Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reading Is My Passion And Was A Key To My Success

I have two real passions in life: listening to jazz and reading books.

I'll save for another day, a discussion about my love of jazz. For now, I'll use some of the space on my blog to talk about books.

I admit that I own a lot of books.

My colleagues who drop by my office often crack jokes about how I'm running out of space for books.

I can't prove it scientifically, but I believe that if a scientist sequenced my DNA, they would find buried somewhere in that long molecule cells coded for the two things I love to do the most, listening to jazz and reading.

The bookcases in my home and office are stacked with books.

I have books laying on top of books on my bookshelves (some books are even in stacks on my floor).

I have boxes of books in my closet and in my storage space in the basement of my complex.

Most of the books in my office are about race, gender, and class. I have books on race and politics, autobiographical and biographical books about important historical figures of color, books about social movements such as the black Civil Rights and Chicano Movements, books on philosophy (African, African American and European), and books by and about Karl Marx and other leftist thinkers.

Most of the books in my apartment are fiction. In addition to classic fiction books by authors of color ranging from James Baldwin and Zora Neal Hurston to Langston Hughes and Junot Diaz, I have fiction by white authors ranging from Jon Krakauer and William Golding to Philip Roth and John Updike.

Students who drop by my office always ask me whether I've read all the books on my bookshelves.

The truth is that I haven't read everything. But, I've read a huge chunk of the books that I own. Even though I constantly strive to carve out more time in my busy schedule to read even more than I currently do, it pains me to admit that I haven't had the time to read every one of my books.

So, why buy so many books if I don't have the time to read them all? One reason I do it is because of something a professor I had when I was an undergraduate once told me. He said, "I should get every book that I'm interested in because although they're here today they may be gone tomorrow and hard to find." A lot of the books I own are currently out of print.

So, why do I love books so much?

First of all, I love books so much because I love to learn. I sometime joke with people about how the moment I stop trying to learn is when I'll know that I'm dead.

I also love books, because I strongly believe that reading and educating myself was my key out of the ghetto.

Someone asked me the other day, "what is the reason for your success in life." I answered, "I realized a long time ago that I'm both the source and solution to 99.99% of my problems."

This doesn't mean that I'm blaming people for their problems as many conservatives often do. It's certainly not a suggestion that all one needs to do is pull up their bootstraps if you want to be successful. I'm a social scientist, so I fully understand the role structures and institutions play in promulgating racial and class inequality in American society.

But, I also believe that to fully challenge oppressive systems, we have to find a way to take charge of our lives and arm ourselves with the tools needed to fight for our freedom.

Educating oneself through reading is a tool people everywhere can use to win their freedom.

Paulo Freire summed up my thinking best when he wrote: "Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

Or, as Dr. Suess put it in his book, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, "The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

The beautiful thing about what you learn from reading is that no one can take that away from you.

Of course, many household in America, especially one's headed by people of color, do not have books in them.

Here are a few practical things we can all do to change that.

This holiday season, instead of buying an Xbox 360 or Sony Playstation 3, give kids a stack of books. In fact, give kids books for their birthday. Heck, give them books anytime you feel like it.

Also, cut the television off and use the time to read to and with your kids.

And, rather than take kids to the movie sometimes take them to the library or drop by a bookstore and sit and read.

Finally, make time to volunteer to teach a kid (or an adult) to read and write.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nein, Nein, Nein: The Rise And Fall Of Citizen Cain

Another Conquerors' Day, or as most Americans affectionately call it, Thanksgiving Day, has come and gone. But, I have something to be thankful for this Holiday Season: the Herman Cain charade – a presidential campaign that was nothing more than a front for an ego-driven self-promotion tour – is, thankfully, finally over.

Thank goodness!

Let's get real. Herman Cain was never going to be elected President of the United States. With the exception of perhaps former Alaska Governor and fellow perennial self-promoter, Sarah Palin, there has never been a modern presidential candidate who was less qualified to be the leader of the nation than was Cain (okay, Palin only flirted for years with the idea).

In spite of his so-called charisma and rags-to-riches story, Citizen Cain lacked two qualities that should be needed to be President, character and intellect.

Cain's character flaws have been on full display ever since he launched his bid for the presidency. There is, of course, the obvious character issue; at least four women accused the former Republican presidential candidate of sexual harassment. However, the act of sliding your hand up a women's dress without her consistent and then trying to force her head toward your lap for oral sex as one of his accusers described, is well beyond sexual harassment. That's a sexual assault.

Despite the fact that there were four accusers (unlike many sexual assault cases when it's only his word against her word, in Cain's case, it was his word against hers and hers and hers and hers), many core supporters refused to believe the candidate was capable of such appalling behavior. Sadly, the women and the mainstream media were accused by Cain's supporters of trying to bring down a "good black man" who wasn't on the so-called liberal plantation. Cain's campaign even went so far as to create a "Women For Cain" website where female supporters could slam his accusers for being "vindictive," "jealous," "unstable," and "husbandless." (And we all wonder why so many victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault are afraid to come forward.)

What finally toppled Cain's presidential bid was the accusation of a 13-year-affair with an Atlanta woman named Ginger White. Just like the accusations of sexual harassment, Cain denied the affair with White, but he did admit to giving her money over the years to help her pay bills. What a bighearted guy. It may come as no surprise, however, that Cain never told his wife about his generosity toward his "friend."

If all of these accusations are true (and, I tend to believe them all), Cain is not just a sexual harasser and a cheater, he fits the profile of a serial sexual predator.

While not nearly as critical of a concern as being a serial sexual predator, Cain had other character flaws that were also quite pathological in nature. His so-called charisma and folksy charm reinforced in my mind some ugly racist stereotypes about black people. Throughout his campaign, he would greet his overwhelmingly white crowds with the phrase, "Aww, shucky ducky, as the man would say (he uttered that phrase at the two minute and forty four second mark of his announcement speech)." He would also sometimes charm his white audiences by singing a gospel song or responding defiantly to criticism with a quote from his grandfather, "I does not care."

"What the Fucky?"

Moreover, Cain's anti-intellectualism (stupidity) was stunning. In a television interview he said, "When they ask me who's the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I'm going to say, 'You know, I don't know. Do you know?' And then I'm going to say, 'How's that going to create one job?'" Defending his woeful lack of foreign policy depth and lack of intellectual curiosity, he followed up at a campaign stop with the asinine statement, "We need a leader, not a reader."

Cain, perhaps, was just too busy selling his book ("This Is Herman Cain! My Journey To The White House"), and his bogus "9-9-9 Plan" for tax reform, to do a little bit of studying.

Cain meteoric rise is something that I will never fully understand. I wouldn't be terribly off the mark if I accused him of "shucking and jiving" and "playing the coon" just to gain support from conservative white voters. But, there is more to the Cain phenomena than that. The New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, sheds further light on the Cain phenomena in a column from early November:

Cain isn't a regular candidate, and this isn't a regular race. He is the anti-Obama, and that absolves him from his multiplying errors and inoculates him against his enemy's poison arrows... Cain is an "American black conservative — an A.B.C." who rejects prevailing wisdom among blacks about the racial state of play in America. He is a walking rebuff to the 400-year-old racism issue that continues to dog and drain this country. He lifts the burden of guilt from whites on the right and places it on the shoulders of blacks on the left — the ones still on "the Democrat plantation" and not willing or able to think for themselves. He is a fascinating sociological phenomenon but also an affront to some basic facts about the existence and impact of our racial reality.

The fact that Herman Cain lacked any of the conventional qualities that you would look for in a presidential candidate was of no concern to many of his white supporters. The only thing important to them is that he was the opposite of President Obama (and also not Mitt Romney) and he reinforced in their minds the stereotype of the "happy, non-threatening, and compliant Negro".

But, whatever the explanation, I'm thankful that Cain has suspended his run for the presidency. My hope is that we never hear from him again. Unfortunately, in American politics, we don't always get what we want.