Charleston Tragedy: Race, Religion, & Mental Illness

The tragedy in Charleston, SC this week was horrific. Regardless of who the shooter was, what his background was, what color his skin was….he was a disgusting individual. Notice I didn’t say sick. A sickness can be cured, it is something that one recognizes and treats in order to get better. This young man was not sick. He was deranged and cruel.  There is no sugar-coat for that type of person.

I have read an article and seen one news story so far that has tried to analyze his mental state and it appears these sources are leaning towards the “mental illness” card. To that I say, STOP IT! Working with those on a daily basis who are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, and life trauma, I’ve seen someone who is sick and ill. If I’m being honest I can even say that there are some who come seeking “help” for their illness who, after assessing their circumstance, are really just cruel and malicious like this boy. These are the ones who give the mentally ill a bad rep.

For this young man  to walk into a “Black” church (more on that in a minute), where he was definitely out of place, and for him to still be accepted and welcomed to join them at the table. For him to sit there for an HOUR and listen and participate in discussion surrounding Christ….and then to say he wanted to kill Black people and open fire on these innocent people….that is not mentally ill. That is mean. Call it what it is. We have to stop allowing these types of people to hide behind a label. A label that millions of people actually deserve, and for those who do suffer, the stigma is increasingly negative. This guy is the reason why.

As humans we are really bad about judging others. It’s a part of our sinful nature, and it’s never going away. But it can be controlled. The only way for this to truly happen is to get to know others of opposing cultures. However, sometimes this makes things worse because the stereotypes are true. We all have to stop living out the stereotypes and learn to become our own person. If we don’t want to be perceived a certain way, we have to stop acting that way! Otherwise, when people meet us, they will only be let down to know that we are “just like everybody else”.

Another way to stop enhancing the stereotypes is to educate ourselves on what the perpetuating force is for the judgement and alienation. I saw a discussion online between two individuals were multiple studies were cited. One stated that those who had more ethic names were shown to be less productive on the job. Also, young black males were shown to be least productive on the job. Therefore, many find it okay for employers to base their decision of hiring on such studies. If two individuals have the same qualifications and research shows that the young black male with the ethnic name will STATISTICALLY not do as well, they probably won’t be the one hired. Which from an employer standpoint, makes sense. But from a life standpoint, it doesn’t allow those males to beat the stereotype and prove the research wrong. There are two sides to every coin.

So what can we do about it?

I say, assimilate. Don’t give up your home culture or cultural identity completely. But when you are in public in the United States, make sure you are able to fit in relatively easily. Culture is very important, but so is a good job and having the means to be able to provide for a family.

Many parents don’t think about this the day they give birth to a beautiful girl. They want people to know their child is unique and special, so they come up with a name that is hard to pronounce and not phonetically correct. Down the road, this could ultimately be a disservice to the child. After all, most people who become of very high importance have names that are easy to pronounce and easily recognizable. Do you want your child to be the President one day? Give them a name people can say and will remember. Even if your child doesn’t become President….it would be nice to be able to remember the name of the car mechanic as well. In the society we live in, especially those of us in the South, so much of our collective culture relies of being able to greet individuals with a smile and by name. Think about that next time you want your child to have a special name.

The same premise applies to those who learn English as a second language. Bilingual and multilingual individuals are extremely valuable in our country. It would be ideal if every business establishment was able to employ at least one multilingual person. That way more people can be reached! Because odds are, if you can’t talk or communicate with the person, not much business will get done. However, many individuals where I live who are bilingual don’t even utilize it. I’m not sure if they don’t think they are valuable or there is a market for them, or if they just want to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Either way, these individuals could educate themselves and capitalize on their value to our country.

Third, parents must have responsibility for the way others perceive their children. People are judged not just by their names, but on the way they talk and dress. Children begin to develop language skills at a very young age, even prior to entering school. Parents and caregivers are their primary source of education on language skills. If parents are not educated on the proper way to pronounce words, read, or speak…their children won’t be either. Some say that their way of talking is just an accent. However I think the accent is not the problem, it’s the ignorance on how to actually speak, or the laziness not to care to learn or carry out what they know. This not only perpetuates the stereotypes but sets the children up for failure as well. An accent is the way words are said, the sound of a long A or short O. However, leaving letters off the word or changing the letter within the word is not an accent. This is a learned behavior that becomes a choice once who learns the alternate way. Children who learn to say “axe” instead of “ask” go into Kindergarten at a disadvantage. It makes them the target of bullying if their classroom primarily consists of those who say it properly. It makes it a lot more difficult for them to learn to read and write. Because children are taught to sound things out. And they will sound them out and spell words the way they say them. That’s just a fact.

When I was in middle school, we were forced to wear uniforms beginning in the 7th grade. I’m not 100% sure of the reasoning but I can guess two things…1. To keep children from focusing on name brands and alienating children who could not or chose not to afford such things and 2. To keep children from wearing suggestive or vulgar clothing. This trend has trickled all the way down to Elementary School now, but stops in high school and children are again allowed to wear whatever they choose, within reason. I know there are many children who become involved in adult activity how are “good” kids, however, it’s safe to say the majority of kids who become gang members or teen moms didn’t begin their behavior overnight. It all starts when children believe they are older than their age. They want to dress, act, and talk as if they are the age they wish to be. Therefore, parents who think clothes are just a fashion statement are SADLY mistaken. Teens today are already developing more quickly than in past generations. A fourteen year old today looks nothing like I did, that’s for sure. And if this girl wears a low cut V neck shirt, or a tight or short skirt…she definitely doesn’t look fourteen. What parents must remember is that you are in control of what your children wear! If you don’t want your daughter to be perceived as a slut, don’t buy her clothes that resemble a street walker. That’s common sense.

What does this have to do with the tragedy in Charleston? Children, regardless of race or religion, are a product of their environment. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

Teach your child what is right and good. Help educate them and nurture their creativity and independence. Ensure that YOU as a parent have done everything in your power to make sure they will be a fully-functioning and productive citizen once they are an adult.


Ashamed to Shame

Today I read an article that brought potential Republican Presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, under fire for an excerpt from a book he wrote 20 years ago. The excerpt was discussing the use of public shaming to decrease the number of children born out of wedlock, repeat offenders, and those on public assistance programs. Feel free to read the article here:

There are several things I see wrong with this article.

First of all, quoting a small excerpt from a book written in 1995. This assumes that Mr. Bush’s stance on these major issues hasn’t shifted at all in the last 2 decades. Come on, yeah right. And shame on the Huffington Post for finding fault with the candidate by using such old material. If you want to attempt to sway the public vote, find something recent. If you can show me that he still feels this way, and then you want to reference the old book to prove he has always felt this way…that’s fine. But don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes using material 2 decades old. That’s misleading and I don’t like it.

Second, I hate Mr. Bush’s choice of words. Though I think I understand Jeb’s point, what a horrible way to put it into words. From reading the excerpt I think what he is trying to say is that, as of 1995, an influx of individuals were having children out of wedlock, and he thought the trend needed to stop. His idea for causing this trend to stop was by increasing the negative stigma attached to those effected. This is where our agreement stops…..I do agree that the trend should be reversed, but there is a better way to do so.

Since the book was published that is referenced in the article, births to unmarried women has continued to rise significantly. In fact, in 2007 the percentage of children born to unwed mothers was 40%, which more than doubled from 1980 (CDC, 2009). Why is this true and what can we do to stop it? Or is it even a problem?

The first thing that must be analyzed is why do women have children out of wedlock? Some are by choice, convenience, or accident. But some are by forced sex and rape. Some pregnancies begin as an accident but then a man makes empty promises to marry the woman and start a family if she has the child. As humans, we can’t help but judge others…it’s in our nature. But do we really take the time to think of all these scenarios in that instance?

Think of the Christian woman who knows the value of a human life. And even though she did not intend or plan to give birth, God has granted her the gift of fertility and she knows she should not abort. Think of the child who is raped but who wants to have the baby to give up for adoption and a better life elsewhere. Think of the woman who had a lapse in judgement and neglected to use protection. That could be any of us. Any one of us could be part of this statistic. You, me, your mother, sister, and friend. We just happen to have been lucky enough to forego the consequences of our actions or circumstances.

Children are largely a product of their environment. Children learn from what they are see around them. This is the case particularly if no one else takes the time to educate children any differently. Children who are born to unwed mothers are more likely to become unwed mothers themselves, unless someone intervenes. Interventions must provide real education, not just textbooks and powerpoints and lectures. In order to truly get through to them, someone has to care, and the woman has to know that. How is this love shown? Through empathy and education. Through taking your knowledge and experience and lovingly sharing it with someone else. Instead of pointing the finger, come alongside these mothers and help them develop self-help skills and reasoning skills to prevent another repeat of their current situation. Bashing someone never produces positive results. Love wins out every time.

Kicking someone while they are down is never the answer. Ever. And besides, public shaming is not going to work anyway. The reason why? The punishment is not connected to the act.

You see, in order to truly reverse behavior, one must feel the full effects of their actions. The true consequences for their decision. My Mama says, “for every action, there’s a reaction.” Oh how true.

On one level, Mr. Bush is right. Funneling these unwed mothers and their children into the system is not the answer. It’s not going to stop or deter anything. Because the consequences are not felt.

You see, for me…I know the effect having a child would have on my life. Because although I am broke, I’m not poor enough to receive assistance. So I would struggle daily to provide for the child. I would be forced to sacrifice my time and money to raise my child. I would not receive food stamps or free child care. And I can promise you, if I did have one….I would make SURE I didn’t have another.
These mothers know what causes children. And though there are some that abuse the system and have children just for the sake of a check, I don’t believe there are many that do that. I truly believe that many parents continue to have more children because they do not feel the effects of their actions. They have little consequences because taxpayer dollars come to their aid.

This issue isn’t just about children born out of wedlock. The same premise could be argued for repeat offenders and those who receive welfare as well. If people don’t feel the full effect of their actions, they are likely to continue to repeat them. And if people don’t have to knowledge or tools to do better, they won’t. There are many people who resent being a statistic and relying on assistance. There are many who are ashamed and embarrassed. I know that’s not all…some brag about and look forward to the assistance. But that’s not all. Using the word ALL and placing every person into a group isn’t a proper representation of the facts.

Maybe we should focus time and efforts in providing these individuals with some tough-love. Maybe we should give them some education surrounding the effects their decision not only has on their life, but the lives of their children as well. Because some don’t mind screwing up their own life, but few want to see their children at a disadvantage. Maybe we should show some love to these people. Embrace them. Be a positive influence. Maybe then they will be more likely to listen to us and appreciate our views.

Just let love win and see what happens.