READING AND REFLECTING

In my workshops, participants often walk away with one clear action item: “Get Proximate.”

As Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy and a lawyer who works closely with death row inmates) states, “There is power in proximity. When you get proximate, you learn things you cannot learn from a distance.”

People who participate in my workshops are often seeking the answer to this question: “How do I learn more about diversity and people from diverse backgrounds if my neighborhood, town, state, area, and social circles is glaringly not diverse?” One piece of that puzzle — one helpful tool — that people can implement immediately is to pick up books and start reading. This is only one piece of the larger puzzle, but it certainly is a start.

You can easily search for lists that focus on particular racial/ethnic groups, by racially diverse authors, or by issues. Given that it’s September, my mind is always focused on Latinx heritage, so here’s an example of a great list that includes authors from Latinx backgrounds.

If you are just getting started in all of this, I highly recommend picking up Young Adult fiction/non-fiction. I admit, this was not a category I had previously read. However, working in a PreK-8 school these past few years really opened my eyes up to a whole new space and conversation. I just finished reading the Jason Reynolds series of books. Jason Reynolds’ writing is a great example of how sophisticated, and yet simple and accessible, today’s young adult fiction/non-fiction is.

Other folks like picking up books by authors who, traditionally, have not focused their writing on race but who have courageously entered into that space. One popular one is by Jodi Picoult titled, Small Great Things.

And, coming up in November, I’ll be hosting a book discussion group of Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility. It’s non-fiction and addresses, head on, the issues of whiteness, white supremacy, and white fragility. RSVP is required and it is limited to 25 people. People take different approaches to this type of book — do you dive right into a book this direct OR do you ease into the conversation? I’ve taken both approaches in my own life. So, whatever your approach is, just do it.

Whether you are joining a formal discussion or you just want to process a topic, book, or issue by yourself, here are some helpful questions that I use during-and-after reading a book:

  • What did you notice about yourself and your reactions as you read this book? What parts of the book or situations did you most notice these reactions?

  • Why did you choose this book? What issue were you interested in getting more proximate to?

  • As you read the book, what took place when you had a “that can’t be true” reaction? What took place when you had a “yes, this is all so true” reaction? What would it mean for you to believe that the “can’t be true” is and can, in fact, “be true”?

  • As you read the book, who in your life came to mind in particular examples? Why?

  • What parts of the book felt very proximate to your own experiences? What parts of the book felt distant, separate, and far away from your own experiences?

  • Which characters, if any, in the book did you feel proximate to? Which characters, if any, did you feel furthest from?

  • What are you left wondering after you finished the book? How might you get closer to answering those questions or exploring those curiosities?

  • After reading this book, what you do you realize about yourself? About others? About your upbringing or socialization?

  • What parts of this book will stay with you long after you have read it? What does that mean for you?

I hope you find these reflection questions useful as you continue your journey to learning, planning and doing more to #makethingsbetter in our lives!


Peace and reading,

Liza

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Voices

We all hear voices. There are voices that encourage us, tear us down, remind us where we parked the car, and debate whether to eat that piece of late night chocolate cake or choose a tall glass of water instead. We all hear voices. But, how many of us listen to them? How many times to we need to hear them before we believe them? On Sunday, we had our first snow storm of the season. It wasn't a major storm, only left about 1/2 an inch on the ground. But, given the unpredictable weather here in the Northeast, there was snow, then rain, then snow. Outside was like a winter wonderland, if said wonderland was a thick sheet of oil on wax paper.

My husband was outside scraping the car windshields and pushing the shovel on the driveway to clear off the layer of snow. He and my girls were getting ready to go to the movies, so he was working quickly. He set his own car radio to his favorite hip-hop station and closed the door. The music was loud enough to hear it, but not quite loud enough drown out the sound of my old car engine humming and wheezing as if the cold triggered some sort of automobile asthma.

"Jorge. Jorge." Jorge looked up at our house and saw an empty window. He heard a woman's voice call his name, and figured if it was me, I'd just come outside to speak with him. "Jorge. Jorge." He looked towards my next door neighbor's house. Our neighbor is 9 months pregnant. He thought maybe something was wrong, but with the two cars in their driveway, he was confident no one was calling him from their house. Jorge returned to dragging the shovel along the ice covered driveway. Tsksaappshkkkksh. Scrreeeppphsskkkksh. Scraappshkkkk. He fell into a groove scraping the snow back and forth across the wide part of our driveway. Shovel hits the pavement, walk across the driveway, toss the little fold of snow onto the grass, turn around and repeat.

"Jorge. Jorge."

"Okay, I heard that," Jorge thinks to himself. He put down the shovel and walked around the side of our house. Maybe our neighbor who lives behind our house was calling him. Jorge looked over at their elevated back porch. No one there.

At this point, Jorge had been outside for more than 8 minutes, and it was time to get the girls and leave for the movies. He placed the shovel against the side of our house, turned off the cars, and stood up to admire his great driveway work. Hands on his hips, chest out, head held high -- Jorge had that  "I-Am-The-King-Of-My-Driveway" feeling.

"Jorge. Jorge."

Jorge walked to the end of our driveway, looking to the left and to the right. He had heard the voice this time, but now he was listening.

"Jorge. Help!"

Across the street, through the thick wooden slats of the newly constructed ramp, Jorge saw a pink long sleeve waving at him.

"Jorge. I can't get up. Please help me."

Jorge leaped across the street to find Margaret, an older woman in her 80s, who recently had surgery, lying flat on her back at the bottom of the slippery ramp. His heart began to beat frantically. "I came outside to place sand on the ramp, and I fell. I can't get up," Margaret said with both an urgency and relief.

After helping Margaret, offering to call an ambulance or a family member,  shoveling her driveway, defrosting her car, and sanding her ramp, Jorge came back into the house.

"Liza, I heard her," Jorge said visibly shaken as he re-told his story. "She had been lying like that in the cold for at least 5 minutes. I heard her. I know I heard her. But, I ignored her. I don't know if I ignored her or the voice, but I definitely heard my name called a few times. Imagine if I went inside and never came back out? Imagine if I never was outside to begin with, and no one helped her? I heard her voice, and I didn't listen to it."

****

I went to the grocery store this evening just to pick up a few quick items. Butter. Bread. Cheese. Nothing special. I fit these items in my arms, forgoing the gray plastic basket with the thick black handle. I find the grocery store experience to be hit-or-miss. Sometimes, the store is filled with friendly people -- people who make passing conversation while selecting fruit in the produce aisle, a kind person with a shopping cart full of groceries who lets you go ahead if you only have a small basket, or a cashier who smiles, looks you in the eye, and says, "Hello!" Then, there are the times when people aren't so friendly. Those are the times when people park their shopping carts in the middle of the already skinny aisle, or when you are coming out of an aisle and a person is steamrolling their cart perpendicular to you, or a cashier who can't muster out a "Do you have your Stop & Shop card" without attitude.

Today was one of the "unfriendly" days. Even in the 15 minutes I was in the store, I already felt anxious and annoyed. In the line, I placed my items on the belt but didn't bother to separate my items from the person in front of me with the plastic "don't-even-come-near-my-food" bar (despite the fact that you could have laid a small child end-to-end between her items and mine). I was annoyed. I wanted to get out of there. I already had my Stop & Shop card and my debit card ready to go.

I could feel someone enter into the line behind me. Since the grocery store rules of engagement were already set at "don't mess with me", I just kept looking straight ahead. "Miss?" Eyes focused, straight ahead, counting the items until it was my turn. "Excuse me." I didn't recognize the voice, so I kept looking ahead. Phew! Almost done with the woman in front of me.

"Ma'am, excuse me, could you please help me?"

I turned around quickly and glanced slightly above my own eye level. At 5'3", just about everyone is taller than I am, so I naturally look up whenever I anticipate eye contact. No one.

I quickly gazed down. Behind a gray basket piled high with food was a man with a black eye patch over his left eye. He appeared unsteady in his wheelchair as he balanced the overflowing food.

"Ma'am, I was wondering if you could help me unload the items onto the belt. It's too heavy and far for me to reach."

"Sir, yes. I'd be happy to help. Is there any particular order you want these in -- boxes first? Cans first? Produce?" Did I sound like I was overcompensating in an attempt to relieve my embarrassment?

"No, if you could help me get them on the belt I can ask the person bagging them to stack it evenly."

I began to unload boxes of stuffing, packages of ground beef, multiple cans of vegetables, and a rather heavy Jennie-O turkey onto the belt. "Looks like you're cooking up a feast!" I say with a smile. "It's like a Thanksgiving meal!"

"There's a lot to be thankful for, ma'am. There is no sense in realizing that only once a year!" he said with a smile. My eyes moved from his teeth to his brown eye, and then over to his eye patch - a familiar and comforting object in my world.

I looked at him, in his eye, and returned the smile. "You've got that right," I said.

"Thanks for your help, ma'am. God bless."

"You're welcome, Sir. Enjoy all that cooking!"

I finished paying, grabbed my bags, thanked the cashier and the young man who put the items into my reusable shopping bag, and left.

*** In 24 hours, situations could have turned out differently if we didn't listen to voices. We heard the voices. I know my husband and I can both admit to that. But, neither one of us listened to them. What was it like for Margaret to see my husband -- just barely across the street -- and have him ignore her cry for help? Had he gone inside, she would have been alone. Cold. Scared. Frustrated. What was it like for the man in line to try and get my attention at least 3 times? Did he feel angry? Upset? Invisible? I heard him. I certainly did. But, I didn't listen to him.

When do we ignore voices? Which voices do we choose to listen to? Which voices do we choose to hear? How many times have we left someone feeling alone, cold, scared and frustrated? How many times have we left someone feeling angry, upset and invisible simply because we chose not to hear or listen to them?

What do we risk by searching for those voices that we hear, by listening a bit closer to see if they are cries for help, assistance, or just connection? What do we gain?

Embracing New Languages

Just wanted to track back to a fantastic post over at Anti-Racist Parent about learning new languages. For years now, I've been telling myself that I'd brush up on my Spanish and actually learn enough Tagalog (not just the swear words that I know!), but just haven't done it. Well, it's at the point where my older child can out-Tagalog me, and my younger one is catching up to my Spanish quickly!

It's an interesting perspective to embrace learning a new language as a way to work towards anti-racism. If we learn other languages, does it give us a new appreciation for how difficult it is to learn English? For the beauty and sounds of cultures other than our own?

My older child is just learning to read. And, on a long car ride the other day, she passed the time by reading a Grade 1 Reader out loud. As she sounded out words, I tried to tell her some of the "rules" of the English language -- like what certain letters sounded like when put together, etc. But, no sooner did she just understand what those combinations were, a new word that completely didn't follow those rules came up. I saw my child getting very frustrated, and I found myself getting impatient, too.

How the heck is someone supposed to learn this stuff??? I know we all did - eventually. But, for goodness sake! Imagine having to learn English, work full time, take care of children, have people get impatient with you when you are actually trying to practice, and worry about getting it all wrong?

As an anti-racist and a child of immigrants, I've never uttered the words, "You're in America.. speak English!" But, how often do we English speakers ever learn another language? Geographically, we sort of don't need to. I can drive thousands of miles and still expect that everyone will speak the same language as I do. And, if they don't, I can expect to be "right" ... because... I'm... in... America. But, is that right? In a country built upon the backs of immigrants, how can we continue to exist as an English-only hierarchy - especially when so few people actually use proper English?

I grew up in a multilingual house (yes, somehow I still only picked up the swear words), and so the beauty of languages have always felt like home to me. I rarely have trouble understanding even the thickest of accents -- be they Asian, Nigerian, Spanish, or even Southern. My ears pick up the subtle lack of "F" sounds in Pilipino. I can easily distinguish a Nigerian accent from an accent spoken by someone from Ghana. Yet, I can barely utter any of their native tongues.

So, my question really goes back to: Do we have to learn the languages or simply expose ourselves to the beauty of other languages?

Handpicking Religion

crossOver my lifetime, religion and faith have taken on a few different incarnations, if you will. When I was younger, like many in the suburban Boston area, I went to church with my family - every Sunday, we all piled into the family van, and depending on the time of the Mass we wore either a nice skirt/shirt (10am Mass) or a pair of jeans/sweater (Noon Mass). In the early years, Church was a great time for families to get together. Our church used to host a "coffee and donuts" gathering after Mass, and I vividly remember running around with my brothers, donating $.25 for a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles, and hearing my parents laugh and tell stories with others from Church. They would wait down in the gathering hall while the children made their way over to Sunday School classes in the upstairs classrooms. Soon, the coffee and donuts routine ended, and I got to the age when I would drive myself to religious education classes.

When I got to college, I no longer went to Church. After Saturday nights and early mornings recovering from hangovers of the college-variety, the last thing I wanted to do was go to Church. Scrambled eggs, hash browns, orange juice, coffee and bagels with my also hungover friends soon replaced singing, Communion, and gospels.

In my senior year, I remember going to Church just prior to the Easter break. I'm not sure why I went - likely peer pressure of some sort (or Catholic guilt). I ran into a friend of mine at the back of the college chapel and said, "Hi, Lina! Gotta love church, huh?" in my sarcastic "oh-you-gotta-be-here-too?" tone of voice. Lina caught me off guard and said, "I am filled with love and joy today! I'm fantastic! Jesus Christ has Risen! It's an awesome day!" The childlike excitement in her eyes, from a woman who I considered academically brilliant, surprised me.

Huh? What the hell was that?, I thought. Seriously? Is she serious? That much joy over a story in the Bible?

pewI proceeded to an empty space in a pew, went through the Catholic Calesthenics of up-down-kneel-sit-stand-sit-kneel, and quietly listened to the readings and homily. But Lina's excitement was stuck in my brain. How could someone be this excited about religion? About the day before Easter??

Graduate school wasn't much different. I went to school in New York City where it was easy to be both surrounded by vibrant religious communities and disheartened by the poverty, cruelty, and human violence. I had gone to a religious service at a charismatic Christian church one Sunday with a friend of mine, and we spent well over 2 hours enveloped by singing, worship and praise, joyous and fervent prayer, Amens and Yes Jesus shouts. At the end of the service, we walked out the door and watched church members embracing wishing others to "Have a Blessed Day." But, not more than a few feet from the church, we then saw two individuals cursing up a storm as they fought for a parking spot. A few feet from them was a homeless woman -- who I would see there for the next 2 years. Not far from her, a group of young boys exchanged a verbal tennis match of profanity and insults about someone's Mama.

Needless to say, my Amen feeling left my body pretty quickly, and reality set in.

Throughout the next few years, as a result of living in NYC and working in a number of diverse colleges, I struggled with my Catholic upbringing of how my faith viewed gay relationships and marriages. I believe that love is love. That families are families. During this time in my life, my close circle of friends were majority gay couples, and I listened to their life pasts, presents and futures. I listened to their stories of faith, families, acceptance and denial. I struggled with understanding how my own faith discriminated against their lives, against them.

After leaving NYC, I began working at a Quaker school. And, while very few people there were actually Quakers, the philosophy drove everything we did there. Each week, I participated in Meeting for Worship and that was completely different from anything I had ever known. Silence. We entered in silence. Sat in silence. Listened in silence. And, the elders ended with a handshake. There was no priest guiding the service. No reader telling me about the Bible. No holy hands delivering Communion. It was me and God.

People often ask me what impact faith had on me when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

My daughter was 2-years old, and I had just started working at a Catholic college. While my practice of faith was pretty sporadic, I still believed in a Greater power (be it She or He). But, when she was diagnosed, I struggled. I was mad. Pissed! What kind of God would do this to a child? What kind of God brings an innocent child so close to death?

When others found out about my daughter, I received hugs/cards/emails all with the phrases "We're praying for you" or "Trust that God will guide you" or "God will be with you." Really?, I thought. Because this feels awfully f-in lonely. My family members wanted to pray over me for strength, invoke God during church, or offer up community prayer circles for my daughter. I found this just pissed me off. But, I never said anything because I knew the religious piece served a different purpose: it helped to comfort those people. Heck, if praying makes it easier for YOU, then go for it. If praying makes you feel like you're doing something, then go for it. But, for me - nope. Not here. Not now. Not while my child is wearing a paper thin gown with an IV hooked up to poisonous chemicals being delivered by a nurse who is in a full body armor to protect herself.

I didn't pray to God. But, I did wish for hope.

But, of course, years of Sunday school weren't lost on me. In the quietest hours of the morning, when I would sneak into my daughter's room -- just to make sure she was still alive -- I would kneel by her bedside and pray. I prayed that God wouldn't take her from me. I prayed that God wouldn't let her suffer more than she had to. I prayed that God would give me strength to both protect her and to let the baby growing inside of me be cancer free.

But, most of all, I prayed that God would let me switch places. I prayed that God would put the cancer into my body and spare hers. I prayed that God would just give her a break, let me wake up from this nightmare, and that all would be just a bad dream.

Then, morning would break and we'd be back into our routine. Daily shots for my daughter. Anti-nausea medication just after breakfast. Nurses visits to flush her port-a-cath where she received chemotherapy. And, religion and God would be forgotten until the next wee hours of the morning.

A few years have passed since our daily cancer trips, and now our lives resume normalcy for a few months at a time. And, religion has found its way back.

Every Sunday, the girls and I go to Church. Catholic Church. It gives me peace. I leave Church each Sunday and am happier. I'm renewed. I feel closer to my children when we are there, and I feel even closer after we leave. I find joy when I see them make the sign of the Cross on their chests -- sometimes they get it right, usually they get it wrong and poke themselves in the ears and belly buttons. During the car ride, they complain that Church is going to be boring and they don't like having to be so quiet. Then, we arrive and sneak into a pew behind their friends, and they are all smiles again.

This year, my husband and I decided not to buy the children more than 2 presents. He's doing it because buying so much stuff is wasteful and materialistic. I'm doing it because I want the girls to know the meaning of Christmas.

But, what is the meaning?

hpdjesusDo I believe the meaning is the Birth of Jesus Christ? Do I believe the meaning is family, friends and giving thanks? Is the meaning chocolate waffles, candy canes, and wishes? Is the meaning that we give more than we receive on this day?

When I read the story of the Nativity to my children, I tend to emphasize the "Look what nice people did to help out a family"  -- just like nice people helped our family when you were sick -- than the "Jesus Christ was born today" story. Will this change? Develop? Will the kids want more from the story? Less?

All of this has been coming to mind in the recent news about Rick Warren giving the opening prayer at Obama's Inauguration. I find so much of the commentary - from both sides of the "wings" -- fascinating. Will our view of religion and the religious change? Is the goal to change the minds of religious conservatives or just to get the conversation going?

Is there a difference between "I disagree with you" and "I disagree with your life and identity?"

Can religion be fluid? Is it wrong to handpick religion?

Happy Merry Solstice/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Dec 25th. Work is slow right now, so hopefully I can catch up on some blog posts!

Feeling Triggered

"To Loosen The Mind" has been my outlet to discuss issues of race, and lately it has included my insight into issues of cancer. And, like any major event or experience, there are ebbs and flows. I never anticipated that I'd sit down to watch TV for one of my favorite shows "Jon and Kate Plus 8" and feel so triggered. Naturally, this episode was all about kids with cancer. Trigger? oh yeah!

This time, just a few years ago, my daughter was experiencing one of the worst reactions to her chemotherapy. We were in the hospital just prior to Christmas, and all we wanted good old Santa Claus to bring was the ability to come home from the hospital. If I remember correctly, we came home on December 23rd late at night.

One part of the episode tonight was when Kate finished giving out presents at the big Holiday party, then she had to go to individual rooms to deliver gifts to children who weren't well enough to be around others. Mine was one of those kids. We even ended up having to change rooms during her chemotherapy treatment that December because she got so sick that the doctors worried any new germs would absolutely just destroy her already shattered immune system.

As I watched the episode, I heard my own voice (and that of many of our cancer friends) repeated on the show. "We are so thankful for this diagnosis because it has given a new meaning to our lives" or "Each day is a new blessing" or "We just learned not to take anything for granted."

Certainly, my family learned all of those things as well. One of the most important lessons for me personally, though, was the lesson of friendship. During this time in our lives, some friendships were strengthened, some were discovered, and some were lost. Rather, some were disposed of quickly!

Given that each day was considered "lucky", I found myself not being able to waste time on anyone who just sucked the life out of me. I had put up with a few casual friends for a long time, but when TIME was my own enemy, I realized that I didn't need other people stealing what I needed most. I no longer had time to soothe egos, to be angry for the sake of being angry, nor entertain folks who couldn't operate the same moral compass I needed. Gone were friends who embraced materialism over good ole' fashioned love. Gone were friends who were egotistic, self-centered, and who needed constant affirmation. I began to finally see the importance of time and examine what I was doing with the little time I had.

Watching the episode tonight reminded me of the "time factor." I felt like turning it off, thinking "Why am I watching this 30 minute show? Could I be doing something else with my time? After all, any good home video of mine from that experience would be much more interesting!" But, I've avoided home videos of those years of turmoil, prayers, anxiety, and hope.

And, on the eve of the day when a good friend of mine begins his own course of chemotherapy (after already watching his own 2 year old battle cancer), I am reminded once again of not only the importance of love, life and family, but also of the importance of surrounding yourself with what makes you happy.

During this holiday season, some of us will find this time of year difficult, some of us find it joyous. Let's keep in mind that blessings and challenges take shape in lots of ways. From the To Loosen family to yours, may you choose that which makes you happy.

Dolls - and the Office to prove it

the-officeI love the show "The Office." Love it. Live for it. It's the 30 minutes in the week when I know, for sure, that I'm gonna hurt from laughing. When I bring up that my favorite show is "The Office," I get two reactions: 1) "I LOVE THAT SHOW, TOO!" or 2) "Oh, god, that show makes me so uncomfortable. I can't watch it!" I think that the characters are so real to life that it's just hysterical. And, unfortunately, I can match up every single Office character with someone I have worked with in my professional career. Maybe that's why it's so funny -- because it wasn't funny when they were real people in my life.

The show this week was no exception to the uncomfortably hilarious diversity conversation. This week, Dwight had the brilliant forsight to purchase all of the "Unicorn Princess" dolls in the local stores and charge "those lazy parents" upwards of $200 for the dolls. As with just about every new kid craze, these dolls were ridiculous. They were pretty princesses, dressed in shimmery pink dresses, with a long white horn coming out of the forehead. I joke not.

Throughout the show, anxious white fathers come in, give the secret nod,princess-unicorn-300x192 and get their dolls after exchanging a wad of cash. Toby, the poor fool of an HR guy, goes to buy the last doll from Dwight. He ends up paying $400 for the doll, the camera pans to his delighted face as he holds the precious box in his hands, and then his expression quickly turns sour as he discovers he has just bought the Black Unicorn Princess. Yes, folks, the Black Unicorn Princess.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3GPOgJ6WtM&hl=en&fs=1]

I get asked a lot about dolls, given that I have two little girls. My husband and I have a practice of only buying dolls with brown skin (and, ideally, ones with a waist larger than my ring-size). Everywhere my kids go, they are surrounded by white dolls. They see white characters -- whom they idolize -- on television. They listen to young white girls singing on Radio Disney. And, conversely, they see far too many shows with young brown girls as the "mean kids" or the "dumb girls" or the "bratty teens."

Purchasing power is on my side. The brown dolls ... they always seem to be on clearance. That helps me out. But, in the neighborhood and city in which I live, whites are the minority. Yet, the brown dolls are always the one on clearance. White dolls dominate the shelves on the toy racks. On a recent trip to North Carolina for a speaking engagement, I nearly lost my mind when I walked into a store and found shelves and shelves of beautiful Black dolls -- angels, princesses, books with Black characters, and a Black Nativity scene. My host had accompanied me into the store and couldn't believe my shock.

"You don't understand," I said. "I never see Black dolls -- in so many numbers -- in a store. The multicultural dolls are usually hidden in a corner with red tags on their boxes."

"Honey, this is North Carolina. There are plenty of Black dolls down here. I think it's time for you to relocate!" said my host.

Thankful for the luxury of internet shopping, I avoid most of the big toy and book stores these days and give my money to smaller companies who have made multicultural options their business plan. I know this makes my white relatives uncomfortable - we've had some great discussions about how my actions aren't to exclude white merchandise. After all, my kids are surrounded by it. Their dolls at school, their books at their library, their favorite characters on television, and the stars of their favorite movies are all white. They have plenty of exposure to white culture. Believe me.

And, if you haven't seen this experiment re-done, check out the impact of racial preferencing and messaging in young kids:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybDa0gSuAcg]

What I do is actively look to INCLUDE multicultural images in their lives. It's so easy to exclude these for many reasons; in my area, the most powerful reason is that multicultural resources are not readily accessible.

What am I looking for next? Waiting for the Ken, Ben and Baby doll sets to hit the shelves, though sadly even in Massachusetts, I'm sure this will be a while before this happens.

Inexpensive Multicultural Gifts

If you're anything like me right now, you're budget is feelin' it. books I haven't bought traditional toys for Christmas in a really long time -- years, I would say. I've mostly been buying books as gifts for people. And, even then, we're moving into much more environmental consciousness and moving away from print books. So, while I now buy less books for adults, I do still tend to buy books for the children on my holiday shopping list. I think that kids still really like the tactile feel of books, enjoy looking at the pictures on paper (rather than on the computer screen or downloaded copies on an iPod), and caretakers can easily pack them for a car ride.

If you're looking for some great gifts for kids, and want to do some educational exposure on the side, here are some of my favorite books to give and to read.

Note: While I could certainly use the kick-back income, I get nothing from these folks in terms of financial compensation, so this is truly a financially unbiased list (but, hey, if any of you are the authors of this book, a comment or shout-out would be well appreciated!).

Hyperion and Jump At the Sun (JATS) books

Good for ages 2-6. I bought nearly every one of the "classic fairytale" books. My family already owned the ones with all white characters and I was thrilled to know the same stories were being told with Black characters, too. I love them because we can mix up the same stories with different racial characters being shown. My kids have visions of princes and princesses being BOTH Black and White. The books are inexpensive - $3.50 for most of the paperback JATS classic fairy tale books.

Hyperion's Motown Series (use the same link as above)

Adorable. Simply put. These are good board books as gifts for infants/parents. They just take the words from popular Motown songs but show a range of diversity in the pictures of the babies that are being shown. It's rare to find a board book that features a range of skin colors, and this is one of those rare gems. These are about $7 each.

Teaching For Change books (www.teachingforchange.org)

Just note: the website is www.teachingforchange.org but my hotlink goes to their webstore.

Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is what you expect. This probably would have been a good 39 page read for Palin.... good purchase for 2+ years old.

Amazing Grace and Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman is read in my house at least 1x a week at the request of my kids. It's a cute story of Grace, a go-gettin' little gal, who follows her dreams. She's raised by her Mom and Grandmother in the first book but then travels to Africa in the second book to be with her dad.

I Love My Hair by Natasha Tarplay is one that I like to pick at least once every few weeks. I have stick straight hair. My 5 year old daughter has curly, curly, curly hair. So, it's hard for her to relate to me when it comes time to brush, condition, braid, re-condition, etc. hair. She loves this book, though, because she "has hair like the girl." One of my favorites.

Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevive Petrillo and Lea Lyon is another one of my favorites. And, in a list that's dominated here by topics mostly related to girl characters, this is a boy-centered one. My daughter, who is partially blind, loves this because she likes that the boy does everything the other kids do. Seriously great book.

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell is a book we haven't purchased yet but I've read it in the store. It's a beautiful story about 2 male penguins who take care of an abandoned egg and raise the chick. For people who aren't quite comfortable yet discussing gay families, this is a nice introduction to the idea that "parents" aren't just opposite sex parents.

Grace for President by Kelly Dipuccio is a great book that really focuses on the gender piece of politics. And, Grace is Black. But, what people (and I) love about the book is that Grace-being-Black is never addressed. She's just Grace. A girl. Who wants to run for President. My girls love this book.

Lola in the Library by Anne Mcquinn is another great book that just simply is about a little girl in a library. Lola is Black. But, the story is about her experience in the library. Another favorite one in my house.

Those are just a few suggestions from my own library (okay, and one that I just read in the store!). I know there are adoptive parents who read this blog, single parents, same sex parents, etc. PLEASE leave a comment about other resources, books, toys, etc. that you have given/will give/received that were both wallet-friendly as well as diversity/education focused!

A Day without Race

I know.. I know... I'm obsessed with talking about race and diversity. Well, that's not entirely true. The times when I'm NOT obsessed with talking about race and diversity are the days when I have to think cancer. I've written a few times about how I feel when my life leaves the realm of race and entres into the world of cancer. My family has been wrecked with cancer -- many have survived; others have not. I'm as active in the cancer world as I am in the race world. And, while I blog about the connections between racism and disability issues, the issues of cancer and race rarely cross paths for me.

So, pardon my detour from blogging about race today -- it's a blog post about cancer. But, it fits into the "to loosen the mind" philosophy in that the intellectual and emotional rationalizations about cancer do force me to think of things differently and reflect on ways to stay flexible in my thinking.

Posts for a different time are how my family was treated when my kid was diagnosed with cancer. Feel free to catch up on some of those!

No, this one is for me. I'm considered a pre-vivor -- someone who is genetically dispositioned to develop cancer at a far more likely rate than the rest of the general population. And, while I've escaped it's ugly claws for now -- my sisters have not been so lucky -- I can't help but think of it as ticking time bomb. I always get this way before an doctor's appointment: sleepless, anxious, trying to tell myself not to worry, but endlessly worrying.

Let's just put it out there -- cancer sucks. I've tried to loosen my mind around this one. But, the truth is, it just plain sucks. I know that I've become a better, stronger person because of what we've gone through having a child with cancer. And, trust me, I'm thankful for the way that has changed my life for the better. I embrace each day. I realize the gift of waking up and hearing my child's voice every morning (believe me, there were mornings where I would be just hope and pray that she was healthy enough to wake up). Material things are unimportant. Time with my family has replaced time to myself.

It's usually after an extended visit with lots of cancer families do I realize cancer trumps race, for me. When we're all sharing stories of struggle, survival, sadness, anxiety, and frustration, we are there as cancer parents or patients. We aren't Black cancer parents/patients, gay cancer parents/patients, single cancer parents/patients. We are just parents. We are just patients. We joke about things like textures of wigs or ethnic acceptance of baldness, but in the end, the root that binds us is our cancer experiences -- our desire to survive.

picture-11Decembers always bring up anxiety about cancer, too. It was the month when my oldest sister had her mastectomy at age 37. One year later, my other sister had her mastectomy at age 35. I'm next. It's obviously not this December, but next? The one after that? Will my daughters have to choose their Decembers, too? When your own body is your enemy, what choice do you have?

So, indulge me this one night as I lay awake anxious for my appointment tomorrow. God knows we've been through enough. I'm sure the pregnancy induced Reeses Peanut Butter Sundae isn't helping matters, either.

Think/Don't Think

First, sorry for the delay in posting, comments, and posts from guest writers. It's been a busy, busy few weeks and I am getting some help from guests with going through the 60+ comments or so. With the hectic schedule, I even neglected any post-Election day blog :( Hopefully folks got to check out the other hundreds out there or even posts from folks on the Blogroll. But, even though I missed out on that piece (and there are some great ones in the pending box which I'll try and post soon!), I do want to write about some of the post-election conversations going on. Spawned by 'status updates' and such on things like Facebook, MySpace, Twitters, and conversations within those threads as well as comments on other sites that I've seen, there have been interesting nuances - both overt and roundabout - about race, beliefs, choices, etc. So, I'm calling this one "Things I Think. Things I Don't Think."

Before we get into the post, a little about where I fall in the whole political spectrum. Most people have assumed, because of the topics I write about, that I am a far left liberal. That couldn't be further from the truth! Actually, I fall just slightly left of center. There are even issues where I fall slightly right of center (shocking, I know). What has always fascinated me, since writing this blog over a year ago, was that most conservative people commented with the assumption that I was much different from them. A few nights ago, via a Facebook conversation, I ended up getting into it with someone who I realized wasn't all that different from me politically but who kept making assumptions that we were different. I kept trying to point out to the person that we were ACTUALLY AGREEING but she just couldn't see it. She had already labeled me as a left wing liberal and couldn't see that we were actually saying the same thing most of the time.

Some of the other conversations have been interesting because, through further discussion, our beliefs are shaped by where we live, who surrounds us, and what we believe about others.

All of the pieces here are from conversations that have surfaced in the past 6 days post-election.

1. I do not think you are racist because you voted for John McCain.

I do think that that sentiment is affected by where a person lives and how they have been treated. This is where a bunch of conversations have gotten started. An interesting phenomenon happened when I wrote that I was happy Obama won - suddenly, some of my acquaintances wrote things like, "Just because I voted for John McCain doesn't make me a racist!!" Interesting, I actually never even thought that voting for John McCain makes someone a racist. I thought it just made them a Republican. Hmm. I hope people voted for John McCain because his policies resonated with them - military, pro-life, health care, taxes, government involvement, etc. While we certainly all saw news stories that showed people with signs that said, "White is Right", I know that's a minority of people who believe that. So, no, I don't think saying you voted for John McCain makes you a racist. In fact, there is much about the McCain policies that I do like, but there are sticky ones that I don't. Had the McCain of 2004 been running again this year, I would actually have a tougher time (not the toughest time, but a tougher time) making a decision.

I had a conversation with a friend in Florida who voted McCain. She said that, where she lives, whenever she says she supports McCain, people yell and her and call her a racist. They call her stupid, uneducated (she has a law degree...), and ignorant. So, I can see where she's coming from. She made the leap that since I was voting Obama, I must think she's racist for voting McCain - because that's the climate that surrounds here where she lives.

2. I don't think that people who voted for Obama just because he's black are any better for people who voted for McCain just because he's white.

I do think that inherent qualities of a leader go much beyond race. I have as much a problem that folks simply may have voted because of race and not on an educated decision on an person's policies. Leading up to the election, when folks kept saying, "I don't know who to vote for!" my response was always "Then learn! Read! Ask! Find out about the issues!" I have the same issue when people said they voted for a candidate based on age - why should we discriminate based on age (whether you think older is better or younger is better)? We should discriminate (ie find the differences) in policies presented and ways in which the next leader will shape our country.

3. I don't think that racism has ended on 11/4.

I do think our country is healing from a 200+ year old wound that has been opened and re-opened over the past decades. There have been lots of Band Aid solutions over the years, and for me, this is a big huge step. But, racism isn't over.

4. I don't think the "big step" is that we've elected a Black/Biracial President.

I do think the "big step" is that our country came together in so many different groups. For the first time - at least in my lifetime - we saw true diversity of groups coming together for a single cause. Young, old, white, rich, poor, dark skin, light skin, Catholics, Baptists, Muslims all coming together. So, no, for me the "big step" isn't that a Black man is going to change the world; it's that we've witnessed what can happen when we all work together. For our country to move forward, we have to work together.

5. I do not think that people can be entirely defined by their party affiliation .

I do think that there are many layers to our political decisions. For example, my military family friend in Texas voted McCain because of his foreign policy. My McCain supporting friend in Florida voted McCain for his tax plan. My other friend up North voted because of his pro-life stance. But, each of these three don't agree with the other pieces. My military friend is pro-choice, but the foreign policy piece drove her vote. My Florida friend hates his foreign policy but the tax piece drove her vote. It's faulty assumption to believe that every single person embraces every single piece of a party platform. Like I mentioned before, there are certainly pieces of the Republican platform that actually fit my beliefs, but overall, I resonate better with the Democratic platform.

6. I do not assume that all people of color voted for Obama.

Again, people vote on different issues. But, I do find that people have been making assumptions that people of color ONLY voted for Obama. Which, to me, is problematic because the assumption is that it was done without learning about his policies, vision, platform, etc. It makes an assumption that people of color can't and don't do their homework, but instead "drank the Kool-Aid" (a term I've heard more times in the past few days than I heard during the Jonestown discovery).

7. I don't believe institutional membership directly resembles individual beliefs.

When I spoke out for support of gay marriage and families, a few folks said I was being a hypocrite because I'm a Catholic. Yes, I am Catholic, a practicing Catholic. I work at a Catholic school. My mom goes to church every single day. I find great comfort in being Catholic, in the words of the Bible, in the homily of my priest, and in the humble acceptance of the Body of Christ. I also believe that God loves us all, that He (or She) doesn't make mistakes, and that He (or She) would never create something that didn't have a purpose. So, yes, for me, that includes gay people, gay marriage, gay families. I also have found a Church that, while it doesn't accept gay marriage, does accept that God created us all equal and we should treat one another with love. My institution (the Catholic church) is not equal. It's built on heirarchy, male dominance, and submission. Those are the pieces that don't resonate with me. Just about everything else does. This is where I fall slightly more right of center.

Because of this, I don't assume that "all white people are racist" or that "all McCain supporters are racist." Because of my Catholic identity, people assume that "I don't believe in the right to choose" or that "I am against gay marriage." So, it always amazes me that folks write things like in #1.

I know that there are a few other guest writers waiting for their posts to go up, so I'll leave it at that. I hope that, post Election, people are having constructive dialogue. I noticed it was becoming destructive in my circle when folks were making the above assumptions. You may not agree -- as usual, I'm fine with that!

To Loosen. Ask questions. Hear experiences. Find out what has shaped a person's beliefs, statements , viewpoints before assuming that yours fits theirs. Much of the above came from me asking questions and people giving their stories. They didn't come from lecturing, dictating, and denegrating another's view. They came from asking more than telling. Listening more than talking. Observing more than judging. Can you do it? Can we do it? It's hard to loosen one's mind. Keep in mind no one is asking you to change your mind, rather to consider other views, other stories, other experiences that have shaped someone else's mind.

Quick shouts

Anti-Racist Parent cross posted my piece on Having References, and I cleaned it up a bit for them. They have a much more active comment thread than I get, so check out the stuff over there.  

Also, glad to see I'm not the only one thinking about the "Being Brown" deal. I'm adding Rice Daddies to my blogroll - I know one of the writers there, and he's got great insight. Just as a side to the post on there, I sent it to a few of my friends who responded with "Why does he hate the Philippines so much?" And, my response is, "I don't read it as 'hating the Philippines.' Rather, I read it as reflecting on why many of us have issues with the dark/light aspect of skin, or why our older aunts always say how 'pretty we are for being mestiza.'" And, the damn skin lightening creme has always made me cringe. 

 

Still busy at work! Will try to put up something original sometimes soon. In the meantime, check out the great stuff people are doing on the Blogroll. 

 

Thanks!

Liza

Halloween: A free pass to be racist?

Cross posted from Intercultural AffairsHere we go again... Halloween.

I actually like Halloween. I love getting dressed up. I love getting the kids dressed up. I love seeing how creative people can be (I once showed up in a long nightgown with a sign that said, "Freud." -- get it? I was a Freudian Slip.). I still laugh at the couple costumes that are Peanut Butter and Jelly. And, yes, the recycled Justin Timberlake costume of "Dick in a Box" cracks me up.

But, I also cringe when Halloween comes around. Does Halloween, with it's intentional 24 hours of dressing in a way you normally wouldn't, give you a free pass to be racist?

While perusing the daily newspaper fliers to find something creative to be this year, I was hit by the number of racist costumes. Here are some of my personal "favorites" that were all within 2 pages of one another:

The Geisha Girl Chinese Delivery Man (but with a big rice hat) the Jamaican Dreadlock hat The Sumo Suit (for both kids and adults, thank God) The Ancient Chinese Secret costume (wig with top bald part and long black braid)

I'm not the only one thinking about it. Here is a great post from Racialicious that was originally posted at Angry Asian Man about "Asian Hair for Halloween."

So, does Halloween give us a free pass to dress in ways that might insult another culture?

The argument some present is that dressing in these costumes aren't offensive, rather they are honoring the traditions of that culture (... you know where *I* stand on that!). Yet, is there a difference? For example, one Halloween, a young 5-year old white girl came to my door dressed as a Geisha. I wasn't sure what to say, so I simply said, "Oh! What a pretty dress!" Her mother then responded with, "Thanks! We lived in Japan for 4 years and were excited when Sally could finally wear the dress!" Hmm... I wanted her statement to change my feelings, but I still felt like there was something wrong there. Should I have felt better that they got the dress in Japan, that her family had lived in Japan for years, and that, it seemed, they were filled with great excitement for this moment? If the mother had said, "Thanks! We got it at Target," would I have felt differently? I don't know... But, something still didn't feel right.

The conversation with adults has also come around with the Sumo suit costume. Seems at every college I work at, there is always some sort of Sumo Suit wrestling thing going on at Orientations or Fun Weekends. I hate the Sumo Suit. I hate that people (regardless of race) "dress up" as a large individual and then just pound into each other. What tops it off for me is when their helmets are shaped like buns. Yes, buns.

Is this offensive? I find it to be. I know that the sport of Sumo is highly respected. It's cultural. It isn't just about a couple of fat guys belly bumpin' one another out of a ring. There is an art. There is a meaning. There is great respect around the sport. Sorry, but watching a bunch of drunk college students belly bump each other with "Take that!! Hiiii--yaaaa!!!" doesn't seem respectful nor sacred to me..... WHY do we still rent these things???

The issue of Costumes also irked me when watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics this year. The American commentators kept saying how beautiful the individual COSTUMES were of "exotic" countries. Newsflash, American commentators - they aren't wearing COSTUMES. They are wearing CLOTHES.

Oh, Halloween. A free pass to be racist or a day of cultural respect? Hmmm....

The Importance of Reference

I know... I should be doing other work, especially given that my last two posts were about how insanely busy it is in my life right now. But, with only 26 minutes before the debate, I felt compelled to write about a conversation I had with my older daughter on the way home from school. This post is about "references". No, not job references or character references -- rather, the ability to be able to refer to some thing, some one, or some concept that, essentially, will make sense to a 5-year old. Not too long ago, I wrote about how I was watching the Republican National Convention with my daughter. While watching it, we saw the McCain photo slides of men in turbans and dark skin with machine guns, and then images of the American flag. I watched it horrifed. My husband nearly threw the remote control at the television in utter disgust of the connection the video was making. My 5-year old said, "Do those people want to kill America? Does the "N" family want to kill America?"

NOTE: The "N" Family is a close family friend of ours who are Muslim. They practice full covering, are very religious in thought and practice, and one of the most loving wonderful families we know.

I nearly wanted to cry. I couldn't believe that, even without any hateful words coming from the television, my 5-year old was getting the message that people who looked like the "N" family wanted to "kill America". I was thankful that, at that important learning moment, I could help her work through what that meant. I asked her questions about her favorite memories of the N family. She quickly and easily retold her favorite memories with a smile on her face. I asked her what she misses about the N family (we only see them 2x a year). Again, with great honesty, she talked about their fun adventures at the park, the way their Mama hugged her tight, and the funny stories they told each other each summer.

"Do you think the N family wants to kill America?"

"No, Mommy. Then why do those people want to kill America?"

"I am not sure. But, I know that just because some one looks like those people doesn't mean they want to kill America."

Again, she's 5 years old. I wasn't going to push much further than that. If she was older, we may have gone a bit deeper into the topic. But, for her kindergarten mind, I felt that we, together, had laid the groundwork for at least challenging the photos she saw and the feelings she connected with it.

Today, on the way home from school, a similar situation came up again where I was thankful we had a reference, and then found myself yearning for another.

In the car on the way to see her 4 year old cousin, 5 year old asked if we could stop by our house (out of the way) to pick up a "boy Pretty Pony."

"Why? Why do you need to get a BOY Pretty Pony?"

"Because, mommy! We want to pretend the ponies are getting married! And, we need a boy pony and a girl pony!"

"I'm not driving all the way home just so you can pick up a BOY pony. And, also, you can always pretend that two girls are getting married." (We DO live in Massachusetts!)

"Ewww!! That's gross!!!! Two girls can't get married! That's soooo weeeeiirdddd...!!"

*** ouch, my socially just heart started to break ***

"Actually, 5-year old, two girls can get married. And, two boys can get married. Remember Ryan's moms? They are married? They are a family. They love each other."

"Oh, yeah. That's right. But, boys can't marry each other! That's gross!"

"Well, what about..... what about.... I mean.... isn't there..... wait? Do we know any families that have two dads?"

"No."

"Well, do we own any books that have two dads?"

"Nope."

"Any tv shows that you watch that have two dads?"

"Uh-uh."

Snap. Hmm... quick? Reference? Do I even have one??? I have friends from college who are in married relationships, but she doesn't know any of them. When we had just graduated from college, we had gay roommates. But, she doesn't know any of them. Urgh!

"So, uh, Mom? Prove that two dads make a family. Who is a family with two dads that we know?" says my child who's learning works best when I can reference something she has experienced or some one she knows.

"I guess we don't know any, 5-year old. We should probably figure this one out."

And, the conversation ended there. I called my husband when we got to my sister's house. He works in a school where there are at least 40% gay families. "Hi, honey, we need some play dates with families with two dads."

But, I got to thinking .... is this the same in the race conversation? Would I be appalled if someone said, "Honey, we need some play dates with Asian/Black/Latino/lower SES/disAbled/etc families?" On the flip side, is it enough just to buy books that have those identities in them? While I have the "resoures" to be able to set up a play date with single sex families, what if I didn't have that privilege?

I hear this a lot from parents who want to diversify the social circles of their own or of their children - and, often, they say, "We just don't have any diversity around us." I usually answer, "Well, if you truly don't, then find some great books that are well endorsed by that community and use them as examples." ( I emphasize "endorsed by that community" because there are some multicultural themed books that communities find offensive, so be sure to Google or check out those types of lists).

So, it's something to loosen? Have other readers been faced with a similar issue with parenting (either your children or others)?

Okay, 2 minutes until debate! Go, Obama!

Still busy.. so, here's another link

Sorry all! Still swamped at work and home. Thanks to one of our readers, "Tams", here is an interesting -- I hesitate to say "great" -- link on the Chronicle of Higher Ed site. Sometimes it gets locked out after a while, so sorry if you click and it doesn't work. Very intellectual (which, I'm not often a fan of) discourse about "diversity".

Thanks readers! Let me know if you have links you want me to post. Can't promise I can get to them soon, but I'll try!

Been swamped ... so I'm just linking to others this week!

Sorry folks -- life has been busier than ever, so I'm taking the lazy, yet inspired, way out and linking to some of my favorite writers and their recent articles. Enjoy! By one of my favorites, Carmen VanKerckhove:

"An Open Letter to White Voters"

On the Asian vote - cross posted from Racialicious and Angry Asian Man

Tim Wise posted a new one on just sitting back and not taking action against hate - just as good as his latest White Privilege article.

I'm trying to get my friend Jeff to write about his thoughts on Columbus Day.... how's that for pressure, Jeffie???

Hope to get back to some posting in the next few weeks! Definitely check out the blogroll for some of my favorite writers!

Entertaining Comments and policy

Ah! I love commenters. I really do. I love the ones who agree, those who disagree, those who feel like they just need to spew, and those who are looking for some advice. And, while I only have a teeny weeny box that talks about commenting on the right hand side, I figured I'd do a quick post about how I moderate, read, and decide what comments go up onto the actual site.

So, a bit about commenting: They are moderated for a reason. And, contrary to some snarky commenters who think I should have a free-for-all, I'm not the only blog who does it. And, because I'm not the only one who has to moderate a blog, I'm including a link that Latoya Peterson from Racialicious wrote here about the commenting policy on that site.

As this is a blog written in the spirit of learning, sharing, and exploring, I'm only putting through the comments that contribute to the discussion. No, my conspiracy theory friends, I'm not just putting through the comments that AGREE WITH ME. But, the ones that make it through actually contribute to the conversation. So, no, I'm not going to put the simple, "Liza. I think you are racist." (giggle giggle) or "This blog sucks" (uh, then go read something un-sucky!).

There are other folks who, in their comments, have asked that I not post their comment but rather respond to them directly. I'm definitely cool with that - so keep those coming, if you want. The good news is, I have lots of people writing in to ask for feedback. The bad news is, I can't get to them all right away. So, please be patient or email again if it's a really pressing issue that you'd like some input on quickly.

There you have it. Thanks for reading! Thanks especially to the folks who link to To Loosen the Mind, to those who visit often (according to my blog stats), new people just discovering the blog, and to those who are on my own blogroll. While I don't always comment on your sites, I check them frequently and enjoy reading your own journeys in this world!

Peace!

Introducing... White Privilege

Ah, my good old friend - White Privilege. Unfortunately, too many people have been subjected to this friend's presence. And, too many people have never even heard of this legendary idea. That's too bad, because we all have to deal with it. It's the house guest that was never invited, never leaves, and is also the elephant in the room. As an aspiring anti-racist and multicultural life liver, white privilege has been something I've known about for years and years. It's taken some time to truly understand it, but I had at least heard of it, knew I needed to know it, and have been working to introduce it to others.

Most folks (hopefully) are hip to Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack". If you aren't, it's a "gotta read." Or, really, a "stop what you're doing and gotta read it now" deal. Want someone more current, get hip to Tim Wise's work. While he's been out there a long time, people recently started to get on to him with an essay that's gone viral (nice job, Tim!). I'm finally hearing people mention his name (even though he's spoken at hundreds of schools and organizations, has a great blog, and written a handful of powerful books).

There are entire blogs out there just about white privilege, and mine certainly isn't one dedicated to it. But, as white privilege is the flipside of discrimination, it's a must-talk-about in all diversity circles.

So, a few interesting stories about white privilege that I've experienced in the past few weeks:

There have been a couple of other messages out there about white privilege and the election (of course). So, one was forwaded to me the other day at work comparing and contrasting the "get out of jail free" cards that McCain and Palin get while the Obamas get slammed. I won't go into all the details here, but they are obvious enough to figure out.

A friend of mine had forwarded to me, and I simply responded with, "Hurray for white privilege!" (sarcastic, of course). She then emailed me back and wrote, "I don't think it has anything to do with white privilege -- they would have done the same things to John Kerry and Hilary Clinton." I didn't respond via email, rather, I snarked and said aloud, "Like I said.... Hurray for white privilege." Yes, the friend is a white woman... with enough privilege to be able to negate that the freebies McCain/Palin were getting weren't based on race. Yup. White privilege. Let me introduce you, shall I?

I've written before about how a dark-skinned Puerto Rican friend of mine got nailed for wearing a "Got Privilege?" shirt in public. A white woman came up to him and began criticizing him for wearing it and even went as far to say, "How would you like it if I wore a 'Got Affirmative Action?' shirt??" Uh, huh. It's too good to even lie about that stuff.

This entry wasn't so much to digest White Privilege, but hopefully to get you to click on some links and check out other people's thoughts and such. Feel free to leave you're own here, too!

Reverse Racism?

I promised my friend Jeff that I would get to this entry before the end of the week - so props to Jeff who has pushed me to finally get it done. Okay, so this whole conversation -- one in which many smart diversity folks find themselves in -- has surfaced yet again. Reverse Racism. Does it exist? CAN it exist? By definition, is it as non-sensical as "Jumbo Shrimp" or it based on similar myths of advantaged affirmative action?

As most people even finding their way to this blog know that I have very strong opinions, I think the term "reverse racism" is a bunch of crap ridiculous. Putting it out there, I think that, by definition, it can't even exist.  In the interest of not taking up all of my web space or tying up a server, I do think this whole thing can be summarized in a few points. So, here goes -- the cliff notes version of Liza's take on Reverse Racism:

Define it please?" So, when I ask people (students, classes, friends, etc) to define "reverse racism", here is what they usually come up with:

  • "policies in the United States that give people of color advantages over white people"
  • "giving people of color something that white people can't have"
  • "segregating a population based on race, and then giving the people of color opportunities that white people can't have"

 

So, aren't programs and opportunities offered for a particular underrepresented group considered "reverse racism?" No. It's not. Let's talk about practice -- opportunities given to underrepresented groups, or, better stated, groups with little to no institutional power, are not designed to disempower majority or power groups. Rather, they are really attempting to level a playing field that, for years/decades/centuries has not been level at all. Truthfully, people who are not in power are intentionally and systematically (whether you want to believe that or not) kept disempowered. 

Visual person? Here's a way to picture it...

So, imagine a race, a starting line. Some runners are at the start line, have the best shoes, have had adequate time to stretch, hydrate, and carb-load the night before the race. Some runners are coming to the start line having already run 3 miles, with backpacks, and with people yelling at them. Will the outcome of the race be fair? Will it accurately represent the talent, skill, and fair competition of the runners? Is it disadvantaging the runners at the start line if you give the runners who are exhausted a drink of water? Will the words "Hey! Why do those people get a drink of water? I was here first! I should get a drink of water, too!" make sense? Will you consider that an "unfair advantage"?

A runner at the start line may say, "But, I was here early! I prepared! I stretched!" or "Why do they get water and I don't? It wasn't like I was one of the people yelling at them as they ran the race prior to this one? I didn't do anything wrong to them!" or "It's not my fault they are tired and thirsty!"

True. You may not have personally disadvantaged the tired person at the finish line. However, you benefitted from not having to run the previous race. You benefitted from being given a sports drink by those who were also at the start line with you. You benefitted, even when you didn't ask to. So, is it a fair race? Does your win accurately reflect true competition?

Is it "reverse racism" or is it "prejudice?"

I find that what most people like to call "reverse racism" is actually "prejudice", which is a belief system. In my diversity sessions, I highlight that we are ALL prejudice. We all prejudge - whether it be a biological (fight or flight) reaction, a cognitive reaction, or an emotional response, we all prejudge. (note: the point of awareness exercises is to raise our level of consciousness about reasons why we do this).

So, yes, we can all be prejudice.

But, we cannot all exert "reverse racism." Racism is a system of power. And, as a member of the numeric minority group, I do not hold the same institutionalized power as the majority group. I may be able to exert power in individual ways, however I still operate within an institutionalized set of rules (laid forth by white people in power).

"Reverse racism" - a way to ignore white privilege

Sorry, can't credit where I heard this, but I admit to it not being my own...

One of the best "holla!" things I had heard someone say about "reverse racism" was that it was a way for white people to ignore the privilege they have as white people. By saying that people of color are exerting "reverse racism", they are using the term to give themselves an out, an excuse, and a way to not take responsiblity for the larger system of racism from which they benefit.

So, that's my brief, brief, brief version of something that could be written about in 100+ pages. There is so much more to it than what I've written here, but it's a start for those who are just trying to wrap their brains around it for the first time.

Why It's Important

(cross posting from Intercultural Happenings www.interculturalaffairs.blogspot.com)

I spend a lot of time trying to get the message out about why it's so important to understand about diversity. There are some folks who totally get it -- they find ways to engage in diversity, take responsibility for learning and discussing with people from diverse backgrounds, and see this type of learning as part of their role in this world. There are others who, well, still don't get it.

One of the parallels I make with the "diversity movement" is with Recycling. All of a sudden, in the past year or so, there has been a HUGE push towards going green. Buildings are green. Lightbulbs are green. People are buying hybrid cars in attempt to either save gas and/or save the environment. For the most part, people recycle their cans --again, whether it's to get their $.05 back or to help save this planet. People aren't wasting water they way they used to, lights are turned off after leaving a room, and the push to reduce-reuse-recycle has even found its way to grocery stores that give you a refund if you bring your bags back. Today,when I went to the grocery store, they even had the "reduce-reuse-recycle" logo on the plastic bags to encourage people to avoid putting the bags into the trash.

Then, of course, there are people who just still don't get it. They still don't recycle.

I have a friend who lives in a town that has not made recycling easy. They don't have any town pick up of recycling (most towns have it along side their trash pick up). Unfortunately, my friend and her family practically live off of cans - sodas, canned food, canned dog food, etc. And, no, they don't recycle. When I asked them why, (and even offered to have them bring their cans to my house to have MY town pick them up), they said "It's just too inconvenient -- it's too much work."

Honestly, I haven't been back to that friend's house in a long time. Something about their absolute disregard for the future of this planet and the future health of our generations to come just doesn't match up with my own beliefs and practices. And, frankly, they all get funny looks from people when they easily throw a can into the garbage. I've even seen a stranger come by and take that can out of the garbage and put it into the recycle bin (which was located just next to the can). My friend, she just never got into the habit of doing it -- even when it's easy.

So, back to DIVERSITY. The diversity movement, if you will, has been around for more than 40 years -- even before the Civil Rights Movement. So, given that I'm in my 30's, the diversity movement has always been around. But, some folks just haven't figured that out.... until now. Whether you credit it to our recent Presidential primaries, or to the diversity on television and movies, or heck, even if you think Diversity = The Cheetah Girls, diversity is here, and if you haven't figured it out, you may be the one who gets the funny looks.

Here's my quick list of why I think it's important to understand diversity (geared towards college students, the population I've been speaking to the past few weeks):

  • Because in today's competitive economy, companies and grad schools are looking to get the most bang for their buck. With an increasing focus on global business (no matter how big or small the business), many companies want to make sure they are hiring someone who understands how to work with different people. Human Resources Offices don't want to have to worry if you are a "diversity liability" or someone who they think they'll have to spend a lot of time with teaching about differences. If they have a candidate who "gets it", guess what? They're going to go with the person who they don't have to teach or train in this area.
  • Especially if you grew up in a "non-diverse place", college will be the time when you meet people from all over the country and all over the world. If you find yourself in a job interview or graduate school interview your senior year, you will definitely be faced with the "what ways did you get involved with diversity at your college" question. Can you answer the question? Can you articulate examples of how and when you problem solved with someone who was totally different than you? If you didn't take the initiative to do it in college, people will assume that you lack initiative and therefore won't be as interested in you.
  • Hate crimes are some of the most severely scrutinized and socially punished actions in our society, and especially at our college. It's not acceptable anymore to say, "Oh, I didn't know that was a hate crime or a hate word." In fact, NOT KNOWING tends to be a more negative aspect of the case. So, it's incredibly important to know what is and what isn't considered a hate crime -- and, you do that by understanding about diversity.

Need more reasons?

Okay, 1 Disney thing that I do like

It's no secret -- I think lots of Disney things are totally racist. I do allow my daughters to watch their shows, though, because the character choices of behavior, race, stereotyping, etc., actually make for great material for me. We talk about "kindness" (or lack thereof in some of the characters), personalities, who the "bad" girls and the "good" girls tend to be, etc. While my daughters certainly can identify Cinderella, Belle, and all of those princess types, we read them books of the same themes but with Black/Brown characters in them (check out the Jump at the Sun series of books -- they are awesome!). In their coloring books, my daughters easily make choices to color the princesses with white or brown skin, blond or black hair. Have you noticed what colors your child(ren) in your life chooses to color princesses? What messages are they receiving, and then projecting, about who can be a princess and what a princess looks like?

My husband and I *always* watch every television show with the girls. We never let them watch the shows without a) us screening them first, and b) without at least providing some sort of lesson or awareness about key areas that draw our attention.

But, a shout out - finally! -- to a Disney movie that I think gets it right... Camp Rock.

Now, disclaimer: The only way we have watched it is through recording it off the Disney channel. And, by chance, our recorder stopped recording with a few minutes to go at the end. So, far be it from me not to assume that something totally whack happens at the end.

Camp Rock. I love it. Latina main character with Latino parents who don't have to make any ethnic statement other than to be visually Latino/a and to have the surname "Torres." No one busts out any Spanish. No one starts doing salsa or saying they have to call their abuela (although, the representation WOULD be nice in a Disney movie!). No - they just get to be Latina without having to do the very-Disney-thing of qualifying their experiences. The lead not-so-nice-girl is thin, blond, and super rich. And, yes, she has the friends-of-color sidekicks so often found in Disney movies and shows.

But.. (spoiler alert for anyone who is actually holding out to watch the movie).... in the end, the gals-of color sidekicks completely stick it to the lead character and refuse to be objectified by her. Nice going, gals! And, in a good Disney way, the lead character apologizes without being nasty -- she just says she was wrong and eats it. Now, I'm not sure if there is anything that I miss in the last 2 minutes, but that's my version of how it ended!

Why post about this on "To Loosen?" Well, a few reasons:

1. I am a big fan of having conversations about race that can begin in a relaxed way -- like as a result of watching a movie or show

2. I am a FIRM believer that kids ARE aware of racism and messages about inequality. So, for me, the sooner I can talk about it in an age appropriate way, the better. And, unfortunately, so many of the Disney movies and shows are riddled with stereotyping and racism that it makes it easy.

3. I don't think television is bad -- I DO think that unsupervised television is horrible. So, if you're going to let your kids watch tv, then watch with them. Use their interests as a way to engage them in conversations that affect their lives.

4. Lots of times, people say that I'm making a lot of the Disney race thing (I'm not, I assure you). It's there, and it's obvious if you are aware of race and racism. If you're NOT seeing the racism in Disney shows and movies, then it's time To Loosen Your Mind and figure out what that's all about. Ignoring it is reinforcing the white privilege that comes along with not needing to notice it.

I like High School Musical, too, with my kids - but, for some reason, Camp Rock just really stuck with me this time on the race thing.

Things on My Mind .. to loosen.

No, I haven't been slacking. On one hand, there have been a million race related posts on my mind, that once I get started writing one, another one finds its way into my brain. So, rather than have you think I'm slacking off, here are some snippets of posts that will make their way up here eventually:

Hyphen or No Hyphen

I went out to lunch and came back to find a note on my desk from a student who found a website about becoming an unhyphenated american. So, a post will come soon about my thoughts on an unhyphenated american identity - the sociopolitical politics, the ethnic psychology of it all, and the practicality of hyphen vs no hyphen.

Actively Seeking to Diversify

After Carmen VanK. and I did the teleseminar, a few bloggers wrote about how they generally agreed with all of our advice except for this piece of advice: "Actively seek to diversify the professionals in your life." People rang in on how they felt that we should only choose professionals based on their talent and not on their color. Which, to me, rings of meritocracy in a society that systematically blocks people from achieving based solely on merit and afford others opportunity when not always "deserved". It also speaks to me that if people never actively seek to diversify or even try out a new doctor/professional/restaurant/place of business, then how will they ever know who is truly the "best?" How do we know that the white doctor/professional/restaurant/place of business is the best?

Ye Ole Reverse Racism

A colleague of mine recently told me that a program designed to help support students of color was "reverse racism." This colleague is a wonderful ally, smart man, active in gender issues, and I couldn't believe he had used the words "reverse racism." So, I think it warrants a blog entry!

5-Year Old Cultural Questions

My kids are my best teachers, and so, out of the mouths of babes, comes more cultural questions from my multiracial child about Asia, Chinese, brown skin, curly hair, and language.

My Most Diverse Summer Ever

A few summer ago, I served as the Dean of Faculty for a summer academic program. My staff was certainly the most diverse staff ever: a Muslim woman, a self-identified gay Muslim man, a young white man in a motorized wheelchair, 2 upper upper class white women, 3 lower middle class Carribbean women, a Christian conservative female, a Canadian, 2 Asian women, 2 Latina women, 2 Asian men, 2 Latino men. Best lessons ever learned during this intense summer of strangers.

Can Change Come Too Fast?

People always talk about critical mass -- the amount of people it would take to make an impact in an organization. But, can change come too fast? Can we advocate for more people if we don't have the support systems for them?

Thanks for your patience, To Loosen the Mind readers! Certainly hope to get at least 1 of these posts up by the end of the week!

Peace,

Liza