Archive for ‘Meta’

March 23, 2012

Who Are We?: The US, Race, and the Human Rights Agenda

The nineteenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council is taking place in Geneva this month. The United States is currently a member of the UNHRC, after much bemoaning of how it would be yet another playground of dictators and rights abusers. Joining up was the right choice; it’s hard to influence change on the outside looking in. Since the US first won a seat on the Council, much substantive work has been done on how to better improve the living conditions of peoples around the world, living in unimaginable conditions, facing the threat of death or worse each and every day.

And yet, as representatives of these Member States meet halfway around the world, I find myself compelled to ponder on the place that the United States holds in the human rights community. If you were to ask any averge American, we are clearly the apex, the zenith. We see ourselves on the world stage a lynchpin; as the US goes, so should the world go in terms of the norms that should rightly be championed. Freedom of speech. The right to worship as you please. The idea that your government has the responsibility to care about your well-being, rather than attempting to make your lot in life worse.

That’s how we like to see ourselves, and yet when the mirror is held in front of our faces, what do we see? Our metaphorical eyes prefer to dance around, averting our gaze from anything that mar our visage. How is it so easy to gloss over the imperfections and ignore the things that need to be fixed at home? President Obama spoke out on the Trayvon Martin killing this morning. His words hit home, and I felt the need to pen some of my own. For those who haven’t heard somehow, the story is one of a seventeen-year old, wearing a hooded sweatshirt as he walked through his neighborhood, who was shot in the chest and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain. The story has changed several times on the exact rundown of the situation and the legality of George Zimmerman’s actions. But Trayvon is still dead and Zimmerman is still outside of custody.

As I said on Twitter, my teenage years were spent in Flint, MI, also known as one of the most violent cities in the country. But I loved it, for the education it gave me, the people I met, and not once did I walk down the streets with fear in my heart. That lack of fear came from a few key factors: thanks to my six-foot frame, I don’t precisely scream ‘victim’; a youthful belief in one’s own invincibility; the lack of items of value in my possession to have taken; and, almost most important, the color of my skin. I looked like the majority of the people in the city, which is to say I am a black man. Any idea that I would be assaulted or harassed because of what I looked like was alien to me as I moved through the avenues of downtown Flint after dusk.

I walked through Flint without fear. The idea that I would be less safe today walking down the streets of a suburb in a hooded sweatshirt than I was in Flint horrifies me. It’s absolutely unfathomable that the status of race-relations in this country, the self-proclaimed greatest on Earth, is at the point where the murder of a young black man is simply shrugged off for days, weeks, until people finally took notice. It’s with no small amount of shame that I admit even I ignored the story until it gained momentum.

Among the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, itself drafted largely by the United States, are the rights to life, liberty, and the security of person, regardless of race or color among other traits. Where were those rights when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed? Where are those rights now, as his assailant and killer still walks free? The US has come a long way in moving towards the society described in the UDHR since it was first adopted; in theory blacks are the equals of all other races in our society, a laughable claim in 1948. And yet in the very systems that would ensure that equality, there does still exist an imbalance among our citizens, shadows of the past that cannot be denied or hidden from or scoffed at.

My friends who know me well will probably be surprised to read this post. It’s not often I like to discuss race relations, as my relations with races are above par. But this situation rings differently. For one, it could have been me; I can’t count the number of times I’ve strolled through affluent neighborhoods in a hoodie and jeans, late at night, and my skin the same shade as ever. More importantly, it could be one of my future children. I intend to raise them well, whenever they come, and teach them right. But you can’t teach someone to look different. That’s one thing you can never shield someone from. And my heart breaks at the idea of having to explain to them why they would need to be shielded at all.

The United States speaks with conviction on the spread of human rights around the world, led at the United Nations by Ambassador Susan Rice, a black role model in her own right. As we move forward, our human rights agenda must continue to be as forceful as it has been in recent years. The vigor with which we pursue equality and justice for human beings around the world cannot abate. But we, as a country and as a people, need to take pause and make sure that the lessons we seek to impart on the world are not falling on deaf ears at home. We should be an example of our own goals for the world, free from qualifications, and free from excuses.

February 12, 2012

On Famous Deaths, the Media, and Bad Things Worldwide

Forgive me from taking a break from opining on the UN and Syria, but I needed somewhere to put down these thoughts, and what good is having a blog if you aren’t allowed to do that from time to time? It helps that this actually is at least somewhat related to world affairs.

As anyone who’s been within a hundred-yard radius of anyone with a smartphone has learned by now, Whitney Houston passed away tonight, at the age of 48. It’s sad, for sure, as I have fond memories of Ms. Houston playing the Fairy Godmother in the late nineties version Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I do think though that I may have been just on the edge of being too young for her glory days.

In any case, as is the norm in this day and age, within minutes of AP breaking the news, Twitter was inundated with an outpouring of public grief and reminiscing. Which is all well and good, but then I saw this tweet from Andy Carvin:

Andy Carvin Tweets About Syria and Whitney Houston

My initial reaction to this tweet was a form of astonished indignation. “How could people be so shallow? These people have never even met Whitney Houston, first of all. Second, this is one person. Right now hundreds of people have died across Syria.”

Then I paused and thought about that statement, particularly the second part. In my own way, I had to come to the conclusion that my moralistic finger-wagging was rather indefensible. The focus on Syria at the moment is because a larger scale of atrocity than we are used to is occurring before our eyes, broadcast on YouTube and across social media. But as many of the detractors of R2P principles and the growing chorus for intervention in Syria will point out, there are everyday atrocities happening world-wide, out of the spotlight that Syria possesses. How many people have died in the last year in Bahrain? Repression of rights in Central Asia, disease and death in the Great Lakes region, growing political instability in the South Pacific, all manage to pass-by with far less notice.

It’s impossible for even the most informed and passionate individual to keep track of all the evils of the world; who am I to judge people for not paying the proper attention to Syria over a celebrity death?

That said, shifting the focus from individuals to the media as an entity, there I do have feel I have room to find fault. A special was set to air on CNN tonight on the ongoing assault on Homs in Syria; that was bumped for live coverage of Houston’s death. While it’s arguable just who would have been watching CNN at 10pm on a Saturday night anyway, I can’t defend the network for their programming decision. Whichever producer or executive came to the conclusion that since every other network would be covering this story and it is news and therefore wipe the schedule must be ditched was sorely mistaken.

The reaction of individuals can’t be controlled. In learning about Whitney Houston’s death, I can’t blame people for wanting to publicly show their grief, nor can I condemn them for not paying more attention to world affairs, which arguably affect them less than Houston’s passing. The same can’t be said about what stories the media chooses to broadcast. News networks, in particular the major ones like CNN, have more of a responsibility to tell the bigger stories, to use their role as the Fourth Estate to keep focus on things that may slip by our attention otherwise. There’s no way that Whitney Houston’s death will evade anyone’s knowledge for long; the same can’t be said of horrors taking place in areas many Americans couldn’t find on a map.

December 29, 2011

Known Unknowns – A Confession and Reflection

It’s been five months since I started this blog, so a check-in on my thoughts since my first post seems in order. Now, I don’t often do this, but something was brought up to me yesterday, and I felt the need to address it in longer form than just a tweet. What I’m about to say goes against most standards of the Internet, I feel, but it has to be said: I don’t know everything. Man. It feels good to get that off my chest.

The fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to write about foreign policy and national security matters when you are 100% sure of the fact that you don’t know everything that’s going on with the topic you’re discussing. To be 100% sure that what you’re writing is accurate, you need one of three things, I feel. You need to have the access where you’re in the room during the meetings where these matters are discussed; you need to have the level of clearance that you are working directly on some of these issues; or you have sources that have access to one of the first two. I am currently at the level where none of those things is applicable to me. And I’m okay with that. For now. Ideally, the last of those is the one that I would want to really develop if I’m going to keep writing in this style. Thanks to everyone in the Twitterverse, and the amazing people I’ve had the fortune of meeting in the real world, I’m slowly getting to the point where I’d feel comfortable actually interviewing experts and soliciting people’s thoughts on matters in intellectual cold-calls. For now though, it’s mostly me here.

So what I produce on this blog is the product of what I’ve learned over the years, what open source material and scholarly works I can get my hands on and wrap my head around, and me attempting to put these things together and connect links into coherent arguments. As it is the result of imperfect knowledge, sometimes I’m wrong. But as Bradbury put it in Fahrenheit 451, “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn”. So I put it out there, and see if the thoughts that have managed to be extracted from my head and placed onto the screen make sense.

That’s where you, the reader, comes in.  I need you to hit me. As hard as you can. If you come across this blog and find things that are blatantly wrong? Let me know. I’d much rather be forced to confront that I was mistaken than go forward in life possessing a false idea. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn out I’m right, and you can find yourself corrected. Funny how the Internet works like that. Or should, at least. For the record, this post isn’t about any one thing I’ve written in particular. Just an overall need to take a second and reflect on the nature of writing at this level. I’ve always strived to, and will continue to, put forward only material that I feel confident in. And I think I’ve definitely come a long way since August when I first became bold enough to click “publish”. I just wanted to make sure that, while I like to think I know what I’m talking about, nobody got the opinion that I considered myself the definitive voice on things I write about. I’m definitely learning, though.

November 23, 2011

Blurb: I took a feat in dual-wielding blogs

If you don’t get the subject line’s reference, that’s fine. More power to you for being far less nerdy than I am. In any case, what I meant to say is that my work will no longer solely be appearing on this blog. As of this morning, I’m also writing posts on UN Dispatch.

My first post, on last night’s GOP debate and the importance of what wasn’t said, can be found here. Huge thanks go to Mark Goldberg, the editor, for asking me to write for them. Further thanks also go out to Allie Carter, for convincing me to start writing in the first place, and Ben Rosner, for staying on my case in the early days and making sure I didn’t give up. Fear not, I will continue to write here, as I have full editorial control here, and certain idiosyncracies, like this post’s title are a better fit for this format. So yes. Be sure to read me over there, too.

August 29, 2011

And so it begins

I think I have Aaron Sorkin to thank for this blog finally starting. Or at least The Social Network. As I was working late last night, I had The Social Network on in the background and it got me to thinking. I’ve always had a sizable opinion of myself, but not over much to show for it. A bachelors diploma from Michigan State University hangs on my wall, which I’m immensely proud of, but there don’t seem to be many in the greater Washington region who agree.

It got me thinking about what I want in my life, and whether I have the drive and ambition necessary to get there. I’ve known for awhile what I want. But the path to get there hasn’t been clear at all.

Since I was in high school, the way the world interacts with itself has fascinated me. I got my degree from MSU in international relations, and I want nothing more than to be able to really affect the policies that I see going on around me. I want to be as well known a name as Marc Lynch, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Andrew Exum, thought of as an expert. Not for the nerdy fame that comes along with it, but because I really would like to be able to have an impact on this world. I like to think of myself as a constructivist, and the thought that one person can make a difference, one leader, one thinker, one idea, that appeals to me. It doesn’t hurt that too much of realism and liberalism make sense for me to choose between the two.

How to actually prove that I’m able to tackle those ideas though? The way I see is by having other people say that you know what you’re talking about and that comes in one of two ways. With a piece of paper hanging on your wall or with your thoughts out there being passed around by other people who know what they’re talking about. The former I’m actually seriously looking into for the first time. The latter stands before you. So that’s what this blog is about: proving to myself first that I can actually walk the walk and can put together the sort of strings of thought that not only make sense to me but other people as well. Over the next however long, I’d like to focus on international politics primarily with a secondary look at domestic politics. The two are so intertwined, and my interest in both so great, that I can’t see writing about just one or the other.

And so begins a project, one that I don’t know will take off, or even go in the direction that I want it to, but I’ve been talking about and thinking about doing this forever. It will make my father happy, that’s for sure. He’s been on my case about writing more since I could hold a pencil, so this one goes out to him.