THE COST OF THE WORK

One very common question I get when fielding an inquiry from a school, organization, or company about the cost of a training or workshop is, “Why does this cost so much?”

I think it’s a really honest question. After all, people of color, and those who do this work, have often been expected to DO this work because they LOVE this work. And, that’s all. “Well, if you love something, why should you get paid for it?” Hmmm… pretty sure Tom Brady loves football. Shall we not pay him? (side bar: yo, why does Tom Brady get paid so much?? See what I did there?).

But, I get it. I really do. Diversity, equity, and inclusion work IS, in fact, a work of love. It’s work of the heart. And, the work is very personal. Artists often talk about this same experience — they often encounter people who believe that artists should be giving away their art for free or, at least, for ‘not that much.’ (side bar #2: then stop calling artists “poor and starving” if you keep NOT paying them!).

Diversity practitioners, at some point in their career, often come to this big question: Should I be charging money for the work that I do?

Or, stated differently, many diversity practitioners often think “I shouldn’t be charging money for this work because it’s life-work.”

My answer: Do what you want. If you don’t want to charge for your work, then don’t.

My other answer: This is work. It’s like real, actual work that people have trained (ideally) and prepared for and should, like every other profession, also be paid.

So what are you paying for when a trainer, educator, facilitator, or professional comes to do this work at your school or organization?

TIME. Unless you have hired someone who opens up the same exact presentation (like, the exact exact), then you are paying for their prep time to research your school, organization, or company. You might be surprised to find out how much time we spend on your websites - reading your strategic plans, your mission and vision statements, your quantitative data on numbers of people, etc. We also spend a whole lot of time research what you don’t say on your website but what others might say about you. We spend time researching news articles, newsletters, and information on your top leaders. We spend hours and hours learning about your place so that we can meet the needs of your place. That labor is often invisible to you because, when we arrive, the presentation feels so customized. Well, how do you think we made it feel that way? We researched!

EMOTIONAL LABOR. Oftentimes, schools, organizations, and companies bring in outside trainers because there is something that keep the internal people from being able to do this work. That “something” usually falls in one of these (and other) areas: 1) a culture of nice where no one wants to challenge each other but there is unspoken conflict; 2) a commitment to the work but not a clear pathway forward; 3) a leader who is standing in the way even when grassroots groundswell has occurred; 4) leadership who wants to lead but there is a fear around the culture of change; 5) there isn’t diversity (of whatever kind) to help inform a meaningful process.

Because of these areas, outside trainers often have to take on the emotional labor of the organization. In addition to “time and tasks,” the outside person also has to take on people’s fear, anger and hostility. When I work closely with organizations that are trying to get proximate to racial equity, for example, I have to absorb a lot of the white fragility of individuals. I have to take on the anger and resentment of others. I have to take on the smirks and the stares and the belligerence of members of your community. I have to take on being challenged academically, theoretically, and physically (yes, sometimes physically).

As dysfunctional as this is, sometimes the outside person has to take on the hostility of your community so that your community can move forward in this work.

What cost would you assign to that?

EXPERTISE AND EXPERIENCE. With over 22 years of experience in facilitation and, in particular, race work, there isn’t much left unseen for me. I’ve seen it, been in it, been a target of it, and lived through more than I care to share in this blog. For some facilitators, the cost includes that level of experience in the facilitation. At this point in my career, I have built up the tools, responses, and skills necessary to face just about any situation. Earlier in my career, I didn’t have as many tools nor as much practical experience. When you hear that facilitators and professionals have different fees, it could be because of what they are offering you in terms of skills, situations, and experience.

Now, let me be clear — PLEASE give people new to this field a chance. They, too, need experience and skill building. And, because you don’t get good at this work by just reading a book (side bar #3: please read all the books you can about this work. It actually does have theoretical and academic frameworks to it!), people do need experience. I often, often, often recommend new(er) folks when the situations and conditions are helpful for them to grow and learn.

NAME RECOGNITION AND DEMAND. Yes, there is something to say about name recognition and demand. Some facilitators are booked months in advance. Some can only take a few workshops at a time. People approach their fees in different ways. If a facilitator can only do 3 workshops in a month — and still has bills to pay and a mortgage — the workshops might be at a higher fee or price point than if a facilitator doesn’t have the same demands on their time. While some facilitators have a fixed fee (I do not), others can be more flexible depending on time of year, time of day, how many things they have booked that month or that week, etc. If you are working with a facilitator who has a flexible fee, ask if there are times where their fee might be slightly less than usual.

THE WORK IS WORK. Finally, for many facilitators, this is work. You get paid for your work (usually in the form of a salary) and many facilitators rely on their workshops to get paid. If you have the privilege of a salary, remember that you get a reliable deposit into your bank account every week or biweekly or monthly. That’s not how independent facilitators get paid — we get paid based on our workshops (and the swiftness of your business offices!). We do work, just like you do work.

I hope this provides some insight into what goes into the work of a facilitator, trainer, and educator in this work. This, of course, is just my experience and shouldn’t be broadly applied. Each facilitator has their own foundation, reasoning, and approach here, so don’t let me catch you sayin’, “Well, L-i-z-a said that…” Uh uh. No. Don’t do that. #keepitreal

h/t to AW who posted this on a facebook group :)

h/t to AW who posted this on a facebook group :)


Peace and love,
Liza

10 ACTIONS I CAN TAKE RIGHT NOW

The past few years days we have seen extensive struggle, hurt, pain and action in our communities. People have written to me, mostly from White allies, with their own reflections about feeling helpless and not sure where or how to start. My role as an activist-educator/educator-activist is often complicated by my personal commitment to justice and my professional identity as a teacher. While there is usually great synergy between the two, these identities ARE sometimes different.  Sometimes I want to respond as an activist; sometimes I am called to respond as an educator. I struggle with these nuances daily. And, I do believe that my fellow warrior-practitioners who work professionally in multicultural affairs experience this same type of discourse.

This post is a representation of my educator-lens and of my personal-identity lens. It is also a reflection, frankly, of my broken heart. Of a soul that has felt too much pain. Of energy that has simply been depleted. In my personal attempts at self-care, this specific post was written out of a deep need for healing.

I trust that, eventually, there will be posts written out of my deep need to get people off of their @$$es and into the streets.

If you have been struggling with how to personally engage in issues of justice and peace, these 10-steps may provide some guidance as to how to get started. For some, these are far too simplistic. For others, this is where we need to begin. Regardless of where we are in our identity development, let’s develop shared responsibility, shared humanity, and a commitment to walking this road together. 

  1. LISTEN. If you have not experienced this type of systematic violence personally, then listen. Listen to those who have. Listen to those who are from communities who have. Listen to those who continue to wake up each day wondering what type of aggressive act will be committed onto them. Listen not just to the words they are saying but to their body language, their faces, their arms, their hands, their eyes. Listen with your entire heart.
  1. BELIEVE. Believe that these systems of oppression exist. Believe that people experience them. Believe that people live within them. If you are new to this conversation, then believe that what someone is telling you is truth. You may not agree with their position, but believe that this is truth for that person. To believe someone’s truth means to suspend judgment. Believe in their reality, even if it is not consistent with your own. Their humanity is intertwined with your belief system.
  1. FEEL. Many communities have been hurt over and over again. Acknowledge what this type of built up frustration and anger feels like. Acknowledge that there is pain when hope is taken away. Give people space to experience a range of emotions. People can be numb one moment, angry another moment, sad/frustrated/depressed another moment. Some feel like they want to give up and others feel they need to take action. Those are real feelings, and they do not always make sense in a neat and tidy way.
  1. LEARN. Situations of injustice are much more complex than simply just issues of race, or power, or privilege, or violence, or frustration, or rioting, or rebellion. They are intersections and combinations of all of these and more. In order to avoid the trap of saying it is just one thing, make sure you have at least an understanding of how we are all products of a very long, diverse, and divergent past. Avoid traps that simplify pain, hurt and violence.
  1. RECOGNIZE. In situations of injustice, it is difficult to delineate individual responsibilities with systematic responsibilities. Sometimes they are different; sometimes they are so deeply embedded we fail to see the relationships. Recognize when stereotypes are being used as weapons. Recognize when stereotypes are used to explain. A good practice is to question whether ALL of any one group is being talked about or if it is INDIVIDUALS. Sometimes they are related, sometimes they are not. This can be one of the most difficult tasks because our nature is to find someone or something to blame; therefore, be mindful – and challenge others – about stereotypes.
  1. PARTICIPATE. Are there social movements happening in your town, city, college or organization? Participate. Learn what they are about (see all of the points above). For some, your identity may privilege you in this conversation. Use your privilege. Use your voice where others have been made voiceless.
  1. DO. I often use the analogy that guilt is like hunger. When I feel hungry, I do something. I feed it. Hunger, while a physical state, is also a feeling (note: I realize the food and class privilege embedded in that statement). I can do something about feeling hungry. I approach feelings of guilt the same way. I feed it with education. I feed it with the voices of others. I feed it by developing my own opinions. I feed it with action. I feed it with responsibility. Guilt slows me down. Guilt stops me. Guilt is a feeling, not an action. Acknowledge any guilt you may feel, and then do something with it and about it.
  1. DEMONSTRATE PATIENCE. We need change now. We needed change yesterday. As an activist- educator, I often straddle two worlds of action and education. As an activist, I seek movements where I am called to respond based on my commitment and belief in justice. As an educator, I am called to engage individuals at the door where they knock. For some, I am called to stand in solidarity, engage in feelings of anger and frustration, and develop a call to action. For others, I must listen and develop compassion for their own stages of understanding. This often means serving as an educator, serving as a teacher, and serving as “that person” who has to really break it down. I fight both of these identities daily, but these are even more heightened when my own emotions are on fire. Yet, I, and we, must demonstrate patience with how we share humanity. If I am to share in the humanity of someone who is struggling to understand what is going on, I must not just meet someone halfway, I must meet them where they are. This seems impossible some days; and those are the days where patience is most important.
  1. PAY ATTENTION. When we are in identities of privilege, we have the luxury of not noticing those who are oppressed. We simply cannot afford to do this. So, notice. Pay attention. One of the activities I have people do who participate in workshops is to “notice race.” That’s it. That’s the assignment. Notice race. Notice race (or insert other identities) when you wake up, when you leave for work or school or go out. Notice race wherever you are. Notice race in meetings, on television, at your exercise class. Notice race on the street, in your car, on the radio. Notice race on your walk, on the train. Notice when you have stopped noticing. Notice when you are tired of noticing. Pay attention to who and what is around you. Pay attention to how people are around you and how people are when they are going about their own day. Notice how you feel when you are noticing race. Then, ….
  1. TALK. Talk about it. Do not wait for these moments to talk about race or other identities. Do not wait until big moments of injustice or unrest. Do not wait until the emotions become confusing or angry or frustrated. Talk about it now. Talk about why you don’t talk about it. When my children were little and still unable to walk, I always told them to “look both ways when you cross the street.” I did not wait for them to be mobile. I did not wait for them to nearly get hit by a car, or after they have been hit by a car, to talk about crossing the street. I talked about it long before they could even fathom the action. And, even once they were mobile, I held their hand. Tightly at first, and then more loosely. And now, they cross the street all by themselves, looking both ways. Begin building responsibility around race and dialogue.

There are many more blogs and lists and resources out there that will provide you with much more concrete steps; however, my philosophy has always been that we have to truly reflect on who we are and why we are as a way to identify and act upon our commitments.

If you have opportunities to dialogue with others, or even if you want to reflect on your own journey, I encourage you to ask yourself "What were my earliest messages about race? About authority? How did I learn those messages? What does that mean for me today? How am I communicating it to others?"

In other news, if you are looking for more of an @$$kicking response to getting involved, I'm happy to, eventually, write about that, too. But, for now, let's figure out how to even just talk, learn, listen, and loosen the mind.

Peace and love,

Liza

The Golden Rule of Differences

I went to college about 90 minutes from where my parents lived. It was just close enough to visit during special occasions (acapella concerts, award nights, out to dinner, etc) but far enough that you had to plan on visiting. I loved my college, and my parents felt welcomed by my hall mates and friends. During every visit, there came a time when my dad would turn to me and say, "I have to use the bathroom. Can you stand outside?" Let me explain.

I went to a college where every bathroom in the residential spaces was co-ed. Yes, co-ed. There was anywhere between 3-5 toilet stalls and 3-5 shower stalls. That means I went to the bathroom next to a man. I often showered next to a man (in a different stall). I brushed my teeth next to a man. Even though I lived on an all-women's floor my first year, the bathroom was still considered co-ed.

This freaked out my dad. Even though the official college policy stated that it was fine that my dad used the bathroom (and it would have been fine if a woman then entered that bathroom), he couldn't do it. I had to wait outside of the bathroom and ask my hall mates if they could wait until my dad came out. And, because my dad was, again, so uncomfortable by this practice, he usually was only in that bathroom for less than a minute.

It's been over 12 years since I last used (with any frequency) a co-ed bathroom. While I'm pretty sure I am comfortable with the practice, it would probably feel a little strange to me the first few times if I had to be in that environment again. I'd get used to it, of course, but I'd be foolish to say that it wouldn't throw me off the first few times.

The past few weeks, my work life has been consumed with facilitating conversations about differences, respect, civility and inclusion. Along with my colleague, Donna, we've been in classes, hosted dialogue groups, and had conversations with students, faculty, staff, and administrators. While most are open to the conversation, we always get a handful who bring up this point: "Why do we have to talk about differences? Why can't we just treat everyone the same?"

Seems like a decent request, right? I mean, didn't we learn in kindergarten that we should "treat people like we want to be treated"? Golden rule.

At this point in our careers, that question doesn't throw us off anymore. Here is our response:

Golden Rule. Yes, we should treat one another the way we would want to be treated. No doubt.

Differences. Unfortunately, so many of us have been socialized to believe that being different is a bad thing. We need to start embracing that being different -- different from one another -- is a good thing.

The Golden Rule of Differences? Treat me the way you'd want to be treated -- like a person with your own unique personality, character, experience, identity, family, religion, ability, etc. I have a different set of finger prints, a different shade of eye color, a different height, body shape, and shoe size than you. I have a different family structure, favorite food, favorite song, and favorite shampoo brand than you do. I have a different car, size jeans, and number of siblings than you do.  And, all those things say something about me. They don't define me, no. However, they all impact who I am, decisions I make, and how I move around this world.  None of those aspects make me better than you, nor you me. Yet, they make me who I am.

You probably don't want to be just like me. In fact, you'd likely not want to use my pomegranate scented shampoo, drive my beat up old minivan, nor wear uncomfortable heels all day. You probably enjoy the scents you like, the car you drive, and the shoes you wear. So, wouldn't it be odd if I told you I was going to start treating you as if you were "the same as me?" Sounds so simple. Yet, when we substitute those basic interests with words like race, sexual orientation, religion, etc., individuals get tripped up over wanting to just "treat everyone the same."

I agree that we sometimes perpetuate these differences. After all, why should my dad feel strange entering into a public bathroom where there is a woman, especially when the college rules -- and that college's cultural norms -- explicitly say that it is okay? He felt that way because he sees a difference. He grew up socialized that men and women shouldn't share the same public bathroom. In fact, if  a man walks into a women's bathroom in a public space, he likely would have security escort him out of the building (after being detained and questioned).

Differences aren't a bad concept. Differences allow us to find our unique soul mate. They allow us to be attracted to one person over another. They allow us to mix up the genetic pool. In my family's case, differences in genetics have given my children a 50/50 chance of inheriting any combination of genetic mutations. Differences allow us to be interesting, intriguing, and insightful. They allow us to argue, disagree, and reshape our experiences. Calling attention to our differences is only negative if we can't see the value in being different from one another.

My Golden Rule of Differences: Treat others as you would like to be treated; like an individual who can contribute in ways that make our world a better, brighter, and more interesting place to live, learn and grow. Be different. Embrace difference. See the importance of difference. Learn from difference.

POST NOTE: I'm actually a big fan of gender neutral bathrooms for a few reasons: 1) gender neutral bathrooms often have a baby changing table which means my cute husband can't use the "there is no changing table in the men's room!" excuse when baby has a poop-diaper; 2) gender neutral bathrooms means hubby and/or I can take all of the kids into the bathroom (boy/girls) without worrying about comments, and 3) gender neutral bathrooms allow for an option for individuals who identify as transgender to use a bathroom without fear of judgment about their gender identity.

New Demographic Offering

Carmen VanKerckhove, brilliant speaker, writer, and President of New Demographic, is offering a free teleseminar on Wednesday. Definitely check it out! She is the amazing woman who started Racialicious! and Anti-Racist Parent -- two blogs that I visit nearly every single day. Here is the information for the free teleseminar:

http://www.newdemographic.com/teleseminardcs.htm

If your organization is anything like the ones I’ve worked with over the past five years, it’s dealing with a serious case of diversity fatigue.

You probably hear groans of exasperation every time a diversity training session is announced. Your boss, who claims to be so committed to advancing diversity, has somehow managed to skip every single diversity council meeting this year. Your organization’s big diversity event of the year is so old-school and irrelevant (ethnic food potluck, anyone?) that it has become the laughing stock of the staff.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Deep down inside, you know there’s a better way to “do” diversity in 2009. You know the old approach is broken. You know that if your organization truly wants to recruit and retain top talent of color, it needs to overhaul the way it thinks about race and diversity.

But exactly which changes should your organization make? And what can you do personally to help?

Good news: I’m ready to share with you exactly what you need to know on this free first-time teleseminar happening on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm Eastern…

“The 3 Biggest Diversity Blunders Your Organization Could Be Making Right Now (And How to Avoid Them)”

Sign up to reserve your line for this FREE call today!

On this 60-minute call, you’ll learn:

  • Why your colleagues are right to scoff at diversity training — it actually doesn’t work! I’ll show you why not, and let you know what does work instead.
  • Why your organization’s executives should never proclaim that they’re colorblind and that they “just don’t notice race,” unless they want to offend a lot of their employees.
  • The one thing your organization must avoid at all costs unless you want its diversity efforts to fail spectacularly.

You know by now that I’m not going to waste your time by giving you fluff information.

This free call is chock-full of specific information that will show you exactly why your organization hasn’t become the leader in diversity it wants to be. Then, I’ll give you the resources to change that around so that you can help your organization gain a crucial competitive edge by recruiting and retaining top diverse talent.

No matter what your current situation is, I guarantee you’ll get at least one golden nugget during this never-before-offered call. Remember, it’s FREE - a new year’s gift from me.

Limited lines are available for this call, so you’ll want to make sure you reserve your spot right away.

Reserve your line for this FREE teleseminar now!

Inexpensive Multicultural Gifts

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

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

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

Hyperion and Jump At the Sun (JATS) books

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

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

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

Teaching For Change books (www.teachingforchange.org)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Reverse Racism?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, yes, we can all be prejudice.

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

"Reverse racism" - a way to ignore white privilege

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

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

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

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 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
 

22 

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."

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.

What Makes Them Whole

There are so many times when I've wanted to give up the fight against racism. There are many of my friends and a few of my favorite bloggers who have. There are days when I sit at work thinking, "Is this worth it? Can we really heal? Can we really learn? Move forward?" There are days when I want to scream, "I quit." Thankfully, I know that there is at least one week during my race-filled year when I do recharge and when I am humbled. This past week, I spent our 2nd visit to Camp Sunshine, a retreat camp for families with children with life threatening illnesses. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer just a few weeks after her 2nd birthday. It rocked our world. It changed our lives. She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma - a rare eye cancer that resulted in the removal of her right eye, 6 months of chemotherapy, and dozens upon dozens of doctor's appointments, hospitalizations, and tests.

I tend to link disability activism with racism activism because I believe that, at it's core, our goal is to raise children who treat others like human beings in this world.

Coming to camp has been a fantastic experience because "camp" is the place where we all feel normal for a week. Retinoblastoma children get to be in the majority. They get to experience privilege. They get to experience power. Confidence. Support. Every family that attends that week has been affected by retinoblastoma. Some children have both their eyes, having sucessfully treated their cancer with laser, radiation, or chemotherapy. Some children have lost one of their eyes. Some children have lost both of their eyes and navigate our sighted world completely blind. Each family has a slightly different story, but at the heart of our experiences is cancer in our children. Families from all over the country fly in to be together, to heal, to relax, and to be in the majority for a week.

One of the many things that I find interesting about coming to camp is that race, ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, and gender all seem to fade away. It's a place where people find that they are bonded by their experiences with cancer, rather than the identity labels we are faced with outside of this little heaven. For most of my year, I talk about race, diversity, sexism, etc., and for this one week, none of that even enters into my mind. We are all united by cancer. Our conversations are guided around the "cancer lens" through which we all see the world. And, for many of us, that cancer lens has given us a strong faith in the human spirit.

For 51 weeks out of the year, my daughter lives in the numeric minority. She is different than any other child she plays with at school and at home. She doesn't interact with any other children with a prosthetic eye; and, outside of the hospital, we never meet any other children her age with cancer. Camp is where she feels normal, where she is in the numeric majority. Camp is where she doesn't have to worry about dumb things people say when they notice she only has one eye. She doesn't have to worry about what people will say if there is goop on her eye or if her prosthesis happens to pop out while she is rubbing it. Camp is where kids talk freely about chemotherapy, about their "special eyes", and about their radiation. And, camp is where, if they choose, they don't ever have to talk about it at all.

Camp is also where my daughter learns how to interact with children who are differently abled. She has made fast friends with two girls , Tally and Miley, who both lost their sight at around age 7 from reoccurances with retinoblastoma. Through their stubborness and their insistence that they not be perjoratively treated as "blind kids", Tally and Miley defy stereotypes. They defy preconceived notions about blind children. They set a new standard, a new "normal", and a new understanding of how high our children can soar if we give them wings rather than weights. Tally barrel races horses in her homestate of Texas. Miley plays softball on a sighted team (and, when given the option of having a "beeping sound" signal an approaching softball, she made the officials turn off the beeping because it was annoying her!). Parents and kids watch in awe as these two little blind girls actually lead each other around hand-in-hand through the camp grounds (which, yes, gives new meaning to "the blind leading the blind.").

At first, my daughter was afraid of Tally and Miley with their white canes and the blank, unresponsive look in their eyes (they both wear prosthetic eyes). But, Joli really wanted to make friends with these two girls. When the girls would walked by, Joli would wave at them and, in her smallest voice, say "hi." This happened a number of times, but I just watched to see how she would respond, react, and adapt to her method of "waving hello" to a couple of blind girls. Eventually, Joli grew discouraged and their unreciprocated "hello" and said to me, "Mommy, I don't think I like Tally and Miley - they never say hello to me. I don't want to be friends with them." We had to explain to her that "they can't see you waving to them, Joli. You have to actually say 'Hello, Tally and Miley! This is Joli and I am in front of you waving.'"

Simple, right? Right.

We practiced saying, "Hello, Tally and Miley! This is Joli saying HI to you!" Joli tried that method the next time she saw Tally and Miley. They, of course, said "Hello, Joli!" and were so excited to make a new friend. Tally and Miley began to feel Joli's hands, her face, her coarse curly hair, and her glases. They also felt Joli's smile that was stretched from ear-to-ear in pure happiness! Since that day, the girls have been inseparable and even keep in touch during the school year. It was that easy....

This year, our second daughter was now old enough to experience camp with her sister. Of course, the first kids we saw when we pulled up to camp were Tally and Miley. Joli hopped out of the car, announced she was there and invited the girls to touch her -- feeling the change in her height, the shape of her new Hannah Montana glasses, and her tight braids that stretched from the front of her head to the back. Once the girls reacquainted themselves, Joli brought her 2-year old sister, Jada, over to meet the girls. When Jada first saw Tally and Miley, she kind of freaked out. They were touching her face, touching her hair, and "seeing" Jada with their hands. I watched Jada's body tense up and tears well in her eyes. Joli felt it, too. Joli, the now experienced 4-year-old-big sister, held Jada's hand and, in her most delicate way, explained what Tally and Miley were doing. Jada stopped crying. Jada stood still. Jada touched back.

Camp is special for me for so many reasons. This time around, though, it helped renew my faith in our children - for whom many of us parents/teachers/counselors/friends want to raise in an anti-racist world. As I re-read my post, I mentally substituted words related to blindness and disabilities with words that are related to race and anti-racism. It's amazing to me the connection between what we experience as a family with a differently abled child and as a family with race and ethnicity at our core.

Through both lenses, we constantly learn and reinforce valuable lessons about treating people as humans. We learned valuable lessons about making mistakes and finding ways to move beyond them. We teach and learn that sometimes we can control how we interact with others (saying "HELLO" to a blind person) and how sometimes we have no control over a situation (a healthy toddler being diagnosed with cancer). We learn that kids sometimes do know better than we do. We learn that kids make the same pre-judgements that we do, and that kids can also quickly learn how to challenge those pre-judgements. We witness that our children are more adaptable than we are. And, they are often more resilient than we are, too.

My daughters and their friends many not necessarily think about living in an anti-racist way. They just want to make a new friend. They just want to be treated kindly. They want to have the same opportunities as others have, and they truly want to share their happiness. Learning from my children gives me hope. On those days when I get so discouraged having encoutered a racist person, a racist practice, and an unjust system, I think back to those first moments when my kids met Tally and Miley - how hard it was to feel left out and how easy it was to make a friend. They don't see one another despite their disabilities, they see one another in light of their disabilities. They have seen beauty in being different. And they know that different is what makes them whole.

Is Privilege Offensive?

privilegeI experience privilege. I am college educated. I have a steady, salaried job. I am heterosexual. I have a house and a mortgage. Two cars. Two kids. One dog. I am able bodied. My husband and I are married. Both of my parents are still alive and well. I have health insurance. I have privilege.And, as a young woman of color, I also experience oppression.

While at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, I engaged in wonderfully challenging and critically affirming discussions over the course of 5 full days (I'm talking 8:00am-10:00pm!) about race, ethnicity, power, privilege, oppression, advocacy, and activism. I love browsing the exhibitor area of conferences because it helps me to build my toolbox for Teaching Diversity in a Diversity Free Zone. One of the exhibitors was for the White Privilege Conference (which I fully intended on going to next year). They were selling "Got Privilege?" shirts and sweatshirts, of which I happily purchased two - one for my friend and one for me.

"Got privilege?"

My friend wore his shirt to work, a rather liberal elementary school in a wealthy suburb of Boston. A few of his co-workers had seen the shirt slogan before or had attended the White Privilege Conference themselves and knew what it was all about. Some of his co-workers even owned the shirt, too. While waiting in the lunch line, my friend was confronted by a co-worker of European heritage who read his shirt and loudly said, "Got privilege? Of course you can wear that! What a double standard! If I wore that, I wouldn't hear the end of it!"

"Huh?," asked my Puerto Rican friend. "What do you mean?" just hoping to get his helping of school-lunch chicken nuggets and potato puffs.

The next few minutes were quite ugly. The co-worker proceeded to tell him how offensive his shirt was, how she didn't think that his offensive shirt had any place in an educational setting.

I believe my friend replied with "Are you kidding me?"

The rest of the story finds the white person going to different groups of people, pointing at my friend, and angrily shaking her head with her eyebrows saying, "Can you believe he would wear a shirt like that?" from across the room.

Thankfully, there are aware people in those groups who told responded with, "There isn't anything wrong with his shirt."

Privilege. Is it really an ugly word? Why is it so difficult for people to realize and accept that they have privilege? Does having privilege mean people are bad? Selfish? Close-minded?

In my experience, it is just the opposite. Recognizing privilege, owning up to your privilege and then actively identifying ways in which we institutionally disempower those without privilege gives us tools in our toolbox. It helps us to call attention to ways in which we play into systems of oppression. It awakens our sense of responsibility and turns on the voice in our hearts to call for change.

The quote on the back of one of the "Got Privilege?" shirts reads: "If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen to side with the oppressor." This is important to understanding how we can build an Anti-Racist family, community, school, etc. By understanding the benefits we experience as a result of our privilege, we can begin to understand those who are oppressed by our privilege. Throughout the posts and comments on Anti-Racist Parent, there are many of us who find ourselves at a loss for words when we see someone oppressing another. And, many of us have been on the receiving end of those hurtful remarks, insensitive comments, or complete lack of acknowledgment. But, have we actively thought of our own ways in which we oppress others?

As parents and educators, I believe there is a fine line between understanding systems of privilege/oppression and guilt. I do not feel guilty for having two living parents. I do not feel guilty for working towards home ownership. I do not feel guilty for being in a heterosexual marriage. I do not feel guilty for having two children and one dog. I do not feel guilty for having 5 more years to pay off my graduate student loans. Having privilege does not equal feeling guilty. However, owning the fact that I experience privilege forces me to open my eyes to the ways in which systems of oppression and institutionalized -isms keep others from achieving. "Knowledge is power" and knowing my privilege calls me to find ways to support humanity that is valued. Peggy McIntosh, who wrote the influential piece "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", discussed the importance of recognizing and analyzing the types of advantages Whites have simply for having white skin (or, 'peach', as my daughter calls it). In my life, I believe the same goes for the other ways (class, sexual identity, marriage status, education, ownership, health, etc) in which I experience privilege as a woman of color. We all carry around these unspoken Member ID Cards that allow us into these exclusive systemized clubs. But, do we belong to these clubs at the expense of others? At the expense of another's humanity?

As parents and as anti-racists, we must actively participate in a process where every human has a right to not only yearn for life, liberty, and happiness but to actually achieve it. For those looking for practical ways to educate ourselves, our children, and our students, I came across a great website, Understanding Prejudice, that has activities and resources for many age levels. Many of their tools can be put into your "diversity toolbox!"

So, is privilege offensive? How do you teach your child about privilege in your life?

What Am I First?

What am I first?by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liza Talusan (originally posted on Anti-Racist Parent)

My children seem to have a knack for asking me really deep, thought-provoking questions at the most inconvenient times. Usually this is when we are racing out the door, late for school/work/day care. This time, it happened on the way to driving my sister, a kulingtan musician, to teach at a cultural school in Boston.

“Mommy, what am I?” says my 4 1/2 year old daughter, Joli, from the backseat of the car.

“What do you mean, ‘what are you?’” I ask, as I glance into my rear view mirror for a hint of meaning on her face.

“Like, what kind of kid am I? Okay, Filipino. But, then… then.. what’s the other kind of kid I am?”

“Puerto Rican? Do you mean Puerto Rican and Filipino? Daddy is Puerto Rican. Mommy is Filipino. So, that makes you Puerto Rican AND Filipino.” “But, Mommy, what am I FIRST? Am I Puerto Rican FIRST or am I Filipino FIRST?”

“You’re BOTH first,” I reply, with echos of my mentors on biracial identity models and child development theorists prominently ringing in my ears.

“Will Daddy get mad if I want to be Filipino FIRST?” says Joli in a voice barely loud enough for me to hear her.

“Honey, you are not something FIRST, you are both ALL THE TIME.” “Well, don’t tell Daddy, okay, Mommy? But, I’m going to be Filipino first.”

(cue my breaking anti-racist heart!)

With nearly all of my friends and extended family members identifying as biracial or multiracial — but being neither of those myself — I am very sensitive to situations that individuals find themselves in when it comes to the “choosing” question. I knew that external influences would eventually lead my children to ask the questions. I just didn’t think one of them would ask me questions at age 4 1/2!

Joli seemed fairly happy with my assertion that she is both all the time. I engaged my husband that night in conversations about where she might be getting these messages. I’m quite confident that my family — made up of all interracial couples and children — isn’t giving her the message that she must choose or prioritize. In her diverse pre-school, I have to imagine that they are not giving her those message either. Dora? Sesame Street (given Deesha’s recent post)? Or is it some of those awful Disney shows that we allow her to watch, but only with a parent watching with her?

As a newly affirmed Anti-Racist Parent, I still can’t help but wonder how much influence or environmental control we really have in our children’s lives. I truly admire Joli’s inquisitiveness and maturity about her complex identity, yet it was hard to hear it from a child of an “anti-racist parent.” Since that day, I’ve grown more aware of Joli’s comments about differences she sees in her world. Just the other night as I was brushing Joli’s and Jada’s hair, Joli made the comment that Jada had “prettier hair” (4-year old interpretation: Joli has thick curly hair like my husband; Jada has wavy, loose hair like me). While much of this can be the typical sibling rivalry, I do read into it as a reflection of her growing awareness of her multiracial identity.

I’ve been more aware of Joli sticking up for other people and other lifestyles. The other day, when reading a bedtime story of a family with a mother, father and child, Joli said to me, “You know, Mom. Not everyone’s family is like that family. Some kids have two moms, some kids have no moms, some kids have two dads, some have different types of skin…. that’s important to know.”

(cue my cheering anti-racist heart!)

I have to remind myself that raising my own awareness, that of my family, and that of others is why I do the work I do — why I live the way I live. There are moments of great heartache, moments of great joy; but there are always opportunities for learning and understanding.

And, that is why anti-racist parenting — whether as parents of children, of a community, or of our world — is not a means to an end but a process full of life and meaning. It’s a process that is fluid and malleable. It’s a commitment, a lifestyle, a mantra, a prayer. It is both an outlook and an outreach. Times when I am uncomfortable confronting a racist joke, disabling a racist conversation, or challenging a racist decision, I am awakened to the fact that I am my children’s best teacher. They will make decisions based on what they have seen me do, ways that they have seen me act, and words they have heard me say. If I am to be their best teacher, I need to also be their best student.

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.

Critical Mass or Culturally Inclusive

Critical Mass or Culturally Inclusive Working at a predominantly white institution (PWI), the conversation of how to increase diversity is at the center of our planning. But, I'm often asked, "What do we do?" In my opinion, there are 2 camps: those who believe that we must do all we can to obtain a critical mass, or a 'magic number' where students of color no longer are marginalized due to their numbers; and there are those who believe we must first create an environment that is welcoming and ready for the group of students (in our case, students of color).

I belong to the second camp... and often advocate for the need to change and transform our current community.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Stonehill shares characteristics that many colleges our size, location, identity, etc., share. We are not unique. Unfortunately, not at all. We are one of many, many colleges that struggle to diversify the student body, administration and faculty.

I'm often asked to find ways to increase the number of students of color at Stonehill. I do it. But, I do it with hesitation. While I'd love to see more faculty, staff and students of color here, I know what they will face. I know what they're up against.

For the most part, the community is interested in diversity. They welcome the opportunity to work with diverse groups of people. They realize that we are not getting a rich and dynamic conversation without diversity. Diversity is a top priority in our strategic plan, in our office's mission, in the mission inherent in our Catholic identity. While we welcome the opportunity, do we welcome the students?

The "critical mass" camp asserts that we must have more people of color here in order to begin the conversations that will transform our community. That, without a critical mass, students will always feel like "tokens". Without a critical mass, students will always be singled out to speak for the entire community.

As you can tell, I believe that if we bring a critical mass to an environment that isn't culturally inclusive, we're asking for trouble. We can expect even more stereotypes. We can expect even more culturally insensitive comments in classrooms.

I equate this example to the rickety porch at my dad's house - it was built years ago, has been greatly weathered, and lacks sturdy posts. Some of the floor boards have nails sticking out. Back when it was built, that porch was the best spot in the house. We ate on a big picnic table on the porch, hung out with our friends on that porch, and had some of the best conversations out on that porch. Sometime, about 5-7 years ago, we all just stopped going out onto the porch. It began to feel weak. It began to feel unsafe. And, now, no ones goes near it. We are afraid that, if someone steps on it, it will collapse. We are often afraid that it will crumble underneath us. And, while the porch could certainly hold about 2-3 people, we would never even think about putting more than that on there.

The rickety porch, to me, represents a culturally insensitive environment. The group of people is my critical mass. Before I invite a critical mass, or guests to my dad's house, over, I would want to reinforce the community -- reinforce that porch.

Ring in. What are your thoughts? Culturally sensitive environment .... critical mass...?