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 Experiment: Willful Ignorance

Amid the videos of violence committed against black bodies this past week, was one of a Trump official stating that she didn’t “think there was any racism until Obama got elected.” The video of Kathy Miller, who is white and chair of Trump’s campaign in Mahoning County, went viral and resulted in her resigning from her post.

Just in case you missed it…

But her resignation only means she won’t be associated with the “isms” emanating from the Trump camp.

It doesn’t mean she has suddenly changed her mind about why some black Americans have not thrived.

It doesn’t mean she no longer believes blacks have “had benefits to go to college that white kids didn’t have.”

It doesn’t mean she’s realized black voter turnout percentage exceeded all other groups in the last two presidential elections.

It just means she won’t have a public platform to state beliefs shared with a number of white Americans who are increasingly vocal about their racism.

She is a product of the systemic racism taught in our public schools and reinforced through racist institutions, most notably our criminal justice system. She has bought into American’s collective self-image, the core of which “is the assumption that mobility is always possible, so failure to move up reflects on one’s character. By extension, the failure of a race or ethnic group to move up reflects very poorly on the group as a whole.” ~ Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

She will hold onto her beliefs because in a country that continues to attract freedom-loving people from all over the world, it’s easier to believe that everyone is free to achieve the American Dream.

“There is but one coward on earth, and that is the coward that dare not know.” ~ W.E.B. Du BoisTweet

The easy thing is to reject new information and realities. The hard thing is to accept what is difficult to know and be transformed through a deeper understanding of the truth.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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American Experiment: The Symbols

It always fascinates me how people, many of whom have done nothing in service to this country or made any sacrifice to represent this country, have something to say when people of color don’t honor the USA the way THEY think it should be honored.

CPT Humayun Khan DIED in service to this country but it didn’t stop so called “patriots” from disrespecting his parents and his memory when they spoke out against bigotry.

Gabby Douglas and her family made sacrifices so she would be able to continue the streak of American gymnasts who have won Olympic Gold in the Individual All-Around competition in 2012. She is one of the reasons Team USA was so dominant in 2012 and this year, but when this 20-year old stood at attention versus putting her hand over her heart during our National Anthem, she was treated as if she had committed treason.

This week, the person of color who has most upset those who would dictate how and when Americans honor America is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. What I found most interesting about the criticism of Kaepernick’s decision to no longer stand during the National Anthem is the idea that he was disrespecting the symbols that give him the right to speak.

But isn’t the opposite true…that the ideas and sacrifices behind the symbols represent the freedom of expression Kaepernick exercised? Tweet

Our freedoms, to include expressing a difference of opinion, are what attract freedom loving peoples to this country and make us different from countries where dissenters are jailed or executed, protest is violently squashed, and the freedom to criticize government doesn’t exist.

And is there anything MORE American than protest? From the Boston Tea Party to the march to Selma, to the unrest in Ferguson, protest has been a catalyst, if not THE catalyst for change in this country especially when it comes to race. This veteran swore to “support and defend” the experiment that is America so that every American could experience the freedoms promised to all Americans, to include the freedom to protest America. But every American has a different role to play in making the American experiment in democracy and diversity a success.

And each of us has the right, even the responsibility to speak out when there is injustice against any American. Tweet

The freedom of expression afforded to all Americans includes NOT honoring the symbols of America when America is NOT honoring its citizens.

“…And my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” ~ Carl Schurz, the first German-born American ever to serve in the United States Senate Tweet

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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