How Modern Racism Works

I once spent a week in a Manhattan office as a sort of test drive for a possible new career. The staff were friendly and competent, the work was interesting, and the opportunities were sky high. I liked the company well enough and they liked me. They liked me quite a bit. I was exactly what they were looking for. I had met the founder/CEO of this top notch firm in church. We were both serving in leadership roles and had worked together in differing roles there. He liked how I went about things and asked if I would consider a career change that would include coming to work for him. It looked like a great opportunity.lestermaddox

The moment I stepped off the elevator I saw that this was not like any company I was used to. Everyone was Mormon. Not just Mormon, but graduates of BYU. It is not normal to find such a place on the East Coast where Latter-Day Saints are about as common as Panda Bears. At all my previous jobs I was forced to spend an abnormal proportion of my conversational time explaining why I wasn’t drinking like everyone else, why I was wearing an extra layer under my clothes, or why I never dropped the F-bomb like everyone else. I found this a bit frustrating as I would have rather spent my time talking about literature, movies, or maybe football. Rarely did I get a chance as my Mormonism trumped my other interests, or at least trumped anything else that may have been interesting about me. None of that would happen here. If I took this job those days would be over. I was intrigued.

civilrights2“I like hiring Mormons. I understand them, they understand me, and we can have a work environment more in line with my values,” The boss told me. “I can start off at a level of trust with a new employee that I wouldn’t have otherwise and in this business there has to be trust.” I don’t think this employer was completely against working with non-Mormons, I know that nearly none of his clients were LDS, but he knew what he was looking for, knew where to find it, and he just did what he knew. He knew Mormons.

In the end I didn’t take the job. We just couldn’t get the numbers to work. That was years ago and they are still going strong. I don’t know everyone there but I can pretty much guess a thing or two about whomever it was that took the job that I did not. I’m pretty sure they were Mormon, went to BYU, and were extremely capable. I think about them, and my experience there, quite often. Strangely enough I think about it when I read in the paper about affirmative action, racial profiling, and income inequality. I thought about it during the Treyvon Martin trial, the Cliven Bundy showdown, and now during the Donald Sterling drama. In all these cases there is so much talk about racism, or false accusations of racism, or reverse racism. Everyone has an opinion, everyone knows what should be done, and everyone, no matter what side they take, is upset.

So many are upset in part because we, the collective we, do not really understand how racism works. We think racism is, or happens when, we hate someone who is different. We think it is when we act out on this hatred in some way. While this may be one way racism works, it is very much not THE way racism works. The truth is that today, and in years past, for the most part racism works just like that office in Manhattan.

Racism happens when we simply show a preference for our own.schoolkid

Preference for our own is a precarious thing. It makes sense. It’s easy. It’s also very exclusive and insular. Not only is it those things but it is also the justification most all overtly racist policies or groups have used to justify blatant discrimination. Most of those who supported Jim Crow laws did not claim to hate black people, they simply wanted to “protect” their own. Real estate agents and neighborhood alliances didn’t say black people were horrible, they simply wanted to make sure white people could live amongst their own. Labor unions, employers, and colleges never had to say they hated minorities; they only had to say that they had a level of trust in the abilities of their own.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily calling that office full of Mormons racist. Nor am I calling the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints racist. But I will say that all the people in that office were white. There were also no Jews. There were plenty of women and during that week I never heard one person say anything negative about any group previously mentioned. But the level of niceness, affection, or broad respect for humanity possessed by those who worked there didn’t, and doesn’t matter to any black people; because they aren’t there. Unless something changes, they never will be either.enhanced-buzz-12728-1381176127-6

That is the problem with a racist past never being addressed by the “non-racist” present.
The group we belong to now, and what that group has or does, is a direct result of what the members of our group did before. So, if that office would like to stay Mormon forever, so be it. Who cares right? It is one company, one office, what’s the big deal? In the grand scheme of things there really aren’t that many Mormons, especially in New York, so why even bring it up? I bring it up because this office is how modern racism works. That office is Mormon not because the people there hate anyone; they simply have a set way of doing things. The same could be said for Ford, Bain Capital, Tiffany & Co., the United States Senate, NBC, CBS, ABC, Morgan Stanley, Stanford, any local police department, the carpenters union, and on and on and on. Wall street firms don’t have to hate black people, they only have to really like Wharton graduates. Wharton doesn’t have to hate black people, it only has to really like the children of alumni. Alums don’t have to hate anyone, they only have to really want their own children to get into a great school. It goes on and on, spirals down, down, down.george-romney-civil-rights

The only way things will ever change is if someone intentionally changes it. It really isn’t enough to simply not be racist. Not hating someone is not the same as giving them a chance. Really, what it will take, and I call out that Mormon office because my own personal bias tells me that Mormons, my people, should be great at this, is to think of someone other than themselves. Look at someone new and give them a chance. Do the uncomfortable thing. Open up and let someone new in. Realize that if people are people, then “strangers” deserve the same sort of favoritism we give the familiar.

 

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Vegas

Doctors and scientists agree that an elevated body temperature is particularly dangerous in that it can cause permanent neurological damage. If a human body reaches 100.4 degrees the person officially has a fever and should report to the nearest hospital for treatment. It was 106 degrees yesterday in Las Vegas.IMG_5563

At nine in the morning I step through the plaster facade of Paris onto the sidewalk but have to stop short to avoid colliding with a shirtless man drinking something red from a fishbowl.

IMG_5567He was walking by himself but he was in no way alone. There were plenty of strange objects, all of them large, filled with colorful liquids being carried and sipped from, by all sorts of partially clothed people. The people came in all sorts and all ages and in large numbers. They were speaking German, Spanish, and drunken gibberish.

IMG_5565“Yeeeeeeeeah! Duuuuuude. Check em out broh!” “Heeeeey, whoooooooie! Yeah watch me drop it!” “Whoo-o whoo-o! Whoo-o, whoo-o!” Such poetry being shouted by middle aged divorcee’s or twenty somethings from Ohio State sounds pretty much the same. No matter how it looks or sounds, the prevailing impression is that those saying it are sweaty.IMG_5555Nine in the morning or nine at night it doesn’t matter. At both times it is 106 degrees outside and everyone is either drunk or trying to get there. Inside it isn’t quite as hot.

IMG_5564I was there to have dinner with the Teamster’s. When I arrived I was shown to a table with two six foot tall blonde women who said they were sisters, a Jewish lawyer whose father was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, and an Ex-Mormon who worked in the dairy industry. No one thought our grouping remarkable in any way.IMG_5566After dinner I walked back through the maze of lights and bells towards my room. Groups wearing sashes and tiaras, or red hats and teddy bear sweaters, or suits with black shirts all gathered around various tables and machines shouting.IMG_5569One grey haired man sat at a machine holding a lit cigarette down at his waist. He was staring off toward nothing doing nothing and saying nothing, but everything around him was lit up and making noise.IMG_5570

Everyone there is trying to have a good time. I know this because the shouting, the billboards, and the gauntlet of salespeople are telling me so. They offer me free drinks, free admission to a striptease, a chance at winning $100,000. IMG_5572After the fifth encounter I simply stop responding. I just want to watch the fountains dance in front of the Bellagio or listen to some live music with something more than just a bass line.IMG_5571

A bunch of guys wearing bespoke suits are pausing to take pictures with women wearing sequined g-strings. I wave my hand aside as one of the ladies moves to step in front of me. I smile at her and shake my head no.IMG_5574

I’m in Vegas and everyone is here to have a good time. I’m ready to have a good time. Business is done so now its time to play. I’m not against fun. I’ve never thought of myself as boring or a prude but by ten o’clock I was headed for my room. I didn’t feel bad about it. I was ready for fun.

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The Size of the Nightmare: Azusa Pacific University

Azusa Pacific University was founded in 1899 as the West Coast’s first bible college. It started offering degrees in 1939.

Today the school, located a half hour East of Los Angeles, still has evangelical ties and all students take religion courses. Azusa has a student body of over 10,000 people making it the second largest evangelical student body in the country (next to Liberty University in VA).IMG_3899

Azusa Pacific also boasts the second best NFL running back to ever be a character in Nintendo’s Super Techmo Bowl (next to Bo Jackson).

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While mingling at a business event I saw a black man standing alone at a table. He wasn’t talking to passers by and those who passed did not appear to notice him. I knew no one there so I walked over to say hello. As I approached I recognized his face, but didn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t believe my eyes because the face I recognized belonged on the body of a giant, and this man was exactly my size. I do not consider myself giant.

IMG_3199I got close enough to read his name tag, we all wore gigantic name tags, and there it was, written in Times New Roman, “Christian Okoye”.

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Christian Okoye came to AzusaPacific directly from Nigeria. He went there on a track scholarship with hopes of making the 1984 Olympic team. When team selections id not go his way he looked around for something else to do and he landed on football. He did not know the game, but he knew how to run and he was a giant. This giant got drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and quickly earned the nickname the “Nigerian Nightmare”. It was disconcerting to meet a giant from your childhood and not only find him incredibly friendly, but also not so much a giant. Maybe he just looked bigger because I was 8 years old at the time.

I think he is the only nightmare to ever be associated with Azusa.IMG_3905

What is associated with the school is community service and teachers. The magazine Diverse Issues in Higher Education recognized APU as one of the nation’s top school’s in awarding degrees to racial minorities, particularly Latinos.

IMG_3904So apparently they aren’t only good at creating Nintendo legends but they do the whole college thing as well.IMG_3887

 

 

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O Captain My Captain

Both my parents were public school teachers.

I went to public schools. Of course teacher’s don’t have to be public to be cool, but it helps a little.wilson

I’m a big fan of teachers. I think more people should be fans of teachers. In fact, if I ruled the world (just you wait) teacher salaries would start at $100,000 per year. We would only accept the best, probably with master’s degrees from well-funded, well-practiced colleges. But I don’t rule the world and whoever it is that does won’t return my calls.

So until my master plan comes into play I will have to do smaller things, like recognize those who recognize great teachers. May I present the Milken Educator Awards.

CIMG8947I don’t know any of these winners and that is sad. Not sad in the way that I should know everyone, but in the way that good teachers should be famous. If you know someone as cool as those folks over here, nominate them.

Sir, we have not met, but I’m cool with giving educators their due.IMG_5462

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Who Would do Such a Thing?

So why would anyone take the type of job that when the entire industry is honored, it is done so by allowing a person the luxury of not having to do that job?

Such is motherhood.217810_10151031393339071_1954661940_n

It is a sorority with the most severe initiation ritual ever devised, so much so that millions have died while pledging, yet a fresh new batch of applicants sign up every day.

If the initiation ritual for admittance to motherhood were replicated as a sort of guaranteed gateway to a million dollars, we would likely have less millionaires than we do now.  It just wouldn’t be worth it. Yet not only do people sign up without the promise of a cash prize, but many pay huge sums to get in the club. Medical science has devoted some its best minds to the cause of allowing women the joy of enduring huge amounts of pain for little to no thanks, other than that one day a year when they are honored by being allowed to act like they aren’t in the club for a day.

My mom before.

My mom before.

Now parenting is another story. One need not go through this initiation ritual to gain the title of parent. No, instead the intense pain of birthing labor is stretched out over 18 years in the eyes of the law, but in reality will likely last till you finally graduate into the grave.

My mom after.

My mom after.

There are those who join motherhood but decline to continue on to parent, there are those who never gave birth who then elect to parent, and then there are those who do both. Those who do both are insane, illogical, and the world owes them an inexhaustible debt.

I’m glad I hit the mother lottery. Come to think of it. I hit the lottery twice.IMG_6672

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Corey Booker: meeting the NJ Senator in LA

Back in 2005 I watched a documentary called Street Fight. It followed this young guy getting his figurative nose bloody in a race to be mayor of Newark New Jersey. He lost.IMG_4306

Of course that race was back 2002 and today no one remembers who the mayor of Newark was back then. A lot more people know Corey Booker.

In 2012 Mr. Booker, who by this time was mayor, made national news by running into a burning building to save a woman. The cynics thought it quite the stunt. I didn’t. This guy has been living in this sort of stunt since 1998.

You see, back in ’98 this guy had just graduated Yale Law. This after getting his BA in Poly Sci from Stanford (where he played football and was elected student body president)and studying as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. With this resume he skipped the penthouse and moved into the projects. He lived in the now demolished brick towers, Newark’s projects. How is that for downward mobility?IMG_4207

I didn’t meet Corey in the projects, I met him at a fund raiser in a home that another attendee joked could be purchased for a measly 1/4 of our countries national debt.

There were maybe 100 folks there in total. I knew none of them.IMG_4215

In the hour or two preceding Corey’s remarks I met a couple real estate investors, a wealth manager, a VP of a very well known online entertainment provider, a couple professors, a stay at home mom, and a guy in a yarmulke spent twenty minutes teaching me Yiddish words that I have regrettably since forgotten.IMG_4203

We ate caviar. They drank wine. At one point the man with whom I was chatting and I accepted some delicious looking sliders from the hors d’ouvre tray. before digging in my companion noticed a strip of bacon beneath the burger. he twisted his lips and looked disappointed. We looked around for a trash can, a utilitarian item that apparently didn’t fit the decor, and being the stand-up guy that I am, I volunteered to “dispose” of the offending food item. He thanked me and promised to return the favor should I find myself in possession of a glass of wine.

Senator Booker talked for about an hour and then answered questions.IMG_4204

In his remarks he covered his desire to have more people in elected positions coming out of the business world because they have had to “run something”. He talked about the need to make data driven decisions. He spoke of collaborating with all parties in order to solve problems. He recounted parables from the Talmud. He talked about reforming education and debt reduction.

He did not demonize. I have been to other political events that were nothing but demonizing and this was not that. Now make no mistake there was plenty of asking for money. Very direct requests for money. It was open, urgent, and in this place, location, and crowd that oozed privilege and dollars, there was a remarkable lack of sleaze.IMG_4208

Passionately rational and moral. That is how I would sum him up.

I won’t be voting for him. at least not any time soon. I won’t be donating either. Not because I don’t want to, I am simply unable on both counts. But should you be in New Jersey, or in possession of disposable income, I would encourage you to do either or both.

 

That slider was fantastic.IMG_4205

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Graduation at Redlands: buncha bulldogs

Commencement ceremonies are a bit different when you are sitting on the stage. You are expected to behave.

IMG_4271Graduations are inherently good. Goals accomplished and progress made toward dreams, or jobs, or student loan repayment plans.IMG_4374

I like the stories of grown up graduates. The ones who came back to clean up unfinished business. The ones who went to class at night, went to a job in the day, and care for their kids in between. Those kinds of grads make me happy.IMG_4358

It pleases me to be in a position to watch this happen on a regular basis. I get a front row seat to second chances. Beats living in a van that’s for sure.IMG_4368

 

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Och Tamale!

 

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