White Americans Need to Understand What White Supremacy Means

I’ve been struggling with what to do in regard to the George Floyd protests, because I’m immunocompromised and can’t physically get involved. How to think about the protests. How to talk about these topics with my friends, mostly white. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Something that I plan to write about in my next book (I’m in the process of finishing up a fantasy book and started the sequel). However, for me to do that effectively, I think it’s important for me and for other white Americans to understand American history from a different context.

First of all, we have to acknowledge that most of our education has come from a very white perspective. Furthermore, that perspective has been sanitized by the state you grew up in. Sure, the books might be written for multiple states and now has more federal oversight with Common Core, but that just means that it’s been sanitized even more. That you’re less likely to have views critical to US history presented in high school. It’s why College history courses will seem so shockingly radical to a lot of people, because historians are expected to present multiple views to help build critical thinking in the next generation of historians.

So, we, white Americans, need to do the hard work of educating ourselves. If we want to meaningfully add to the conversation or really understand what we should do, we need to take a hard look at what it means to be a White American. We need to understand what it means when African American thinkers talk about White Supremacy. We need to talk about how we benefit from the US’s power structure.

This morning I was watching a video on fictional and Fantasy writing world building. The video referenced a paper by Dr. Abraham V. Thomas, called “Is there a Caste System in India?” the author compared the US and India and argued that both India and the US have Caste systems. Caste systems, if you aren’t aware, are a “philosophical” or “morally” driven hierarchy to society. That there’s a reason why one group of people should be on the top of society while others should be beneath them. In some cases, like in India’s historic Caste system, this means there “Untouchables” which are only good for cleaning sewage (and a few other tasks). In the US, the historic philosophy is one of superiority of the White Race over the Black Race. Which was the philosophical underpinning for slavery.

I think this is an important way of framing how you think about these race discussions. If you read a tweet that talks about how white Americans benefit from White Supremacy, this is what they are saying. You’re in the top Caste because you are White. You may not literally be a White Supremacist, but you are benefiting from the history of White Supremacy in this country.

This was a hard thing for me to understand. Because I would read tweets by activists like Bree Newsome it’d be difficult to square who I thought I was and how I’ve worked to get where I am with what she was saying. I’d get upset. “I’d say, I’m not that person. I didn’t benefit from that! I hate it!” However, before engaging, I remembered a tweet I saw from a Physicist and Historian of Race in Science Technology and Mathematics, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein who begged that White people need to listen before talking. So, I’ve really focused on listening to what women like Chanda and Bree are saying rather than engaging.

Through listening, I’ve really learned that I was too ignorant to have a meaningful engagement with either of them over Twitter. That they and other activists like @Negrosubversive (I don’t know his name) are speaking of their lived experience and how they are experiencing the world. Simply because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean that I have the right to negate it because i don’t think their experiences directly apply to my life.

When people are asking about, how should I talk to my kids about what’s happening right now? Well, I think the first step is to get more educated. Follow on Twitter activists. Read books written by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) historians. Read literature. Learn the context so you can inform your kid correctly.

After reading portions of the 1619 Project, which does have some flaws (according to some Historians), I went on to read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, I recently ordered Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and White Rage By Carol Anderson. When they come in, I’ll write book reviews about them.

It’s our responsibility to get educated so we can help break down our system so we can have a more Just and equitable society. Will it be painful for white America? Yes. Will we be better for it? Yes. So, start by getting educated. Learn and Listen. Only then, can we really engage.

Book Review: Managing the Unmanageable

Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and TeamsManaging the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams by Mickey W. Mantle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are new to managing a team this is a must read for you. While the book is intended for managers of programmers (developers, software engineers, etc…) I believe this book applies to just about any sort of creative. Obviously, some sections will be less applicable to architects like the agile sections, but in general, creatives are creatives. The authors, to some extent, recognize this by continually comparing software developers to musicians. Arguing, in fact, that the best programmers are typically fantastic musicians. There’s a similarity in the way the brain works between musicians and developers. I think this applies to other artists as well, especially ones that under went rigorous training to be an artist. There are processes you need to follow to enact your vision.

Anyway, the book itself offers very candid advice on everything hiring, firing, building local and remote teams, coaching, rewarding, and having fun.

The authors argue that hiring is the most important job of any manager. I think this is true from my experience interviewing people and managing people. Whenever you hire someone the work environment shifts. So you need to make sure that whatever change the person brings is a net positive for the team. To ensure that you get the right combination of fit and skill you must have a rigorous process for finding potential candidates, screening candidates, and interviewing candidates. If you do not you will pay for it later by losing your best people or being required to fire that hire in the future for lack of performance.

All this and templates are laid out in the book. The tools and rules of thumb are fantastic for first time managers and managers that have struggled to hire the right team.

The authors argue the most important functions of a manager are Hiring/Firing, Coaching, Developing individuals and teams. I think this is right. The manager should be technical enough to help with the team as needed, but shouldn’t be expected to roll up their sleeves too much. Their skill is more important in investigating logical approaches than the specifics of coding. However, there are a lot of people that believe their manager should be able to do their job. Which i think has a lot of merit.

This book also has some great ideas of how to convert traditional managers into agile managers. Ironically, if you follow their advice through most of the book, you’ll be well positioned to be an excelled agile manager positions to remove impediments.

I highly recommend this book for any one managing programmers, engineers, or creatives in general.

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Disaster Reveals Values

During the past few weeks, we’ve had the unfortunate chance to strip back our society and see our society’s values. We can see the conflicts between what we know we need to do, what people are willing to do, and what people in society expect. As a protective measure many governments have force people to stay home. This creates massive conflicts between what we need to do and what society demands of us. For example, I saw a twitter thread discussing the tension between watching children and working. Our government is expecting that people are 100% homeschooling their children while the kids are at home. However, almost all those people also have to continue working. In the case of one of my friends, both he and his wife have to work while trying to figure out how to entertain their toddler. In the case of the twitter thread, someone responded saying “My boss emailed me to make sure I was working, because they heard my kid on a call.” This represents the values of the people in charge of most of our lives.

Our President represents some of the worst of this. He’s pushing to have $150 Billion slush fund of bailout money for whatever he wants. Given that he plans to bailout Las Vegas, where he has a hotel, we can conclude it’s likely that he’ll bail himself out as much as he can. With the fed lowering rates down to 0% it’s likely going to be helping his bottom line as he is well known to have mountains of debt.

Furthermore, at least 4 US Senators have been identified as selling off stock when they were briefed the scope of the coronavirus, in late January. However, none of them clearly told the public the risks and most of them were publicly support Trump’s position. One of them sold off about $1.5 million in stock and invested in teleconference companies.

On the other hand, Bernie converted his presidential fundraising platform into raising money for people suffering under the coronavirus and raised over $2 Million in just a few days. We should require those US Senators to donate their ill gotten gains to charity and throw them in prison. Millions of people have been impacted by the sharp sell-off of the stock market but our government leaders are profiting off the chaos.

While we’re going through all these changes, we need to seriously look at what we value. What sort of people we want in leadership. How we want companies to manage their employees, how we want companies to manage their profits, especially if it leads them to be vulnerable to shocks to the system. It’s been well reported that airlines have spent 96% of their profits on stock by backs. Over the past three years one airline made more than $50 billion in profits but spent most of it on buy backs. The organization didn’t invest in its people. Didn’t save money to plan for a downturn. Didn’t put itself in a position to survive crisis. Instead, the company is asking for a bailout. Private profits and public loss.

To combat this, we need to ensure that these companies that have had to ask for money more than once (This is the second time in 20 years – 9/11 and all). Large companies should be prevented to buy back stocks. Instead, the companies should use that money to reinvest in their business, keep cash on hand for crises, and to lower prices to increase sales. If one of the draws of your brand is scarcity as a luxury item, like an Apple, then buying companies or investing in other technologies is a very valid use of the money. For airlines, getting rid of fees that your customers hate, is a pretty easy way to lower profits that you clearly don’t know how to responsibly handle.

Overall, we need to decide what values we want enforced coming out of this crisis. We don’t know what’s going to happen or how long this is going to last. The only thing we can really control is who we are and whose values come out on top. Maybe we’ve let the current values reign supreme for too long and we need to have a serious change in how we treat other people.

Managing Self-Isolation

Since October, I have been in a form of self-isolation because of my allergies. Now, many of you don’t know me, but my allergies became very serious in October and I went to the ER for anaphylactic shock related to eating Ginger. Subsequently, I became so allergic to my dogs, that my throat would feel like it was closing up if I was around them for more than a few minutes. I became unable to walk them, as I’d accidentally put their dander on my tongue whenever I’d be trying to open a plastic poop bag. Which lead to an immediate allergic reaction and needing to use an inhaler.

Furthermore, because of all my food allergies, I couldn’t eat out. I’d have a reaction to almost every food except for breakfast food. I’m allergic to Citric Acid, which is in just about every food known to man. I also had to avoid touching my wife because she often kisses the dogs and eats foods I’m allergic too. This creates an additional barrier that you may have to deal with if you actually get sick. I was, however, able to go to work and the grocery store (in fact the latter had cleaner air than either work or home) so I wasn’t entirely self isolated, but basically was isolated.

Here are some of the things I experienced that you should expect the longer you’re in self-isolation:

  1. Loneliness
  2. Depression
  3. Stir craziness
  4. Frustration
  5. Anxiety

Here are some tips on how to manage these:

  1. To combat loneliness I would play video games with friends. I’d talk with them using Discord. I strongly recommend getting on the phone with people on a regular basis. It will help. You can’t get them sick over the phone and they can’t make you sick. Plus, you’ll be helping other people deal with their loneliness in a way that they may not realize they need.
  2. Meditate – I use an App called Headspace, there’s a 30 day trial. I recommend using this to help deal with some of the anxiety, frustration, and depression that comes from being self-isolated. I’ve talked about how I’ve been using it for close to 2 years in other blog posts to fight depression. Ironically, it can also help you feel less lonely (there’s a program on dealing with loneliness in it), because you aren’t mediating alone. You can literally meditate with others remotely in the app.
  3. Make a comfortable space. You’re going to be stuck in your home for a while. make sure that you are going to be comfortable. I had a comfortable chair and my computer in my office. I had an ottoman and side table as well. This allowed me to read, listen to music, and drink coffee/tea/alcohol in my place of self-isolation. Make sure you’re able to distract yourself and/or keep yourself busy.
  4. Find a hobby to spend your time on. I had two hobbies that have helped keep me sane. The aforementioned video games and writing. In the immediate aftermath of my ginger reaction, I wrote about 200 pages in a book I’ve been working on for about 2 years. I was able to finish it. I was focused alone and dealing with some shit. Putting that down on paper can help you process what’s going on around you. If you want to write a book, I suggest Scrivener. If you want to blog, setting up a free WordPress account could be perfect. Otherwise, pen and a notebook work just find. My wife has jumped into doing more art stuff. Most of these things are fairly cheap and can keep you busy for a long time.
  5. Change up your routine. This one is tough, but making slight changes to your routine can help keep you busy and reduce anxiety from being isolated. I suggest watching videos for a while, then switching to something else, like a book or articles, then moving on to one of your hobbies. This way you keep your mind occupied and from getting stuck in a rut of the routineness of whatever you were doing before.

I hope these ideas help you with your self-isolation. I still combat my own depression over my self-isolation with my allergies. So this list is far from perfect. I know some people are going to be hit really hard by the self-isolation and will have serious financial concerns on top of the above symptoms. It’s important in those cases to find inexpensive types of entertainment. Regardless, you must do self-care and meditation is a cheap easy way to do that.

Be safe out there. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Wash your hands.

On Leadership

I love to read about innovation, but there aren’t a lot of books specifically about innovation, so I also read about management theories and best practices. Any book on management and most books on innovation will inevitably talk about leadership. As good management doesn’t really mean leadership. However, bad management always mean bad leadership or a lack of leadership.

A few things stick out in my mind when I think about leadership. The first is a clear vision. Where a vision directs the team on where the organization is going and what it is trying to be. This vision is something that the members of that organization can look to whenever there are questions of right/wrong or priorities. It allows people to move beyond the typical office politics, because those never help with achieving the vision.

The second is clear transparent communication. In some cases this is communicating the vision, but in more important cases this is communicating how and why things are going side ways. For example, when I was working at AMD, there was clear communication about our current financial positioning requiring lay-offs to “right size” the business. Now, the execution of those lay-offs and the fact that there were more than one, wasn’t exactly the best leadership. However, the executive team took ownership of the bad situation and ensured the entire team knew what was happening. Furthermore, the executive team was able to point to a vision of what AMD was and use that to rally the team around. In fact, later that year I used the organization’s vision to lead a number of strategic planning meetings to shift where people were focusing work.

The third item that great leaders drive is a culture and taking ownership of their organizations culture. In Ben Horowitz’s book, Who are What You Do he discusses how a manager’s promotion decisions can impact the culture of the organization. In the book, he specifically talks about a sales executive that, apparently, had a habit of telling lies. Some of them small, but some of them were told to his managers and customers. This resulted in unhappy customers. Unfortunately, this sales exec was promoted, which then lead to an understanding to that lying is acceptable for people to get ahead.

In organizations that have poor leadership, typically the three above items are all missing. The members of the organization will fill the lack of communication with their imaginations and spend a great deal of time discussing what could or is going to happen.This leads to disgruntlement within the organization and loss of productivity. It will lead to your best people leaving.

One of the people in the agile community I’m apart of on Linked In would say that this is a dysfunctional organization. In those cases you have two options, either figure out a way to fix the organization from the inside or leave. In the case of AMD and me, I ultimately left, but partially was for personal reasons and partially because the organization wasn’t in the best of shape after the lay-offs. I’m really happy that AMD has righted its ship and is doing much better now.

I think that every person of an organization should reflect on how their management team is behaving. Do they have a vision? Are they following that vision and actively trying to meet it? Are they forthright with their communication? Do they obfuscate when they communicate and allow employees to fester and stew about things? Do they promote a culture that you believe is a healthy culture that you are proud to work in? Do you have a good group of people you work with in spite of the culture the management has put in place? Finally, do you think that you have the ability to address the dysfunction in the organization if you think that you do, in fact, have bad leaders?

Do you work in an organization with bad leaders? What are you planning on doing?

Book Review: Why So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: (And How to Fix It)Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book does a fantastic job outlining all the ways men fail as leaders. Let me back up. This book isn’t a man hating book. Its goal is to ensure better leadership at any company. The way to do this, isn’t to just promote women, any woman. The way to do this, is to scrutinize everyone the way that women are scrutinized. Because, the data, and this book brings receipts, shows that women are better leaders.

So why are women better leaders? Well, in general women are less narcissistic in fact men are 30% more likely to be a narcissist than women. Second, men are more likely to be psychopaths, about 50% more likely, in fact. Furthermore, while in the general population about 1% of people are psychopaths, 1 in 5! Senior leaders are psychopaths and 1 in 3! Are narcissists.

Most of this book goes on to outline the failings of male leadership, because of the ways that narcissists are horrible leaders. Similarly for psychopaths. The more interesting part, though, is where the author talks about the benefits of women leadership and how that is associated with higher EQ (emotional intelligence). Both narcissists and psychopaths have very low EQ which results in poorer performance. What the author argues for, are leaders with high IQ and EQ. Women are more likely to have higher EQ than men (by about 20%). There are no significant differences between the genders for IQ, which means on the whole women are better for leadership roles because of their higher EQ.

There are a lot of reasons why we don’t pick for high EQ and one of those reasons is “confidence” really perceived confidence. Another is charisma, where male charisma is desirable and often female charisma is ignored or misunderstood.

The book, sadly, doesn’t offer as much in the way of how to fix it as it claims in the title. There are a few sections. First ask questions that can identify if someone is a narcissist. Ask questions to figure out if someone is a psychopath. Then don’t hire them. The other major innovation the book offers is using structured scored interview questions. This will create a mechanism to compare apples to apples rather than wildly different interview questions.

So, I’m disappointed on the “how to fix it” portion. Hopefully the author will include a section at the end with specific links to questions. I know there are reference and end notes, but putting together a rubric that can more easily be applied would be a great way to improve this and allow people to really see what Manpower uses to fix this problem.

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Book Review: Immortal Hulk Issues 1-25

Link to Book  Image result for immortal hulk5/5 Stars

Alright, this isn’t my normal book review, but these comics moved me in a way that not much media. From what I understand the Author, Al Ewing, originally planned the Immortal Hulk only to be 25 issues, it’s now gone beyond that by a handful and looks like it will continue to move forward. However, I think this initial arc will likely be the most impactful of the Immortal Hulk stories. Or at least of telling a story about the costs of abuse on individuals, their relationships, and society as a whole.

So, most of you are used to seeing Hulk and Incredible together. Well, that character was killed. Bruce essentially committed suicide by way of Hawkeye. After some Avengers tomfoolerly Hulk was brought back to life by the Grand Master during a chess match. This resulted in the Hulk becoming the Immortal Hulk.

*Spoilers ahead!*

Hulk is still on the run, as is normal in his comic books, but there’s a decided different tone about the chase and the fight. Mostly, because Hulk isn’t just chased by the military, but he’s chased by the ghosts of his past, literally, his father (who Bruce Banner killed) attacks him. There are also multiple Hulks in this. The ones I’m going to discuss are Devil Hulk (very intelligent, but well, evil), Savage/Child Hulk (The Hulk in the MCU, dumb and innocent), and Bruce Banner. There are a few others, but I’m not going to bring them up here.

I’m going to present a few key scenes that I think really convey a theme and discuss the themes below. The first scene that resonated with me is a scene where Bruce’s father comes home to find Bruce playing with a toy that’s significantly more advanced than what he should be playing with. This enrages his father, who lashes out at the boy. He throws a full glass of booze at Bruce. He slaps the boy, then demands Bruce’s Mother go with him leaving the boy. He then becomes the Breaker-Apart. The first signs of his rage.

The second scene that hit me is when Hulk goes to hell (it makes a lot of sense in the story, believe me). However, when he’s in Hell, he looks sickly and is wasting away, so he doesn’t look like the hugely strong being we’re used to seeing. While down in Hell, he and his reporter sidekick (McGee), begin to meet people they’ve lost. One of the people Devil Hulk comes across is Thunderbolt Ross, Bruce’s Father-In-Law. Devil Hulk flies into a rage while being the deadman and turns into Savage Hulk. Afterwards, McGee stops the Child Hulk and Hulk responds by saying “Why does Hulk hurt, why is Hulk always hurting.” Tears are streaming down his face. Rather than hugging or supporting the child Hulk, McGee demands to speak with Devil Hulk. Devil Hulk responds that Ross could have been a father to Bruce.

After going through Hell, Hulk finally finds Bruce. He’d been held captive by his father in Hell. Bruce wants to give up and stay in Hell, never going back to earth. Just ending it. The Devil Hulk offers a hand, Bruce asks why, Devil Hulk says “Cause I love you kid.” Bruce looks at him with tears in his eyes. Hulk continues, “Someone had to.”

The next scene is one where Bruce meets his ex-wife Betty Ross. She’s angry that he didn’t immediately reach out once he came back to life (it’s been about 8 months at this point). At first she’s really welcoming, but during their conversation she decides to end it. However at this time she’s murdered by someone chasing the Hulk. This of course enrages Bruce and he chases after the bad guy. An issue later we find Devil Hulk fighting the abomination, who eventually blinds Hulk and cuts off each limb – at this point Hulk is Child Hulk. We suddenly see Betty as the Red Harpy, her own Hulk manifestation. Child Hulk begs for help and love, instead Betty decides to literally rip Hulk’s heart out and eat it.

Eventually this all ends in the final chapter, where the Hulk becomes the last being in the Universe and is given immense powers as a guardian in the next. However, being Hulk, he consumes and disrupts everything. We see near the end that the Hulk is massive and is clothes lining planets, destroying them. The Great Breaker-Apart he is called. A being sees into the Hulk, inside there’s an infinite number of Bruce’s screaming in pain. There’s a great Hulk crying that out in torment. In the end, the Hulk is all that is left. Alone.

To me, this is a story about abuse. Emotional. Physical. Bruce was diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder, which is clearly a result of the trauma he experienced as a child. The gamma bomb turned that trauma into a literal monster, the Hulk. The series indicates that without strong support of people around us to counter that trauma (specifically the McGee scene in Hell), that Trauma will turn us into monsters. That we then turn everyone around us into Monsters. That there’s parts of us, however monstrous, that need love and support to get through it. If we don’t get it, in those opportunities, someone else will provide it that might be malignant. Bruce created the Devil Hulk as his ultimate dissociation, where even the Hulk would turn to in his deepest pain. Bruce turned to that Monster, who wants to tear down society, because of Bruce’s pain.

There are things about the Devil Hulk’s plan to destroy society that make it the right target for his scorn. Society as a whole drove Bruce’s father to act the way he did in some regards. We often reject people in pain, in many cases they disgust us – in some cases because they remind us of our own weaknesses. Furthermore, the world itself inserts its demands on us, which in many ways are more important than our needs. Hulk NEEDS love while he’s in Hell. McGee isn’t able to give it because she’s afraid, but also because she’s in literal Hell and Devil Hulk is the only one to fix it. So Hulk dissociates so he can deal with the world. Trauma isn’t dealt with. Devil Hulk becomes dominant.

This is a really sad comic. It’s amazingly written. The art is fantastic. I strongly recommend checking it out.