Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Parallel Lives": Racism behind the NFHA Diversification push

This is downright offensive, and I'm not one that gets my underwear in a bunch very easily over racial stuff. OK, maybe I am sensitive to racial issues. Usually, though, I don't feel this level of offense. This time, though, it's different.
The new National Fair Housing Alliance radio ads pushing neighborhood diversity essentially say that all white people look, act and think a like and you can learn nothing from living with a bunch of other white folks. That much is stated explicitly in the ads. Also explicit is the notion that living next to people of different backgrounds will make the lives of you and your children "richer." Of course, that assumes that such people actually have something of interest to offer. They must have some sense of culture to share. If' they're a bunch of Jerry Springer watching mouth breathers, I wouldn't expect to learn much from them.
What's similarly implied is that white people have little or nothing to offer our society. Communities can only experience true growth and vitality by getting a little piece of this and a little bit of that from various folks in the melting pot. The evidence for this is never stated. Granted, we're talking radio ads, not scholarly treatises. But I suspect there's no real data that proves "people of color" to be any better contributors to their communities than plain boring-ass old whities.

You can hear the ad I heard this morning at this link

I've seen this stuff from many angles, despite the fact that I'm just a generic white guy. I grew up in an all white neighborhood, but I was raised by a Puerto Rican father with dark skin. Some -- very little -- Spanish was spoken in the house, we observed a few customs on occasion and ate our fair share of Puerto Rican dishes. I had to deal with racial comments directed at home because of his accent or the color of his skin. Blacks, Arabs, Hispanics or other so-called "people of color" would not have been welcome, at least not by some.

I also spent a considerable amount of time in my grandmother's neighborhood in Detroit. By the late 70's, a neighborhood that had been all white in the 1960's, was almost entirely black. The 3 remaining white families on the block clearly were not welcome to stay, at least not by some of the neighbors. There are very ugly, frightening incidences directed toward us about which I'd rather not speak at the moment. I can say, though, that while many blacks made it known they wanted Grandma out, others came to my rescue when I'd get picked on by neighborhood bullies.

That is to say nothing of my experiences living in a college community or in the two places I've lived as an adult. Every where I've lived has had a different feel to it. No two places have been alike.

Alot of that is somewhat beside the point. Ultimately, trying to get to why I'm bothered by this radio ad and the National Fair Housing Alliance. Besides the radio ad's blatant anti-white racism, I'm teed off by the lie that people that "look alike," meaning have the same skin color, must be alike. In the all white neighborhood in which I grew up, no two families were a like in anything other than skin color. Some went to church. Many did not. Many rooted for the Detroit Lions. Some rooted for other teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some were alcoholics. Some were teetotalers. Some were educated (meaning they had college degrees) but most others were lucky to have graduated from high school. Many could fix cars. Some wouldn't even bother trying. Some ate traditional dishes past down to them by their parents or grandparents. Others lived on McDonalds and Little Caesar's pizza. We didn't even speak a like. Because more than a few families were descendants of transplants from the south, some kids even in my generation talked a little like "hillbillies." Some even said, quite amusingly, "I'm part hillbilly" when sharing their ethnic background. You get the idea.

The same was true for my grandmother's mostly black neighborhood in Detroit. We didn't know the neighbors as well, personally, but we saw how they related to us. Some were quiet and kept to themselves. Some were "decent church-going folk." Others were troublemakers and bullies. Some came to my defense, protected me. Others bullied and intimidated me. The neighborhood was a bad place to be, but that wasn't because everyone was the same. They just weren't.

In that case, contrary to what the National Fair Housing Alliance would tell you, diversity was actually a divisive thing. There were three white families, one Mexican family and a Chinese-owned business on the corner of the block. When people didn't get along, that was usually triggered by someone in the neighborhood wanting to rid the area of the remaining white families. There was resentment expressed toward the chinese business owners. Not surprisingly, that business left the city maybe 30 years ago.

I had rich experiences growing up, but not because I was exposed to all the cutesy little things some would have you believe comes with diversification. I saw the ugly, hateful side of it. You know what I learned? Some people make lousy neighbors, others make good ones. Color doesn't seem to be a factor. I also learned that people kind of prefer to live with their own kind, so to speak. That's not because every single one of them is a clone of the other, but because commonality creates a comfort zone. I know that's changing, and that's probably a good thing. But it shouldn't change based on a lie. It shouldn't change by telling people, "Hey, you should live with people of color because white folks are all the same and you can't have a 'rich life' living with them."

If you want to live in a mixed neighborhood, do it! There are positives. If you don't want to for whatever reason, don't do it. You'll learn plenty from whomever it is that you live around and deal with on a daily basis, regardless of skin color.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Karma's a Bitch

Tim Keller's book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism addresses the overlapping issues of God as a judge vs a God of love and how a "loving God" could send people to Hell. He essentially says that the notion of a wrathful, judging God who could condemn people to an eternity in Hell is a huge barrier to belief in Christianity or even in the Christian God.

I do see and hear this a lot but it has never been a hang up for me. Sure, I've wondered how God could send "nice people" to Hell, people that act kinder, gentler, more lovingly than some Christians. That's always sat a little funny with me. But I also see that most people aren't as "good" as they think they are and many are downright evil. I recognize in myself enough bad that would otherwise deserve some punishment in the absence of sort of grace or mercy. I also recognize that while I might be think myself to be more "good" thand "bad," there's no handy-dandy cosmic scale I can look at to measure how much 10 lies, 4 thefts, 13 acts of lust, etc weigh against 7 holding doors open for people, saying please and thank you anytime I'm in public, telling my wife and daughter "I love you," or doing a great job at work. What's the point system on which I can rely to measure my "good" vs my "bad"?

That brings me to the next point that is stuck in my craw. People apparently are hung up that God could judge and punish people, but they have no hangups, whatsoever, about human being extracting some amount of revenge against wrongdoers. Many might no longer believe the death penalty is a just punishment, regardless of the crime or wrong. But they would see mental and emotional, perhaps even physical, torment as fair game.

More subtley yet more pervasively, westerners these days love themselves some "karma." Of course, they don't have the first clue on what Buddhists or Hindus have to say about karma, at least not with any specificity. It's a complex and varied spiritual concept and definitions vary between eastern religions. Americans like to say, "Well, it means 'what comes around goes around.'" Not exactly. Hinduistic karma's closer to the Biblical concept of sowing and reaping. However, it has to do more broadly with cosmic cause and effect:

Karma is not punishment or retribution but simply an extended expression or consequence of natural acts. Karma means "deed" or "act" and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all life. The effects experienced are also able to be mitigated by actions and are not necessarily fated. That is to say, a particular action now is not binding to some particular, pre-determined future experience or reaction; it is not a simple, one-to-one correspondence of reward or punishment.

Karma is not fate, for humans act with free will creating their own destiny. According to the Vedas, if one sows goodness, one will reap goodness; if one sows evil, one will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate response.

If we say that post-modern Americans have gotten it partially right and that what comes around goes around -- which is a cousin belief to Christian sowing and reaping -- we must also say that they accept the idea of cosmic judgment and retribution. People in our society really love this idea. Do a google search of "karma is a bitch" (apologize if the word offends anyone) and you'll see that people revel in the idea that someone that does something bad has something coming to him/her in return, often worse than the original offense. You can get "Karma is a Bitch" bumperstickers. I have friends on Facebook that put "karma" out there whenever a villain gets what's coming to him.

Modern, supposedly rational folks have no qualms with cosmic retribution (not tied to any physical or scientifically observable force in the universe mind you, and not even clearly attributable to a someone or something who could guide it.) Yet, they can't accept the idea that God could be the agent of retribution (or reward.) Why must God only reward people (for their sins and shortcomings) but we mere mortals get to sit back and enjoy "karma" crushing our enemies' souls, destroying their lives or just plain gettin' 'em back for their bad behavior?

The truth, I believe, is that people love vengeance. They just don't want to face the fact that God could be the agent of that vengeance and such vengeance could be directed at them. Karma's for "the other guy," the one that does really bad things.