Landmines Continue To Be A Global Crisis

Continuing on from last week’s post on international military spending, in that same UN exhibit I visited, there was also a photo gallery of young people from around the world who lost body parts because of undetected landmines.  An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines every year, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  You can actually buy landmines for as cheap at $3, but it would cost up to $1,000 to safely unearth them by professional weapons handlers.  It costs thousands of dollars to provide lifelong care for a landmine survivor.

I remember going to Cambodia many years ago and meeting young people who lost limbs to landmines.  The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and unexploded ordinances in Cambodia.  Most of the mines were installed during the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and are still active.  These young people weren’t even alive when the Cambodian Genocide occurred.  As a matter of fact, Cambodia may have held its last Khmer Rouge trial just last week.

A few years ago, I used to host a fundraising effort called Night of a Thousand Dinners, where you invite friends and co-workers to feast on a dinner I prepared.  I would invite someone from the United Nations Association of USA to speak to the crowd about the landmine crisis globally.  I also had in attendance my colleague Sharon, who is a Mozambican freelance journalist and landmine survivor, to give her firsthand experience.

I am thinking of doing the dinner again either before Christmas or after the new year, in addition to a similar fundraiser to support victims of police brutality in the United States.  Whether stateside or on the other side of the world, there are way too many victims of violence in the world, and everyone’s effort to fight it counts.  More compassion is needed in the world.

Here is a video about landmines:


Stop Sanitizing the History of American Slavery

288px-Gordon,_scourged_back,_NPG,_1863This time of the year we celebrate the “freedoms” Americans attained after revolting against the British and gaining “our” independence. However, the recent remake of the classic TV miniseries Roots reminds us that while the Founding Fathers may have been fighting for the nation’s freedoms, those same freedoms didn’t extend to anyone who wasn’t a privileged, white male at the time.

I had a conversation with an older family member about a month ago about the new version of Roots. The family member said there wasn’t a need to remake the miniseries because “it will make black people get angry and uncomfortable.”

Well, yeah, black people should be angry and uncomfortable about slavery.

Then there were other people, like Snoop Dogg, who are tired of only seeing movies about slavery. He is not entirely wrong. Yes, it would be great to see more substantive movies and TV shows that explore the full spectrum of the African-American experience, but there is still a need to have proper media representations of slavery because you can’t move forward as a society without knowing your past and where you come from. Otherwise, your past gets lost and diluted.

I say this because when you don’t remind people about the truth of slavery, there will be others who will take advantage of the void and lack of discussion to create revisionist history.

And there is a lot of revisionist history about slavery going on right now.

It is bad enough that American schools barely teach about the history of people of color, or even use books with protagonists of color. But now this white supremacy in our schools have been taken to a whole new level by way of textbooks teaching students that black slaves were really migrant workers, as if black slaves came to America from Africa on their own free will.

This recent article also reminded me of other slavery revisionist theories, such as:

  1. Racism didn’t influence slavery;
  2. House slaves had it better than field slaves;
  3. Slave owners took care of their slaves out of goodwill, and not for their own economic interests;
  4. Slaves that were “loyal” had better treatment;

If you watched the original version or the remake of Roots, or simply know some real history, you will be aware that all the above are false.

My biggest grievance comes when the revisionist discussion of sexual violence during slavery comes up. A few months ago, I watched a TV program where the panelists were discussing the alleged relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. There was this one guy there who was desperately trying to make the case that Jefferson and Hemings had a “wonderful love affair.”

Let me say this upfront: all sexual relations between slaves and their owners is always considered rape because of the unequal power structure and lack of consent. To even say this today is actually controversial to some people, which further exemplifies how sanitized slavery has become in American history.

Although there have been many movies and books that have dramatized their “love story,” we don’t really know the true nature of the Jefferson/Hemings relationship. What we do know, however, is that Hemings was at least 14 years old when Jefferson, who was in his mid-forties at the time, began having sex with her. There is no way a 14-year-old, black, female slave was in the position to consent to a sexual relationship in 1787 with her white male slave owner, who was old enough to be her father. By today’s standards, this Founding Father would not only be considered a racist slave owner, but also a child molester.

For argument’s sake, even if in the highly unlikely case Hemings and Jefferson had a consensual relationship, I am pretty sure Hemings could never say “not tonight, honey.” During slavery many female slaves became “mistresses” or bed wenches, as they were not free to make that choice. It is even more ridiculous when historians refer to Hemings as a “mistress,” which again implies that she chose by her own free will to have a consensual relationship with Jefferson.

Also, sexual violence was so pervasive and complex among female slaves during slavery that sexual abuse against male slaves often falls to the wayside. Yes, male slaves were also raped, or what is called “breaking the buck.” It did happen and you can read more about it here, as well as about other sexual perversions during slavery.

My point here is that we still need to have honest conversations about this dark point in American history. Slavery is America’s original sin and Americans of all colors should preserve its real history not only for future generations, but to also preserve respect for our ancestors.

Do You Have Your Digital Citizenship?

Four children at computer terminals (depth of field/high key)Last week I went to a dinner party with other families where the conversation naturally gravitated to getting kids ready to get back into school mode.  A couple of mothers were concerned about and asked me how their tween daughters can use the Internet safely and responsibly.

I usually teach something called “digital citizenship” to all my students in my basic computer literacy classes.  Some of these tips are based on my own experiences – both good and bad. Here are the citizen tips I gave to the concerned mothers:


Like I discussed a couple of weeks ago, online personal branding is very important today.  What you say and do today online give others a perception – both good and bad.  Most kids don’t realize that their actions on Facebook or Instagram permanently stay online, and can affect them later in life, like getting accepted into college or getting a job.  It is always better to side on your conscience.  I always say that if you are not sure you want to say or post something online because it might be seen as offensive, go with your gut feeling.

Password Security

Make sure your kids know how to create secure passwords for all their various social media profiles.  This is especially important for online banking and email accounts.  Having a hard time remembering all your passwords? Use LastPass or other apps that allow you to safely store your passwords.


Kids (and everyone for that matter) love taking pictures on their mobiles, but it is not a good idea to post every type of image online. Images that reveal where you live can entice some really creepy people.  It’s a good idea to turn off the geotagging feature.   Also, don’t post provocative (sexual, violent etc.) images.  In many municipalities, sharing sexually explicit images online, especially of minors, can get you arrested and put on the sex offender registry!

Private Information

It’s a given to not share home addresses, private phone numbers and emails online.  But you also want to be careful about sharing information about your family members online as well.  There is a reason I don’t really talk about my private life online.  Also, be careful about revealing too much about routine behavior, like where you go for your coffee or morning jog.  If you go on vacation or leave your home for any extending period for any reason, it’s better to wait until you are home to share your vacation pictures.  Don’t inadvertently let potential burglars know when you are not home.


You might have thousands of “friends” or followers on Twitter or Facebook, but I am pretty sure most of them are not actually your friends.  Heck, you may not have actually met most of them in person.  If you don’t know someone who is seeking a friend request, carefully vet that person.  You are not obligated to be “friends” with everyone online.

Online Protection

Teach your kids about viruses, malware and how to protect themselves from identity theft.

 Intellectual Property

The Internet has made it easier to use someone else’s words or images without giving the author credit.  It’s a good idea to learn and understand basic copyright law at Creative Commons so you don’t run into a problem later.

Fact vs. Fiction

If you find something online that is too good to be true, it most likely isn’t.  Not everything you see online is true or a truthful source.  Wikipedia is a great resource, but because it is mostly an open source website, a lot of stuff there is false, erroneous and just plain wrong.  Vet and verify information you find online.  I like using a website called Snopes to get the truth.

General Netiquette

The lines between our professional and personal lives are blurring more and more every day.  How you talk to your boss in an email is not the same as how you text your buddies on a late night.  Also, the Internet is global; pretty much anyone in the world can see your social media or websites.  Be careful about using colloquialism and double entendre online.  What might be a silly joke among your American “friends” might be taken the wrong way by someone else living in another country.

I may have rained all over your digital parade, but this is the new normal of dealing in cyberspace, and the moms definitely took note.  Everyone should be a responsible digital citizen!

The Black Panthers: Diplomats for Revolution

Black Panther Newspaper Panthers in Kasbah AlgiersLast weekend I saw the new documentary “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.”  I have read a lot about the Panthers since I was in high school.  Much of what I know comes from the larger context of the Black Power Movement, which includes Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and the Nation of Islam.  The film is really meant to be a primer for people who don’t know much about the Panthers to get a basic understanding of their most important milestones, like the breakfast program and the murder of Fred Hampton.  The two-hour movie is packed with a lot of information; so much information that many of the topics brought up could be their own documentaries.   

Following the film screening, director Stanley Nelson was present and took questions from the audience.  The most common questions were why was this or that not included in the film.  The reality here is that it was meant to be a two-hour movie, and only so much time to cover all the important topics.  A true movie that included every aspect of the Black Panther timeline would be a 10-hour mini-series!  

Some of the topics that were briefly discussed in the film that I would have liked to have learned more about include the misogyny within the Party, the alleged crimes committed by Ericka Huggins, Jamal Joseph and others, and the weird, criminal behavior of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver.  But, again, maybe these subjects need their own dedicated movies.

What stood out to me was the international solidarity the Panthers attempted to create after Cleaver went into exile in Algeria via Cuba, following a police ambush in Oakland that killed young panther Bobby Hutton in 1968.  By this time, the Panthers had already gained a reputation as revolutionaries by other oppressed groups worldwide and connected with other liberation struggles.  

Algeria was already a hotbed of revolutionary acts, since its violent independence from France in 1962.  (To learn more about the Algerian struggle, read Frantz Fanon’s A Dying Colonialism and watch Gillo Pontecorvo’s powerful The Battle of Algiers. – both well worth your time!)  By the time Cleaver and company came to Algeria in 1972, President Houari Boumediene had turned his country into a haven for other revolutionaries seeing refuge.  The Panthers were granted an office space in the old North Vietnamese embassy, a small, monthly stipend from the Algerian government and were allowed to grant asylum to other Panthers coming from America.  Kathleen Cleaver once said that the BPP international chapter was the “embassy of the American Revolution, receiving revolutionary visitors from all over the world,” and sharing news about “revolutionary developments within the United States.”  

However, the Cleavers overstayed their welcome and were eventually kicked out of Algeria, after the fiasco behind the hijacking of Western Airlines Flight 701.

By the time the Cleavers left, Pete O’Neal, former chairman of the Kansas City BPP chapter, found refuge in Algeria and became the new leader of the international section.  O’Neal was a hardcore Marxist who felt that his prosecution by the US government on gun charges was politically motivated.

Eventually O’Neal and his wife Charlotte were also forced out of Algeria and moved to Tanzania, which was ruled at the time by socialist President Julius Nyerere.  O’Neal still lives in Tanzania on his farm where he advocates for community development and self-reliance.  PBS also produced this documentary about O’Neal a few years ago, which I highly recommend.