Bridging the Empathy Gap

By Lester Asamoah

black-and-white-american-flag2


2016, in some ways, has been a rough year in America. Racial tensions seem to be at least as high they were in 1992 after the Los Angeles riots. Some older civil rights activists even claim that tensions are close to as bad as they were during the civil rights movement. Race relations haven’t been the only divisive issue by any means – LGBTQ+ and Muslim issues also have had major dividing points. Needless to say, 2016 is a year in particular where it’s worth discussing these issues. Even if it means repeating certain issues or points. I’ve largely abstained from writing about these issues, but I want to return to them.

On Twitter, I’ve said that when I see certain politicians talk, I feel like I live in a different America than them. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong about having a different experience than someone else in the same country. I’m sure that someone living in San Francisco, CA has a fundamentally different experience than someone that lives in Savannah, GA. However, there seems to be major gaps in how some of the fundamental problems America faces is approached. We have different problems and perspectives. Again, not inherently bad. But some of the problems faced by certain Americans goes largely ignored. This election cycle along with other major events in the [US] country have revealed our capacities to misunderstand each other.

This isn’t the part where I say we should all get along and end the post. I wish it were that easy. This is actually the part where I try to tease out of some of what I think can help develop basic understanding between our different experiences.

Listen and Share the Load

If you’re at all interested in what people are marginalized in America are going through, you should start by listening. I say this time and time again. But, ironically enough, people don’t seem to listen. Or they need to be reminded multiple times. I also suggest listening to things from people of the particular affected group. It makes no sense to hear a congressman pontificate about how bad the shooting was in Orlando – especially if they don’t mention LGBT people (many people did not) and if they’re not LGBT themselves. This isn’t to say that people of the out-group can’t have opinions, but it seems asinine to build your opinions and advocacy from the words of those not in the marginalized group. A certain presidential candidate addressed the black community in a city and crowd that is overwhelmingly white. What good does that do?

If you’re a good listener, then you won’t have to ask the same questions over and over again. As Toni Morrison and many others point out – a part of oppression is having the marginalized consistently have to prove themselves and help others understand what they’re going through. Unless you’re asking a real simple question or are willing to start an honest conversation about a social issue, don’t keep asking basic questions. Google is a hell of an invention. Don’t waste people’s time forcing them tell you about racism, sexism, ableism, Islamophobia, homophobia, etc. when you have the resources to learn about these issues. And if you don’t have the resources, then make that clear. And make no mistake, if you’re intentional people will be receptive. But just know that when you see injustice and you keep saying “I didn’t know, I didn’t know,” it really does no good for anyone. It also does no good to call someone/group of people stupid for what they believe in. Even if you think they are, constantly sharing articles about how inferior a group of people are to you and your cadre of friends isn’t ingratiating. Oh, and let’s stop with the damn “devil’s advocate” please, unless you like patronizing people. We don’t need anymore devil’s advocates.

Changing from Within

Do you believe that people can change? Well, to some extent, people have to change for there to be less tension in the US. As alluded to previously, people have to change the way they take in information about others. But internalizing it is just as important – how many times have you sat in front of a TV or a lecture and not remembered anything that was said in the last 5 minutes?

It’s incumbent of us, as Americans, to get to know the other side. Of course, this shouldn’t be done if the other side is hateful or harmful to our health. I strongly take the stance that I shouldn’t need to empathize with the arguments behind racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia. Thinking people are inferior based on race, gender, religion, etc. isn’t okay, and we shouldn’t be interested in entertaining those beliefs. But where can we as individuals help others move on how they view the world? Can we help people move on these issues? I’ll be honest – I don’t have a great answer because I believe in spending energy on keeping oneself healthy and prosperous; battling with someone who sees you or others as less than a fully valuable human goes against that. Alternatively, what are we doing within our in-groups on these issues? The black community has pressing issues of misogyny and homophobia to deal with. As do many other communities of color. Intersectionality is something that has to be practiced by everyone.

To put this bluntly: for there to be change, the people that are in the dominant group have to change. For systemic racism to end, white people have to change. For misogyny to end, men have to change. For Islamophobia to end, people who are non-Muslim have to change. For homophobia to change, straight people have to change. You likely get the point now. This is where intersectionality is critical because a lot of us in some way belong to a dominant group. It’s not enough to say only white people or black people should change. And it’s definitely not enough, if not pretty offensive, to say that someone in the marginalized group should change – i.e. lesbians should “act straight,” blacks should “commit less crime.” Just for the record: lesbians should act however they please and we shouldn’t assume blacks are prone to committing crime. Rinse and repeat these principles.

Free Expression

So if a problem is that we’re bad at listening and internalizing important things about those different than us, we should expect people to get mad sometimes. Of course, it does no good to endlessly scream at someone about an issue. But anger is a legitimate response to being called rapist by a certain political candidate based on arriving from a certain country, or seeing people that look like you getting shot down in a Florida nightclub or in the streets of Milwaukee. For some reason we just have a hard time in America with understanding the emotional responses of others. We need to get over that. We need to understand the varying expressions of those around us. White working class people in Indiana who feel betrayed by the economy have a right to feel mad. Black students who are tokenised for 3 years of school at a predominately white institution [PWI] have a right to be reserved. LGBTQ+ people have a right to be annoyed at straight people constantly disregarding their rights (we do it way too often, fellow straight people).

Expression is an important point because when you press people in some way, they will eventually express how they feel. The inability to listen and learn means we have routinely misunderstood these expressions. And make no mistake, we as a nation will continue to misunderstand these issues if we don’t listen and learn.

…Is that all?

I promise I’m not trying to insult your intelligence and be elementary by suggesting we should simply “listen and learn.” However, that is that solution and we are bad at it. Quite frankly, it’s much easier to put off the problem for a number of reasons: we have our own things going on, we have a friend of a marginalized group that doing well so things are fine, or we just worry that we’ll never know enough to do anything. Those are things that I’ve faced, and things that I imagine most readers face. We have to be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to write Facebook statues and call it a day. It’s easy to let that guy we know say the n-word. It’s easy to let a sexist joke slide. But it’s difficult to confront ourselves and these small battles. And sometimes these battles are more harmful than good. Sometimes we lose friends. Sometimes we need breaks. But if we’re concerned about bridging the gaps that have made America feel so divided, we have to do the work and that’s where the work is. Don’t say I never warned you.

Lester Asamoah is a graduate student at American University.

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Dissecting Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Part Two)

By Lester Asamoah

U.S. Supreme Court


As you know, we collectively decided on a two-part analysis of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin here at Thirty-Eight Minutes. David and Jacob argued dissenting opinions on Friday, and if you haven’t read them yet, I encourage you to check out the primer and their arguments before continuing in this post. David and Jacob are incredibly hard acts to follow, but I’ll give it the old college try. I’ll jump right into my argument trusting that you’ve read the primer.

It only makes sense to frame this in the way the court analyzes the question, as David did previously. Which leads us to ask the same two questions: (1) Does the state actor have a compelling interest supporting its action? (2) And is the action narrowly tailored to achieve that interest? Also, as you’ll recall, the burden of proof falls on the state actor. In this case, the burden of proof is on the University of Texas at Austin. And this burden of proof, as established in Regents of Univ. of California v. Bakke by Justice Powell, should be under strict judicial scrutiny. Given that race is a social construct and quite fluid, scrutinizing cases involving race makes sense.

In answering the first question of compelling state interest, I truly believe that there is a compelling state interest behind affirmative action programs. I have many wider beliefs behind that, but I will stick closely to the legal arguments here. In the aforementioned Regents of Univ. of California v. Bakke, the University of California Medical School at Davis [UC Davis Medical School] failed to prove that Mr. Allan Bakke would not have gotten into the UC Davis Medical School because he was more qualified than the candidates who were accepted by the quota system that UC Davis established during the two years he sought acceptance into the school. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Bakke. Where things get interesting, however, is that the majority opinion was split. While there was an overwhelming 8-1 ruling for Bakke, the majority of that majority opinion did confirm a compelling state interest in increasing racial diversity in the medical field. This idea of racial diversity as a compelling state interest has survived legally, notably in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger despite schools’ failures to narrowly tailor their policies.

The University of Texas at Austin argued they specified their compelling interest for racial diversity in their “Proposal to Consider Race and Ethnicity in Admissions” by “’the promot[ion of] cross racial understanding,’” the preparation of a student body “‘for an increasingly diverse workforce and society,’” and the “’cultivat[ion of] a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.’” The proposal was a result of a year-long study where they concluded that a race-neutral applications process was not meeting this goal. In following the logic of why the University of California at Davis solidified a compelling state interest by diversifying the medical field, there is similar logic present in the university’s case. Skipping to the second part of the proposal, preparing the student body for an increasingly diverse workforce and society is in line with a compelling interest and quite demonstrable. Cross-racial understanding is a compelling interest for the university. Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity at the university hosted a “border patrol” themed party in 2015. And if that doesn’t demonstrate enough of a lack of cross-racial understanding: in 2013 an African-American student was pelted with a bleach-filled balloon. I have to concede that the addition of minority students by no means will prevent things like this from happening. But, the university can clearly demonstrate some flaws of cross-racial understanding. I hate to make multiple concessions, but I admit I find the having as set of leaders with legitimacy pretty dubious in their justification of diversity. How does one measure what leaders have legitimacy? And how would diversity support that in any way? One could argue that leaders who have faced a diverse array of ideas are likely better than leaders who haven’t been exposed to new ideas. I digress.

The University of California at Davis [UC Davis] as a whole admittedly was easier to justify because it’s addressing a single field. But, in Gratz v. Bollinger the compelling state interest of diversity survived when put to the test of the University of Michigan undergraduate program, despite the ruling that the policy was not narrowly tailored. My opinion is that diversity is critical for the success of our nation, and that a way to achieve this is by higher education. I know that the effects of having a diverse workforce is not as apparent as the compelling interest of public health and national security. But diversity does impact both of those fields: in public health, as hinted at with UC Davis, we need doctors that are from diverse backgrounds. Language skills, public health programming, and patient-doctor relationships are critical for public health; diversity plays an important role in advancing public health. On national security, we’ve made terrible policy mistakes by having a small cadre of like-minded people making regrettable decisions. The coups that the United States have played a hand in throughout Latin America and Iran are examples. Much less the ineptitude of the FBI in years past in their terrorizing minority communities from a complete lack of understanding with those communities. Yes, diversity is hard to quantify and measure. But it is highly valuable.

I wouldn’t do justice (pun intended) to David and Jacob if I didn’t dive deeper into the narrow tailoring issue. In Grutter v. Bollinger the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored program are defined as: (1) admissions that do not insulate each category of applicants with certain desired qualifications from competition with all other applicants, (2) places candidates on the same footing for consideration, (3) exhausts alternative options for increasing diversity, and (4) proving that the actions taken are contributing directly to the attainment of that compelling state interest. I agree with David and Jacob in that the University of Texas at Austin did not meet the burden of proving their admissions program to be narrowly tailored to meet their objectives.

To be clear, the admissions program in place at the University of Texas at Austin is in line with the first two hallmarks of a narrowly tailored program. The combination of their Academic Index and Personal Achievement Index is flexible, considers diversity factors other than race, and does not preclude anyone or establish reserved admissions of any kind. As for the third hallmark, the university is unique in that it has a law which gives admission to anyone in the top 10 percent of their high school in Texas. And this admission process is responsible for around 75 percent of their freshman class admits. Justice Alto, in his dissent, brings up two important points: (1) why did the university walk back the argument of not attracting the “right” kind of minority students through the top 10 percent program? And (2) what is a “critical mass” of Hispanic and African-American students? It’s alarming to think that any argument was ever made for attracting the “right” kind of student – the university and state should be working to improve these schools that may be struggling to prepare their top ten percent for the university. With the fourth hallmark, there were also some holes in the university’s argument behind their methods for measuring a critical mass of minority students. Unlike Grutter v. Bollinger, the university did not seem to make it incredibly clear as to how it is getting underrepresented students in spaces where they, well…are underrepresented. Overall, solutions for ameliorating the lack of diversity in universities will take exhaustive work before the admissions process happens. Also, how do we know when we have enough minority students? Quotas have clearly been ruled out of the process. The use of affirmative action is positive, but how can we measure it? Do we need to measure it?

The letter of the law should never be moved by personal beliefs. I believe in affirmative action, but in a legal analysis, the University of Texas at Austin should have lost this case. But, I also believe that there is an established compelling state interest for diversity. Training our future business and public leaders requires more cross-cultural competency than ever before. We’ve seen the impact of not having diversity and not sharing ideas. The University of Texas is a fine institution, but it always finds a way to crush my hopes (i.e. the OU/Texas football rivalry game). The burden of proof was not met, but they had the resources to meet that burden. I can’t in good judgement say they should have won. However, I can in good judgement say that I believe that they absolutely had the tools necessary to comply with the letter of the law.

This is a good wake up call for the apostates of affirmative action – rightly or wrongly, there is a greater demand for quantifiable results and we have to find creative solutions to meet scrutiny or to somehow improve diversity in universities outside of the admissions process.

The Case for Black History Month

By Lester Asamoah

MLK memorial


Black History Month, like beauty, is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder. Stacey Dash’s recent comments reignited the debate as to whether Black History Month should exist or not. And Ms. Dash is not the only prominent black celebrity to speak out against the month. As we wade through another February, we are left with another year of questioning if a month “belongs” or not.

I would argue it belongs. You, the reader, are left to have your opinion. But the idea of having a month of history dedicated to African-Americans is not a bad thing. The first counterargument that should be immediately addressed is “why isn’t there a White History Month?” My question to counter is: what would we put in a White History Month? This isn’t a coy response. I would actually welcome a White History Month. But how would famous white people be honored in ways they already aren’t? More importantly, how would we assess the history and accomplishments of black people within the existing asymmetric power dynamics in America? The question isn’t, and has never been, how to leave white people out. Rather, it’s how to bring black people in.

There are three brief reasons behind keeping and appreciating Black History Month: Representation, Celebration, and History. Assessing the debate to keep Black History Month through these three lenses paints a little more of a picture as to why the month is important.

Representation

The question of “why isn’t there a White History month?” is a good starting point to point out why a Black History month is necessary. Representation. It’s not so much that black people haven’t invented things, broken records, or started major businesses. It’s that we don’t often hear about these people. Whereas, we are well-acquainted with what white people have contributed to history. Moreover, it’s that American society—in a time frame that is much closer that people realize—actively kept black people from inventing things, breaking records, and starting business. Black History Month really is a pittance compared to the cruel underdevelopment of black neighborhoods and individuals that previously took place.

Celebration

Despite the important acknowledgement of the terrible wrongs that were dealt to black people, there needs to be room for realizing the success of black people. Another common counter-argument against Black History Month is that a month is not enough. And that is true. But, as is commonly said, we don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The increasing limits that standardized testing places on American history and the subsequent lack of interest in black history—doubled with the recent crusade against anything that isn’t American exceptionalism—is a perfect storm for knowing shockingly little about the achievements of black people. Black History Month is a celebration, but a lot of people seem to take it as a “make white people guilty month.” I would argue it’s possible to celebrate the achievements of black men and women who have contributed to history in a purely positive way. It should go without saying that black people taking pride in something is not an attack on white people.

American History v. Black History

Another common discussion point when talking about Black History Month is that it’s American history. First and foremost, someone who is enslaved is not an American citizen. And the US Constitution counted black people as 3/5ths of a person, keep in mind. Black History, as it relates to American history, is really black people either being non-citizens or highly marginalized second-class citizens for what is the majority of the existence of America. All of that being noted, a unique discussion as to what it means/meant to be black in America is warranted.  It is a limited space to contemplate what black people have experienced in America and where the future lies. These conversations can, and really should be done in conjunction with white people. And people from all creeds and races, of course. There is a strange phenomenon in the American psyche that makes people deeply suspicious when black people have their own thing. But with an open ear and an open mind, there is a lot for everyone to discuss and learn. Black History is something that goes in tandem with American history, but the discussion must be honest.

This debate, like history, may repeat itself. But at least we’ve briefly covered a few arguments that make Black History Month important. Whether it should exist or not is contentious at times, but we can certainly derive positive lessons from it while it is around.

Lester Asamoah is a Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service.

 

The Praxis of Social Justice Dialogue

By Lester Asamoah

convo


 

“Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. . . But while to say the true word—which is work, which is praxis—is to transform the world, saying that word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone…” – Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (p.88)

This opening quotation from Paulo Freire’s work is a great starting point behind the philosophy of dialogue. And, more importantly, why dialogue is so important and urgent. We, or at least those interested in social change, must be involved with the praxis of dialogue. But how can we do this effectively? What are the steps? Clearly, there’s a lot of discourse that is unproductive, and even unhelpful.

I will establish simply how we can begin to think about the praxis of dialogue. Next, I’ll discuss how to create meaningful dialogue. Finally, I’ll discuss what I believe is ineffective and effective. To my audience of social justice advocates: I must stress that this is only a glimpse into a certain philosophy and up to critical debate and interpretation.

What is dialogue?

What is meant by dialogue? Dialogue is a back and forth process between two people in learning about or analyzing the world in some way. Largely borrowing this definition from Freire, I want to make it clear that is a two way process. Its importance in being a two-way process is vital in a world where we conduct a great deal of our communication of ideas either by social media, or listening to people who are experts in a certain field speak on their experience. How can we understand the plight of homelessness by never speaking to someone who is homeless? The simple answer is that we cannot. And we wind up with policies where we “know” how to engage with these issues by marginally dealing with them.

Our means of conversation and dialogue have evolved. We can chat online, or on Skype. We have more diverse communities than ever before. There’s no limit to what we can learn about others. We have a unique way to take advantage of our technological and cultural placement. But before we talk to people and try to develop understanding, we have to remember one critical fact: every person is capable of cognition by the virtue of being human, and we should never assume that anyone is below us or unable to express complex thoughts about something. People doing the opposite of that sentence have brought great ruin to the world from their hubris.  

How can we think about meaningful dialogue?

Meaningful dialogue is about listening. That’s not a secret. Why doesn’t it happen this way? It’s because privilege and power dynamics exist. While these dynamics exist, we have to acknowledge this: If you’re reading this, you likely have some sort of privilege and power. Now, I don’t have the magic formula to get the most powerful people to the table, but Freire notes that we can make a difference with oppressed people to help them realize they’re oppressed. Note that he does not say to lecture people, but he says engage with dialogue. And also note that people that are oppressed are able to express their opinions and take action.

For those of us that are concerned with social change, there’s hope in a bottom-up approach. But we will not be the heroes. I repeat, we will not be the heroes. Empowerment cannot be taught by lecture or monologue, Freire says. But active discussion with those that are oppressed, Freire claims, will help people realize that oppression does not have to be permanent. In dialogue with people of similar or higher privilege than us, we can discuss in a hope that it leads to the understanding they can be empowered to be in the solution. This process is slow and requires patience. Freire’s work is called The Pedagogy of the Oppressed – pedagogy means the practice of teaching. This is at odds with certain ways to invoke social change. But, this is one of many ways to invoke change; a way that can be simultaneous with others.

What has worked and what has not?

I alluded to what doesn’t work – the notion of assuming that we have a higher cognition than others. We have different experiences, perhaps different values, and come from different walks of life. But by virtue of being alive—thinking, therefore they are, as Descartes would say—means we should get to know what people are thinking by hearing it firsthand. The process of dehumanization assumes that people have no cognition. People sometimes act irrationally, and may be even unfavorable to talk to, but all of us have cognition. We see people taking food stamps draw comparisons to animals, or students of Islamic background face discrimination for their creativity. People believe(d) that if one is on food stamps, their cognition is desperately dependent upon the government, or a young man’s cognition is limited and dependent on his religious background.

What works? There’s no surprise that the opposite of assuming we are better than others works. We, as individuals that care, must be open to the idea that everyone deserves human respect. And when we see others treat individuals as less than human, we have to challenge their thinking. Most importantly, we must seek to love the individuals that feel less than human. This, as Freire says, is a constant praxis of action and reflection. We have to be reflective of what we are saying, and we have to take action as people of consciousness to increase the level of consciousness. Most importantly, we have to realize that people have different ways of interacting with the world, and that must be respected. Though, if someone interacts with the world in a way that is destructive, we have to respond.

In terms of covering the philosophy of dialogue, much less the overall work of Freire, this is incredibly limited. However, it’s a starting point for us to think about how we interact with the world, the people in the world, and what we can do to empower each other instead of suffering though one-way dialogues that are ineffective, and even harmful. We have a great societal challenge ahead of us. American and global history has been marred by unthinkable marginalization and violence. However, violence does not have to be our destiny moving forward.

Lester is a Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service.

Rethinking Peace and Violence in America

By Lester Asamoah

Peace


After the Charleston tragedy, among other tragedies foreign and domestic, the common notion is to call or pray for peace. But, in our universal desire for peace, do we recognize what peace is? Generally, peace is understood as an absence of violence. That is not a wrong definition. But, to fathom the nature of peace, we must discern the dimensions of violence.

The founder of the Peace Studies discipline, Dr. Johan Galtung, tackles this in his article Violence, Peace, and Peace Studies. (The idea of the Six Dimensions of Violence are all from Dr. Galtung, I attribute all of these ideas to him) My primary aims are to summarize a small portion of his analysis of violence in a digestible way, then apply them to contemporary situations.

The Six Dimensions of Violence

Taking the general idea that peace is the absence of violence is the starting point; if we can understand the dimensions of violence, we can prevent the obstruction of peace. Violence is usually thought of as physical and emotional violence. Again, that is not wrong, but a richer explanation of violence is critical to understand varying levels of violence occurring.

Before analyzing what Galtung refers to as the six dimensions of violence, he makes an important point about violence by explaining the potential versus the actual. Acts of violence are avoidable, and they minimize human potential. I will list the dimensions of violence and apply them to contemporary situations below:

  • Physical and Emotional violence: Physical violence includes the obvious physical harm of a person, however, it also includes restricting mobility. By keeping someone in chains, or keeping them from traveling far distances is a form of physical violence because one is being physically restricted from their potential realization.

Physical and emotional violence, as I stated before, is pretty well understood. So I want to focus on the restriction of mobility. A strong and tragic example of violence by restricting mobility is the story of Kalief Browder. Browder was held at Rikers Island for three years without a trial and eventually committed suicide once freed. The detention of Browder is tragic, but not entirely uncommon. Many people are held without trial or are held for disproportionate times to their crimes. This is violent. The act of detention, especially against the innocent is violent.

  • Negative and Positive Influence: (Influence always assumed as negative towards the subject’s potential) Whenever an influencer inflicts punishment for what they think is wrong OR rewards their subject for what they believe is right.

Negative influence happens all of the time. When individuals are punished for their religious or political views, this is violent. Especially when it results in a loss of employment. Also, when someone is positively influenced to become less they can be, that is violent. Here is an excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, when Malcolm’s junior high teacher tries to guide him, illustrating positive influence:

“’Malcolm, one of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic. Don’t misunderstand me, now. We all here like you, you know that. But you’ve got to be realistic as a n—-r. A lawyer—that’s no thing you can be. You need to think about something you can be. You’re good with your hands—making things. Everybody admires your carpentry shop work….’”

Note the teacher is trying to reward Malcolm’s work, and is generally being positive for the time, but is clearly obstructing Malcolm’s potential.

  • Objects: In response to the question, “when biological objects aren’t hurt, is there violence?” Galtung notes that violence can occur when the destruction of a non-human object forebodes the destruction of a physical or biological object.

Galtung makes an example in saying that nuclear tests are violent because they are used to forebode the destruction of biological objects (and often the tests destroy biological objects). Another example, many would argue, is the Israeli policy of destroying homes in Palestine. While nobody (usually) dies from the policy of destroying homes, it is usually used as a deterrent to terrorism.

  • Subjects: When there is no human subject that acts, can violence occur? Yes. Systemic violence occurs when people are restricted from obtaining resources needed for their potential. This situation, of course, assumes that this restriction is avoidable.

Systemic violence is growing into a larger discussion. There are many ways systemic violence is increasingly being unearthed. Of course, the quick example is the ethic-name resume. A National Bureau for Economic Research [NBER] study proves that people with ethnic names on their resumes get significantly less callbacks. However, the examples I prefer to look at are racist housing policies and the disenfranchisement of voters.

  • Intent: Violence can take place even with no conscious intent by the actor. Any act, intentional or unintentional, that robs potential in any avoidable situation, is a violent act.

Drunk driving is a simple way to understand intent. When someone is driving while drinking, their intent isn’t to hit another car. Yet… it still happens. Accidents will always happen in today’s world, but that does not mean they are exempt from being violent acts. The previous sentence is important because many times accidents and “unintentional” acts are deemed non-violent.

  • Manifest/Latent: Violence, as most are familiar with, is manifest, or obvious and physically visible acts of violence. However, Galtung is also concerned with the latent, or an unstable situation where any small act can trigger a manifest act of violence. I.E. daily acts that destabilize a situation leading to when a small act that can trigger a large act of violence.

Manifest violence is something visible like someone getting shot. But latent violence is most easily explained by the phenomena of microaggressions. Small, even as the name suggests, micro levels of day-to-day violence and disenfranchisement can build up and become largely violent acts. Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide in 2012 after discovering his sexual acts were secretly recorded by his roommate. The recording was the act that triggered the self-violent response of suicide.

Moving Forward

Now that we have a better understanding of the dimensions of violence, we can move toward a more peaceful America. Of course, the examples were highly limited and just designed to give a basic understanding. But putting this knowledge to use will explain many phenomena of violence against Native Americans, African-Americans, impoverished and homeless Americans, and even violence occurring against other cultures overseas. In the 21st century, we have to realize that violence is far beyond emotional and physical violence. And we can overcome this violence if we make genuine efforts to do so.

Lester is a Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service.

Fixing the Ladder: You, Me, and Inequality

By Lester Asamoah

Income Equality, Changing Inequality, Political Systems, Inequality in the US


The United States is undoubtedly richer and more prosperous than it was twenty years ago. Technology is quickly advancing, and Americans have access to knowledge like never before. It’s a great picture to paint, right? The Americans with access to capital are prospering, and even the middle class citizens are experiencing microcosms of great prosperity. The sunny skies of happiness and growth, however, are deluded by clouds of concern for those with no access to capital. Aka, those that are in the lowest socio-economic classes.

Setting the Gini Free

One would think post World War II innovations would mean a decreasing gap in inequality. While many have prospered, few have suffered. The Gini Coefficient is a measure of income inequality where 0.00 represents complete equality (everyone making the exact same wages, etc) and 1.00 represents complete inequality (one person earning 99.9% of all wages, etc). Basically, the closer the Gini coefficient gets to 1, the more stratified the inequality. A study from the US Department of Commerce illustrates how the United States’ Gini has risen since the 1940s:

Gini

(taken from CBS’ News Article, How Do We Know Income Inequality is Getting Worse?)

Why do we care about this Gini that won’t grant our wishes? Because it means that the poorest Americans are increasingly reeling – income inequality is far beyond the simplicity of working hard and not working hard. It is the difference between access to capital, opportunity, education, and safety. The people at the very top are accumulating more and more access to these things, while the people at the very bottom are simultaneously losing access to these things.

A Broken Ladder

We know that inequality exists and is highly persistent in United States. Movements like Occupy Wall Street are ways Americans express frustration at the growing Gini. Now, this isn’t the point where I scream “socialism” and demand that the government purge the accounts of the 0.01%. In fact, I agree with The Economist’s article Inequality and the American Dream when they say “Inequality is not inherently wrong—as long as three conditions are met: first, society as a whole is getting richer; second, there is a safety net for the very poor; and third, everybody, regardless of class, race, creed or sex, has an opportunity to climb up through the system.” America actually seems to be doing well until we reach the third condition. But not meeting that third condition is grave for many opportunity-seeking Americans. In a previous post, The Mirage of Opportunity, I write about inequality on a racial level. Beyond that, however, we still have heated debate over opportunities for women (Equal Pay Bill in the US Senate) and impoverished Americans (Colleges perpetuating class divides) to climb the ladder. There’s no need to cry Socialism, but there is a need to scream equality of opportunity. If the American dream means climbing the ladder, we first must fix the ladder – it’s missing almost all of its rungs near the bottom.

Repairing a Ladder, Breaking Oppressive Systems

Repairing the ladder means fighting for equality of opportunity. Women must be paid the same wages, public education must make a strong comeback, and minorities must be given equal opportunity in the workplace, classroom, and society. Returning to the heart of Thirty-Eight Minutes and my previous posts, we must fight the corrupt and unequal systems in place now. Demanding equal rights for women, minorities, and the impoverished is critical. And doing so not just to be trendy, but because people’s lives are on the line. As the famous economist Dr. Joseph Stiglitz points out in his New York Times opinion article, Inequality is not Inevitable, Americans do not have to idly stand by and watch inequality grow. First and foremost, we must get the money out of politics. A daunting, but necessary task. Large farming receives subsidies while the impoverished suffer nutritionally, and big pharma is raking in billions but not everyone can get access to health care. These are only two of many instances where lobbying efforts are steering politics. I don’t have the precise knowledge on how to suck the money out of politics, but I do know awareness and speaking out is the first step in the journey. Next, we must fight for justice. The stratification of wealth also means the price tag for justice is rising – the wealthy can afford lawyers and steep bails, while the lower-income Americans have little judicial resources and no recourse against injustices. White-collar crime continues (and the victims are often blamed), while increasingly privatized jails fill up with lower-income, often minority, people.

We have to repair the American Dream and pursue a reasonable level of equality of opportunity. The American Dream is certainly not dead, but it is unreachable for many. Our nation’s mantra is “justice and liberty for all”. When will we stop pretending justice and liberty exists for all, and start securing justice and liberty for those that do not have it?

Lester Asamoah is an International Security Studies Senior at the University of Oklahoma.

Don’t Sip the “Securing the Border” Kool-Aid

By Lester Asamoah

 

Border Susnet


Crises make people drink a lot of questionable Kool-aid, and none more so right now than the “secure the border” Kool-aid. That is why I have come up with a quick guide as to why you should just say no to this particular beverage. Seriously. It’s not worth it.

1. It suggests that all undocumented immigrants are Mexican.

Statistically speaking, most of the undocumented immigrants originate from Mexico. I don’t want to run from the truth. However, recent controversy surrounding the spike in undocumented children is buttressing a myth that undocumented persons are all from Mexico (or around Mexico). Dept. of Homeland Security data shows that China, Philippines, India, and Vietnam are all represented as origins of undocumented people. Surprise, not every undocumented person is from Mexico!

Why does this point matter? Well, the undocumented children are not all Mexican. So no, we cannot “send them back to Mexico.”

2. People think “securing the border” actually works.

I could literally write a kids story with the fabrications that politicians and ill-informed people say about “securing the border.” Granted, it is true that if there were more walls and drones, fewer people would enter the country. But that is like putting ice on a torn ACL. Walls, guns, and drones won’t stop everyone. It won’t even stop half of the people coming in – people will find ways like riding boats, creating fake identities, climbing mountains, or using a portkey.

People want to have a better life. But it’s not all sunshine and roses in America. Some immigrants  don’t know English, have no identity, and are leaving a home where they sincerely believe they will suffer and die. I have no idea what it’s like to be on the other side of that fence, but I believe I would be making a similar decision if I were in their shoes. As would you, most likely.  Just because I am privileged with being a citizen of the United States does not make me inherently better than another human being.

3. Guns and drones aren’t the answer to everything.

Governor Rick Perry and Fox News’ Sean Hannity recently took a tour of the Texas/Mexico border. Mr. Hannity wanted to highlight on his show that President Obama was not empathetic enough for the woes of Border Security. As I conceded earlier, increasing the amount of personnel and drones on the border would probably help. But I think Mr. Hannity and others are missing a major point – are more troops feasible? There is a pervasive myth that if we (a) build giant walls and (b) arm a bunch of troops, then (c) undocumented immigration will somehow end. Not likely.

Take a peek a Google Earth and scope out the US/Mexico border. First and foremost, building a wall “to keep the illegals out” is basically impossible. How about deploying the National Guard? Again, that’s hard to do. The terrain is rough, the environment unforgiving. Also, it’s not like we don’t have, oh, 21,000+ troops on the borders already. Drones are great for surveillance, but we can’t aim hellfire missiles at undocumented kids.

Let’s say that we add troops to the border and extend the wall and deploy more drones. They stop more people. Great. How about the millions of people already in the country? How about people that come in via Canada? Hell, if the Department of Homeland Security can genuinely afford to station more troops on the US/Mexico border, they should have at it. But we as Americans need to understand the gargantuan scope of this undocumented immigration issue. This is not something that walls and guns can solve. This is a humanitarian crisis, and America should address it accordingly.

4. The “Securing the Border Kool-Aid” is dehumanizing.

Have a little empathy. If I were impoverished outside of America and my son or daughter had a glimmer of hope in the U.S., I would send them there without a second thought. Let’s not pretend that you, dear reader, wouldn’t do the same thing. One of the highest goals of every generation is to make life better than their predecessors. I’ve never met a parent that would say they don’t want their child to have a better life.

“Well then, Lester, they should apply legally and get work visas!” Okay. Getting citizenship, or even a permanent resident status isn’t anywhere near as simple as it sounds. The citizenship test is one that American college graduates could easily struggle with. Work visas are not easy to get, and many people end up being exploited for work because they have nothing else.

“We get you, Lester, they’re people. But they’re not paying taxes, so…” Okay. Okay. Well, first, they do pay sales tax. Also, people can’t just be on welfare or other government services without any identification. I promise you the government is wasting your money on a lot of other things not pertaining to people at all. (Senator Coburn tells us all about it in his Wastebook series.) The narrative has focused on law and money, when it’s people we have to deal with. People trying to escape desperate circumstances. That’s what I want to get across. I think people want this to be a quickly cleaned up situation after all the other messy things we’ve dealt with as a nation (see Iraq, Wall Street, BP, etc.). I hate to break it to you, but the hardest problems are usually also the messiest ones.

5. Immigration is an issue that requires long-term, calculated solutions.

Our politicians need to come together and figure out long-term, rational, and humane solutions. Let’s start by taking better care of our Homeland Security employees. They are asked to do way too much.

Then, let’s figure out how we can work with the struggling nations from which these immigrants travel. For those of you that whine about foreign aid (it’s literally only one percent of our budget)  – we need to invest in making the world better outside of our borders. I don’t know what exactly that will look like, but obviously we are making significant strides. But until everyone debunks the myth and understands the real problems that are beyond fortifying the border, I am worried that we will not formulate real, effective solutions.

Next, let’s look at reform within our own country. People are here now and they will keep coming. Let’s learn how to engage them and treat them like people while they are here. Perhaps not every law is perfect. If every law were immutable and unable to be reviewed, America would be a scary and tragic place indeed. But that is not the case. So let us work to make the law better, improve our circumstances, and look toward a brighter future.

Let’s put down the soap boxes and put on our thinking caps. This will not be easy. There will be pain. But for our fellow human beings and our great nation, let’s stop pretending this will be easy and take the hard path to resolution. Don’t drink the Kool-aid.

Lester Asamoah is an International Security Studies Senior at the University of Oklahoma.

More Money, More (Political) Problems

The phrase “money talks” couldn’t mean more than it does now in 2014. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision was a watershed moment for big money politics. Citizens with inordinate amounts of wealth were already spending piles of money before Citizens United.  A sizable amount of literature already exists on the inner workings of these political elite – investigative journalists have written about the Koch Brothers and several other millionaire/billionaire (let’s face it, it’s just not that hard to be a millionaire these days) donors on both sides of the political spectrum. I am not an investigative journalist, nor do I have the time to deeply research this shadowy monetary infrastructure. I simply want to bring attention to the importance of money in politics.

In an age where practically everyone has a smartphone, there is really no excuse for being uninformed. We can Google the location of Benghazi, find a nice Tinder date, and learn about the Farm Bill – all from our phones. And for those that don’t have phones, Internet access and public computers are widely available. How can we not make self-determined decisions about how we should vote or how we should feel? Money is talking because, well… citizens aren’t.

Money buys political advertisements, TV time, fancy cocktail hours, phone calls, and political analysis. All for We The People. Millions are spent on election after election (let’s not even think about what we could do with the gross amount we spend on our campaigns. I get queasy) just to get us to show up and vote for one person or another. They don’t need all of us. They don’t even need half of us. They just need enough people to care about voting. Which is often a low number, considering the high percentage of people angry with Congress and the White House. And who says our vote is worthless? Tell that to Mr. Cantor. He learned, as we all did, what people can do when they actually rally behind something. There are political lessons to be learned, but more importantly, there are civics lessons to be learned.

A Tower of Babel

Everyone on both sides talk about how the government is bad or could do better. Evil. Wasteful. Naughty. Untrustworthy. Terrible. However, when it comes voting time, only half of those people show up. Now, I understand there are sizable barriers to people learning about political issues. But what we need to remember is that wealthy conservatives and liberals pump millions into dollars just to shape our opinions. If they can buy public opinion, they can buy the public. They already have, in a sense. Money, as stated before, is talking louder than the people.

There are very few barriers that keep citizens from putting Congress’ feet to the fire. Something that has always amazed me is that we tell our kids that they can do whatever they want to do, but as adults we stand by and take the abuses of government and do nothing. Why can’t we hold Congress accountable? Perhaps the cacophony of “left versus right.”  Misguided facts and blame-games create a political Tower of Babel. Everyone is talking, but nobody is truly understanding each other and getting things done.

Note that it’s not just a bipartisan struggle, but it’s a make-Congress-stand-up-to-lobbying issue and a Congress-isn’t-representing-the-peoples’-interests-within-the-party issue. This is where advertisements come in. They’re simple and they stretch the truth. If people don’t read into issues, their opinions are easily polarized. When millionaires can monopolize advertising and control what people see, when they see it, and how people see it… that adds up to be what Taylor Swift would signify as trouble walking in (to politics). Money gets politicians to say what the contributors want by coercing officials and bending the truth to the contributor’s favor. Big spenders eat up controversy, especially when they’re on the winning side of it. Pay attention to how many ads mudsling or play off of controversial events (like Benghazi, Bergdahl, etc.) this fall.

Of course, we need to know who our candidates are. That’s why we have and need advertisements. But money changes the playing field for those that have more of it.

Building the Tower

The Citizens United decision augmented the presence of big money in politics, but where did it begin? The Koch Brothers were one of the first in the game. Charles Koch entered the political arena by creating the CATO Institute and funding several other libertarian groups starting in the 1970s. The Koch Brothers (a story that dips into much further detail starting from Moody’s Yahoo article where I got this info from) were the most famous, but who is to say they were the actually the first? Anyways, fast forward to 2012 – The Koch brothers engineered what the previously mentioned Yahoo article called a “fundraising goliath” that raised $400 million against Democrats in the 2012 election.

Let’s not be fooled though, there are wealthy liberals funding Democrats in the same way that wealthy conservatives fund Republicans. What about the common citizen? Lessig’s 2011 Op-Ed in the New York Times notes that less than one percent of Americans give more than $200 in a presidential campaign. If only one percent of Americans are giving more than $200 in a presidential campaign, how the heck did President Obama and Mr. Romney raise the obscene amount of money they did in the 2012 campaign?

Super PACs, or Super Political Action Committees, may shed a strong light on the issues at hand. 593 Super PACs currently exist, as ABC News’ Krieg reports in a fairly handy article explaining what a Super PAC is. What’s unique about Super PACs is that they can accept unlimited political contributions. Priorities USA, the liberal Super PAC that supported Pres. Obama, spent a staggering 65+ million dollars in the 2012 election against Mr. Romney and Republicans. Likewise, Restore Our Future, the conservative PAC supporting Mr. Romney spent a whopping 142 million dollars against Pres. Obama and other Democrats. If only one percent of ALL Americans give more than $200 in a presidential election, there is a very grave discrepancy between the influence of the average American and the very, very rich ones.

Stepping Away From the Shadow

The picture I’m trying to paint, eerily enough, is extremely annotated and only scratches the surface of an intricate and powerful political spending infrastructure that both political parties wield. Now, I’m not foolish, this isn’t a “rage against the machine” type of post. I know that many readers will keep living the lives they did yesterday, as will I. However, this is an issue that we need to begin talking about way more.

With midterm elections around the corner and a presidential election that will juggle the potentially perilous issues of Iraq and Syria, a weak recovery, immigration, and so much more – we, as citizens, must choose wisely. Before the monstrous tower of political Babel can be knocked over, we have to step outside of the shadows of the tower. We should feel really special: millions are spent on getting us, as citizens, to vote. How flattering! But we also are left in the dark, with the super wealthy monopolizing the flashlights.  Until next time, I’ll leave you with The Notorious B.I.G. song “Mo Money, Mo Problems”.

 

—–

 

Lester is a International Security Studies Senior at the University of Oklahoma. 

The Mirage of Opportunity

“The story goes like this: the paradigm of equal opportunity is a truly objective, neutral, and fair method to allocate educational, employment, and political resources to members of society, without regard to race, class, gender, or ethnicity… I disagree with the conception of equal opportunity as an objective, neutral, natural, and fair principle that enables social minorities to progress in society, limited only by their own ability and free choices. Rather, equal opportunity is an intricate fabrication intended to preserve the status quo and language of the dominant culture through reliance on popular, yet mythical, norms of individualism, sameness, and neutrality. There is no “equality of opportunity” in America, past or present. Further, the language and principles underlying equal opportunity reinforce structures of privilege. In order to move forward in a collective fight against privilege and inequality, we must abandon the existing conceptual framework of equal opportunity.”

– Christian Sundquist. “Equal Opportunity, Individual Liberty, and Meritocracy in Education: Reinforcing Structures of Privilege and Inequality.” Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy 9, no. 227. (2002).

Opportunity. Everyone believes in it. Everyone believes they all have it. But not everyone has the same level of it. One of the great prevarications of the American society is that everyone has “equal opportunity”. We’ve begun to address the problem in a number of ways. However, we have a long way to go. Equality is a marathon, not a sprint (as it should be) unfortunately. Some seem to think affirmative action has solved the problem, and that racism has ended because we have a black president (I would argue the sheer number of claims that Pres. Obama is from Kenya and how many people referre to our president as an n—-r show alone that racism is alive and well). People of color [POC] are still impoverished and uneducated in overwhelmingly high numbers. Black boys are still dying in Chicago and Compton. White Americans are impoverished too though, make no mistake. White boys in poverty are still being forgotten by the purview of our “equal opportunity”. Poverty does not care what color one is, it will sting all the same.

What does poverty have to do with opportunity? Poverty has everything to do with opportunity. Absolutely everything. Quality of education and nutrition alone are major factors that separate those that have wealth, and those who do not. It’s powerful. A large and, honestly, offensive misconception that is floating around the American psyche is that “poor people don’t work hard enough, THAT’s why they don’t have money.” As if the working poor lack some quality that does not allow them to work hard, or something.

“This is part and parcel of conservative thinking about the rich and poor in this country: that the poor are so because they lack some basic value — ambition, for example — and the rich are so because they have an abundance of it.”

– Charles Blow. “Poverty is Not a State of Mind.” New York Times. May 18, 2014. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/opinion/blow-poverty-is-not-a-state-of-mind.html?_r=0&referrer.

Ah, do they lack ambition? Mr. Blow in his op-ed for the New York Times was on to something. Now, I won’t point my finger at conservatives, that’s Mr. Blow’s words. However, the way the poor/rich dichotomy is taught and perpetuated in American society is troublesome. Scary, even. We have “equal opportunity”, but we think that the poor do not have the mental faculty to be equals to us (that are not in poverty) in our work ethic? The mendacious claims that the poor are lazy are appalling, considering people in poverty spend their whole existence… well, trying to exist. Appalling and troublesome.

“Poverty is a demanding, stressful, depressive and often violent state. No one seeks it; they are born or thrust into it.”

– Ibid. (Charles Blow, New York Times)

People in poverty have difficulty learning, maintaining families, and functioning healthily because it is so demanding, stressful, depressive, and violent to be impoverished. It is incredibly painful emotionally. And I thank my parents every day for keeping me from the experience of poverty. In fact, do that right now. Silently thank your family if you are not in poverty and you have a phone or computer to read this. If you pray, pray to G-d right now and thank Him for not being impoverished. When Mr. Sundquist rejects the framework of equal opportunity, he is partially saying that poverty perpetuated by our institutions is keeping people from equal opportunity. If you are born into poverty, you are already several paces behind someone born in a middle-class family.  Okay, maybe a few people make it out of poverty with luck or unwavering dedication, but as John Rawls’ political conception of justice reminds us, we must be concerned with striving for a completely free, fair, and equal society. All Americans need a legitimate equal opportunity in order to be the just society we purport to be, Rawls argues.

Education was supposed to provide “equal opportunity”. It was supposed to be the Great Equalizer. Education has done excellent work of educating individuals for elevating their opportunity and truly allowing them to “follow their dreams”. However, there is quite a bit of handiwork to do. We can begin in the classroom. The classroom, at first glance, seems neutral and safe. It is unless you’re a POC.

“Whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.”

– Peggy McIntosh. “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.” Peace and Freedom. (1989).

White privilege can proliferate into nearly everything in life, but I want to keep the focus on the classroom. White people know their race is represented. They exist. They can fully access their race’s history. That is almost a given in every classroom. They never have to be spokespersons for their own race. They don’t have to answer for what their forefathers did. As a black male, the most unsettling days of class was when we covered Black History. I could feel the awkwardness permeating in the room as the teacher talked about the measly half-paragraph of Malcom X. I could feel the eyes peering at me, as if I was the manifestation of black history. As if I had a PhD in black history. As if the death of white men and the raping of white women were my responsibility in some twisted way. That’s how it feels to talk about black history in a room of white people. I can only imagine the horror of being the lone Japanese-American during discussions on World War II history. The white man is always supposed to win somehow in history. They’re supposed to have done everything for a “good” reason, or “have learned” from their mistakes and will never talk about them again. That is white privilege inside the classroom.

On a more macro-level scale, let us be reminded of the blog’s name – thirty eight minutes. That’s how much time a student averages with their guidance counselor over four years. That’s nothing. That’s the amount of time it takes to watch one episode of House of Cards. Are our children’s post-high school careers only worth the time of a Netflix original series? For POC and white students in poverty, this thirty eight minutes may be the only thirty eight minutes they have to learn about college, financial aid, vocational tech, financial responsibility, and community college. POC and white students in poverty have little to no access to outside help. Knowledge is power. Having a mother or father with a college degree does not just guarantee a higher income in the household, it guarantees someone that can navigate the post-high school process. Applying for scholarships or loans are taken for granted, but could be a complicated process for someone that has never experienced it before. The ACT isn’t even a fully objective standardized test – people with wealth can afford Kaplan classes or other similar outside tools to boost their scores and get scholarships from prestigious universities. The PSAT is a well-kept secret. Many schools do not prepare their students enough, despite the sheer amount of scholarships that can come from a great PSAT score. Additionally, the highest scorers are often the ones that could afford to prepare. Affording preparation for the ACT/PSAT is not by not just having money for classes, it’s having a stable family situation and food to eat as well.

Not only are students struggling to get into college, getting through primary and secondary school is an ordeal as well. POC, notably black students, have dealt with a notorious achievement gap starting early in primary education.

“Researchers consistently show that black–white gaps in educational achievement and attainment contribute to racial inequalities in health and mortality (Hayward et al., 2000, Pampel, 2009 and Williams and Collins, 1995), employment and wages (Cancio et al., 1996, Kim, 2010 and Grodsky and Pager, 2001), political participation (Logan et al., 2012), and crime and incarceration (Pettit and Western, 2004, ), among other major life outcomes.”

– S. Michael Gaddis and Douglas Lee Lauen. “School Accountability and the Black-White Test Score Gap.” Social Science Research44, (2014). 15-31.

From day one, impoverished, mostly black and other POC students, are behind. It’s hard to study when the only meals a student has are the school lunches. It’s hard to stay in school when a student is working two jobs or selling controlled substances to make enough money for their family. This isn’t to say that all POC are inherently just behind their white counterparts 100 percent of the time. Nor is this to say white students do not have their own interpersonal struggles. But this is to prove that equal opportunity does not always apply to everyone. Even for highest achieving POC and white students in poverty, they are not well-represented in public or private institutions. Affirmative action debates echo the naïve sentiments that racism is over, or that things “have changed enough” over the last 50 years.

There is no “equality of opportunity” in America, past or present. Let me repeat that sentence so you, the reader, will understand and come to terms with my conclusion. There is no “equality of opportunity” in America, past or present. The sheer naiveté of the American psyche to claim we are all equals is offensive. I am literally offended when people say all children have the ability to “follow their dreams” when children die in the (housing) projects and limited Tribal lands – the direct results of unfettered privilege ruthlessly exercised. The only way our society will truly be the “post-racial” society that individuals claim America is starts with transcending this illusion that all Americans are currently equals. We are not equals. Ask the transgendered black women. Ask the southern gay males. Ask the black boys in Milwaukee. Ask the rape victims. The beautiful thing about the human race is that we are capable of being equals. But we have to want it. And more importantly, we have to challenge the systems that keep us from having equality. We have to have courage. Americans have always had the minuscule amount of courage it takes to hate. Let us find the great amount of courage it takes to admit our institutions are wrong, and that we must love each other equally.