My Ten Cents

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Day the Veil Finally Came Off

On June 12, 2016, the US and, by extension, the world woke up to reports of a mass killing in a nightclub in Orlando Florida. Initial reports put the number of deaths at 20; however, by evening of that day, the death toll had risen to 50, including the shooter, and 53 wounded - most of them critically. As someone who has, over the years, become immune to these stories of mass killings, which seem to have become an accepted fabric of the American culture, what caught my attention were the patrons of the place the killings occurred –a nightclub largely patronized by gays, lesbians, and trans-gender people, or LGBT for short.

I had largely ignored the LGBT community, and their complaints of discrimination, abuse, assault, condemnation, and taunting by the so-called straight people.  I have always wondered why ordinary human beings should congregate themselves into an association, group, or community, design their own flags, form their own churches and schools, and seek special protection from government when, in my eyes, there is no reason to do so. In my mind, their complaints were largely exaggerated and their demands misplaced in a society like the United States. I argued in my mind that if this was Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kuwait, or Guinea then their complains and quest for special designation and protection will be well-deserved; but this is America where freedom reigns, where liberty is preached from the rooftops, highways and bye-ways; where you can be what you want to be, say what you want to say (as long as you are not in politics), and do whatever it is that brings joy to your heart – just as long as you remember your tax obligations to Uncle Sam. This was until June 12, 2016.

Hate is real
The mistake we make (at least, I do) in life is our belief that as long as we hate no one, no one will hate us in return; as long as we are friendly to everyone, and bear no grudges against anyone, no one will do so against us; or that if we look the same or come from the same tribe and/or tongue, we are incapable of hating one another. Oh, how wrong we could be. I had my first dose of hatred in the month of July, 1987; the day remains so clear in my head because I was barely six months in the country and a novice when it comes to cultures and norms in my new home. I worked in a family-owned restaurant on Skillman Street in Dallas as a busboy, and one of only two blacks; one would have expected a fraternal bond, right? Wrong. To an African, every black man is automatically a brother, and I (mis)took my colleague as one, expecting guidance from him. Unfortunately, not only did our conversations never go beyond brief greetings, nothing else developed. His true feelings for me came out the day one of the chefs asked him if he has been teaching “your brother” the ropes (he was a waiter). He went off on this horrible tirade on the poor Hispanic chef and admonished him for calling “some fucking African” his brother. I was shocked and horrified, and that comment stuck to my heart like a knife till this day.

In college, I experienced and witnessed some more of the ridicule and hate generally directed at African students, not so much by the white community but by fellow blacks. I also witnessed the reciprocity, though veiled from African students. I remember writing a paper in one of my English classes that played down the importance of the Civil Rights struggle, especially the policy of non-violence response in the face of violence, and suggesting that blacks acted out of fear instead of need; it drew a firestorm from my fellow blacks, and a lecture on the history of black suffering in this country. Remember, all these happened in my first two years in this country.

As the years went by, events began to gradually move the veil of indifference and denial from my eyes, and a clearer picture of the level and types of hatred which pervade the American society began to develop. Hatred in the American society is not one-dimensional, it is multi-dimensional and reciprocal; it cuts across religion, culture, race, ethnic origin, social beliefs, and even class. It is insidiously encouraged by politicians, businesses, religious leaders of various practices, grandparents, and interest groups. That is how society ends up with pitch battles between pro and anti-gun groups, pro and anti-abortion groups, pro and anti-immigration groups, pro and anti-Israel groups, and pro and ant-Muslim groups; the pro and anti-police groups, Oath Keepers versus Black Panthers, and the Bloods against the Crips. Right in the middle of these warring groups and factions are politicians and business owners playing one against the other to amass profits and campaign contributions.

“Even if they elect a president today who ……..
Just as the case with every one of these mass killings, out-pouring of emotions, words of solidarity, unity and support followed the Orlando mass killing. Politicians blamed and defended each other’s gun policies; gun rights advocates defended their rights to bear arms as provided in the constitution, and blamed the person, not the guns, for the massacre; long and winding speeches fell over themselves in eloquence, and all kinds of “experts” – America is never short of them – offered analysis and opinions on what went wrong where and why; psychologists, as they are wont to do, offered possible reasons  on what could have triggered the shooter, and law enforcement turned up every stone in search of external links to ISIS and the hundreds of terror organizations that generate huge revenue for arms merchants. The president, as expected, visited and made his plea as he has been doing for 8 years, and many charity organizations set up tents and supplied priests to assist, counsel and console grieving families. All of these, though commendable, will pass along with the last burial ceremonies; the LGBT will gain a few sympathetic minds during this ordeal, and some politicians will make the expected attempt to tighten gun laws, but all of these will last until the next mass killing.

The Orlando shooting and the many stories by survivors, friends and family members of the deceased, and many others in faraway cities and states, of the sufferings of the LGBT community in America and other parts of the world finally convinced me of the existence of a similarity between their situation and those of Black Americans before Civil Rights (and beyond), Jews, and many other social, cultural or ethnic minority groups in the world. It offered a better understanding of their need for special classification and protection. As a patron of the Pulse night club admitted during a radio interview: “we know we live in a time and society that hates us and wants to kill, but we will not give in to hate. We cannot die, because we are not a person; we are a spirit. If we elect a president in this country who wants to kill us all, I will be in front of the line…” I personally hope we never degenerate to a state where we would elect a president that will order the killing of all LGBT people, just for their lifestyle.

Mixed messages from the pulpit
Much of the hatred directed at LGBT people is borne out of the misinterpretation of the teachings of the bible. Yes, as a Christian one is taught that homosexually is not acceptable, and I believe that. Ironically, the same bible and Christian teachings impressed upon us that it is against our beliefs to treat someone differently; we are supposedly all children of One God, and discrimination against another is discrimination against God. Love one another, the Bible said, as God loves us. Unfortunately, most of our religious leaders us their opportunities at the pulpit to preach division and hate, and many of their followers and listeners act upon such preaching. It was heart-warming for me to hear a prominent Dallas pastor, on the day of the Orlando massacre, strongly insist that Christians are only required to understand that homosexuality is unchristian, and not to hate or harm such persons.

The US constitution emphasizes the importance of freedom of choice and equality of all creation. The separation of people by race, gender, ethnic origin, and religious preference is nowhere in the constitution; however, politicians, in their quest for influence and votes, have divided the people along these lines and the result is the frequent massacre of Americans that we witness weekly, in the guise of one thing or the other. We have even appended causes for these mass killings depending on race: if you are a white mass killer, you have a mental problem and forgot to take your medication; if you are a born or converted Muslim, you are a terrorist with links to major terror organizations based in some foreign land. If you are black, you are angry and frustrated, and if you are a police officer, you feared for your life.

The Second Amendment, as originally intended, was in support of the right to self-defense, resistance to oppression, and civilian involvement in the defense of the state. You can agree with me that none of the mass killings in the US today has any relationship with any of the original intents; not Columbine, not Newtown, not Virginia Tech, not Charleston,  and definitely not Pulse night club in Orlando. Yet, the National Rifle Association, and many politicians who benefit financially from the NRA and gun manufacturers have stoked alarm and fear of disarmament in the minds of mostly gullible citizens who, in return, have boosted sales of guns and fattened the pockets of executives of gun manufacturing companies and their families, while leaving a trail of blood, tears, and broken families crisscrossing the entire US landscape.

An abridged chronicle of US mass killings and fatality counts:
Camden, New Jersey – September 1949 – 13 people
University of Texas, Austin – August, 1966 – 16 people
San Ysidro, California – July, 1984 – 21 people
Edmond, Oklahoma – August, 1986 – 14 people
Killeen, Texas – October, 1991 – 23 people
Columbine H.S, Littleton, Colorado – April, 1999 – 12 people
Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA – April 2007 – 32 people
Omaha, Nebraska – December, 2007 – 8 people
Geneva County, Alabama – March, 2009 – 10 people
Binghamton, NY – April 2009 – 13 people
Fort Hood, Texas – November, 2009 – 13 people
Manchester, Connecticut – August, 2010 – 8 people
Tucson, Arizona – January, 2011 – 6 people
Sea Beach, California – October, 2011 – 8 people
Oakland, California – April, 2012 – 7 people
Aurora, Colorado – July 20, 2012 – 12 people
*Newtown, Connecticut – December 14, 2012 – 26 people
Herkimer, NY – March, 2013 – 4 people
Santa Monica, CA – June, 2013 – 5 people
Washington, DC – September, 16 – 12 people
Umpqua Community College, Oregon – October, 2015 – 9 people
Alturas, CA – February, 21 2014 – 4 people
Isla Vista, CA – May, 2014 – 6 people
Marysville, Washington – October 24, 2014 – 5 people
Charleston, SC – June 17, 1015 – 9 people
Roseburg, Oregon – October, 2015 – 10 people
San Bernardino, CA – December 2015 – 14 people
Colorado Springs, CO – November 2015 – 3 people
**Orlando, Florida – June 12, 2016 – 49 people

A couple of things are worth noting here:
1. This total – 371 - number of American casualties occurred not in the hands of an outside enemy, during a war, or from series of natural disasters; instead, these were American citizens killing each other out of hate; frustration with their lives, the system, or their relationships; for adventure, and/or just testing out their new guns and,
2. This does not include other murders committed by gangs, the police, scorned spouses and jealous lovers, business partners because of deals gone badly, and suicides. It does not, also, include the 168 people who died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which was clearly a terrorist act.

It will be forlorn to hope that the recent massacre in Orlando will awaken the American conscience into action, because Newtown did not achieve that; it is equally self-deceiving to expect the outpouring of support and emotions for the LGBT community to ease or reduce the level of hate directed against them. Because ours has become a nation determined to beat itself back into the age the Second Amendment was written and passed into law, the recent mass shooting will result, like others before it, in increased gun sales and usage. We are all waiting with bated breath for the next mass killing, because it has become an American culture like baseball and apple pie. At least, for me, the veil of ignorance is finally off.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


The headline of this piece may sound like a bedtime story for toddlers, the title of a comic play in your local theater, or a folktale by an old woman in an African village; unfortunately, as much as we may wish it to be any of the above, it is neither. Instead, it is about the core support group, or base, of the GOP front-runner in the 2016 US presidential primaries, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, or Trump for short.

I first heard of “angry white men” in early 2008 when then Senator Barack Obama was running in the DNC primaries for nomination as its presidential candidate. The closer he got towards securing the nomination, the “angrier” these white men became.  GOP-controlled, or “conservative” Television houses and newspaper headlines screamed of dire consequences for gun owners if Obama became president; of Blacks running rampant all over the White House, frying chicken wings and cooking pig feet all day, rubbing hair grease all over the walls of Fortune 500 companies and the hallowed chambers of government offices. They warned of the imminent desecration of Honest Abe’s room, Washington’s bed, and Kennedy’s reading table. White Americans, male and female trooped to the gun stores to stock up on both military-style rifles and your average Saturday Night specials, on the rumor that Obama will abolish the 2nd Amendment, and ship all the guns to some Utopian Peninsula. They bought for their wives, sons yet unborn, and their toddler daughters. Some even took second mortgages on their homes so they can buy specially modified street-sweepers.

Throughout the eight years of the Obama presidency, these white men have been getting angrier. Realizing that, contrary to their fears, no one has taken anyone’s guns, they resorted to complaining about loss of jobs to immigrants, outsourcing of American jobs to Asia and India, erosion of American might and influence abroad, recognition of gay and lesbian rights, same-sex laws, ISIS, homegrown terrorism, and everything else on the surface of the earth. They took out their anger on fellow Americans in elementary schools, churches, colleges and universities, workplaces, apartment complexes, parks and playgrounds, and even in private homes. Not to be outdone, security agencies joined tem, with police killing skyrocketing in the second term of the Obama presidency. “Fear for my life” became a general excuse for police killings, and minorities – especially blacks Hispanics, whether sleeping, handcuffed, pregnant, riding your bike around your house, asking for help after an accident, talking to your wife on a street corner, or just simply buying a birthday gift for your nephew at a Walmart – were at the receiving ends of these police guns.  Membership in organizations like KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and National Rifle Association soared to astronomical heights. Amidst all of these activities, two other consumer goods, besides guns, struggled to keep pace with the level of demand spurred by the anger of these white men: alcohol and cigarettes.

Categories of White Angry Men
Who Are These Angry Men? Good question. There are two groups of white angry men:

1.       The first group are the small business owners who make barely above the national income average; this  group run small sole proprietorship like roadside restaurants, car repair shops, cable & wireless technicians, landscaping, HVAC services, hotshot delivery services, roofing and general plumbing services, and towing services.  Compared to their Hispanic or Asian counterparts in the same category, they work less hours, have a narrow clients’ list (mostly whites), and their service prices are non-negotiable. On top of that, most of them have poor workmanship. They have huge mortgage payments, expensive hubbies like hunting or fishing which requires expensive “toys” like guns and boats they could hardly afford.  On top of their mortgages, they are likely to own the latest trucks, RVs, and/or supped up Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Their many credit cards are mostly maxed out; they spend their weekends at Hooters and other sports grill and bars, and go on vacations at least once every year, all charged on an ever-increasing credit card debt.

2.       The second group of angry white men works your typical 9-to-5 jobs in warehouses, manufacturing plants, junk yards, car dealerships, distribution centers, work in their family companies, or as outside salesmen in major companies. Some also work as automobile, cable and communication technicians for major companies.  In the course of their daily work activities, they interact with colleagues of other races and ethnic origins, including Hispanics, Asians, Africans, and people of Middle Eastern origin most of whom are immigrants.

This group of young white men typically display an air of superiority over the rest of their colleagues; they believe their company should pay them better (which is the practice in most companies), cut them some slack when it comes to frequency and length of break and lunch times. They take more smoke breaks than everyone else, rarely work overtime unless it is mandatory, are the first to clock out – usually a few minutes before time, are less productive than their immigrant counterparts, and are easily stressed and frustrated at work. They, also, are more likely to change jobs more frequently than their counterparts from other races and cultures. They are less likely to interact with other cultures and races at work, and more likely to go for a drink at the end of the work day. They are less likely to own shares in their places of employment, and invest only the allowable minimum percentage of their gross income – 3% - in a retirement plan like 401(k).  They are, equally, less likely to carry full insurance coverage in their workplaces, and more likely to listen to, or watch, anti-immigrant/minority radio and TV stations.  So, why are they angry?

Reason for their Alleged Anger
Though these groups of white men are constantly referred to as angry, not many of them can clearly explain specific reasons for their anger, or how they are personally affected by the situation they highlight. Some of the general reasons offered by them include blaming immigrants – especially Mexican immigrants - for taking over their jobs; Chinese taking over American companies and jobs; Blacks bleeding the social security system dry, and America weakening and losing international respect under President Obama. On close analysis of each of these reasons, which are usually hyped by the news media and politicians, one can easily poke major holes in each of them:

 In the case of Mexicans and other immigrants taking over American jobs, they are only taking the jobs rejected by the white man. An average red-blooded white American male will rather go hungry than work as a housekeeper, dishwasher or busboy in some hotel or restaurant, except he is a college student; they will not be seen any time soon on the streets under the Texas summer heat doing construction work, patching up potholes, mowing the lawn, picking trash on public parks and highways, or sorting recycling materials at the city dump. Apart from private farmers, a typical white American young man will not spend hours and days in the citrus farms of Florida picking oranges, or in the slaughter houses of Pilgrim’s Pride cleaning and packaging frozen chicken. On rare occasions where you come across one willing to do such menial jobs, it is usually on part time and temporary basis, just to make up for cash shortfall. To the immigrant, such a job is a source of survival for self and extended families, and he will do it longer and better while at the same time learning a trade or going to college to better his life.

2.       About the Chinese taking over American companies, that is also not the case; Americans move their companies overseas in search of cheap labor, lower corporate tax, and less regulated environment. A typical iPhone 6 cost around $600 in the US because the assembly staff is paid pennies on the dollar in some Asian country. Now, comparing unit costs in relation to product price: an American phone parts assembly staff is likely to belong to a union which will demand higher wages for their members, all kinds of insurance coverages, and some other unnecessary emoluments which adds to the unit cost of an iPhone. All these extras will help drive up the sale price of the phone, and reduce sales volume, because not many people can afford to buy it. So, instead of and average price of $600 per phone, the price of a domestically-assembled IPhone could rise as high as $900. When sales volume falls, production falls, and the resultant effect is staff reduction. So, if Americans want the companies to stop moving overseas, they need to consider accepting lower wages so the products could be cheaper.

3.       On the allegation of blacks bleeding the welfare and social services system dry due to their laziness, by actual numbers, the ratio of whites to blacks on welfare is estimated to be 6:1. What these angry white men, and their media and political trumpeters are quick to do is refer to population percentages. Yes, blacks make up about 12.5% of the US population of 310m, which is about 40m; now, if 3% is on welfare, this will be about 1.2m blacks on some form of government assistance. Now, let us run the numbers for whites using the same 3% rate of a population of 310 million: at 72% of this population estimate, there are about 223m whites. If 3% of them are on some kind of government assistance, the number will be about 6.6m. So you see, it is a fallacy to blame blacks for the problems with welfare and social security services.

4.       The other false claim is about America losing international respect under Obama. First, there is no other nation greater than America today, or in the last 8 years, in terms of the two major indices – military and economic might. Yes, there are slips in academic achievements when compared to other industrialized nations, but these slips are more of individual and family failings, and not a collective American failure. Obama has been used as a target of blame by most white men for America’s individual failings, to the extent that even those who choose to abuse their spouses blame it on Obama; the same reason for families having reproductive difficulties, drunks electing to squander their earnings on Jim Beam, farm animals producing less milk and eggs, colleges failing to win NCAA tournaments, water pollution in Flint, mass murders in Newtown, South Carolina, and even police killings are all blamed on Obama. Before ever Obama won the presidency, angry white men had openly declared their hatred and disdain for him, not as a person, but as a black person occupying the White House, and that has not changed till date. So, while it is very convenient for them to blame their personal failings on him, it is far from the truth. Reality is that most of these so-called angry white men are simply lazy; they refuse to better their lives, even in the midst of opportunities. To them, 8 years of Obama serves up an excuse for them to wallow in their laziness while blaming their misfortune on someone else.

Core Beliefs and Preferences
 It is difficult to pin-point their core beliefs and preferences, because these change with whoever is in the white House. To them, American greatness is only projected through war; as long as America is not at war, it cannot be said to be great. Unfortunately, they fail to make a correlation between the cost of such wars and the current economic downturn. They equally ignore the human cost  in personal, family, and communal lives, including the social cost to governments at every level. Ironically, if the nation finds itself in a prolonged war, as was the case with Iraq and Afghanistan, this same group of people will be in the forefront of the protest marches demanding an end to the war.

These group of white men will endorse and support any government policy that appears to negatively impact minorities and immigrants, like voter restriction laws, re-drawing of congressional maps to favor a white candidate even when whites are in the minority in that district, and deep cuts in social welfare services for the elderly and very poor, without factoring in the effects of such cuts on elderly whites too. They are for stricter punishments for first time and minor offences, because minorities are more likely to be first time offenders. On social issues, they tend to swing any which way their favorite politician leans at any given time; that is why they cheer when Donald Trump insults or makes derogatory comments about women. They tend to separate their wives, mothers and sisters from the “women” at the receiving end of Trump’s insults; they see them as “those women” and not as “all women”.  They support increases in defense spending and reduction in other essential services, like education and health care; they are more likely to stick to their decisions, or ideas, than admit that it is wrong-headed and detrimental to their persons, families and communities.

It is very important to point out here that within this class of low income, lower class, and minimal education white men are many who care less about the economic and political state of the nation, and more about working and educating their way into the middle class. They are comfortable as part of mainstream America; they are more likely to stay longer on their jobs and take full advantage of whatever benefits it may offer. Also, they plan and work towards a better life for their children. They are less likely to spend their precious times worrying about walls on the nation’s borders and exclusions at the airports. It is, equally, rare to find this group of white males at a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz rallies.

A Fertile Ground
Anyhow one looks at the situation, and if one decides to be honest and impartial to oneself, one will come to the conclusion that the reasons these so-called angry white men give for their “anger” cannot be justified. Unfortunately, these groups of people are easily swayed and deceived by one-chance charismatic politicians, like Donald Trump, who reinforce their erroneous belief that the country is going to hell in a hand basket, without taking out time to analyze the substance of his message – if any. Because they are like fertile ground waiting for seedling, when a politician like Trump comes around, he or she does not have to offer any evidence of his repeated claim of a fallen nation, because these are already beliefs harbored and ingrained in the minds of his target audience. All he has to do is amplify the message, sometimes with the help of a section of the media – social and otherwise, and the people will follow him. The world witnessed people like these in Italy and Germany in the 1930s, and the results of their blind following are still reverberating across many continents today.
It is up to the rest of the non-angry white American men, who are more educated, more focused on a better career and family life for themselves, and more understanding of social and economic dynamics to help educate their brethren, and warn them of the errors of their beliefs, and the misplacement of their trusts; because, when the chips eventually fall, the biggest losers will be these same angry white men.