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The Jetsons an American animated sitcom that aired in 1962 and featured a futuristic world of flying cars, robotic maids, and other whimsical inventions. We have entered the world of the Jetsons!  I was fascinated by this cartoon series as a kid—it was truly a push-button activated utopia. Today, we are not only a push-button society, but also a voice-activated, swipe-activated, touch-activated, and mind-activated society.

Full disclosure: I am no Luddite, I love technology.  I practiced electrical engineering for 15 years at two different companies in Missouri; one, a department of energy (DOE) contractor, the other, a department of defense (DoD) contractor. In my view, technology is a great impression of human imagination and ingenuity. However, technological progress is not neutral.

I was fortunate to attend the Faith at Work Summit in Chicago, IL, October 11-13, 2018.  One session was devoted to the topic “the disruption of work.” Here, the presenters spoke about how artificial intelligence (AI), robots, and algorithms will disrupt work as we know it. That is, some jobs will simply be replaced by AI powered technology like legal work, accounting work, and the work of flipping hamburgers.

What the speakers did not discuss was how algorithms and machines will assist (and are assisting) in the hiring of employees. But algorithms are not neutral.  They are not unbiased. Why? Because algorithms used to hire employees are biased because the designers of these algorithms are biased. A designer’s bias is baked in to these algorithms. We know that companies discriminate based on applicants’ first names.  The famous, or infamous, study conducted by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?, prove this point.

Will these algorithms, for example, discriminate based on a set formula or coding language? What tests or check and balances will companies employ to minimize the bias of these algorithms?

 

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During a two week stretch in Summer 2017, I was privileged, and honored, to teach a Christian worldview/ethics class for Cru in Fort Collins, CO. I was told a few weeks prior that I would have a deaf couple in my class. I was asked to make some accommodations for them. For example, I was asked to send my lecture notes for each day, a day prior to this couple. That was a challenge for me because I tend to tweak my talks until the moment I deliver them. However, I did my best to accommodate this sweet couple. (I say sweet on purpose here.  One time they noticed that I was struggling with how to refer to them in class—”do I say ‘deaf’ or ‘hard of hearing'”? And they approached me during a class break, and through their interpreter, said to me, “We saw that you were struggling; it’s okay to say, ‘deaf.'”)

Workplaces accommodate the physically disabled by building ramps and elevators. Workplaces like mine, Made to Flourish, have gone to an open office configuration. However, they have accommodated introverts, like me, and built conference rooms (with doors) when I need to disengage from people (and where I can go to concentrate).

Spaces are wise to accommodate the other; and the other must also assimilate to some degree, however. Spaces have rules and protocols; those that occupy such spaces must adhere or assimilate to these rules and protocols or social norms. Otherwise, chaos would ensue.

All this has got me thinking about African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and those who govern their lives by different religions in predominantly white church and non-church spaces. To be sure, non-whites must assimilate to some degree; and whites most accommodate non-whites too. For example, those in the majority, in workplaces, should allow a Muslim to honor Ramadan and a Jew, yom kippur (Day of Atonement). A church that is predominantly white, for example, should sing songs that accommodate non-whites in their congregation. Similarly, a predominantly African American church should sing songs that accommodate whites and other non-African Americans in their congregation. A company that is predominantly Hispanic should require some degree of assimilation of non-Hispanic employees but also the same company must accommodate the needs of non-Hispanic employees too. Real inclusion requires spaces to accommodate others who are not in the majority. Such accommodating can help mitigate the isolation many minorities experience in majority spaces.

It is not assimilation or accommodation; it is both.

On a recent delayed flight from Chicago to Kansas City, I sat next to Mike. Mike, a tall African-American man and Chicagoan, sat at the window seat; and I sat in the aisle seat. We were buckled in, and just minutes before pushing back from the terminal, and he began to have muscle spasms. I asked him if he needed to stand up? He said, “Yes.” I got up and rushed to the back to tell the flight attendant why the two African-American male passengers were now unbuckled and standing. She immediately alerted the captain. Of course, this small commotion got the attention of fellow passengers. I finally sat down and Mike thanked me. One of the flight attendants was kind enough to bring Mike a warm compress for his back discomfort. Mike was appreciative. After a few minutes, Mike began to tell me his life story. He was a former gang-banger. “In certain economically depressed neighborhoods in Chicago, this is just what you did,” Mike explained. His father was absent from the home and his mother worked long hours with the United States Post Office. Mike had an abundance of unsupervised time. He routinely saw African-Americans getting shot or killed since he was ten years old. He was shot at but somehow bullets missed him. He was once shot at while driving his car. His car windows were shattered; his dash board was riddled with bullets but again, he was not shot. He has right leg and left arm have been stabbed. He sold crack. Many of his friends and family members are now incarcerated. Even his father is serving time for selling illegal drugs. Amazingly, Mike never spent time in jail. (His grandpa was a deacon and convinced Mike to get baptized three times; and each time he did.  Mike left the church because no one took his honest questions seriously; rather, they labeled him a blasphemer.  This―not answering Mike’s honest questions―makes me so angry but that’s another article for another time.)

One day someone took a chance and offered Mike a job removing asbestos from old homes. He was making nearly $1,000 a week. His eyes lit up when he recounted doing something purposeful, and good with his head and hands. Eventually, that job ended and he said that work experience caused him to be quite reflective. He soon enrolled in DeVry University, graduated with a bachelors degree, and now travels the country troubleshooting cell towers as a part time gig. Mike admitted that his former gang life aged him and makes him “look rough” (his words), but today he is grateful for his gray beard because he did not think he would live to see a gray beard.

May we take a chance with the other and go a step further and help the other find gainful employment because we were made to work.

I attended a Kansas City CreativeMornings event on Friday, August 17, 2018 and the speaker was Katie van Dieren. Katie is a champion for community and the maker movement. She is the owner and curator of one of the world’s top indie craft fairs, The Strawberry Swing, and the co-founder of Troost Market Collective.

During her talk she mentioned this quote by Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Twain and Katie, I believe, meant international travel.

While not of us can travel abroad, we all can leave our little corner of the earth and travel locally and come close to others who are different than us. I believe if we travel and come close, we can collectively, shed prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, learned this lesson from his grandmother, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close” (p. 14). I love grandma wisdom!

I think by traveling to come close to the other, we can not only put to death prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness, but we just might discover that people we thought were monsters are actually human beings who are creative and pregnant with possibilities and dreams. This has certainly been my experience. Might it be so!

My daughter, Briana, convinced my wife and I to take a 30-day break or Sabbatical from Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Here are few things I learned:

(1) I was still drawn to those colorful app tiles on my iPhone screen.  But without active Twitter and Facebook accounts, I was less preoccupied or obsessed with my phone.

(2) I was less distracted.  How did I measure this? I read or finished more books. I completed and/or resumed reading four books: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson), No One Ever Asked (Katie Ganshert), I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Austin Channing Brown), and Brothas Be, You Like George: Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? (A Memoir by George Clinton).  I also wrote a 5,500+ word draft of an essay in less than eight hours.  I suppose what I am saying is I was more productive.

(3) I can get along okay just fine without Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  In fact, I deleted my Instagram account.

(4) At times, I thought I was missing out on what was happening.  But I found other things to do: pittle in the garage, visit the driving range, imagine, journal, and rest. I feared missing important announcements.  But those announcements came via other channels (e.g., my personal email).

(5) A break from social media is a healthy move; a healthy move I highly recommend.

After this sabbatical, I hope not to be enamored or captivated by “likes” and I hope to take more frequent and shorter social media sabbaticals.

Someone asked “what is in a name?” Apparently, a lot. I met a new brother recently, his birth name is Ebenezer but he insisted we call him Ebi. This got me thinking, why? I asked him why via email to explain.  No reply thus far.  I suspect Ebi was thinking about others—he likely figured that Ebi is much easier to pronounce than Ebenezer? I remember a report that found hiring companies in cities like Boston and Chicago were less likely to call in a person for an interview if he or she had a black sounding first name (see Shankil Choudhury, Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them, 2015, p. 59).  The odds are greater that Shannon would be invited in for an interview; Sharniqua has less odds. I remember reading about a brown brother named Jose who changed his name to Joe.  Before this renaming, he was not getting frequent phone calls about jobs; however, after he changed his name to Joe on his resume, he started receiving more calls. A colleague, from a country in Southeast Asia, is an immigrant to the United States. Instead of using their given native names at birth, her dad let his fingers do the walking up and down the columns in a white pages phone book in search of American sounding names for his three kids. He renamed his kids; he selected Vanessa for her.  He wanted them to have a better chance of making it in America. A friend named his daughter Courtney—a gender-neutral name—because he did not want her to be discriminated against as a female. A colleague is reading “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown. Brown’s parents named her Austin after her grandmother’s maiden name, but also so she could get job interviews someday. Now everyone assumes she’s a white male. (Brown’s book title reminds me of the Scene on Radio “Seeing White” 14-part series podcast that I highly recommend.)

What’s in a name? By the likes of it, much is in a name.

 

I am a native of Kansas City, MO.  I was born here (actually in Kansas City, KS), raised here, employed here and educated here.  After graduating from the University of Kansas, we – my wife and I – moved and settled in the Kansas City area.  Six to seven years later, we moved to St. Louis, MO with our 1-year-old daughter in tow (our son was born 6 years later in St. Louis).  We settled in Ballwin, MO. We were homeowners in a new subdivision, Waterford.  We built our first house in this subdivision. We lived in this house for 25+ years — many memories were formulated in this house, in this neighborhood, in this quaint subdivision.

Nearly, four years ago, we moved back to Kansas City, MO. After 25 years in one spot, you become known.  And I was known in many ‘circles’ including the Covenant Theological Seminary circle (9+), the Lindenwood University circle (7+), the First Baptist Church of Chesterfield circle (12+) and the Waterford Subdivision circle (25+) to name a few.  The numbers in the parenthesis indicate how many years I dwelled in those environments or better how many years I poured myself into those environments. I poured myself into the city and most importantly, I poured myself into personal, life-on-life relationships.  Needless to say, the transition back to my hometown, Kansas City, has been difficult.

Recently, I had lunch with my dear friend, Elizabeth Dent George, who is also a professional counselor. She helped me to see something: ‘being known’ is a genuine need for all human beings. When Elizabeth moved from St. Louis to Phoenix, AZ years ago, she had to hit the ‘becoming known’ reset button.  Since moving to Kansas City over 3+ years ago, I have had to push the reset button for ‘being known.’ Becoming known again to a familiar and different city, to old and new friends, in old and new circles is a long and arduous process.

One Wednesday evening, I left work and went to the movies to see  Jordan Peele’s inaugural film, “Get Out.” Here are some quick thoughts in no particular order.

  1. Anxiety. The film depicts the anxiety that an African-American partner in an interracial relationship often feels upon knowing that he or she will meet the white parents. This is quite common.
  2. Stereotyping. The film illustrates stereotyping.  I remember teaching a group of white students and many of them shared similar stories to that when the white police officer asked Chris for his ID.  One white female student said, “I was driving and an African-American male friend was in the passenger seat. When we were stopped by the police, the white police officer did not ask me for my driver’s license; he only asked my Black friend for his.” Rose had to come to Chris’ defense. This is a case of using one’s privilege for good.  But how common is this?
  3. Power/Privilege Misused. The film portrays the misuse of power and privilege by the majority culture to serve their own selfish desires. Rose’s dad was a doctor; Rose’s mother a psychologist.  Both used their skills to exploit African-Americans to serve the desire of a white customer. All this began, however, with Rose betraying Chris; she used, manipulated him as she did several others.
  4. Awkwardness. The film portrays how awkward it is when a minority is in the company of the majority culture. To ease this discomfort, Chris sought out others who looked like him…to no avail – they looked like him but were not like him. Yes, it is possible to be lonely in a crowd.
  5. Reductionism. The film shows how a Black life is reduced merely to being a source for someone else’s pursuit of the good life. This is exploitation plain and simple.
  6. Utilitarian. The film exhibits an utilitarian ethic – ‘the end justifies the means’. The ‘Bingo game’ scene was reminiscent of a slave auction (the means).  Chris went to the highest bidder – a blind bidder who wanted to see again (the end).
  7. Beauty of Friendship. The film portrays the sweet gift and beauty of friendship.  Rod, Chris’ friend, despite being ridiculed, pursued Chris and secured his eventual rescue.
  8. Imagination. This film illustrated Chris’ imagination, innovation and ‘quick thinking’. By stuffing his ears with cotton, he was not hypnotized (or controlled) and eventually fought his way out of Rose’s parents’ home.

This morning at 7:30 am (December 13), I met with Captain “Johnson” at the Police Department in Shawnee, KS. Captain Johnson was one of the many instructors in the Citizens Police Academy (September 8 through November 16, 2016). I wanted to get his take on the mistrial of Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer and the video footage showing Slager fatally shooting a fleeing Mr. Walter Scott, an African-American. The Captain started our discussion with two U. S. Supreme Court rulings: Graham v. Connor (1989) and Tennessee v. Garner (1985). Each ruling has implications for policing, and specifically when an officer is justified in using deadly force.

  • Implications of Graham v. Connor – a police officer can use deadly force (1) after considering the severity of the crime; (2) if the suspect is trying to flee; (3) if the suspect is a danger to the officer or general public; and (4) when there is a need for immediate apprehension of the suspect.
  • Implications of Tennessee v. Garner – the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force, whether against a fleeing suspect or otherwise, is to be determined from the perspective of the officer under the circumstances that are apparent to him or her at the time.

After watching the video footage of Slager killing a fleeing Scott, Captain Johnson said “this makes me really uncomfortable.” Moreover, Captain Johnson shared his questions with me: (1) What did the officer know beforehand that was not shared with the public (e.g., Scott was considered dangerous?, the vehicle was stolen?, there were outstanding warrants)? [Captain Johnson was quick to say, this did not justify the officer’s actions necessarily] (2) Why did Scott run? [Again, Captain Johnson was quick to say, this did not justify the officer’s use of deadly force necessarily] (3) Did Scott have Slager’s taser? (4) why did Slager shoot Scott (7) times? [officers are trained to shoot until the threat stops] (5) Was Slager driven by implicit bias or explicit bias against Scott? and (6) Why did Slager move the taser? [According to the Captain, this ‘poisoned the crime scene.’  The use of foul language is another way an officer can poison the crime scene according to the Captain.]

“The court decided what Slager did was wrong,” said Captain Johnson, “however, the jury could not decide unanimously if Slager would be charged with homicide or manslaughter.” Thus, a mistrial.

We also discussed Philando Castile, a 32 year old African-American male who was shot by a police officer in suburban St. Paul, MN.  Captain Johnson said that Castile alerted the officer that he was licensed to carry a handgun and was reaching for his wallet at the officer’s request when he was shot and killed.  “This had a horrible outcome,” said Captain Johnson. Captain Johnson said this officer relied on his “training” without thinking (this reminds me of the scene in the film, Crash, when a white police officer shots and kills a young African-American male who is reaching for a miniature statue in his pocket.  These are called ‘furtive movements’ according the the Captain).  I asked, “are officers trained to consider the context first or robotic-ally follow their training?” Considering the context or sizing up the situation is something that officers learn later in their career…sometimes.  And sometimes police officers follow their training to their own detriment.  Here, Captain Johnson recounted the Newhall incident (1970), also called the “Newhall massacre.” Officers were trained to collect their brass after firing their weapons; and they did just that while engaged in a shoot out with two heavily armed criminals. As Captain Johnson lamented, “these slain officers were found with brass in their pockets.”

Captain Johnson said he is bothered by the strife and division in our country.  Me too. We both wished the other a “Merry Christmas.”

The title is a bit misleading because in this post, I ask more questions that make statements.

  • In this postmodern age, authenticity is a key virtue. Trump was authentic to be sure; he was unorthodox to be sure; he bucked the GOP system or the established order. (Yes, another tenet of postmoderns is to be anti-establishment; Trump certainly was during the campaign). Was this part of his appeal?
  • No mention has been made of gender as a factor in this election. That is, could men publicly endorse Clinton but really vote for her in the privacy of their voting booth as the President of the United States of America? Many authors including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (see “We Shall All Be Feminists”) have said that many men have difficulty with a strong female leader. Was this a factor in Clinton’s defeat?
  • Chris Wallace, moderator of one of the debates, asked Trump if he would concede defeat and accept the results of the election.  Trump responded, that he would not if he felt the election was rigged against him.  I don’t recall that question being asked of Clinton.  Did the media give Clinton a false sense of confidence or bravado?
  • Clinton’s message did not appeal or resonate with a “large swath of white, working-class voters.” On the other hand, Trump built a “larger coalition by drawing support from scores of smaller communities.” How did the Clinton campaign miss this? (See “Democrats Seek Fresh, More Inclusive Approach,” Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2016)
  • According to the Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2016) article, “How Trump’s Winning Coalition Coalesced,” “minority voters, young voters and segments of affluent whites did not come out in Obama-sized numbers” for Clinton.  Why the apathy?
  • Both candidates are morally flawed individuals — so something had to give. What tipped the scales in favor of Trump – a man who on the campaign trail said disparaging things about women, about the disabled, about Muslims, etc.?
  • Personally, I am not sure what to think of the word, ‘evangelical’ means anymore. What does ‘conservative Christian’ mean anymore? What is a ‘conservative evangelical’?
  • I hope the campaign Trump was an aberration and hope that the President-elect Trump is quite different.
  • Trump’s misogynistic, racist and bigotry rhetoric has emboldened cowards and have created some insensitive pranksters.  I must protect the vulnerable.  I must call out and confront these cowards respectfully and winsomely.
  • I have said before, my hope is not in the family who resides in the White House or in the one who boards Air Force One. In the end, I know who is truly in control!

Interesting days ahead.