A Rose By Any Other Name

Though it’s hard to tell now, at one point in my life I was an aircraft mechanic for the U.S. Air Force. I got out of that career field as soon as I possibly could, but I made lifelong friends and learned a lot of really valuable life lessons as well. Unlike many other career fields in the Air Force, we worked in 3-person crews to do our job, each person on the crew did specific stuff and on the really good crews, the 3 people were interchangeable in some areas. We had competitions against other teams and not to toot my own horn, my crews won a few major ones. When people otherwise unfamiliar with the armed services think of what it’s like on the inside, they probably think the culture is mostly like the Aircraft Armament Systems Technicians field. A familial bond of sorts, men and women in relatively good shape that work as a team. You know, the American way as we’re told. The reality is that most fields are not like this at all. Most people are purely for self, there is nonstop pressure to be better than the next person, to outrank the next person and… damn, that is truly the American way. 

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I walked into the cantina at this Belgian air base after we loaded one of the jets. Unlike The U.S. Air Force, Belgians take a coffee break before and after all action. Inside the cantina, there were maybe 15 or so people, a lot of cross talking, and friendly ribbing going on. They knew it was my first time there so this random guy asked what I wanted, I assumed he was going to translate for me. I told him, a cheese sandwich, and some tea, he laughed at me requesting tea, but paid for my snacks. As I got to know them, I realized, they were better at being united than we were. There was a level of sincerity in their interactions that is impossible to attain in the U.S. military, primarily because they don’t hop from base to base, nor are they in constant competition. They live around each other for years, decades even, until they retire as old men and women. The entire time, united in cause and supportive of each other, crazy right!

The name doesn’t match

All that was to preface this…I can no longer in good conscience call the country I’m from the “United States of America”. It may simply be time for a rebrand because nothing about our current state of existence nor future prospects would imply unity. We don’t work together as teams unless it is absolutely necessary of our field to do so, or in a catastrophe, or a sport. Even on teams where it is impossible for one person to do everything, there are internal levels of competition among the players. America is pretty much driven by competition for better and worse, and that relentless competitive nature has us lying to ourselves as a nation to believe we are united.  

blue wall alley

Compete- To strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same

red trees

Designed this way

There are varying levels of quality and inequality within public education, often determined by income tiers, race and location. That isn’t simply a difference in teaching methods, there are schools receiving more money than others, even in the same state. The way students are treated at the schools vary largely based on income and race…take a moment to really think about how horrible that is to our students that we hope will someday take this country further. 

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.

Malcolm X

When I lived in Alexandria, VA my daughter attended a school in Fairfax County where the student population was 80% Hispanic. Some of the parents were new to the country, and most spoke English as a second language if at all. I went to a parent teacher conference 30 days into the school year and the teacher had nothing but glowing remarks. She was in accelerated reading and math classes, I checked my daughter’s homework every day, so I knew the areas she was strong and weak. Nothing below average or out of the norm for someone learning new concepts. When I went for the first report card, I was shocked to see that she was marked down on everything. Up to that point, all of her homework and quizzes amounted to 4’s and 3’s (A’s and B’s for us old folks). Instead, she was graded at 3’s and 2’s…but she received a 4 in physical education. 

The end of that marking period coincided with a parent’s night at the school. Before attending, I asked my sister what grades my nephew received since he’s in the same grade but attended a predominantly White public school in the same school district. Unsurprisingly, he received some 4’s, some 3’s and a couple 2’s but in her estimation, it all made sense. I asked my daughter’s teacher why she received these grades, and the teacher’s response was “it is Fairfax County policy to not give 4’s in the first period” ignoring the fact she received a 4 in PE, and not aware that my nephew received 4’s in several academic areas as well as PE. I brought that to their attention and highlighted how they were doing a disservice to these kids because they knew their parents wouldn’t fight back. I tried to assemble the parents to file a complaint, but no one wanted to say anything because they feared what would happen under Donald Trump. The school corrected my daughter’s report card, but no one else’s. I’d be willing to bet those practices are still going on.

To be blunt, this story about my daughter is one example of systemic racism. Not to say the teacher or principal of her school were racists, I actually liked them both, but the policies they carry out work towards the “establishing superiority” portion of competition, when their job should be “building ALL students up”. To be honest, the same thing goes on across the country, within counties and cities there is an educational hierarchy designed to foster the growth of some students and stunt the growth of others. Sadly, that’s how our country treats its children, and unlike fine wine, the treatment doesn’t get better with age. 

I’ll buy that for $5

Back in 1887 the U.S. established the Dawes Act in an effort to provide land allotments to Native Americans. All things considered; this was an attempt to give back some of what was taken from them in the first place. I grew up on the West Side of Chicago in the 1990’s, I’m very much aware that when there is an opportunity present, there will be people seeking to exploit this, the 1880’s were no different. In an attempt to game the system and get some land, a lot of opportunistic White guys paid to be Native Americans. For the price of $5, approximately $140 in today’s money, these people were able to pay their way (and their lineage) into benefits reserved for Native Americans. At the time, this was mostly just a land grab, but today it is much more.

In 1978 the Federal Government modified their 8(a) program to help “socially and economically disadvantaged people” with getting more opportunities in Federal contracts. The people targeted were Black people, Native Americans and Hispanics at the time, but the term applied to everyone that wasn’t White technically. A participant in this program would have 9 years to make the very best of the advantages to grow. Direct awards were limited to $4M per contract, with a maximum of $100M earned through direct awards or 8(a) set aside work. As the years went on, the SBA added “Indian Tribes”, Alaskan Natives, and Hawaiian Natives to the list as well. A benefit to the program is that it allows contracting offices to award without competition to an 8(a) firm, which is very beneficial to the contracting officer, especially towards the end of the fiscal year when time constraints make competition difficult. I know this because I have been on both sides of this as a government contracting officer and now as an 8(a) business owner.

close up photo of a white statue
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By now you may be wondering “how does this connect” and your wait is now over. Many of the tribally owned or “Native” owned firms that I dealt with as a contracting officer were all run by what I observed to be White men, which I thought was odd. At some point, Native owned businesses were determined to be permanently disadvantaged, meaning, regardless of how much money they made, they would always be in the 8(a) program with the ability to get direct awards without competition. Meanwhile other minority owned firms graduate after 9 years or $100M in 8(a) awards, or if their personal net worth exceeds $6M. Recently, the threshold for direct award contracts for Native owned businesses were increased to $25M for civilian agencies and $100M for Defense agencies…per contract.

I’m not a fan of connect the dot pictures, they’re usually ugly and poorly done and this one is no different. Call me crazy, but I’d be willing to bet that many of those opportunists that paid $5 to be considered Native Americans have descendants reaping the benefit of their deception right now by way of these federal contracts. I may be even crazier to think that part of the reason the rules were amended in this way was for this very reason. Not sure how Black people, who have been the burden bearers of the U.S. and pre-U.S. colonies are considered advantaged suddenly with a net worth of $6M and Native Americans are permanently disadvantaged regardless of net worth. I could be biased, but by my observation, this is another extension of systemic racism. If we’re singling group’s out to be considered permanently disadvantaged in the U.S., the TWO groups that were most influential in establishing the United States, and wronged by the same government, should have that status. Or maybe I’m just tripping.

Money Driven

an abandoned building
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Raise a finger if you recall life before the mass takeovers by Walmart and Amazon. Raise another finger if you recall mom and pop shops in your neighborhoods, and that is no longer the case in your neighborhood. Just think, those mom-and-pop shop owners may have only made $100K per year and provided low-income jobs in walking distance of their employees. Then, when the big corporations took over, they pushed mom and pop out by offering lower prices, gave them and their workers lower paying jobs, then funneled the money up to the Walton’s and Bezos’ of the world. This has happened in almost every industry. Let us not forget, the mom-and-pop stores could go out of business and be replaced immediately by another with little concern from Uncle Sam. However, these enormous retailers get tax breaks and loopholes never afforded to the smaller shop owners because campaign money is more important than truly caring about individuals. Funding is needed to create a narrative to influence voters. Oh, and just so we’re all on the same page, when we raised those fingers, we were pointing them at ourselves because that’s who got screwed the most.

Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body

George Carlin

Bright spot…kinda

Just when you thought, “damn, this month has been dark” I’m about to shine a little flashlight into the void of space. I was looking at this list of countries with the highest quality of life which has the “United” States ranked 20th. I’ve seen others that go as high as 19th and low as 23rd so 20th isn’t bad considering there are 195 countries in the world. Then, this list of where the money resides is also telling. Of the countries in the top 10 of quality of life, only 2 have also shown up where the money resides, Germany and Canada. If we truly want to compete for something, we should be competing with these countries for best quality of life. Our marketing tells us we’re the best and we tell everyone else we’re the best, but the reality is, with all our resources we’re not even top 10 in the main category that matters. The bright spot is, we can be. It only takes a few sparks to ignite meaningful, positive change. 

Call me a hopeless optimist, but I believe most of us truly want a better society and sincerely believe equality is a good thing. Equality is mostly a good thing but is meaningless without equity and inclusion. The system was initially set up in favor of one group to get ahead. The door was slightly opened for others, as long as they resembled the first group. Then more as long as they had the funds to come to the country and build themselves up using our systems. Then after the structure was mostly solidified there was a declaration that we were all equal. We will never be equal without equity and there is no desire to provide equity in America, even for school children born poor by no fault of their own. 

Be the change

Change begins from the ground up, and there are far more of us at the base and middle of the pyramid than the peak. By now, we should know that pyramids are awe inspiring to look at, but not at all good in the form of finances. If you’ve made it this far in this post, thank you, it was a longer and darker read than normal. I’ll conclude with this. In my opinion, we cannot call ourselves United States, when our system is set up for competition at every level. To be united, we must first eliminate the desire and need to compete with each other and replace that with a desire and need for cooperation. If we see each other as partners, working to advance society instead of constantly trying to defeat others that are simply trying to live, then maybe we’ll be able to genuinely call ourselves “United States”. Until then, we are members of the Self-Serving Entities of America. It is truly up to the people to be divided or united, let’s do our part. 

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