WE ARE HERE: ASIAN AMERICAN LEADERS

Asian Americans are widely viewed as "model minorities" on the basis of education, income and competence. But they are perceived as less ideal than Caucasian Americans when it comes to attaining leadership roles in U.S. businesses and board rooms, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

This study is so obvious fascinating for so many reasons.

I go to meeting after meeting, professional conference after professional conference, panel discussion after panel discussion, and I am usually the only Asian American in the room. Sometimes, no lie, the only Asian American in the building. Okay, I'm lying. I'm probably not the only Asian American in the building; but, I'm sure as heck one of the few who I see out in the public light speaking my mind, facilitating workshops, stirring up controversy, and doing what I do best: BEING A LEADER. What do we need? We need more Asian Americans in leadership.

 

That's why I love ASPIRE. ASPIRE is an organization of amazing Asian American women who are committed to learning about, sharing, and passing on leadership that empowers others. ASPIRE rooms are filled with dedicated, motivated, passionate, and socially just women who strongly believe - and practice - thoughtful mentoring. And, through these interactions, meetings and shared spaces, we encourage leadership.

At a fairly early age, and I mean in my 20s, I was taught I could be a leader. I was taught that I had the confidence, the intelligence, and the maturity to actually influence minds, hearts, and pocketbooks of people. I was encouraged to study Public Speaking, was mentored through effective lesson planning, lead professional workshops, and facilitated difficult and meaningful dialogue. I took charge over groups, programs and projects. Outside of my family, (my parents still believe in a "low profile" kind of existence) I was taught to tell my story, to serve as a spokesperson, and to be the public face of a number of causes and organizations. And, I was speaking out about things that my family - my culture - told me I shouldn't be talking about: race, power, racism, privilege, personal issues, strength, and leadership.

 

In short, I was groomed for Leadership.

 

But, don't get me wrong. I fought for every single step I've taken. I've had to battle stereotypes, bust through some glass ceilings, and work 200x harder just to get a seat at the table. And, despite my ability to work across the aisle, to approach situations with confident assertiveness, and possessing the qualities of  an outstanding leader, I walk every day in a body that is still poked with the glass shards from above me. I feel the sting of the bamboo ceiling, the cuts of the glass ceiling, and the every day assumption that I am not a leader. And, if I don't walk carefully or duck my head low enough, the glass ceiling reminds me that its there. Every day.

If there are no examples of leaders of your race or gender, you're less likely to believe you are leader-like and consequently you don't aspire to be a leader," he explained.

I'm 35 years old young. I've been a professional student since I was 5 years old. I've seen a lot of people, been to school with a lot of students, and played with lots of kids in the school yard, study room, on the athletic fields, and in road races. I have never had an Asian American teacher. Never. I have never been in a classroom where an Asian American stood in front of me and taught me, encouraged me, or learned with me. Now, the statistics show that Asian Americans are high achievers in education, in doctoral programs, and in post-doctoral programs. Yet never, ever, have I had an Asian American (or Asian national, for that matter) educator.

I've never had an Asian American coach.

I have never had an Asian American supervisor or boss.

I have never had an Asian American adviser or mentor.

And, only last year, did I work on a staff with an Asian American colleague.

I am currently the only Asian American director at my work.

 

I've been around the educational and professional block a few times, and yet the neighborhood has looked remarkably unremarkably the same.

 

So, if We are a model minority. If We are a culturally educated population. If We are supposedly surpassing the majority population in jobs and taking over coveted spots in higher education, then why are We not in leadership?

Asian Americans represent approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population and are projected to account for 9 percent of the population by 2050. However, they account for only .3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members and about 2 percent of college presidents, despite their higher representation in business and professional occupations.

While there are institutional and structural challenges (along with inherent biases) for Asian Americans in leadership, I strongly believe that the first step is in being aware of the very stereotypes that we, and others, hold of us as Asian Americans:

Traits often associated with Asian Americans, such as social introversion, emotional withdrawal, verbal inhibition, passivity, a quiet demeanor and a reserved manner.

 

For many of us, those traits are true (just as they are with any person, regardless of race). Our challenges as Asian Americans -- if we aspire to leadership positions -- is in breaking down those stereotypes in a genuine and functional way. Know the stereotypes. Come up with a personal strategy that is comfortable for you, genuine to you, and resonates with you. Then, use those strategies to bust through the glass/bamboo/shit covered ceilings. Once you do, once you're on your way, inspire other Asian Americans. Let them know it's possible. But, do more than just tell them. Show them. Help them. Work with them. Mentor them.

 

It's not that we aren't good leaders.

It's that we are perceived not to be.

But, the perception isn't just in the mind. It's institutional. It's structural. And, it's real. We need to find ways to productive increase Asian American leaders in positions of influence so that we can show -- as a community of people -- that we are good leaders. That we are agents of change. And, that we are here.

WHAT ARE YOU?

Though I'm full-blooded Filipino (which, only means that both of my parents claim Filipino birthplace and identity), I often get the "What are you?" question. My heritage roots come from a series of islands that have indigenous villages of people who would mistakenly be identified as African. Through colonization, immigration, and cross-pollination, I have roots of Chinese, Spanish, and local Pinoy. My skin is light, my hair is light, my eyes are colored light brown while their shape are distinctly round-and-almond. My brothers have coarse hair, dark brown skin, dark brown hair, and wider noses than my own. Yet, we come from the same two parents.

In this latest NY Times article "Black? White? Asian? More Americans Choose All of the Above", I am reminded of both my own What are you? questions but also that of my children, who in my opinion, truly identify with two distinct heritage backgrounds: Filipino and Puerto Rican. Like with any marginalized group that experiences isolation, young people of mixed heritage backgrounds are finding solidarity and a shared experience with one another. Where the what are you? question is usually served with a heaping dose of eye-rolling, individuals from blended heritage backgrounds are sharing stories -- some painful, some hilarious -- of "that totally happened to me, too!" and "I know what you mean!"

Many young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting the color lines that have defined Americans for generations in favor of a much more fluid sense of identity.

Does the increase in multiracial families mean, as so many like to leap, that "racism, prejudice and discrimination are slowly losing their power"? I always say, there's personal racism/prejudice/discrimination which, I guess, you might be able to say blended families are beginning to deconstruct. We are starting to embrace the fluidity of identity, a concept that human development practitioners have always believed. That, with each life stage and each new experience, we have opportunities to grow and incorporate new ideas into our lives.

No one knows quite how the growth of the multiracial population will change the country. Optimists say the blending of the races is a step toward transcending race, to a place where America is free of bigotry, prejudice and programs like affirmative action.

Pessimists say that a more powerful multiracial movement will lead to more stratification and come at the expense of the number and influence of other minority groups, particularly African-Americans.

 

I have noticed an interesting occurrence as I work with college students around issues of identity. For the population I serve, there isn't a formula for how students identify: I have some students of mixed heritage of White and Black or Asian who strongly identify with one or the other. As the aunt of a few biracial children where 1 parent is White, I want them to know that the "White" part is just as relevant -- just as important -- as the Asian or Puerto Rican side. They need to know that being 1/2 White holds significance, that it holds information about what they will know about and experience about the world and our society.

 

While I don't believe that multiracial identity signals the destruction of racism (if it was only that easy!), what this does signal to me is movement in the direction of not just having to choose ONE thing. I believe this signals a move away from everything being so black and white (no pun intended!). That we can, indeed, be both black and white. We can, indeed, be both White and Asian; Puerto Rican and Filipino; or all four and more. In recent months, passport applications have changed to include "parent name" from "father and mother." More and more places are adopting gender neutral bathroom signs; more and more people are referring to "parents or guardians" rather than just "parents." And, more progressive environments are moving away from the assumption that everyone has a father, mother, one of each, or both.

None of us want for our children to be excluded. Whether it's a spot on the soccer team, a seat at the cafeteria table, or a chance to be in the school play, we seek to include our own children. That seems a natural role for us as parents.

How are we including the stories, lives, and experiences of all children -- of all adults -- in our world?

Make it a daily practice to ask yourself, how am I including all voices and all people in that which I do.

Ask To Loosen the Mind

A mother turns to her 9-year old daughter and says, "It's an incredible moment in history, dear. This is the first time, the FIRST time, that we have come so close to having a woman help run this country! Do you know what this means? It's such a proud moment in our lives. I don't agree with everything she stands for, but the fact that a woman is even on the ticket is monumental. Do you know this? Do you get it?" While that conversation could have been any mother-to-daughter discussion in the 2008 election cycle, it actually took place 14 years earlier. Geraldine Ferraro. At that time, Ferraro was the first woman nominated by a major political power as its candidate for VP of the United States. I remember my mom talking to her friends, cheering, hoping, wishing that this would be the historic moment. They didn't necessarily agree with the political agenda, but they definitely understood the significance.  And, they made sure we - my sisters and I - knew that it was significant.

But, did we? Nearly 15 years later, I can't really say that I held on to the lesson of Geraldine Ferraro. I mean, I get it now. In fact, I'm even more amazed that it happened back in the mid-1980s because I don't recall that decade being a particularly progressive one. Then again, I was 9-years old. The only "superwoman" in my life (aside from my mom, of course), was Barbie. She had a Corvette, a cute boyfriend, an amazing swimming pool, and cute clothes. Because, after all, that was the measure of success to a 9-year old. I also loved Care Bears, and felt it was my moral and humane duty to adopt a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Politics, not so much. I didn't really care. I was nine. But, my mom wanted me to make sure that I knew that it was a significant moment. While I didn't quite understand it back then, I certainly gained an appreciation for the context of her candidacy 15-years later. There were many events that helped to shape my early interest in feminism and gender equality, and I wonder "Was the Geraldine Ferraro event something that shaped it with latent effects?" I can't say that I looked at her and thought, "If she can do it, I can do it too!" related to a career in politics. But, did something stick with me about power and gender?

So, this leads me to a question I've been asked a number of times in the past few weeks: "How much do I make out of Princess Tiana's racial identity to my children?" Do our kids even get it? Do they care? Do we want them to care?

Ask To Loosen the Mind: In anticipation of the new Disney release "The Frog and the Princess", a number of readers have written questions about whether or not they should draw attention to the fact that Princess Tiana is the first Black princess in a major Disney film. Here is a question from Emily H. that sums up many of the questions.

How would you suggest that I bring up the race of (Princess Tiana) in the new movie? I'd like to talk about it with (my) girls, but I don't know how. On the one hand, I don't - at all - want to "pretend" that she's not African American, nor is her race any kind of taboo topic. On the other hand, since my girls seem totally comfortable with people of all races and race doesn't faze them... How do I discuss it with them without ME making it an issue for them? -- Emily H.

 

If I wasn't too cheap (Wordpress charges me to put video on my blog), I would be able to upload a video I took of me bringing home Princess Tiana dolls to my girls. In the video, my girls open up their Princess Tiana action figures and are thrilled by having a new toy. "Ooohh!! It's Princess Tianaaaahhh!! Thanks, Mom!" they squeal and run off to play. Off camera, you hear my voice: "Girls, come back here! I want to talk to you. Do you know she is the first Black princess in Disney? It's that so great! It's so nice to have a doll that looks like you! See feel her hair, she even has hair like yours!" The girls continue, "Oooh!! Let's play! Let's play!", virtually ignoring my historic lesson in racial identity and politics. I can't b-e-l-i-e-v-e they want to go and just play!

The video goes on for about a minute. The girls talk about wanting to play. I lecture about how great it is that there is a princess that looks like them. They ignore me. I get upset they are ignoring me and my anti-racist lessons. They leave. I shut off the camera. But, before I hit the red button to turn it off, my off camera voice says, "You'll understand it later."

I didn't quite think anything of it while filming. When I watched the video again later that night, though, I felt differently about what I had just done. As Emily asks, was I making more of an issue for them?  Certainly race is not a taboo topic in our house, either, but how much was I pushing this? If you ask my girls to tell you something important about President Obama, one of their first responses (after, "He's the President" or "He's smart" or "He's a good dad") would be "He's our first President with brown skin." That lesson certainly was not lost on them. President Obama has the same skin color as their dad, as their grandfather, as the leaders in their school, and as many of their friends. During the election, we showed the girls pictures of our past presidents and did a lesson on "differences and similarities." They quickly picked up the difference in skin color. They also quickly picked up the similarity that the Presidents were all "boys". My husband and I felt it was very important that we highlight President Obama's heritage. Also important to us was that he was the father of 2 young girls, and my daughters shared that in common with their dad. They liked that the President had 2 little girls.

I don't think my girls completely understand the "FINALLY, a Black Disney Princess!!" response that I feel when I see Princess Tiana. I grew up on Cinderella, Snow White, and Belle. I grew up on Barbies, white Cabbage Patch kids, and white characters in my books. I rarely owned anything that wasn't white. I certainly didn't own anything or read anything that had an Asian character. Now, as an adult with some purchasing power, I seek out dolls that look like my children. These days, I have more options. I recently bought a few dolls that have textured hair, like my children's. And, I think that's what I appreciate the most about Princess Tiana dolls. I like that my kids can play in this fantasy-like world and imagine themselves in it, included in it. I like that they feel her hair, and her hair feels like their hair.

We haven't seen the movie yet, and I hope to write more of their reactions after seeing the movie (where, ahem, Princess Tiana spends most of her time as a FROG. Uh, huh.). But, much of what I have been reinforcing with my children in many examples (when we read multicutural books, play with multicultural dolls) is to point out differences AND mention that differences are a good thing. One of the biggest stumbling blocks that my college students seem to run into is the notion that differences=bad. They have been socialized to not recognize difference; that if you are different, you must be strange. So, if I think of you as the same as me, you must be okay. I find that, on a basic "treat me like a human" level, to be fine. However, pointing out any difference beyond basic humanity makes them socially uncomfortable. This discomfort around talking about differences is why I make a point to discuss it in a very casual way with my children. It's been important for me to point out to my children that differences=good.

With my older daughter's disability, it would be silly to pretend like she doesn't have a prosthetic eye. It has become a part of her. That experience of going through chemotherapy, prosthetic fittings, dozens and dozens of doctor's appointments has shaped who she is. So, to not treat her as such would dishonor her very difficult journey. It would be silly to ignore that she is different; different is what makes her so interesting.

I suggest finding a casual and informal way of pointing out that Princess Tiana is the first Black Disney princess. Perhaps gather their other dolls and do a simple lesson in "Similarities and Differences." They will likely come up with things like, "They all have long hair; they all have 2 eyes, 2 arms and 2 legs; they all are Princesses." They will also likely come up with "This Princess has brown skin; this Princess has white/peach skin." Your reaction, and your leading, is what's important here. It's a good chance to talk about where Mulan comes from. In Emily's case (she has biracial children with an Asian man), they might draw similarities between the way Mulan looks and Asian family members/friends. It might be a neat lesson to introduce them to the heritage of Pocohontas and Jasmine. If you react positively, and casually, to the different characters, your children will pick up that these differences and similarities are just a part of who we are.

I would also add that simply being comfortable with race is very different from talking about race.  Talking about race is something that takes practice and effort. It's not enough to simply be comfortable with "being nice", we need to practice "being nice", right? Same with the race/diversity/etc. My colleague, Donna, the budding athlete, said to me, "It's not enough to just like basketball and to be comfortable watching basketball. If you want to be good at it, you've got to pick up the ball and shoot some hoops." (thanks, Donna).

My kids may not quite understand what that means for them or for me right now, but my hope is that they can look back and connect the significance later in their lives. The more exposure they get to different skin colors, hair colors, and stories, the less narrow their world becomes. So, thanks Princess Tiana!

Now, let's just see if the "live action" Tiana (at Disney or on Ice) is actually played by a woman of African heritage. That'll be the real test, right?

Changing the Complexion

A little too mad to even respond to this one, so I'll just do blips. I think it's one thing to do racist stuff to adults, it's another thing to make kids the subject of one's racism and stupidity. This story is going viral, so if you haven't checked it out, here it is.

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

See, white kids never have to wonder if a negative behavior is attached to their race. It's called white privilege....

"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."

Except for the fact that the day camp PAID to use the facility for the summer, was accepted to do so, and entered into a contract with the Valley Club. So, yes, they were allowed to use the pool. And, if the white kids didn't want to swim with them, that was THEIR CHOICE. But, instead of stating it was a choice, the white parents/children instead decided to remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation and just deprive another EQUAL paying customer the right to a service.

After being told the Club would refund their money...

"I said, 'The parents don't want the refund. They want a place for their children to swim,'" camp director Aetha Wright said.

They just want a place to swim. Jeez, really, people? Are the club members working on old school racism that the black kids might a) pass on cooties, or b) steal something from kids in the pool (perhaps their shorts? I dunno?), c) act like... kids?

While the parents await an apology, the camp is scrambling to find a new place for the kids to beat the summer heat.

And, that's what white privilege does. It puts white people ahead and POC behind. So, while the white kids get to just sit back, relax, and enjoy their summer, the black kids have to scramble and find something to do. Next thing you know, you'll hear from white people saying "I can't believe all these Black kids are out on the streets. Don't they have anything better to do?"

YES. THEY COULD BE SWIMMING.

A New Approach

I recently found out that I have a medical condition that could cause tumors in my spine. Yeah, it's pretty bad. The funny thing is, though, that I've apparently had this medical condition from the day I was born due to a genetic condition that I was completely unaware of all these years. There are a whole host of other symptoms that go along with these spinal tumors, too -- brain tumors, retinal tumors, etc. spineSince finding out, I'm noticing my body feels different. I'm feeling aches in my spine. I seem to have a mild headache that won't go away. My vision has been blurry. I have noticed that my foot gets numb on occasion. God! Have I made it all these years with nothing, and now that I know, are all these problems from this medical condition? Just a few weeks ago, my "aching muscles" were likely a result of the 3 mile hike I went on with my family. My headache - probably from the caffeine I've been drinking to keep from falling asleep after a disrupted night. My vision - likely that I haven't seen an eye doctor in about 3 years. My numb foot -- yeah, I probably just sat on it too long.

But, with this new information, why is it so hard to ignore the medical condition to explain these aches and pains?

So, why is this on To Loosen the Mind, and why does it get me thinking about race and racism?

Learning this new information has made me incredibly uncomfortable - physically, mentally, and emotionally. In this waiting period between now and my full body MRI in a month, I feel rudderless. I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me, even though, essentially, the rug was never there to begin with. I know that once I meet with my doctors -- the "experts" -- I'll feel better. I've slowly started to connect with other individuals who have the same condition as me, and I've begun to learn from them. I'm learning how they cope with the emotional turmoil. How they cope with the barrage of doctors appointments and scans. I'm learning how they keep positive despite the fact that they we will always be screened for tumors for the rest of our lives. THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

I've felt this feeling before -- this feeling of physical pain, mental confusion, and emotional anxiety. I recall back to when I first started to unpack my own racism. I remember those feelings of being challenged about my learned messages about people of color, about sexual orientation, and about socioeconomic class. I remember being corrected when I made a "ghetto" joke to a brilliant African woman in college. I remember actually arguing with a Black woman that "permed" meant "curly", and NOT straight like she thought it meant. Because of course, I was stupid right. She was one of the first Black women I had ever met, and yet I was the idiot authority on "perming."

The more I learned about my own privilege, the more uncomfortable I got. The more I read, listened to, digested, the more I realized I had been living in the dark - void of information. I had an awakening, and that awakening was painful. I sometimes wished I didn't know about the injustices that other people (including my own) experienced in our not-so-recent past. I wished I hadn't learned about how families were separated on purpose in order to create and maintain a power structure of superiority. I wish I hadn't heard about the ways in which men of color are disproportionately incarcerated, beaten, abused by a system that is supposed to protect them.

I imagine that's what it's like continuing through life thinking that we are all where we are solely based on merit and the willingness to try hard. It's so much easier to believe that lazy people stay down while determined people rise up -- all of them. It's so much easier to believe that we got to where we are because of our invididual efforts, and not because of a system of privilege.

I'm still struggling with whether or not I wish I hadn't learned about my genetic condition. Just a few months ago, I thought all these aches and pains were ... well.. aches and pains. In this time between now and my first set of tests, I question whether or not I have a tumor. I question whether or not I have a clot somewhere. I question whether my fatigue is just exhaustion, or if it's an adrenal problem.

Either way, once we KNOW, we have a responsibility. Once we accept that life isn't as simple as MERIT, and that effort isn't as simple as TRY HARD, and that freedom isn't as simple as FOLLOW THE RULES, then we experience discomfort. If we care, we experience physical pain, mental pain, and emotional pain.

We eleviate that pain by getting more information, by uncovering the truth so that we can work to create a different path and a more realistic set of rules.

I'll keep you all posted with the medical stuff. As far as the metaphorical stuff, I'm somewhat surrenduring to the pain and the paranoia. After all, it reminds me that there are others who have it both better and worse.

And, part of loosening my mind is putting myself in other people's shoes.

The Diverse Friends

And so it begins -- the marathon stretch of birthday parties, graduation parties, long weekend parties, and just-because-its-summer parties. This weekend was no exception. Except, this time, my husband, who usually doesn't engage me in diversity conversations (knowing that we'll talk about it for the next few hours) actually turned to me during a birthday party and said, "Why are we the only brown people here?"

"Because. We are," was my witty response. "What do we want them to do about it?"

"I mean WHY are we the only brown people here? It's not like there is a shortage of people of color in this area or anything. So, why, in a room full of about 50 people, are we - and our children - the only brown people here?" He began to go on about how the children at the birthday party were all of school age, ranging from 4 year olds to 6 year olds, and that if this was an actual "school" party (the kind where you have to invite everyone in your class), then why were we the only brown people in the room (note: our children don't go to school with the children at the party - we know the parents from college).

"I don't know, honey. Believe it or not, there are people who don't know any people of color - at least not well enough to invite them to their kid's birthday party."

Husband wasn't impressed. "I just don't understand. I don't understand how kids can be in school and not know any children of color."

Needless to say, the party ended but the conversation didn't.

I reminded Husband of all the posts I have written over the past few years, all of the questions very well-meaning white parents write about how to engage in diversity, and all the frustrations people have about truly not having a diverse circle. Husband wasn't implying that the people at the party were racists nor that they were ignorant. Not at all.

Rather, the point he was making was this: How can we truly teach our children to accept others if the "others" are never in the room. How can we teach children to see the beauty in our diverse skin colors if there is only one color in the room? Religion? Regional accents? Hair texture? Language?

And, while this question often gets posed, it's worth bringing it back again -- can we truly learn to accept all people if we only meet one type of person?

Why Can't Tween Shows Get it Right?

I have a like/hate relationship with the tween shows. It's no surprise to anyone that Disney has made some pretty bad choices when it comes to representing diversity, using appropriate language and avoiding stereotypes. When my kids were much younger, my husband and I feverishly bought into all the hype about "Disney Movies coming out of the vault!" and such, so we purchased all the ones we grew up watching as kids.  

As we watched the movies - now as adults - we found ourselves appalled at the messages, songs, characters, and out-and-out racism that was in the movies and their themes. So, we stopped buying them and no longer fall into the "Disney Vault" trap.

 

When our older child became interested in the Disney Channel, we proceeded with caution. We don't believe in banning certain shows altogether, rather we like to use television -- with all of its negative/positive messaging -- to start conversations with our kids. Of course, there is always a  line. Our daughter was pretty into Hannah Montana, and even though the only 2 people of color are the "mean girls", we still watched with our daughter. Yet, Miley Cyrus's recent poor choice of using "chinky face" crossed the line. So, no more Hannah Montana purchases from our house. Though, even with this one, we didn't really bring it up with our daughter because she's just too young to understand this part.

 

We do like Wizards of Waverly Place for their biracial family. And, they sometimes drop in some Spanish and such; so, this one is still good on our list.

We always thought that Nickelodeon, with it's Dora the Explorer, Diego, etc., line up would be a safer bet. And, truthfully, I think the younger kid shows do get it right. So, what's up with the tween shows?

 

scene from iCarly visting Japan

This past week, we decided to try the show iCarly. We had watched School of Rock before, and we like the little girl (who is now Carly of iCarly) and decided to watch it. This was the episode where Carly and her friends are invited to Japan to attend an awards show. "Hmmm..." we though, "Interesting. This could be going somewhere good!" The group flew to Japan, there was some good humor in there, and then... of course....the tween show took a turn for the racist worse.

 

For some reason, despite the fact that 1/2 of this episode's actors were Japanese and/or of Asian heritage, racist stereotypes and ignorant American-centricity began to rear it's ugly head. Phrases like "those sneaky Japanese", and "Why can't anyone speak English in this country?!?" were abundant. Scenes of Japanese having to look up in the English/Japanese dictionary the word "Hello" and "a" were torture to watch. The obligatory karate match in which the American boy and girl break up the fight seemed to last forever. And, let's not forget the Japanese toupe-wearing security guard who could only communicate with colorful childlike signs.

 

My husband and I kept the television on for as long as we could, and finally, we turned to each other and said, "That's enough!" Our daughters asked why we turned it off, and, age appropriately, we simply said, "we don't like to watch shows where people make fun of other people." If they were older, yes, we'd go into the whole racial stereotyping, and maybe they do understand it on some level. But, for now, we have to talk about it in terms of who's "being nice" and "who is not being nice."

 

Frankly, I'm looking forward to the age when we CAN have these types of conversations -- conversations about racial stereotyping, about American-centric ignorance, about ways in which media inaccurately portray certain groups of people. But, for now, this will have to do.

 

Anyone else out there with older/younger kids who would do this differently? Do you ban certain shows all together, or do you use them as springboards for conversation?

Is There a Right Way?

My husband and I have been trying to make more connections with families in our area - a task somewhat difficult given that so many of our family members live within a 1 hour radius from our house. Weekends are usually spent hanging out with the same brothers and/or sisters along with their kids. But, we realize that we and our children need to also get to know more people outside of that small circle -- no easy task for introverts like my husband and me. 608110045_buttermilkpancakeRecently, we met up with a friend of mine and her husband who have children in the same age bracket as our kids. They are both white, though the mom grew up and was educated outside of the U.S., and have biological white children. We joined them for brunch at their house which gave the kids time to play and the grown ups time to talk.

It was our first real get-together, so we kept the conversation pretty light. We talked about work, where we lived prior to our current location, things we did over the holiday, etc. At one point, though, the discussion touched race, diversity, and our children. Both sets of children go to racially diverse schools. The mom talked about how she doesn't encourage her children to use racial descriptors when referring to people. On the flipside, she doesn't discourage it either. She said she pretty much waits and sees how her child will talk about a particular person. My husband then said, "For us, we always bring up color and encourage our kids to do so. When our kids describe others in their classes, one of the things they talk about first is whether the child has 'brown skin' or 'peach skin'. There are two boys named Tyler in the school, and when we ask for clarification, we ask if it's the Tyler-with-the-brown-skin or Tyler-with-the-peach-skin."

For my husband, who is Puerto Rican and who, too, has worked in predominantly white environments, he has always expressed frustration in the practice of using every single other descriptor about a person other than race, especially when race is the only thing separating someone from all others.  So, it's the "see that guy over there... kind of athletic build .. with the brown hair... with the book bag... standing up straight... with the nice smile...." rather than, "The Puerto Rican guy in that group." You know what I mean....

The mom responded with, "We don't bring up race because we're afraid of doing it wrong."

It got me thinking -- I definitely didn't get the "colorblind" vibe from her. Not at all, in fact. She has lived in enough places and knows enough not to live in a whitewashed world. I got the sense that it was a true issue of  "I don't want to mess it up". But I was wondering, how many other diversity saavy parents out there have chosen not to talk obviously about race? Is there a right way? More specificially, is there a right way for white parents? Is there a right way for parents of color? And, is there a right way for parents of transracial adoptive children?

Most parents of color I know always talk about race with their children. I remember when my daughter had just turned 2 years old, and we were walking on a city street. We walked by a tall Black man, and she said, "Mommy, he has brown skin."

"Yes," I responded. "He does."

That was all. No big deal. I didn't "shush" her. I didn't falsly patronize a stranger by saying how beautiful his skin was, how smart the man must be, etc. My daughter's statement about brown skin was just an observation. She noticed his brown skin in the same way she noticed the car that we walked by was red; color was just a part of her vocabulary.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues came to me asking for advice. She said that she picked up her 6-year old son from school and asked about his day, his friends, etc. Her son mentioned a few of names of some kids, and then said, "There is also David. But, we don't like David because we don't like Black people." My friend said she nearly drove off the road in shock. "What do you mean we don't like Black people? Where did you hear that? Who told you that??" she screamed, later admitting that she probably shouldn't have reacted so strongly at that moment. "Oh, never mind. Sorry, Mom, I mean, yes, we like Black people. We like Black people, right, Mom??"

My colleague -- again, another person who I consider diversity saavy -- realized her reaction had just simply scared him into not talking about it anymore rather than engaging her son in the conversation. Now, when she tries to revisit the conversation -- even weeks later -- her 6-year old son clams up and says, "I don't want to talk about it, Mom. I'm so sorry. I like Black people. I really like Black people." She's struggling to re-engage him into the conversation. She says she tries to bring up race and the color of skin in very nonchalant ways, but her son immediately flies into apology mode and wants to end the discussion. I encouraged her to buy some children's books that have kids of color in it, etc. Her son likes to hear a bedtime story each night, and so I suggested this might be a good way to introduce the discussion back again without obviously talking about the comments in the car.

My colleague asked questions that many of us hear often: "Where did he learn that? Why did he say 'we' don't like Black people?  Am I doing something that is sending him messages about Black people? Is it school? Kids at school? Television that we watch?"

"Probably a little bit of all of the above," I replied.

Was this the "we-don't-want-to-do-it-wrong" example that my brunch friend was talking about? Did my colleague do something wrong by reacting as strongly as she did with her son? Or, was she just sending a clear message that the sentiment of  "we don't like Black people" is unacceptable?

wrongway1So, back to my question -- is there a right way to bring up race? Is there a wrong way?

Degrees of Blog Separation

I love blogging. I'm a Facebook addict. I love connections. So, imagine my giggles of delight when I find a new and interesting blog that is connected by a few other blogs to me. Thanks to some of my readers, I caught on to an interesting blog called "Resist Racism". Clicked on it and and managed to ignore my fighting children long enough to read some good stuff. I especially liked two of their pages: Racism 101 and We Heard it Before

Here is a sample of the Racism 101 part that I really liked:

  1. White privilege exists.
  2. Sanctuary is not segregation.
  3. Flipping the actors does not lend clarity to an issue, nor does it mean that you have created equivalent analogies. See entry under Fallacious Flip.
  4. People must own their feelings and expressions. Ventriloquy is not helpful in discussions of racism.
  5. Seeking the empowerment of people of color is not the same as disenfranchising white people.
  6. Racism is more than individual acts of meanness.

Looking forward to reading more of their posts - catch some of their stuff when you can!

Some great adoption resources

Just caught on to a brilliant blog by a white woman who has three children of color. She shares her list of adoption books on her site! Thanks "Mama D"! While the books address adoption, a number of the stories have central themes of transracial and multicultural/multinational families.

Excerpt from "Mama D's" blog:

books about adoption, parenting, family, and belonging ... and one on race (find them at, or order them from, your local bookstore) Parenting the Hurt Child : Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck, Regina M. Kupecky Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best Let's Talk About It: Adoption by Fred Rogers I Love You Rituals by Rebecca Anne Bailey, Sarah Whalen, Jeff Jones Attaching in Adoption by Deborah D. Gray Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child by  Robert J. MacKenzie I Don't Have Your Eyes by Carrie Kitzke Three Names of Me by Mary Cummings We See The Moon by Carrie Kitze When Sophie Get's Angry - Really, Really Angry by Ann Caron Whoever You Are by Mem Fox and Leslie Staub Yell-Oh Girls!: Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American by Vickie Nam It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr (we love most books by Todd Parr) I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri

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.

Wait... you're BROWN?

To keep myself entertained -- rather, to keep myself from going nuts -- I often try to find humor in my non-diverse working world. A game I typically play is "How many brown people will I see when walking from my office to the dining hall?" I've been playing this little game for about 3 years now. In those first three years, unless I saw my own reflection in a mirrored window, that number was ZERO. Yup. Zero. And, this is no short walk, mind you. It's a good 7 minutes, and I'm typically walking at a time when classes are just getting out and everyone is rushing to the dining commons.

This past year, with increased efforts to increase diversity, I'm shocked at the number of SOC's (students of color) that I see --- I see an average of 4-5 students during my 7 minute walk! C'mon... I know that's not a huge number, but for me, that's a 500% increase! I'll play those odds any day!

So, here's an interesting twist to the game. Sometimes, if I pass by a tour that is being given by the admissions office, I'll even count "visitors" to campus. Alas, that doesn't change the number.

Today, however, I was walking with a friend to the dining commons from my office, and exclaimed "Oh my GOD! Stop everything! There are two brown families on that tour!!" My friend looked over and said, "Where?" I said, "Are you freakin' kidding me? There are brown people on that tour!!" His response: "Who?"

"Those three people of Asian heritage! Look!!"

And my friend replies, "They're not brown, are they? Wait, you count Asians as BROWN?"

"Listen, friend. I take what I can get on this campus.... and, yes, Asian is BROWN. I am BROWN. My skin is BROWN."

** So, let me briefly stop here and say that I have the best conversations with this friend. He's probably one of the most aware people I know. And, he loves Obama. So, therefore, I love him (in a professional way, of course). For me, that fact highlights that even the most aware allies sometimes don't quite get it. **

Moving on....

We were already getting close to the busy lunch line (where you have to throw elbows just to get some chicken nuggets and curly fries), so I didn't continue the conversation. But, the comment stayed with me.

Brown. Am I brown? Yes, I am Brown. When I talk to my daughters, we talk about our skin being different shades of brown. My older daughter's skin color resembles my husband's dark chocolate skin shade. I'm a lighter shade of that brown. And, my younger daughter is a very light brown. But, we are unmistakably BROWN.

Not Yellow? I'm not sure if my friend was trying to get me to say that I was "yellow" -- a common color so wrongly associated with people of my heritage background: Asian. When people say they have friends of all different colors, "black, white, red, yellow....", they mean "African American, Euro American, First Peoples, and Asian." But, I am not hella' yella' people. I'm just not.

Well, then, that got me thinking further -- what is my dad, who's racial background is made up predominantly of a Chinese lineage. His skin is as white as the Mac laptop I'm typing on now. Is HE BROWN? The shape of his eyes keeps me from calling him white. And, aside from jaundice when he was born in 1947, he hasn't ever been yellow. Is Dad BROWN?

So, naturally, I have the answers to these questions that I pose here....

Skin "color" is more about political connotations than it is about "color." I have had plenty of white people email me and say, "I don't like the term 'people of color'... we all have 'color.'" And, I respectfully disagree. The term "people of color" is less about the actual Crayola shade and more about the political, systematic, and institutionalized implications that go along with color. So, is my dad's skin physically WHITE? Yes. Has he ever in his entire life been given the same privilege as a White person? Uh, no....

Why do I emphatically disagree with the "yellow" part? Well, honestly, I'm just not yellow. That's weird. That's like some f'd up Big Bird shit or something. Peeps are Yellow. That neon bubble gum that's been sitting in the $.25 dispenser since 1987 is Yellow. That damn "Have a Nice Day" smiley face is Yellow.

I am a shade of Brown. Beautiful. Blessed.

And, before people start to do the jump off of "Well, then, as a white person, I embrace my Peachness...." realize that the conversation here is around politics of color. Go on and embrace the Peachness, because, you're right, I don't believe that anyone is a true "beige, eggshell, ivory" or any other paint color that's a version of White. But, we'd be crazy to think that the politics, the institutionalization of privilege and power, and equity and resources aren't given to those of the "peach persuasion."

Mellow? Maybe. Yellow? No.

Are You Kidding Me?

 I've heard of lots of "good luck" cheers and traditions, but this one is a new one -- pulling the corner of your eyes so that you "look" Chinese is now the new "good luck" cheer. Really?

Spain's Basketball Federation published a "good luck" advertisement to wish their team well in Beijing.

There is no obvious intention to upset their Olympic hosts in Beijing, but the irresponsible picture is likely to cause controversy and could be interpreted so as to lead to accusations of racism.

Really, ya think?

This reminds me of Tami's recent post about ownership of offensiveness. This is certainly a moment where I think everyone should feel offended - and, yes, feel free to tell me how much I should be offended, too.

Seeing this picture, as an Asian American woman, brings me back to those playground days of kids pulling at their eyes and asking me if "I can see them" or "Ching-Chong"-ing me in a playful, yet hateful, way. This picture brings me back to the days when I was humiliated that my parents chose to use their native language in the our white, Irish Catholic neighborhood. This picture brings me back to being picked last at kickball or picked-NEVER at basketball because, after all, Asian kids weren't good at anything but karate...

But, here. Now. And, at the Olympics? I often hit a cross road when I talk to young people who say that they don't think their world is as racist as it was when "we" were growing up, and then images like this surface.

What troubles me even more is that the article is, maybe, 4 paragraphs long and it ends with a promo of when you can watch the Spanish team play.

Hopefully, I'll be able to see the television with my pulled, slanted eyes. Or, not.

Who are the people in your network?

Much of the educational work I do tends to involve groups made up of predominantly white individuals – students, parents, professionals, educators, etc. And, as many diversity facilitators would agree, I tend not to take the “guilt” route, but rather I work to point out ways in which we must actively make decisions now that we are adults. Photo from www.reneebeads.com

One of the exercises I begin with in group facilitation is a variation of a popular exercise called “The Bead Exercise.” There are a few variations of the exercise that are designed to visually point out ways in which our circle of trusted individuals is often not diverse, or tends to reflect our own ethnicity or racial identity.

In my version of The Bead Exercise, I have various circles on a piece of white paper that have between 15-20 different professions or interests written within the circle: doctor, neighbor, roommate, best friend, hairstylist, favorite movie actor, favorite singer, mechanic, etc. The participants write down the name of the individual who they trust or admire. Then, I give them a “key” - - a list of colors that correspond to the major racial categories, with a few more thrown in. The participants must them color in each “bead” as it corresponds to the racial key. As the participants are doing this, I duly note that this exercise is very focused on “race” – and that we are well aware that individuals may have other areas of identity (ability, sexual identity, religion, etc) that are not mentioned here.

In the many times I’ve run this exercise, I usually hear the same thing in predominantly white groups: “Oh my gosh. I had no idea there were no people of color included in my circle.” or “Woah. I guess I’m not as inclusive as I thought I was.” Now, because I don’t operate from a philosophy of guilt, I process this exercise in a very different way than others. I encourage people to look at the entities that were chosen for us prior to having independence as adults (or that are still being chosen for us, if I’m working with a group of young people) . We typically don’t get a chance to choose our doctors when we are younger. We don’t get to choose our neighbors, our religious leaders, and we sometimes don’t get to choose our roommates.

But, the question is … now that we may be of age to make our own decisions, how are we actively diversifying our close network of professionals? What are the early messages we received about certain races, ethnicities, religions, colors, identities and their abilities to perform or not perform certain jobs?

I always challenge people to envision the “old boys network” – if we only see one type of professional, then we only refer one type of professional, then we are building our “old boys network.” One of the criticisms I’ve received (mostly online) about this practice of actively seeking to diversify is the comment that “I’m not going to just go out and pick a Black doctor if the Black doctor isn’t the best one” or “I’m going to go to the best professional … not the brownest professional” or my personal favorite is “That’s a racist thing to say – that I should actively seek to exclude Whites from my professional network” (no, that's not the message of the exercise…)

Seeing the point, yet?

Here are a few stories that individuals have told me who have stepped up to the challenge of actively seeking to diversify their professionals. Their names have been changed, although, they should be very proud of themselves for rising to the challenge!:

Jennifer, mother of twins, said that she wasn’t happy with the care her pediatrician was giving her toddlers. She was in the process of looking for a new doctor. After attending a session I held on this topic, Jennifer looked at her list of doctors she had prepared to call and interview. Sure enough, of the 12 doctors she had on her “call” list, all 12 of those doctors were white. She got online, logged into her health insurance network, found a few names of doctors from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and added them to the list. Jennifer went to the first African American doctor on her list, interviewed him about his medical philosophy, his training and experience, and watched him interact with her children. Jennifer absolutely fell in love with him and his care for her toddlers. With due diligence, Jennifer went and interviewed a few of the other doctors on her list, and she felt the African American pediatrician was the best fit for her and her family. Jennifer now has an African American pediatrician who she has been recommending to other parents.

Jennifer’s is such a great story because she never really thought about including a doctor of color into her mix. She didn’t think she was actively excluding one, but she certainly never thought to include one. Probably every doctor on her big list was talented, kind, smart, and well-respected. While she would never consider herself a prejudiced person (and I wouldn’t refer to her as that, either), it’s great to hear that she is now looking at the other types of lists she makes and thinks “Is this inclusive or am I just going with the type of professional that meets my comfort needs?”

Likely feedback from readers is, “Well, if the African American doctor wasn’t a good fit, should Jennifer have stuck with that doctor?” No. Of course not. In the same way that she shouldn’t stay with a White doctor if she didn’t feel comfortable. But, I hopefully Jennifer has a new awareness to then ask herself, “Well, what is it that I’m not comfortable with? Am I not comfortable with something associated with the doctor’s race? With the doctor’s gender? Am I uncomfortable if the doctor has an accent? Or, did I simply not like the his medical philosophy about pediatric medicine?”

We always challenge people to actively reflect on conscious and subconscious bias … that’s how we start to work towards becoming an anti-racist.

Another story comes from Ben who also participated in the exercise. What made an impact with Ben was the “bead” asking about favorite movie actor. Ben began to reflect, not on his movie taste, but on his movie choices. As we began sharing his favorite movies, he realized that many of the movies that he has watched that had POC’s were slapstick comedies. He came to realize there was an absence of movies that showed POCs as heros/heroines. He didn’t watch any movies that addressed POC issues or history. He felt he owed it to himself to start watching some movies that addressed these issues. As a frequent Netflix user, Ben added some of the “must watch” movies to his list, and soon began committing to 2 movies a month.

See, it’s not that hard. No one is asking Ben to start liking those movies. Rather, the challenge is including those movies into his mental library. Doing so challenges his perception of POC, issues around politics, etc. Soon, Ben even began to rent movies that were subtitled (and, if you knew Ben, his favorite line was always, “If I wanted to read a movie, I would have gotten the book!”).

One of my favorite “A-ha” moments was when I did this exercise with a group of upper-middle class adults, and I happened to include “mortgage broker/banker/financial planner” (which I knew many of them had). After we had processed the exercise, Ryan came up to me with a “lightbulb look” on his face – you know, that look when someone just realized something big! He looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, at first I thought this whole exercise was a little ridiculous, until we got to the one about the person who handles our money. I thought about why Jim was our financial planner, and I know that we are with him because he’s trustworthy, honest, and has our best financial intentions in mind. Well, I began to think about messages I received about people who weren’t white, and came to the realization that I would never have a Black person or Mexican person handle my finances because my dad always told me ‘you could never trust a person like that with your money’…. I’m 35 years old, and I’m just realizing that now.” Ryan was on the verge of tears and definitely on the brink of disgust.

Now, going back to my original point about “choosing the most talented and not necessarily the brownest….”, my advice wasn’t to ditch Jim and find a Black or Mexican financial planner. No, obviously not. But, it was because of the exercise that this man challenged his practice of NOT including people of color in his trusted circle. I never heard from Ryan after that day, but I’m hoping he took that a-ha moment with him and challenged other ways he might have internalized early messages about people of color.

From my own experience, women of color are often shocked when they hear that I bring my daughter – the one with the hair issues at age 5! – to a white woman who does her hair. When we go to visit her grandparents in NYC, we go to an all Dominican hair salon. Here in Boston, my daughter sees a white woman who braids, conditions, thins out, etc. her hair. “Why are you sending her to a white woman!!??! They can’t do her hair!!” Yes. Yes, she can. And, she does it quite well, actually…. She fully understands my daughter’s hair, has worked on hair exactly like my daughter’s hair in her 10 years as a hairdresser, and my daughter loves her. So, yes, the white woman does an excellent job with my daughter’s tight, curly, hair.

Actively seeking to diversify the professionals in your life goes a number of ways. I’ve also run this exercise with predominantly Latino, Black and Asian groups, too. And for many of these groups, they, too, have mono-chromatic “beads”. In some of those groups, they were also given early messages to only trust people within their ethnic neighborhoods, etc. They went to schools where they were the majority, went to the local bodega or corner store to buy their groceries, and/or only listen to music popularized within their community. Imagine the look I get when working with predominantly Latino students from the Bronx when I encourage them that “for 1 week, listen to Country Music and Classical Music or music that is not in English or Spanish!” I ask them to look at the messages they received about different races, ethnicities, religions, identities, etc., and jobs those different identities can and cannot perform, in their minds.

I find it interesting that, out of all the anti-racist “working points” I give, this is the one that gets the most controversy. But, it’s also understandable given that these choices are often the most loaded with our own subconscious messages we received about different identities. It’s also the area where people are interested more in “merit” – when, in fact, merit is very racially loaded in our U.S. society.

So, in what ways are you looking to diversify your life? What will you now include in your toolbox? What messages did you receive about different identities as they pertain to “who can or cannot perform a certain job?”

A Great Parenting Post

Hi everyone! I have lots of great posts in my queue that I want to get out there, but just haven't had a chance with the hectic pace at work! In the meantime, one of my favorite Anti-Racist Parent writers, Deesha, posted this recently. I love it. Enjoy!

When Anti-Racist Parenting Goes Wrong…Or at the Very Least, Neurotic

 

A Daily Struggle

using children to block my body "Everyone say 'Cheese!'"

Pictures - I love taking them. I don't love being in them. When I do get into pictures with friends and family, I position myself strategically behind everyone so that only my face is visible. Or, I am the one who says, "I'll sit down in the front!" or more likely, "No, no, YOU get in the picture. I'll take it!"

I am a full bodied woman. I have been for most of my life. As an Asian American woman, I'm quite unique. Most of my family members, my Asian friends, and Asian acquaintances, are small boned, slender, and petite. I'm petite at 5'3", but I'm certainly not small boned nor slender. I'm a heavy woman.

It took me a long time to get comfortable in my identity as a heavy woman. I've tried every single weight loss technique in the book. And, as an educator, I know that the only way to really and truly lose the weight is to EAT LESS, MOVE MORE. Should be simple enough. Yet, it's a struggle for me. A daily struggle. I love food. I love the way good food tastes. And, I don't discriminate. I love vegetarian dishes. Meat dishes. All types of cultural foods. I just love food. And, I know that it's doing a number on my body. I recently had a physical, and while I'm inarguably overweight (by a lot!), my blood work comes back fine each time. Normal cholesterol. Normal thyroid. Normal blood sugar.

Each day, I have to choose what will go from the refrigerator, to my mouth, to my body (and hence, to my

my enemy

butt, hips, thighs, etc). It's something I think about all day. I face food and think to myself, "Is this right? Is this good for me? Will this help me be healthier for my children?"

Because I know my inner dialogue and struggle with weight resonates with others, I often use this example as an introduction to anti-racist work. I meet with so many people who ask me about anti-racist work - what it takes, what has to happen, and how they can go about doing it. I always tell them that it's hard work (in the same way that nutritionists and weight loss coaches have told me losing weight is hard work). It's a lifestyle change. Some days will feel like you're truly impacting the world and the future. Some days, you'll feel like giving up. Working towards anti-racism will leave you beat up and encouraged all at the same time -- in the same way that I hate being on an elliptical machine, but love that sweaty feeling when the 30 minutes are up. Truth is, I'd love to wake up a Size 6. Hell, who am I fooling -- I'd be happy even waking up a size 8 or 10. But, it just isn't going to happen -- not without thinking about it every day. Thinking about the choices every day.

Here are some of the "diet tips" I've gotten that best parallel anti-racism work:

It's not a diet. It's a lifestyle change. You can't "diet" from racist thoughts or prejudiced feelings. It has to be a life style change. It has to be something you commit to in your every day life, and commit to it being a part of your every day life forever.

A grocery list is good, but knowing what to do with that list is better. Lots of diets start off with giving you a grocery list. You're supposed to take it to the store, buy the recommended items (assuming you know how to select those items), and take them home. But, what do you do if you can't figure out how to cook the food or prepare the meal? Oftentimes, diversity folks give people a "checklist" of things to say or things not to say, but what good do those lists do if you don't know the meaning of what's on there.. if you don't know how to unravel your own feelings and teachings about those things on the checklist. A list does you no good if you can't figure out what to do with it.

Dieting out of guilt is no diet at all. Whenever I tried to lose weight, I often did it because someone said something about my appearance or made me feel bad about myself. So, I would lose weight to gain that person's acceptance. And, in some cases, it worked. I lost the weight. But, I never lost the guilt. Learning to be an anti-racist, and successfully unraveling your biases, has to be because YOU want to do it. It's helpful that maybe someone schooled you and told you to do it, but truly embracing an anti-racist way of living has to come from within.

You'll slip up, and that's okay. There is never a set formula for how to be an anti-racist all the time. For example, an offensive word to one person may not be offensive to another. So, for people who like "formulas" they often get frustrated at this diversity stuff. You have to HUMBLY let yourself slip up, and HUMBLY own that you did. Only then, can you get past the embarrassment, the hurt, and the fear in order to move on.

What are some other ways in which people parallel the difficult work of anti-racism in a way that you and others can understand?

Nursery Rhymes

Got inspired by my buddies over at Anti-Racist Parent with this one about nursery rhymes and the racial undertones (and overt messages) of many of them. I realized I had a post in "draft" form about my family's visit to Storyland. In all honesty, we did have a very fun time and will absolutely return there at some point (when gas prices go down, perhaps?).

But, imagine our surprise when one of the first exhibits we saw was this:

 Funny.. this isn't how I imagined "Little Miss Muffett's" spider when I read that story.

 

 

Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, we went to the next exhibit and saw this:

I had never ever heard of this nursery rhyme, but apparently there is one about a young Indian boy named "Sambo". What was most disturbing interesting was when a white mother was reading the nursery rhyme (posted next to the cut out figure with brown hands) and the words "Sambo" just floated off her lips effortlessly. From Wikipedia:

The Story of Little Black Sambo, a children's book by Helen Bannerman, a Scot living in India, was first published in London in 1899. In the tale, an Indian boy named Sambo prevails over a group of hungry tigers. The little boy has to give his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella to four tigers so they will not eat him. Sambo recovers the clothes when the jealous, conceited tigers chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of delicious melted butter. The story was a children's favorite for half a century, but then became controversial due to the use of the word sambo, a racial slur in some countries.[1].

My husband and I are pretty good-humored anti-racists, so we went on a quest to find ANY positive images of people of color at Storyland. Here's what we found:

That's right. The only dark skinned positive character is a guard .. and you really had to look to find him!

So, back to nursery rhymes ... we routinely change the words to nursery rhymes with our kids. We won't sing that "Rock-a-bye-baby" song, instead opting to create individual songs for each of our children. Even, "Ring around the Rosie" gets some lyric changes, too.

It's amazing how much violence, racism and sexism is ingrained in these songs that we have memorized and then teach our own children. Now, not to be mistaken - we don't totally innoculate our children just for the sake of doing so. And, yes, "we turned out fine."

When my kids were born, we asked that people not give us toys but rather books. Naturally, we received a number of "Children's First Nursery Rhymes" type books. I had put them away until recently when I started working with my 4-year old on reading skills. Well, I found that we had to get rid of the books because *I* (not she) was freaked out by the messages. How many more times did some one have to get eaten by a random wild animal? How many times did we have to read about bullying and manipulating others?

We do read the stories but process them a little differently.

  • "So, kids, how do you think that wolf felt when no one wanted to let him in?"
  • "Why do you think that 'troll' under the bridge won't let the goats pass?" "
  • "If the wolf wanted that little girl's basket of cookies, do you think she would have given it to him if he asked nicely?"
  • "If you are sitting and eating your cereal, and along came a spider, would you be scared?"

We recently bought the Jump at the Sun series books that have African American lead characters, and those are pretty much the only ones we'll read at our house. We also have other neat books like "Dim Sum for Everyone". Drop me a note if you have some well-written multicultural children's books, will ya?

AMA Apologizes for Racism

A few years ago, I used to watch "Desperate Housewives." I know it's an incredibly popular show - one of the ones where office mates gather by the water cooler at 8:30am to discuss the latest love lives and drama of the night before. I watched it occasionally, enjoying the craziness of motherhood and single life. But, a few years ago, activism in the Asian community rose up around a comment made by one of the characters on the show. While in a hospital room, one of the characters commented about the qualification of the doctor attending to her and stating, "I want to make sure (your diplomas) are not from some med school in the Philippines". The Filipino community erupted. Every doctor in my family, with the exception of my brother who is still in medical school, earned their diplomas in the Philippines. As Filipinos living in the Philippines, where else would they go? And, why wouldn't their diplomas be valuable.

Needless to say, my casual watching of Desperate Housewives ended. And, every time I hear the 8:30am conversations by the water cooler, I shudder.

Growing up within a medical family, much of our lives were spent in doctor's offices or hospitals. We would stop there on the way to church for my dad to see an emergency patient. We would stop there after church for another emergency patient, and to eat a cheap lunch in the cafeteria. When I was growing up, I would often go to the VCR to work out with my Jane Fonda aerobics tape, only to press <PLAY> and find footage of a surgical demonstration of cataract removal. Some nights, when I would go to kiss my dad "good night", I would find him at the dining room table with his surgical tools practicing his suturing techniques on a grape. Eventually, as I got older, I worked in my dad's office every summer to assist him with patient care.

In 2005, the hospital became an integral part of my life again when my 2-year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. We went to a teaching hospital where the residents and fellows were from diverse backgrounds - both domestic and international. And, now, I envision my Filipino brother doing his rounds at the local teaching hospital.

Racism is an interesting dynamic in medicine. In the Washington Post, the American Medical Association recently issued an apology for the racism against African Americans:

The country's largest medical association today issued a formal apology today for its historical antipathy toward African American doctors, expressing regret for a litany of transgressions, including barring black physicians from its ranks for decades and remaining silent during battles on landmark legislation to end racial discrimination.

"The apology is important because a heritage of discrimination is evident in the under-representation of African Americans in medicine generally and in the AMA in particular," said the report's lead author, Robert B. Baker, professor of philosophy at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and director of the Union Graduate College-Mount Sinai School of Medicine Bioethics Program.

In many of my conversations with students - especially at a predominantly white college - we talk about representation, myths, inaccuracies they were taught, etc. In one exercise I conduct in diversity conversations, I ask participants to list the names of their doctor, neighbor, best friend, favorite movie star, favorite book author, etc. Most often than not, the list of names are all of white people. The next part is challenging students to expand their immediate circle by making intentional decisions around what movies they watch, what books they read, etc.

In every workshop, someone always says, "But, there aren't any Black doctors."

In challenging the students, we do get into the fact that you can likely find an Asian doctors from which to choose, there is certainly an over representation of white doctors, and unfortunately few Latino doctors, and even fewer Black doctors. The AMA Minority Affairs Consortium reports these figures:

Race/Ethnicity Number Percentage
White 514,254 55.8
Black 32,452 3.5
Hispanic 46,214 5.0
Asian 113,585 12
American Native/Alaska Native 1,444 .02
Other 12,572 1.4
Unknown 201,383
 

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Hopefully, this apology and recognition wakes people up to see the historic disparity and institutionalized racism that has existed in this field for so long. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step. Now, I hope that the AMA actually does something to increase recruitment and retention of African American, Latino, Asian and Native doctors.

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!

All Too Familiar

Some days, I feel like that little kid in "The Sixth Sense" -- although, the line in MY head is "I see white people." I'm surrounded by them, by choice for the most part. In my personal life, I surround myself with all sorts of people, but the one thing they have in common - usually - is that they "get it." I don't have to think/talk/educate about race with my social group because they "get it." But, my job is to not surround myself, necessarily, with people who get it. My job, my passion, my task at hand, is to increase my circle of people who do not get it and help to facilitate learning, growth, and transformational discourse.

I love engaging in difficult conversations about diversity. And, yet, reading articles like the one from Diversity Inc give me an unsettling feeling of job-security....

Got turned on to Diversity Inc's "Why Whites Can't Get Over Color".

Essentially, a white woman writes this:

I am a white female and I can tell you that I don't talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination. We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired. I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against. Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc. If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar.

Here are some other highlights:

Another point I would like to make is blacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books. Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites. I have heard many times from blacks in my community that they did not ask to come to America. Well, my answer to that is of two fold...Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.

Or how about this one...

I teach my children not to see the color but to see the person. It is getting harder to do when all they hear about in the news, school, or articles is color.

Had enough? Here's one more, in case you missed her point...

Get over the color!

Thankfully, the person who responded actually thinks, and therefore, responded with this joyous following:

Given your current state, I would most strongly recommend you avoid racial discussions at work. This is good advice for most people. Your e-mail gives ample reason why many people will say something worthy of being fired. I don't think you intended it to be offensive, but I'm afraid much of your e-mail is.

I'll start with your comment about the NAACP, UNCF, etc. Black people founded these organizations to counter discrimination directed against them by white people. Keep in mind that the discrimination people faced today is NOTHING like the discrimination that existed when these organizations were founded. In our recent past, "discrimination" included thousands of African Americans being lynched and lawful bigotry like segregation.

Too many people have forgotten (or never bothered to learn/realize) that this every day threat of lynching was happening to people we know. It's not some way-back-when moment in history. It was still occuring just decades ago (and I would agree that this fear exists still today) where Black people were forced to fear for their families and their lives - and many still do as a result of a system of institutionalized and social racism.

The NAACP was founded because legislation was passed in the early 20th century that prevented Black people from voting. Another reason the NAACP came together was lynching -- until federal legislation was passed in the 1920s, thousands of Black people were murdered by hanging. The reason why federal legislation was important is that the local white-run law enforcement and judiciary proved to be incapable of prosecuting the white murderers.

The reason why I never watched "Friends" or "Sex in the City"

A few years ago, a major retailer sponsored an entire issue of The New Yorker and ran New Yorker-style cartoons as ads. One of the ads was a subway scene - with ALL white people (if you are familiar with New York, you will know that this is laughably impossible). This wasn't an isolated mistake -- around the same time, the parent company of The New Yorker mounted a sequence of billboards on a building in Manhattan. The theme was how people enjoy reading magazines. However, out of more than one dozen images, there was only one non-white person - an Asian woman looking at a magazine (with a white person on the cover). Now you know why there are magazines like Black Enterprise and JET.

Yup. I face this same fact when I question why people make assumptions about students of color not "being available" for college.

I recently visited another major New York media company, to discuss "diversity." At the time, they had 35 corporate vice presidents -- one white woman and 34 white men (all non-Latino). Representation like this takes real effort to accomplish in New York -- a city whose population is 65 percent Black, Latino and Asian.

As a child of immigrants, I often heard the "go back to your country" threat

With the exception of recent Black immigrants from countries in Africa, Black Americans -- African Americans -- are descendents of enslaved people. Enslaved people were taken here against their will and were subjected to the worst deprivations that people commit against each other. Tribal languages and histories were lost because white slavers forced families apart and purposefully prevented enslaved Black people from learning to read and write. Slavery lasted for more than 200 years in our country and legalized discrimination lasted almost another 100 years during the Jim Crow era.

You knew it was coming, right? The Colorblind Comment.

Your demand that we "Get over the color!" is an expression of white privilege. It's only possible to "get over" it if you are in the majority culture. Assuming you're white, YOU can "get over the color!" but it's simply not possible for people of color to get over who they are, what that means and the damage our society has purposefully done over the centuries by color.

I just might tattoo this one on my arm.. I love this quote here regarding the use of the word "melting pot":

The "melting pot" is about subjugating your culture and forcing a person to "melt" into the white culture. Melting who you are into a pot is not what makes a person American.

Thank goodness for big arms, I would tattoo this one, too....

When you hear criticism, you may want to consider that it is displeasure over our country's inability to completely live up to the promise - and potential - of what truly makes us American. The more we work toward that ideal, the more "we will get along."

The writer is much kinder than I am... and certainly good about not silencing the very voice that needs to be heard and transformed.

P.S.: I am withholding your name because it's fairly unique and I'm sure you would be easily identified where you work. That's not my concern -- I just don't want to dissuade other people who think like you do from writing us.

And, the crowd said, "Amen."