Thursday, August 13, 2009

138. Second chance should be limited

I am all for second chances. Personally, I have been given a number of second chances, and, likewise, I have afforded the same opportunity to others. Fundamental to my liberal attitudes is that life is hard for many people. Not only is it difficult, it is inherently unfair-opportunities are readily available for those born into wealthy white families in America, while for others, such as those born into poverty, the socio-economic and political burden is more difficult to overcome. It is not impossible, but it does take more work with less room for error.

Michael Vick has been freed from prison and has recently signed what is potentially a multi-million dollar deal to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. Many, from the sports world to animal right supporters, have commented on this opportunity. Some feel that he has paid his dues and that he deserves the opportunity to make a living again. Others, many dog lovers for example, think that he does not deserve another opportunity.

Vick has been working the media-admitting his mistake, committing to remorse and speaking out against dogfighting. He has also been working with some animal rights organizations, which see this as an opportunity to educate the public.

Although I think I should forgive him for his disgraceful acts, and embrace his recovery, as well as the chance to use his celebrity status to combat dogfighting, I cannot. I have nothing but hate for this man and the things him, and his posse, did to so many dogs.

What bothers me the most is that here is a guy that had everything. He was a professional athlete-he had money and fame. He could go anywhere and do anything. He could have houses, cars, women, travel the world-anything he wanted. The world was his playground. And out of everything he could be doing, he chose dogfighting as his form of entertainment.

To engage in the activity of dogfighting, with so much to lose, hints at an insatiable lust for this form of animal cruelty. It is not just something he did-it is "in his blood." No amount of remorse will convince me that he has changed his attitudes toward the "sport." I do not think he can be reformed any more than a child molester can be. He cannot, or could not, help himself. As my bother noted, Vick is not sorry about what he did, he is sorry that he got caught.

The signing with the Eagles, says a lot about our obsession with professional sports. Vick is not the first scumbag that fans have supported because he or she can hit a baseball or throw a football better than the average Joe. I cannot believe that any dog lover would pay to see him play more than any mother would pay to see a child molester. Make no mistake; this is not about the "City of Brotherly Love" offering second chances, the Eagles and the fans that will support them care more about winning than the integrity of the organization. If Vick was even an average talent-no team would touch him. It is only that he is a truly remarkable athlete that an organization would sell its soul.

In the "real world," the slightest blemish in one's career is often difficult to overcome. Get fired, have a lapse in employment, declare bankruptcy or be convicted for even a petty crime, and one will have to sit uncomfortably in the interviewee chair-wondering how to explain what happened. Equally uncomfortable is the knowledge that there is probably a line of applicants, just as talented, with no such obstacle to overcome. Full background checks are now commonplace for many jobs.

In the end, I do support second chances-just not the chance to make millions of dollars. And not to have a job in which thousands of little kids will be running around with their Vick jersey on-wanting to be "just like him." I would give Vick a second chance, the chance at the perspective that most of us have. Let him work in a factory or at a fast food restaurant. Let him see how the rest of us live-those of us that have not engaged in such reprehensible criminal behavior.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

137. What does racism really mean?

Use a word too often, or too indiscriminately, and it loses its meaning. Seems like everyone these days is being accused of being a racist, or racial profiling-so much that I am not sure what it really means anymore. Highlighted by the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and polarized by the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., accusations of racism are being thrown around the political arena like an old rag doll. It continued last week when conservative talk show Glenn Beck host called President Barack Obama a racist, commenting, "I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem...this guy is, I believe, a racist."

Perhaps this quote exemplifies the confusion-"I am not saying he doesn't like white people, but. . . I believe he is a racist." He then went on to say that Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." Huh?

Again, because the word is used so erratically, I think we have lost sight of what it really means to be a racist? Perhaps we have also lost our discretion in using the word-it used to be a serious charge to make, for both the person making the accusation and the person being accused.

In terms of dictionary definitions, the Macquarie Dictionary best summarizes my interpretation of racism: "the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others." However, it is more than just the attitude that one's race is superior, it is acting on that attitude-often with anger and hate. It is also accomplished through socio-economics, denying opportunity to other races-usually to maintain the socio-economic status of one's own race.

However, even this perspective can get sticky. Imagine a private business owner whose only daughter just got married has a high-level finance position opening at his company. Further imagine that the only two candidates are his new son-in-law, who just graduated with a Bachelor's degree in finance from Ohio State, and another recent graduate, an African-American male with a MBA from Harvard. It is obvious who is the better candidate, but the question is, if he hires his son-in-law, is he a racist? The answer is probably not. The answer is that he wants to commit this opportunity to his new son-in-law, the man responsible for caring for his daughter. The truth is that he probably would have chosen his new son-in-law over any other candidate-regardless of gender, race or age.

Much has also been written about reverse discrimination in light of affirmative action programs-an area in which Sotomyer has been questioned. Here, the Supreme Court has ruled that in situations like college admissions, race can be a factor-to support a diverse educational environment. However, it cannot be an overwhelming factor, such that all minorities are accepted on the basis of race. Other situations though, such as the cases involving promotions, have brought different results.

Either way, whether you are the African-American that did not get the job, or the Caucasian that did not get accepted to college, it is difficult to understand. Both of these candidates will have to come to terms that these opportunities did not go to the most qualified person. Here, as anyone who has not been chosen for an opportunity knows, it is an uncomfortable feeling wondering why? Is it because of my race, age, gender, sexual-orientation or religious belief? Or is simply a situation where the opportunity is based on "who you know."

Perhaps the most discouraging use of the word ‘racism' is the emotional application to someone who does not deserve it. In the Gates case, there does seem to be an overreaction that included calling the cop a racist. Furthermore, it is discouraging how many African-American leaders, including President Obama, rushed to his defense. Is it true that there is some racial profiling in our police forces? Absolutely, the statistics are very concerning. Is this an example of it? I am not so sure. Furthermore, as African-American author Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote, this might have more to do with wealth and ego than race relations. The sad truth, on a couple of levels, is that had Gates been a poor African-American-nobody would ever have heard of this.

Racism is undoubtedly political, used both as a political ploy and a political philosophy. It is interesting that it has been Republicans such as Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are using the word more and more-usually in regards to reverse discrimination. Among those that would find this ironic is Bill Maher who said, "Being a Republican doesn't make one a racist, but if one is a racist, he or she is probably a Republican." That might be a low blow, but there is certainly a very conservative segment of the Republican Party that still maintains a racist mentality-not only in regards to African-Americans but also immigration.

In the future, let's hope that before Beck, or anyone else for that matter, uses that term again, they really consider both what they are saying about someone's character, and what it means to people that really have been the victim of racism-people who have been beaten and killed simply based on their skin color. When Beck was reminded that most of Obama's top advisors were Caucasian, Beck about-faced with a "he was a racist before he wasn't" take. However, even if Obama hired his friends and family-who can blame him? Heck, maybe the Harvard MBA is still available.