Category Archives: race

Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I read Small Great Things during a time when racial animus seemed to be causing so much harm in America. I did some research before choosing to read it. I needed the book to have value to me, for the time and effort I planned to commit. I wanted the book to make me better somehow. If it could do that, then perhaps I could recommend it to others for similar reasons.

What I liked.

This is a book about consequences. I call it a picture book. For it depicts how we can take people, make negative assumptions about them, hinder them from having prosperous lives, limit their educational potential, send them countless messages to convince them they are inferior, and create a system that severely punishes them, whether they deserve it or not.

By depicting this, the book allows us to ask ourselves why does this happen? How could it be tolerated? The author tells the story from points of view that enable us to think about ourselves, critically, and determine if we are part of the problem, part of the solution, or both.

The first person POV forces you to engage in the story, doesn’t allow you to remain on the sidelines as a bystander, watching others passively. It makes you uncomfortable, forces you to feel the emotions, the guilt, the pain, anger and frustration of being lost in a world that appears to provide little more than wrong answers. Choices between lesser evils.

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What is the message? Somethings are very wrong here. This should not be. This need not continue. It will, unless.

The 3 main POV characters are very real, well fleshed out human beings whose thoughts and beliefs are given great attention. Their family and friends are well developed and multidimensional too. This is a world you will recognize, as all too familiar. Just as much attention is paid to the thoughts as it is to the words that are spoken and the actions taken by the victim’s family, the accused, and the legal professionals handling the case.

I believe this is a courageous piece of fiction by Jodi Picoult. My hope is that more talented authors have the desire and willingness to do something like this. Make a real contribution to the reading community of something that they can use to improve their knowledge, their understanding, and their ability to grow morally. To find the difference between right and wrong, and choose justly.

What I didn’t like.

I have personally seen many people stand up and defend others who have been mistreated. So I know first hand what good things we are capable of. Yet why does it seem that the world around us is getting worse? Why do things appear so hopeless? Small Great Things is stuck in a world doomed to repeat its failures, with the resulting damage to our culture, our economy, and our future. Not good. Yet I can’t so much blame the book as much as I can recognize that the fault lies with the society that the book explores. If this is an accurate reflection of the world we live in, maybe the best thing to do is for us face the reality that our ship is taking on water. So let’s figure out how best to bail while we form a plan to plug the leak.

What you should know.

Jodi Picoult has mastered her craft. She is famous for the research she does into each novel. You will learn something. Will you like it? Will it entertain you? Should these be your main considerations? If the hardest things in life require the most effort, if they can only be achieved by having all available gifts and talents working together in a cohesive team with a common objective, what is your role? What are you doing about it? How much damage is your inaction causing? This book may help you find these answers.

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The most valuable tool in the police officer’s bag.

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An item indispensable in its potential to insure the safety of the officer and resolve incidents with people in the field to satisfaction is the officer’s tongue. The words used, when and how they are delivered, the tone of voice, body language, and eye contact are all part of the package. This verbal judo is the most powerful weapon that can be yielded because it has the capability of saving lives without taking lives.

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Like all complex tools, it has to be employed in combination to work effectively. An officer must combine verbal skills with training, experience, and problem solving abilities so that each individual circumstance can be given the unique approach it deserves. No two people are alike, and no police encounter is identical, regardless of the similarities or the appearance of ‘routine’ that might imply otherwise.

Most encounters involve persons who are being reactive, they are responding to the actions of the officer. We are not talking about most situations. We have to approach it from the point of view of all situations. Therefore an officer must be objective and avoid making assumptions. This allows for flexibility, so that you can adjust quickly to whatever occurs. One method is for the officer to put themselves in the position of the person they are contacting. “What would I be thinking in this situation?” “What would I do under these circumstances?”

Officers make thousands of public contacts. Overtime they have catalogued a large volume of experiences with criminals whom they have investigated. So in a interaction involving suspected criminal activity, you could substitute the former examples with “What would a person committing a crime be thinking in this situation?” “What might that person do under the circumstances?”

Officers who avail themselves of these techniques are often willing and able to use words as a tool to disarm a potentially threatening contact, to catch someone off balance, to discern whether or not physical force is required. And if physical force is not required, choose a different tact.

One of the things an officer has to prepare for is the mentality of the person who is thinking in the following pattern. Why is the officer talking to me that way? Is he trying to intimidate me? Who does he think I am? Who does he think he is? Why is he being so pushy? Where is the rude attitude coming from? The good news is that the officer can be prepared, and can prevent this person from having a negative interaction.

One final point. Everyday people can have bad days. They can be generally unpleasant. Officers see that and learn to compensate. By the same token, officers can have bad days. Some can be generally unpleasant. Let’s not excuse either of those behaviors. Because those officers find themselves all too often in situations that go bad, and everybody loses when that happens.

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Let’s Play Two

Part 1 of a 4 part series on baseball, culture and social change

Much has been written about the pastime of baseball and the connection that it has to national culture.  I will endeavor to add to the discourse.

I appreciate both participatory and spectator sports, I know many people might not share such passions.  Of sports, baseball, for me, singularly stands above all the others.  My experience is that if you play baseball, you learn its pleasures, which to the uninitiated, may be impossible to describe.  You also know that a baseball player is simultaneously  a spectator.  In the dugout, awaiting your turn at bat, you watch the action, as the ramifications of what takes place will impact your potential contributions to the game.  On defense, in the field, you’re found waiting and watching plays that you aren’t directly involved in.  Eight position players watch the confrontation between pitcher and batter, prepared to spring in to action in a split second.

Major League Baseball, for many, offers the best of what the sport has to offer.  It has the best practitioners, the best facilities, concessions, and perhaps the best atmosphere.  One reason the sport as a whole and MLB in particular have been significantly woven into the fabric of our culture is that it has evolved alongside modern American history from the time of its earliest introduction in the 1800s.

Here let’s touch on slavery.

Some would argue that slavery has been in existence in various forms throughout human history.  I would argue for the premise that an aspect of slavery exists within a symbiotic relationship.  The slave and slaveowner share a commonality.  The lives of both slave and slaveowner are closely connected.  They have a shared priority, that being the quality of life of the slaveowner.  Wrong or right, for worse or for better, there are potentially more damaging things than slavery.  “Racial” segregation is one.

Slavery has as a fundamental characteristic, the role of status.  The single dividing aspect between slave and slaveowner is social status.  Remove status, and you are left with equals.  I will not assert that people are basically equal, but I offer this fact, all people can be treated as equals.  “Racial” segregation, on the other hand has no such purity, for it assumes people are different, and by implication are not equal, therefore should not be treated equally.  It also assumes that these “different” people prefer to be separated from those who are “different” from them and integrated with those who are not.

Here is where it is not equal by any measure.  Segregation means you will have no part of my life.  I will have no part of your life.  You are denied the experience of everything that I contribute to our culture, and I am deprived of everything you and your’s contribute.  To the extent that people are not equal, winners and losers are born out of the denial of access that segregation causes.  What is the implication in the difference created with segregation?  If you are a slave you have value to the slaveowner’s life. If you are part of a segregated “race” you have no such value whatever.  By extension you are of no value.  If anything, you are a detriment.  Welcome to my neighborhood.  Segregation was the flawed solution to our post-slave society.

Back to baseball. 83706691-AEC5-4C8B-803F-0F1BFE89E075

Our sport existed for a time in a state of separate organized competitive leagues.  There were Negro leagues because baseball was completely segregated well into the 20th Century.  MLB is a prosperous multi billion dollar industry today.  The Negro leagues collapsed long before the first African American player was allowed into MLB in 1947.  The success of professional baseball relative to other forms of entertainment is often underestimated.

The prosperity of the nation has parallels to the expansion of professional baseball. Thirty cities house major league franchises.  That is double the number of the original 1876 league of clubs.  There are close to 240 minor league professional teams.  Their existence allows the profession to permeate throughout the country in the small towns and communities which lack the population density to fill 50,000 plus seat stadiums 81 days each year.  Revenue is generated from live attendance of games at every level. Concessions, souvenirs/memorabilia (including licensing and merchandising of same), advertising, and broadcast media involve an almost exponential income stream.  Forbes estimates the current value of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise at $3 billion.

The first modern renaissance of the segregated MLB was highlighted by the career of home run champion George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth who’s 1927 New York Yankees are considered by many to be the greatest team of all time.  Flash back to the the economic frivolity of the 1920’s, which culminated with the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, signaling the beginnings of the Great Depression.

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Fast forward through three wars and several economic and political crises to arrive at perhaps the historical peak of the sport.  The integrated MLB of the 1980s decade not only had the best American players but a significant number from foreign countries.  By the end of the decade close to 15% of the player pool was foreign born.  1993 reached a significant demographic milestone when the percentage of foreign players equaled that of African American players.  Today, 228 players from 13 different countries comprise 27% of the league.  While the number of African Americans has decreased to 68 players, less than 8%.  In part two of this series, I will discuss some of the theories for these numbers and try to determine what role segregation played, if any.

The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’ | History | Smithsonian

With two rat terriers trotting at his heels, and a long wooden staff in his hand, J.R. Gavin leads me through the woods to one of the old swamp hide-outs. A tall white man with a deep Southern drawl, Gavin has a stern presence, gracious manners and intense brooding eyes. At first I mistook him for a preacher, but he’s a retired electronic engineer who writes self-published novels about the rapture and apocalypse. One of them is titled Sal Batree, after the place he wants to show me.I’m here in Jones County, Mississippi, to breathe in the historical vapors left by Newton Knight, a poor white farmer who led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War. With a company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi, he did what many Southerners now regard as unthinkable. He waged guerrilla war against the Confederacy and declared loyalty to the Union.In the spring of 1864, the Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The county was known as the Free State of Jones, and some say it actually seceded from the Confederacy. This little-known, counter-intuitive episode in American history has now been brought to the screen in Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) and starring a grimy, scruffed-up Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight.Knight and his men, says Gavin, hooking away an enormous spider web with his staff and warning me to be careful of snakes, “had a number of different hide-outs. The old folks call this one Sal Batree. Sal was the name of Newt’s shotgun, and originally it was Sal’s Battery, but it got corrupted over the years.”

Source: The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’ | History | Smithsonian

School Choice & Race — Desegregation Measure from 1972 Has Unintended Consequences | National Review

A desegregation lawsuit from the 1970s now wrongly bars an African-American student from attending the public charter school of his and his family’s choice.

Source: School Choice & Race — Desegregation Measure from 1972 Has Unintended Consequences | National Review

Donald Trump Isn’t the ‘Presumptive Nominee’–Not Yet, Anyway | RealClearPolitics

Donald Trump has declared himself, after following up his New York win April 19 with victories in five other Northeastern states Tuesday, the

Source: Donald Trump Isn’t the ‘Presumptive Nominee’–Not Yet, Anyway | RealClearPolitics

Today’s Controversy: Yesterday’s Race Question 

“My fellow white Americans, I know this will discomfit some of you, but Barber was right: The killer remains at large, and the killer is us. Collectively we remain committed to beliefs and behaviors that result in the destruction of black lives.”

The passage above comes from the opinion piece of Edward E. Baptist in the Los Angeles Times.  After reading it, I wonder what opinions you might have.  The title of the article is Forgiveness won’t atone for 400 years of racial violence in America.

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Race Points

Happy Juneteenth Holiday.  In honor of Juneteenth, I have penned a piece on race relations.  If you are not familiar with the holiday, I encourage you to find out more about it and celebrate what it represents.

You Don’t Like Me Cause I’m White? Really?

Holdin’ Out for a (Nonwhite) (Funny) (Fictional) Hero

White Rage, the Hunger Games, and the Lack of Justice

WHAT MY BIKE HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT WHITE PRIVILEGE

In the wake of Ferguson…

The above titles represent links that are just a (recommended) sampling of articles written on race in recent months. Some have influenced me to weigh in on the topic. Certainly there is room for one more opinion.

The question I want to address is can we make things better? In short, yes. We should make things better because lives depend on it. I will assert that segregation is the barrier that prevents progress. It is a regret of history that close to 70% of the majority population has separated itself almost completely from little more than a 10% minority, abandoning the great urban Americana to ruin in the process. Whole cities and major regions of many large metropolitan communities exist in a state of blight and despair due to the economic discrimination perpetrated by this phenomenon and the poverty that inflicts them.

But economic, social and educational disparity are not the products of segregation that I want to address in this commentary. What segregation breeds, above all else, is fear. Fear breeds, among other things, distrust. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson involved many things, including the fact that the officer saw him as a threat (unarmed). The investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has shown very clearly that from the very first moment Zimmerman saw Martin he was suspicious of him. Need I go on? Any poll will confirm the undeniable divide between the perceptions of large groups of whites and blacks in America. Ferguson. Obama. O.J. Simpson. Martin Luther King Jr. Why? In a word, segregation.

I want to share two examples from my experience as a police officer in Los Angeles. I think they provide a micro perspective that supports a macro consensus. For much of my life I lived as a black in the white community. One byproduct of that experience I believe is that I have a familiarity with white culture and mores to the extent that I feel comfortable (translate unafraid) in most areas of white society. With that said, I offer to you example #1.

When working with many white officers I discovered that there was a lack of ability on their part to distinguish between blacks we came in contact with. Because most of the areas we patrolled were in segregated neighborhoods, the officers seemed to treat all blacks in those places as threats. I did notice that some officers would be able to make minor distinctions after questioning people we spoke to. I formed the premise that the white officers did not have a frame of reference, because they didn’t have personal experience with blacks, to see them as anything but a threat until proven otherwise. We worked in high crime areas with high levels of violence. Most of the residents were black.

Did I have the same perception? No. Why not? I will not attempt to give you the long answer. The short answer is that I have lived in segregated black neighborhoods. Is it a science? Can I prove it? Does that make it any less true? It is too obvious to me that most people in black neighborhoods are like most people in any other neighborhood. I have lived in both. This is my firsthand experience. If only it were that simple. There is something else that I learned. White officers that I worked with, in general, were much better than I was at ferreting out white criminals we ran across. More often than not I did not see what they saw. I would have sent these subjects on their way none the wiser. So much for my culturalization.

Example #2 involves covert racism. My training took place in an area of Los Angeles uniquely segregated into predominantly hispanic and white neighborhoods, where small patches were densely populated with blacks. One of my white training officers worked exclusively in the hispanic area, never working in the white area. His reason given was so he could be where the crime was. I found out much later that his true reason for working that beat was so that he would never have to enforce the law on a white person.

I never suspected that he had a problem with blacks in general or me specifically. And that almost cost me my job. One night we went on a domestic violence call which he handled. This was a surprise to me because as a rookie I was supposed to write all reports. I watched as he spent close to an hour telling the family to use mediation to workout their marital issues. We cleared the call. I would have spent 15 minutes on the same call and taken a report. I had thought that he spent too much time trying to (kiss off) get out of work that would have taken less time to actually do. I also thought that since he was the training officer that I had something to learn from him. He passed me on to another training officer who worked in the white neighborhood.

The next domestic violence call was with the new training officer, and I handled it. After I advised the couple on mediation, which had been explained to us during briefing training, my training officer took over the call and wrote a report. That night he wrote me a scathing evaluation that essentially accused me of neglecting my duty. I never made that mistake again. I do not remember how I found out but it was revealed to me later that the two training officers were very close. I had been set up.

To me what was important was the reason why those men would have thoughts and opinions about me, about anyone who looked like me for that matter, which would motivate them to create elaborate schemes to get me fired from LAPD. Having fewer black officers is not the solution. I know that I didn’t have adverse thoughts about them or about anybody who looked different from me. I still don’t. Nor do I think that segregation is the root cause of what motivated them. But those men cannot be the majority. I refuse to believe that. My experience tells me otherwise. And it is segregation that stands between us and the majority, whose opinion and influence will protect against the actions of those like my two training officers.

Don’t you agree?