The James Website

Riots: the Language of the Unheard

Riots are bad.

Wait — Don’t comment yet.  Bear with me.

The modern western (particularly American) way of thinking — the way we whiteys have grown up to think — is very black-and-white.  Ironic word choice, yes, but I mean morally black-and-white.

“This is good.”  “That is bad.”  Black and white.

Unfortunately, it’s robbed us of our ability to think critically and empathically.  Tragically, it’s a simplistic way of thinking that’s been perpetuated by our media, politics, and churches for far too long.  What’s good is good.  What’s bad is bad.  The end.

Except it’s not.

We must understand nuance in order to right the ship that is our broken society.  So —

Riots are bad.

A riot is bad because something horrible has happened to a group of people, and that horrible thing has perpetuated on and on unchecked until it’s reached a boiling point — a point in which people are so profoundly wounded, rejected, and ignored that they are to a point of desperation where violence is the only option left by which to make their voices heard.

Rioters are not bad.  Not in the broad sense.

I am personally a pacifist — at least mostly a pacifist.  I’m not an absolutely all-situations-no-matter-what kinda pacifist, but I am the kind that advocates nonviolent resistance if the option is at all available —

for me.  That’s the caveat.  It’s a code of nonviolence I apply to myself — and I am someone who is not oppressed, not subject to violence, and not fighting to advocate my case for something as simple as being allowed to walk down the street unharmed tomorrow.

I don’t say others should follow my code because I don’t know their experience.  My code is inevitably born of my experience.  Life isn’t that simple.

Dr. King, my fellow Jesus follower, stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.  Reflect on this a moment.

Think of your house rules.  No yelling, right?  Your kids get in trouble for that.  Does your kid get in trouble if they yell because, say, you knocked your coffee over by accident on them and they yelled out in pain?

I hope not.

Yelling (generally) is not ok, but if someone yells out in pain — you stop and listen.

It’s not the best analogy, and that’s totally on me for a lack of creative insight on my part.  This is far, far, infinitely worse than that, because what we’re seeing is a group of our neighbors who’ve been yelling in pain for a veeeerrrry long time, and we (as a society) are simply not listening.

So imagine: you yell because you’re burning, but no one’s even acknowledging you.  What do you do next?  Maybe you….knock something over to make them pay attention?

Breaking things is bad.  Sure.  But really, would you blame them?

This is how empathy works.

Riots are people screaming in pain because they protested and protested and protested peacefully (since the 60s and far beyond, people!) and we haven’t listened.  The gains they’ve made since the 60’s have been…tragically, embarrassingly, inhumanely small.

If it weren’t for being an asthmatic in the middle of a pandemic, I would have joined the Dallas protest — even as  I say that, my privilege in being able to say it isn’t lost on me.  So please understand the nuance in my statement: If a riot were to start, I wouldn’t throw a brick.  I’m a pacifist.  It’s not my way.  But I would understand why they’re doing it too.  And I would try to love them more as a result.  I offer only a hug, an ear, and a shoulder to the brick-thrower.  And if a brick were to hit my house?  I can afford fixing the window.  May I step outside and hug the brick-thrower.  (I live in the kind of upscale neighborhood where — frankly — it would be merited.  I’m not even gonna pretend otherwise.)

My response is not “stop it!  It’s wrong!”  It’s “I hear you.  Tell me how I can help.”  One of those — when everyone joins in the response — stops a riot in its tracks.  Look no further than Flint (of all places!) for evidence.  (Seriously, read the link.  It makes me giddy.  This is what I want so freaking bad.)

But what About…

Let’s see if I can knock these out all at once real fast:

I love all the cops in my life.  I grew up surrounded by cops.  My step-brother is a retired officer and my personal superhero.  I’ve known quite a few who joined the force to protect everyone of all colors.  They want to help and that’s how they believe they can best help.  I hate that the police system is rigged against Black people.  (If you’re ever interested, I’d be happy to tell you all about how we could dismantle and rebuild that system for everyone’s betterment.  As we say in tech, the real solution is to uninstall Windows and replace it with Linux.  [Side note: I hope at least one person gets that joke!])

I love all the poor and oppressed.  Not all of them are Black.  Some are even white.  I know a lot of white folks living bad times!  We’re not talking about that here, this time.  We should talk about it.  And I do every opportunity I get.  But not right here, right now.

Yes, there are cases of police killing white people.  That is also a problem, and we should talk about it.  I’m not talking about that right here, right now.  (Again, I’d be happy to tell you all about my answer to that!)

Not all rioters are expressing pain.  Some join in just for the chaos or loot.  I am not talking about them.

All lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.  All lives matter to me.  All lives should matter.  In our system today, all lives don’t matter equally; therefore, all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.  We can confidently and proudly and joyfully declare all lives matter once we show that Black lives matter, and what a beautiful, wonderful day that will be!

Other groups are discriminated against.  They deserve their own spaces, too.  This space is not the space for that, but there should be a space for it.

File this phrase away in your head: We do not rule by the exception.  There are always exceptions.  There are always “but, what about”s.  We deal with them, yes, but we don’t rule by them.  That’s Making Rules for Groups of People 101.

Depending on what background you come from, you may not like that I used the word privilege.  It’s politically loaded, right?  If you’re interested in my take on it, I’ll be happy to explain it.  Remember: reality is nuanced.

BTW, I’m the Whitiest Whitey

Black friends: You’re beautiful and I love you.  I hope I did this topic ok-ish justice.  I’m not particularly skilled at addressing this topic.  If I spoke wrongly anywhere, I’ll be happy to adapt it.  I’m writing to my fellow whiteys about a topic I have no experience in.  I’m listening, and more importantly, I want to help elevate your voice using mine.  May my privilege be in your service.

A closing thought: I believe the one all-powerful, all-loving God of all that exists came to Earth in the form of a person of color — as a minority oppressed and murdered by the Roman state.  The God I worship wore brown skin.

My Comment Policy

My blog is a safe space.  No cruel arguments.  Questions are good, though!  Speak in honesty, humbly, and lovingly.  If my fellow whiteys post something mean (by my standards, not your standards), I will simply delete it.

If you see a mean comment, please don’t jump in and start a fight; instead, let me know, and I’ll delete it.  This is because, ironically, a fight can distract from those who have smaller voices, and I want smaller voices to have the table here.

Finally — If all you, fellow whitey, got from reading this is the whole entry is full of crap, then…We’re not friends.  I don’t care who you are — that’s the kind of disagreement I deem irreconcilable.  Do us both a favor and walk away.

(That’s assuming there are comments to begin with, mind you. :D)


Working from Home, Part I: Video Killed the Office Star

(A client asked that I create a “tips” guide, geared for a non-technical audience, to help their staff adjust to working from home for the first time.  Figured I’d share it here as well!)

Our current extended period of social distancing has presented us with many challenges, not the least of which is adapting on the fly to a sudden shift to working from home. If this is your first introduction to working remotely, the experience is no doubt a bit foreign if not awkward.

This guide is here to help! Once the initial getting-used-to-it period passes, the tips found here will help you transition into a smooth, comfortable, natural work-from-home experience.

Tip #1: A Dedicated Space

First, a general tip: Good posture with your computer is critically important, especially right now when most

of us are sitting at home far more often and for longer periods of time than we typically would.

It may be tempting to simply crack open your laptop and get to work from any familiar flat surface, such as your dining room table or a surface in front of the living room couch, but if you go that route, you’ll quickly find that hunching over a small laptop for extended periods will only increase your chiropractor’s paycheck down the road.

Instead, connect an external monitor or two (if you have one available), then ensure the monitor is raised high enough so that the center is at eye-level. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to bend your neck up or down in order to look at your work.

Don’t have an external monitor handy? No problem! Simply raise the laptop up off the desk to the point that it’s eye-level for you. You can achieve this using an actual laptop stand or by simply stacking books until it’s at the right height!

Working comfortably with good posture will reduce work frustration and help prevent health issues that can arise from sedentary work.

Tip #2: Lights, Camera, Conference!

Whereas web conferencing is a very handy tool for remote group work, video conferencing is even better. Seeing your teammates’ faces is the next-best thing to being together in person and can help minimize the initial awkwardness of working together from a distance.

You don’t need to prepare to look like a professional newscaster in a studio, but it is a good practice to be mindful of very basic camera angles so that you can frame yourself in the most professional manner possible.

Consider the following options:

  • Try to keep your face in the center of the picture.
  • Avoid angles that require you to either look up or down too much. Imagine how you would face someone talking to you, level with them during the conversation.
  • If you’re using an external webcam, this is easiest option. Simply take care to mount and aim it in such a way that you are properly framed.
  • If you’re using a laptop, remember that the camera is usually located right above the laptop’s screen. That means you can adjust the screen on its hinge so as to raise or lower the camera angle.
  • Phones are the trickiest option, but workable. Try to place and position the phone in such a way so that the camera is near eye-level. It’s best to keep the phone stationary during the call, if possible.

Don’t worry about following these tips perfectly – If you stick to the general idea, you’ll be just fine.

Tip #3: Know Your Surroundings

When working remotely, it’s easy to take our home setting for granted. It’s important to remember that when you appear in a video conference while at home, you’re essentially virtually inviting everyone attending into your home with you.

This requires being mindful of what appears behind you. All it takes is for a spouse or child (or pet!) to unwittingly appear on camera behind you to ruin your meeting (often tragically, albeit hilariously). Likewise be mindful of what’s on the wall or surface behind you. For example, some art we might find personally appropriate may not be appropriate by office standards.

Also be aware that some conferencing solutions – such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, to name a couple – provide optional virtual backgrounds to replace your actual background during a call. As many have learned the hard way, these can be activated by accident, so it’s important to be mindful of how you appear on-screen at all times.

Tip #4: Dress for (Remote) Success

Most of us dress differently for work than we do for lounging around the house.  While it may not always be necessary to dress up for the office while working remotely, it is nonetheless critically important to be mindful of what you wear while appearing on camera in a meeting.

Granted, it would be both unnecessary and a bit awkward to wear a full business-professional suit and tie at home in most situations.

Instead, know your audience. If you’re meeting with your own team in which the context of the meeting is pretty casual, then you don’t necessarily need to dress up; just dress appropriate for at least being seen outside in public.

Other meetings, of course, may require a bit more. If you’re meeting with executive leadership, it’s probably an OK idea to spruce up a little.

Tip #5: Face-to-Face-to-…Faces

If there’s one major pitfall above all others when it comes to video conferencing, it’s that your webcam is an unblinking eye that never looks away. This is easy to forget, especially when you’re not the one currently speaking or presenting.

With that in mind, be mindful of your facial expressions. You needn’t go so far as to fake a smile the entire call; rather, simply be mindful of your expressions just as you would if you were sitting at an actual conference table with everyone.

Tip #6: Quiet on the Set

One of the – if not the – most common problems encountered during web conferences is someone failing to mute themselves when others are speaking. Not only is it important to ensure your workspace is quiet from screaming children, chatty spouses, awkwardly heavy breathing, and living room TVs, but one should make liberal use of the “mute” button when not speaking to the group.

For example, when using WebEx, you can hover your mouse over the bottom area of the window to make various option buttons appear, one of which you can click to mute/unmute yourself.

Some headsets have built-in mute buttons as well. These can be especially handy if you prefer to simply tap a real button to mute yourself, but beware: with no visual indicator on-screen, it can be easy to forget if you’re still muted or not.

And Now You’re a WebEx….pert.

Stick to these six tips, and you’ll be acing video web conferences in no time! Proper remote etiquette can make working from home as natural and easy as working in a bustling office – maybe even easier!

In the upcoming parts of this series: staying cyber-secure at home, and soon, special tips for managers who want to keep their remote team engaged. Stay tuned!