Monday, October 29, 2012

Racism still exists in America? White people, come get this man.

Yes. I did not think I would have to ask that question but as I continue to study and have conversations with people I find plenty who think racism has disappeared into the night. The prevailing ignorance is centered amongst a number of factors, but I want to focus specifically on one; the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In my interactions with a lot of White people, and experiences imparted to me by a number of Black and White colleagues, the notion of “we have overcome” pops up. What I mean by that is that the election of ONE Black man to the highest political office in this country (and perhaps the world, depending on whom you ask), has brought us out of racism. We finally slayed the beast known as racism and everything is okay. Now we can hold hands, talk about how much we all love Martin Luther King, and maybe play a little Gladys Knight in the background. Sounds silly doesn’t it? The era of post-racial America has emerged (read sarcastically) but the endeavor is wholly short-sighted. The goal should be a post-racist America but I doubt it will ever be achieved.  

The following is brought to you by the letter R. Think Sesame Street.

As I was sitting in the doctor’s office, an older, early 50s, White male came in and sat next to me. The television in the waiting area was tuned in to Fox News and this particular gentleman became very chatty. The usual chit chat about what you do professionally, how long you’ve been in Atlanta, etc, are formalities but what has increased is the need to tell me what you think of Obama. The gentleman continues with “I don’t mean this to sound racist, but I don’t like Obama”. “It’s not a Black thing, but I feel like he doesn’t understand my country.” First, do you KNOW the man to say that? Has Obama come to your home and slapped you across the face? Second, YOUR COUNTRY?? Third, what’s up with the qualifiers? Maybe he thought I would beat his ass. I responded with a simple question, “Why?” The man claimed that Obama does not share the correct vision for America. He said Obama does not understand America is built upon individual liberty and ingenuity. The man is correct with respect to ingenuity. America was very clever in enforcing and legislating chattel slavery, specifically with the slave codes of 1793 as one example, to the continued disfranchisement of Black people in the North and South, and even to the segregation of military forces which inspired numerous calls to action by Black leaders in 1940 with regards to treatment, placement in posts, benefits, etc. The individual liberty belief is laughable, historically inaccurate, and flat out bullshit but conservative (and I mean that in the worst way you can imagine) White male historians, and those who wish to present historic fiction, love to push the individual liberty myth. The man went on to opine that he knows a number of Black people, whom he calls friends, who know the REAL truth about America and share his passion for this country. I nodded and thought to myself “this man represents a large number of Americans, and we are fucked.” I did not have time to knock down every single one of his statements but I did leave him with one question; how can you talk about this country being built on individual liberty when slavery was codified into law which dictated public policy?


Recently, an Arkansas representative made some racist ass comments about Black people being better off because of slavery. Benevolent slavery if you will. John Sununu, a senior advisor to the Romney campaign, suggested that Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was done solely because Obama is Black. If that’s true, Powell should have endorsed only half of Obama but let’s not be too technical. Such commentary is meant to undervalue Powell as a man and to render his remarks as complete hogwash. The move is part of a concerted effort which has historical antecedents that aims to devalue Black life. This is not the first time nor will it be the last that some racist ass White dude says some foolish and racist shit about slavery or about Black people. The historical record reflects such attitudes in newspapers, law, public policy, misuse and abuse of science/medicine, literacy tests, etc. If you are shocked by the seemingly upfront and boisterous attitudd by these racist people, I suggest you do some research. Go on over to the Auburn Avenue Research Library here in Atlanta, and you will see exactly what I am talking about. It’s not new and the only thing that has changed is the cast of characters and the technology that is used to present the beliefs. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hell Naw to Alternative Medicine

The following is a reply to a discussion group after a talk about health disparities and alternative/holistic medicines and therapies. 

The alternative medicine talk at the end of class made me want to jump out of my skin. Yes, there are alternative remedies and therapies for ailments which plague us. In the face of crises it is very common to reach for the simplest method to deal with a disease. Economic instability, governmental policy, the lack of access to viable and proven treatments etc all plays a role when an alternative remedy is suggested. Suffering is a part of the human experience and alternative therapies are meant as a response to that suffering. The question is do they really work? Is there a body of evidence which suggests the alternative therapies in question, no matter what they are, mitigate or eliminate the suffering of the individual or group? Many who have tried holistic/alternative remedies report positive results. They report feeling better as a result of those therapies. Upon further review of their medical history, it is often discovered that they have tried proven methods concurrently and/or consecutively with unproven methods. They may not report that aspect, not out of deception, but due to confirmation bias or just misreporting the events.  We have to be very careful to not mistake correlation for causation. Plenty of folks have claimed the ailment they possess just magically stopped. Diseases have life cycles as they are living organisms. We may not always determine why a disease may have stopped mutating but that in no way lends any credibility to any holistic/alternative methods. The person really wants the alternative therapies to be the cause of improving their condition. Wanting the methods to work is much different than showing that the methods have actually worked, and that those are methods useful in explaining the disease, and how it may function in patients in the future.

I understand the mistrust directed at the pharmaceutical, medical, government, and scientific communities. A lot of people have misused powerful positions to promote nonsense, quackery, racism, sexism, patriarchy, and outright bullshit. The Tuskegee Experiment was mentioned in class. Yes, it was a terrible event perpetrated by unscrupulous persons in the medical field and the government. The aftermath of that event brought about the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research which was the first public national body to shape bioethics policy in the United States. On the heels of a tragedy, it took the actions of good people who were willing to demand change, and get it done to prevent such an event from happening again. It is a call to action to be watchdogs and take the message to the global arena.

I can empathize with the frustration a person may feel when dealing with an illness, and seeing a doctor and little to no improvement is achieved over a significant amount of time. But that does not mean we ought to promote alternative methods in lieu of frustration and lack of resources. It means we have to have a serious dialogue and plan of action about how we live, how we allocate resources, talk to medical communities, and learn about diseases. We have to talk to each other and teach one another about our health and the systems which support it. I am advocating for a social transformation instead of alternative remedies. I concede the view may be utopian but I think it’s far better than dealing with homeopathy, chakras, reflexology, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Ouija boards, and every other form of chicanery which makes a ton of claims but when asked for evidence they fail to produce results. It’s not just a disagreement. It’s about the lack of evidence for the claims presented and quite often ignoring evidence which disconfirms the alternative method and promoting therapies which fall outside of the consensus. Not only is that wrong, it is also dangerous. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I no longer say the N word; Musings from a Black Atheist

I struggled with this blog post for a few weeks. I was not sure how I wanted to articulate my thoughts, and feelings about such a destructive word. I know context matters, but in the case of that word, no context can excuse the usage of it. I am disheartened every time I see a Black person use the word, and create all kinds of justifications to excuse current and future usage. When White people use the N word, some Black folks defend White folks and say “it’s just a word”. No it’s not. Recent history tells us just how deep the N word has permeated our society. I cannot walk down the street, go to the grocery store, or walk into an elementary school lunchroom, and not hear the N word. I think it is time for a major change.

In order to change the culture, we must destroy everything with the N word on it. We need to get federal and state funding for programs to situate chronic users and consumers of the N word back into civil society. I would have loved to see President Obama and Mitt Romney talk about this pressing issue. I present this to you because I love my country and my fellow human beings. I want their mental health and physical health to be as sound as possible. Some folks need to be protected from themselves. I thought long and hard about this, plus I did the research. The N word is crushing our economy, our shared humanity, and our sense of self. I propose a federal law to outlaw the N word and harsh punishments ought handed out to states and cities who create safe havens for N word users.

I no longer say the N word. I find the word to be a tool of dehumanization. When uttering the word, I reveal a dark part of my character, and I become uncivil as do all others who use the word. Today is the last day I use the N word. Nutella will be banned from my vocabulary, my twitter feed, and my home. I hope you join me, and do the same.