On The A Train (Originally Published 6/23/10)

I don’t usually take the A train home. It doesn’t go to my neighborhood. But Monday I went a different way, and there I was, at Columbus Circle, hopping on the uptown express.

The A train skips straight from 59th to 125th (which, if you’ve never been here, is a fairly long way), and I turned on my new music, cracked open my book, and read a few pages. Nothing special about this ride.

When we reached 145th, I had one more stop to go, and being me, I got up from my seat far earlier than I needed to and went to stand in front of the door. There was a man leaning on the door, as people do, and he was covered, from neck to waist, and probably lower, in tattoos.

Because he was taller than I am – shocker! – I was at about neck level, and my eyes focused on an oddly shaped tattoo I’d never actually seen on a person’s skin before, though of course I’d seen it in pictures, and all over South Korea, since it originated as a Buddhist symbol. But this tattoo wasn’t meant to signify peace and harmony.

And now, where was I? I was in Harlem, in a subway car full of every possible ethnicity, including people this dude’s personal philosophy would categorize as worthless, myself included. His head wasn’t completely shaven, but his hair was short, so I guess he fit the description. He was listening to music, just like me and a lot of other folks, and if it hadn’t been for that tattoo – along with a few other similar ones – he would have been the same as everyone else.

I wondered what he was doing there. Most likely he was on his way home or to work, I figured. And the A train was just the fastest way there. Even hateful folks need to save time, I guess. And maybe it was just his rotten luck he had to suffer through my kind – including a bawling black baby, on this day – on his way there.

I worried for a second he might be up to no good. Maybe I’d end up on the news as a victim of a racially-motivated subway massacre. A college (Princeton!) graduate, struck down in his prime. 

Al Sharpton would be mad.

But after my brief fantasy, I slowly turned my gaze higher and looked him straight in the eye. I saw disgust in there. I saw anger. I saw hate. 
But you know what I didn’t see? Life. The man was dead inside.

To get to where he was, you have to suck all the life from your body. To put hate before love, to put anger before joy, is to extinguish yourself. And it only took a split-second of eye contact for me to see that in this very strange stranger.

So instead of becoming enraged, instead of flipping out, I smiled. And when I got off at the next stop, I walked away from him and I didn’t look back.

Because this guy wasn’t scary. This guy wasn’t something for me to fear. He was just sad. And I was filled with joy to know that all of the people in my life are more alive than he ever will be.

And that’s what I learned on the A train.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Connections (Originally Published 5/19/10)

So how many people do you know who have gotten a job because of someone they knew? Their parents, friends, teachers. Maybe it’s even happened to you. Maybe the reason you’re in Korea is because someone pulled some strings – that is, a friend who was already working at your hagwan – and now you’re living the good life. If you’ve benefited from such connections at some point in your day, you are a lucky person.

This subject does involve class – since that was requested by everyone the other day – and it’s clear that those of us with parents or classmates in positions of relative power are going to have more access to lucrative positions. The simple example of this is legacies at elite schools: list the fact that a parent attended and it’s a lot harder for them to ignore your application. (Even though my mother only attended Princeton for one year before quickly transferring out, they still consider her class of ’78, and you better believe I wrote that down when I applied back in ’02.)

My friend recently applied for (but didn’t get) a job at a TV network, a job which she’d heard about through a late relative. And someone she knew essentially criticized her for taking the opportunity that had been presented to her, and made her feel terrible about it.

So, the question she asked me, and the question I’m in turn asking you, is: is it right to accept these connections?

Those of us who are afforded more opportunities, should we necessarily eschew them in order to make the world a more level playing field, or should be take what people are willing to give us?

I personally have felt uncomfortable asking my parents for help with such things – and indeed my dad didn’t really want me to go to Korea before I explained it more fully, so they didn’t help with that – but I realized, at some point, that my parents, both of whom grew up with very little, worked insanely hard (much harder than I have) to get to where they are, and part of that reason was to provide for me. I think it would be insulting to them if I said their aid was no longer valuable to me. That said, if I consider something a pure handout, I don’t accept, but insight and information that I simply don’t have, I am glad to have my parents available to give it to me.

If you toss away what your parents – or whomever – have worked for just because it bothers you that you have privileges, you’re basically the dude from Into The Wild, a pretty movie about an idiotic kid who made his family suffer for his own selfish anti-establishment reasons.

On the other hand, if you continually freeload and coast on money and connections without doing any hard work yourself, you’re, um, George W. Bush. And that guy clearly never made a name for himself.

I think what’s important is what you do with it. If we’re presented with a positive opportunity, first of all, we need to work hard to make it as valuable as possible. Treat it like it’s something special. If a relative gives you the heads-up on an employment opportunity, ace that interview because you deserve the job, not just because someone you know told you about it. And if your parents help you find an apartment (by the way, I’m paying for mine myself, before you wonder), then you get out there and work your ass off and earn the right to live there.

Those of us with relatively easier lives are going to have more presented to us. It isn’t fair, and it’s messed up that the vast majority of the world’s citizens will never have our opportunities. One thing my parents have always told me is that it’s important to remember to give back. Not just having a charity polo event or some other such bourgeois silliness that is nominally beneficial but really just keeps the poor away from the rich. But give time to those who are less fortunate. Remain engaged about the issues that affect others. And work hard so that when you have children, or nephews, nieces, younger friends, you can pass your knowledge and information on to them.

I went to college in a hardware store, by which I mean that it was full of tools. But what made these folks wrenches and hammers wasn’t how much money they did or didn’t have, it was their attitude about it. Very few of them seemed grateful for their (literal) good fortune, and maybe that will change over the years (people do grow up, right?), but I am doubtful many of them will be spending much time worrying about the plight of those who aren’t as lucky as they are.

Indeed, while race and gender and sexuality were issues on campus, people (myself included) liked to pretend class didn’t exist, assuming that everyone could afford everything and being shocked (!!!!) when it turned out not everyone came from the same socioeconomic background. And even though we all came out with the same Princeton diploma, that’s only one part of the pedigree. My neighbor who was the scion of an oil dynasty was set (and a huge jerk). One of my classmates was a Rockefeller. And one a year before me was actually a Bush (she was really cool, though, I’m just calling back to my earlier comment).

My meandering point, if I have one, is that we shouldn’t toss away what is given to us, nor should we accept it without humility and hard work. We should make sure we deserve the things we are given. We should make sure that, in three or four decades, we can look back and say we weren’t a waste of resources.

Okay, that’s enough out of me for the week.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Moments of Privilege (Originally Published 4/26/10)

You ever have a moment of privilege? Of course you have. But perhaps it would help if I explained what I was talking about.

Now, those of us who are privileged in one way or another – gender, class, race, religion – are living privileged lives all day long, whether or not our good fortune is directly affecting us from moment to moment. But when I speak of moments of privilege, I am referring to singular instances that remind us of how privileged we are.

Traveling to Cambodia would count, although that wasn’t really a moment (as it was stretched over several days), and I actually consciously hoped for such an experience. And I’m not really talking about familial love or friendship, because, fortune though these may be, they’re simply not what I’m talking about. Nor am I really going down the not particularly useful “everyone is lucky to be alive” road, because, fact is, lots of folks have it easier than others. Myself included.

What I’m really talking about is a moment like something that happened to me a week ago. My dad lives in a rent-controlled apartment (for those of you who don’t know, it just means the landlord/ownership group can only raise the rent by small increments; most of New York doesn’t have rent control, and if they want to jack the price up, you’re screwed). It’s in a very nice area, and a very nice building, but he certainly wouldn’t live here if it weren’t for the fact that he moved in in the mid-70s, when NYC was hardly a treat, and prices were cheap.

So although we’ve lived in a nice spot my whole life (my mother lived in Brooklyn, and now in Pennsylvania), I never felt like we were in the midst of luxury. But we’ve always had doormen (never doorwomen, so the term is accurate). And a handful of them have been here since I was a fetus. A month ago, the building management warned us that the doormen (and maintenance) would be going on strike on April 20th if a deal wasn’t worked out.

And as it got close, since we knew nothing of the negotiations, I would speculate. “How far apart could they possibly be?” I wondered. “How long will the strike last?” And other silly things.

And, once April 19th came with no deal, and I started to wonder how I was going to attempt my upcoming moveout, I realized how insanely privileged I was. I was traveling down an elevator that scrupulously maintained, the doormen were friendly, funny people who’d looked the other way when I had a few too many roof parties, and I was worried I’d have to (gasp!) move out without the help of a freight elevator. Oh noes!

It was a moment of privilege for me. I was reminded, and quite abruptly, that I was lucky enough to have very many things that others lack, and I was humbled by it.

In the time since I’ve been back in New York, I’ve had a lot more of these moments than I did before I started thinking about this kind of stuff. I think those of us who are privileged (which is, as always, most of the people who are involved in these conversations) need to have more such moments, because we could all use a reminder of our relative good fortune.
We’re lucky folks. And we forget it way too often. 

Oh, and they never did go on strike after all.

Feel free to share any such moments you’ve had, or discuss whatever else you’d like to share. 

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Colorful Racism (Originally Published 4/14/10)

So, people are generally aware of what racism is, yeah? When someone (or some group) discriminates against some person (or some group) based on the racial category or ethnic classification they’ve been assigned to. Yes, race and ethnicity are different (and one is far more fluid than the other), but no one ever uses the word “ethnism”, so we’ll stick with racism for now. (And, yes, ethnocentrism is a thing, and one worth discussing, especially for us travelers, but it’s slightly different.)

The most well known form of racism is, for those of us in the Western world, of course, whites mistreating blacks, whites mistreating Asians, whites mistreating Hispanics, and so on along this pattern.

In more recent times, people have called attention to what they’ve referred to, incorrectly, as reverse racism, namely when people have turned around and discriminated against whites. If you need me to tell you why “reverse racism” is a dumb term, well, go read about it somewhere, as it’s not today’s subject.

No, what I want to talk about today is something I believe is often ignored in conversations between people of different backgrounds (which is exactly what all these posts are). Namely, the fact that people who are not white, specifically people who are placed into the same general barrels, often dice themselves up and exhibit some very ugly bigotry against one another. I’m not really talking about, say, Koreans ragging on black people or vice versa. I mean Dominicans disrespecting Puerto Ricans, Italians doing the same to Greeks, and, as most of us have seen, the Koreans and the Japanese. And all of these random examples go both ways, of course, but the point I am making is not merely that this type of discrimination exists, but that, to the public at large, when people are of similar skin tones, racism is often tacitly accepted.

Yes, for me and you, we take issue with folks who act this way. We know that calling anyone an “(insert race) monkey” is messed up. But I think we need to do a better job of calling out our peers for this behavior even when it’s not a traditionally disadvantaged group (in the West). What a long-ass sentence that is.

When a Korean friend of mine wrote, in her status, “I don’t care, fuck the Japanese,” we know it shouldn’t be said, but, a lot of the time, we say, “oh, that’s their culture,” and look away. If these are our peers – and especially if they’re our children or students - we shouldn’t. In this case, I failed, and just shook my head. In the future, it’s on me (and the rest of us) to take people to task for any sort of racism. 

(And before Kurtis mentions that jokes are jokes, yeah, okay. But I’m talking about when people are dead serious.)

I understand why this isn’t paid attention to, at least from a logical perspective. The unemotional part of me thinks it’s a natural development after a. wars and conflicts or b. having been mistreated by a particular group in the past and feeling the right to strike them down for the past (and sometimes) present sins of the larger group.

The cynical part of me still exists though. And I wonder sometimes if, in the case of a place like the US (and Canada, though to a lesser extent), not calling out minorities for mistreating other minorities might be a way to keep us in conflict. I doubt this is a conscious concerted effort. But people spend a whole lot of time talking about racism perpetrated by whites and sometimes blacks, when there’s a whole lot of racism that doesn’t involve either group at all.

We ought to pay closer attention to the racism between people of color, no matter what that color might be. Because racism is always, always, always messed up, no matter who’s involved.

Have a good weekend, ladies and gents.

Peace and love,

Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Class Is In Session (Originally Published 4/5/10)

I talk about race here. I talk about gender. Sexuality has come up. Religion. Pop culture. Even sports.

But, aside from some tangential references, I don’t really talk about class. And I think I’m doing all of us a disservice by not mentioning it when I bring up all the other things I talk about. It is a legitimate and important issue, and the only reason I don’t really do it is because I feel like I’m not on solid footing with it. I don’t particularly know what I’m talking about because I haven’t bothered to educate myself as well as I should.
Having grown up in relative comfort, I’m sort of cheap, and I budget very well, but making ends meet hasn’t been a longtime struggle for me. Because of this I haven’t had to think about it as much as many others have.

But just as sexism and the patriarchy do have an effect on men even if they’re not exactly the target of it, the fact that we ignore class (and working class folks) has an adverse effect on us all.

I had a conversation under my status the other day about how people tend to overuse the word “poor” when referring to themselves. That is, people use the word when they mean they have to rein in their spending temporarily, rather than actually being at or below the poverty line (or legitimately economically disadvantaged). I suspected, and I continue to right now, that I might be called out by more knowledgeable folks for talking out of my ass, but, oh well. 

I think it’s important that we spend more time paying attention to this issue that most of us (I said most, not all) haven’t had to pay all that much attention to in our lives. The things we say, the things we do, are viewed quite differently by those who circumstances are less fortunate than ours. Since few of us flat-out ask how much money our friends have access to, and since, hopefully, not that many of us just throw money around all crazy-like, we really don’t know the economic backgrounds of the people we’re talking to, especially on a semi-public forum.

I’ve been very guilty of this myself. In February I did something that I thought was generous and, in retrospect, it was foolhardy and ignorant. I think that many of us simply don’t think about the way our actions might be perceived, and while I’m not saying we should be superPC about everything at all times (before someone makes that argument), class is one of the less visible differences between people, and because of that, it’s easy for those of us who have been fortunate to pretend it doesn’t exist.
It does exist, it’s important, and it’s time more of us paid attention to it.

Peace and love,

Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Thank You (Originally Published 2/22/10)

I’d like to use my final post from South Korea to say thank you.

I’ll start by saying thank you to Korean food, for feeding me, filling me, for having snack aisles full of odd-tasting things that convinced me to stop buying snacks altogether and allowing me to thus stay in shape.

Thank you to Korean pop for giving me at least a half-dozen words or phrases I could pull out at any point in the classroom and watch forty teenagers morph into a very large a cappella group. These include: “I don’t care,” “Too much,” “Sorry,” “Nobody,” and of course, the letter “G,” (g, g, g…) which made it a whole lot of fun to spell my last name.

Thank you to the bartenders of this fair city and country for knowing that an establishment shouldn’t close until the sun is up, or at least until the very last customer has stumbled home. None of this “last call” bullshit.

Thank you everyone who’s been reading my lengthy posts and notes since I started my “Sundays” thing almost a year ago. I started it for my own fun, but it has become a fascinating and invigorating activity for me, and I have learned so much about you, and from you. Sure, I’m starting the conversations, but your input is the real reason I keep on writing.

Thank you to my friends and family at home for always making me feel like I was welcome to return whenever I felt I needed to, and for truly showing me how much I’m loved. And thanks to Skype and the interwebs for making all that possible too.

Thank you to anyone and everyone I’ve wronged in the last two years for not tossing me out like garbage and for forgiving me my errors. I’m aware every man, woman and child is entitled to a few mistakes, but there were some decisions I made that were over the line, and to anyone whose toes I’ve crushed, I thank you for seeing that I am better overall than I am when I’m at my worst.

Thank you to my colleagues, who aren’t reading this I guess, but it still needs to be said. Without their kindness and relative patience, a giant life change like this one wouldn’t have gone as smoothly as it did. I might have been one of those people on Dave’s ESL Café who really need some cheese with their whine, but instead, I was lucky enough to work for a school (and a program: gotta give it up to the flawed but supportive and informative EPIK) that made me feel welcome and celebrated. I’ve been informed that may school may lack a native teacher this coming semester, which just makes me sad, because it’s a grand place to work, and my students are, by and large, fantastic young people.

Speaking of which, I have to thank them as well, because, when it comes down to it, we’re teachers, and teaching is about the students. I thank them for helping me see what it was I want and need to do with my life, for not cracking under the ludicrous and dangerous pressure that is the South Korean educational system, for generally being bright and hilarious kids. Life’s a lot easier when you wake up excited to go to work.

Thank you to South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Cambodia for welcoming me into their countries (even if I had to jump through some hoops for Vietnam and China… communists!). I’ve always traveled as much as I could afford to, but taking these fascinating journeys, mostly by myself, has educated me more than I could have imagined as a little kid memorizing country names in New York. I hope to return to some of these places one day, but even if I don’t, the memories and the pictures will be a part of me forever.

And, finally, I simply must thank all of you. I came here at age 21, semi-fresh out of college, with little direction, not a whole lot of ambition, and way too much anger. Through my time spent with you, I believe I have put myself on a path to greater and grander things I didn’t even know I could do. 

I obviously like to be the center of attention. I like to host my trivias and be the captain (Blastin) of the bus. But it wouldn’t have been any fun if I didn’t have wonderful people like yourselves with whom to share my particularly brand of crazy.

If any of you ever find yourselves near New York, do not hesitate to drop me a line, for you will have a host, a guide, and most importantly, a friend.

Peace and love,
Justin Pierce Baldwin Gerald

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Heavyweights (Originally Published 1/7/10)

Let’s go succinct and motivational on this fine Thursday.

It’s not easy to realize someone is better than you at something. Be it sports, music, or the random trivia questions I ask, even the most nonchalant of people don’t enjoy coming up short. Whether it’s conscious or not, most of us will avoid situations where our shortcomings will be exposed, and frankly this is a natural thing to do most of the time. We play to our strengths once we have identified them. It’s why I don’t really play football anymore, or why certain folks reach the age of fifty without being able to swim well.

And hey, not everyone needs to be great at everything. But when it comes to discussion, and when it comes to lifestyle, I feel that too many folks are content to surround themselves with lightweights instead of the challenge of engaging with mental heavyweights.

Now, each of you will define “heavyweight” differently (and I will leave that up to you). But people ought to stick their necks out a little bit farther than they do, push themselves to match up with, and surpass, the best and brightest.

Have a conversation with someone who knows a lot more than you. Get up early – even if you don’t have to – and go do something with yourself. Take the opportunities life presents you with and fucking run with them.

I’m preaching to the choir with some of you. I know so many fantastic people who are clearly on a path to kicking ass if they aren’t doing so already. And I know people who have already kicked so much ass that, hey, they can sit back and take a breather if they so choose.

Everyone else (and I speak to myself as well), we need to seek out those people who challenge us, those experiences that are risky and arduous, and use them to move ourselves forward. Find those heavyweights in your life and get in the ring with them. They might break your jaw the first few times, but you’ll heal soon enough, and if you learn the right lessons, then you can hold the title.
Because if you never get in the ring, then you’ve already lost.

Have a grand weekend and remember, my trivia’s next Friday, folks! I’d better see you all there!

Peace and love,
Justin PBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Meditations on Failure (Originally Published 12/10/09)

Tell me the truth.

When have you dropped the ball? Royally screwed up? Caused irreparable damage? Or simply thrown up your hands and walked away?

A partial list of things I’ve failed: Swimming (as in, on a team; I can still swim), Squash, Rugby, Tae Kwon Do (twice!), Calculus BC, Baseball (playing, not obsessing over statistics), Basketball.

Things from the above list at which I actually tried pretty hard: Basketball, Calculus BC. 

I was lazy, see.

But, that’s just me. Maybe you’ve failed a class here or there. Or just one test. Or perhaps you failed to get a prom date in 12th grade. Or maybe you failed to get into the college of your choice.

The point is, we’ve all failed in minor or major ways. It is a constant in human life, and although it can be infuriating, we all necessarily learn to make use of these moments. If we allow them to beat us down, to send us into a cycle of “woe is me” and “fuck my life” and all that other nonsense, then that’s the real failure. 

To succeed, we must take our failures and use them to push ourselves forward until we reach the lofty heights we’ve set out for ourselves. Treat them as stepping stones instead of allowing them to become pitfalls. Failure can be a risk, a danger, but only if choose to let this happen.

I think my kids here in South Korea are a perfectly sad example of the ways in which failure can be a positive thing, and the lack thereof a negative one*. I try to challenge my kids in every class, both by not speaking particularly slowly, and by encouraging them to engage in activities that require creativity and original thought. (I’m sure many of you do this as well.) In so doing, I presumably get them to think about the language differently, and foster additional skills that had long been dormant in their repetitive grammar classes. But, before they settle in to each activity, they resist. “Easy! Easy!” they plead, and thus ensure that I will do anything but make the class less difficult.

This isn’t their fault though. I mention challenging the students to some of the other teachers, and they say, “No, no, they won’t understand, and they will feel bad.” I think they forget sometimes that our job is to help them improve their language skills, not merely to make them feel good about themselves.

I saw that the average score on the English midterm in October was right around 47%. This was mildly disappointing to the teachers, but they didn’t go and flunk half the school, nor did it seem to be out of the ordinary at all. These kids are not allowed to experience failure until that one giant testing day when failure means a life not worth living. Something ain’t right.

Now, failure can be useful in trivial situations, such as learning to deal with the rejection of a girl or boy who likes you. If we never experienced this somewhat painful fact of life, we’d be some pretty fearful and poorly adjusted adults. Not that I’m some uber-confident dynamo who asks women out left and right, but if I hadn’t been turned down several times a decade ago, age 23 would be a lot more like age 13 than I’d like.

Failure can also be useful academically. If you learn that one method of studying isn’t working for you, you don’t just give up and stop, you find a new way to do what you need to. If you end up writing your entire thesis while watching Law and Order absent-mindedly instead of spending your time in the library like everyone else, you’ve found a way to succeed, even if it only works for you. (That was fun!)

This is not to say we should go out and try to fail, just rush headlong into it without discretion. There’s no need to take stupid risks in life. If it’s a challenge for you to climb Seorak-san, I doubt it would be any kind of sensible to attempt Everest first. If you want learn how to box, you probably shouldn’t do it against Lennox Lewis on day one. And it’s never a good idea to use the pull-out method. (Don’t even act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

But even if you don’t actively try to fail, we shouldn’t shy away from things we’re not sure we can accomplish.

My co-teachers telling me that the kids should continue to “pass” English even when they’ve clearly learned nothing isn’t helping anyone, and especially not the students. Yes, the kids are spared the minor injury to their feelings, but they’re not automatons, much as the system would like them to be. They’re well aware that they’re in the little classroom with the other kids who don’t understand, “What time is it?” They know their English isn’t very good. But they’re allowed to settle into this, and they live a very strange existence where they are both coddled and harshly overworked at the same time.

If they fail, they’ve got to know very specifically that they screwed up, and why they screwed up, and then it’s our job to motivate them to kick it up a notch, if they want to catch up to their friends and not “feel bad,” or whatever. Education isn’t really about feeling good, though.

Anyway. I think we, as a species, spend too much time telling ourselves that we can’t afford to fail. And, yes, this is true of certain things. Open-heart surgery. Space shuttle launches. The pull-out method.

But the vast majority of things we do, if they don’t go the way we want, it’s merely an opportunity to learn and grow. The only time we truly lose is when we throw up our hands and walk away.

So, tell me, folks. Tell me about some time you’ve failed. Some time big or some time small. Some time recently or some time long ago.

And tell me, what did you take away from it? 

Enjoy your weekend.

Peace and Love,
JustinPBG

*Disclaimer: Not gonna pretend the American system is without its own giant flaws. Don’t bother pointing that out; it just wasn’t the subject in this case.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Define: (Originally Published 11/23/09)

There are some words people throw around without precision, without really knowing or caring what they’re saying. Some of these words are far more serious than others, and this list is by no means exhaustive. But I thought it was worth starting said list, to which you are free add those that particularly irk you.

Fascist

: Although you don’t actually have to be Mussolini to be a fascist, it seems the term is getting used whenever some authority figure does something that people think is mildly controlling. I remember seeing, earlier this year, Obama being called a socialist and a fascist at the very same time, which makes absolutely no sense at all. When you call someone a fascist, most of the time you’re not advancing the argument, and you just make yourself look worse than whomever you’re tagging with the label. Look it up, and try to use it appropriately.

Here’s the dictionary.com definition: Fascist

Nazi: Enough with this. There are still Nazis out there (though they go by several different names, of course), but being angry and/or militant does not a Nazi make. Much as I can’t stand the guy, Bush was not a Nazi. He was a bizarrely self-satisfied buffoon, but this does not = Adolf and his ilk. Just as with the example above, you merely make yourself look silly when you do this, whether you’re using it as a suffix for femi- or just stewing about your nation’s leadership. It’s not a word we need to be treating lightly, throwing at people like it’s a pebble, when it’s really a massive boulder that requires a lot of effort and justification to lift. If that metaphor makes any sense, I’ve done my job.

Definition of "Nazi."

Hate: Most of the things you say you hate, you don’t actually hate. You don’t hate Korea. You don’t hate OSU. I don’t even really hate the Red Sox. (No, really, I don’t.) What I mean is merely that true hatred, the kind that actually deserves the word, is corrosive and hostile and difficult to control. It brings down people, families, societies. And if there’s something you really feel that way about, then, all right, use it. 

Just as there really are fascists and Nazis, there really are things that some people feel the need to hate. But, while I'm not gonna get all “love is all you need” on you, since I don’t believe that, I do think that the less we give in to hating things (and people and places), the better off we all are.

Definition of "Hate."

And finally, a more trivial quibble of mine.

Literally: I understand the desire to embellish, and I know this has been going on for a long time, but please do it differently, people. No, you are not LITERALLY freezing to death (unless you are, in which case get off Facebook and go to a doctor). No, your favorite sports team is not LITERALLY killing you (unless they are, in which case, call the police). You catch my drift. The word used to mean “without exaggeration or inaccuracy.” So stop using it for exaggeration.

(I understand that over time it has come to mean “virtually,” the same way “regardless” and “irregardless” have the same meaning. This is silly. Use “practically,” or “virtually,” one of a number of other adverbs that LITERALLY mean the thing you’re using “literally” to mean.)

Definition of "Literally."

Bottom line is, people should just know what they’re saying before they say it, or at the very least try to. We’ve got more words than any other language. Use them correctly and they could take you a long way.

As I said above, I encourage you to add other words you feel are mis-used.

Peace and Love,
JPBG

Comment

Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

The Name, The Chop, and The Chief (Originally Published 11/16/09)

This is a bit of an epic, so bear with me, and clear yourself some time before you dive in.

The Name: 

Most sports teams have silly names. There are a few that are either appropriate or cool – I will tip my cap to the Tampa Bay Rays, and they need to bring back the Washington Bullets – but most of them range from the anachronistic – you’re not in New Orleans anymore, Jazz; I’m looking at you, too, Lakers and Dodgers – to the just plain lazy – Texans is the best thing you could come up with, Houston? Really?

But only a few team names in the big 4 American sports are actually outright unpleasant. And one of those is, of course, the Washington Redskins.

Now, the funny thing is, the logo for the team really isn’t so bad. You can check it out here. Native Americans are a part of the nation’s history, and if the nation’s capital wanted to honor them, then by all means they should have a name that doesthis. Choose the tribe that lived in the area, the way the Florida Seminoles do.

But, come on, “Redskins” is a slur. Remember during Obama’s inauguration, when the Reverend Joseph Lowery said, among other rhymes, “when the red man can get ahead, man,” and we all chuckled because it was so old-timey and cute? That’s basically what the team’s name is. Reducing them to their skin color (which isn’t actually red, of course, but, well, peoples is lazy) denies them (well, 1/8 of me, too, and part of most of us) a real chance to celebrate their own heritage.

Here’s a story (thanks, Briana) about the Supreme Court rejecting a lawsuit that would have forced the team to change the name.

I personally don’t believe the Supreme Court really needs to be involved with this stuff. This is on the fans, and the owners. Just sit down and say to yourselves, “We’ve been doing this long enough.” They’ve been the Redskins since 1937, and more than a few things have changed since then. Time for another.

As Chris Rock said way back in 1990, "The Washington Redskins...that ain’t nice, that's a racial slur. That's like having a team called the New York Niggers."

Aaaaand scene.

The Chop:

So, the Redskins aren’t the only Native-American-themed name out there, of course. The Atlanta Braves are the only Major League Baseball team between DC and Florida (and the closest teams to the West are in Missouri and Texas), and as such command a pretty big market share. The name “Braves” isn’t so horrible, and they brought it from Milwaukee, and Boston before that.

Incidentally, I’ve learned, from writer Joe Posnanski (I’ll come back to him), that the Boston Braves weren’t actually named after Native Americans at all, but after a politician named James Gaffney, who was called “The Brave of Tammany Hall.” Funny.

But, now, of course, and in most of the years since, they’ve been associated with Native Americans, and warriors, and that goddamn Tomahawk Chop.

A lot of teams have chants. It’s a big part of sports. And since sports are always thrown in with war clichés, the idea of a tomahawk itself does make a certain kind of sense for a team called the Braves.

But, you know, when the only chant you fall back on is waving your arm up and down and chanting “ohohOHHHH” over and over like you’re about to scalp the opposing team, you just make all the vast majority of Southerners I know (not to mention Americans), who are intelligent and cultured and kind, look really bad.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a short youtube clip from a fan at a Braves game. Voila.

That doesn’t give you the full scope of The Chop, though. And indeed, because of the prominence of former owner Ted Turner and his cable channel TBS, not to mention their success, the Atlanta Braves were beamed into almost every home in America during the 90s and most of this decade. Meaning that the most prevalent image of Native American culture for many Americans, and many citizens of the globe indeed, was that of a bunch of fools bellowing a bastardized version of their war music.

I hate the goddamn Rally Monkey (what do monkeys have to do with Angels?), but the Tomahawk Chop is the worst. You can do better, Atlanta.

And finally, The Mascot:

There are other offenders out there, but the most prominent, and most debated, Native American mascot and logo in professional sports is probably one Mr. Chief Wahoo (yes, that’s his name) of the Cleveland Indians.

Here’s a look at how he’s evolved over the years. It really wasn’t so bad at the beginning. What the hell happened in 1946? And then again in 1980?

Again, the name Indians, while it certainly has room to improve, could be okay, if done with respect and honor, and not decorated with a grinning doofus. It makes sense to have your mascot be a fool – the Phillie Phanatic comes to mind – but when he’s meant to represent an entire ethnic group, you probably want to avoid that.

I’m not really trying to be a “PC” warrior. I’m talking about respect here.

Team names aren’t in the same category as ethnic jokes, since they’re not really supposed to be humor. (So let's save our arguments about those for another day...) 

They are how you choose to represent yourself. And I think Chief Wahoo – and the Chop, and the Redskins’ name – are just mean. They don’t honor anyone, they serve only to demean, and, most annoying of all, it’s not like teams don’t change names all the time. The Indians used to be the Spiders. This would instantly be the coolest name in all of baseball if they went back to it. Imagine painting a giant spider on the side of Progressive Field! I’m getting carried away here.
But, think about it though. Just look at Chief Wahoo. We have reached a point, commendably, that you couldn’t do that to any other ethnic group without people getting pissed off. Yet this endures.
This site shows us what alternative versions of Chief Wahoo might look like for other groups, and the thing is, Wahoo really isn’t any better than those.

(Just to add to this, this website gives a succinct rundown of black caricatures over the years. Now check those out, and then look at Wahoo, and tell me he’s a whole lot different.)

The aforementioned Joe Posnanski, a brilliant sportswriter and Cleveland native who grew up with the team and the mascot, wrote about this far more extensively, and eloquently, a few years ago. Indeed I only started paying attention when he first brought it up. I urge you to read what he has to say before responding, since he covers pretty much every possible base here (including the origin of the name, and the lies spread about it).

Check it.

Joe pretty much sums the whole thing up right here.

“The only reason Chief Wahoo is around is because Native Americans don’t have a strong enough voice in this country to put a stop to it. When Native Americans protested at the 1997 World Series, they were mostly laughed at. Three were arrested. Is this really the kind of country we want to be? And for what? To stand up for our inherent rights to enjoy a racist sports logo?

I love Cleveland. I love the Indians and I even love Wahoo in a weird way because it is such a part of my childhood. But it is not just time to get rid of Wahoo, it is way, way past time. I don’t think this is the biggest problem facing the world, or even the 5,4993,287th biggest problem facing the world. I don’t care about political correctness either. No. It’s just wrong. Very wrong. Get rid of it. The fewer wrong things in the world, better.”

There’s no reason to keep him around, and the team is doing itself and its fans a disservice by parading him around every year. Hell, the Yankees are too dull to even have a mascot at all, but I’d rather have nothing than Chief fucking Wahoo.

Peace and Love,
JPBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Bad Rap (Originally Published 9/17/09)

No, this isn't about Soulja Boy or Diddy, this is about a movement I've grown to love and support: Feminism.

Too often it gets a bad rap, and while you would expect that from people who disagree with all of its tenets, it's unfortunately dismissed far too frequently by those who are kinda on the same side.

You've got intelligent young people who are completely aligned with the things we feminists would like to achieve, but slink away from embracing the F word because it seems an ugly cloak to wear. Surely if you're not a hairy, ugly, man-hating lesbian you can't actually call yourself a feminist, right?

Not every feminist believes in exactly the same thing - as is the case with every movement - and of course, it has grown and shrunk and morphed and evolved over the last few decades. There are feminists whose main focus is domestic violence, those who expend most of their energy on gay rights, some whose lives are devoted to media studies, and so on and so forth. Point being, it's a larger umbrella than most people realize, with a varied and vibrant membership, and one that cherishes inclusion and fairness. Because, really, when it comes down to it, what we want, in the most basic terms, is for everyone to be treated fairly. 

But, as it happens, it's a patriarchal world, so a lot of the folks who are mistreated are women. (To say nothing of race, orientation etc.)

An argument I've seen from some is that they hate the term because it suggests, to them, that we think women are better than men, or something like that. While I'm sure some people do believe that, to me, that term, that "ugly" F word, just means we're putting ourselves behind people the world is pitting itself against. There can't really be a comparable "masculinist" movement (even if some people have tried) because most societies already favor already favor my gender.

I've also heard that people find feminists annoying. Well, since we're humans, some of us can be. I know I can be, but it has nothing to do with this part of me. Most of the time I hear this from, say, college students who lived with feminist roommates. It seems to me that some of these roommates may well have been insufferable, but it wasn't their belief in equal rights that made them that way, it was the fact that teenagers are pretty irritating and hard to live with sometimes. I wouldn't want to live with a 19 year old either.

Most importantly, as ample research shows (I will post links in the comments), countries that educate, support and treat their women equally also benefit their male populations. Supporting feminism, as I shouldn't have to say but will, helps men as well.

If you disagree with abortion rights or gay rights etc (I sure hope no one disagrees that domestic violence is a serious issue), then I can see why you wouldn't be on our side, and that's fine, so long as we can have reasoned and fruitful discussions that benefit both of us.

But if you support human rights, whether you're male or female, feminism is a very positive thing.

If you're in the choir I'm preaching to, then, yay. But otherwise, wouldn't hurt to take a second look at feminism, peer past all the silly stereotypes and examine the actual women and men involved in the movement today. It's full of a lot of amazing people, and I know my own world has been strengthened and expanded since I started to really pay attention in the summer of 2006.

I doubt there will be a day when feminism doesn't have a goofy reputation for catering only to a tiny sliver of the population. But just because some people believe in those distortions and exaggerations, doesn't mean you have to.

Feminism's got a bad rap. Give it a shot: it's pretty fucking cool.

-JPBG

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality