Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The (Ill-Considered) Rise of the Party People

The Evening of November 4, 2008

My wife recently received an invitation from an enthusiastic Obama supporter to attend a “Victory Celebration.” This event is set to take place on the occasion of Barack’s defeat of his doddering, arm-flailing Republican opponent. My wife, who’s been desirous of celebrating this historic event in one way or another, plans on going and has repeatedly chided me for my unwillingness to participate. I’ve also heard that many black folks are planning Obama victory parties all across the country.

Those of you who know me and/or read this blog should be familiar with my support of the good Senator from Illinois. This group should also know, by now, how deep my distrust of white America runs. Far be it from me to be a party pooper, but Obama-Mania has reached such a crescendo that I worry about the possible ramifications for black America should he lose. I fear for those who haven’t been paying attention to the last couple of elections. Hello? Voting “irregularities” occurred in both the 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio) elections - and I don’t need to remind any of you that these victories were stolen from wealthy white men. What makes you November 4th partygoers think that the same won’t happen in 2008? The entire election process has been deeply and repeatedly compromised. AND, as you might expect, to one degree or another, Bradley will be in effect. We can not allow our excitement to cloud our judgment. We need to take a page from the Book of Larry David and curb our enthusiasm.

A co-worker and I have a bet going. It’ll be the easiest money (well, truthfully we didn’t wager any money but I’m the type who relishes any kind of triumph, monetary or otherwise) I’ve ever made. The bet is based on her conviction that Obama will win Texas. TEXAS. This woman is intelligent, educated and generally cautious. But she’s so deluded by her love for Obama that she actually believes he’ll win a state that hasn’t gone Democrat in a national election since LBJ. She, like some others, has allowed her gusto to turn her into merely a fan as opposed to a clear thinking student of political history.

Again, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. I wholeheartedly believe that the symbolism of a black man winning the election can’t be understated. But an Obama victory will be, after all is said and done, just the beginning. This country is still a mess and, last time I checked, many of our people are still laboring as a part of a permanent underclass. Predictably, there will also be a great deal of white backlash with which to contend. So please. As many of you self-satisfactorily dip your brushes in the can to paint the White House black, I beg you to consider the work still left to be done – not only by Obama but also by us.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Crossroads

The Distinguished Senator from Illinois, pictured here givin' them bitches the Heisman

Okay. He's comfortably ahead (in fact, no candidate with this much of a lead this close to the election has lost.) The economy is in shambles. Gas prices, although dropping of late, are still too damned high. The War in Iraq is little more than an albatross around the neck of the current administration. McCain is belligerent, dithering, and has foolishly saddled himself with an imbecilic hockey mom. Virginia, a safe Republican stronghold for decades, is suddenly up for grabs. Conservatives, having seen Bush run roughshod over their small government sensibilities for the past eight years, are disillusioned, and dislike McCain more than they do Obama. It's a perfect storm. Never before in the history of the American politic has the incumbent party won an election with this many things going against it. And Barack? He's been at the center of one of the most beautifully choreographed campaigns I've ever seen. He hasn't fallen for any of the race-baiters who've attempted to lure the Angry Black Man out of hiding. He's clean. They've been digging for close to a year and haven't produced anything but a "connection" to a terrorist when he was eight years old (contrast this with Palin - who's many shortcomings were exposed about 24 hours after she was selected.) Further, Obama has far greater temperament, charisma, and intelligence than his opponent. He appears to be the right man at the right time. November 4, 2008 is a wrap, right? So why am I still disquieted?

I don't know, folks. I'm just not certain that Obama can win this election. Frankly, I don't think that white Americans have the intestinal fortitude to overlook their racist preconceptions and vote for an African-American for President. After all, there's a great deal at stake for them. Americans, in general, define themselves by how much better they're doing than everyone else. White Americans, in particular, having long bought in to the idea that they are the racial cream of the crop, define themselves by how much better they're doing than minorities. Admittedly, over the course of the last few decades, white Americans have had to grudgingly acknowledge that they're losing ground, particularly to Asians. Asian-American students score significantly higher marks in math and science than their white counterparts. In reaction to this, many whites have comforted themselves by perpetuating the belief that all Asian high-achievers are somehow miserable and lack the ability to enjoy themselves. Since this is a trade off that most whites are willing to make, they are still able to view themselves favorably (not to mention the fact that they still accurately see themselves as the gatekeepers of corporate America). Crisis averted. Yet, while Asian academic superiority has given whites pause, a black man in the White House might send them into a complete self-evaluative tailspin.

Given the history of this country, no matter how poorly they're doing, I'm convinced that whites take comfort in the idea that at least they're doing better than black folks. When whites see other whites driving more expensive cars and living in better neighborhoods than they, they see their own potential. When whites see minorities, especially black folks, living better than they, they start in with all kinds of bizarre, racist rationalizations. They reckon that the successful black person must be a professional athlete or a drug dealer, or just plain lucky. Surely it can't be because the black person is educated and hard working. There must be some sort of trickery afoot. We saw this at play with regard to Obama himself, whose unflappable demeanor has been described by his white opponents as "slick," and who's eloquence has been characterized as "smooth talk." This attempt to transform a remarkable attribute - Obama's superior ability to inspire - into a detriment has resonated with whites at least partially because of his blackness. Surely, they think, a black man can't have that much of an edge over a white man. For these whites, black success must be regarded with suspicion. And in many cases, with jealousy.

Recently, a video has been circulating of a speech given by Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. In the speech, Trumka takes his union brothers and sisters to task for their reluctance to vote for Obama because of the color of his skin. While I admire Trumka for addressing this problem head on, the tragedy is that there was ever a need to give the speech in the first place. Of all the interest groups in the US, unions should be able to immediately recognize what side their bread is buttered on. But therein lies the issue: many of these union members view themselves as white first, and then workers. As a result (just as they did in 1980 and again in '84, albeit for different reasons) they will vote against their own self-interest rather than vote for a black man. Moreover, they can't see that they have a great deal more in common with the average black worker than with a wealthy white person. Their whiteness has clouded their vision like a cataract.

As sickened as I was by overnight sensation 'Joe the Plumber,' I feel that he illustrates wonderfully the psyche of many white Americans. Joe worked himself into a lather about the Obama tax plan. He asked himself why he should be penalized for his success. He worked hard and was entitled to enjoy the fruits of his labor. But here's the thing: Joe was never in danger of being taxed more because he earned over 250K. In fact, when pressed, Joe admitted that he wouldn't earn close to that amount. Joe is all supposition and little substance. But he believes in America, in his innate whiteness, and therefore, in his ability to pull himself up by his bootstraps despite the odds. Even with the weight of the evidence against it, Joe believes that he has more in common with his oppressors than with the poor, the struggling and the black.

Chris Rock once joked that despite the fact that he's rich, none of his white audience members would trade places with him. James Baldwin put if differently. He was bemused by whites who claimed that they couldn't understand "the Negro Problem." Baldwin opined that whites knew that they wouldn't want to be black in this country and that, if they knew that, they knew enough. The progress that has been made over the course of the last 50 years notwithstanding, whites still have a long way to go with regard to their own prejudices. And so, with this election, white America finds itself at the crossroads. November the fourth is as much an exploration of their own shortcomings on race as it is a decision about the next four years. For all of our sakes, I hope they do some much needed soul-searching. I would hate for their shame to be the shame of an entire nation.

Blaxplanation Disclaimer: I am, in NO WAY, saying that whites who support McCain are racist. On the contrary, dyed-in-the-wool Repubs and folks who just flat out like McCain would be remiss in not backing their candidate. This post is meant to address those whites who are swayed to the McCain ticket by Obama's blackness.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

On Cheating: The Big Why

"Despite the fact that she took everything, it's the 'poorly-endowed' part that hurts."

As promised, in this post I will attempt to explain why men cheat. Like many, I've spent a great deal of time wondering why seemingly "good" guys struggle to stay faithful to the people that they love. My conclusions are based, not only on my own experiences, but on those of men who I know and know of.

Men can cheat at any age. Just as I've heard about men who've cheated on their honeymoons, I've heard of decades-long, solid as a rock marriages breaking up over infidelity. Based on what I've seen, however, young men cheat for far different reasons than older men.

Frankly, most young men really don't stand a chance. Socialized, as they are, to equate manhood with sexual conquests, burdened by runaway libidos, and encouraged to go out and accumulate as many exotic, often sexual ego-building experiences as they can, they often find themselves destined for infidelity. Some don't even know why they do it. They just feel compelled. I was one of these. Although I wasn't married, I was unfaithful to women who I dated. On those occasions when I was asked why I did it, I honestly couldn't provide an intelligent answer. I felt that I'd been somehow intoxicated by other women. It wasn't until I ruined a great relationship with a wonderful person that I jettisoned the excuses and really took a hard look at myself.

Many older men, on the other hand, cheat to feed malnourished egos. These past-their-prime Lotharios - particularly those who are married or in long-term, committed relationships - are especially susceptible to falling for the Appeal to Conceit. These men grow tired of seeing themselves through their partner's world-weary eyes. Typically, they've fallen into a rut at home. They eat the same meals. They have the same standard, nighttime, lights off, missionary sex. They are subject to the same "nagging" (Aside to readers: I'm likely to agree with Edith Clara Summerskill, who said that "Nagging is the repetition of unpalatable truths," but most men aren't as willing to accept this truism as I) that they have been for years. They wonder how the young, buoyant, hyper-sexed women who used to be their cheerleaders became the jaded, disinterested coupon-clippers to whom they now find themselves married today. So along comes this other woman. She isn't burdened by having to make his home or raise his children. She doesn't have to worry about the bills or their retirement or the vicissitudes that come with maintaining a marriage. She gets to see him at his best without having to worry about everything that goes into creating his image. He likes her because she makes him feel desirable and intelligent and capable (Aside to readers: Men have exceptionally sensitive egos. Most of the ones I know, including me, require compliments and praise more than they will ever let on.) He is willing to completely overlook the fact that she has absolutely no stake in him, his children or his future. So he finds himself allowing her to feed his fragile little ego - a prelude to adultery. Soon enough, the dearly departed, formerly faithful are creating fantastic, guilt-relieving rationales about how their wives drove them to cheat, or how they were suffocating and desperately needed their freedom, or some such bullshit.

Up until now, I've explained the HOW of cheating but written very little about the WHY. That's because I believe it's important for women to be able to view infidelity within context. Bearing that in mind, here's something that all heterosexual women need to be aware of: ALL sexually active, heterosexual men want to have athletic, unemotional sex with a variety of women. Those women among you who are fortunate enough to have an attentive, faithful, loving boyfriend/husband/partner should know that he's included as well. This fact may be one of the most difficult things for some women to accept. Men are chronically plagued by sexual thoughts. Some of us distract ourselves from this by constantly reminding ourselves how much we love our wives (or how much we stand to lose if they catch us cheating). Others deflect this desire by immersing ourselves in the church (of course, there are a lot of women in the church so this might not be such a good idea). Religious men attempt to quell this sinful urge by marrying early and lovingly directing it toward The One (more on this in a future post.) Still others keep themselves busy with activities that take our minds off of extra-committal sexual pursuits. Then there are those who rush full on in the direction of temptation. I know quite a few men who cheat often, and unapologetically. They feel entitled. For them, the more women the better. These men require no analysis.

Honestly, as much as I'd like to be able to convince you otherwise, there's no foolproof way for determining whether you're with a cheater or a steadfastman. Some women like to believe that once a cheater always a cheater. While this notion makes life simpler, it isn't always true. I was a serial cheater prior to marriage, but my wife and I have been together for nine years and I've been faithful to her since the first day that I met her. This isn't because I don't want to have sex with other women. My fidelity has mainly to do with the following two facts:
1) While I often find myself sexually attracted to other women, I don't want to cheat on my wife. I know I've got a good thing going and I don't want to mess it up.
2) I'm familiar with my own weaknesses. I know that I've given in to temptation before (mostly in college) and I know precisely what I need to avoid.

As a result, I work very diligently to keep myself out of compromising, potentially ruinous positions. I don't go to strip clubs. I don't spend a great deal of time with rabidly adulterous friends of mine. I don't lodge serious complaints about my wife with other women. And, most importantly, I don't create opportunities to cheat. I don't spend any time around good looking women who show an interest in me. At all. I know what that leads to. So far, so good. But being a man is a little like being an alcoholic. You have to take fidelity one day at a time.

So, finally, we come to the Big Why. It's simple really. Men cheat because they want to. They cheat because they put themselves before their wives, girlfriends, partners and families. They cheat because they mistake a strong sexual urge for a biological imperative. They cheat because they choose their egos over their commitments. There's really nothing more to it than that.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

On Cheating: Enduring Adulterers

"I do not think that there are any men who are faithful to their wives." -Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I've been meaning to write about this for a long time. I'm going to attempt to take on adultery in this post. I'm going to try to avoid doing any finger pointing or assigning of blame - believe me, there's plenty of the latter to go around anyway. I'm just going to write about a pattern that I've noticed. I'm inclined toward cynicism so don't expect me support the idea that love triumphs over all. I've too much evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, to the contrary.

My friend's husband is having sex with other women. She broke down and told me what was going on one day when she couldn't contain her sadness any longer. Apparently, it's been going on for years, and with a myriad of different partners. Not terribly long ago, this man suddenly became incapacitated by illness. His wife, a prayerful, loyal, long-suffering type, dedicated herself to caring for him to the point that she was literally wiping his mouth and emptying his colostomy bags. Miraculously, he recovered and, in short order, started screwing everything that moved. When my friend confronted him with evidence of his infidelity and demanded that he explain himself, he told her that, because he'd been so close to death, he felt that he owed it to himself to live each day as if it were his last (on the last day of his life, apparently, part of his agenda would be wooing and entering other women.)

Yet, from my perspective, this is only half of the tragedy. Soon after learning of her husband's cheating ways, my friend began to seek counsel from me and a mutual friend in whom she'd confided. On a number of different occasions, the three of us would spend hours discussing her husband, her options and her sanity. Based, I believe, on some combination of these discussions and her own self-motivation, she made the difficult but sensible decision to pack her things and leave the bastard. The plan was executed perfectly. She saved up enough money to relocate. She set up a job and a place to live in another state. She lulled her husband into falsely believing that she would continue to eat his shit. Then, she arranged for him to come home to a dark (the electricity was in her name) empty (she had purchased most of the furniture, except the bed - more on this later) house one day after work. She called me, and our mutual friend, after she'd gone to thank us for the sound advice and update us on her progress. Everything was going well. Then, a few weeks later, out of nowhere, she called us to let us know that she was coming back "home." According to her, she simply "missed" her husband too much to stay away and was going to attempt to work it out. But, ironically, it was too late. Her husband had already moved on - and moved another woman into 'her' house. Now, her husband was ready to divorce her and she was left to cry and rail against the fact that "that Nigga done brought home a bitch to sleep in my bed!" As she told me this, a famous Big Daddy Kane line played in my noggin like a refrain: "Put a quarter in your ass because you played yourself."

She's not alone. I know at least four women whose husbands have cheated on them, with relative impunity, for years. Each of these women has more or less confided in me regarding their situations. What invariably happens is this: They tell me and various others that their husbands are running around on them. The curse the cheating SOB's name loudly, and often publicly. They make plans to leave. They stay. Eventually, the husband grows tired of the charade and ends up leaving them.

This pattern is so pervasive that I find myself wondering why anyone feels the need to continue burdening anyone else with news of male infidelity. If a man knows he can get away with cheating he will continue to make a fool of his wife and himself. I'm familiar with the challenges that face women, especially those who have children, who attempt to leave an abusive spouse. What I don't understand is what those women who are in a good position to leave - financially, educationally, emotionally and physically - gain from staying.

Recently, a lot of media attention has been given to Gary Neuman, author of The Truth About Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do To Prevent It, in an attempt to determine why men can't manage to keep it in their pants. I believe I know the answer to this and will address it in my next post, but I think a more important question to answer is why women continue to put up with it. Instead of taking exhaustive, often futile measures to try to obliterate men's adulterous inclinations, perhaps it would benefit women more to look after themselves.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

The Free Wheelin' Conflict Theorist


Thuggin' Love at it's most touching

I just read Cliff's latest post and, not unusually, was inspired to freestyle once again.

First - and this is an addendum to an argument that I left over at Cliff's Crib - Sarah Palin is NOT being picked on by the media.  Katie Couric is not Alfred H. Lewis.  Let's get a grip.  For example, I live in Texas.  The Dallas Morning News.  See?  I managed to come up with the name of my local newspaper rather easily, and did it without the aide of Google.  Also, and not for nothing, but I'm only an HR professional and I know what the Bush Doctrine is.  Anyone with more than a passing interest in the actions of this crooked-assed president and his daddy should be familiar with it.  It's simple shit, people.  Here's what it boils down to: Sarah Palin simply doesn't know what the hell she's talking about.  She's not qualified to be a candidate for Vice President and I wish people would stop acting as if she's splitting atoms just because she doesn't completely disintegrate when the cameras are turned on her.  It's officially become irritating.  She's fighting above her intellectual weight class and everyone knows it.  The very next time a hypocritical right-winger attacks affirmative action, white women (who have benefited from it, and continue to do so infinitely more than blacks) had better circle the God damned wagons.

Hillary Clinton is going to vote for John McCain.  She's got her angry white female loyalists printing up HILLARY 2012 bumper stickers as I type this.  Which brings me to another observation.  The ONLY mistake that Obama has made during his improbable campaign is failing to close the gap between himself and the Clintons - who still have considerable political pull, and anger over having been whipped by a Negro neophyte.  Obama should have been able to strike some sort of back room, under the table deal with the Clinton cadre to sew up their loyalties, at least for the current election cycle. His failure to do so may very well cost him the election.

We Americans love deluding ourselves.  One such delusion is that Osama Bin Laden is currently running around like a trapped rat living in a cave.  He is not.  As sure as John McCain's wife is a drug addict, that murderous fanatic is living in a dwelling that makes your house look like that shack in Wasilla from which Sarah Palin use to "govern."  It comforts us to believe that our great modern day walking evil is running around, eating only herbs and berries, and eeking out a hunted existence like the family in The Land of the Lost.  It makes us feel that he's less of a threat and that our complete and utter failure to capture him isn't all that bad.  It ain't so, folks.  Bin Laden isn't living like a Flintstone, and he had an iPhone 3G before you did.

And finally, I need to know why so many of you seem to love Lil' Wayne so much.  Why do you continue to prop him up so?  What is so fascinating about him?  Have you actually heard his voice?  Or seen him?  Or listened to his *sigh* music?  What's wrong with you people?  Some days ago, I was watching VH1's 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs special.  According to some unfathomable combination of VH1 producers and hip hop listeners, the Doug E. Fresh/Slick Rick classic, "The Show," was #51.  Number 51.  That's at least in the top 20 my fellow Americans.  "So," I thought to myself, "surely the the top 50 must be masterpieces."  Of course, that hope was dashed when #50 was announced: "The Block is Hot" by the afore mentioned cockroach, Lil' Wayne.  Since I can't blame myself for this travesty, that only leaves you.  You may apologize if it suits you but I assure you that it will not be accepted.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Blaxplanation Workplace Chronicles: Forming and Formalizing Alliances

In Favor of Black Upliftment (image by Karen Y. Buster)

For those of us who are diminished daily by the slings and arrows of the predominately white workplace, I’ve decided to begin documenting some of my job-related experiences. Like many of you, I could easily dedicate an entirely new blog to the five-day-a-week discriminatory spectacle to which I’m privy. Despite the well documented and oft-repeated progress we’ve made, many of us still have to sit idly by and watch whites hurdle effortlessly over obstacles that employers place in our paths to block our ascension. In any event, I’ll begin the inaugural “Blaxplanation Workplace Chronicles” by sharing the All Too True experiences of “Marcus,” a good, young brother with whom I work.

Marcus was viewed as an ambitious, talented “up and comer” within the walls of the healthcare organization for which I toil. Marcus was brought on board by one of the company’s Senior Vice Presidents (he’d had a position created for him, in fact) and soon won everyone over with his intelligence, charm, professionalism and eagerness to assist others with their projects. He’d been viewed so favorably, in fact, that his organizational benefactor, under pressure from workers who wondered aloud why there were so few African-Americans in management, saw fit to publicly hand-select him to become one of the darker faces of the organization. Seemingly, Marcus was being primed to eventually assume a leadership role in the company.

Alas, it was not to be. Despite Marcus’ desire to take on more responsibility, his supervisor repeatedly displayed a dogged unwillingness to develop him. Marcus’ fall from grace began shortly after he received an informal performance review from his supervisor in which he was generally lauded, but also accused of not being “engaged.” The plan was for Marcus to have only a short stint in his current position and then move to another part of the organization. Despite this, Marcus’ supervisor wanted him to plug in. Marcus, not yet familiar with BossSpeak – the ways in which a supervisor, in a seemingly non-threatening manner, informs an employee that he or she needs to correct something immediately, OR ELSE – simply viewed her comments as benign, constructive criticism. Upon hearing of this, I advised Marcus to fake it – send his boss work-related emails, in the evenings, from home and work the occasional Saturday. Although he was considerate enough to hear me out, and even willing to employ some of my strategies, he was also a straightforward person who was convinced that his work should speak for itself, and he should be above resorting to the kind of trickery that I’d suggested.

Shortly after his review, his manager, now inexplicably convinced that Marcus was unresponsive to her criticism, began to orchestrate his removal. Suddenly, she began to openly express fears that his work was suffering. Out of nowhere came concerns that his projects weren’t up to snuff. Then came the day when Marcus was called into her office only to find his manager and her supervisor, a director, waiting for him. Marcus was being written up - a write up that included such phrases as, “Perhaps I [the supervisor] overestimated your analytical ability.” Literally within a six week period, Marcus went from being the Golden Boy to the Whipping Boy in an organization that once valued him.

And where was his potential savior? Marcus’ SVP champion, the one who had brought him on board, promised to mentor him, and paraded him in front of the organization proved to be unwilling to help him. He allowed Marcus to flounder, displaying unusual anemia for someone in his lofty position. To be fair, this SVP has his own issues. He has his hands full maintaining the status quo. Despite enduring calls to increase diversity in management from all across the organization, he sends out defiant notices that no will be considered for a promotion based on his or her race (a bizarre and ignorant misinterpretation of equal opportunity employment law). As it turns out, he is one of those clueless whites who mistakes individual tokenism for widespread diversity (more on this situation in a later post).

Could Marcus have helped his situation? Certainly. His propensity for forthrightness not withstanding, he could have taken measures to protect himself, and project an image of company connectivity, even if he found it tedious and unnecessary. He also could have been more wary. Marcus belongs to a generation of young African-Americans who have naively bought into the idea that whites are of no danger to them. These young people, having been reared in a post-Civil Rights world in which they’ve always shared classrooms with whites, are not equipped with the self-protective distrust of white intentions that was necessary for their fore bearers’ survival. But, despite this, unfortunately for him, the die had been cast. He had been already been judged. Hence, Marcus was thrown to the wolves based on a single white manager’s perception of him.

Now to my point: Shortly after being hired, I reached out to Marcus on both the social (regularly scheduled lunches and frequent conversations) and professional level. To the best of my ability, I’ve also provided some degree of counseling/advice/commiseration to the brother. Up until now, this has been done in an informal manner. On many occasions, I’ll simply drop by Marcus’ cube and say, “Let’s walk and talk for a minute,” to let him know about things I’d been hearing, or to check on his status. These experiences have brought me to the conclusion that our people need to develop formal networks for dealing with workplace frustrations. I regret that Marcus and I weren’t a part of a larger effort to help black men and women navigate the treacherous waters of the workplace. Imagine a scenario in which Marcus, when confronted by the artifice of his supervisor, could immediately go to a group of seasoned brothers who could give him much better direction than I. I don’t want to give the impression that this experience has permanently harmed Marcus, far from it. I’ve told him honestly that I believe he has what it takes to run an organization like the one we work for, and with greater fairness and efficiency. I still believe this. But I can also easily envision someone being scarred by an experience like this. Not everyone has his determination.

There’s also one final thing to keep in mind: like it or not, to some extent, we’re all in Marcus’ shoes. Despite the fact that some of us are educated, experienced and older, all that separates many us from having our corporate dreams deferred is the whim of a white employer who never really had much use for us anyway.

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