Sunday, August 31, 2008

Even BET gets it right sometimes

On Sunday morning BET ran a news special What's at Stake. (Sorry, the showing was an encore and is not on BET's upcoming schedule.) It was a commentary on 10 things that Black America should be concerned with when deciding which presidential candidate to vote for in November. The 10 issues included health care, the economy, home foreclosures, the war in Iraq, gun control, Roe v. Wade and education. (I know, I'm missing three.)

I can't say I watched intently for the entirety of the program, but I appreciated the information and wished I could have sat and paid attention from beginning to end. The show was not to my husband's liking however. He thought it was one-sided, too obviously pro-Obama. I didn't agree, but also didn't think it would be a problem if it were in fact so.

The question we 'discussed' without resolution was whether or not BET - Black Entertainment Television - should take a position on matters relating to the black community. For my husband's perspective you can check his blog when he has one, but here's what I think: Not only should BET take a position on some matters, it has an obligation to do so and to provide well-researched and insightful support for their position. One of those matters is political candidates.

City and regional newspapers all over the country endorse political candidates and present their arguments for their position on their editorial pages. Typically, those arguments are based on the needs of the community. Why should BET be any different? True, it is not a local newspaper, but it is a major medium of information for a specific community; that has specific needs and challenges.

There is no arguing that blacks have less access to health care, even as we face higher risks than whites for strokes, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and some forms of cancer. Our children, particularly boys, are dropping out of high school at higher rates than whites and fewer blacks are going to college. A disproportionate number of blacks go to jail and serve longer sentences for comparable crimes. Predatory lending has been more prevalent in low and middle income black communities when compared with predominantly white neighborhoods of similar income. While black women have seen their salaries make steady stride, black men still make less than their white counterparts. Black professionals are underrepresented in some careers and in the highest echelons of corporations - even those whose bottom lines depends on the ongoing support of our community. Our young men are more likely to enlist in the armed services for economic reasons, and they are more likely than young white men to be victims of a violent crime.

Those are very specific concerns that face our community. Our choice for president should most certainly depend on the candidates' positions and plans for addressing those problems that are uniquely ours. BET -- and every black newspaper, radio station, magazine and website -- should support a candidate based on the organization's conviction that he will act in the best interest of the black community and inform their readers/viewers of that choice.

Radio and television host Tavis Smiley came under serious fire when he challenged Barack Obama on the issues that face Black America. Many listeners of the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, where Smiley used to give twice-weekly political commentary, felt he should have given Senator Obama his support from the moment of his announcement. I understood Tavis' position. Senator Obama should not get a free pass from blacks because he looks like us. Tavis was right in encouraging his listeners to ask tough, self-serving questions of candidates asking for their votes. I think he was wrong to not support a candidate in the democratic primaries.

It was irresponsible for someone with such a large following to not present a solid argument for one candidate or another - particularly because he had always been forthright and opinionated. His refusal to take a stance was confusing and seemed disingenuous to his listeners; and he may have dissuaded some from voting at all. He threw out questions about Senator Obama, but never provided answers and he never did a side-by-side comparison of the two candidates. I think he would have gotten a better reception from his listeners if he had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton - who many suspect he supported.

The black community looks to our media for more than information; we look also for guidance. I think black media outlets have a responsibility to do their due diligence and take great care, but definitely provide that guidance.

Friday, August 29, 2008

We'll pass on the beauty queen

As any communications professional worth their salt would have advised, John McCain has timed his VP announcement to move buzz away from the successful Democratic National Convention. And my is that buzz loud. Senator McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Governor Palin becomes only the second woman to be on the ticket for a presidential election. Shrewd move? Maybe. Definitely ballsy. The next two months will definitely be interesting.

With his selection, McCain is wooing female democrats - some of whom are still stinging from perceived mistreatment of Hillary Clinton - as well as the Republican Party's most conservative members who have been slow to warm up to his campaign. I'm no political strategist, but I don't see how those two goals can be met with the same person. I cannot imagine that Hillary supporters (even the P.U.M.A.s) will, en masse, shift their support behind a pro-life, pro-gun candidate with 20 months of experience on the state level. I want to give women more credit than that.

Is it more important for us to get a woman into the White House than it is for us to elect a candidate that addresses the issues that matter to us and make differences for our families? I didn't vote for Hillary in the primaries, but I would have gladly voted for her in November if she had won the democratic nomination. I would have been a proud participant in an historical moment, AND gotten a candidate that holds my values and addresses my concerns. Those values and concerns are not met by Sarah Palin.

Governor Palin is no Senator Clinton. In the upcoming days, I am sure that will become increasingly evident.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A new day for the races: campaigns and otherwise

So it is now official, Barack Obama has accepted the nomination to be the Democratic Party's representative in the November elections. There is no denying it now: Barack Obama has made history.

Democratic candidate Shirley Chisholm won 28 delegate votes in 1972. Civil rights activist and Democratic candidate Jesse Jackson received 450 delegate votes in 1984, and 1200 in 1988. Republican Alan Keys has run more than one primary campaign to represent his party in the presidential elections. This is the first time that an African American/Black person has won the right to represent a major political party in general elections.

I am proud of the momentous accomplishment and exhilarated at the prospects. As a registered democrat, I am happy to have a strong contender for the White House. As an American citizen, I am relieved to have a candidate that speaks to my concerns and my hopes for my family's future. But that pride and exhilaration come from the fact that I am black. There is no denying that either. The dialogue on race has become deafening since speculation began that Senator Obama might run for president. Is America ready for a black president? Can we look past race to see the issues? Are African-Americans supporting him because he's black or will self-deprecation and doubt prevent Black America from voting for him?

I think the discussions are great. Whenever there is sharing and pooling in the marketplace of ideas we are all better for it. I also think that the senator himself has provided undeniable answers to some of those questions.

As I listened to residents of a small town in Middle America being interviewed on a National Public Radio show, I came to the painful realization that all of America is not ready for a black president. There is unfortunately a large swath of small-minded ignoramuses across this country who just can't vote for a negro. However, as the ever-growing crowds who gather at Obama events prove, that is not the case for most Americans. I am thankful that President-in-waiting Obama chose not to make race an issue in his campaign. He has made his appeal to all America and his supporters cut across race lines. There has been no battle call directed at African-Americans; but rather, a message of hope directed at all Americans. The result was the flag-waving throng of supporters who packed Invesco Field to the rafters to hear Senator Obama's acceptance speech on Thursday night. America is ready for a new way of doing business in Washington and the person delivering the message of hope in 2008 just happens to be a black man. America is ok with that.

Poll after poll has shown that the things Americans most care about are the economy, gas prices and the War in Iraq. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians. We care about the rising number of foreclosures that is threatening to lay fallow the American dream for families across the country. Increasingly Americans are becoming concerned about the economic and environmental impact of our dependence on foreign oil. And as the number of casualties go up in Iraq in a seemingly futile war, we want to see an end to the U.S. occupation. The candidate who has the best plan for addressing those concerns is the candidate who will win. Americans are looking beyond race, to the issues -- in no small part because they are so important this year. This also because Senator Obama has stayed on the issues. He has not sought refuge behind the race card, but has convinced the world of his viability based on his solid plan, expertise, experience, strength of character, insight and vision.

While the African-American community does typically celebrate black 'firsts' with pride and relish, the worry that a vote for a black presidential candidate would be a wasted vote made voting for Barack Obama in the primaries far from certain for many. Now that he has won the party's nomination, that is no longer a concern. I am certain that some African-Americans will vote for Obama solely because he is black. I am equally certain that many more democrats will vote for him solely because he is a democrat. Is anyone having a problem with that? I know the Obama camp is not. If all of Black America is going to turn out the polls (Well, we can hope.) to vote for a candidate because he is black, then I for one am grateful that the candidate would have earned my vote even if he was white.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If not duty then investment

I imagine when I turn on my television later this morning, all the political pundits will be talking about the use of Ted Kennedy and of Michelle Obama's delivery at the Democratic Convention opening last night. Other than that irking mic takeover by the younger Obama daughter I thought Michelle did just fine - as we would expect from any professional communicator who no doubt had been coached and prodded within an inch of her life.

It was during her appearance as guest co-host on The View a few months ago that I first learned that her brother is Craig Robinson, coach of the Oregon State basketball team. Their mother must be proud. As the camera's kept panning to her last night, I couldn't imagine the emotions that must be threatening to overwhelm her as she watched her son and daughter play a role in history. I hope one of those emotions was pride. She deserves to be proud of her accomplishments as an example, mentor and driving force behind her children's success. She and her late husband - who worked even as he battled multiple sclerosis - no doubt made many sacrifices to send two children to Princeton.

Almost a lifetime ago I taught English Language and English Literature at an all-boys high school in Jamaica. I remember being stunned, then puzzled, then angered by the lack of parental involvement and support in the boys' education. Parents who had the means - and some who didn't - provided the latest hot shoe for their sons, but forgot to buy textbooks. PTA meetings were always scant and I didn't have one parent call or come to see me to discuss their child's progress. I would send notes home and never get a response. One student was suspended, served his suspension and returned to school with no appearance from a parent. (Needless to say I continued to have problems with that particular student.) My experiences were similar at my son's school. In a fairly large K-8 school (filled with affluent families and stay-at-home moms), PTA meetings could be held in a small corner of the media center because of the low turnout.

As parents we owe our children the best education we can provide, for as long as we can provide it and for as long as they want it. Our participation and an attitude of expectation is required in providing that quality education. Children should know that their parents and their village expect success from them. Our children's teachers should know it as well. We have to be partners in our children's education, particularly if we live in communities with financially strapped school districts, underperforming schools and burned out teachers. Our children's teachers should know who we are and should be in regular contact to plot our children's success. At home we should be looking over homework - even if we don't understand it - and providing the tools they need to perform at their best.

What are your priorities? A nicer car or tutoring for your child who is weak in math? Vacations or saving for college? Getting your child evaluated when you sense a problem or your desire that he seem normal? Our priorities must be our children to ensure their success.

I muse often about what my boys will be when they grow up. The older of my sons is an incessant talker so my husband and I joke that he most certainly will be a lawyer or politician. My younger son is a bit rebellious. We expect he will start his own band or cure cancer. Whatever we expect, we accept that it is our duty as their parents to give them everything they need to become successful adults. We are committed to sending them to the best schools we can, without regard to racial majority, religious affiliation or budget source. We buy them books, supplement their learning at home and expose them to as many cultural experiences and career possibilities as we can. At the moments when we cringe at the cost of something (like tuition for the school they will attend this fall), we remind ourselves that the better we educate them the nicer our nursing home will be.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Are we doing our part?

I remember reading a newspaper article some time ago. The article was a discussion of a phenomenon that West Indians have long noticed and give varied reasons for: children from the West Indies or of West Indian parentage often do better academically than American children. The line in the piece that sticks with me though, is a quote from a Jamaican parent who said "wi nuh come fi milk nuh cow, wi come fi drink di milk" in response to a question about West Indians' political inactivity in the school district.

The statement rings true I think for many of the West Indian Diaspora. For us, there is a disconnect between the place we work and pay mortgage, and the place we call home. "So when yu going home?" No one ever thinks that's a question about what time they're leaving work. Home for us conjures up pictures of Sangsters International Airport or the Harborview roundabout. We pore over paper and online versions of the Gleaner and the Observer and hope beyond hope that things get better before it's time for us to retire to Mandeville.

Since the early days of migration, people of the Caribbean have come ashore in the United States (and I suppose England) with one eye always turned towards home. We come, not for a better life here, but to be able to build a better life back home. Out patriotism never wanes. More Jamaicans know who Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell are than those who know Tyson Gaye or Allyson Felix.

I think that's fine; there is nothing wrong with identifying yourself as child of the rock. I think there is a problem with seeking to reap when we are not willing to affect our communities in a positive way. Try as you might, it's impossible not to leave an imprint, so what kind of imprint will it be?

Our disconnect from our adopted home is due in no small part to our inability to understand our neighbors. That misunderstanding often results in judgments that cause us to be viewed as arrogant. We don't understand why Black Americans still gripe about slavery. Many of us don't agree with affirmative action. We work hard, support our families. As my sons say, "we get what we get, and we don't get upset." Our experiences, our frame of reference is different. The fight is not ours, so we don't get involved.

One truth is that we owe it to ourselves to do our fair share of milking. After all, the milk has never been free. Another truth is that many of us will never make it home for more than a week of vacation. This will be our home. It will definitely be our children's. We need to do more than take up space. We shouldn't be living in predominantly West Indian neighborhoods where the political leadership is unaware of our unique concerns and frustrations. Our children shouldn't be filling the hallways of schools that don't teach West Indian Literature or talk about Henry Christophe at least during Black History Month.

Who is your commissioner? Who is your mayor? Who is your state representative? What budget challenges is your municipality facing? What problems are plaguing your town? Who have you told? Who have you written? Do you attend town hall meetings? Have you campaigned for a candidate you know will represent you? Those who are citizens, have you registered to vote?

I applaud my friend (I hope it's truthful to call him that) Marlon Hill who has been a strong voice on many topics that affect the South Florida community. He has been an outspoken and active supporter for presidential hopeful Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Through his work with the Caribbean Bar Association, the Miami Light Project and other organizations he also serves the underserved. He is also fiercely patriotic towards his island home of Jamaica. One thing does not negate the other.

Even if you're sure that you will take your milk and go back to your little piece of the rock one day, still go on milking the cow for your fair share. You must, as my father says "water where you are fed."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Guess who's blogging

I truly believe that each of us has a story, an idea, a theory, a thought worth sharing with the world. I agree with Benjamin Franklin's advice "if you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing." Here's to Mr. Franklin. I hope here will be a place where people of various cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and opinions can tell me they disagree with my musings.

This will not be a political blog, though I may proffer some position on Obama, Biden or the local school district. Though I am indeed a wife and mother, this will not be a place to seek advice on mothering, coupon clipping or lifting stains from silk ties. (I think club soda works.) Communications is my choice of profession, but the field is filled with loquacious men and women who fill the internet with articles about best practices and case studies. I wont throw my hat into that ring. Instead, A Piece of My Mind will represent my entire frame of reference - 30-something professional woman; wife and mother; West Indian; far-flung from my conservative, christian upbringing.

I hope to share with others whose experiences make them as conflicted as I find myself sometimes. I promise not to be garrulous, but may not be riveting to all people all the time. Come back. Come often. Let's share.