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August 22, 2014 / writesomethingsooms

The experience gap

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/22/us/ferguson-among-whites-protests-stir-a-range-of-emotions-and-a-lot-of-perplexity.html?_r=0

Even among those who are more sympathetic to the concerns of the protesters, there is a striking language gap, with whites asking why demonstrators are not letting the justice system simply do its work and blacks saying the way the system works is exactly the problem.

Black demonstrators on the streets of Ferguson, their sympathizers nationally and even Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have spoken over the past nearly two weeks of routine police harassment and life under a constant and unwarranted cloud of suspicion. They point to yawning economic inequities, the balkanized and segregated geography of St. Louis County and a justice system they say has always been antagonistic.

“My daddy told me to watch out, even when I was little,” said a young black man at the Ferguson protests who, like many here, gave his name as Mike Brown and talked of routinely being stopped by the police. “We’re just fed up.”

Possibly the most widely held sentiment among whites is the hope that it all simply goes away. “I feel for everyone involved,” said Shannon Shaw, a jeweler in Mehlville. But, she added, “I think the protesters just need to go home.”

“We interact together, we have a good time together, we integrate, but we never talk about these things,” he said. “I think the perspective of a lot of white people is not really thinking that these feelings are sitting out there. And maybe in the black community they’re not only thinking about them, they’re wondering why we’re not talking about them.”

“They always want to stir up to trouble, the blacks,” said David Goad, 64, a retired movie projector operator who lives in a neighborhood bordering Ferguson. “I grew up around blacks, so I know how they are,” he said. “That’s why we had to get out in 1962, because it was getting so bad.”

Takeaway: just because something has never been experienced by you, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

http://www.kmbz.com/Poll-Whites-and-Blacks-Not-in-Sync-on-Michael-Brow/19710602

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/

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December 9, 2013 / writesomethingsooms

December 9, 2013

I turn 28 in about two months and some change.

Wow… 28. All the things I thought I would be at this age and I am none of them.

I feel like sometimes I am rediscovering who I really am and who I was meant to be, one small step at a time.

I read a particularly eye-opening piece of journalism today – it is a five-part series describing the life of Dasani, a homeless child with seven siblings growing up in an oddly gentrified and dichotomized neighborhood in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1

I read this and thought several things:

1) I don’t want to cling to principles and ideals anymore. I want to be a person of action who makes things better. That means playing the game and working hard and sticking around and knowing when to keep my mouth shut.

2) We can do better, and we should care to do better, for the sake of those who are most vulnerable.

3) Between staying happy in my ignorance or facing a sad truth, I would rather face a sad truth. Then instead of wallowing in the despair and hopelessness of the situation, have faith and hope that manifests itself in action.

4) Sometimes, you have the be alone. People will disagree with you. You will be betrayed. They threw Nelson Mandela in prison for 27 years – almost the entirety of my life’s existence – before he took part in ending apartheid.

Sometimes you have to be alone.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore– 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over– 
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes, “A Dream Deferred”

September 19, 2013 / writesomethingsooms

Such A Time As This

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

Esther 4:14

God has blown me away, yet again.

Now that my eyes have been open, I am ready to embrace this season of relationships and ministry at work.

Thank you, God, for the coincidences that are not coincidences.

July 23, 2013 / writesomethingsooms

The author and perfecter of our faith

I broke down today – in a good way. It’s refreshing and frightening all at once to experience the turmoil of realization and confront uncomfortable and real issues – both personally and as they relate to our broader, broken world.

Let me set the scene – we are at a worship night designed to address brokenness and racial reconciliation through the lens of community and wisdom as described in the book of James. The pastor asks us to share stories of where they have seen wisdom and peace manifest in a community of those with diverse backgrounds. People begin to share tidbits – about experiences in church, study abroad, missions, etc.

And I begin to feel a burning anger in my heart about all these happy stories of multi-colored individuals joining together in the name of Jesus. Because from my own experiences, that is not indicative of reality.

So I bring it up in the most awkwardly-worded way possible – that I don’t see these stories as indicative of our greater world, and questions of righteous anger and how to change people’s minds when they’ve already made up their minds about the world as they see it. You know, how to confront people who say that black single moms with ten kids are government freeloaders who don’t deserve help. Who claim that what we did to the Native Americans was not genocide, nor injustice. Who believe in their cocky self-righteousness that they have earned their own lot in life, and that others need to do the same because clearly race and class have no effect on personal success since we got rid of slavery in this country and solved this problem a long time ago.

Our guest speaker and pastor both spoke – the short answer was simply, “Jesus.” It’s also the correct answer.

As we worshiped, the reality of Jesus became real to me. That He really is the only way, THE Way, that we can achieve reconciliation and peace in this broken world. 

And I cried, reflecting on how I wanted so badly to live a life of service and what I thought that would mean. God spoke to me clearly in this moment – He told me that service is hard and discouraging, because people are sorely, sorely disappointing in their human weaknesses. And that the only way I could continue to serve, and continue to find, do, and create good in this broken world is to never, ever take my eyes off of him. To fixate myself on His goodness, and that would keep me at the table, trying when there seems to be no hope.

Because I look at the world and I see brokenness and change that is impossible. I look at a world that values personal comfort and pleasure over truth and justice – where we are happy as long as our world is happy, and that’s all that matters. But I look at him and I see hope and real possibility – a love and peace and grace that is never-ending and covers all, without covering anything up or sugar-coating things. Because that’s who Jesus is. He is truth, beauty, and love incarnate. and He is real.

I teared up because I thought of how I had failed so completely in keeping my eyes fixated on Him, every second of every day. I spent most of the last year, at least, looking at my world and being crushed by disappointment when efforts to create any real good were thwarted and evil and selfishness were highly, highly rewarded. I spent the entire time looking down at the hopelessness of circumstances and situation created by individuals around me.

I teared up also because I didn’t want to address the sting of how being a minority has affected my life, and all those emotions I had bottled for years whenever I saw people look down and talk down to my parents because of the way they look and speak came surfacing up – and even a little was enough to break the surface of my self-created, emotionless day-to-day reality where I try to forget those things happened.

Don’t take your eyes off me for a second – that’s how progress and service and resilience in the face of hopelessness are achieved. It’s the only way service is possible.

It was real and personal today.

January 9, 2013 / writesomethingsooms

Michelle Rhee and People Who Are A Waste of Everyone’s Time

There are too many selfish dumbshits in this world.

They are everywhere. They are a waste of space, a waste of air, and are generally incompetent in their life position. The world revolves around them; those around them must cater to their every want and need and consider their thoughts and feelings before uttering any word or taking any action because feelings, not results, are the most important thing.

AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Watching the PBS Frontline special on Michelle Rhee tonight, someone who I respect and admire very much, I realized how many similarities there are between the Army and the world of educational reform. It is incredibly difficult to fire people who are not performing in their positions in the Army. It takes like a year’s worth of paperwork, an inordinate amount of time and effort, and documented evidence that you did all you could to help and development an individual before they can even begin to think of removing them from a position. All the while, this person is probably *NOT* expending any time and energy trying to actually improve their performance, but scheming about how they can skate their way out of the evaluation and punishment they deserve through some sort of loophole or inconsistency. Because that’s what shitbags do.

It’s sort of the same with teachers. Tenure, not performance, is often used as a measure of effectiveness and decision-making authority. It’s almost impossible to fire a tenured teacher, while competent young teachers are let go at the first sign of layoffs or budget cuts. Commanders and civilians often possess an attitude that their Soldiers serve them, or they can give out information and assistance “if they feel like it” and that the Soldiers wait on them, work around their schedule. Apparently, bureaucrats in education do the same thing.

I remember in one scene, Michelle Rhee said she “almost threw up” after seeing boxes upon boxes of textbooks and school supplies store in a warehouse for years, as teachers consistently complained that they were short on these very supplies and often spent their own money to purchase these things.

I don’t know how many times I have seen the same thing in the Army – bureaucracy getting in the way of the mission. Soldiers cannot get the support or equipment they need because of some stupid political thing or an archaic rule. People who are more concerned about rules and paperwork and covering their ass because they are paranoid about being responsible for anything than about Soldiers and the mission.

This is bullshit.

This, more than anything, is what turns me off from this unit and my Army experience. I have some not-fully-formed thoughts about this situation – how to cope with these kinds of people and circumstances, lessons learned, etc:

1) As a leader, it is your job to develop people. This takes an inordinate amount of time and effort. You should always approach people with the attitude that you want them to succeed and you want what’s best for them, and spell it out clearly how you want them to get there, even when addressing shortcomings and doling out criticism. You have to explain what is important and why it is important – task and purpose. Doing this with dumb people is the absolute most frustrating thing in the world, and takes a lot of tact and patience with an understanding of where you need to draw the line and shove a boot up their ass, Michelle Rhee style.

2) Jobs where people and principles matter beyond a dollar amount – students and student accomplishment, Soldiers and the mission, etc. – are very difficult and require great sacrifice. I remember reading once that Michelle Rhee was married at one point and is now divorced. I can only imagine how her commitment to her position, which demands her constant attention and care and efforts, might have driven things south in the personal arena. Michelle Rhee doesn’t want to be fabulous or gorgeous or chase a happy-suburban-house-with-2.5 kids-and-minivan-and-dog sort of lifestyle. She wants to serve students and give people a fighting chance for their futures and in the process she has to become a bitch and do things that are hard and unpleasant.

Is it worth it? Can you really have it all, a fulfilling job and knowing that you are doing right by students with each arduous step and still maintain a semblance of a happy home and family life?

I don’t know. This is a perpetual question to which the answer changes depending on circumstance, personality, and life season.

3) Serving. Serving. Serving. You are always serving students. Leaders serve their subordinates. Commanders serve their Soldiers. Teachers serve their students. #belikejesus

4) The importance of data and due diligence – evaluations are a funny thing. They are, by nature, something very subjective. Yet if we want to do the right thing and hire/fire/develop the right people in the right ways, we must fight the norm and force performance evaluations to be objective. This takes a lot of work. Keep track of facts and figures. Have multiple people evaluate an individual. Base performance evaluations on data. Have a system – like when doing social science research. The topic/subject is subjective, but social sciences takes what is subjective and attempts to make it as objective as possible.

5) No emotion – emotions are bad. Anger is bad. Crying is bad. Logic is good. Straightforward is good. Do not let your emotions drive your decisions in your professional life – confronting people about their substandard performance, what to say when developing/counseling a subordinate, etc. Don’t let it get personal or things will go very bad, very quickly. When emotions get involved, said subordinate can quickly blame their criticism and admonishments as “being out to get them,” unfair treatment, and all kinds of inspector-general-equal-opportunity-complaint-lawsuit-worthy bullshit. Just keep emotions out of it. Be positive, be direct. The goal is to change the behavior and get results.

February 1, 2012 / writesomethingsooms

A writing mood.

So I’m in a writing mood today – not sure where this blog will go, but rest assured it will be exciting (or aimless psychobabble – you never know with these moods, so unpredictable).

Anyways, here are a few random thoughts about life right now:

1) I really like my new battalion commander. It is sort of cool/weird/strange to see another Asian female in charge as your boss’s boss’s boss. Regardless of ethnicity and gender, I respect her and stand behind her leadership philosophies. It’s good to see people who walk the walk and not just act the act or talk the talk – which will often get you by in the Army, unfortunately. Being another Asian female, I also feel that she has worked incredibly hard to get where she is today. Sometimes the Army is just overtly or covertly just an old boy’s club, and I am sure she has experienced many hardships and struggles that aren’t apparent given her current position.

2) I wonder, sometimes, if I will ever be in a serious relationship. I can’t even entertain the idea sometimes because it seems so unreal. It’s like this weird thing that happens to other people but that I don’t believe will ever happen to me. I joke about it a lot (shit single girls say – “Liz Lemon is my hero!”), but probably because I need to in order to cover up my true fears and insecurities.

3) New episode of New Girl, quoteworthy – “I’m about to go pay this $800 fine, AND my checks have baby farm animals on them, bitch!”

4) I hope none of my Sunday school students are reading this blog entry… yup. they probably are. Kids, cussing is not cool! Especially when you don’t do it at the appropriate time and place!

5) RE: #4 – Yeah, I don’t really give a shit. I mean, I care that my old students love Jesus cause He’s the BEST. If they throw out a swear word or two… meh.

6) Um, I can sense this blog entry is slipping into nonsensical nonsense. Time to call is quits and head to bed.

Good night, world. I promise better, more thoughtful thoughts next time.

October 22, 2011 / writesomethingsooms

Book Club Meeting #1: The Help by Kathryn Stockton

I am happy to say that I just finished the first piece of fiction literature I’ve put my hands on since my sophomore year of college (a borrowed copy of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood on a flight back from Uganda, for anyone who is curious). I am also glad to say it was an intensely rewarding, thought-provoking, and refreshing read.*

I was a voracious reader when I was young, but these days it’s rare that I read books that are not “mandatory” in some way, shape, or form. I quit that hobby a long time ago when:

a) I outgrew the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins series (still a fan of CLAUDIA, the awesomely fashionable dyslexic girl).

b) I started having a bajillion pages of mandatory reading for class.

c) I became an adult and found TV a must more instantly gratifying way to veg out from adult responsibilities.

But I am reminded, truly, that nothing beats the power of a good written story. True or not, stories are what keeps us human and allows two completely different people to connect and experience another perspective with depth. The power of the narrative always surprises me – I cried no less (but possibly more) than 3 times while reading the book.

Another reason I shy away from reading fiction: the same reason why I keep meaningful movie-watching to a minimum. It just requires a lot of time and emotional investment.

Some quick random notes the book:

1) Does an excellent job at capturing complexity, specifically the complexity of love/hate relationships between whites and their black “help” in the south.

2) Appreciate the timely historical references – assassination of JFK, Vietnam War, and man going into space to mention a few.

3) I kind of see myself in Skeeter, the eager white protagonist. Is it because she’s such a “fail” in the relationship department? Mmmm, perhaps…

4) People… are just people. We the same. Just… different colored.

It’s hard to believe that this is truly what the South was like only 50 years ago – within my parents’ lifespan.

Well, the book club meeting is later today. I will be cooking sweet and sour pork in a crockpot, and the two other ladies and I will chow down and hopefully engage in some good discussion + fellowship. Thankful for book club to keep me ACCOUNTABLE to actually pick up and read the entire book.

Kids, reading makes you smart. GET SMART!

*Note: I actually read “The Alchemist” for another book club a couple years ago, and it was so bad that I don’t consider it a legitimate piece of literature. Is it just me or does that whole book sound like a cheesy email forward?