The Choice is Yours…

Last spring, in the face of virulent racism in this country, I started rereading Daniel Goldhagen’s provocative bestseller, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Published almost 20 years ago, it explores how ordinary Germans “came to be such potential willing mass killers and how the Nazi regime tapped this disastrous potentiality.”

Goldhagen argues convincingly that the German’s thoroughly anti-Semitic attitude, which led to anti-Jewish measures, legislation, persecution and finally, incarceration and death in concentration camps, had grown unabated for hundreds of years. Anti-Semitism did “not appear, disappear, then reappear in [German] society”; it was always present.” The Nazi’s simply tapped into the hate.

The parallels to the United States’ unique brand of racism are pretty obvious. There is no evidence the beliefs, which allowed, accepted, and condoned the theft of this country from its original inhabitants and the theft and enslavement of peoples from another continent have ever fundamentally changed.

It’s why the politics of fear and division offered by our 45th president have been so successful.

Last weekend, once again we saw the results of extreme and persistent prejudice when ordinary Americans brutally implemented an illogical, illegal and immoral immigration order. The order, which, apparently, was not reviewed by other government agencies, did not come with instructions for the people responsible for its enforcement.

FirstTheyComeAnd so a Somali women traveling with two small children with U.S. passports was threatened, harassed, handcuffed while officials tried to coerce her into signing papers that would send her out of the country. During the 18 hours she and her children were detained, they were not fed or allowed to get food.

I’m sure those officials will defend their actions saying they had no choice. But they did…and they chose to act with no compassion.

This is how ordinary people become accomplices to atrocities.

In the days to come, Americans will have ample opportunities to choose compassion over unquestioning compliance…what will you choose?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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American Experiment: What are YOU Doing?

People use double entendre to describe a phrase open to multiple interpretations, one of which is usually indecent. After seeing the Oscar nominated “Hidden Figures”, I realized the title has a number of meanings: the mathematics that made manned space flight possible;
the unacknowledged black women who actually crunched the numbers; and the fact that in segregated Virginia, these women were literally hidden from view, NASA’s dirty little secret.

The movie was a great reminder that even in the face of what must have felt like crippling oppression, I’m descended from people who overcame.

It also reminded me that there are many ways to overcome an unjust, oppressive system. One scene in particular really drove that point home.

After realizing the impending installation of an IBM computer could make her job obsolete, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, decides to learn how to program the computer. In the scene, Dorothy is on her way to the segregated (white) local library to get what she can find about the computer, when she encounters a group protesting the lack of civil rights for people of color. As she hurries her two children past the protesters, she says something to the effect of “That’s not what we do”. Dorothy’s protest was taking the book on Fortran that the librarian refused to let her check out.

She used it to teach herself, as well as her black female team how to program the brand new IBM mainframe, and when NASA needed a larger team to run the computers, her team was ready.

She didn’t join the protesters marching and holding signs yet her actions made a huge difference in the lives of black families in her community.

This Saturday while Chicagoans joined Americans all over the world protesting the illegal and immoral immigration ban of Muslims who are in this country legally, AeroStar Avion Institute Founder and CEO Tammera Holmes was hosting STEMtastic Saturday at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. Tammera’s activism is prepping young people of color to fill projected skill shortages in the aviation industry.

It may not look like what others are doing, but she is making and will make a huge difference in the lives of Chicagoans. Because in addition to an American justice system that is truly blind to race, in addition to an American education system that sees the potential in all children, Americans of all races need real opportunities to support themselves and their families. That is what Tammera is providing.

This weekend, we saw all hands on deck as activists, politicians, lawyers, judges, etc. used their talents and skills to fight an action many perceive as un-American. I’m celebrating them, their contributions and focusing on what I can do to protect our fragile democracy.

What are you doing to make a difference?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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American Experiment: Hypothesis Disproved?

“America is an idea” Bono.

America is a great idea. It’s an idea full of hope. It’s an idea that speaks freedom, shouts equality and invites peoples from all over the world to pursue happiness HERE…youshouldbeherebanner

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Of course, the truths espoused in the American Declaration of Independence have never been true for all Americans. America has never willingly extended unalienable rights to all its citizens unless they demanded them. For those segments of the population whose rights were initially and deliberately withheld, the 2016 election seems to be a repudiation of everything fought for, hard-earned…never given. Like many Americans, I’m left wondering if America can really ever achieve its promise

Social and cultural psychologists like Jonathan Haidt, one of the creators of the Moral Foundations Theory, would seem to suggest it’s going to be really difficult. In his widely read piece “What Makes People Vote Republican?” he describes a conservative mindset that sees in diversity a breakdown of social norms and feels a decrease in a sense of belonging to a shared community. Haidt suggests the more liberal among the population focus on those conservative concerns and adjust their rhetoric accordingly.

But if the conservative, predominately white part of the country sees diversity in negative terms, what does that mean for an increasingly diverse America? alt-right-protestersIn a generation, America will no longer have a majority white population. If the determined 25 percent of the country who voted for our 45th president, decided an unqualified candidate, one supported by American terrorist groups like the KKK and spouting fear and division, was the president we deserved, are we supposed to believe they won’t support the repeal of rights gained over the past 50 years? And if the 50 percent of the population who didn’t vote is tired of fighting, too cynical to believe their participation matters or too disengaged to understand the impact of their non-participation, will there be enough to prevent what may be coming?

In the long run, the only way the American Experiment will survive is if we all recognize the fragility of our Republic and work together to overcome the fragmentation that threatens to break it apart. Tweet this now.

I pray it’s not too late.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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American Myth: The Western

I remember watching westerns as a child; not a lot of movies but TV shows like Bonanza and The Big Valley. But if you did watch the big Hollywood westerns, you probably had a strong sense of the good guys and the bad guys….the noble settlers versus the ignoble savage; the strong, silent cowboy versus the blood-thirsty savage; civilization versus savagery…

And then we became more self-aware as a nation. We realized the people we labeled “savages” were simply protecting their land, which they viewed as sacred, and their way of life from the entitled interlopers. Avatar could be considered a modern “western” told from the perspective of the natives.

We learned that the myth of the American cowboy derives from Mexican as well as Southern American sources.

So much of what we think we believe about ourselves comes from what we are taught directly from our parents and educational institutions and what we perceive indirectly from society.  We are  influenced by soft information in all its forms and just like those who don’t live in this country base their beliefs about American on what they see in Hollywood movies, we perceive ourselves and other based on what we see in the media.

The justifications, assumptions and attitudes about peoples of color during the founding of this country shaped government policies and artistic expressions, which in turn influence our current attitudes. Tweet this now!Tweet

Long past the time the “settlers” of this country sought to eliminate its original inhabitants by forcibly removing them from their lands, isolating them on reservations, or assimilating them into European culture, American Indians, according to Harvard project, “State of the Native Nations” experience epidemic levels of alcoholism, drug abuse, diabetes, and other health problems that are linked to cultural stress.

Long past the time the founders of this country built a thriving economy on the backs of a people they stole from another country, Black Americans suffer from a racist policing system, originated to enforce the subjugation of an oppressed people.

Long past the time the government of America took a portion of inhabited Mexico and declared it our largest geographical state (until they took Alaska), many Americans have decided the Mexican descendants of their Texas cousins are somehow different and less desirable than the immigrants from other locations.

To paraphrase the late Maya Angelou, when we know better, we have to do better…

The easy thing to do is focus on the symptoms of this oppression.  The hard thing is to examine how we got here.

The easy thing is to ignore the reality of racism for people of color. The hard thing is to examine why we are still here.

The easy thing is to deflect blame. The hard thing is to accept responsibility.

The easy thing is to reject new information and realities. The hard thing is to transform through a deeper understanding of truth.

Transformation often only comes when an individual becomes uncomfortable in their current existence, when what they know becomes more uncomfortable than what they fear. Tweet this now!Tweet

Are you ready for a change?

Something to think about:

How uncomfortable are you right now?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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