Monday, January 2, 2017

Democracy In Black - How Race Still Enslaves The American Soul

As a non-American, this book opens up my eyes to the bitter perception of racial inequality in America from the eyes of the author, Eddie S. Glaude Jr.. While I have never had the notion that racial equality in America is all about "a bed of roses", the extensiveness or the seriousness of this racial inequality in America couldn't have been more palpable than after I read through this book.

What is more encouraging and surprising to me is how candid and free the author talked about this heart wrenching and dark issue with no holds barred. This kind of provocative conversation would probably not going to see the light in my own home country. And this kind of book would probably not going to get passed the printing release stage.

In this book, the author talked about how Americans have value gap and racial habits that reinforce racial inequality in America, and how black politics based on the civil-rights era have reached a dead end. Value gap refers to the belief that certain race (in this case, white people) are inherently valued more than others (e.g. black). In the book, the author also criticized Obama for being like a "snake-oil salesman" in the sense that although as the first black American president, who presented himself as a person who would challenge the "racial order of things", failed the expectations of the black people. The reality is, according to the author, not only that very little has changed in America, but things have even gotten worse. In the Introduction chapter, for example, he said:
"President Obama's election supposedly meant that we had turned a corner. We wanted to believe that we were leaving something bad behind. But we have seen and experienced so much ugliness over these past seven years. How many times have we watched black parents in anguish as they buried their children? As they stood before the press and demanded justice, joined with other parents in a communion of grief? The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and so many others shattered any illusion we might have had about a post-racial America. People from all over the country took to the streets... Chants of "hands up, don't shoot," and "I can't breathe" and "Black lives matter" let the world know that race is far from being a nonissue in this country."
The author talked about the recent widening wealth gap between the blacks and the whites with more young black families and children than ever drowning in poverty. One out of four African Americans lives in poverty today. One out of three black children grows up in poverty while only one out of ten white children lives in poverty. Long term unemployment among African American is at its highest in America in the last twenty years and has left many isolated in concentrated poverty while even the middle class African American face the threat of downward mobility.

The author also talked about the provocative issue a supremacy of one race over another (in this case, the white supremacy). As the author stated it, United States remains a nation fundamentally shaped by its racist past and present. Although slavery is now seen as evil and although thee are black people running Fortune 500 companies and working as mayors and professors at Ivy League schools, white supremacy continues to remain as a grim reality in that country.

The author also talked about the process of "disremembering" in the book. He defines disremembering as an active "forgetting" process, especially to blot out and willfully ignore what is going on around us. In this context, as the author described it, it is about to forget all the bad stuff that cuts short the illusion that America is an example of democracy.  The author said, in chapter 2:
"How we collectively remember is bound up with questions of justice. Or, to put the point differently, what we choose to forget often reveals the limits of justice in our collective imaginations. Think about it in a personal way. Imagine that a family, one that prides itself on the strength of familial bonds, carries the burden of a terrible secret. Everyone knows, even as they act like they don't, that an adored relative has sexually abused a young niece repeatedly. As time passes, stories are told about his sense of humor, his generosity in times of need, and his loving personality.  With each recollection, the memory of his heinous action falls into the shadows and the injustice of his treatment of his niece is ignored or forgotten - except by the victim herself. For her, stories of his kindness tell her, in effect, to shut her mouth.

When we disremember an event, an egregious moment in the past, we shape how we live in the present. I borrowed the word from Toni Morrison. In her magisterial novel Beloved, she grapples with the difficulty of memories, haunting memories that come back to consume. Disremembering enables the characters in the novel to ward off, temporarily, the pain of past events. Disremembering blots out horrible loss, but it also distorts who the characters take themselves to be. Something is lost. It is this sense of the word that strikes me as particularly useful for our current moment. Disremembering is active forgetting."
According to the author. the memorialization of Martin Lurther King is in fact, a systemic act of disremembering. It fortifies a particular understanding of him, namely, the illusion of color blindness without his criticism of white supremacy, poverty and empire. As the author puts it:
"We are to remember Dr. King, and the movement he represented, as a sentimentalized proponent of nonviolence and total love. That's all. The other stuff gets tossed in the trash bin, discarded bits of willfully forgotten history."
As a whole, I find this book to be very thought-provoking, sharp and honest although I believe the author has not done enough in the book to address on how to close this gap other than to say that black people must lose their blackness if America is to be transformed but white people get to stay white. What does he mean? Why should black people lose their ethnic identity and cultural relevance just to blend into the other race? Why should only white people be allowed to retain its own ethnic identity? That part, as someone from an Asian country, I do not understand. And I don't seems to agree. Can the black people be treated equally just like the other races and for America to be transformed while at the same time, allows the black people to retain their own ethnic identity?

The concluding sentence of this book seems even more incredulous: "Together, we must close the value gap and uproot racial habits by doing democracy, once again, in black. If we fail this time - and if there is a God I pray that we don't - this grand experiment in democracy will be no more." The can of worms is now opened, but it seems like the author does not have much solution to offer except in bringing us a big circle only to come to the conclusion that we just have to try again and try harder. This to me, seems like a desperate statement - an argumentum in terrorem or ad baculum.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I was given free access to this e-book from Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Curious: Answering a question with a question

Jesus often answers a question with a question. How do you like that if you ask your teacher a question and he or she answers you back with more questions? Jesus was interested in provoking critical thinking in the minds of those who asked Him questions. That’s why as we read in the Bible that Jesus did not hold many Q and A sessions but he had many Q and Q (questions and questions) sessions. In the four gospels, Jesus was asked up to 183 questions. Out of these, He only gave direct answers in four of these questions. In another 179 questions, He answered either with another questions, in parables, or cryptic remarks that make the questioners with even more questions than when they first asked Him. And if we consider the questions that He put in the mouths of the characters of His parables, Jesus asked a total of 307 questions. In other words, Jesus seems not too committed to upfront clarity as much as we would like Him to be. Rather Jesus seems to be more interested in ensuring that we are asking the right questions. 

This book describes how, by asking the right questions, we can help empower those we influence to greater motivation and creativity as they live out their answers to these questions with God’s help. As Jesus demonstrated, asking the right questions at the right time, and communicating them in the right spirit, can transform hearts and change the world.
For example, in John 1:37, the two disciples of John the Baptist were following Jesus. Maybe they wanted to ensure they were following the right Master if they were to switch from following John the Baptist to following Jesus. And Jesus turned around that asked them this sharp, poignant question:
What are you seeking?

What do you seek? (NKJV)
What do you want? (NIV, NLT)
What are you after? (The Message)
What seek ye? (KJV)

The word “seek” is translated from the Greek word “ze-teo” (Gk 2212) which brings the meaning of even to demand, to crave or to strive hard for or even to worship as in Acts 17:27.  In other words, it is our overarching passion and goal in life.

If we were together with Andrew and Peter in the crowd that day and were following Jesus from behind and Jesus turned around and asked each of us individually this question:
What is it that you seek?
What is it that you seek in life?
what is it that you seek from Me (Jesus)? What do you want from Jesus?

“What are you seeking” is a simple but very profound question. Many people go through life without asking this all-important question. Many people may even walk in and out of the church every week without considering the question that Jesus asked: “What is it that you are seeking?”

For Andrew and Peter, perhaps, Jesus was trying to point to them that if fame and popularity was what they were looking for, perhaps John the Baptist had a larger crowd.  Or were they seeking a new set of teachings? New inspirational messages? A psychological technique to overcome life’s struggles? A new religious movement? What is it?

As David Platt, the founder of Church of Brook Hills and President of Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, said: “We don’t come to Jesus to get wealth, health and prosperity. We come to Jesus to get Jesus.”

Tom Hughes in this book, says:
“What are you looking for?” is a stunning question - brilliant in its simplicity, vexing in its answer. Jesus does not tell them what they are looking for, or even direct them toward what they should be looking for; he asks them and by asking them, he leads them (and us). We are all in search of something. We are all on a quest… This question helps us to pause and reflect whether what we are doing in our lives matches the deepest desires of our hearts.”
Another purpose of Jesus using question, as shown by Tom Hughes in chapter 2, is to unravel the dishonesty in man’s spiritual lives. Hughes gave the example in John 21:17 when Jesus used the word “agape” (unconditional love) when he asked Peter whether he loved Him or not. Prior to Peter’s denial, Peter would probably have answered back with an affirmative agape (for example see his response in Matt 26:33; John 13:37). But now he was not too sure. Rather, Peter used the word “phileo” - which is a love between close friends but different from agape. The second time Jesus asked Peter, again Jesus used the word “agape”. But the third time, Jesus used the word “phileo” that Peter used. It is as if Jesus was saying to Peter, “now that you know and are honest enough to admit that your love is not as strong as you claimed to be, that’s when I will come and meet you at the point where you are in your spiritual journey.”

Thirdly, Jesus used question to spark and sustain a momentum in people. An example of this would be in Matt 15:34. As the Creator of the universe who holds all things together (Col 1:16-17) and creates every fish in the earth, surely He does not need

But as Tom Hughes points out:
Jesus is not just interested in getting the job done; he’s interested in getting His community involved to get the job done. He’s not just interested in filling the crowd’s stomachs; he’s interested in transforming His disciples’ hearts. By asking “How much bread do you have?”, Jesus is moving His disciples from the sidelines to play their parts. He’s creating a community of people who become co-conspirators with Him to do something about the hunger of the world. They are invited to be involved, not simply watch from the sidelines...The disciples were central to all of this. Jesus is inviting them to be world-changers by the profound act of trusting Him with the resources they had. He is asking them to become part of something larger than their own stomachs. Jesus doesn’t ask the crowds how many loaves they have; He asked the disciples. That question would dredge up all sorts of fear of inadequacy, greed and entitlement. They’d probably think things like I don’t see howe my little loaf will make much of a difference in the face of overwhelming needs. Or, if I give Jesus my loaf, am I going to end up hungry?”

This story of feeding of the four thousand is a story of God providing for the people, but it’s also the story of a leader who could have done it all by Himself, but chose instead to ask question that invited others to be involved.

Just as the good Samaritan, we may not be able to do good for many people, but we can at least do good for one people.

Click here for a pdf excerpt from website

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I was given access for a limited time to this e-book free from Tyndale House Publishers  as part of their book review program called Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fascinating research findings but unfortunately no references attached


This handbook essentially is a summarized digest, simplified for the lay people. From the minute the alarm clock buzzes in the morning until our heads hit the pillow at night, our daily activities - everything from doing a crossword puzzle to parallel parking - are part of a process for how we evaluate the world, make choices and decisions, and reach short-term goals while keeping our eyes on the bigger ones.

It would have been a fascinating book for me, except for the fact that there is no bibliographic or reference list. This is disastrous for a book that claims to describe the latest findings from neuroscience, psychology, medicine, etc. I was completely put off by the absence of the reference list. Without the references, how could I be sure of anything that is said?

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received limited access to this e-book free from Blogger for books as part of their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

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