Michael Bloomberg: Master of Best and Worst

I lived in New York City in April of 2008, having fled the horrors of a failed marriage and a family that had targeted me for scorn and sanctimonious ridicule because of it. Having spent a serious amount of time in the city the year before, I developed a strong connection with New York City, growing to love her skyline, her diversity, and her infrastructure. One time, I caught the A train from the 42 Street/Port Authority station and rode it all the way out to Mott Avenue/Far Rockaway, just to gain an understanding of her vastness.

I use “her” when referring to New York City because for me, she was my spiritual mother. New York healed me at a time when I was at my lowest emotionally, physically and spiritually. I got the rare blessing to live in the greatest city in the world, and still maintain close ties to the friends that live there. Hell, I even wrote poems to express my love for New York City. If the right opportunity came along, I would not hesitate to reside there again.

Michael R. Bloomberg was in the middle of his second term as mayor when I arrived there, and from what I experienced on the surface, he was indeed doing a wonderful job executing his duties as mayor, making good on his promise to make New York a “luxury product” despite being the city being at the epicenter of the financial crisis. Despite high taxes, for a poor car salesman living in the Bronx, I saw great returns on my investment in the city. Being from Baltimore, a town that at times lives in infamy due to its high crime and murder rates, I felt very safe despite living down the block from a notorious housing project known for gang activity.

Like most who have written pieces on this, the last day of Michael Bloomberg’s term as mayor, I too have been concerned about how he will be remembered. The September 16th issue of New York magazine did a great job of examining both the immense good that Bloomberg has done as mayor and the things that have gone wrong, especially with respect to poverty and homelessness. Transit workers still don’t have a new contract after over a year. The rather callous comments after the New York Times published the story chronicling the life of Dasani, a young girl living in one of Brooklyn’s most notorious homeless shelters, have not helped either.

What is sad, however, is that the controversy surrounding “stop-and-frisk” shows the most potential to permanently damage how Bloomberg will be remembered. Jonathan Capehart, who worked as a policy adviser for Bloomberg’s campaign, touched on it yesterday in his blog:

But I… believe Bloomberg was so defensive on the question of racial profiling because he felt he was being accused of something he found morally repugnant and took steps to prevent. As I wrote in the previous post, candidate Bloomberg made it a priority to change the adversarial relationship between communities of color and the police and City Hall, respectively. In his eight-page public safety plan, he specifically talked about addressing allegations of racial profiling. Ironically, the “stop and frisk” program was seen as a way to improve the NYPD’s relationship with minority New Yorkers.

It will be interesting to see what happens as the city I love so much goes into 2014 with Bill de Blasio at the helm. After three full terms of simultaneous immense growth and sharp decline, hopefully de Blasio’s populism will be well-received. Time will tell.

 

The “Nurture and Admonition of the Lord”…

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war/With the cross of Jesus going on before./Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe/Forward into battle, see his banners go…

I was supposed to be one of a brave new race of God-fearing, soul-winning crusaders for the cause of Christ. Much like the Old Testament warrior Joshua, the right-hand to Moses and the destroyer of the “wicked” city called Jericho, my parents raised me to be a champion of holy dogma, able to argue with anyone to advance the demands of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”

For my parents, taking me out of the only form of real school I would attend until college–a Christian school in Catonsville, Maryland after I completed second grade–would be the best way to ensure that my mind, heart and strength would be truly devoted to God. Even better, it kept the “heathens” of public school away. My brothers and I were to be homeschooled, caught up in the middle of my parents’ many examples of religious fad chasing at the start of the 1990s.

Yesterday, I was stunned into almost complete silence for most of the day after reading Kathryn Joyce’s piece “The Homeschool Apostates” in The American Prospect, which chronicled the lives of people around my age who broke away from their Christian fundamentalist parents that sheltered them and isolated them from the world around them, seeking to “hold every thought captive” in the fight to save what they believe the country was founded upon; a nation built by “judeo-Christian” holy men that sought to establish a nation entirely built on God’s laws. Joyce’s long-read went deeper than anything I have ever read on the topic:

The family’s isolation made it worse. The children couldn’t date—that was a given—but they also weren’t allowed to develop friendships. Between ages 10 and 12, Lauren says she only got to see friends once a week at Sunday school, increasing to twice a week in her teens when her parents let her participate in mock trial, a popular activity for Christian homeschoolers. Their parents wanted them naïve and sheltered, Lauren says: “18 going on 12.”

 

Mixed with the control was a lack of academic supervision. Lauren says she didn’t have a teacher after she was 11; her parents handed her textbooks at the start of a semester and checked her work a few months later. She graded herself, she says, and rarely wrote papers. Nevertheless, Lauren was offered a full-ride scholarship to Patrick Henry College in Virginia, which was founded in 2000 as a destination for fundamentalist homeschoolers. At first her parents refused to let her matriculate, insisting that she spend another year with the family. During that year, Lauren got her first job, but her parents limited the number of hours she could work.

What stunned me even more, however, is further in the piece:

“I grew up hearing that we were the Joshua Generation,” says Rachel Coleman, a 26-year-old leader in the ex-homeschooler movement. “We were the shock troops, the best trained and equipped, the ones who were to make a difference in the fight—a fight between God and Satan for the soul of America.” Coleman, who co-founded the watchdog site Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, is writing a doctoral dissertation at Indiana University about children and the rise of the Christian right in the 1970s and 1980s. Her parents, she says, told her and her 11 siblings that they hadn’t become missionaries themselves because “they’re raising up the 12 of us to go be pastors, missionaries, and politicians. They’re changing the world through these kids.”

As the first of my parents’ five children, things like duty, morality, faithfulness, and above all obedience became double my portion, for I was the one to lead my brothers and our families after they would go on to “their reward in heaven.” Throughout my adolescent years, I would receive many a lecture from deacons and pastors in the church about who I was to “plant my flag” with. Many questions about my “spiritual life” would come from well-intentioned people hopeful to keep my soul on track. Guess it really does take a village.

Ironically, this is probably the main explanation as to why I was able to read exhaustively long works at age four (my parents put a long book about Billy Sunday in my hands at that age), or where my talents for public speaking, reading and overall grasp of language comes from. Throughout my middle and high-school years, when I wasn’t receiving spankings with a leather weightlifting belt, discipline was meted out by my father’s ordering of us to  write “dictionary words”, copying about fifty or so words and their definitions by hand.

Socializing with other kids my age was difficult for me. Aside from the fact that many of the children we spent our Sundays with were from relatively affluent, suburban white households that lived miles away from us city kids, it felt rather revolting for me to be around people who felt as though they could speak morality into my life when only seeing us once a week. I never fit in anywhere, with them or with the kids in my own neighborhood. Many of them, we felt, were beneath us, having come from different backgrounds. I didn’t truly “date” until I was sixteen, as we “commanded by God” to “flee youthful lusts”, which always came right back to rigorous abstinence. My parents told us that we should only date when we were absolutely ready to get married, which was always rather odd given the fact that most people date, go out and fall in love before they decide to wed. Well, at least in the real world.

In the years following my graduation from high school, a lonely event in the sanctuary of the building the church we attended was renting for their own services (I was the only one who graduated in 2000), I tried to hide my homeschooling past by using the name of the school written (by hand) on the diploma. Most people in Baltimore and elsewhere usually stop at just the name of the school, but when the questions of where it was came up, I found myself having to explain the type of legal arrangement it was. What I did not know, however, was just how extensive things would be.

Over the next two decades, homeschooling boomed. Today, perhaps as many as two million children are homeschooled. (An accurate count is difficult to conduct, because many homeschoolers are not required to register with their states.) Homeschooling families come from varied backgrounds—there are secular liberals as well as Christians, along with an increasing number of Muslims and African Americans—but researchers estimate that between two-thirds and three-fourths are fundamentalists.

 

Among Moore and Dobson’s listeners during that landmark broadcast was a pair of young lawyers, Michael Farris and Michael Smith, who the following year would found the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). With Moore’s imprimatur and Dobson’s backing, Farris and Smith started out defending homeschooling families at a time when the practice was effectively illegal in 30 states. As Christians withdrew their children from public school, often without requesting permission, truancy charges resulted. The HSLDA used them as test cases, challenging school districts and state laws in court while lobbying state legislators to establish a legal right to homeschool. By 1993, just ten years after the association’s founding, homeschooling was legal in all 50 states.

 

What many lawmakers and parents failed to recognize were the extremist roots of fundamentalist homeschooling. The movement’s other patriarch was R.J. Rushdoony, founder of the radical theology of Christian Reconstructionism, which aims to turn the United States into an Old Testament theocracy, complete with stonings for children who strike their parents. Rushdoony, who argued that democracy was “heresy” and Southern slavery was “benevolent,” was too extreme for most conservative Christians, but he inspired a generation of religious-right leaders including Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. He also provided expert testimony in early cases brought by the HSLDA. Rushdoony saw homeschooling as not just providing the biblical model for education but also a way to bleed the secular state dry.

I would not break free from this isolation until adulthood, making it official by voting for Barack Obama the first time in the 2008 election. It goes without saying that my entire family, from my parents to my brothers (who all are conservatives), were beyond upset when they found out I voted for him. Eventually this year, I would have to cut most of my family completely from my life.

This is why I have struggled with objectivity in my writing, sometimes having to forcibly cool down my rhetoric against the Right. When I tell people that I am a former conservative, the road to my transition in ideology was not merely a matter of going to a secular college and “getting indoctrinated” by some fiercely liberal professor. Nor was my new adoption of liberalism some convenient ploy to get into The People You Follow on Twitter’s good graces; this was the total rejection of something that had been basically encoded into my DNA. Right-wing Christian conservatism may be what raised me, but it most certainly does not define who I am now.

What this does explain, however, is why matters of injustice and oppression–women’s rights, marriage equality, income disparity; preserving freedom of opportunity–are so important to me. Protecting our social contract are not simply matters of good governance, in my view; they are the last defenses against unfettered capitalism, and a decimated culture.

This is how I am able to explain in detail the way the Right thinks and operates, and why nothing surprises me about what they do. This explains my very extroverted nature, and why I love being around people, having been kept from them for so long, having lived in an echoic vacuum all this time. This explains why leaving New York City was more traumatic for me than I realized, and why I have been trying, consciously or otherwise to return there, a safe haven in its largeness.

This is why I despise religion, especially Christianity. It is why my heart aches for my nephew, who through no fault of his own is likely doomed to an existence of patriarchal domineering, unless by some miracle he breaks free.

It is why a “normal” relationship with my parents is likely an impossibility. This is also why I have struggled with the idea of even bringing a child of my own into the world, lest they end up like me; conflicted, confused, and rebellious.

My name is Isaiah L. Carter.

And I was homeschooled.

But now I am free, more free than I ever imagined.

 

 

The Farce of Being “Above the Fray”

Joe Williams still can’t get a job.

With thirty-plus years of reporting experience, and a resume that includes The Boston Globe, Richmond Times-Dispatch; The Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and ultimately a three-year stint at Politico, his career in journalism came to a rather abrupt, untimely end last year after giving clear insight as to who the defeated Republican candidate wanted to associate with most:

It’s very interesting that he does so many appearances on Fox and Friends, and it’s unscripted; it’s the only time they let Mitt “off the leash”, so to speak. But it also points out a larger problem that he’s got to solve if he wants to be successful come this fall: Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him. That’s one of the reasons why he seems so stiff and awkward in some town hall settings, why he can’t relate to people other than that. But when he comes to Fox and Friends, they’re like him; they’re white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company, so it really is a very stark contrast, I think, and a problem that he has not been able to solve to date…

This simple, honest, concise breakdown of who and what Romney was–a sheltered fish out of water with barely any contact outside his very rich, very white circle–cost Williams, a father of two, his job, reputation, and his livelihood. Despite the vindication he received from Romney’s infamous “47 percent video” three months later, white men ending up as the only voting demographic Romney would win in the election, and examples of Politico’s fraudulent appearance as an institution of journalism coming to light, Williams now works a part-time job making only ten dollars an hour.

Yesterday, in a sad, rather cruel example of the universe’s fetish for irony, Martin Bashir, the man on whose show Williams gave his accurate assessment of Mitt Romney also lost his job, tendering his resignation from MSNBC after rightfully referring to former half-term governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as a “world-class idiot”, declaring that she should be a candidate for the punishment Thomas Thistlewood doled out to the human beings he enslaved on the island of Jamaica in the 1750s, as she and other Right-wingers like Dr. Ben Carson continuously use slavery as a metaphor in attacking the Affordable Care Act.

There is a certain form of hypocrisy we of the Left needlessly saddle ourselves with: this unconscious, reflexive need to be “above the fray” when dealing with conservatives. For many of us, we find ourselves being caught up too often in this ethereal, movie-scene idealism, where every political party has nothing but genuine love for their country. In this view, both Democrats and Republicans are desirous of spirited debates and seek to enhance and protect civil discourse, having only the best interests of the country at heart. 

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The Right has dispensed with every pretense of civility and collegiality, having called Barack Obama a “skinny, ghetto crackhead”; cast aspersions on his being born an American and playing to his “otherness”. These people have waved Confederate flags at his doorstep, shown up outside town hall events with assault weapons at the ready; waved their fingers in his face because they felt threatened by him, and called him a liar to his face in the House chamber, and yet we cling to the conceit that somehow, firing Martin Bashir for his comments makes us morally superior than the Right? 

As a former conservative, I don’t have any convictions about somehow appearing to be “no better than they are.” Quite the opposite; it is because I have firsthand knowledge of what the Right is capable of that I fight as hard–and at times, as vulgarly–as I do. Bashir valiantly fought the dogs of the Right, having taken on Larry Klayman not too long ago over his remarks that President Obama should come out of the White House “with his hands up.” Bashir sacrificed his job to give this country a proper education on just how horrific and barbaric slavery was, and why comparisons to the same for any form of public policy are not just “bad optics”, they are reprehensible and immoral.

Hopefully, Bashir will eventually be brought back to MSNBC, and the Right’s latest cloud of corrosive, hypocritical fake outrage will yet again come to nothing. If not, perhaps irony will favor the wonderful and insightful Joy-Ann Reid, who has been more than capable and deserving of holding her own time slot as one of the best journalists the network has ever had. Perhaps the field of journalism will once again welcome people who are not afraid of calling out malefactors and bad actors on the Right, with the courage to push back against their poisonous, hateful rhetoric.

And maybe then, Joe Williams will finally be able to get a job.

Cursing the Hill, Then Climbing It

Like the incomparable Charles Blow, I too hate the concept of “respectability politics”, but for a reason much different than anyone else. While there is no question that a person’s style of dress or form of speech should never be a reason for violence and injustice against people, a Black man that sags his pants shows great disrespect and indifference to his community and the world around him. Frankly, I could care less about some of our esteemed Thought Leaders’ positions on youthful self-expression; should I be blessed with a son, he will be properly equipped with a belt, a sense of pride in who he is, and the ancestors who went before us. Profiling aside, that belt won’t cost $350, either.

Except for those who may be muses of Norman Rockwell, there is no such thing as a “traditional nuclear family.” As the oldest of five sons born to parents that have been together for almost 35 years, I can personally attest to the ridiculous nature of the idea that there is only one familial structure that suits a child best. The rose-colored spectacles of the heteronormative Christian family come off pretty quick when the child you spend eighteen years sheltering from “the World, the Flesh, and the Devil” ends up liberal, marries the wrong person, or discovers they happen to like a person of the same gender. Ask around.

While I don’t buy into the idea that most poor people are okay with remaining poor, I say without equivocation that they exist, and that most families in our community have at least one or two ambitionless, lazy, worthless people that we’ve either tried to reach out to, give some direction, or find a job for, yet refused to move one inch forward to advance themselves or achieve anything, carrying on as if they are owed something. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s true.

As Mr. Blow said in his piece, those that generalize and use these arguments to place people of color into the category of reprobate grifters do so to place distance between traditional and emerging power structures. The thought of Black and Brown men in business suits and briefcases with degrees on their office walls remain the most fear-inducing images to those who are dying and being buried in suits in increasing numbers, which explains why so much attention is diverted to those few who sag their pants and thug it out. Rampant, irreversible failure are things the Right depend on to further their cause to undermine the idea of government, even if they have to bring the failure themselves.

The evils of our culture–racism, sexism, misogyny, income inequality, and greed–will continue to be with us. Like a nagging cough that seems to keep coming back, people will continue to ethnocentrically give themselves some divine right to moral superiority, and throw roadblocks in the path of those who struggle toward equality, especially as long as we continue to diagnose these pathogens in our blood without offering solutions for treatment.

I am very familiar with struggle and suffering. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where folk were killing each other. I’ve been homeless. I’ve gone days without eating anything, uncertain where my next meal was going to come from. Months without having a job have gone by in my life, then when the great job with great pay and great benefits finally comes along, it’s taken from you three days before your probationary period ends. Imagine the shame of looking the love of your life in the eye and getting married knowing you lost another job exactly three weeks before the wedding day.

These have been the moments when achievement has been not only an act of defiance, but the one thing that saves your life.

This hill called life can appear insurmountable. We often can go from a paved, well-maintained footpath to a rock face with few places to climb. At times we fall from the hill and simply scrape our knees; other times we fall thirty feet and break limbs. But what matters most is how we recover; how we keep from falling into the despair that would hinder us from climbing that hill.

Sure, there is no promise that simply working hard guarantees success. People often spin their wheels in endeavors that go absolutely nowhere. Some enjoy immense success then come crashing down, no matter where they were born on the hill. Sometimes you may even get thrown off the hill by people who cannot stand to see you climb at all. But, as Mr. Blow says, if you are being assaulted, recognize it, defend yourself–and keep climbing.

I close with the words of Mr. Blow himself:

History is cluttered with instances of the downtrodden lifting themselves up. The spirit and endurance that it requires is not an historical artifact but a living thing that abides in each of us, part of the bloodline, written in the tracks of tears and the sweat of toil.

If life for you is a hill, be a world-class climber.