Thoughts On Michelle, Booker, and W.E. B. Dubois

The more I think about events across our country, the more I think the Cheshire Cat, from Alice in Wonderland, was right, “Oh, you can’t help that, we’re all mad here.” Many of us are a little nutty and many of us are just plain angry, and I keep asking myself why? Why are people rioting, why are the young in this country responding to the recruitment of hate organizations in other countries? Why are the youth of our inner cities rioting and burning down the very areas they live?

These actions are not new. These activities have happened throughout history, and it is absolutely normal for young people to rage against the machine, but the rage of today is leading to more violence than every before. Why? And what can be done about it?

Today’s blog may seem a little fragmented and rambling, but it will reflect my thoughts on actions that I think are needed to deal with the level of anger in this country. First of all, I want everyone to know that I am a Christian and I believe for true and meaningful change to occur there needs to be revival; revival of our love for God instead of the love for comfort. Even though I plan on dealing with what I think are required actions to deal with the anger, I really believe in the power of Jesus Christ to make the ultimate difference.

That said, I am also a realist and recognize that not all will respond to that message, but the anger still needs to be addressed. I do not think using hate tactics on either side of the political continuum is beneficial. I believe in constructive dialogue.

A good example of this is the criticisms leveled at First Lady Michelle Obama concerning her commencement address at Tuskegee University about continuing racism in this country. Conservatives, according to Harvey Mansfield, “wonder why she said nothing of the problem of black criminality.” These same conservatives “scorn her unwillingness to acknowledge the privilege she enjoyed from attending Princeton and Harvard.” These conservatives, in my opinion, are too busy looking at the forest that they missed the many wonderful trees within the forest.

Although I have not heard her commencement address, I have heard news reports and have read various articles that state she did a good job of reflecting the historical elements of racism in this country. In fact, Harvey Mansfield uses her references to Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois to identify the fact that “who can deny the road ahead for Blacks is not going to be easy.” Liberal and conservatives can argue over the how, but the fact is we need to talk.

Thursday I had coffee with a new friend. He is the director for the Portland Community Cycling Center. He is also a graduate of the Tuskegee University. This young man truly is incredible, and gave me a very positive opinion of Tuskegee. Booker T. Washington founded Tuskegee in 1881, and , according to some, Washington was known as “the most conservative of black thinkers.” I have no idea if that is true or not, but I do know this about his university, “it was not built with government funding or private donations but by Blacks themselves under Washington’s direction.”

According to Harvey Mansfield, “Booker T. Washington’s central thesis was that Blacks should not depend on the white majority to improve their lives.” In his autobiography, “Up From Slavery,” Washington argues that Blacks should rise up from slavery on their own, and make themselves fit for freedom “through stages of self-education and hard work.”

On the other side of the coin is W.E.B. DuBois another great Black philosopher. “DuBois despised the passivity of Washington’s approach, blaming his isolation from politics and lack of courage.” DuBois did not promote earn your rights, he promoted demand your rights. I find this juxtaposition a little similar to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

As a White-Old-Man (WOM) reflecting on this I have to say I agree with Harvey Mansfield that conservatives are being too hard on Michele. I agree that we should not “throw up our hands and give up.” And you have to notice I said we. The issues associated with racism in this country do not just affect those who are Black, Latino/a, or Asian. The affects of racism dehumanize all of us. Now is not the time to say it’s their problem, or point our fingers at the other while proclaiming an “I-It” philosophy. Now is the time to take an “I-Thou” perspective where we see the value of the other. Instead of criticizing and blaming, it is time to listen and change.

And that is my thought for the day!

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How Do We Deal With Poverty?

There were several articles in the news this morning dealing with the recent conference at Georgetown University. President Obama, Arthur Brooks, and Robert Putnam debated the issues surrounding poverty in the United States and how to deal with it. As I read the normal rhetoric from both sides of the spectrum, it got me thinking about who is right? Is poverty only a social issue best dealt with by raising more taxes, or is it a market issue, solved by economic growth and more jobs? I thought I might take a moment to discuss this.

USA Today published an article in September, 2014 identifying five reasons why we’re losing the war on poverty. The article begins with “Poverty does not appear to be waiving the white flag anytime soon. While the official poverty rate in the United States recently declined for the first time in seven years, the war on destitution is far from over and feels like a losing battle for millions of Americans.” There are still, as of 2014, 45.3 million Americans who are living below the poverty level.

The five reasons we are losing the battle were identified as:
• Real median household income
• Wealth accumulation or the lack thereof
• Employment-to-population ratio
• Food stamps
• Wages
I understand that household income has not increased. I also get that this is connected to the lack of wage growth. “Wages and salaries as a percentage of GDP have been declining for over four decades.” I also get the problems associated with the growing gap between those whose wealth is growing and those that are losing ground. But, I don’t understand why the employment-to-population ratio is declining. Economists call this workforce participation rate. The percentage of working-age Americans “with a job is only 59%.” If jobs are being created why are people not taking these jobs? Is it because they may lose the government benefits they receive? The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), or food stamps, support about 46.5 million individuals in the US (2014) numbers. Is the workforce participation rate low because people can’t take a low wage job because they lose benefits?

The so called conversation about poverty that occurred at Georgetown was nothing more than a partisan exercise arguing for programs that simply are not as effective as needed, while identifying the enemy list of those that supposedly don’t have a heart. The implication of these comments is that the only one who cares is the government. Therefore, we need to give more money to the government to deal with poverty in this country.

I think Thomas Sowell said it best, “politicians are ill-qualified to redistribute private wealth.” Our government wastes an incredible amount of money trying to “fix” things in highly inefficient ways. We give trillions of dollars to our government while our roads are disintegrating before our very lives. Every time I cross a bridge I wonder whether I will need to lower my window and swim to shore, and watch as time after time we have specials sessions, like in the state of Washington, because our politicians can’t agree on how to deal with education and other critical issues facing us as a country.

This ranting is not a criticism of the Obama administration or the Inslee administration in the state of Washington, nor is it a conservative manifesto. But it is a request for a new way to think about the issues of poverty. We are watching our inner cities explode because of the issues of poverty, drugs, and high levels of crime. There was a report on NPR yesterday where a former policeman, who is now a lawyer, discussed how hard it is to do community policing. He mentioned that in one public housing building you could have several different opinions on how the police should deal with crime. One floor of the building had a no tolerance for crime, while another floor may be selling drugs. To simplify the issues of poverty into linear process is inaccurate and has led to the stalemates of our current situation.

We need a new way of looking at the issues of poverty in our country. We have smart people who are systems thinkers. We should be able to come up with initiatives that are innovative, social, and economic, because the answers will not be found in just providing more government aid, and it will take those who have to share, because it is the right thing to do.

The more I think about it, all of us need a helping hand once in a while. Why can’t we create new solutions to deal with the issues of poverty? I for one am tired of Georgetown panelists saying that conservatives are heartless, or that liberals just want to give it all to the government. Lets figure out how to deal with this as a community. Then maybe something will get done.

And that is my thought for the day!