Planting in a Drought

It is my daughter's 11th birthday. 

And, as she reminds us, she was born on Earth Day.

While we were anticipating some requests for technology or an overly priced gift, our daughter turned to us and said, "All I want for my birthday is to plant a garden." And so, with her grandmother, we went to our local garden store and let her have the run of the planting aisles. She picked the soil, the containers, the seeds, and supplies. When she celebrated with her few friends, they came over with gardening gloves, a bright purple watering can, and some sunscreen. 

We stayed up late that night, mixing soil and water and creating a mess in our dining room. We poked seeds into the containers and she crafted beautiful labels for each seed case. 

We laid them all on our dining room floor, eagerly awaiting for the sun to come out during an extended, dreary New England spring. 

I left for a business trip, carefully rolling my luggage between the cases of plants. As I rushed off to the airport, I saw patches of dirt still sprinkled along the dining room floor. 

After a few days, I came home and rolled my luggage back into the dining room. I was stunned by the little containers of dirt that now had bright, green, fragile sprigs. 

My work -- traveling and having difficult conversations about race, identity, privilege and power -- are much like these little plants. It's messy. It's dirty. You get covered with stuff. You take this tiny little seed -- some no bigger than a crumb -- and hope you tucked them into the right spot in the soil. Oh, and that soil? Yeah, it has to be good. It has to be soil that is full of nutrients. It has to be soil that is ready to accept this little seed. You have to water it. You have to give it just the right amount of sun. 

You have to not trample on it.

In our home, the conditions for those little plants were perfect. We paid attention to it -- just like we pay attention to issues of identity. We get dirty. We wait patiently. We believe that the seed will transform.

But, what happens when you plant in a drought? What happens when you plant, only to have it bulldozed? What happens when you water it just right but leave it out in the torrential rain? 

Identity work is hard. That's why I do it. I'm not afraid of talking about race or privilege or power. I know that others are. But, I am not. I am not afraid of the dirt and the hard work. I'm not afraid of the care that it takes to help things grow. 

I plant in a drought.

I plant these seeds of knowledge, even when they are tough, because I believe in what's to come. I believe in the fruit of this labor. 

While there are people who are content throwing poison on the plants, or who fail to have patience to see what will grow, I still plant. 

The other night, I went to a concert featuring my friend, Tom Smith. And, he played this song. It hit so close to home that I had to force myself not to listen. In a room of strangers, I wasn't ready to cry or sway or break down - even though this song does that so easily to me. I needed to come home, listen to it privately, and just let it wash over me. 

Plant in a drought. Plant even when the machines are buzzing and whirring ready to destroy your work. Plant. Plant and believe that there is life in this work. 

Peace and planting,

Liza

 

 

PODCASTS I NEED YOU TO LISTEN TO

hello friends,

I have been writing quite a bit on the "Park School Voices" blog so I'm not going to just copy and paste. Please visit that blog for some helpful resources.

This morning, I went running with my friend Lisa. And, while we usually chat the entire time, I had asked her to bring her headphones and listen to some podcasts. Lisa, like many of my friends, is a White woman who is deeply committed to justice. And, yet, I still needed and wanted her to listen to some podcasts. Thankfully, she agreed. 

Further, while Lisa and I only planned on being out for a little while, that "quick run" turned into 4 miles because we kept turning to each other saying, "I want to listen to more of this podcast. Can we keep going?" I even found myself making more than a suggestion to her. "Lisa, I need you to download these. I need you to listen to these." 

So, friends, I wanted to just use this space to list some Podcasts that have gotten me through the past few weeks. I need and want my White friends to listen to these. I hope that my friends of color find comfort in hearing other voices of color in these. 

While I have been looking forward to my morning runs for the past two months, I found myself in a very strange situation the morning after the Dallas shootings. I had my sneakers on, my running jacket zipped, and my dog's leash ready to go. Instead of opening the front door, I sat on the stairs. I leaned my head against the wall. I cried. My body felt like stone. My heart was pounding. My breath was shallow. I felt overwhelmed with sadness. I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness. 

Then I remembered, this is how racism wins. This is how racism-induced stress wins. This is how people die. 

I picked myself up. Dried my tears. Walked out the door. 

My morning run turned into a morning walk. A long morning walk. I needed to feel air rush through my lungs. I needed to feel the sun on my face. I needed to feel the wind dry my tears-stained face. 

I needed to be. 

That's that. 

Some of you have asked what I listen to during my morning runs. I listen to these podcasts. 

Thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for all your notes and messages asking if me, and my communities, are okay. Thanks for asking for resources and getting me back on the writing track. And thank you for helping us all to move forward. 

Peace and podcasts, 

Liza

Podcasts you can/should/must download

Invisibilia --  all of these  not because they talk about race, but because they focus on the hidden forces in our lives. 

Code Switch - all of these because I have actually stopped mid-run and applauded

This American Life - Birds and the Bees "If You See Something, Say Something" 

This American Life - Three Miles and Harper High School (parts 1 and 2) because they made me rethink schools as an oppressive structure

 

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

A Day without Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween: A free pass to be racist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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?