Three Ways To Make Sure that Your Next Big Software Project Is A Success

This post also appeared on the Cloud for Good Blog today.

Buying a new fundraising CRM or replacing your finance and HR systems are big investments with critical outcomes. These are the types of projects can have a huge impact on your ability to accomplish your mission. Poorly planned, chosen and deployed, they will do the opposite. If you’re grasping for a cautionary tale, just look at the recent Healthcare.gov rollout, or the worse related stories in Maryland and Oregon. But successful implementations happen every day as well, they just don’t grab as many headlines.

How can you make sure that big software projects succeed?  Here are three recommendations:

1. Know what you need

All too often, the decision to replace a system is based more on frustrations with your current system than identified improvements that a new system might bring.  And, far too often, those frustrations aren’t really based on the capabilities of your existing system, but, instead, on the way that it was configured.  Modern software is highly configurable.  In nonprofit environments, where administrative staffing is low and people are juggling multiple priorities, the proper investment in that configuration is sometimes skipped. It’s important that you take the time to thoroughly catalogue your current processes and goals; clearly identify your reporting needs; and establish your core requirements before you embark for this sort of project.

Technology automates processes. If you automate bad processes, you get bad technology.  So making an investment in business process mapping, and taking the time to streamline and enhance the way you work with information today will insure that you know what your new system should be doing for you as you configure it.

2. Be prepared to change the way you do things

Ideally, you’ll invest in software that does exactly what you want it to do for you. In reality, there will be limitations in the way that the software was programmed, or the way that it has to be configured in order to integrate with your other applications, that will be out of sync with your preferences. Software doesn’t have a mind of it’s own; instead, it inherits the assumptions and biases of the developers that created it. They might assume, for instance, that you collect donations from individuals and have no need to recognize households in your system. Or they might assume that your average employee turnover is less than 20%, whereas, at a workforce development agency that hires its clients, 50% is more on the mark.  If the best system you can find suffers from some of these limitations,. you will have to either work around them, or buy the second best system, if it requires fewer workarounds, because you do want to minimize them.

Regardless, you’ll want to understand the underlying assumptions in the application and have a strategy for working around them. Some companies will go so far as to commission or design their own systems (commonly called “build” vs “buy”), but you need to weigh the cost of having a supported system vs. a homegrown one, because, unless what you do is truly unique, those will not be worthwhile trade-offs.

3. Hire a consultant for their expertise and compatibility, not their billing rate

We all want to get these projects done for as little money as possible. So there’s a tendency to hire consultants based on the lowest bid. I’d caution against this. major system configuration projects are generally open-ended — determining the exact configuration and number of hours that it will take to get there before the project starts is akin to inviting the whole city to a dinner party and determining the number of plates that you’ll require before anyone RSVPs. So you want to work with consultants who are very efficient at their work, and very conversant with your needs. What you don’t want to do is hand your project to a consultant who doesn’t really understand your requirements, but has their own idea as to how it should be done.  You could well be left with a system that met the budget, but not your needs, or one that exceeded the budget while being reworked to satisfy your requirements. A good consultant will work closely with you.  they’ll spend more time meeting with staff to learn about your needs then they will setting up the project, but they’ll set it up quickly and correctly based on their thorough understanding of your goals and needs. The hourly rate might be double the low bid, but the total cost could be equivalent, resulting in a usable system that will compensate for the initial dollar outlay all that much faster.

Here are slides that I developed for a talk/discussion on creating Requests for Proposals that vendors will appreciate at the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference.  These include some key strategies for making sure that you hire the right person or firm.

In conclusion, how you go about a software project has far more to do with how you conduct your business than it does with the actual technology.  Make sure that you’re investing wisely by taking the time to understand your needs, know where you can compromise, and hire the best partners.

NTC Summary 2014 Edition

Me and a friend at the Science FairI’m back from the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.  This one had some real high points for me, and a few things that made me a little sad, but I think I might have learned more than I do most years and I had a simply great time with old and new friends.

Here’s a  summary of highs, lows, and links:

This was my longest conference (of the nine I’ve attended): I met up for breakfast with some good friends at 8:00 am  on Wednesday, and I was one of the last people at the hotel at 6:00 pm on Saturday.

The IT Leader’s Roundtable that I led with Richard Wollenberger and Katie Fritz started out a bit rocky when Katie’s plane was delayed, but Richard and I facilitated a healthy conversation with the 20 or so attendees.

#NTCBeer was wild and woolly. There’s no way of knowing how many people showed, but we were turning people away from the 225 capacity bar from 9:00 to 10:00, so about 250  is a safe assumption, with 50 or more turned away. The beer was great (80 on tap!), as was the company. This is my last year as the main organizer of #NTCBeer, but NTEN will keep it going and I’ll always be ready to show up.  In NTEN’s hands, we should be able to secure larger locations.

On Thursday, I found myself roped into performing at Steve Heye’s Plenary Ignite session called “Bringing Techie Back“. Steve had Dahna Goldstein and I join him, on guitar and backup vocals respectively, on his rewrite of the Justin Timberlake hit.  I’ve seen the video (about 55% of the way through this plenary recording. MyNTC login required), and all I’ll say is that people are kind regarding my performance.  But Steve and Dahna rocked it with a rousing call for loving the tech that supports our missions.

Midday I joined the panel on “Marriage Therapy for Communications and IT Staff“. These have been dubbed “Franken Panels“, because the session was a mashup of proposals by me, Caring Bridge and Picnet, but I think we really pulled ours off.  The Nonprofit Times posted a recap of it, and here are the slides.

I had a great dinner Thursday night.

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Friday’s plenary put me off a bit. Titled “Where Does Tech Belong And Who’s In Charge?“, I had high hopes that this would address some of the chronic problems that technologists at nonprofits face when management thinks of tech solely as a cost center. I had reasons to be optimistic, as one of the panelists is a strong CTO at a large nonprofit.  But the other two panelists — who are bright, nice people — came from tiny NPOs (one a one person operation!) and had little perspective to offer on this topic.  It ended up being a very feel good session that left the issues that we really struggle with unmentioned.  I’m not sure who put this panel together, but they really let me down, particularly when one panelist suggested that we take the word “tech” out of everyone’s title, because we all use technology, but still said nothing about the damage done when technologists are shut out of the key decisions and have no parity with other company directors.  I get the point that he was making, but I can see a thousand techno-phobic CEOs taking that advice while still under-staffing, under-budgeting and under-thinking about their technology needs. Way to undermine nptech from the NTEN stage, guys.

I lunched with many of my LSC colleagues and special conference guests Richard Zorza and Katherine Alteneder.  Richard is handing the leadership of the Self Represented Litigant’s Network over to Katherine, and they came to the NTEN conference both to introduce her to the community, and celebrate Richard’s role in founding NTEN.  Richard was an early member of the Circuit Rider’s Network, which eventually morphed and merged it’s way into the Nonprofit Technology Network. At their second national get-together, in 1998, just before NTEN was proposed, Richard said “We must all act with non-territoriality, and actively share and pool our collective knowledge. If we act as competitors, we won’t get anywhere.”

I presented solo on Making Requests For Proposals (RFPs) That Even Your Vendor Will Love. This session went really well, with a robust discussion that I learned a lot from. Slides are here. Thorough collaborative notes are here.

On Saturday, I attended great sessions on Funder/Grantee collaboration and strategic tech planning (the latter featuring high-level advice and astoundingly silly visuals by Steve Heye, Lindsay Bealko and Andrea Berry). Then I ended the conference hanging out near the karaoke stage (but not on it!) at the Geek Games. Check out the T-Shirt I got (or a reasonable facsimile on Farra).

Farra Joleen Bingo

 

Congratulations to Jason Shim for winning the NTEN award! This is well-deserved for one of my Communities of Impact partners who is generally the smartest person in any given room.  You can see some of his work in the free NTEN ebook, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits.

Next year, we’re in Austin.  Who’s going?

Notes From Here And There

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Long time no blog, but I have good excuses.  Moving cross-country, even with a modest family of three, is no picnic, and we are now, over 13 months since I was offered the job in DC, starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Since summer, I’ve been frantically house hunting and, since December, busy relocating (for the third time) to our new, tree-laden home in Reston.

This, however, doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing or totally neglecting my nptech duties. So here are some things to look forward to:

#ntcbeer. First and foremost. The annual Nonproft Technology Conference runs here in DC from March 13th to 15th, and the 6th Annual #ntcbeer will take place, as always, the night prior (Wednesday, 3/12, 7pm).  This year we’re at the Black Squirrel, a bar that’s a 15 minute stroll from the hotel (in the trendy Adams Morgan district) with three stories and 80 craft beers, which one would hope will meet the requirements. But I’m willing to bet (seriously!  Who wants to get in the pool?) that we will top their max standing room of about 200 people.  Here’s my logic: we averaged about 175 people last year in Minneapolis and the year prior in SF.  Minneapolis likely would have been bigger but a lot of planes were delayed by weather.  This year, we’re in DC, and that means two things: first, this is the largest center for NPOs in the world.  A lot more of the attendees live here. Second, it’s a very social place.  So I think that it’s not only likely that we’ll top 200; I don’t think 300 is out of range. We’ll have the Facebook page up in a week or two and we can hammer it all out there.

Also, #ntcbeer has sponsors this year.  We’ve been bought out by Blackbaud. (kidding!). Blackbaud and CommunityIT will be on hand with snacks and possible giveaways.  We’re figuring all of that out. Sponsorship is good, because this year we did manage to find a bar that doesn’t require a financial commitment up front, but I don’t think that will be possible in SF next year, given what a hard time we had finding a location in 2012.

Related, details to come, is that, prior to #ntcbeer on the 12th, I’ll be hosting a pre-conference workshop on IT Leadership with Richard Wollenberger and Katie Fritz.

As to that writing, keep your eyes open this week and next for NTEN’s release of “Collected Voices: Data-Driven Nonprofits. I spent 2013 participating in NTEN and Microsofts’ Communities of Impact program, where I joined 17 other nonprofit staff in diving into the challenges of managing, maximizing and sharing data in our sector.  We had two in person, two day meetings; numerous calls with bright presenters; active and professional facilitation by Julia Smith, NTEN’s Program Director; and this is the final product.  In addition to a few case studies and short pieces, I contributed an article on “Architecting Healthy Data Management Systems”. As this is really the focus of my career, whether it was unifying the database backend and building a portal to all client data at a law firm in the 90′s, or developing an open source retail data warehouse at Goodwill, or migrating/connecting all of LSC’s grantee data and documents to a Salesforce instance at my current job, this is the work that I think I do best, and I have a lot of best practices to share.  So I’m somewhat proud and happy to be publishing this article. it will be a free download for NTEN members.

Speaking of LSC, I’ve been busy there as well. We held our 14th annual technology conference two weeks ago, with record attendance. Among the crowd were frequent collaborators of mine like Laura Quinn of Idealware and Matt Eshleman of CommunityIT. It was a great time, with a lot of valuable sessions and discussions on data, internet security, and business process mapping.  We held a “Meet the Developer” session where our grantees, for the first time, got to speak directly with the guy that programs our online applications and give him some direct feedback. I attended in order to both facilitate and act as a human shield.  ;-)

The conference followed the release of our report on the two year technology summit that we hosted.  This consisted of two gatherings of leaders in the access to justice community from legal aid law firms, the courts, the ABA, the State Department, and the NLADA, along with key application developers and strategic thinkers.  We worked on a goal:

“to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.”

Currently, the research shows that only 20% of those that qualify for and need the legal assistance that our funding provides are being served by the limited pool of attorneys and resources dedicated to this work. The report makes the case that 100% can receive some level of assistance, even if that isn’t actual legal representation, by innovative use of technology.  But we are working on the assertion that some help is better than no help, which is what 80% of those who need help get today.

The key strategies include:

  • using statewide portals effectively to connect people to the available resources
  • maximizing the use of document assembly to assist individuals in preparing court forms (a goal that lives or dies by the standardization of such forms, which is currently a big challenge)
  • Expanded use of mobile and SMS (many of the people who need assistance lack computers and smartphones, but can text)
  • Business Process Analysis, to insure that we are efficiently delivering any and all services, and
  • Expert Systems and intelligent Checklists, in order to resource individuals and attorneys to navigate the legal system.

As I mention here often, the right to an attorney only applies to criminal cases, not civil, but the peril for low income families and individuals from civil lawsuits is apparent.  You could lose your house, your children, your job, or your health if you can’t properly defend yourself against a wealthier accuser.  Equal justice is a cornerstone of American ethics. Take a look at the best thinking on how technology can help to restore it.

The Palotta Problem

uncharitableIf I have a good sense of who reads my blog, you’re likely familiar with Dan Palotta, notable in the nonprofit world for having raised significant amounts of money running the Aids Rides and Breast Cancer walks.  More recently, he’s become a outspoken and controversial crusader for reform in the sector.  He did a much-viewed Ted talk, and he’s written a few books outlining his case that “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”. And he keynoted the recent NTEN conference in Minneapolis.

Palotta’s claim is that nonprofits, in general, are their own worst enemies. By operating from a puritanical, self-sacrificing ethic that says that we can’t pay ourselves as well as for profit companies do, and we can’t invest heavily in marketing and infrastructure, instead prioritizing that every penny go to our program work, we are dramatically ineffective. He is advocating for a revolution against our own operating assumptions and the Charity Navigators, tax codes and foundations that are set up to enforce this status quo.

His message resonates. I watched his Ted talk, and then his NTEN plenary, and tears welled in my eyes on both occasions   They were tears of frustration, with an undercurrent of outrage.  I doubt very seriously that my reaction was very different from that of the other 1500 people in the room.  We are all tired of the constant struggle to do more with much less, while we watch entertainers, athletes and corporate CEOs pocket millions. Or billions.  And this is not about our salaries.  It’s about the dramatic needs of the populations we serve; people who are ransacked by poverty and/or disease. Should reality TV stars be pocketing more than most NPOs put annually toward eradicating colortectal cancer or providing legal assistance to the poor?

But, as I said, Palotta is a controversial figure, and the reactions to him are extreme to the point of visceral.  Even among his most ardent supporters, there’s a bit of criticism.  The key critical threads I heard from my NTEN peers were distrust of the implied argument that the corporate model is good, and frustration that a person who did well financially running charities is up there being so critical of our self-sacrifices.  In fact, since his nonprofit went under amid a storm of criticism about his overhead ratio.  Reports are that it was as much as 57% (depending on how much the reporter dislikes Palotta, apparently). That’s between 17% and 42% more than what nonprofits are told to shoot for, and are assessed against. But the amount of money he raised for his causes was ten times that of any similar efforts, and it does dramatically illustrate his point. How much opportunity to raise money is lost by our requirement that we operate with so little staff and resources?

I’m sold on a lot of Dan Palotta’s arguments. I don’t think that NPO’s have to emulate corporations, but they should have equal opportunity to avail themselves of the business tactics, and be measured by how effective they are, not how stingy. But I still can’t rally behind Dan Palotta as the leader for this cause.  It’s one thing to acknowledge that the nature of the “do-gooder” is one of austerity and self-sacrifice. It’s another to criticize it. Because, while most of us can recognize the disadvantages that our nature tends towards, we’re proud of that nature. It’s not as much a bad business orientation as it is a core ethical life view. The firm belief that relieving the suffering of others is of greater personal satisfaction and value than any financial reward pretty much fuels our sector. So standing on a stage and chastising us for not being more competitive, more greedy, and more self-serving, no matter how correct the hypothesis, primarily offends the audience.

By putting this criticism front and center, rather than acknowledging the good intentions and working with us to balance them with a more aggressive business approach, Palotta is undermining his own efforts. The leader who is going to break these institutional assumptions is one who will appreciate the heart of the charity worker, not one who – despite their good intentions – denigrates us. I applaud Palotta for raising a lot of awareness. But I’m still waiting to meet the people who will represent us in this battle. Palotta has raised the flag, but I’m not convinced that he’s our bannerman.

Notes From All Over

Did you know that Techcafeteria isn’t the only place I blog?  You can find me posting on topics related to legal aid, technology, and my work at Legal Services Corporation at the LSC Technology Blog.  My latest there is about my favorite free task management tool, Trello.

I also do the occasional post on NTEN‘s blog, and they published my article on the history of Circuit Riders, the nonprofit-focused techies that got many an org automated in the 90′s, and my pitch for their new mission.  Related: I’ll be doing a webinar for NTEN this fall; an encore of the Project Management session that I did at the recent NTC. Look for that around September.

Next up here? I finally sorted out what bugs me about Dan Palotta, renowned fundraiser, rabble-rouser and keynoter at the NTEN conference last April. I should have that up in a day or two.

In non-blog related news, this is the month that my family finally joins me in DC.  We’ve rented an apartment in Arlington (within walking distance of LSC’s Georgetown offices) to hole up in while we look for a house to buy.  I’m flying to SF to load up the moving truck and say one last goodbye to the best beer on earth (Pliny the Elder, by Russian River Brewing Co.) (What? You thought I was speaking more generally?)

 

Techcafeteria Blog Facelift

If you visit the blog (as opposed to just subscribe), you’ll note that I did a little cleaning.  My old WordPress site had gotten a bit corrupted, so, instead of trying to fix it, I just installed a new copy of WordPress, found a simple theme, and selectively imported the important things from the database. It was about four hours work.

If you ever visited Techcafeteria.com, without the “/blog” appended, that was actually a site that I created in a little-known content management system called Frog CMS. I ditched that; now techcafeteria.com simply points to the blog.

So, nothing fancy – I’m not here to rack up page views and compete with Yahoo!  Do let me know if I broke anything.

Sleazy Sales Tactics and Social Networks

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Image courtesy bonkedproducer

This is a public service announcement (aka rant) intended for IT product and service reps. In a nutshell:

If your spam and cold calls haven’t resulted in a business relationship, tracking me down personally on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook won’t work either.

Let’s be clear: it’s not a secret that I have purchasing responsibility for IT at my company, and my business contact info is easy to find (or purchase). Mind you, I don’t hire companies based on their ability to locate that information and email or call me. I hire consultants and purchase products based on the recommendations in my communities. So cold contacting me might be inexpensive and easy for you to do, but all it tells me is that you don’t respect my time or privacy and you can’t sustain your business based on quality and word of mouth. Two strikes against you, whereas, before you cold-contacted me, you had none.

But, in failing to spam me into a relationship, taking it to LinkedIn or the contact form here is taking your pathetic and unprofessional approach to marketing into a whole new realm of sleaziness and creepitude. Cold-contacting me at my business email or on my business phone is annoying and pathetic, but far more appropriate that tracking down my personal, non-business addresses and contacting me at those. It’s called stalking.

I’m looking at you, Server Technologies. The fact that you’ve spammed me in the past does not mean that we have an established business relationship, as your LinkedIn invite falsely indicates.

And local IT Recruiters 58 and Foggy — you take the cake. Within two minutes, out of the blue, you cold-called my work number, emailed me personally via this blog, and sent me a LinkedIn invite. That was so over the top annoying that I not only will never do business with you, I’ll make sure that all of my professional acquaintances are warned away.

Because I seriously question what a company that violates my privacy as a means of introduction would do if I actually relied on them and dealt with them financially. Ethical behavior? Not a safe thing to assume. Professionalism? Already in the toilet.

Social networks offer a great avenue for the type of business promotion that works for me — word of mouth. Sincere recommendations from people who think you’re good at what you do because they’ve used your products or services. You can foster my business by doing well enough with your current customers that they will speak well of you online. You can also demonstrate your expertise by publishing materials and distributing them on Slideshare and other public repositories (including your web site, of course). If you put your energy into establishing your credentials, instead of shoving your uncertified opinion that you’re great into every channel that you can reach me through, you’ll get a shot at my business. But using these networks to harass and annoy potential customers is incredibly stupid and short-sighted.

Techcafeteria Turns Five!

Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog, which was started on May 20, 2005.  Back then, it was on another website and not very well-defined. I’d say my purpose in starting it was pretty much “because I should be blogging”. After a year or two, though, I started to find my voice by discussing what I do: nonprofit technology. And then I registered Techcafeteria, the personal arm what I call my “extra curricular activities” beyond family and the day job.

Things didn’t really take off until the fall of 2008, when I stated blogging elsewhere. Many of the posts here are republished from the Idealware Blog, which I now run. Accordingly, the Techcafeteria-only posts tend to be housekeeping ones (like this one); way off of NPO technology topics (such as my more political and personal entries) and overflow, because, while I write regularly for Idealware, I find myself with more things to write about than would be appropriate to flood that blog with, at times. I’ve definitely hit my stride, and expect this to continue to be a steady source of content for some time to come. But, if all you really want is the technology stuff, and could care less about whether we homeschool or how I feel about civil rights, you might be happier subscribing to Idealware, which has the benefits of a stricter focus and nine additional excellent bloggers contributing.

Over the years, a handful of my posts have either gained notoriety or stood out in terms of synthesizing some of my key messages, so I thought I’d re-recommend them. Here’s my best of the first five years list:

  • Message to The Krazy.com Spammer – I occasionally write missives to people who will never read them. I’m particularly fond of this one, based entirely on a true story.
  • Schlock and Oh! Facebook’s Social Dysfunction – This is timely: My initial reaction to Facebook, after reluctantly signing up.  I’ve been bashing them since 2007.  (Take note, Jon Looper!)
  • The Lean, Green, Virtualized Machine – I took a stab at explaining the geeky concept of virtualization in relatively plain english, and I think I nailed it.
  • Why We Tweet – In case you were wondering.
  • The ROI On Flexibility – I consider this to be the best thing I’ve written, a synthesis of my philosophy on technology management and my standard rant against IT control freakishness.
  • Why Sharepoint Scares Me – I think I hit the corporate zeitgeist with a post that doesn’t slam Microsoft’s collaborative platform, but catalogs the things about it that might be difficult for nonprofits to deal with.
  • Why We Homeschool – Homeschooling gets a really bad rap, and, as parents who have determined, for good reasons, that it’s the right path for our kid, we deal with a lot of flack and misconceptions.
  • The Offensive Bardwell Defense – Keith Bardwell was a Louisiana Justice of the Peace who refused to marry interracial couples on the grounds that it was unfair “to the children”.  As is gay marriage.  As is any hatred-based viewpoint that a bigot desperately wants to justify and defend.  On a side note, I’m pretty sure that this is the article that spawned a ton of traffic from Sean Hannity’s website.  I hope it was educational for those visitors!
  • Why Geeks (Like Me) Promote Transparency – In order to obtain funding and improve effectiveness, NPOs are going to have to start managing and sharing their outcome data. This is a big theme of mine, and this post said it well.

It’s been a productive five years.  Here’s to the next five at Techcafeteria!

Blog Policy on Recent Racist Comments

This blog doesn’t get a ton of comments – the most active posts tend to be the ones leading up to this weeks Nonprofit Technology Conference.  But I’ve been getting a bunch lately that I’ve decided not to post, as comments, at least.  So this is to clarify the comment policy, and respond to some borderline conversational/offensive comments left in the last day or so.

Comments are moderated here, mainly in order to weed out the obvious spam that slips through my Akismet filter on occasion.  I don’t publish spam or link spam, so if you’re one of the people leaving innocuous comments about my writing style, note that I don’t believe that you’re sincere, and I won’t publish your link to your viagra site.

But the comments I received this week aren’t spam.  Instead, they appear to be the work of someone looking to provoke me.  They’re in reply to my post “The Offensive Bardwell Defense“, in which I spoke about segregation, my marriage, and the legal battle to allow same sex marriage underway.  The first message was easy to ignore, because it was pure vitriol, equating my interracial marriage with numerous controversial sex acts.  The writer, one “DMTS” of gmail, followed that up with a more measured comment that, while continuing to make personal comments about my marital status, argued that, while it’s fine for me to “hook up” with people of non-white ancestry, I have no right to blog about it.  ”Don’t ask, don’t tell”, as it were.  The full comment went:

“Peter Campbells marriage (if still intact) is just an exception to the way things really work in mixed marriages. I don’t want to deny him any success or happiness with his nice wife and child pictured (great pic btw), but he does not have any rights defending something that is clearly wrong for the majority, when he is in the minority of working mixed marriages(for now). If I hook up with a different race partner, I will just do it, and not advertise it as normal, or make a big deal and use someones legit comment as a scapegoat. WHO CARES ANYWAY PETER? no one is making laws that specify you can’t hook up with dreadlocks, beehives, or skinheads, so what are you worried about? when has anyone persecuted mixed racials? sounds to me you are looking to MAKE TROUBLE by drawing sympathy to yourself that is totally unjustified. Blog about something else that is important, like what your son is planning to do with his future, to help make this a better world without blog script shills making trouble for all races. Shalom”

I’d point out two things to Mr. (I presume) DMTS. The first is that, while he can suggest that my marriage is some kind of exception to the rule, I’m not aware of any evidence that it is.  Divorce is rampant in this country, but I’ve never seen a statistic that suggests that it’s higher among interracial couples than same race. Mr. Bardwell didn’t cite any statistics for his assumptions, either.

The second thing I’d point out is that DMTS completely missed my point.  I used my interracial marriage, and interracial marriage in general, to point out that the same sex marriage debate underway in this country is a parallel, and, as with interracial marriage in the 60′s, the bigots, of whom I assume DMTS counts himself among, are going to lose the battle.  He seems to have skimmed my message and misread my conclusion that this type of bigotry — be it about race or sexual orientation — will be overcome.  It’s a slow process. It clearly still exists, as DMTS chooses to illustrate.  But, today, his attitudes and comments are sad.  In 30 years time, they’ll be outrageous.  Racism and hatred/bigotry based on assumptions about race (or race relations) is on the wane.  Interracial marriage is now accepted in the U. S.. It’s a slower course for a lot of the institutionalized racism in our schools and justice system. But most of the vitriol comes from old, white men, and two trends are clear: whites as a percentage of our population are shrinking, and old people will die sooner than the more enlightened young ones.

As to publishing comments like this: I’m interested in dialogue, and if DMTS responds to this with something that doesn’t use language that I wouldn’t want my Mom (who reads this blog) to see, I’ll certainly approve it.  If he provides some backing for his unverified claims that interracial (“mixed” is an offensive term) marriages are at higher risk of failure than same race marriages, a claim that I find very suspect and unlikely, I might even reply. But if DMTS actually isn’t invested in his arguments, and is just trying to get a rise out of me, it only takes a second to mark a comment as spam.  And rude, unconstructive conversation, like DMTS’s first message, which I will not publish,  is spam here; that’s the policy.

The Ethnic Check

Census_2001Yesterday I received a letter from the State of California alerting me that my Census form is due next week and that I should be sure to fill it out and return it, as is decidedly my intention. That form will include the page that drives many Americans crazy — the one that offers you a bunch of ethnic backgrounds that you can identify yourself on. As my spouse of African-Cherokee-Jamaican-German and who knows what else decent says, this is not a multiple choice question for many of us. Personally, I always check the “white” box, which is not lying, although I always have a nagging doubt that the Semitic parts of my genetic makeup aren’t fairly represented by that choice.

Today, skimming through my news feed, I starred this article by Michelle Malkin, passed on by Google Reader’s “Cool” feed, and I just found time to read it. The gist of the article is that Census filler-outers should refrain from allowing the government to peg us by ethnicity, instead choosing “Other” and filling in the comment squares with “American”. Take that, Gubmint statisticians!

Now, this is interesting, because while Ms. Malkin proudly describes herself as a Fox News Commentator, I don’t think this question lands on a liberal/conservative scale. Discomfort with being pegged by race straddles all ideological outposts, as it should. But data is data, and the ethnic makeup of our country by geographic area is a powerful set of data. If we don’t know that a neighborhood is primarily Asian, White, Black or Hispanic, we don’t know if the schools are largely segregated. We don’t know if the auto insurance rates are being assessed with a racial bias. We don’t know if elected officials are representative of the districts they serve. And these are all very important things to know.

It might seem that, by eschewing all data about race, we can consider ourselves above racism. But we can board our windows and doors and dream that the world outside is made of candy, too. It won’t make the world any sweeter. If we don’t have any facts about the ethnic makeup and the conditions of people in this country, then we can’t discuss racial justice and equality in any meaningful fashion. We might hate to take something as personal as the genetic, geographic path that brought us to this country and made us the unique individuals that we are and dissect it, analyze it, generalize about it and draw broad conclusions. It is uncomfortable and, in a way, demeaning. But it’s not as uncomfortable and demeaning as being broadly discriminated against. And without evidence of abuse, and of progress, we can’t end discrimination. We can only board up the windows that display it.

So, I’m not going to take Ms. Malkin’s advice on this one, and I’m going to urge my multi-racial wife and kid to be as honest as they can with the choices provided to them. Because we want the government to make decisions based on facts and data, not idealizations, even if it means being a little blaze about who we really are.