“Your numbers look great”: non-human solutions to very human problems

working-lifeWhen the twins were in kindergarten they were separated between two classes across the hallway from each other. Victoria’s teacher was a soft spoken, cardigan wearing woman with great patience and tenderness. Vanessa’s teacher was a loud, hostile, bitter old lady with no patience for little kids or the learning process. As the school year wore on, Victoria would come home happy, holding up a finger painting she’d done and talking about how she couldn’t wait for school again tomorrow. Vanessa would come home with her head bowed, somber and clingy asking if she can stay home and never return to that mean place again.

I thought Vanessa was simply having trouble adjusting; after all, some kids don’t take to socialization as well as others. But then the phone calls from Mrs. Bitter started to come in. Daily, I would get a call from a gruff, inpatient voice telling me how my daughter was hiding under her desk and refusing to come out or crying in a corner and cannot be swayed to move. Another time she called and said that Vanessa just wouldn’t stop crying, so Vanessa was separated from the group until she stopped being disruptive.

I finally had a meeting with the school and here is what they told me: “Mrs. Bitter can be a disciplinarian, but her numbers are through the roof; she forces her students to do the work by any means necessary, yes, she can seem a little harsh but she gets the job done.”

the-flourishing-classroom

The school cared not that my daughter was frightened out of her wits by this overbearing, unnecessarily harsh woman. Mrs. Bitter yelled at the children without cause and humiliated them by calling them names and getting the other children to join in. I knew this from witnessing it myself when I came into the class to monitor Vanessa’s behavior. Mrs. Bitter was horribly impatient and totally unqualified to be a kindergarten teacher – she had no patience for the job. But out of fear and harsh punishment, her students had the highest academic performance rate in the entire school.

After months of being a confused first time parents, my husband and I finally told the school that we wanted our daughter taken out of that class immediately. Yes, Mrs. Bitter squeezed out high tests scores but she also crunched the spirits of tiny kindergarteners and that was not okay. The school loved this lady because her numbers were great, never mind that she abused the students.

 

I find this mindset prevalent in America. The most successful are the most abusive. This mindset has to stop. Abuse is not okay, even if it gets the job done. The job can be done with compassion, levelheadedness, grace with respect for humanity. The twin with the nice patient teacher did just as well as the twin with the mean impatient one, so why are we rewarding destructive pathways to success?

girls-in-demanding-class

 

Our web-based lives further perpetuate this idea that cruelty as a strategy to produce perfection is okay. Increasingly our lives are maintained by algorithms, these complex applications choose our meals, mates, books, toys, fashion, schedules, careers, doctors, diagnoses, and prescriptions.

Technology is helpful and does create the feeling of ease and efficiency, hence my ability to post to this very blog right now. But computerized technology sends the message to its users that they can be as mechanically efficient both on line and off line. Educational systems are built entirely around the idea that pupils perform at the same scientifically established level. Exams transform human students into data elements that either successfully or unsuccessfully navigate algorithms.

We utilize computerized tools to demonstrate performance but the data is only half of the story. At work my performance is based on how well I navigate complex algorithms, not giving any thought to my humanity. If my report was done with accuracy, I’m good; no one cares that my grandma died, a colleague stole my idea, and I just found out that I have a serious medical condition. Human emotion is in play forever and always, yet our technological world turns a blind eye to the things that truly matter offline.

00433137

Social media is thought to produce a layer of humanity for us but it is really insufficient. Our social media profiles are heavily curated advertisements of ourselves. There is really no humanity in our social media. There is really nothing authentically social about it. We post our stances, arguments, and position on issues but we are not really socializing. We are gathering data and arranging pseudo committees to further digitize our lives. I hear that some authentic friendships are made through social media and this is encouraging. Some people really do get married as a result of meeting online. However, speak to these people and they will likely tell you that their relationship was “set up” or “initialized” online but it blossomed offline. Therefore, our online activity serve as a tool to be used to live our lives not to be lived through

 

Bottom line: your numbers, on paper, on social media, on spreadsheets, on data reports, can look awesome, but you as a human being can be doing horribly. It is everyone job to continually remind each other that our “numbers” don’t represent us fully. It is fine to use data as guide but data will never replace humanity.

SWB: shopping while black

Justice clothing store is apparently THE place where every eight to twelve year old must shop. My daughters bugged me for a month about this cool interesting store so I finally gave in and we visited this tween sparkled heaven.

 

Marketing executives did a superb job making all the products shiny in come hither gold and optimistic yellow.  Every tee shirt is a blindingly happy shade of neon green or smurf popping blue.  What the marketers hadn’t counted on was haughty racist counter staff who, with faux politeness, told me to step aside so she could help the woman behind me who looked more financially secure with her Burberry scarf, crisp brown trench coat and arms filled with long pants, shirts, a jacket, a bath robe, and so many other pieces that her credit card was either about to take a major hit, or she travels with a suitcase packed with cash; oh, and she was white.

woman_with_angel_wings_2_poster-r6b1146c80844489bb0fafdcc5b5138fa_wv3_8byvr_512

I am evil retail fairy. I keep social customs from advancing.

 

I only had three measly tiny toy thingies for my daughters, all braided and twisted and ethnic we stood in the line waiting for a little piece of glittery joy just like everyone else.

“This lane is closed and I think that woman was in front of you.”  Blondie said looking at me and my brood.

 

That’s when I turned to see Burberry lady who was miles away, her eyes glazed over with retail inebriation, arms overflowing with product yet she was hunched over looking at a key chain display not paying any attention to the line in which the sales woman insists that she is in.

“Okay?”  I said calmly as I watched the saleslady walk away pretending to tend to a stray dress someone left behind the counter, refusing to wait on me.

Burberry lady had walked away.  She was perusing the display of flipflops on a far off wall.

I stood there lips pressed, conscience of what was happening but keeping my back stiff and reminding myself to breathe.  My daughters were with me and getting mad at sales people isn’t something I want to demonstrate.  There are far better, worthier skills young black girls need to learn and emulate.

I stood there composedly and talked to my daughters about the fuzzy patterned diary with a lock that they wanted.  Maybe we’d come back another time and get those.

Finally, an African American sales lady called to me from a far off counter.

“I can take you over here.”

I went and got checked out by the nice young black girl.  I looked over and miraculously the unpleasant counter lady’s line was back open.  A customer to her liking had wondered over.

Undercover situations like these happen daily.  It is important that we not give them merit by attending to them but sometimes stupidity seeps into your pores and activates an unforgivable venom that must be purged.

 

With that we move onto better things and pray for God to open the eyes of the ignorant.

 

 

crazy ohio

Some days the world seems to be full of freaks.

weirdos

I wake up drink a cup of coffee, get ready for the day and things seem so normal and peaceful inside the comfort of my private living space.

Then I walk outside to run errands and everyone I come across either has a severe mental illness or some overt quirky personality.  I encounter the homeless man standing in front of Walmart wearing a black leather jacket despite the fact that it is August and the hottest day of the year.  The homeless man isn’t asking anyone for money; he’s just standing there staring people down with his beady eyes.

Since the confused man isn’t panhandling, I wonder if he is waiting for someone to come out of the store.  Whose family member is he? Why didn’t his people advise him to dress appropriately for the weather?

Careening down the aisle I pass a heavily bearded man wearing a ripped stained white tee shirt and strong body odor.  Smelly man also has a skin disease I observe as I look down at his legs.  His cut-offs clash with the redness of his legs.  Why are his legs the only part sunburned? The rest of his skin was apricot and normal but his legs were red and peeling like the skin of an onion.

In the meat section I always encounter a black woman yacking loudly into a cell phone while shifting through the cold packages of raw chicken.

carts

It is inevitable that I hear:

“…and when Jason came walking in at two a.m.  I asked him where was all night and you know what he said to me, girl?”

Over hearing her loud conversation, now I what to know what Jason’s excuse was.

“…he said he was hanging with friends.” She would finish and I would move on thanking God that I didn’t have to deal with a cheater like Jason.

Carting through the rest of the store, I realize that every other black woman in the store is wearing a headscarf.  Some are silk and tied awkwardly in the front of the head making the woman look like a unicorn.  The ambitious ones will warp the scraf around their heads like a head piece that goes to traditional African outfit.  As I look around I begin to feel left out. Should I have come to the store with my nighttime head scarf on?

Most black women wear head scarfs to bed and I am no exception.  Every night I put on a scarf so my hair doesn’t turn into an afro in the middle of the night. But it never occurs to me to just keep my scarf on when I run my errands.  So naturally when I see my sisters running errands in their head scarf’s I assume that they’ve just rolled out of bed, even if it is four o’clock in the afternoon.  Either that or they just got finished cleaning a white woman’s house and now they are stopping at the market to buy groceries for the white family whom they work for.

With a cart full of plastic bags of groceries I try to make my way to the parking lot but get stuck behind a woman with wildly awkward gait.  She limbers from side to side looking as if she will fall over on her next step.  Does she have a wooden leg under her beige leggings?  I am behind her in the exit way with a cart full of groceries but she is walking out empty handed.  Why doesn’t she have any purchases?  Did she come in just to ambulate around in a retial environment?  Perhaps she is just strengthening her legs under physical therapists orders.  Okay…she probably just dropped a prescription to the pharmacy.

In the parking lot, it never fails.  I always see an androgynous person loading groceries in the trunk of an SUV.  There is frequently a person who is clearly a woman along with the ambiguous person and they tend to participating in an ambiguous conversation.  The androgynous person usually has a low haircut, but not too low as to liken itself to a men’s haircut yet the style isn’t like a woman’s either.  The person is wearing men’s tee-shirt and unisex khakis.  The diamond earrings can’t confirm the sex because men and woman wear earrings these days.

I try to listen in on their conversation.

Androgynous person:   “What do you think Paul will say?”

Woman:  “I don’t know…screw Paul.”

Is the woman cheating on Paul?  Are they on their way to tell Paul the truth about their relationship?  Or is the androgynous person just a supportive friend helping her lady friend through a breakup?  I look for signs of public displays of affection.  No hand holding, no playful tapping or seductive staring.  They just get in the car and leave and I’m left wondering if that was a lesbian relationship or a dude and his girlfriend talking about military recruiter named Paul.

Now off to the public library where I will be surrounded by colorful books in an inner sanctum of peace. But realistically, walking into a large public library is like walking into a booming men’s shelter.  Every dysfunctional, homeless male schizophrenic has wandered into the public library and are mysteriously sulking around bookshelves and giving the enormous prestigious building an air of creepiness.

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

What is encouraging is the fact that you will see some of these scruffy men actually reading a book or taking advantage of the free internet services. Sometimes I wonder, which book the guy who has four plastic bags on the floor, wearing punctured sneakers you can see his toes through, a dirty white toboggan, and a stained and shredded Izod shirt, is reading.  Where does his interest lie? Is he reading a sci-fi thriller? A romance?  A book about homelessness?

The most maladjusted man always gets into the elevator with me. I’m usually holding a book I’ve picked from the lower level.  The weird guy always stares at me the entire elevator ride.  It seems like he is trying to get a glimpse of my reading selection and but his stare is still inappropriately long.

“Nice day out.”  He’ll say.  Except his speech is slurred and disorganized so it sounds like, “Ny day…(grunt).”

I smile politely at him hoping that he isn’t the violent kind of vagabond. He takes my friendly smile as an invitation to open up a conversation.

“Day took my coat…do ya know day took my coat?”  At this point I’m squinting at him and wondering why it’s taking the elevator so long to get up to level two.

“Day know, right?”  He says.

“Yeah.” I reply nervously still trying to smile politely. But now I’m wondering who “Day” is.  A family member? Caseworker?

When the elevator beeps my new friend follows me out to the foyer on the second floor.  Suddenly, my new friend decides that he is now at a football game and his team just scored a point. He screams “yeah” at the top of his lungs making every patron in the library look over toward us.

The librarian, who isn’t without quirks herself, wearing a XXL sweatshirt on her extra small frame and hair that is in a messy ponytail like she just got out of a rowdy sexual encounter, looks over at us and I can tell that she assumes that I am with the schizophrenic screaming man. I see her walk out from behind her desk and start walking toward me. Her mouth is fixed to inform me that I needed to keep my patient quiet so not to disturb the library patrons.

I move quickly away from the man and bolt towards the back by the cookbooks. I don’t really cook. I know a lot of women find cooking relaxing or they take pride in being able to feed their families gourmet dishes, but I am not one of those women.  Although I will admit that I am proud of myself for keeping my daughters alive by routinely giving them the required doses of editable items.  So I don’t really want to look at cookbooks but I feel trapped because the dowdy librarian and the crazy man are still standing in the common area confused.

I break down and look through a couple of cookbooks figuring that I would at least try to make something fried or baked or pouched this weekend.  By the time I’m done choosing, the coast is clear and I make my way up to the third level so that I can look at some serious books about parapsychology and psychoanalytic theories.

On the third floor there is a big space littered with long work tables for tutoring and studying.  I always see the most drastic social combinations at these tables. There is always a very pale dainty white woman tutoring an enormous dark black guy, a black woman tutoring an Asian kid, and a Rastafarian dude with dreads to his waist sitting across from a corporate looking white man. I can never tell who’s tutoring whom in that combo.

I trot past the United Nations feeling good that we all can come together in the name of education.  Once I get back in the shelves holding literary novels, there is always…and I mean always, some older black woman schooling her daughter or niece in the aisles. I can always hear her voice from three aisles away.

“That’s how Shelia got raped.  I keep tellin’ her to stop wearing those low cut tops. I don’t want to see you end up like her.”

The older woman will caution her young charge, but then almost in the same breath, she’ll start giving unsolicited sex advice. “…and then you roll it around your tongue a little bit…if you do that your man will go wild…”

I’m usually standing in the aisle holding a paperback with my mouth hanging open.  By this time I am shocked and confused, so I know that poor little Keisha is perplexed about how she should approach sex and relationships.

I have my selections and finally check out and head to the parking garage.  Things go smoothing in the concrete structure until a young couple who just pulled in get out of the car and start yelling at each other.

“Screw you….screw you.”  The woman yells at her boyfriend.  As they’re fighting they are making their way toward the library entrance.  The boyfriend tries to lock the car doors with some device but ends up setting off the car alarm instead.

So the car alarm is blaring, the girlfriend is now screaming, “you’re so stupid” and pushing her boyfriend’s shoulder. I quickly get in my car before he hauls off and hits her. I certainly wouldn’t want to be subpoenaed as a witness.  I’m about to start my engine when I realize that I forgot to validate my parking ticket.

Now I have to walk back inside right behind Ike and Tina.

it’s okay to have quirks

I let out a low sigh feeling glad that I’m not the only weirdo in town.