I don't have YOUR answer.....

I have the great privilege of facilitating workshops, offering keynote addresses, and working in small group discussions on issues such as race, identity, gender, sexuality, ability, education and activism. 

After creating space for dialogue, learning and talking, I always get this question: "So, Liza. All this talk is great, BUT, what am I supposed to do?"

My short answer, "Well, here's what works for ME. I ....."

(insert any and all of the following):

  • educate myself by reading blogs, essays, books and articles; 
  • engage online through Twitter or Facebook postings/groups;
  • follow and participate in #hastags to learn more through the voices of people;
  • research and watch documentaries, films, shorts, and specials;
  • talk with my partner, children, coworkers or family;
  • sign a petition for a cause that I have learned about;
  • support groups and organizations that are fighting for the cause I have researched or learned about;
  • make personal statements whenever I hear comments that are discriminatory, racist, homophobic, rude, or unfounded in data or experience;
  • influence policy and practices to disrupt heteronormative, cisnormative, White-lensed approaches;
  • go to conferences, workshops, presentations and lectures;
  • engage in conversations that are difficult and emotional;
  • listen to understand;
  • ask questions;
  • respond on social media in meaningful and appropriate and kind yet challenging ways
  • ..... on and on ....

I go through about 5-10 minutes with the things that work FOR ME. Some people nod. Some people jot down notes. Some people take out their phones and take screen shots of whatever it is I have posted on the projector. 

And, someone always then says, "But, what am I supposed to do?"

My answer: "You'll have to figure that out for yourself." The person then sits down, crosses their arms, and shuts down. That was not the (Droid) answer you were looking for. 

Friends, I don't have your answer. 

I can't tell you that any of my strategies will work for you. I can't tell you that your life will be turned around or that your world will be much larger or that your heart will be bigger if you do the things that I do.

Friends, I don't have your ANSWER.

You'll have to learn more. You'll have to talk more. And, once you think you've done those things. You'll have to learn about something different. You'll have to talk to someone different. And, once you've done those things, then you'll have to circle back and learn more about yourself. And, you'll have to get comfortable talking about yourself -- your strengths, your weaknesses, your life, and your challenges. 

THEN, the "do" ... the "DO" will be obvious. What you'll need to DO becomes obvious TO YOU.

Friends, I don't have YOUR answer.

Only you have YOUR answer. You're the only one who can decide whether or not you are ready to learn. You are the only one who can decide whether or not you are ready to talk. And, you are the only one who can decide whether or not you are ready to DO. That's your answer. That's how your "things I can do..." list gets created. You can listen to all of the things that work for me, but, those only work for ME because they are MY ANSWERS.

People often come to workshops on race or identity or diversity because they are looking for answers. They are looking for solutions. 

People get frustrated when they leave with more questions.

I get it. I really do. 

I get that you want to get started on eradicating racism. I get that you want to get started on dismantling homophobia. I get that you want to get started on decolonizing education. 

And, if you are learning about it and talking about it, then you are already starting. 

Find YOUR answer. Find YOUR to-do items. Find YOUR personal steps that are a result of having spent a considerable amount of time learning and talking and talking and learning.

I'm not implying that our world can simply wait idly by for you to read and talk. No. That's not it at all. 

I am inviting you to you take responsibility for the great burden of learning and talking so that you can start getting things done.

Peace, 

Liza

 

Teleseminar on Anti-Racist Parenting

Join Carmen VanKerckhove and me as we host a free teleseminar on Anti-Racist Parenting! I believe it may be limited to 50 callers during the Q&A session. Within 24 hours, Carmen reported that we were up to 121 registered participants! Carmen will likely post the MP3 online a week or so after it's done. So, be sure to check back

On this 60-minute call, you’ll learn:

  • Why avoiding conversations about race is the biggest mistake you can make
  • How you are sending hidden messages to your children about race without even realizing it
  • Why you should never proclaim to be colorblind
  • How to transform the simple act of watching television into a profound lesson about diversity

and much, much more.

No matter what your current situation is, I guarantee you’ll get at least one golden nugget of information during this never-before-offered call.

So, won’t you join us? Reserve your spot now!

******

On a separate note, our dog of 8 years just died :(, so I'm doing more parenting than blogging these days. Will be sure to write again very, very soon!

At Least for Today

"If you act like you belong here, people will treat you like you do." When my husband was away on a business trip to Washington state, he had set his status on his Facebook account to "If you act like you belong here, people will treat you like you do." Hmmm, I wondered what was going on during his trip and where he was that spurred him to write that.

Fast forward.

Today, I am in Vermont. I was asked to be a guest speaker at a conference for admissions and college counseling professionals. "Liza, we really would like if you could offer some sessions on diversity at this conference. We just don't have a lot of presentations but feel that the diversity conversations need to occur." I happily accepted (unpaid, AND had to actually PAY to be a presenter.... file that into my "WTF?" moments) because the person who asked me is a friend, a colleague, and a person who I know is committed to diversity issues.

And, hell, I had never been to Vermont.

In context, I just returned from the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity where there were approximately 2,500 people. I don't have the actual statistics, but I would venture to say that 90% of the people there were people of color. Now, I am here. Where out of 500 participants, there are quite possibly a few dozen POC's. And in the state of Vermont, there are roughly 3% people of color (ALANA).

I'm all for conferencing. In fact, I love going to conferences - the social networking, the professional connections, the like minded conversations, the people who "get you." Yet, as I found myself with a Bingo Blotter and a Sam Adams in my hands, I felt foreign. Alien. Like I didn't belong.

I have worked in Admissions, so I do share a professional connection with the people here. I know the lingo. I know the travel season. I know the late night reading of applications, the waitlist, the yield events. But, I found myself wanting to break free from the calling of "B-4.. and after..." and get on to my political and racial blogs. I wanted my safety blankets. I wanted my like minded people. I wanted people who "got me."

Driving up to Vermont was fantastic thinking time for me. I caught up on all my back issues of Addicted to Race podcast, and I used the time to reflect on my present experience.

I had to pee. Really bad. Both the blessing and the curse of Vermont (at least for me at the moment) was that there are very few chain organizations on the highways. I'm so used to driving I-95 to NYC and having multiple options of Mobil/McDonalds combinations to stretch my legs, grab something to eat, fill up on gas, or just catch a snooze for 10-15 minutes. I felt those same urges on my 4 1/2 hour ride to Vermont, but didn't find anything on the side of the road. I was getting desperate and decided to exit. I drove by trees, trees, and more trees. Then, I came upon a "rest area" where there was a store (no drive through) and gas station. The small parking lot was overtaken by big white men trucks.

What did I do?

I turned around, got back onto the highway, and kept on driving.... the rest of the 2 1/2 hours to my destination. Pressure was mounting.

As I was driving, I kept asking myself,

  • "What's going on here?
  • Why didn't I go in?
  • Why am I waiting so long?
  • What is this internal dialogue I'm having with myself about my comfort level? About my situation? About my own pre-judging? What is it?
  • Why would I rather experience physical discomfort (hunger, thirst, the need to pee really bad!) than stop at a local area in Vermont where I would have to get out of my car, ask for a bathroom key, and order some food.
  • Was I being unfair to Vermont? Was I pre-judging a place I had never visited before now? Was I making the same assumptions that a white person makes when deciding whether or not to stop in a predominantly POC community? How would I feel about that?

I put myself through the same exercise I often do in diversity discussions called "What were the first messages... ?" In this exercise, I challenge people to think about "What were the first messages you received about .... (race, women, poor, religions, etc)." So, "Liza, what were the first messages you received about Vermont?" I thought and thought ...

I fought the urge to edit at this point, because above, I wrote, "I had never been to Vermont." After pulling from deep within, I realized I actually HAD been in Vermont - overnight, in fact! When I was looking at graduate schools back in 1997, I had applied and was accepted to a great graduate program up in Vermont. I went on the internship interviews. While here, I was driving to campus and both felt and heard something hit my car window (later, identified as a snowball).

Recalling that memory, I felt a surge of fear coming through my body. I recall a young white man laughing and pointing at my car as I drove away. Windows were up, and thankfully, I didn't hear what he was saying as he was pointing to me. Needless to say, I didn't attend that university for graduate school, despite the opportunity to not only get a tuition-free graduate degree but also the chance to get PAID to go to grad school!

Prior to my drive up to Vermont, I hadn't thought about that experience. More importantly, I blocked it out completely - telling people, "This is my first time in Vermont" as I arrived to the conference.

I'm finding the need to be with people who 'get me.' I very much believe in Janet Helms's theory on racial identity development, and feel I am sneaking back into the Immersion stage -- that people of color may be the only ones who get me, at least for today.

Tools for Teaching Diversity in a Diversity Free Zone

(Originally posted on Anti-Racist Parent) I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of how to teach, expose, and experience diversity in a “diversity-free” zone (thanks for the segue Tami!). I directly experience this issue personally and professionally every single day of my life as the Director of Intercultural Affairs at a small, private college in the Boston suburbs, where there are very few students of color. Not only are there very few students of color, there are very few people who have ever met or talked to a person from a historically underrepresented group prior to coming to college. So, each and every single day, I actually get paid to teach diversity in a diversity free zone.

I could certainly go on and on about the challenges of my job serving as a person who is often tokenized in meetings, being the go-to person on issues of diversity, or being the “brown friend” to well meaning people. But I’m assuming here at Anti-Racist Parent I’d be preaching to the choir. So, rather than give my vocal chords a workout, I thought it might be helpful to share the toolbox I heavily rely on each day to teach diversity in a diversity free zone. Reading the comment threads, I also realize that there are people who read ARP who aren’t necessarily parents (broadly defined) but who are teachers looking for ways to add diversity to their classrooms or to their curriculum. So, I hope this at least starts some helpful ideas for people looking for some ways to grow as Anti-Racist Parents:

Turn to your local college. Many colleges have offices like mine - they are called a variety of names: Multicultural Office, Student Activities, Affirmative Action office, Diversity Office, etc. These offices/organizations typically have the responsibility of hosting diversity related events, especially during heritage months like Latino Heritage Month, Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, etc. Check their websites and see if they have a list of programs (or ask if you can get an email copy of their programs). Call ahead and ask if the program is “family friendly” first, though, if you intend to bring small children. In my case, of the 30 or so programs a year that are diversity related, almost 1/2 of them are family friendly! And, I always love when I get calls from the community asking if they can bring students, children, etc. The other great bonus about tapping into your local college is that the programs are often FREE. At some colleges, specific groups are required to perform community outreach - you may find a number of sororities and fraternities or service organizations sponsoring these events. Again, please call to make sure they are family friendly!

Diversify your library at home. Intentionally buy or borrow books that have diversity represented in them. In our house, we have a great mix of children’s books that have stories around cultural diversity. If your local library does not have them, a number of online sellers will have them. If I’m looking for a particular book, I tend not to go to a mainstream online seller; rather, I find a cultural organization online to see if they have any links to recommended books. By going with cultural organizations rather than mainstream, I get a more accurate description of the book and the position of that cultural group. For example, when I was looking to purchase some children’s stories that were centralized around the Native American experience, I went online to a mainstream retailer, and a number of recommended titles came up. But, when I went to the cultural organization’s website, I found these exact recommendations under a heading “Books That Promote Stereotypes of Native Americans.”! Woah! So, I was really glad I had taken the few extra seconds to see if the books were supported by that group. I think this is incredibly important! Continue to read educational and well written blogs .. like Anti-Racist Parent of course! While you may not be surrounded by diversity, we are often surrounded by ignorant comments. So, reading blogs like ARP give you the tools and understanding to be an “Agent of Interruption.” And, if you are educated, you will pass that education on to your children (or students). I work in a predominantly white institution and am often, by default, the diversity educator. But, since finding Anti-Racist Parent, Racialicious and some of the blogs of people who write here, I have assigned reading these blogs as HOMEWORK assignments to my students! It’s helpful for them to see that there are others out there who share the same language and passion for interrupting racism.

When you can, choose to do business in diverse neighborhoods. I currently live on the town line between a upper middle class, predominantly white town and a middle/working class, predominantly people of color city. I choose to do my personal and professional business in the predominantly POC city.Even with the rising price of gas, I choose to drive a little further to the grocery store and wait a little longer for street parking because it is important for me to do business where there are people of color. I certainly can buy the same gallon of milk, the same bread, and the same box of cereal at the grocery store in the predominantly white (and closer to my house) town, but I choose to make the drive. Again, with the price of gas and proximity, can you do this all the time? Maybe not. But, is it worth doing it enough where your child(ren) see that people of color do the same thing that white people do in their same daily way? Yes. Find shows that include diversity in both positive and negative ways. I am not a fan of pre-teen television (especially now that my almost-5-year-old says she is w-a-y too old for Sesame Street!), but we do watch it. I am specifically not a fan of a certain channel that I feel stereotypes pre-teens of color. But, alas, my daughter seems to have won for now. She is only allowed to watch that channel if Jorge or I watch it with her. We try to steer her more towards the shows that have families of color, and we’ve found some success there. But, she also likes to watch a show that both Jorge and I find disturbingly racist. We do let her watch it, but we constantly ask her questions about what she just saw or heard when an issue comes up. Yes, she’s 4 years old, but I believe the lessons she’s learning about ways that people aren’t treated fairly are equally as important as shows that reflect her ethnicity. It’s never too early to start, right?

But, find MORE shows that are culturally diverse. My absolute favorite show right now is Ni Hao, Kai Lan. I’m sure I’ll find something wrong with it eventually, but for now, I love it. It’s the only Asian show that balances the Asian part with the “I’m a little girl” part. The other day, I asked my daughters if they wanted to have Chinese food for dinner. My 23-month old then said, “Oh, Mama. Chinese. Like Kai Lan!” I nearly cried. Growing up, there were no characters that reflected my ethnicity. I know Dora paved the way, and we certainly embraced her representing our Latino side. But, now, my kids have Kai Lan… representing the Asian side! Hurray! I haven’t quite done my homework on this one, but with the accessibility of YouTube and such, I hope to find more diverse cartoons from other countries out there!

Diversify your music. One of the best ways to learn about other cultures is through music. I have a very low tolerance for children’s songs. I have a responsibility to teach my kids the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “A-B-C”, but there is truly only so much I can take. And, thankfully, their taste in music has evolved, too. My kids listen to anything from classical to Chubb Rock. They can sing “Bebot” (edited version) by the Black Eyed Peas and “I am Not My Hair” by India.Arie.

Be sure to have an inclusive curriculum. If you are a teacher, take a close look at what you are teaching and what you are not teaching. Does your lesson plan only include a white perspective? Are you including the very rich and diverse history of our country or just one perspective? Are you talking about contributions and inventions from people of color or just from white people? As a former teacher, I can attest that more often than not, textbooks tell a very one-sided story. As a parent, is your child coming home from school with only one-sided history? While you may not be able to change the textbooks at school (though, it’s worth the fight!), are you supplementing the school lessons with a diverse inclusion lesson at home.

No diversity organizations? Start your own! There are very few professionals of color where I work, and yet I felt the need to start a support group for us. Unfortunately, a professionals of color group would have been too small, so I opened up the invitation to anyone who wanted to join a Diversity Discussion Group. After my first announcement, about 50 people expressed interest. That dwindled down to 30, then 20, and now we have about 15 who regularly attend the discussion group. There are a few people of color, but the rest of the group is white. When asked “Why did you join this group?”, the answer from both parties was “to meet people who wanted to talk about diversity.” So, from there, we talked about books, issues, media, language, foods, our own heritage, etc. I don’t think we are a diverse group, but we are a group who wants to grow as individuals. Maybe start up a group with parents from your child’s school or play group. Get together and hire someone to watch the kids 1x a month. No time for a book club? Focus on movies from other countries and have a movie discussion group, rotating locations each time.

None of the above will end racism. I know that. But, I do think it’s a helpful start for those who are living, learning and working in diversity-free zones. I know there are others out there with tools in your tool box. Comment? Share? What has worked for others out there?

NOTE: You’ll notice that I don’t recommend simply going to places like soup kitchens or homeless shelters or community outreach organizations to expose oneself to diversity. Believe me, they are important. When it’s linked to diversity, though, I believe this can go horribly wrong as a diversity lesson. Too often (depending on the demographics of your town/city and shelters) people of color are seen as “needing help” or “down and out”. And, this “savior experience” when white people go and save people of color by serving them some food is incredibly problematic. Again, I’m not at all saying that community service is bad. What I am saying is that performing community service as an easy way to expose people to diversity MAY NOT be positive. Largely because community service (at least as defined in the college setting) does not always equal quality contact, discussion and learning. If you are going to link community service with diversity, I ask (beg?) that you also approach it by addressing power and privilege in our society.