Much Ado About Something

 

Ferguson: The Conversation on Race in America
Ferguson: The Conversation on Race in America

Recent grand jury decisions regarding the murders of Mike Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York show that there is an understanding gap as wide as the Grand Canyon on race. We have trouble agreeing on the facts. Cognitive and social bias fuel the divide on both sides. It’s not just that evidence in the cases in Ferguson is unavailable, people make up their mind and then point to the evidence that supports their opinion. There are a host of cognitive and social biases that get in the way from the group attribution error to the defensive attribution error and the halo effect.

Yet, what if our side is wrong and the other side is right? What does that mean for Society? Mayor Giuliani mentioned during a cable news segment that police violence against black men was not as important or prevalent as black on black violence. This is a strawman. Two wrongs don’t make a right. However, most murders are intraracial according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In reality, 93% of homicides of blacks are committed by blacks. Yet, 84% of homicides of whites are committed by whites. FBI crime statistics show that homicide is usually committed by people who know each other regardless of race. Moreover, more crime is committed by folks on lower socioeconomic levels. A higher percentage of blacks are in lower socio-economic level; thus, there is a higher rate of crime. The real culprit is economics. We need to be very careful not to judge an entire group of people based on the facts and stereotypes we choose.

Yet, looking deeper into the data doesn’t change the perception problem and the fact that people will pick sides and facts to support their team. This debate also happens with climate change, immigration, economics, and can extend to our personal decisions. We form biases that impact all of our decisions. How can we make progress as a Country if we refuse to empathize with “the other side”?

Amidst the protests, a phenomenon occurred on Twitter last night. The Hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite was trending as well as #EricGarner. This literally started a discussion on social media about how police treat folks differently based on race with actual experiences. This is not the end of the journey. Yet, speaking about your experiences and explaining why you agree or disagree starts a dialogue on contentious issues. Let’s have those difficult discussions about contentious issues and focus more on listening rather than just talking.

 

The Sky is Blue #FergusonBurning

It’s another day in America. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Another unarmed black boy or
young man is shot dead. The office in question eventually walks away a free man. Ferguson. Brooklyn. Cleveland. It keeps happening.

Evidence trickles out. The dead black boy is on trial. He’s a thug. The white officer or assailant is a saint with
a justifiable fear. The lines are drawn. Whites on one side and blacks on the other. Unless you walk a mile in a man’s shoes…you just wouldn’t understand.

I’m not going to provide examples of real or perceived “slights”. The reality of the human experience does not require agreement or consensus to validate my experiences. I believe black lives matter. The events in Ferguson and around the country challenge that notion. I am praying for peace for Mike Brown’s family and the City of Ferguson. Violence has erupted in Ferguson but I hope that it does not continue. All we know is that the sky is blue and it’s okay to act lethally on the fear of an unarmed black teen.

We Against the World

The world is rife with problems. As of late, issues like war, Ebola, income inequality, and climate change have been on the front page. We live in a complex world with many voices and many points of views. However, there are moments like the Arab Spring, Occupy Central with Peace and Love, and national elections when groups of people can speak with one voice and make a change. Coming together to affect positive change requires recognition of the situation and forces of power, standing up to the status quo, finding common ground, and playing to the strengths of the agents of change.

Occupy Central with Peace and Love

Umbrella Revolution, Source: BBC, EPA
Umbrella Revolution, Source: BBC, EPA

Hong Kong was formerly a colony of the British Empire following the First Opium War.  On July 1, 1997, the United Kingdom signed a treaty transferring the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. A professor by the name of Benny Thai had a vision that Hong Kong citizens could move closer to a democratic society by having the right to vote and elect their own leaders. Benny Thai started the Occupy Central with Peace and Love with the intent to use civil disobedience to win the right to vote. I was personally touched and amazed when I saw images of Hong Kong protester’s used the same “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture used in Ferguson, Missouri.

Source: Alex Ogle/Getty
“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” Gesture in Source: Alex Ogle/Getty

The Desert of the Real

I recently wrote about Ferguson and the challenge of being a black male in America. The reality is although white people are more likely to deal drugs, blacks are more likely to be arrested for it. Stop and frisk, shopping while black, standing while black; and, even following the orders of law enforcement can result in bodily harm or even death. Brutal honesty and critical analysis is necessary prior to building a coalition and facing a giant. The Matrix is my favorite film. Morpheus introduced to Neo to the “Desert of the Real”, the bitter truth hidden from humanity. Accepting reality for what it is can be difficult. Yet, this realization coupled with the urgent desire for change can awaken amazing creativity. It can also reveal the path forward. Thurgood Marshall utilized the law to effect change. Ghandi and Martin Luther King utilized civil disobedience. Analyze the options in the same manner that a war strategist like Clausewitz or Sun Tzu. It is paramount to have clarity of purpose and specific desired outcomes to develop a winning strategy.

desert of the real
“Welcome to the Desert of the Real” Morpheus in The Matrix

I Love My Congressman, I Hate Congress

The United States has many different political groups despite being stuck with a two-party system (for now): conservative, progressive, libertarian, independent, green, etc. I have marveled at conversations between conservatives and progressives that ignore the fact that there are common values. For instance, some liberals and libertarians may agree on same-sex marriage but for different reasons. There is even a Tea Party group in Georgia that teamed up with the Sierra Club to support Solar Energy in Georgia. Having a clear purpose can hopefully overcome persistent dissatisfaction with the US Congress. People hate Congress: 83% of people disapprove of the job Congress is doing while 50% of people think their Congressperson deserves to be reelected. Yes, gerrymandering is an issue but it is exacerbated by having too many candidates in “safe” districts and threats of primary challenges. Effecting change requires focusing on common goals to overcome inertia, build momentum, and prevent divisions from slowing down a movement.

Play To Your Strengths

Don’t strive to be well-rounded. A well-rounded person is average; thus, they do not stand out in anything. Author Malcolm Gladwell goes into detail on the importance of focusing on one’s strengths in his recent book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Gladwell tells a few stories about small, ill-equipped forces battling military giants throughout history. Gladwell pointed out that the smaller forces won over 60% of the time when they focused on their strength. Examples include Toussaint L’Ouverture of Haiti defeating the French army and Hannibal of Carthage defeating Roman forces. Moreover, it is important to be flexible so as to take advantage of Goliath’s weaknesses and miscalculations. Wars, movements, and revolutions have been fought  and won with these tactics.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

My Fight Against a Giant

I can’t continue writing about all of these important battles without mentioning a battle that my company has been facing for several years. My company, Spendology LLC, started using the Spendology trademark and applied for Federal trademark protection with the USPTO before one of the largest banks in the United States. This bank went on to file a notice of opposition (like a lawsuit in administrative court) that resulted in blocking my company from registering the trademark Spendology. Fortunately, there are common law rights to trademarks, thus my firm can continue to use its trade name. The bank, a recipient of a taxpayer bailout, is PNC Bank. PNC continues to use my firm’s name and they have refused come to the table to negotiate. At the same time, a major trademark case is headed to the US Supreme Court that deals with one of the key issues in my firm’s ongoing dispute with PNC Bank.

My firm does have many available moves left on the chess board. I’m fighting this fight because the danger of corporations establishing Eminent Domain for intellectual property is simply unacceptable. I’m also hoping that this encourage other entrepreneurs, consumers, and citizens to courageously confront the giants in their lives. Rights must be fervently fought for and exercised; otherwise, they are, at best, only hopes and wishes. Make sure you vote in the upcoming national election this November. Your voice is your vote. In places like Hong Kong, people are taking to the streets to fight for the rights we take for granted in the US.

#Ferguson: The American Summer

Michael Brown
Michael Brown

All eyes are on #Ferguson. Social media has shined a light on the drama that has occurred in this St. Louis, Missouri suburb. At the center, the death of an unarmed young man headed to college. The media painted him as a Big Black Super-criminal. However, recent video released shows that Mike Brown paid for the items he allegedly stole. The event brings together a myriad of issues including unconcerned politicians, political disengagement, high unemployment, the impacts of the military industrial complex, and an overly aggressive and militarized police force. Ultimately, we’ve made progress in America on civil rights and equality but we have so much further to go. Can social media activism solve the problem or make it worse?

Sunshine, the Consummate Disinfectant

Something just didn’t seem right on the first few nights of protests. Granted, there was some looting and violence. Yet, the peaceful protesters, journalists, and the rest were all lumped in together. Militarized police aimed semi-automatic weapons directly at peaceful protesters. Tear gas permeated throughout the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Social media came to the rescue of the people of #Ferguson, who quickly learned that they had a voice and people were intently focused on this issue.

 

Asymmetric Warfare

Militarized Ferguson Police
Militarized Ferguson Police

There was certainly asymmetric warfare in #Ferguson. Yet, the true asymmetry has to do with political power, poverty, and income inequality. African Americans are 67% of the population in Ferguson; yet, the political leaders are all white and the police force has only 3 black officers out of 53. The unemployment rate for African Americans nearby St. Louis is 26% compared to 6.2% for whites. This represents the largest unemployment gap nationwide. Clearly, this community is ailing from more than just police brutality. As Washington Post columnist, Eugene Robinson stated in a recent column, the people of Ferguson have simply been left behind.

The authorities’ reaction to the death of Mike Brown is simply insult to injury. The police force’s slow investigation and heavy-handed response pours salt into the wounds. There is an implicit expectation for Ferguson’s citizens to sit at home and quietly wait for the police officer to be exonerated so that the Ferguson leaders can go back to business as usual.

Political Contagion

The voter turnout for whites in Ferguson is 17% and 6% for blacks in local elections. The black turnout is higher for presidential elections. The mayor and five of six city council members are white despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of citizens are black. The President of the United States will be criticized for either speaking out on Ferguson or remaining quiet. Like the Arab Spring, this is a leaderless revolution fueled by the apparent discontent of injustice and inequality. On race and inequality, we’ve moved forward inches when we need have miles to go.

Getting Personal

I am an African-American male, an engineer, and the founder of a technology company. I have the utmost confidence in myself and my abilities. Standing at 6’2”, like Mike Brown, I have a tall and imposing figure. When I am viewed in society, I am not seen as an Ivy League graduate or an engineer or a technology company founder. Am I seen for who I am or as a potential threat?

I recently spoke at an event called Technoir held at the startup incubator, 1776dc, for black entrepreneurs. A key concern voiced was the lack of blacks working in technology and getting funding for their companies. On the numbers, there are very few blacks working in Silicon Valley tech companies and even fewer in leadership positions.

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Getting hired and funded as a woman or minority is a problem. At Technoir at 1776DC, my comments were focused on using technology to uplift communities and create new opportunities. Companies like the RushCard, Lyft, and AirBnB give people an opportunity to improve the financial situation. After the Mike Brown shooting, a group of black teenagers created a mobile app to track police abuse. They solved their own problem.

Ultimately, #Ferguson has shined a light on the fact that blacks have a vastly different experience in America. Unfortunately, the schism is growing wider and WE are the only ones that can stop it from growing. It’s not good enough to use technology to shine a light on problems. We need to use advanced community-organizing tactics and problem-solving methods with technology to make a lasting change.