Inside Dance

It may be my favorite piece of dance:  Turning Tides, created and choreographed by Randy Duncan, with music by Sam Harris, Gavin Dillard, and Bruce Roberts.  It’s in two parts, beginning with “Adrift,” a solo dance, and then “The Storm,” danced by the whole company to Harris’ powerful song “Suffer the Innocents.”  I first saw it on my birthday (January 14th) in 1992, performed by Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre as part of a finale dance concert capping a two-day North Central College conference called “Inside Dance: A Choreographer’s Showcase.”  It was suggested by my friend Don McVicker of the anthropology department, and shepherded by him and by me, as chair of the Visiting Lecturer/Cultural Events Committee.  Below is the flyer I created for the event.  “We need some neat graphic,” said the head of the college’s Print Shop, so I quickly free-handed the figure you see below.  It was neat enough, I guess, though all Becky said was, “Let’s do it in red.”

Below is a 5-minute VIDEO of excerpts from Turning Tides, the first two parts of it from an open rehearsal of The River North Dance Company.  The third part is from a formal concert done by an all-female dance company.  I’m afraid I don’t know its name, but I found it on the YouTube channel of Gina Wrolstad, who might be one of the dancers.  This version, staged by Mari Jo Irbe, was presented at Artifacts of Self, Loyola Chicago’s Annual Dance Concert in 2018. Mari Jo Irbe was in the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre and danced in the ensemble the night I saw it the first time more than 25 years earlier.

Linda and I enjoy going to see dance more than going to see just about anything else.  It’s total immersion: a feast for the eyes and ears and your sense of self in time and space.  It’s a perfect hybrid of improvisation and strict form—spontaneous fluidity and the strict disciplines of the dancer’s art.  The creativity of ideas and music and bodies in motion is dazzling.  The ideas behind “Suffer the Innocents” and “Save the Children” breathe hard and live with more passion here than anywhere else l know, except maybe in the world beyond the concert hall where people actually save children and embrace—or suffer—innocents.  Turning Tides can inspire and nourish this suffering, this saving.

I’m thinking, too, of Robert Greenleaf.  His pamphlet The Servant as Leader started the field of Servant Leadership studies, and in it he writes, “The prudent man is he who constantly thinks of  ‘now’ as the moving concept in which past, present moment, and future are one organic unity.  And this requires living by a sort of rhythm that encourages a high level of intuitive insight….”  In “Art, Rhythm, Intuition, and Social Change” I focus on how art can teach us and sensitize us to rhythm and patterns of rhythm that can build in leaders a deeper intuition about the directions we could be going, the opportunities we could be seizing, the places we could be taking a stand.  For me, dance does this more intensely than any other art.

After watching the VIDEO below:

  Go to the Lead Post in a series on Greenleaf’s important Servant Leader pamphlet.
  Go to Cultural Events at North Central College: a Personal History, for links to articles about conferences and speakers, such as Maya Angelou, Dick Gregory, and Eyes on the Prize: Reclaiming Our Civil Rights Heritage.

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How Good of a Democracy Are We Anyway?

This post presents highlights from The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EUI) Democracy Index 2020, its 13th annual index which began in 2006 and surveys the health of democracy around world.

The Index classifies countries into four categories: Full Democracies, Flawed Democracies, Hybrid Regimes, and Authoritarian Regimes, and ranks them from #1 (the first country in the Full Democracy category) to #167 (the last country in the Authoritarian category).

Before diving in for more background and detail, I’ll cut to the chase and say the U.S. isn’t at the top of the list when it comes to healthy democracies.  It isn’t even in the Full Democracy category.  It’s the second country in the Flawed Democracy category and comes in at #25 overall.  You can see the whole Index 2020 HERE, including the rankings chart on pages 8 to 13.  By the way, Norway ranks #1 with an overall Democracy Score of 9.81 out of 10.  North Korean, at #167, is dead last with a 1.08 score.  The U.S. score is 7.92.

Hey, I’m just reporting.  And let’s can the “America, Love it of leave it” attitude.  It’s always good to take as objective a look at yourself as possible.  Americans are heavily inclined to think of themselves as the greatest, and this perspective is so strong it’s a doctrine with a name: American Exceptionalism.  And we are exceptional and the greatest in many positive respects, but not all.  Which is why, for example, we incarcerate more people than anyone in the world, why racism—a problem in many countries, of course—remains so stubbornly entrenched here, and why with less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has accounted for more than 20% of global deaths during this pandemic.  No one’s saying they don’t love America, just that we can do better.  Part of doing better is putting that exceptionalism attitude in its place.  When you think you’re pretty close to perfect, that lessens the drive to fix things that need fixing.  Looking seriously at the 2020 Index might be a good form of tough love.

The Economist is a weekly newspaper head-quartered in London and printed in magazine format.  It began in 1843 and styles itself as “a global thought leader but [not] part of the establishment.” It’s audience (in the millions) “is guided by our objectivity and insight on issues as wide-ranging as cryptocurrencies to gay marriage,” it says of itself.  And, indeed, most, if not all, organizations tracking media bias rate The Economist very high in unbiased, factual reporting.  The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU), which produces the Democracy Index report, is the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, the sister company to The Economist. Created in 1946, it has over 70 years’ experience helping businesses, financial firms and governments understand how the world is changing and how that creates opportunities to be seized and risks to be managed.

The Democracy Index focuses on five categories: electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types mentioned above: Full, Flawed, Hybrid, or Authoritarian. A large, 18-page Appendix details the definitions, the resources, and the methodology the EIU uses to arrive at its rankings. The main focus of the 2020 report is the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on democracy and freedom around the world, as well as the state of U.S. democracy after a tumultuous year dominated by the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and a hotly contested presidential election deeply.

Among the report’s highlight findings are that:

  There’s been a shift eastward, towards Asia, in the global balance of power
  U.S. democracy continues to be under pressure from rising polarization and declining social cohesion
  The biggest democracy winner is Taiwan
  Mali and Togo are the biggest losers in a dire year for African democracy
  Western Europe loses two “full democracies” (France and Portugal)
  Democratic backsliding continues under the cover of Covid-19 in Eastern Europe and Latin America
   The Middle East and North Africa retain the lowest democracy index score, while North America (in large part because of Canada) retain the highest score.

On the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus of the 2020 Index, there was deep criticism of its handling and “big downgrades of Index scores for civil liberties and functioning of government.”  One key paragraph was this:  “Was there another way? There was no obvious alternative to the social distancing, quarantining and lockdown policies pursued by governments and, in itself, this did not signal a turn towards authoritarianism in the world’s democracies. However, governments’ approach to the management of the pandemic did reveal a dismissive attitude towards the idea of popular participation and engagement with the single most important issue of the day. Even though they were pressed for time while tackling an urgent public health catastrophe, governments could have treated the public like grown-ups and asked for their consent and involvement in combating the coronavirus epidemic.”

Of the U.S. in particular, though race and the Black Lives Matter movement gained early mention, there was little more devoted directly to these, a disappointing omission in my view. The focus, instead, was on our country’s tremendous polarization.  Has race, a perennial U.S. sore point, exacerbated our polarization, or is it bringing a strange and surprising kind of unity?  Certainly, the rise of white supremacists groups would indicate a further shredding of our social fabric, yet there is significant social backlash against such groups, especially after the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol, and more and more people seem to want to face racism, white privilege, and systemic racism in a more serious way than perhaps any other time in U.S. history.  Still, it’s understandable that our spectacular polarization should garner the Index’s most aggressive statements.  For example:  “Despite…positive developments, the US’s overall performance is held back by a number of weaknesses, including extremely low levels of trust in institutions and political parties; deep dysfunction in the functioning of government; increasing threats to freedom of expression; and a degree of societal polarisation that makes consensus on any issue almost impossible to achieve….While pluralism and competing alternatives are essential for a functioning democracy, differences of opinion in the US have hardened into political sectarianism and institutional gridlock. This trend has long compromised the functioning of government, and the US score for this category fell to a new low of 6.79 in 2020.

“More worrying, public trust in the democratic process was dealt a further blow in 2020 by the refusal of the outgoing president to accept the election result. Mr Trump and his allies continued to allege voter fraud long after the election was over, without producing reasonable evidence to substantiate their claims and in the face of court rulings finding against them. Through his unfounded allegations and intemperate language, Mr Trump called into question the reliability of the democratic process and further undermined public faith in democracy.”

  A link to the Democracy Index 2019 is in my article “Voter Suppression 21st Century Style.”

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The Cost of Racism: 16 Trillion Dollars

And that’s just over the last 20 years, and “just” when it comes to discrimination and inequities concerning Black Americans.  According to a new report from Citi Corp’s GPS group (Global Perspectives and Solutions), nearly sixteen TRILLION dollars have been lost. You can read the full report HERE.

Titled “Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps: The Economic Cost of Black Inequality in the U.S.,” the report begins by quoting one of the most famous passages from MLK, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”  “We are all caught in an inescapable net of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  And, really, it’s not all that indirect.

The report focuses on four areas, three of which I’ve written about on this site.  (1) The Racial Wealth Gap:  The overall wealth gap has grown to absolutely astonishing proportions since 1965, but the racial wealth gap is even worse.  Closing that gap could have added $2.7 trillion in income, or .2% to our GDP per year.

(2) Home Ownership:  Improve access to housing credit and 770,000 Black-owned homes might have been added since 2000, a gain of $218 billion in sales and expenditures.  Lack of home ownership is the single greatest driver of the racial wealth gap.  (3) Education:  Facilitating access to higher education could have added $90 to $113 billion to lifetime incomes.  Instead inequities in education are still rampant across the nation.  And (4) Fair and Equitable Lending to Black Entrepreneurs:  This could have generated $13 trillion, plus created 6.1 million jobs per years. ***

Sixteen trillion is nearly 75% of the U.S.’s 2019 GDP, but even the four areas above comprising the report’s core don’t tell the whole story of loss.  The report touches on policing, imprisonment, healthcare, and more, and even includes an overview of the Civil Rights Movement as a way to add context and to search for causes of the racial crises which continue to plague us.  Mental and physical sickness, lives traumatized, lives lost—add these as the direct result of unequal policing, unfair imprisonment, and health care inequities and the price soars well, well past $16 trillion dollars.  There’s also much more to pile on, like Voter Suppression, which also costs us a lot.

It’s good to have all these inequities quantified, with dollar signs attached to many of them.  The Clinton campaign coined the phrase “It’s the economic, stupid!” and we seem to listen more when it comes to pocket-book metrics.  But, of course, many don’t experience these inequities, and many don’t believe they exist.  We’re still a nation divided, largely unaware of each other’s experience of life, which is one reason the report concludes that bias and systemic racism have blocked substantial improvement over not just the past 20 years, but over the 158 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and the centuries more since the first African slave landed on American soil.

In his TED Talk “How Racism Makes Us Sick,” public health sociologist Dr. David R. Williams explains a metric that can help us gauge and understand how racism affects the daily health and shortens the lives of so many people of color.  It’s an ultimately uplifting talk, full of “we-can-do-it” optimism, but I believe there’s also an ominous undertone.  If we don’t overcome bias and systemic racism—and we haven’t been doing a great job of it so far—then racism won’t continue to make just Blacks and other people of color sick.  It will continue to make our entire people, and our nation’s morals and body politic sick, too.  And it will continue to rob us of so many life-affirming, life-enriching friendships we could be having across racial and ethnic lines.  Sixteen trillion dollars doesn’t begin to convey the magnitude of such loss.


*** I have written a lot about the first three partly because our family foundation, Emmanuel House—now The Neighbor Project—focuses on home ownership, the single greatest driver of the racial wealth gap.  The stability created by home ownership boosts high school graduation rates by 25%, and college graduation rates by 116%.  The best introduction to The Neighbor Project’s work and vision is executive director Rick Guzman’s talk “Every Person’s God Given Ability to Contribute,” in which he, too, uses the MLK, Jr. passage that begins the Citi Corp report.  But home ownership is all over this site, even including a review of the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, or a profile of Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun.  In his talk Rick Guzman also mentions the opening of the Financial Empowerment Center, a joint venture of The Neighbor Project and the City of Aurora, Illinois, which we hope will make inroads into more fair and equitable lending as well.

  Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY page.

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Every Person’s God-Given Ability to Contribute

Rick Guzman is The Neighbor Project’s Executive Director, and so important was his talk during The Neighbor Project’s 2020 virtual gala that I have posted a VIDEO of it below all by itself for anyone who did not watch the whole 45-minute gala (which you can still watch HERE), or even the 19-minute Gala Highlights I recently did for this site.

His talk highlighted The Neighbor Project’s impressive growth since early 2018, when Emmanuel House merged with The Joseph Corporation to create The Neighbor Project, and casted a vision for its expanding service to financially vulnerable families and individuals for the rest of 2020, then 2021 and beyond.

He casted this vision in the larger context of loving our neighbors enough to invest in them, saying, “We have to believe in our neighbors enough to invest in them, invest in others the way we would want to be invested in…[so] we can keep working to break down the barriers to home ownership, which are the single largest driver of this nation’s wealth gap.”  That wealth gap is unbelievably enormous (see my article “Graphic Inequality”) and even larger is the Racial Wealth Gap.

He set all this in the largest context of all by quoting from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote.  “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

This talk is an example of what we need more of in this time of protest and soul-searching.  It ties practical action into a deep vision of our mutuality, and vice versa:  it ties that deep vision to practical steps that make that vision a reality in our everyday lives.  And more, it’s also a question of Who Leads?—a question playing out in the protests and other anti-racists actions across our nation today.   Writing in 1970, Robert Greenleaf, who started the field of Servant Leadership, said,  “…the next 30 years will be marked as the period when the dark skinned and…the alienated of the world assert their claims…” and were not “led by a privileged elite…It may be that the best that some of today’s privileged can do is to stand aside and serve by helping when asked and as instructed.”  Guzman expresses his belief that, “If we enlist and empower and engage financially vulnerable populations with opportunities…these otherwise vulnerable populations can quickly become contributing members and leaders for our communities.”  That’s an expanded version of a core belief he’s expressed many times: “Every person has a God-given ability to contribute.”

♦  Go to The Neighbor Project’s website to donate and get involved, and to “Emmanuel House Becomes The Neighbor Project” for a bit of history.

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Ray Charles Radio on Pandora

Now that I have somehow been given both a Google Nest and a Facebook Portal, I regularly say, “Hey, Google” or “Hey Portal, Play Ray Charles Radio.”  “Playing Ray Charles Radio on Pandora,” Google or Portal responds, and away we go.  It’s generally soul music of the 60’s and 70’s, though every now and then the choices are puzzling, like why Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s ukulele-heavy version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” keeps showing up.  The white guy most often played is Van Morrison, which seems just right, not only given his Charles-inspired singing, but this one particular verse in his song “These Dreams of You:”

And Ray Charles was shot down
But he got up and did his very best
A crowd of people gathered round
And to the question he answered “yes”

These are typically enigmatic Van Morrison lyrics, the kind Ray Charles never wrote and hardly ever sang.  Van’s lyrics almost seem to make sense, but their mystery invite you to come up with your own answers and make your own sense.  Why was Ray Charles shot down? And what question did he answer Yes to?  To me, at least for this moment, Ray Charles was shot down because his music seems the most old fashioned of all the music played on the Pandora station Ray Charles Radio.  The question was, You belong somewhere else, don’t you?  Paradoxically, Ray Charles is the most out of place musician on Ray Charles Radio, even more out of place than Hawaii’s Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

When a Ray Charles song comes on, you’re immediately thrown back to the straight out blues, and to Gospel music, and to jazz—trio, small band, big band—which almost no one was still doing at the time.  There’s not much sweet soul, either, a la Sam Cooke or Smokey Robinson and all those Motown stars.  This in no way implies a criticism of them—I love those men and women of Motown and Stax, perhaps especially the Supreme’s Mary Wilson, an early idol of mine, whom we lost just a few days ago.  And who can resist Smokey’s cleverness in songs like “The Way You Do the Things You Do”:

The way you stole my heart,
You know you could have been a cool crook
And baby you’re so smart,
You know you could have been a school book.

Ray’s more likely to be singing lines like in his classic “Hard Times”:

My mother told me, before she passed away
Son, when I’m gone, don’t forget to pray
Cause there’ll be hard time, hard times
And who knows better than I.

His rhythms are chunkier and his voice—almost always grittier than anyone else’s—often feels like despair, conveying a dread sometimes matched only by The Four Tops.  Levi Stubbs, the Tops’ lead singer, was once described as having a voice that sounded like he was picking his way through a mine field.  Still, no one on Ray Charles Radio shouts and growls like Ray, not even James Brown, who seemed to shout or cry for different reasons.  And when Charles does turn gentler, he’s almost always singing Country music.  Country!  “Together Again,” “Worried Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”  Or his marvelous, surprising version of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” the song from the hit Broadway show Oklahoma.  Oklahoma!

Ray Charles was in the very first class of artists inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s partly for making blues and Gospel so integral to rock.  And when he moved on, so to speak, he re-made Country music by infusing more blues and Gospel into it than it ever had.  Country music is usually considered white music, though its roots were considerably blacker than we think, as evidenced by Jimmie Rodgers, for example, another artist in that first class of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees.  When Ray Charles started doing Country music, he not only pointed to that past, he also said, Here’s what whiteness integrated into blackness sounds like.  Usually it’s color having to assimilate, to lose its darker tones to become acceptable enough to white society.  James Baldwin called this loss “The price of the ticket,” the price of being accepted.  Historically, whites made money by taking black music and dumbing it down.  That’s the meaning of the final scenes of the 2020 movie Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, where we see a white band doing the music of the central character Levee, played by Chadwick Boseman in his final role.  (He deserves a posthumous Oscar for it.)  Levee’s been paid a pittance for his songs.  They’ve virtually been stolen.  Ray Charles reverses the flow.  He’s so different from anyone else on Ray Charles Radio not only because he stays closer to blues and Gospel and jazz, but also because he’s assimilated white Country music into those roots as well.

  Go to All Things Ray for an index of all Ray Charles material on this site.  All Things Baldwin functions similarly for James Baldwin, and in my sermon “Pentecost Means No Supremacies” I use Baldwin’s “Price of the ticket” idea.
  Go to a list of Reviews.

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