An Open Letter to Mark Wahlberg, You Entitled, Self-Righteous, Spoilt Man.

markwahlberg

Dear Mr. Wahlberg:

On April 8th, 1988 you struck an innocent Vietnamese man with a 5-foot stick.  You struck such a vicious blow that he immediately fell to the ground unconscious, while you shouted racial slurs at him.   According to the police report, after you were arrested and taken back to the scene of your crime, you told them ‘you don’t have to let him identify me, I’ll tell you now that’s the mother**ker whose head I split open.’  You then proceeded to flee from the scene of your crime and asked another Vietnamese gentleman, Hoa Trinh, to hide you because the police were coming and he did.  When you had been successfully shielded by Mr. Trinh, you punched him in the face so forcefully that you blinded him in one eye and then tried to run off shouting more racial slurs.  Police were able to apprehend you and you were arrested.  You were 16 at the time and tried as an adult.  You were initially charged with attempted murder, which was then dropped to criminal contempt.  Although you had been in trouble with law enforcement previously for both violent and racially motivated crimes and the maximum sentence for your new charge was 10 years, you were only given a 2 year sentence.  You were lucky that you only ended up serving FORTY-FIVE DAYS of your sentence.  Forty-five days despite being a drug dealer, despite being hideously violent, despite your previous racially motivated assaults, and despite your checkered history with the law.  Wow.

And then on November 26, 2014 you submitted a petition to the Massachusetts Board of Pardons to have your 1988 convictions of Criminal Contempt, Assault and Battery, Two Counts of Assault and Battery by a Dangerous Weapon, and Possession of a Class D Controlled Substance struck from your record.  You stated that a pardon would be ‘formal recognition that I am not the same person I was…’.   Ummmm, ok.  I guess the first thing most people are thinking is why? Why are you so deserving of a formal pardon, no, a ‘formal recognition’ from the state when so many others are not?  Why, when no pardons have been issued in Massachusetts since 2002, do you deserve one?  Because you were able to get out of jail after just 45 days?  Because you were able to go on and have a music and modelling career?  Because you were then able to make millions off of an acting and producing career?  No wait, you state it’s because you’ve raised almost $10 million for your foundation to help at-risk youths since 2001.  While this is admirable, your estimated net worth is $200 million and you’re talking about raising $10 million over a 13-year period.  Again, these are huge sums of money but even if we assume that the $10 million came straight from you and no outside sources, as a percentage of your wealth given overtime, this is really quite ordinary.  It is estimated that those who earn over $200,000 a year give away 3.1% of their wealth, and those who earn less than $100,000 give away an impressive 3.6% of their wealth.  So what you’re citing here as a reason for your pardon, rather than being extraordinary, is really quite commonplace among the general population.  I don’t mean to detract from the good work that you do; I’m merely trying to put it into context in the wider charitable sector.

You also state that you deserve a pardon because it would allow you to work more closely with law enforcement in both Massachusetts and California.  I think many people are thinking well thank you very much Mr. Wahlberg but Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others have already happened without your close minded-self being involved with law enforcement.  No, no; I guess that’s not fair.  But truly, you have a history of hideously violent behavior (like when you beat a man so violently in 1992 that you broke his jaw and then you paid him an undisclosed amount to make it go away because you were already famous as Marky Mark).  We’re not talking about a bar fight here or a scuffle.  We’re talking serious, life-altering, documented violence.  Law enforcement is a high stress, physical occupation and on numerous occasions you have shown that you’re not afraid to get overly physical.  If you were any other person applying for a job as a police officer or parole officer, your application would be highly scrutinized and ultimately rejected.  What is it that you have to offer law enforcement that is so above and beyond the norm that your past can and should be erased when no one else’s is?  This is baffling to me and millions of other people.

And yes, it sucks that a successful entrepreneur such as yourself cannot obtain a liquor license for your growing empire of burger restaurants, but that’s one of the consequences of living outside of the law.  You state that granting a pardon would show other offenders that they can turn their lives around and be a success.  Now while I might personally agree that prevention in the first instance or opportunity is a better motivator for good behavior than using deterrents or continuously recriminalizing people, that is the system we live in.  I would gladly debate with you the merits of rewards/opportunities vs deterrents to help reduce recidivism, but that’s not what you’re arguing nor have you started any such campaign to change the system.  Just so you know, this really makes it seem like you just want the pardon because you want to make more money and not because you truly believe that you can be a positive example to others or that the current criminal justice system needs to change.  If anything, the state could argue that not granting you a pardon would be more of a motivator because that would, hopefully, deter people from committing a crime in the first instance.

Perhaps most importantly, what is so confusing to people, and what they want answered, is why you think your petition should be granted just because you haven’t been violent or racist in the recent past?  First of all, that’s quite a normal occurrence for the majority of us.  It does not make you extraordinary and it certainly doesn’t make you look good when highlight that as an accomplishment.  And second, while you have done a lot of (public and advertised) good, at what point have you reached out to the communities that you terrorized?  Did you reach out to the Vietnamese community and try to make amends for your disgusting behavior before you filed your petition?  Have you worked extensively with immigrant communities to understand the error of your bigoted ways?  Did you work with black communities after you yelled racial slurs and threw rocks at black kids?  Do you work with those communities now?  If not, why not?  If you do, then you need to get new PR people.  If you’re truly repentant and you’ve genuinely changed as a person, then why have you not engaged with the communities you hurt?  Surely that would be more inspiring to young people than you simply asking for a pardon because you set up a foundation.

I think a final burning question people have is when do the breaks (or formal recognitions) stop for Mark Wahlberg?  Despite being a horrifically racist and violent person, you were able to somehow erase this past and have a music career, which then turned into an acting career, which then grew into a producing career, and now a food empire.  Clearly you are talented and hardworking but so are many of the people who leave prison.  You claim this pardon is not about entitlement but what do you think would have happened to you if you had been black or Hispanic and the people that you attacked had been white?  How do you think your sentence would have differed and how do you think it would have impacted you once you left prison?  You may not want to deal with these questions, but when you ask for this extraordinary treatment of your criminal past, you are opening up the wider debate of the workings of the criminal justice system and central to that is the issue of race.  If you want to be a champion for ex-convicts that is highly admirable but these questions are part and parcel of that status.  People doubt your motives because despite wanting to be the poster child for the criminal justice system working, you either refuse or choose to not engage in a debate about the system.  This makes you seem disingenuous, entitled, and quite frankly entirely undeserving of a pardon.

Despite seriously questioning your judgment and this ridiculous pardon, I would still like to thank you.  You see, just like you, I have children and I want to teach them how to make this world a better place.  Part of that is teaching them that the system is unfair.  They also, however, have the power to change the system, and because as half-white, non-poor people they will benefit from the system, they have a responsibility to change it.  But when someone like me (a non-white woman who wags her finger and shakes her head),raises the very real and very obvious double standard applied to whites and non-whites in the (judicial, legal, just general) system, people roll their eyes.  They think I’m just another person blaming race and inequality because that’s (somehow) the easier option.  Even when I quote studies and cite statistics and even when we have law enforcement on camera using excessive, and sometimes fatal, force against non-whites, people still roll their eyes at the minority harping on about race and blah, blah, blah.  But when you submit a petition like the one you did and you talk about wanting ‘formal recognition’ from the state, you essentially do my job for me.  So while I abhor your petition and your actions, I am still inclined to highlight them because you show me, my children, and the rest of the world that you are the very definition of white privilege.  Your actions prove it in a way that no study or statistic ever could.  So thank Mr. Wahlberg for showing us all that white privilege is alive, well, and very, very real.  Your move Massachusetts.

Yours sincerely,

Faseeha Khan-Jensen

About The Top Ten Reasons To Love Mindy Kaling?

So like all normal people, I believe Mindy Kaling is awe. some.  I laugh so hard that I can’t breathe when I watch her show and I think she is a perfect role model for my kids, teenagers, women, men, babies, humans, aliens, just anyone/thing really.  So what would I tell my kids about all the reasons everyone should love her?

Well, it took me approximately 8.7 years to write this and I am now full of regret because I’ve limited myself to a Top Ten list about her.  I know I’m setting myself up for failure here but if I hadn’t limited myself to a few top reasons to love her, I would have still been writing.  I hope my children can forgive me for all the awesomeness I had to leave off the list and just embrace what I’ve included.  So here are the Top Ten Reasons (for my kids) To Love Mindy Kaling:

  1. She’s South Asian

So Mindy herself, rightly, refuses to limit herself to being the funniest Asian comedienne because she’s funnier than funny people of all races.  But I want my children to have positive Asian role models and Mindy is absolutely at the top of that list.  She is normalizing South Asian success in the entertainment industry and because of her, my children won’t think twice about seeing an Asian play the lead in a top-rated sitcom. While a lot of times this position as one of the first successful South Asians on TV is her burden to bear (seriously people, you’re going to try and pin a lack of minority roles on TV on her?), she is absolutely a trailblazer for others.

  1. She Says What The Rest Of Us Are Thinking (And It’s Like A Life Lesson)

Have you ever read anything by Mindy Kaling?  Something as simple as a tweet just makes you feel like she could be you and vice versa.  She’s not afraid to admit that some things don’t change, even if you’re a celeb (a bad playlist at a party perhaps or pestering someone you have a crush on until they die).  I love that.  It makes her even more relatable and real, allowing us to see celebrities we admire as similar to us and not some god-like, flawless creatures (although I will concede that I only rarely write top 10 lists of things I love about my friends).  That’s not to say she’s some overly flawed human, but merely to highlight that she admits that, like everybody else in the world, she’s a work in progress.  My kids will be bombarded with all sorts of messages from the entertainment industry, and Mindy Kaling’s willingness to share both her ‘work’ and her ‘progress’ with the world is a great message for young people to receive.

  1. She’s Happy And Positive And Optimistic

Ok so her life is pretty cool but she completely admits it.  Her celebrity is not this burden that she’s unable to handle.  She’s not one of those whiney celebs that complains about how awful the paparazzi and the fame and whatever else is, while they rake in millions.  She projects an image of someone who’s so grateful for her success and her fans.  I want my kids to know this because if you work hard and achieve your dream, you should be grateful for that, even if it comes with some warts.  Very little in life is perfect, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t be grateful for and happy about it.

  1. She’s Into Her Family

In her book, she talks fondly and lovingly about her family.  Her show draws upon her family life too and it’s clearly a strong and consistent influence in her life.  Obviously, this something I want to impress upon my kids because I want them to be into their family too.

  1. She’s Humble

Every time she makes a public appearance or is on a show, she is just so darn cute when she’s complimented for being smart or funny or talented.  It is so endearing and just seems to speak volumes about her personality and her approach to her work.  If anyone should be an egomaniacal ahole, it should be her but she’s so gracious whenever she’s complimented.

  1. The Mindy Project – It’s Just Too Much

Why, why, why is it so funny and so witty and so quick and so sharp?  How does she write, produce, and star in it?  Why is the cast so great and why and how do they all work so well together?  Granted, I’ll wait until my kids are a little older to let them watch it, but still, every episode is like Christmas come early!  I could do an entire blog post on just this, but I’ll move on.

  1. Her Dress Sense 

So forget the fact that she ‘embraces her body’ (her body is fine, get over it) I LOVE her dress sense and will tell my kids about it because she is so styling without being gross (again this could be a post on it’s own. In fact, I feel it needs to be).  She can be fun, flirty, sexy, chic, suited and booted, whatever and she’s never slutty.  Again, that is great role model material for growing children and grownups! For my boys, it shows them that women can be beautiful without being naked all the time and for my nieces (and if I ever have girls of my own) it shows that a) polka dots are appropriate at any age and b) you can be sexy and have fabric on. You can be appealing while still wearing clothes; what a novel idea!

  1. She Refuses To Put Limits On Herself As A Woman (Or An Ethnic Minority)

Mindy is constantly asked questions about her success as a female or her trailblazing ways and her responses are great.  She calls people out about why they would ask her a certain question but not her male peers.

I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’”

Or like at SXSW when she stood up to the idiots trying to pin all the world’s problems on her.  I’m sure Mindy is a little tired of hearing her speech repeated but it bears mentioning.

“I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.”

Good for her for defending herself.  Just another reason for me and my kids to love her!

  1. She Doesn’t Put Others Down To Be Funny

So obviously her sense of humor is unrivaled but one of the things that makes her so funny is that she’s not nasty to others to be funny.  Some comedians, while funny, really kind of make you want to not be alive because their humor is hurtful or degrading.  Mindy, on the other hand, uses the perfect combination of wit, oddball antics, self-deprecation, and slapstick humor to keep her audience chuckling constantly.  This is definitely one of her most appealing qualities and really speaks to her talent as a writer and actress.  It’s possible to be loveable and hilarious at the same time.

  1. She’s Smart

And I don’t just mean because she picked a dream, stuck with it, and made it work.  She is smart-smart.  She did well in high school, went to Dartmouth (hello genius), and worked her bum off while at university to be involved in numerous writing and improv groups.  Her hard work earned her an internship with Conan O’Brien.  She was only 24 when she joined the writing staff of The Office and quickly proved both her on and off screen talents there.  I will tell my kids that Mindy Kaling is clever because she was born gifted but what makes her so smart is that she always worked hard regardless of her talents.  That’s a lesson we can all learn.

Oh my, this list is over and now I’m sad.  I’d like to write it all over again with 10 new things.  Maybe that’s what this blog can be.  I just reinvent this list once a week and read it to my children.  Surely that’s a form a parenting too? There are just so many reasons for my kids to love Mindy Kaling!

About #JuSuisCharlie, #JuSuisAhmed, and the Attacks on Charlie Hebdo?

The attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in France and the ensuing terror caused by the manhunt for the perpetrators has made for a scary and unsettling week for millions of people around the world.  For most of us this death and violence just seems so senseless and so frightening.  Whatever your politics or beliefs, there is no justification for killing and wounding people in this manner (please read here for more information on the victims).  In my mind, these tragic events highlight the huge disconnect between immigrant populations and the places they relocate to.  We have, thus far, responded to this gap by either doing nothing, proclaiming that our borders should be shut, or responding with violence in the places we think this extremism is coming from.  Very little is being done to actually engage with those who immigrate and those who oppose immigration, but time and again these voices have erupted with a bang in the form of 9/11 in the US, the7/7 bombings in the UK, the far-right gaining more supporters across Europe, and now the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  What I will tell my kids about this latest attack and its implications?

The first thing I will tell them is that the gunmen shot indiscriminately.  They killed people born and raised in France, immigrants, men, women, atheists, Muslims, etc.  They were intent on killing, not on defending their faith.  This was an entirely un-Islamic thing to do and can, in no way, be a reflection of Muslims in France or anywhere else in the world.  It takes more than a few phrases shouted in Arabic to make you a Muslim, just as it takes more than buying presents at Christmas to make you Christian.

Second, this debate is not about free speech.  It’s not about free speech because this magazine pokes fun at everyone from everywhere so who exactly was being defended by these killings and who should be the most offended by what the magazine is publishing?  Our response, however, is also not about the freedom to draw or write without fear of being killed (by a Muslim.  That is what people are both thinking and saying).  Freedom of speech/press could be an entire blog post on its own but just as a summary point, France is one of the numerous countries in which it is a crime to deny that the Holocaust happened.  If that is not a violation of free speech, then what is?  This is an absolutely crucial point that cannot and should not be overlooked.  It’s not about whether or not denying the Holocaust is something that you want to ever do, it’s about defending your right to do so.  Or at least that’s what the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag would proclaim.

Third, I’ll talk to my kids about how we report on this issue being a major part of the problem.  For the first 36 hours of this ordeal, there was much talk of how the gunmen were immigrants (they were in fact born in France to Algerian parents and raised in orphanages and foster homes).  Once their ids had been established they were still referred to as ‘French citizens’ and not just ‘French’ or even ‘French nationals’, hinting at their not-quite-Frenchness.  For those first 36 hours virtually nothing, however, was said about how some of the Charlie Hebdo staff were also immigrants or about the fact that the police officer who was shot was Muslim.  At the end of the day a life is a life regardless of nationality, creed, religion, sexual orientation, etc. BUT you cannot on the one hand treat these extremists as immigrants (read other, different, foreign) and the victims of their crimes as French (or in other words normal and one of us).  This approach is part of the problem of alienation and isolation that immigrant populations feel that then make radical fringe groups more appealing to them.  Please understand that I am no in no way explaining the actions of these men.  I am merely highlighting the very real ‘us vs them’ mentality we have towards immigrants both in the Western media and in our everyday lives.  We want them to be just like us in our society but we look at them differently, we treat them differently, we never truly accept them as part of our social fabric.  As a first generation Brit with immigrant parents, I am speaking from experience.  My children will grow up in the US as first generation Americans with immigrant parents.  They too may feel that sting of rejection when they tell people their Arab-sounding names (wait, you’re not called Steve?) or explain their background.  They will never be quite American or British or Danish enough.

Fourth I will speak to my children about how it’s possible that two men who were French (I cannot find any news reports that state that they ever held any other nationality) grew up to slaughter their own countrymen.  This is terrifying to me.  I lived in Manchester when the 7/7 bombings happened in London and I remember back then thinking to myself ‘these boys grew up like my family, as Asians born and brought up in the UK who were British.  They could be my cousins or my brother.  How did they slip through the cracks?’  Unfortunately we have been so busy fighting violence with more violence (the War on Terror) that we have forgotten to address the social implications of immigration.  How does someone who is born in the UK or the US or France, who grows up there, who goes to school there, and has friends who are the same nationality and part of that culture, how do they feel so isolated and so alone and so detached from their own society that they feel closer to jihadists halfway around the world than their neighbors, teachers, and friends? How does that happen?  France can respond to this latest attack by killing those responsible and possibly breaking up some camps in Syria or Iraq, but that is merely dealing with the manifestation of this social disconnect and not the root cause.  As long as we continue to ignore those root causes, this disconnect will be a problem.  That is a terrifying thought to me but if my generation is not able to look for these answers, it will fall to my children’s generation to do so if they ever hope to live in any kind of peace.

And this is a two-way street.  I absolutely do not agree with right-wing policies regarding immigration across Europe and the US.  But there have to be reasons why these parties are gaining support.  In order to combat this radicalization we need to understand why this problem exists and the extent of the problem.  Merely dismissing far-right policies as (insert choice phrase here) because they don’t agree with yours is not helpful, it’s not smart, and it’s not going to fix the problem.  We need to start talking about immigration seriously.  I’m British, of Pakistani descent, my husband is from rural Denmark, and my son is a Muslim, mixed race boy who is American, Danish, and British.  Clearly I believe in the benefits of immigration and the mixing of cultures and races but I also believe that both migrants and the communities receiving them need support in ensuring that the transition is as smooth as possible.

So no, like so many others I am not #JuSuisCharlie.  I will tell my kids that this attack goes way beyond that debate.  Be respectful of those who were killed and acknowledge what a senseless and awful loss their deaths were.  Then look to how two boys who grew up as French nationals in France felt so isolated and so far removed from their own country that they turned to radicalism and slaughter instead.  The chances are if this is their story, it’s about to be someone else’s too.  Maybe instead of fighting guns with more guns, it’s time to start addressing the poverty and isolation many migrants feel.  We have tried being aggressive and it hasn’t worked yet.  Maybe the time has come to start a dialogue with both immigrants and those who oppose them to understand their issues and start to construct homegrown solutions to tackle this extremism on both ends of the spectrum.  Maybe it’s time for us to kill (homegrown extremism) with kindness.  I will tell my kids that engagement, tolerance, and dialogue across the board will go a long way to tackling radicalism around the world and at home.

About the Peshawar School Attack?

As a human being, I was disgusted by the Taliban’s attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar.  As someone of Pakistani descent I was so deeply saddened that yet again the country of my heritage was in the news because of violence and death.  As a parent, I was terrified and sickened with grief that this vile act of cowardice was going to change so many lives in so many ways.  I found it difficult to read through news articles on the attack because it was so violent and so utterly devastating for the children who died, those who survived, the families whose children were caught in the attack, and the staff at the school.  I find myself questioning why I would bring children into a world when they are so unsafe and where they may even be targeted.  What do I say to my children about this disgusting act and what we can learn from it?

The first thing I would say to my kids is this: education is an absolute luxury that is never to be squandered or wasted.  And I don’t mean that in the mum sense where ‘you should work hard at school so that you can do well in life.’  I mean this: for hundreds of millions of people in the world, education is not a viable option.  Poverty, a lack of facilities, a lack of access, and gender are all (removable) obstacles to education.  By some ridiculous luck of the draw, you (meaning my child) ended up in a household that could afford to send you to school and in a country that attempts to support you getting an education even if your family is poor.  Understand that although this education is being given to you, you are one of the lucky few that is able to access this resource, from your parents being able to attend parent-teacher conferences to signing you up for afterschool programs.  Take it for granted and I will home school you and be your teacher, your principal, your superintendent, your guidance counselor, AND your friends and trust me Boo, you don’t want that.  Education is one of the few arenas in life that can level the playing field somewhat (harder to do in this country than most though) and so you will always have to work at earning an education because your family background will mean nothing if everyone else is working harder than you.

Second, I will tell my children that this attack stemmed largely from ignorance and the fear that ignorance breeds.  The only thing that can break that cycle is education.  Not allowing people to access knowledge allows you to control them more easily because they are rarely given all the information they need to make informed decisions (hello Fox news).  If you are their only source of information, they will have to do as you tell them.  Attacking these children who were trying to learn and better their lives, then, was the Taliban’s cowardly way of attempting to further their influence and control.  But education and knowledge have the ability to change lives in a single generation in a way that only basic necessities such as clean water and healthcare can.  That speaks volumes about the power and importance of education.  Never forget that.

Third, I will tell my children that, as always, the acts of a few extremists, while deplorable, should never undermine their pride in being of Pakistani descent.  It would be a disservice to all those who died and to each and every Pakistani that works tirelessly to better the lives of their fellow country people if we allow this act to define Pakistan and its people.  There was much media reporting about how maybe Pakistan would now finally start to take the terrorist threat seriously and do something about this problem, as if other nations had nothing to do with the ability of the Taliban and other terrorist groups to grow and gain sympathizers and supporters.  Even if my children weren’t Pakistani I would tell them that this affects them because we are all linked.  Not in some abstract, the universe-loves-us-all kind of way, but in very real terms.  I don’t need to remind you all of how instrumental the West was in bringing the Taliban to power in the region so yes, we are all linked whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  So look at this as a human event and not a national one and in so doing you may be able to reveal what part you (and your friends and your communities) can play in the solution.

Fourth, I will tell my children about true bravery and courage in the face of unimaginable odds: Malala Yousafzai.  What an impressive and just awe-inspiring person.  I will encourage them to read and watch her speeches, follow her life story up until this point, and keep an eye on what she does in the future because she offers us all an education that cannot be taught in a classroom but that we all can benefit from, regardless of our age, nationality, or gender.

I am finding it impossible to spin anything remotely positive or uplifting out of this school attack.  Rather than being some point of lively debate that we can rally around, this attack just leaves everyone feeling shocked and sickened.  Still, I want my children to know about the world that they’re growing up in and, unfortunately, part of that world is senseless and frightening ignorance and violence.  Just because it happened ‘out there’, however, doesn’t mean that we can’t be part of the solution here.  These children and these families showed and continue to show unwavering bravery in the face of the most terrifying acts all in the name of education.  I will tell my children to keep that with them to remind them how fortunate they are to be able to access education and, whenever possible, to pay that fortune forward.