Ways to Hurt the Cause, #1

Truth by Omission

Felicity Huffman’s 14-day sentence for mail fraud and honest services mail fraud resurfaced the story of Tanya McDowell. (Honest services mail fraud, as laid out in the United States v. Gray, states that an employee has an obligation to their employer to provide honest services, and actions which impede upon this, like a bribe, is a type of fraud, thanks Wikipedia!) 

Back in 2011, McDowell was charged with first degree larceny for enrolling her son in a school in an area she did not live. She was sentenced to five years in prison and five years probation and, if the memes are to be believed, this is unfair in light of Huffman’s seemingly lenient sentence for bribing an exam proctor.

Inequity in education is an important issue that needs to be addressed, but what hurts this cause is the exclusion of the fact that McDowell was also charged with selling narcotics to undercover officers and that both the drug case and the larceny case sentences were combined per the plea bargain. Her attorney even stated that he attempted to split the cases up but, ‘…prosecutors and the judge would not split the cases up. He said she was facing much more than 15 years in jail if he took all the cases to trial.‘ So the five year sentence was not strictly for the school case. Based on the article, it’s easy enough to decipher, but even the usually reliable Snopes got it wrong, changing the rating on it’s own article about McDowell’s sentence from ‘mixture of truth’ to ‘true’.

In Huffman’s case, to level the scales, her daughter should be removed from the school, but in McDowell’s case, what’s the solution? The answer is worthy of discussion and shouldn’t be muddied with false martyrs and misappropriated news stories.

 

 

Yes, Non-Black people can wear braids

No disclaimer/tribute necessary

 

As far as I can remember, conversations about the appropriateness of specific Black hairstyles were typically centered around the workplace and whether or not someone would appear unprofessional (especially in a corporate setting) wearing braids, locs and the like. Consequences for hair choices disproportionately affected African Americans, but there was also an understanding that if a person of any race (however, unlikely) punched in wearing an ‘unapproved’ style, they too would have reprimands thrown their way. Today, the conversation has shifted; and while the concept that Black people are punished for styles linked to their culture and history remains, the new facet is that White people donning the same looks are heralded and because this dichotomy exists, it is cultural appropriation for a non-black person (especially white) to wear braids or similar ‘do’s.

It used to be that the fight to expand images of professionalism (to include elements of black culture) was handled in court; now, we just scroll through the comments. A thoughtful article from 2001 discussed the issue as improving, as more employers were willing to take a more even-handed approach. It never once mentioned that a viable solution would be to restrict others from making similar hair choices because that…solves… nothing.

In 2018, someone decided that African people invented braids (not true) and that a decision by a non-black person to wear said hairstyle requires self-reflection (am I doing this to be trendy? Or because I want to inspire?) and research (!): “Don’t [wear braids] for fun or because your African-American boyfriend or girlfriend has them…Learn about the story, find inspiration and give credit where credit’s due by explaining who or what has inspired you, like on social media.” 🙄 Advice like this leads to stuff like this:

Nikita_IGA ‘cut and paste’ tagged to the original post to ward off criticism. This is considered sufficient penance paid for the privilege of wearing a hairdo not associated with one’s race or ethnicity? There’s so much focus nowadays on ‘credit’, precious little on how this moves the needle forward. It’s insulting to think that praise and acknowledgement are satisfactory substitutes for institutional and cultural change. People clamoring to be mentioned in the footnotes of someone’s IG feed don’t get to lead the conversation on how to problem solve issues that are deep rooted in this country’s unresolved racist past. Nah..they should stick to criticizing folks’ hair choices on social media.

 

 

 

Not F. Scott Fitzgerald…

For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

– Eric Roth (screenwriter, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

I’d Prefer Unisex Bathrooms…but

it’s got to make sense

The rights of transgender individuals to use the bathroom which aligns with their gender identity has become a major hot button issue in the past few years. I didn’t have much cause to think about it until recently, when I saw a sign posted at a local YMCA that states that individuals are allowed to use the bathroom which correlates with their gender identity. Again, I never thought about it until I was on line with my daughter for the bathroom at another (different) location and an individual dressed in women’s clothes and wearing a wig, was on line ahead of us. No one said anything. No raised eyebrows or exchanged glances, or at least none that I noticed. The individual went in, went out and that was it.

Maybe because I live in a very liberal city, maybe because I’m woman and the bathrooms are typically multi-stalled or maybe because it’s not that big a deal, but I think unisex bathrooms are a reasonable way to be inclusive and respectful towards everyone. Who knew that ‘Ally McBeal’ would be way ahead of its time? I thought about this and wondered, what about locker rooms? The reality is, not everyone is a decent human being. If the YMCA’s policy allows access strictly based on self identity, then you make the grave assumption that everyone is going to be forthright and honor the spirit in which the provision was made, but we know that’s not the case.

My issue is that in an effort to be on the right side of history, politicians are putting the cart before the horse, causing anxiety and resistance to what is an important cause. Unless re-design happens within the necessary areas to make it more amenable for everyone to use, everyone shouldn’t use them.

How the Left Was Won

…by (gulp) learning from the President

It seems as the campaign trail moves closer to 2020 and the likely Democratic nominee appears less obvious, the realization that a Trump repeat is on the horizon strikes fear into my heart. I fear what ignorance and intolerance at the head of a nation will do for another four years. I remember thinking, not long after he was elected, that he would be impeached. Now, I see that less as wishful thinking and more evidence that those in government, who are left leaning, have lost their way and their guts. And the way to get back on track? Take a page from the President.

Trump’s ability to say whatever, regardless of its lack of accuracy, honesty, consistency or diplomacy, is completely antithetical to what we expect (or used to expect) of elected governmental officials; men and women, who come election time, sing sweet sounds of debt elimination, insurance for all and more and better jobs; each speech and soundbite is finely tuned to elicit the greatest number of cheers (plausibility, be damned).

I listen to a variety of Democrats discuss issues ranging from #MeToo, to reparations, student debt, climate change and immigration. I hear a lot of solutions, but what I don’t hear a lot of is booing.

There’s no way that anyone is going to say what is desirable at all times. Is no one willing to deliver some hard truths? That the conversation on reparations is thoughtful, but just that: a conversation; that Medicare for All is not possible because too many private hospitals and private insurance companies are in the back pocket of too many legislators so anything that would eliminate or minimize their business isn’t happening; that giving healthcare to illegal immigrants solves nothing and is offensive in light of the fact that there are American citizens who go without on a daily basis.

Trump taught us that you can say a whole lot and still galvanize your base. With no political experience or couth, this man ascended to the highest office in the land and he did it unapologetically, saying some difficult things. How much more successful would a gifted public servant be, if they would do the same, coming from a place of knowledge, respect, authenticity and experience. The problem with the Left is they’re busy catering to a vocal and savage minority who have mastered the art of attention and know how to capture wandering eyes, and damage careers with one public misstep.

But the win lies in the hands of a silent majority: people who don’t care about what’s trending or trendy and don’t agree with what going on, but who say nothing for fear of reprisal. Their vote goes to the person who has the courage to say what their thinking and the leaders on the Left have to get a clue quick or else…many of us are going to live again with what we’re dreading.

Today in the Constitution: Younger than AOC

I have not read the Constitution. When I was a kid, we were responsible for memorizing the Preamble, which I did (minutes before I had to recite it), but I must say, they are some powerful words. It’s incredible that so much could be covered in 52 words:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

So other than a really empowering opening, what else we got going on in there? Let’s start with my favorite parts from Article I:

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years – this age minimum, set for members of the House, means there’s a chance that AOC will not remain the youngest person ever to serve in Congress.

The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative – we have approximately 325 million people in the United States and 435 representatives in the House; that’s a ratio of 1:747,126 which means it’s time for an upgrade. Fun fact: before the first census in 1790, the states were apportioned representatives and Virginia had the largest representation with ten.

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, – in the beginning, ‘We, the People’ didn’t choose ‘Them, the Senators.’ I never knew that citizen voting wasn’t a thing in the 18th century.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, – there was a time in our nation’s history when a single meeting of the House and Senate was considered sufficient to do business. <mind blown>

They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same;am I understanding this correctly? That Senators and Representatives have a type of immunity? So misdemeanors, ok, but high crimes? That’s a no.

Still on the books (unamended): the President doesn’t have to sign bill in order for it to become law. If the bill is sent to the Commander in Chief and ten days pass without return or comment, it becomes law.

Funding to ‘provide for the common defense,’ i.e, the military, was not supposed to surpass two years. Although maintenance of a Navy was permissible.

Still shocking (amended): at the time of its ratification, the Constitution included a provision preventing the abolishment of slavery prior to 1808.

 

 

 

‘Truth Hurts’ and how!

It’s fascinating that a single, which initially had no album, ends up being the breakthrough song for singer, Lizzo, whose latest release, Cuz I Love You, debuted this past April, and features the aforementioned hit song, Truth Hurts, which was released in 2017. That’s right, 2017. The eligibility period for the 2020 Grammy Awards is October 1, 2018 through August 31, 2019. It would seem the song is too good, too late, but through the magic of semantics, its chances are almost magically revived.

To a lay person, a track and a single are the same thing, but in Grammy speak, a single is a separate, individual entity; a track is a recording on an album. A single is entered for consideration if it is different (i.e, remixed, features additional artists, etc) from the album (not the case here) or if it is released in advance of the album (definitely the case here). So there’s the single from 2017 and the track from 2019, which are identical, but the Academy only recognizes the original album version for screening and verification and ta-da! That’s how Lizzo’s two-year old song gets her some timely recognition.

side note for the haters in the peanut gallery:

Perhaps the Grammys will take note of this particular instance and make changes, but in the meantime the song’s entry, according to the body which governs its entry, is legitAnd if you’re still grouchy about ‘Truth Hurts‘ inclusion, think on this: at the 43rd annual Grammys, the award for Best New Artist went to Shelby Lynne for outstanding work on her sixth studio album, beating out front-runner, Sisqo, known previously for his work with R & B group, Dru Hill. Take Alessia Cara: her debut, Know-It-All was released in 2015; she had hit singles in 2017 with ‘Stay and ‘1-800-273-8255‘ and was nominated (and won) for Best New Artist in 2018. My point? Grammy rules can be arbitrary, but why be mad about someone worthy having the opportunity to be recognized?

Today in “The Man”

The scarcity of televised non white achievement

Can you imagine a year where they didn’t televise the Oscars?  Probably not. Whether you watch the show or not, it’s a staple of the awards season, synonymous with artistic excellence. Well, if you’re a person of color, these representations of achievement might not align with your ideals of creativity or entertainment; a silent, black and white film can win Best Picture…in 2011, but Spike Lee doesn’t get a statuette until 2018…m’kay. The debate about what is and is not worthy to be called high art can rage forever, but one thing I know: I am very well versed on what white culture values in their art, but have white people had the opportunity to be exposed to minority excellence in the same way? The NAACP Image Awards aired on and off broadcast television since 1995, finally finding a home on TV One. The ALMA awards now air on Fuse TV after a years long hiatus. Contrast that with the CMAs which have aired consistently on network television for 50 years. Broadcasting excellence, specifically on network television, is a great way to expose mass audiences to quality (not just what’s popular) and variety in American art. It honors the idea that what is good, looks different to different people and that having one doesn’t invalidate the other.

It removes the pedestal and replaces it with a platform.

The SHSAT is fine. Here’s What’s Not

Full disclosure: I’m a Brooklyn Tech alum and I’m quite proud of the fact that I had what it took to get into an elite school. The primary reason why I got in wasn’t because of expensive test prep or a legacy of attendance at competitive schools; my single, working class Mom enrolled me and my siblings in an after school program called Science Skills, which taught advanced science and math to elementary school aged children. By the time I took the SHSAT, I had already passed the Biology, Sequential I & II Regents and I was only 13.

You can’t start prep at 12 and think that’s enough. The quality of education leading up to the age of eligibility to take the specialized high school exam has to be on par with what’s on the exam, otherwise the trends will continue. And I should add, it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when Brooklyn Tech was almost 40% Black/African American. It would be interesting if a study was done to find out what attributed to the shift, but that would take work and might not yield an answer as simple as ‘dump the test!’. Truth is, getting rid of the test doesn’t necessarily guarantee diversity. A brief, from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, found that of all the reviewed alternate entrance methods, only one: admittance of the top percentage of 8th graders, affected the demographics (but was insignificant in the standing of Black students). So, why not just use that alternative? Problem solved!…Not really. Here’s three reasons why:

Not a lot of 8th graders take it

Approximately, 25,000 out of the 80,000 eligible students take the SHSAT citywide. That’s roughly a third of 8th graders and of that amount, 20% receive offers, representing about 5,000 students total. It is quite admirable to want greater representation of Black and Hispanic students, but they have to take the test first. Of the 591 schools included in the data, 137 had ten or fewer students take the test and 470 schools had 5 or fewer students receive offers. When you’re surrounded by those odds, it’s understandable if many kids don’t bother (see nyc-shsat-data).

Not everyone wants to go

There’s only eight specialized high schools (excluding LaGuardia) and 430 other district high schools across the city and this number doesn’t include private or charter schools. Children have varied interests (and quite a few options) and they are not entirely centered on STEM. Some get into one of the elite 8 and elect not to go, others would prefer schools closer to home or that require less travel.

Not everyone is ready to get in

It’s been years since I was a student at Tech so I can’t speak to the academic standards they have today, but I am comfortable saying that not everyone is ready for it. Specialized high schools are for a certain type of student. Getting in is one hurdle, but staying in and succeeding is another. An often referenced statistic is that 10 NYC schools represents 1,200 of the near five thousand offers made. What does that say about how middle schools are preparing students for the rigors of an intense secondary education? The 800-pound gorilla that is yet to be addressed is inequity in middle school education; for the 2018-2019 school year, the entire borough of the Bronx had 7 gifted and talented programs, District 2 in Manhattan had 8. This kind of disparity suggests that children aren’t being given equitable foundations that would spring board them to success in an elite high school and that issue is more worthy of scrutiny than any standardized test.

Bonus: Not all of it is segregation

The term segregation has been used heavily (and inaccurately) in this debate to polarize the conversation. Segregation is not a choice. The test is. The dominance of Asian students in the city’s specialized high schools has been going on for years and to suggest that state law which requires the test is a de facto form of racism is dishonest . To imply that Black and Hispanic students are being kept out by the test (which was harder years ago and, as I mentioned at one point, was in place when Tech had a majority Black student body) ignores history and offers overly simplified answers that ignores most of the reasons above.

And Down Will Come Tati?

A Red Flag Review of Viral Video

+Never have I been more grateful for my sloth in posting an article as I am today; when news broke last week of ‘Bye Sister,’ (YouTube makeup guru, Tati Westbrook’s video about James Charles), I wasn’t ready to give something off my cultural radar 43 minutes of my life, but when I finally did, Charles decided to release his own video (also over 40 minutes) clarifying the incident which led to their very public blowup.

When I heard what was going on from my preteen cousins, I was put off by the fact that a grown woman was coming for someone nearly half of her age. It felt cruel and juvenile. What’s worst was the almost celebratory energy surrounding his downfall. Westbrook’s accusations that Charles was manipulating straight men into thinking they were gay and using his fame and power to strong arm people into having sex with him rang false to me. Mind you, he’s only 19. Teenage boys trying to have sex by any means necessary is not unfamiliar to me and while not always savory, it isn’t exactly predatory (unless we’re talking about the underage). Her comments were inflammatory to say the least and led to an unprecedented 3+ million subscriber drop for Charles which included celebs like Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian West and Ariana Grande.

But lo and behold, in the midst of the smoke, a clearing: ‘No More Lies‘ dropped Saturday and in it Charles refutes all the claims made by Tati, point by point and in the process, earned over a million subscribers back. If ever there was a case to be made for not rushing to judgement, this is it. Initially, I was going to make a point by point comparison of their videos, but I decided to just focus on the red flags in hers, specifically the points she made that had me going, ‘Hmmm, say what now?’:

🚩 she doesn’t just spill the tea, she scalds with it – Anytime someone tells another person’s story, my red flag antennae go up. Tati told all this boy’s business, including how she and her husband helped up his earnings per video from $90 to $2,500. She mentioned a million dollar deal that they helped negotiate for him. She discussed private conversations she had with him, one in particular in which she said, ‘I told you this is not good and you could have your career destroyed.’ Considering the effects of her video, I wonder now if that was a threat or a warning? 

🚩 details, details…except when it comes to her – Another red flag: vagueness. From what I take from both her and Charles’ video, this situation was triggered by his posting an ad for Sugar Bear Hair, a competitor to Westbrook’s Halo Beauty. She was understandably upset by his decision, but her explanation for why she needed to address this publicly is not as clear. She says that she could have just stopped talking to him, but decided to address it through YouTube because she ‘didn’t feel safe talking about this privately’ and didn’t want her words twisted and used against her. She wasn’t clear about why she felt afraid which leaves viewers to come to their own (likely, not good) conclusions. It’s a serious case of allowing people’s tendency to presume the worst do the work for you which is a nasty passive aggressive tactic.

🚩 all good, all good…except for him – I found it peculiar how Tati described James’ ‘unwilling’ pursuits as individuals ’emerging into adulthood who don’t quite have everything figured out,’ but neglected to see that those words fit Charles to a T. She opens her video with clips of praise for Charles, describes herself as a role model, talks at length about the amount of help she and her husband gave Charles, even stating that her role in their relationship was more from a parental stance, but would you raise an eyebrow or a glass at a ‘parent’ that shades their ‘child’ in the most visible way possible? Are we happy or horrified when we spot a parent spanking their child in the street? Warning sign: self righteous shading is a one dimensional justification for a personal takedown; it sounds a lot like, ‘I’m such a good person because (I do this, I don’t do this, people tell me so) and this person over here is bad because (they do this, they don’t do this, people say so)’. Checking people from a pedestal is a MAJOR red flag. Checking people who are unrelated to the issue, as she did Charles’ mother, another violation. In the video, Westbrook mentions that Christie (James’ mother) said to her, ‘thank you for looking after my boy.’ After listing his ‘flaws’, she claps back, ‘ok, I’m handing that back to you.’ As if playing mentor is akin to guardianship. The unmitigated gall is jaw dropping.

🚩 what it looks like and what it is are two different things – towards the end of her video, Westbrook gets into the ad that started it all and her beliefs that she didn’t really think Charles was in danger, that if he was in danger, he could have left and that the deal with Sugar Bear Hair must have been in the works because companies don’t just have contracts laying around to give to people. All valid assumptions, but still, conjecture at best. She has no credible reasoning for thinking that his story about linking up with SBH at Coachella was untrue other than her feelings and that’s fine, but that doesn’t make it lie. 

As it stands now, ‘No More Lies’ has racked up over 29 million views in two days. It didn’t make YouTube’s trending list, which is weird considering the numbers. Checked it today and he’s been flagged for a copyright claim which might explain why his video is not on the list and interestingly enough, Tati’s game changing ‘Bye Sister’ was unlisted (meaning that you won’t find it in searches, but you can watch it if you have the link or in my case, have watched it already and it’s in your viewing history). Considering how detailed and proof riddled his response video is, I wonder who would benefit most from its reach being limited? And to not break my own rule and be vague, I’ll answer my own question: Tati Westbrook.