Malcolm X – Darkness to Light

This week’s blog is a complete 180 compared to last weeks blog on John Quincy Adams. I am still trying to read all the Penguin Classics, and because of that I just finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley. Malcolm X is a mystifying character in history, and I didn’t know anything about him before picking up this classic. This is one reason why I highly recommend making it a goal to read the classics – you will be forced to read books that expand your worldview. We can’t improve discrimination or racism without empathy – one of the best ways to practice empathy is by stepping into the shoes of someone else through biography. 

malcolm-x-mini-biography

Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska – he shortly moved to Lansing, Michigan where he lived until the age of 14. At 14 he moved to Boston to live with family and eventually found himself in Harlem at the age of 21. While in Harlem, Malcolm Little – Little was his original last name – lived a life of crime, drugs, and racketeering. His lifestyle caught up with him, and in 1946 he was arrested for larceny. The prison he was sent to was unique in the sense that it promoted rehabilitation and education. Malcolm began to read and participate in debating events. His family in Michigan had moved to Detroit and while there became involved with a new movement called “The Nation of Islam.” Malcolm’s brother introduced him to the preachings of Elijah Muhammed – a radical black leader who preached a twisted version of Islam. Malcolm converted to Islam in prison, and upon his release in 1952, became a full-time disciple of Elijah Muhammed.

nyc13064-480x276

Elijah Muhammed with his follower Muhammed Ali

Malcolm got rid of his last name and replaced it with an “X” to represent his crossed out African name which could never be discovered. The Nation of Islam was a movement targeted towards frustrated blacks who were sick of discrimination and “white” Christianity. Elijah Muhammed taught his members the following about the white race…

“Though he was a black man, Mr. Yacub, embittered toward Allah now, decided, as revenge, to create upon the earth a devil race – a bleached out, white race of people. From his studies, the big-head scientist knew that black men contained two germs, black and brown. He knew that the brown germ stayed dormant and being the lighter of the two germs, it was the weaker. Mr. Yacub, to upset the law of nature, conceived the idea of employing what we today know as the recessive genes structure, to separate from each other the two germs, black and brown, and then grafting the brown germ to a progressively lighter, weaker stage. The humans resulting, he knew, would be, as they became lighter, and weaker, progressively also more susceptible to wickedness and evil. And in this way finally he would achieve the intended bleached-out white race of devils.”

It gets worse…

“But finally the original black people recognized that their sudden troubles stemmed from this devil white race that Mr. Yacub had made. They rounded them up, put them in chains. With little aprons to cover their nakedness, this devil race was marched off across the Arabian desert to the caves of Europe…When this devil race had spent two thousand years in the caves, Allah raised up Moses to civilize them, and bring them out of the caves. It was written that this devil white race would rule the world for six thousand years.”

maxresdefault

Malcolm X truly believed these falsehoods and regularly recited the message that all white people were the devil. This obviously was not well received by whites, and prominent black leaders like Martin Luther King denounced the separatist hate speech. Malcolm X actually didn’t want desegregation and believed there was no way for the white race and the black race to cohabitate. Eventually, Malcolm X became more prominent then Elijah Muhhamed and was kicked out of the organization. Once he exited the cult-like Nation of Islam, he traveled to Mecca to see for himself what Islam sincerely offered. While in Mecca Malcolm saw people of all races and realized that all his former beliefs were lies. He came back to America a new man…

“In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I never will be guilty of that again – as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks.”

bfd4q6tn7h5f34ddvfa3jesv5q

Unfortunately, the changed Malcolm X did not have enough time to reverse his public image of hate – on February 21, 1965, he was shot 21 times by assassins of the Nation of Islam. I understand the reasons behind Malcolm’s hate speech and I respect his change of views later in life. We all have the capacity to hate – no one race has a monopoly. Malcolm taught me the danger of fundamentalist teaching and the power of real knowledge – we must seek the truth if we desire to rise above the ignorance of the past.

Cold Comfort Farm

“Well,’ said Mrs Smiling, ‘it sounds an appalling place, but in a different way from all the others. I mean, it does sound interesting and appalling, while the others just sound appalling.”

-Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

I once went through this weird phase where I wanted to be a gentleman farmer. I spent countless hours researching heirloom crops to grow and obscure breeds of animals to raise. I romanticized the agrarian lifestyle; always picturing myself leaning on a fence looking out at a pasture of sheep or goats. I thought there was no better life of freedom or satisfaction – at the end of the day I could kiss Christina, eat apple pie, and read the Bible to my 10 children. In an attempt to test the waters of farming, I convinced my parents to put a garden in the backyard. To make the long story short, I dreaded watering and weeding the stupid thing and when something did finally grow, a wild beast ate it before I could gain any tangible satisfaction.

beautifulveggiegarden-1000

After that failed attempt at farming, I put my rural dreams to the side and took up a much more suitable occupation – reading books and writing obscure blog posts. Every now and again the dream resurfaces of eating pie while staring at my goats but Christina usually squashes them with an impersonation of myself during the aforementioned gardening days…”(in an old man voice) Oh, my backkkkk, I fricking hate bending over, I need a chair to sit down to get these things out.” This precarious relationship with agriculture framed my mindset while reading the 1932 classic Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – a parody of the rural novels from 19th century England. Suffice it to say it motivated new Google searches for “how to garden in a wheelchair.”

giphy

The title of Cold Comfort Farm is named after the main farm in the book and paints the picture of natural beauty while simultaneously highlighting the backwardness of rural England. The main character, Flora, comes to the farm to essentially mooch off her relatives with free room and board. Her relatives, the Strakadders, are best described as Sussex hillbillies who are superstitious, uneducated, and set in their ways – even though their ways make zero sense. Flora spends the book, in a quite hilarious manner, fixing the Strakadders problems, and facilitating them to lead better lives. At first, it is slow going, but with finesse and humor, Flora helps each member to truly blossom to their full potential.

ifinditfunnyasthatthepeoplewho_64bf52c51330d2b4d16a3d500231923b

This novel is meant to show that no person is irredeemable and that the countryside not only has beautiful landscape but also beautiful people. England at the time was still quite pretentious when it came to class differences and Cold Comfort Farm is a direct attack on the negative attributes of the “stiff upper lip.”  It is not that Flora tries to change the Strakadders into pompous-city folk but rather helps them see their skills in a new light – leading them in the first steps towards their lifelong dreams. Many times we judge others who live differently and we try to change them to be reflections of ourselves; like a farmer trying to coerce me to weed when I am just more suited for Wikipedia.  In a world rife with division – Republican/Democrat, Rural/City, North/South, Black/White – we need to be reminded of this more than ever.

 

MLK Day as a White Man

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Let’s be honest for a second. Have you ever done anything to celebrate Martin Luther King Day? I for one have done squat nothing. Usually for me, MLK Day in the past entailed no school and a visit to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet with my Mom. As a privileged white youth, I didn’t have a lot of personal connection with a black pastor from the 1960’s. To me it was difficult to relate to the struggle of African Americans throughout the history of the United States. I was taught that after the 1960’s, everything was essentially peachy in respects to race relations. There was no longer slavery. There was no longer “separate but equal.” There was no longer systemic institutions that oppressed a race. What made my ignorance worse, was the fact that I thought racism only existed in the south. Michiganders weren’t racist. We helped free slaves during the Civil War. We never had Jim Crow Laws. We were the safe haven- Pure Michigan.

Of course, you are probably thinking to yourself, “…what the frick, this guy is the whitest man alive! Did he really think that racism was over? Was he that obsessed about the Pizza Hut buffet that the hate of the world never hit him in the face? I for one was not ignorant and always watched Roots on MLK Day.” Yes, I was a sheltered fat kid who had rose-tinted glasses of the world. Please refrain from your Roots ego trip to hear me out for a second. My ignorance has been decreased through my journey of seeking wisdom. Racism is still an ever-present thing in America. Racism was not reversed after the Civil War. Racism had no borders between North and South. Racism was not extinguished by Martin Luther King Jr. I know now that the United States has systematically targeted the black population through policing measures and mass incarceration (click here). I know now that there were and still are policies in place that keep black and white children from intermingling in schools (click here). I know now that we are psychologically predisposed to fear black men because of cultural imagery (click here). To put it another way, I know now the importance of MLK Day.

As a white man, I feel responsible to acknowledge these wrongs and to do my part in identifying ways to reduce racism in today’s world. How can I personally reduce racism? I think one key way is to educate others about the systems in place that oppress African Americans. As a white man I do not fear getting pulled over by a police officer (click here). I do not fear imprisonment because I lack the money for a reputable lawyer (click here). I do not fear for the quality of my future child’s public education (click here). These systems are in the spotlight currently and I am glad that people are talking about them. What I think we shouldn’t do is downsize them and imagine that all things are equal. Growing up as a white male in a suburb, all things being equal, provides a much greater advantage in life compared to growing up as a black male in the ghetto. Is it possible to become a doctor as a black woman raised in Detroit? Of course it is. But the path to get there is so much harder because of the general environmental differences between white and black. That woman may not have had access to the college prep high school because of her address. She may not have had a Dad because of “search and frisk” quotas. She may not have had access to summer education because a lack of funding.

The individual is always responsible for decisions but the United States is responsible for making the playing field fair. My aim today is to inform everyone that there is still a lot of work left to do on a system wide level. We shouldn’t be like my younger Pizza Hut self and think everything is just dandy. We should never say, “I overcame challenges so they should stop whining and work harder.” It is that logic that was once used to argue for “separate but equal.” It is that logic that makes people passive observers to everyday racism. So, as a White man I for one thank you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for making the world more understanding and fair for all Americans. To celebrate this day, I honor you through this post and will make it a goal to educate those about the present-day inequities of the world so that one day a Pizza Hut boy may be correct in wearing his rose-colored glasses.

 

Theodore Roosevelt vs. Donald Trump

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite president by far because he accomplished so many unbelievable feats during his lifetime:

-Preserved 150 national forests, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.
-He busted up 44 monopolistic corporations and enforced railroad regulations.
-Passed the Meat Inspection Act along with the Pure Food and Drug Act.
-Secured the Panama Canal and negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese war.
-Conducted two major hunting expeditions to catalog animals for the Smithsonian.
-Published over 35 books and read over 10,000 books.
-Posthumously won the Medal of Honor.
-Was the youngest president in American history.
-He preemptively strengthened the Navy before WWI.
-Negotiated a major coal strike.
-Gave Cuba back to Cubans.
-Invited the first black man ever to dinner at the White House.

Added to these accomplishments is the fact that Roosevelt was an easy going guy who treated everyone with fairness; he was a loving husband and father; and he was passionate about making life for all Americans better. Theodore Roosevelt along with Abraham Lincoln are my two favorite Republicans because they were light years ahead of their time in championing social, economic, and racial equality.

Fast forward to today’s Republican Party. What use to be a party that represented disenfranchised blacks, immigrants, and conservationists is now the party that represents primarily whites who don’t believe in global warming but do believe in xenophobia. The Republican’s main man is now Donald Trump. I am not a fan of Trump because he is in many ways the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt spent most of his life in public service while Trump spent most of his life expanding his father’s real estate business. The first 50 years of Teddy’s life could be summed up as a non-stop push to make America better. The first 50 years of Trump’s life could be summed up as a non-stop push to inflate his pockets and ego.  Here in lies the greatest difference between these two men-motivation. Roosevelt was a gentleman that treated his opponents with dignity and those who were disenfranchised with respect. Trump is a business man who uses derogatory language and authoritarian philosophies to make deals that increases his net worth regardless of the consequences. Some examples of these consequences include two divorces, four bankruptcies, and a mouth that vomits ridiculous material:

-“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
-“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

-“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

-“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

-“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”

-“My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

-“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

This is the current state of the Republican Party. Trump will not be remembered for his list of accomplishments but rather for his list of stupid comments. Teddy won the Nobel Peace Prize.What will Trump win as President? A spot on Comedy Central’s Roast of Hillary Clinton. Lincoln and Roosevelt would not even fit into the Republican Party of today and I’m sure Trump would find pleasant things to say about the immigrant lover and tree huger. We need a President who embodies the attributes of these two great men-not the attributes of a misogynistic-xenophobic-demagogic-school yard bully.
If you liked this article read Abraham Lincoln vs. Donald Trump for another comparison.

American Justice: The Divide Between Rich and Poor

In 2008 I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. During that year I was chasing girls, shaving for the first time, lifting weights, getting ready for college, and trying to endure my last bout of public education. Life was good and I had no idea what was going on in the world around me. Besides randy teenagers, most people were aware of the financial crisis that was taking place in 2008. This collapse in our economy was arguably the second worst financial disaster in United States history-second only to the Great Depression. In only a year, this financial crisis wiped out 40% of the WORLD’S wealth which equated to trillions of dollars of loss. Huge banks like Lehman Brothers imploded while lucky others like Bank of America and Chase were bailed out by the government. What caused the Great Recession? This question was explained to me in the amazing book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi. Go read this book! This is one of the top 5 books I have ever read and honestly it has changed my perspective on the world. With that said, the book contrasts the Financial Crisis of 2008 with the current state of how the poor are treated in America. The juxtaposition of stories about the rich and poor classes is eyeopening in respect to the unfairness of the current judicial system. This blog post only scratches the surface of this books details, points, and moving anecdotes.

The 2008 Financial Crisis was first and foremost caused by illegal activity on Wall Street. Leading up to the crisis, major banks and lending agencies were addicted to subprime mortgages. A subprime mortgage is a home loan for individuals who have bad credit, have little to no down-payment, and limited knowledge of interest rates. The banks specifically targeted poor individuals to take on these high interest loans even though their financial history was dismal and their likelihood of paying the loan was extremely suspect. These loans were obviously a disaster waiting to happen but the real kicker is that the banks bundled these as secure AAA investments for other institutions (including the government) to invest in. This toxic combination lead to a housing market collapse and subsequent banking collapse because these institutions were leveraged based largely on the subprime mortgages. In the end, these fraudulent practices by America’s leading institutions destroyed countless pensions, wiped out retirement savings, and initiated the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next five years. What was the punishment for the people who caused this collapse? NONE! No single person was brought to trial or prosecuted. Banks were fined but none were forced to admit that they did anything wrong. Added to that, the banks’ fines amounted to such small amounts that they recouped their losses in a matter of weeks.

This total lack of justice for the ultra wealthy has become the norm in America. There is a ridiculous amount of evidence against bank executives which is not being pursued by the justice department. This is contrasted in the book by the ridiculous police methods being enforced on poor individuals. New York has search and seizure laws that essentially allow police to detain anyone (almost always blacks) for no reason at all. The nation as a whole has laws that don’t allow immigrants any due process of law and the right to hold these individuals indefinitely. Welfare recipients have forced home searches where officials can rummage through all their belongings to ensure they are actually poor enough to receive benefits. If you are an immigrant or poor, the American justice system looks much different then if you are a rich bank executive on Wall Street. Of course we all know this to some degree but the author’s point is that our country’s justice system has to be in a vacuum; treating rich and poor alike. We roll over and let the ultra-rich get away with crime while systematically imprisoning more people (mainly poor) then any other country in the world. This injustice needs to be addressed and we need to at least try to change the system for the better. Again, this book is a must read and goes into these topics in much greater detail. America is currently an oligarchy that is run by very wealthy individuals and institutions. Does this mean we should role over and take it? No. It means we need to be aware of the injustices of the system so we can slowly bring back the balance of equality. Success doesn’t come over night but the sum of small efforts overtime can make America a great place no matter how much is in your wallet, no matter where you live, and no matter what you look like in the mirror.