Friday, June 26, 2015

Red, White, and Blue

I don't usually like to get into political issues here, because this is more of a family space to me, but then some political issues affect my family more than others. This new controversy about the Confederate flag basically sprang out of the murder rampage at the AME church in Charlotte, South Carolina, and has now basically eclipsed that tragedy and any talk about it, so, thanks for that, Internet.

This is how the debate works.

One side believes that the flag represents a war that was fought to maintain slavery in the United States, begun when American citizens treacherously opened fire on American soldiers and military installations. Since then, the rebel flag has become a symbol of bigotry and violence, mixed with some anti-government sentiment. It should no longer be flown at public-owned and government sites, because it taints the reputation of whatever institution flies it and sends a message of exclusion to African-Americans.

The other side believes that the flag is simply a historical artifact (of slavery) of the United States. In their minds, the war was not fought for slavery, but for economics (of slavery) and over the taxation of cotton and other crops (produced by slaves). The fact that the flag's image is so often found on T-shirts and bumper stickers bearing the slogans "The South will rise again," or "It's only half time," or "If at first you don't secede, try, try again," along with other, more graphically racist or bigoted statements, is just a travesty and a huge misinterpretation of history.

"The South will rise again." What does that mean, exactly? Every time I see it, I think that there can't possibly be so many people who never lived through that antebellum era, who are nonetheless just pining away for the days of agrarian economy, big front porches, iced sun tea, and slavery. It makes me wonder if the people who wear that slogan are really historical experts making a reasoned judgment about how our nation might have been better off, or if they are simply longing for more power and importance in their own lives and local communities. Or maybe they're just racist. Maybe they just don't like having a Black shift manager telling them what to do or a Black president making decisions for the country or Black passengers sharing a bus bench with them. Maybe they dream of a better time, when Black folks knew their place because the South by God showed them where it was.

I'll admit, it's difficult to hide my bias, because every single person that I've ever known who displayed that flag was a bigot, in one way or another. And that's hard to say, because some of these people were family members and friends that I loved, who would never have thought of themselves as racist. Still, they held views that were clearly prejudiced and bigoted, and the more they rationalized these views, the more racist they seemed. The new wave of racism is the "I guess that makes me a racist for telling truth" racism. In this paradigm, the racist says something really, super racist, and then says something like, "I know many people will think I'm racist for saying this, but I don't care." Then all of their racist Facebook friends can pile on the sympathy and say things like "No way! You're just telling the truth!" In order to truly capture the essence of it I would have to type these in all caps, but I can't bring myself to do it.

For example, I noticed that a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend just posted that Black people are more likely to commit violent crimes than white people, followed by "I guess that makes me a racist, but I don't care." For the record, yes, that does make you a racist, and of course you don't care, because you are a racist.

So to the argument that this rebel flag doesn't represent racism and slavery, but a historical conflict over completely benign economic and political issues, I would pose one question. Since when do traitors get to flaunt their treason? In what other country, anywhere in the world, would the losers of a rebellion or other violent uprising be allowed to display the symbol of their rebellion so proudly and ostentatiously? If the flag does simply represent the split between the North and the South, don't you think you look like sore losers at best, and dangerous upstarts at worst, flaunting your disdain and malevolence for what is supposed to be your country and your leadership?

Just to be clear, I firmly support the freedom of expression, and every American's right to own and fly that flag on their own property, whether it be house, car, or body. In fact, I encourage anyone who wants to display that flag on their property to buy one and fly it proudly. That way, my children can recognize you. That way, they will know who they are dealing with.

However, I also respect the rights of business owners, like Amazon, who refuse to sell these flags. This is not a "ban," nor is it an infringement of anyone's rights, this is the expression of the rights of the men and women who make decisions for these companies. If people are angry that they find it increasingly difficult to buy these flags, then they can support the few vendors who sell them, or they can learn to make them and sell them themselves, because this is America. Or they can just rethink their lives.

On the other hand, that flag has no place on public, tax-funded, government property. It is not the flag of any government, past or present, as supporters of the flag are eager to point out, and as such, it has no place on government, municipal property. Furthermore, whether you like it or not, whether you agree or not, and no matter what articles you share about the historicity of the flag, it sends a message to the community when it flies above government buildings. When a Confederate flag flies above a state congress building, it sends the message that there is no representation for African-Americans here, whether some people like it or not. When that flag flies above a court house, it sends the message that there is no justice for African-Americans here, despite what anyone thinks about its historicity. When that flag flies above a public school, it sends the message that education is not meant for African-Americans, regardless of what your wiki-page says. This is the message that rational people perceive, and it has no place in government spaces.

This is the way we heal America, how we cross the divide and fix our racial problems. We stop insisting that we are always supposed to get what we want, no matter how trivial the matter and no matter how much it threatens others and holds them back. We start listening to the other, not to bolster our debate or wait for our turn to shout, but to hear them.

By the way, on June 17, nine decent people were murdered by a terrorist with a real affinity for the rebel flag. I know they were decent people, because they welcomed their attacker into their private worship, despite the fact that he was very different from them. Their names are Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Facebook Parenting

When you talk to people about disciplining children these days, especially people around my age, you get what sounds like an old man rant. "In my day," they say, "kids didn't run around and disobey their parents. They didn't talk back or else they got slapped and beat and spanked and they never did it again. If I had done even half the things these kids today do, I wouldn't be here." Thinking back to my childhood, I don't remember a whole lot of instances of homicide used in child rearing, but I do remember some rude and out of control children. Today's parents complain that children run amok, and in the same breath complain that the law has taken away their best disciplinary tool, spanking. So, apparently, the new alternative to corporal punishment is public humiliation, as if that's far less damaging to the child.

You know the situations I'm talking about. It's the Facebook post of the picture of the son going to school with his hair cut like an old man, or the video of him getting the haircut. Or it could be the posts of the girl walking the streets around her neighborhood wearing a sandwich board detailing her crimes for the community. Because of the involvement of the local community as well as the online community, the exposure and humiliation are almost exponentially more than a simple spanking or verbal discipline in the store around strangers. Furthermore, the new trend seems to be the embarrassing haircut, which means that the humiliation goes on and on for days and even weeks on end.

It seems as if I've seen these videos popping up in my Facebook feed with increasing frequency over the last two or three years, but I don't know exactly when this thing started. When did we decide that modern forms of discipline weren't enough, and we were going back to using the stocks and the crosses again?

One thing I decided for my family, from the time that my first child was born, was that no punishment or discipline would ever have a component of humiliation in it. That doesn't mean I never discipline them in public, but we never make a show of it. Just a couple of weekends ago, we had to correct the baby at Magic Kingdom, in line, at the Dumbo ride. So I put her on a little time out right there in the line. But nobody saw us yelling at the child or embarrassing her. All anyone saw was a calm father handling family business in a discreet way. All I wanted was to correct the behavior, knowing that if it goes uncorrected at any time for any reason, the result is a setback in her training.

And that's the thing - what do these parents want? What is the end game? I hear many of them saying on the videos that they've tried everything, but it's hard to believe that consistent and competent parenting has led to the craziness I'm seeing on YouTube. And in most cases, the child's behavior really does demand a quick and forceful response. But what result are they getting from this big show? If the child is using drugs, do they really stop wanting to get high because they have a jacked up haircut now? If your daughter is getting too close to boys, does her new-found source of low self-esteem drive her away from the loving arms of her male classmates, or right into them?

Just a couple of weeks ago, a thirteen year old girl in Washington was the subject of one of these videos. Her father hacked off her long black hair and posted the video of her with her new haircut on her Facebook page. He never does state in the video why she deserves this humiliation, but by the sound of his voice, he seems pretty pleased with himself. From what I can gather from the reports about the story, it was an issue that I would have dealt with by restricting her access to media a little and giving her a pep talk. I'm not sure exactly what his end game was, but the result was that after a few days with her new style, she jumped off a bridge into highway traffic.

Eyewitness reports to her suicide differ slightly, but one thing they all agree on is that she jumped "without hesitation." She didn't pause at the edge to think about it. She didn't look back, hoping that someone would stop her. She didn't stand up on the barrier as a cry for help. I can only assume that she either didn't want or didn't expect any help.

Embarrassing a child by fussing at her in the front yard or swatting his butt in the supermarket is one thing, and may be necessary at times. Creating elaborate schemes to humiliate a child in the most effective way, with the broadest audience possible, is completely over the edge. Just consider, it's the kind of thing that becomes public scandal when it's done to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In other words, it's the kind of treatment that we won't tolerate for terrorists and other prisoners of war, but somehow has become acceptable for our children, our own flesh and blood.

Everything we do as parents, including discipline and punishment, has got to be focused on the goal of building them up and training them to be better people. Anything that we do to tear them down damages them and defames us. After I watch any of these videos, honest to goodness, I always wonder why the parents aren't the ones who are ashamed of themselves, instead of the children.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Chick Fil A

It looks like we won't be able to take the traditional vacation this year, going out of town, spending a week or two in a new place, causing trouble for everyone we come across. Too many accumulated debts to catch up with, and it just doesn't look feasible. Instead, we sprung for the Florida resident Disney tickets for the four of us (the baby doesn't pay yet, thank goodness) and used them over spring break and this last weekend.

At first, I felt badly about not being able to do something big with my wife and kids. Especially the kids. That was one thing I made sure of when I became a single father some years ago, that no matter how hard I had to work, we would always take a week or two towards the end of summer and just have a lot of fun together. Even if I had to work a little extra over the summer to pay for it, it was worth it. Usually someplace we could drive to, Daytona, Orlando, the Keys, Naples. We've seen just about every part of Florida over the last few years. Not being able to do that felt like a failure after a long winning streak.

But at least we had the four days in Disney. We have family near Orlando, so we don't have to pay for lodging there, and the cost of the tickets fit right into our budget, with our tax refund covering most of it. So I decided to try to look on the bright side of it and really enjoy those few days. The first days were great. Beginning of April, great weather, no one else on spring break but us, park business was relatively slow, and the baby had a genuinely good time. She didn't fuss, hugged Minnie, and enjoyed most of the rides. That is, she enjoyed them until I got a little too ambitious and tried to take her on a little roller coaster. That sort of killed it for rides for the rest of the day.

This second time, just a week ago, was a whole different story. The weather was hot, and the crowds were so huge that we had a hard time getting on any rides. The first day, a Saturday, wasn't so bad. But doing Magic Kingdom on the following Monday was the worst. Almost no cloud cover, and wall to wall people. I thought for sure that a Monday would be a slow day, but it was the busiest I can remember seeing there. By about one we had already decided that we would wait another couple of years before we tried to come back, and even then, only in the off season. That plus the fact that I knew we weren't doing much else this summer was starting to get me down.

Then a funny thing happened. We went to Chick-Fil-A on the way home.

Nothing humorous about Chick-Fil-A, really. But by the time we got there, we were tired enough to be a little punchy, possibly also woozy from the heat exhaustion and dehydration, and hungry enough to over-order a bit. The soda and tea were free flowing and we were making it rain with waffle fries. To put it bluntly, it got silly.

It got quite silly.

At first, it was just jokes about how bad the lines were and how we had to hype ourselves up about rides we probably wouldn't even go on if all the other lines had been shorter. About how disappointed we were to find out that the Carousel of Progress was shut down for the day, and what that says about us as a family. And then, for some reason, the baby started getting generous with her food, wanting MyTy to "try" her fries and "try" her chocolate milk and "try" her chicken nuggets. For the baby, asking you to "try" things means shoving them into your mouth forcefully, even if it means mashing them through clenched teeth. After she had her mom "try" a couple of fries, I had to pull out the camera phone and record her, goading her to let Mommy try more fries, and put ketchup on them, just like Mommy likes them. And Mommy wants some more chocolate milk, but try not to let the straw go too far up her nose. Before long everyone was "trying" her food. Looking back, I'm surprised it didn't turn into an all-out food fight. I'm pretty sure the restaurant manager was surprised as well.

And just like that, it was a great day, and a great vacation. Instead of feeling as if the rest of summer was going to be a let down, I starting thinking about how to turn the stay-cation into this much fun for a week or two. We do have our difficulties figuring out how to come together as a family, but when we do, it's a riot, and at the center of it all is the baby. She binds us all together and gives us the best possible reason to love each other, even if it's through her, because she definitely loves all of us.

So, when our time off comes, instead of thinking of ourselves as being stuck in the house or feeling like we're missing out on something, we're going to pull out the board games, jump in the pool, play some ball in the park, and make our own fun. And next year, when we have the money to do another big vacation, maybe we'll do the same thing, because the fun is wherever we are, anyway.