Sunday, November 13, 2016

OK, You're Not Racist. Now Prove It.

It's been a few days since the election and it's taken me that time to put my emotions in check and gather my thoughts. As a person who believes that her faith compels her toward social justice, this has been hard for me. I'm going light on social media these days, too, because I'm tired. Maybe you feel the same. So much has been, is being, and will continue to be said about this election that really, what can I add? But there is one thing I want to say before, for my sanity and inner peace, I need to move on. So here it is, for what it's worth.

Several of my friends have posted that they voted for the Republican nominee, but please don't call them racist. Please don't make assumptions about them because of how they voted. Okay, I understand. People make assumptions about me all the time and I don't like it either. Plus, I've learned that calling people racist is not the way to keep dialog open, which has always been my goal. And the truth is, I know these people well. They're my friends and I really don't think they are racist (most of them, anyway). So, maybe they voted the way they did because they want more jobs, or they're pro-life, or they want change, or they don't like the Affordable Care Act, or they felt they had no other choice because as much as they don't like him, they don't like her even more. Okay, whatever. I suppose there are many reasons a person could vote for someone who promotes dangerous stereotypical ideas about entire populations. Let's face it, most of us don't agree with everything any one candidate says or stands for, and when it comes down to it, most of us vote based on an overall philosophical or religious stance, not on everything the candidate or party promotes. I get that.

But here's what I don't get. During the days, weeks, and months leading up to the Republican primary there were so many choices. There were so many people who I considered to be more worthy candidates -- people who were experienced, reasonable, didn't insult others, people I could have lived with. Perhaps you voted for one of them. How did it happen, then, that the one candidate who continually spewed insults and basically acted like a seventh grader (apologies to seventh graders everywhere) became the Republican nominee? How is it that the majority of people who voted in the Republic primaries voted for the one person who created such a toxic environment? There were so many other choices. 

Therefore, I can't help but believe that while you may not be racist, somewhere out there, somebody is. Somewhere out there are a large number of people who agree with the incindiary comments he made about whole groups of people throughout the election season. That is what frightens me the most. 

So, here's my challenge. If you're truly not racist, prove it. Demand from your President a reasonable and compassionate approach to immigration. Demand that law enforcement personnel be both supported AND accountable for their actions. Demand that whatever replaces the Affordable Care Act take into account people who can't afford insurance premiums and who don't make enough money to create health savings accounts. Demand that equitable education for all our children be a priority. 

And don't put up with those people within your sphere of influence who will feel emboldened by the election results to perpetuate stereotypes or make racist statements in their everyday conversations. Whether during a conversation with  Uncle Whoever at Thanksgiving dinner or with your neighbor while you're out raking leaves, shut it down in no uncertain terms. You might say something like, "Yes, I agree we need more jobs, but I don't agree that all Muslims are terrorists. That's ridiculous." Or, "I agree that we need to secure our borders, but I know that most undocumented immigrants are hard working people who are trying to find a better life and support their families." 

With power comes responsibility. With control comes accountability. Now is your time. Prove it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hearing the Hurt

I had a hard time sleeping last night. It was the voices.

No, I'm not losing it (yet). The voices I heard were real - they were the voices of people who shared openly and honestly last night at a community forum on race. Twenty-five or so folks of diverse racial backgrounds met in a small room at a public library to talk about race relations. I spoke a little but mostly I listened to the voices of African American neighbors in pain. Here's some of what I heard:

"Why did it take me so long to get a job? I have a degree and ten years of experience. I was told several times that I was the most qualified. So why did it take me so long to get a job?"

"Why do I have to see Confederate flags in people's windows when I walk to work? Do they understand what that symbol means? Why do my kids have to see that symbol of hate when they walk to school every day?"

"The N-word is flown like crazy here. Why is there so much anger in this area?"

"I was raised to respect authority. I'm proud to have served my country in the military. Why do I have to be afraid when a police car slows near me?"

"Why was my daughter treated so poorly by some of the white athletes at her high school? And why didn't the administration do anything about it when I complained?"

As a white person, I can never fully understand what it must feel like to live with questions like these every day of my life. As a white person, I have the privilege of pulling race out of my back pocket when I feel like dealing with it and keeping it safely tucked away there when I don't. As a white person, I don't have to live with the hurt. But I hear it. And I'm sorry.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and The Anger

Have you noticed that conversations about race often result in anger? And, for better or worse, social media has provided a ripe environment for the expression of that anger. Take, for example, the latest controversy over the decision by several NFL players to use body language during the playing of the National Anthem to express dissatisfaction over the treatment of people of color in this country. Most players are “taking a knee” (a position associated with prayer in religious traditions and with quiet respect for an injured player in sports), although a few have sat or raised fists in protest. None of this is new, of course. A very long time ago some kids at my high school sat when the National Anthem was played during school assemblies to protest the war in Vietnam. I was one of them. Back then, no one seemed to care all that much, at least in my New York City public school. There were no cameras recording our every move and as long as we were quiet, the teachers didn’t say a word about it.

Today, however, this kind of stuff is making some folks very angry. I’m not afraid of anger – in fact, I find it to be a familiar companion. It doesn’t take much to annoy me and I’m usually perfectly happy to tell you how the world would be a better place if only people did things my way. Though I try to be a nice person, I can be a little crotchety and you’ll want to keep your distance if I’m hungry – “hangry” is the better term. But the kind of anger I’m talking about is a much stronger emotion. It’s much deeper than my flittering annoyance – it lives in a hidden place where it smolders quietly, ready to explode when someone primes the pump. Some of the nicest people I know, kind, caring people, can let loose a rage on Facebook that leaves me concerned and a little perplexed. And while I think that anger can benefit us if it spurs us to some needed action, it can also blind us. Left unexamined, anger can block other important emotions like empathy, kindness, and supportiveness. It can hinder our ability to understand someone else’s perspective. So, anger should be fully explored. Where is the anger that surrounds issues of race coming from? What’s at the bottom of it, and why is it so tenacious?

Let me give you an example of some fairly explosive anger I witnessed first hand over the topic of race relations. I was researching 11th grade honors students’ responses to The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison’s devastating depiction of Depression era racism in the U.S. The book especially focuses on the emotional damage inflicted on African American women by the dominance of white beauty standards. The students’ responses formed the basis of chapter four in my book, Race Among Friends.

If you’ve read The Bluest Eye you know that the content is enough to make anyone angry. African Americans in the novel are treated deplorably, but the treatment of the children is especially hard to take. Reading that book could and should make anyone angry. If it doesn’t, we’re either heartless or we’ve shielded ourselves from anything other than happy, positive feelings (unless something goes wrong that directly affects us personally, of course. Then it’s okay to feel angry or sad). So, one might have expected the African American students in the class to respond to Morrison’s text in anger. Reading the brutal details of how one’s ancestors were treated simply because of the color of their skin could, understandably, make one angry.

I’d like to start this paragraph with the words, “Imagine my surprise,” but the truth is I was not surprised at all at what happened in that classroom. Because I’ve been talking about race for a long time in a variety of settings, I wasn’t surprised at who got angry and who didn’t. It wasn’t the black kids who got angry. It wasn’t the kids who had to read about people of their background being degraded and humiliated who lashed out in anger at their classmates. It was the white kids. And they weren’t angry about the treatment of the characters in the novel, either. No. They were angry that we were reading the story at all. In their view, racism was over and they were sick of hearing about it. Slavery happened a long time ago – why couldn’t people just get over it? Why couldn’t the young girl in the story who was made to feel that her blackness made her ugly just look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful”? The deeper we delved into the book, the angrier the white kids became. “Why are you trying to make us feel guilty?” they demanded to know. Racism was not their fault. Racism was over. And the more we pointed out ways that racism is not, in fact, over, the more strongly they resisted. When their African American “friends” in the class tried to explain their point of view, many white students simply could not or would not understand. Their anger stood in the way. So what was going on here? What was the source of all this anger?

Back to those NFL protests – why does the peaceful protest of a few football players generate such an intensity of anger for some? Is it the form the protest is taking – the perceived disrespect to the symbols of our nation? What would be a better form of protest? Picketing? Stopping traffic? A work stoppage? A boycott? Disruption of a government function? How about instituting a government shutdown with possible loss of pay for thousands of veterans? For some, the symbols of the flag and the National Anthem have been elevated to religious status and any deviation from the proper body language (even not placing one’s hand over one’s heart during the Pledge) is an insult that cannot be tolerated.

But I think there’s more going on here. I believe that the anger expressed through social media over the NFL players’ protest is comparable to that of those 11th graders reading The Bluest Eye. Deep down, some folks just don’t understand what the protest is about. These folks may be angry because they feel national symbols are being disrespected (although Colin Kaepernick, the 49er who started it all, has repeatedly said he intends no disrespect), but they are also angry at the claim that racism still exists. Just like those high school students, they don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Some of them might believe that if anyone is being discriminated against, it’s whites – whites who don't get jobs, whites who don’t get scholarships, whites who don’t get whatever, because less deserving black people get them instead. And it is often the case that when whites perceive a potential loss of their position of dominance, anger is the result.

This also explains why some whites simply cannot understand the Black Lives Matter movement, no matter how many times it’s explained to them. Admitting that racial discrimination still exists and that whites hold an advantaged status may require the willingness to give up that unearned advantage. For some, this takes the idea of racial justice entirely too far.

I heard a young black male put it this way. He shook his head in quiet resignation and said, “Black Lives Matter has been around for a long time now. It’s been explained over and over. I’ve come to realize that if people still don’t understand, it’s because they don’t want to understand.” Note, this young man was not angry, only painfully resigned.

So I’ll end by encouraging us all to examine our anger. Think about where your anger is coming from. For those of Christian faith, remember that the Bible instructs us to “Be angry, yet do not sin. Do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26 & 27). If a desire to hang on to the status quo is fueling your anger, it might be time to take a closer look. We all feel angry sometimes, but if we let that anger block our ability to think logically, to feel empathy, or to understand someone else’s perspective, only trouble will result.

Friday, July 8, 2016

What's Wrong with "All Lives Matter"

You don't need me to tell you about the horrific events of this week. We all watched the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed at close range by police officers. We haven't heard the story from the officers' points of view yet, but the videos seem pretty damning. They seem to show two more shootings of black men who posed no immediate threat to the cops who shot them. Horrible. What's more horrible is that if these cases follow form the cops will probably be exonerated. I'm still shaking my head over Freddie Gray - did the man break his own back? So far, none of the cops involved have been held accountable, although there are still more trials coming. Many similar instances have given rise to a movement that birthed the slogan, "Black Lives Matter." It's not okay to shoot African Americans who pose no immediate threat and get away with it because black lives matter. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

So why is it that more often than not, at least in some circles, when I say "black lives matter" someone answers "all lives matter"?

To those who have answered this way, I pose the following questions:

What do you mean by "all lives matter"?
What do you think I mean by "black lives matter"?
And really, why does any of this matter?

When I say "black lives matter," and you say, "all lives matter," do you think I mean "black lives matter more than any other lives?" I think you must. So let me explain with an example I've heard somewhere along the way:

Say there are a row of houses and the house on the end is on fire. The other houses are in no immediate danger, but, being a fair minded person, I proceed to spray all the houses with water. While I do this the house on the end, the one that is actually on fire, burns to the ground. All houses matter, but not all houses needed that water. Sort of reminds me of my last blog post about funding education - equality is not the same as equity.

Of course, "blue lives matter" too. We're all sick about the police shootings in Dallas. No one is saying that all police are bad and our hearts go out to the friends and families of those five officers who were killed. Our prayers go forth for those wounded in this horrific crime. But that doesn't change the fact that African Americans are at greater risk for profiling and excessive police force in this country. Black lives STILL matter.

Now, there's something else going on here too, because I don't think for a minute that if you respond to "black lives matter" with "all lives matter" it's because you don't understand that black lives are at risk. Instead, you choose to respond defensively, as if you have somehow been personally attacked or accused of racism. The goal of saying "all lives matter" is to take the focus away from the black lives at risk and place it on yourself. It reminds me of a little kid standing next to a drowning friend, saying, "Wait, I matter too. I need attention!" even though it's the other kid who's just gone under for the third time.

Let me say it clearly. The response "all lives matter" is not okay. It mitigates the experience of people of color who are at much great risk of becoming victims of excessive police force than whites.

My friend Lori put it this way. The problem with "all lives matter," she says, is that "all lives DON'T matter in this culture...It cheapens the struggles African Americans face when people use that 'all lives matter' slogan. If all lives mattered, people of color would not be disproportionately killed, imprisoned, and discriminated against."

So please, think twice before you respond to "black lives matter" with "all lives matter." Ask yourself, what's your motivation for saying it? Why is it so hard to empathize with the people who are hurting? Do you think black people just like to complain, and that in their complaining they're taking attention away from you? How would you feel if you believed that you or your loved ones were unfairly targeted by the people sworn to protect them? And if nothing else, recognize that your experience is different from the experience of others around you. Listen and try to learn something.

Yes, all lives matter. That's why black lives matter. Tragically, so far they haven't seem to matter as much as other lives. Words are important. Please stop saying "all lives matter."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

School Funding: Is it "Fair"?

Last week the governor of New Jersey proposed a new formula for school funding to make it "fair." (I  have to admit that as much as I enjoy watching his rants on youtube, I've never been a big fan of this particular politician, mostly because of his unsuccessful attempt to give away Rutgers/Camden. But that's another story.) Anyway, under the proposed new plan all school districts would receive the exact same amount of funding per student. Behind this change is the idea of lowering real estate taxes, which are incredibly high in that state. You can read more about the school funding proposal here:

On the surface this may seem like a good idea. Fair means equal, right? That might make sense if all else in the lives of school children were equal, but of course, it is not.  Because of our past and current policies and practices that limit opportunities for some and privilege others, the lives of children across our country are certainly not equal. Yes, I know -- personal choice of parents and family members matters, too, but that doesn't change the fact that poverty has devastating effects on children. Let me say that again. Poverty has devastating effects on children.

Here's another example of how something that seems "fair" is a bad idea. We recently read in our local newspaper that our local taxes will be going up -- again. Why? The school district is building a new early learning center and elementary school. It's tempting to think - Wow, why should we be forced to pay for it? Our kids are older now and they won't reap the benefits of the new school. Why should we have to pay more taxes? It's not fair. Following that line of thinking, why should people who have no children, or people who send their children to private school have to support the public school system with their taxes?

I guess we have to ask ourselves, are we a nation that believes in free, public education, or do we want to go back to the days when only the affluent were educated? The answer is obvious - an educated population creates a healthier, more productive society and benefits us all.

Back to the new funding proposal. The proponent of the plan was quick to explain that children receiving special education services would not be affected. Their current level of funding would remain secure. So, there seems to be an understanding that children with special needs require extra support. Ironically, there's a saying in the world of special education -- "Fair means giving each person what he or she needs." In other words, "fair" does not mean "equal." Equality is not the same as equity. Check out the picture below for a visual of how this works:

Now, is it possible that money dedicated to poor districts is not being spent wisely? Yes. Perhaps we need to look more closely at initiatives like the Harlem Children's Zone for some answers. Poor children need support within the school and within the community at large. Is it also true that middle class people need tax relief? Yes. But across the board cutting of funds dedicated to poor school districts is not the answer. And doing so in the name of "fairness" is, well, just wrong.

Monday, June 13, 2016

In this corner: Hate v. Hate

I had to turn off the news this morning. I just couldn't watch for another second. My heart goes out to the victims of the Orlando shooting and their families. I'm also angry - for better or worse, that's how I tend to respond. It's been heart-wrenching to hear the report of what happened during the early morning hours of June 12 - people crawling out to safety while others hid, texting their loved ones goodbye, victims helping other victims as best they could, sobbing parents still waiting for word of their children, not knowing if they are dead or alive. It is horrible to watch and for my own mental health I had to turn it off for a while. At the same time, I had to lay aside what I'd planned to post about today, because how can I write a blog about racism and not deal with this event?

Yes, I know, the shooter didn't seem to have race in mind as he chose his victims. I know that he targeted members of the LGBT community. I know that race, sexual orientation, and gender identity are not the same issues, and although (of course) I believe that ALL people deserve to be treated with respect, I'm not trying to tie the shooter's hateful actions to racism. That's not where I see racism in this sad, complicated, infuriating mess. Instead, I'm talking about the responses I've heard from political figures and from every day people. Tragically, that's where racism has reared its ugly head.

We're all asking the same question - how do we prevent this from happening again? For some, fear and anger (and remember I'm angry too - I get that) lead to one conclusion, one group to blame - Muslims. The shooter was Muslim and declared his allegiance to a militant Islamist group. What could be more obvious? We need to ban Muslims from entering the country (never mind that the shooter was born in New York). We need to keep a closer watch on Muslim neighborhoods. And any idea of taking in refugees from Syria or anywhere near it - well, unthinkable. These people are clearly our enemies and we need to protect ourselves against them. And so, for some (many of them Christian believers like I am) the response to hate is more hate.

Meanwhile, back in Holland, not far from the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, something quite different is taking place. The church I attended while there, a church that is part of a conservative Pentecostal denomination, is welcoming refugees with open arms. They have totally shifted the focus of their ministry toward helping the large group of recently arrived that are in need. Rather than pulling back in fear and anger, people of faith are doing whatever they can, sometimes opening up their homes and taking in people to live. As a result, there are so many new converts in the church that they had to begin an English speaking service (English being the language the Dutch citizens and the refugees have in common).

We can learn something here, I believe. I know that not everyone in the Netherlands or in other European countries agrees on their country's refugee policies. I'm sure that these countries have their own particular set of problems and I'm not trying to say that they are better than we are. But I saw with my own eyes how, rather than respond with bigoted statements based on stereotypical ideas, people of faith are responding in love. Our country needs to be smart. Our leaders need to fight terrorism on physical and psychological fronts. But we can't do that by promoting racist ideas against the entirety of a religious group. We can't fight hate with hate.

Slavery and The Holocaust

It's been almost two weeks since I arrived home from Europe, tired but satisfied. My soul was fed during that trip by both the beautiful sites and the time I spent with friends. My friends and I took a road trip from Zaandam (outside of Amsterdam) through Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, and into Italy. Although we didn't plan to stop in Germany, we wound up spending a night in the small city of Darmstadt on our way back to Zaandam because it's located at about the half-way mark and because my friend has a special interest in the city. She is a tour guide at the Corrie ten Boom House in Haarlem, The Netherlands. The ten Boom family hid Jews in a secret closet during the Holocaust and saved many lives before they were found out. You can check out the Corrie ten Boom House and learn more of their story here:

During my research for Race Among Friends, I witnessed how high schools students in the U.S. studied the Holocaust with great empathy and respect. They were highly attentive while visiting The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and still talked about Elie Wiesel's Night a year after they'd read it. High school teachers know how hard it is to get students to even read the assigned work, let alone discuss it during the following school year, so clearly these students were deeply impacted by this curriculum. I was fascinated to learn, however, that the very white students who couldn't seem to get enough of the Holocaust were not so interested in learning about American racism toward African Americans. Instead, they were frustrated and angry and created distinct discourses to proclaim that racism is over and that they were tired of talking about it.  

I asked one of the kids in my study, Anthony, and African-American honors student, about this phenomenon among his classmates. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

On Being Neutral

Some of you may be aware that I just returned from a European holiday. We visited six countries in 15 days - quite a trip! My friends and I explored several museums, but we had what I thought was our most interesting interaction with the docent at a small, out of the way place in Basel, Switzerland called The Jewish Museum. The museum is so small that we almost missed it, and I had a hard time finding its online presence as I sat to write this blog.

The Jewish Museum is not a Holocaust museum. Instead, it chronicles the lives of Jewish people who live in the area and shows their successes and their diversity. There were a few artifacts from that terrible time, of course, and as we viewed them our conversation turned to Switzerland's stance regarding Jews during WWII.  We explained to the docent (who spoke English and spent lots of time with us) that as American school children we'd all learned that Switzerland remained "neutral" during that war.

Our docent (who was German and commuted to Basel for work) gave us a wry smile and said (my paraphrase), "Yes, I guess you can say they were neutral. When the Jews fleeing other countries came to the Swiss border they were turned away, although the Swiss authorities certainly knew what would happen to them. If you call that neutral, they were neutral." She went on to note that Hitler had much money hidden in Swiss banks - "I guess that's being neutral, too," she added.

The purpose of this post is not to pass judgement or to make you hate Switzerland. So before you swear off Swiss cheese (which is actually produced in the U.S.), understand that my goal is to examine this concept of "neutrality" and to apply it to American race relations today (you knew I would get to that). Some of us, especially if we are white, may feel that we take a neutral stance on issues of racial justice. We have nothing against people of color in general. We may feel badly about racism as a general principle but be confused as to if and how it really exists and what we can or should do about it. 

Critical race scholar and psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum* proposed the following idea that I think applies well to the concept of neutrality. She said there are only three possible positions toward racism.  We are either:

1. Actively racist. I could mention some names here, but I'll stick to one we'll all agree on - the fictional Archie Bunker (although my students have no idea who he is). This is the person who makes racist comments, tells racists jokes, and fits people into neat little stereotypes based on racial background. Make no mistake, active racism is alive and well but is so politically incorrect that you'd be hard pressed to hear it expressed in mixed circles.

2. Passively racist.  This is the "neutral" category. I'm against racism (kind of, although I might argue that it no longer exists or that whites are the victims of racism, too), but I don't do or say anything to speak out against it. Maybe I'm confused (there are two sides to every story), maybe I'm uncomfortable, maybe I just want all this unpleasantness to go away. But, like the Swiss who turned Jews away at their borders, we can't do nothing to help and claim neutrality. Our paralyzed position is a form of passive racism. My Christian readers might relate this to the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:30 - "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."

3. Actively anti-racist. Here's the one I want to be. People who are anti-racist think deeply about racial justice and do the best they can to show their opposition within their particular sphere of influence (again, from Tatum). This looks different for different folks - voting, writing, teaching, talking, not laughing at racist jokes, asking honest questions and trying to understand a perspective other than our own. 

When it comes to family arguments, neutrality may serve you well. Keeping your car in neutral may save your transmission stress. And when it comes to buying carpets, neutral is always best. But when we talk about injustice, past or present, neutrality is not the way.

*"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" And Other Conversations About Race, Basic Books 2003.

Monday, March 7, 2016

They! (Run! Giant Ants on the Way!)

When I was a kid I watched an old B level horror film on TV called Them! Some of you older folks (ahem) might remember the giant mutated ants crawling through the barren desert, terrorizing  people I can't remember - I only remember the ants. Although I'm sure that by today's standards the special effects were pretty schlocky and the actors completely forgettable, the one thing that does pop into my consciousness periodically is the title -- Them!  Not very imaginative, I agree. But the title stuck in my head, and I think of it whenever I hear people use the word "they" in a specific way.  I'll explain.

In my role of teacher educator I get to talk about theories that try to explain how young children and adolescents think, and how that thinking influences their actions. Theorists have been saying for a long time that young children are egocentric in their thinking; i.e., they mostly see the world from only their own perspective. If you've ever played checkers with a three year old you probably found that he or she was more interested in lining the checkers up or stacking them in a pile than in using the strategy needed to actually win the game. Others express this differently - they say that young children aren't able to think about thinking - they have no "theory of mind" that explains how people's actions are based on what they believe to be true. So, kids may not understand how people's thinking affects what they do. Example - "Max put his candy in the cupboard and went out to play. While he was gone, Max's mom took the candy out of the cupboard and put it in the kitchen drawer. When Max comes in, where will he look for his candy?" You and I would say in the cupboard, right? That's where Max left it, so that's where Max will expect it to be. But children three and under will say that Max will look for the candy in the drawer, because they know it's in the drawer. Most kids won't get that people act on what they believe to be true, not on what the child knows is actually true. It's almost as if young kids assume that everyone knows what they know, feels what they feel, and has experienced what they have experienced. That's what egocentric thinking, a hallmark of early childhood, is all about.

By the time kids hit four or five this egocentricity starts to subside, and most are no longer fooled by the "false belief" test I've explained above. However, egocentric thinking can continue in adolescence in two different forms. The first is called "the imaginary audience" -- this is where adolescents believe that "everyone is watching me" and probably judging everything I do. What will "they" think if I don't wear the right clothes, talk the right way, do the right stuff? The second form of adolescent egocentrism is called "the personal fable" -- again, "they" are watching me, but it's because I'm so special and unique. This makes me invulnerable. Sure, I'll jump off the roof into that snow bank - what a great idea! I know I won't get hurt because nothing bad can ever happen to me (after all, everyone is watching - I'm too important to get hurt).

One of the great things about getting older is that adolescent forms of egocentric thinking subside, and you no longer care what "they" think. You think I'm fat? Tough noogies, pass me a cannoli.  My hair's too big? Cry me a river, I like it that way. You're embarrassed when I burst into song in public? Get over it - the world needs more singing. For some, though, the egocentric thinking of childhood and youth persists and informs their political opinions. Instead of fading, egocentric thinking takes the form of what I call "the imaginary enemy"-- clearly, they are out to get us.

You've heard it, I'm sure -- "Build a wall, because they are criminals and rapists." "Check religion before you let them in the country, because they are terrorists." "They want entitlements because they are lazy." "They know how to work the system." "They are taking away our religious freedom." "They don't really care about their children" and on and on and on. Eeek, it's Them! Run! The imaginary they is out to get you, and if they have their way our great country will crumble as sure as those fake Hollywood boulders under the weight of the giant ants that consumed helpless Americans like you and me back in the 1954 movie.

Now I'm not saying that America doesn't have enemies. But focusing on the imaginary enemy, the vague fear and resentment of they that thrives on misconceptions, stereotypes, and unexamined racist attitudes is not going to help us defeat our enemies, whether philosophical or physical. And what scares me most is not the bombast I hear from politicians because, let's face it, most politicians will say anything to get elected whether they actually believe what they are saying or not. What scares me is when I hear the they language being used by regular people, some of them friends, and some of them folks who are in professions dedicated to serving people from poor communities, many of whom, due to past and present institutional racism, are people of color. How do you work with people every day, supposedly dedicated to helping them through education, religion, and social services, and come away convinced that they don't actually deserve the help you are providing?

I'm tired of hearing the they language tossed about so lightly in this presidential election cycle. Egocentric thinking is understandable in young children and even in adolescents, but people, it's time to grow up.