Thursday, November 22, 2012


When we moved back to Lafayette, almost 5½ years ago, I looked out our bedroom window and saw a traffic light. I don’t know exactly why, but that traffic light was very comforting to me. I suppose it stood as a constant, my connection to the world. Even though it was off in the distance, it stood as a reminder that even in the midst of the cornfields, we were not in the middle of nowhere; we were on the edge of somewhere. I looked out at it, almost every night, as it changed from green to amber to red and back. It was my traffic light, and I loved it.

Since that time, a lot has changed, around here. One of the streets that intersects at that light has been widened and combined with another street, necessitating a new and larger-sounding name. The other street has undergone significant construction, including a four-lane bridge over the railroad tracks where we used to have to wait for trains to pass. A factory has gone up on the corner of the two; a warehouse sits next to it; a third large building is now under construction. Pretty soon, the entire stretch will be commercially developed. A bit closer to home, the area that previously consisted of a cornfield and some wetlands is now our children’s elementary school, our new church building, and a still–under-construction residential neighborhood. All this happened in just 5½ short years.

Yet despite all this, my traffic light is still there, still constant. Despite the construction, despite the manufacturing, despite the new schools and churches and homes, despite the wider roads and bridges and even another traffic light that has since been obscured by the new construction, my light is still visible. It still shines every single night, right out my bedroom window, changing from green to amber to red and back. It’s comforting, that continued consistency, and for this I am thankful.

In short, I thank God for small blessings.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Poor Leah…

Tonight, while Anna and I were watching a show, our six-year-old daughter, Leah, came downstairs, obviously slightly distressed. Anna asked her what was up; Leah responded that she had to go to the bathroom—a rather cryptic statement, since there is a perfectly good bathroom, perhaps ten steps from her room, which she uses all the time. Still, we told her that that was fine and encouraged her to use the downstairs bathroom and get back to bed.

For whatever reason, Leah then proceeded to enter the kitchen—which, for those who have never been in our kitchen, does indeed feature running water, but does not particularly qualify as a bathroom. We asked her why she was going in there, but she didn’t answer, which of course led us to ask her again. This continued for about thirty seconds.

When she finally came back out of the kitchen, Leah again looked slightly confused. And again, we told her to go to the bathroom and head to bead. Her response: to walk right back into the kitchen, where she proceeded to get a paper towel.

When Leah finally emerged from the kitchen, the second time, I tried to snap her out of her apparent somnambulism by having her give me a hug. She did so, but not before accidentally kneeling on Anna’s legs and hurting her, in the process. Leah then gave me the paper towel, for no apparent reason, and with a little prompting, finally made it to the bathroom.

After going to the bathroom, Leah then came back to give us each another hug. We told her to go back to bed, cautioning her to go to her own room, not her sister, Naomi’s, nor her brother, David’s. She walked up the stairs and, less than a minute later, we were relieved to hear her door close. However, when we came upstairs, about ten minutes ago, we found Naomi’s door hanging wide open. While Leah was certainly not in there, we have little question about who did it.

Poor kid.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Flannelman Seems a Mite Confused

When I was a sophomore in high school, there was a guy in my English class named Jeff Little. Jeff Little often wore flannel shirts and was thus dubbed “Flannelman” by the class clown, Chris Ziegler (whom, I now realize, I hero-worshipped for his ability to make everyone laugh). One day, during our study of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we were discussing things that men and women just naturally do differently. Our teacher, Ms. Furia, asked us each to look at our fingernails. In general, the boys all held up our hands, palms facing us, our fingers bent halfway into a fist. The girls, on the other hand, held their hands with palms out and fingers extended. As Ms. Furia explained the difference, I happened to notice Jeff Little suddenly drop his hands to his side and glance around embarrassedly. Chris Ziegler obviously caught it, too, and deadpanned loudly enough for all to hear, “Flannelman seems a mite confused.” Of course, this was met with raucous laughter and colored the rest of the discussion.

This morning, I feel to empathize with Flannelman. As anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows, the sitting President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, was elected to a second term on Tuesday. (I say “narrowly” because he received a mere 50% of the vote, with narrow electoral wins in quite a few states.) Many of us, the 48% of Americans who support his main challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, were crushed by this reality. Yet now, as the Monday-morning quarterbacks now discuss what went wrong, I am left a mite confused, even a bit apathetic, unsure of just where I fit in.

Mitt Romney, of course, is a Republican, the antithesis of Barack Obama’s Democrat. This morning, I read a piece from an ultraconservative web site, Tea Party Nation, which maintains that Romney lost not because the nation is too Liberal, but because Romney is. The author, one Judson Phillips, claims that Romney lost because he is a moderate, just like John McCain in 2008, George W. Bush in 2000 (who lost the popular vote), Bob Dole in 1996, and George H. W. Bush in 1992. (Phillips maintains that the earlier Bush was only elected because he was Reagan’s Vice President, and couldn’t cut it, on his own.) Phillips does not deign to explain why Tea Party–sponsored candidates, most notably Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock, easily won the Republican Primary but crashed and burned in the actual election, thus giving the Tea Party full credit for the Democrats’ increased control of the Senate.

All this comes back to one thing, for me: a sense of futility that I think is shared by many, many Americans. Like Romney (and decidedly unlike Obama), I am a moderate. I believe there is good in both the Republican and the Democratic Parties, and I have never clicked the “straight party” button while in the proverbial voting booth. I tend think this moderation is a sign of intelligence, a sign of understanding that few things in this world are pure black or white. Just as Flannelman—who, as far as I know, remains your average American, heterosexual male—could look at his hand by extending his fingers, so, I believe, most Americans need not be confined by extremist political ideologies.

Are moderates the silent majority? Are we being dragged, kicking and screaming, by two outspoken extremes? And most importantly, is there any way around it, in a system that requires a candidate to receive a majority vote? As did Flannelman, I feel a mite confused.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


An online friend recently alerted me to an article in Psychology Today entitled “Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism.” I looked it over, and the author, Monnica Williams, Ph.D., makes a fairly intelligent-sounding case for her proposition. Unfortunately, at further glance the article boils down to an exercise in circular logic. As I commented on the original Facebook share:
[B]asically, the author’s argument is that we shouldn’t work toward a colorblind society because we don’t live in a colorblind society. By that argument, we shouldn’t work for world peace because we don’t live in a peaceful world; we shouldn’t work to feed the hungry because we don’t live in a world without hunger; we shouldn’t work to educate the masses because we don’t live in a world without uneducated people. In short, if we have a goal, we must abandon it immediately because we live in a world where that goal has not yet been achieved.

How does that make even the slightest amount of sense?

Not surprisingly, my criticism was quickly met with an equally well thought-out response, from one Nick Moor:
You should probably read the article closer. The author is not saying to never work towards a post-racial world, but is instead arguing that adopting a colorblind approach in all things means that one ignores how race negatively impacts large swathes of people, which at the most basic level means you'll probably be poorly equipped to actually challenge racism. If you accept that racial inequality still exists, then ignoring how race affects outcomes and experiences is a poor response to said inequality. The author provides the alternative of multiculturalism.

As so often happens in these discussions, my response is really too long for (and ultimately too limited by) inclusion in a simple Facebook discussion. As such, Nick, I hope you’ll indulge me as I respond to you here.

First of all, Nick, I appreciate the clarification. (That’s an honest thank you, by the way, not a snide remark. The written word is so hard, sometimes!) I actually understand the argument you’ve highlighted, but I really don’t think it applies as much as you do, for one reason:

Colorblindness and multiculturalism are not mutually exclusive.

Let‘s take my own family, for example. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, in a firmly middle-class family. My ancestry includes Dutch, Irish, English, and Hungarian (and many more, if you continue back far enough)—a pretty multicultural background, yet one that never breaks out of a single, overarching “race”: Caucasian. So far, multiculturalism has absolutely no bearing on racism nor colorblindness, as neither colloquial race nor colorblindness is involved.

So, let’s move on to my wife. She grew up in an impoverished family of seven children, occasioned by her father’s degree program being terminated halfway through his college career. She was born in West Virginia, then moved to rural Indiana when her father got what would turn out to be a short-lived job. Her ancestry is Scottish, Dutch, Irish, and Cherokee—which obviously overlaps a bit with my own ancestry, but also includes a couple more cultures and even an additional “race” (Native American). Sadly, the Cherokee is so muted by the Scottish that you’d never notice it unless you’re particularly familiar with the tribe and its unique, telltale features. Thus, she remains effectively Caucasian. Again, highly multicultural, but the diminution of her Native-American heritage renders colorblindness fairly moot.

Now, how about our children? Two of our three were adopted, so they don’t share the same biological ancestry as we. As such, we actually know very little about their biological heritage. Yet, we still love and honor the families that gave them life. (Our older daughter’s birthmom is actually coming to visit us, today, and I’m currently chatting with her birthfather’s younger sister.) In short, we embrace their birth families as part of our family, an indelible part of our daughters’ respective stories and heritages. This brings in another layer of multiculturalism. However, as all four birthparents that picked us happened to be Caucasian, the colorblindness/race card still hasn’t even been played.

So, let’s spread out a little farther. Four of my wife’s siblings are married. Two of them married other Caucasians, but two did not. Her brother’s wife happens to be three-quarters Mexican and one-quarter Spanish. In contrast to my wife’s and my fairly suburban upbringing, our sister-in-law grew up in the city and spoke American Spanish in the home—a language she has passed on to both my brother-in-law and their children. Obviously, in this case, both race and culture are significantly different, so we’re finally getting somewhere in terms of our discussion.

My wife’s sister also married a non-Caucasian man. Our brother-in-law is a mix of African nationalities and grew up in poverty, in the deep South. He got into college on a football scholarship and was drafted into the NFL right out of college, but an injury preceded his first season and he wound up back in his college town of Lafayette, Indiana (where he met my sister-in-law). Again: different race, different upbringing, different life experience.

The point I’m trying to make is that we’re a fairly multicultural family, and we do recognize the individual contributions of each family member and his or her cultural upbringing. We love and honor each other, including in-laws and nieces and nephews just as much as anyone else. While we may be of different races, we respect and even, to a certain extent, embrace each other’s culture and their stories, despite their difference from our own. Yet at the same time, we ignore the color of each other’s respective skins, just like we ignore each other’s hair color, eye color, etc.; all are ultimately irrelevant to who we truly are.

Yes, people have different life experiences. Yes, there is a so-called “white privilege” that US society and culture affords to those of us “lucky” enough to be born with less melanin in our skin. But simply embracing a non-colorblind, multicultural attitude doesn’t solve this problem; in some cases, foregoing colorblindness actually compounds it! One only need look at the debate over Affirmative Action to see that many “white” people are a lot more aware of “black privilege” than they are, their own. This awareness leads to increased anti-“black” racism and, by extension, increases the preponderance of attitudes that led to “white privilege” in the first place. While the long-term benefits of so-called “reverse discrimination” may be desirable, the short-term drawbacks often undermine its effectiveness. In short, ignoring race often does much more good than attempting to compensate for it.

Dr. Williams cites Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “dream that [his] four little children not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” a dream that I suspect to be shared by everyone involved in this discussion. The problem is that while multiculturalism does help us understand one another, multiculturalism, by itself, does nothing to accomplish this goal. It is only by pairing that multiculturalism with the very colorblindness Dr. Williams eschews, that we can truly create lasting change in our society’s racial relations.