very interesting because every time someone says that this is not what Americans stand for, or what America represents we are trying to put America outside of human nature, outside of the possibility of sin -to use religious language- or of disorder and criminality -. Our streets are full of crime, there have been many instances of violence against Muslims in this country after 9-11, there are so many problems like that, without even get into the civil rights issue, that I'm wondering why we keep talking of America as the perfection incarnated.