Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reflections on Race Relations

I've talked about racial issues a few times before on my blog, but I thought today was a good time to visit the issue again.  

Had an interesting talk online today about racial relations.  I thought I'd share some of the discussion, and a few related observations.

Here's the opening commentary from an online friend of mine named Michael.  (Mike was a floor-mate of mine on 2nd Marston (South) at Seattle Pacific University in 1987/1988.)

"People are beginning to act like it will be the end of the world as we know it if Zimmerman is found innocent, as if the decision (either way) will tell them something they don't already know about anti-Black racism, as if a not-guilty verdict will somehow make them angry enough to...what? Write a Facebook post?"

Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to enter the discussion; this was probably a mistake.  

"I'm just a Norwegian/German guy who tries to do the right thing. This has gotten me in some trouble lately, but I digress... I'd only respectfully suggest that the issue of racial justice has less to do with the outcome of a particular legal battle involving one incident--the ultimate facts and details of which are arguably only known to a single living man--than how we all care and respect each other daily. Probably a sappy cliche...but I suggest it begins with our individual interactions rather than projecting larger meanings and symbolism onto court decisions of this nature. The world will continue to spin if Zimmerman is exonerated, but our participation within it will see a setback if we focus squarely upon the negative and never the positive."

Now, I realize that I'm not all that knowledgeable on liberal ways of thinking, but I thought the next post was an interesting one by a man named Rob Gross.  (I actually appreciated his cordial tone, by the way.)

"'s not a matter of good intentions, although that's needed as well. It's a matter of systematic, structural and pervasive oppression that the majority, i.e., white people, allow to continue in the same way that most of us walk past homeless people without batting an eye. 

It's not just me a matter of me treating my (all to rare) Black friends well; it's a matter of me being moved to act as if injustice to Black folk was/is as serious to me as injustice to Jews, or people with disabilities (groups I am a member of).

My more disabled children have taught me how blind I was to "ableism," the tremendous oppression disabled people suffer at the hands of the able-bodied. It is one thing to be aware of ableism or racist; it's yet another entirely to really "get" what living as an oppressed person feels like and to act accordingly as an ally.

I try to keep on learning, and acting, about Black oppression. I use my own experience of growing up working class and experiencing systematic antisemitism to help me understand."

About this time, Michael decided to remind me that I was indeed not of African American heritage, which, of course, was just riotously original and funny (not to mention dismissive and condescending), and other comments soon followed--once I was pegged as free game.  

Now, I find it interesting that when discussing issues like this with liberals, they seem loathe to discuss the fundamentals of your argument, but they instead focus often squarely upon personal observations--as if it's easier to dismiss your thoughts and observations through personal attack than reasoned intellectual argument.  

I guess I learned my lesson: don't ever venture to discuss race relations should you happen to be white; we can, of course, have no opinions or thoughts of any objective value.  It's interesting, though...because this constant drumbeat of victimhood and anger doesn't seem reflected in the writings of Martin Luther King.

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

How about talking a little more about the good that takes place within race relations, because there's certainly a lot more good than evil evidenced around us.  In short, how about a little less anger and a little less inflammatory rhetoric?  Just my two cents for the day.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

When Good Institutions Let us Down

An exciting job opportunity came to my attention recently.  When the "coveted" communication job was finally announced, I applied that same evening.  I sent all the requested information via e-mail.  As often happens these days, there was absolutely no confirmation message.  Not wanting to be a pest, I waited a week, or so, to send another e-mail.  Again, there was no response.  I waited a few more days, then called the HR department at the institution.  After I identified myself and the position about which I was inquiring, I was told that the HR director was reviewing the application materials that afternoon.  I also felt that the person with whom I was speaking seemed to know who I was.  In my mind, then, the call confirmed the application receipt.

The next week, however, I learned what I was afraid of the most: my application e-mail was never received.  Within hours, I was able to get them everything by e-mail again.  I learned the next day, however, that I was too late.  The HR person could not confirm that the director even saw my materials, and the interviews had already been scheduled.  It seemed abundantly clear that my materials came too late to be seriously considered.

I politely pointed out that the e-mail problems likely did not originate on my end, but theirs.  This approach did not meet with great success.  In fact, I had noticed e-mail issues with regards to this non-profit in the past, and I probably should have driven out to the institution to confirm that my information was received timely; my own lack of follow through contributed in a small way to this institution's poor response.  It also rasies some interesting questions.

First, I think it's important that we bear in mind that there are no perfect earthly institutions--with the possible exception of Pixar.  What I mean, then, is that we can project qualities of our own making on an institution we may only know in a superficial way.  For instance, I absolutely loved attending Seattle Pacific University as a student in the late 1980s.  Working as a security staff person there more than two decades ago, however, was not a particularly pleasant experience.  Institutions are run by imperfect people; we should try to avoid letting these kinds of experiences unduly color our larger view of the institution and the substantive good it does.

It reminds me of a childhood friend.  This guy seemed to search out instances where he felt slighted or disrespected.  He would carry these "hurts" with him for years and years.  When I became Catholic some years ago, for instance, his first question to me was couldn't I remember how cruel some of the children were to us when we attended Catholic schools.  Eventually, though, one must endeavor to forgive and let that stuff go.  Hand-in-hand with this forgiveness also comes an acknowledgment that evil can be done to us through the actions of people who still represent good and praiseworthy organizations.  We must be able to separate the perceived personal injury from the greater good performed by the institution in question.  That takes maturity, but it's possible.

Second, it's a good reminder of where we are technologically as a culture.  I work with editors and writers all the time, for example, who never respond timely to e-mails.  If you follow-up, they will often still fail to respond to you.  I've come to the conclusion that many people truly must not understand e-mail, or they are too disorganized to make appropriate use of it.  What also seems to happen many times is that small organizations without the luxury of dedicated IT staff--especially non-profits...and maybe literary agents, too--seem particularly ill-equipped to handle and coordinate their own e-mail efficiently.  What was supposed to create improved communication can lead just as easily to overflowing inboxes and sloppy spam screening. 

I think we all need to take this into account.  Without crossing the line and making a serious pest of yourself, I suggest you, as a job applicant or writer, follow up until you receive some manner of confirmation--if there's any doubt.  Whether it be a newly submitted manuscript or a complex job application, don't assume that it was received by that right person.  Take some initiative and ensure that it took the correct exit off the Information Superhighway.

If they want to avoid your follow up, they can take simple steps such as the creation of reliable internet pages dedicated to uploading materials where you easily receive a confirmation of status--like Oregon State's current job system.  Alternatively, HR departments could set their e-mails to automatically reply with a polite thank you when the application is received.  This tells you that it was indeed directed to the right individual, and you have something in-hand should problems arise later.  Until some future time when everyone is competent in using e-mail, circumstances may just require that you be a pest from time to time when it comes to safeguarding your information and avoiding lost opportunities for professional advancement.