Friday, February 26, 2010

Is President Obama underserving Black America?

Some of Black America's most prominent citizens are debating whether or not the country's first black president has abandoned black people.  Does President Obama need to have a Black Agenda? And if he does, should he 'ballyhoo' that agenda?

On the campaign trail, Candidate Barack Obama repeatedly vowed to be a president to all citizens, hoping to squelch concerns that he would open the White House offices and coffers to black people.  Even then, Obama was jumping through, or ducking under, hoops that had not been part of the course for previous presidential candidates and presidents.

The Obama administration has hung its hat on big social issues that, if successful, will be beneficial to Americans of all hues.  Universal healthcare, creating jobs, and improving the economy are clearly not racial issues.  There is no denying however, that black and brown people's most significant challenges are based on those issues.  Addressing health and jobs will undoubtedly improve minorities' quality of life.  While it is true that minorities are often left behind in the wake of policies and recoveries, much of the responsibility of on-the-ground initiatives that most affect people's everyday lives rests with local representatives and agencies - not with the president.

Beyond those general issues, should the president and his administration be concerned with matters of concern to only Black Americans?  I have to admit I do not know what those issues might be, but I believe strongly that all our interests are intertwined.  It may be fair to assert that white administrators and presidents past did not act in the best interest of all people - their perspective being narrowed by their race and resulting privilege.  A black president must, by virtue of his own wider perspective, be able to serve everyone. 

Whether we accept that there is a legitimate Black Agenda that requires the president's attention or not, the fact is a black president who touts one makes himself a political martyr.  With the challenges of the past year, I would hope that black opinion-makers do not add to the clamor of dissent fueled solely by race, but rather stand strongly in support of those policy changes that promise to make life better for all Americans.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The dynamics of friendship in the Facebook Age

Say you are throwing a party to mark an important life milestone and, of course, you want to celebrate with your family and friends.  How many of your Facebook (or Twitter, or MySpace) friends would be on your guest list?  Do your 'nearest and dearest' actually number several hundreds?  Of course, some people use social networking sites for business purposes and their friend list may include clients, co-workers and other associates.  Also, by it's very definition social networking lets us expand our circle of friends.  However, with security being a serious concern among most internet users, most Facebookers are not accepting cold requests. So, how many friends are actually on your Facebook friends list?

Thousands of elementary school and high school classmates, neighborhood playmates, and former co-workers have reconnected on Facebook, essentially countering some of the natural evolution that occurs in associations when people change schools or jobs, or move. I'm not sure that is necessarily a good thing.  The natural evolution of some things, is sometimes a good thing. After all, isn't there often a very good reason we don't maintain some connections?

Facebook has created for some people, myself included, an awkward interaction with people we barely knew, vaguely remember, and sometimes did not like.  I have accepted more than one friend request while still trying to figure out who had sent it.  Social networking has redefined the parameters of friendship. Our friends lists include gym mates, a friend's ex-girlfriend, distant relatives, and our Starbucks barista; making it necessary to manuever through ever-changing privacy settings to sort everyone into groups.

Having open conversations, making status updates and posting pictures in a medium open to people I have not spoken to in years - if ever - feels like living in a house with people I don't speak to. Yet, declining friend requests or 'unfriending' people makes me uncomfortable - much like a high school girl who wants to be cool with everybody.  Truthfully, thanks to Facebook, I have made new friends of old acquaintances and that has been great.  On the other hand, I have often been made to wonder why some people sent me a friend request since they never try to communicate further.

It used to be that friends were people you wanted to spend time with; people you knew well, and who knew you well; people you could call for bail money or to just cry with you; people your mother could call if she couldn't reach you; people you spoke openly and honestly to; people you invited to your house and did not tidy up for; people who knew your children's names and ages. Online social networking has certainly changed that. Now a friend can be someone who you don't even want seeing your contact information.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Uncle Claude's lessons to live by

Three years ago today my mother's brother passed away after a valiant battle with brain cancer. It would have been difficult to lose any member of my mother's tight-knit extended family, but by cause of geography and personality I had grown particularly close to my Uncle Claude. His illness and subsequent death were devastating, but his influence is as profound on my life today as it was when I would stop by his house on my way from work or school. We talked about everything – love, sex, marriage, work and money - and he never missed an opportunity to give me advice. I learned just as much from what he said, as from how he lived.

Uncle Claude preached and lived the importance of education. He encouraged and praised its pursuit among family, co-workers and friends, and that encouragement was often accompanied by financial support. A registered nurse himself for many years, his life circumstances had him take a circuitous route to graduate school. One of the biggest smiles I had ever seen on his face was on his graduation day. He was 56 years old.

Beyond the high-minded reasons for wanting to get an education, Uncle Claude believed that higher education was the gateway to financial independence and a comfortable life.  He had a practical approach to money: it is important and necessary to maintain a desirable quality of life, but it should not control your life. He discouraged incurring debt, but by word and example encouraged those around him to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  He emphasized responsibility and self reliance, but placed more value on family than things; more on living life richly than on accumulating wealth. He took pleasure in traveling across the state, across the country, or across the world to be with family and friends. He bought the cars he loved and electronics and gadgets that made his life easier. He was generous with his blessings. Yet he left no financial burden for his family.

There is a redeeming quality in every single person and Uncle Claude could always find it.  He saw potential where others could  not, and was always mentoring and encouraging someone to do more and go further. From friends and family who had strayed off the path to their goals to inmates at the South Florida Reception Center where he worked, he believed it was never too late to get your act together and do something positive with your life.  His faith in people was unshakeable even as he was often disappointed.

His tendency to give one more chance is no doubt tied to his realization and acceptance of his own flawed character. I admired that my uncle readily owned his mistakes and was arrant in using them as life lessons for others. I loved that he was imperfect and did not feel the need, like many of his generation, to hide his failings from the many young people he sought to influence. I have found myself passing on in word selection and straightforward attitude much of the advice he gave to me on to my sisters, my cousins and my godson. That this person who I so loved and admired was capable of making egregious errors in judgment, removed for me, all the excuses that come with pursuing perfection and experiencing the inevitable failures.

More than anything he taught me in life, it is in his passing that I learned his most invaluable lesson.  Death forfeits the fight. It eliminates your chances to give second chances. It takes away the ‘one day’ you plan to really start living your life. It deprives us of opportunities to change the outcome. Everything you want to do and everything you know you need to do is urgent today. That is my Uncle Claude’s greatest legacy and lesson.