BECAUSE I AM NOT (Kelly Osborne version)

It's been a while since I've watched daytime TV. Okay, it's been about a decade. But, the formula certainly hasn't changed in those years. Every so often, my world of race and racism collide with something on daytime TV. And, today I caught this one about Rosie Perez and Kelly Osborne (thanks to Michael Pina who posted it originally).

Certainly, read the whole thing if you like. But, here is the very brief version:

  • Kelly Osborne made a remark about Donald Trump and his references to Mexicans, the border, etc. Cool. Love it. Until she says this, "If you kick every Latino out of the country, then who is going to clean your toilets, Donald Trump."
  • Ouch. Ooooh. No she didn't.
  • Rosie Perez, famed Puerto Rican movie star and co-host of The View, calls her out on her shit.
  • Kelly gets flustered, backtracks, freaks out, they go to commercial.
  • During commercial, executives swarm upon Rosie Perez saying she must apologize to Kelly Osborne. (now, read that sentence again...)
  • Perez concedes. Not only apologizes but really does quite a big apology. Then goes to Twitter and apologizes.
  • Osborne writes this:

Screenshot 2015-08-12 10.02.29

So, props, Kelly. You apologized and took responsibility. So, why, then... oh why ... are you not identifying that your comments are a result of racism, racialized systems, our racialized understanding of Latinos (and, specifically in this example, Mexicans), and the problematic assumptions that have been ingrained in us about an entire racial and ethnic group?

Why couldn't she just end with "... for my poor choice of words." End. Done. Tweet that shit.

I was taught from a very early age that to use to term "BUT" in an apology simply undermines the apology. BUT, she ends with that part about NOT apologizing for being racist... because, you know, she is NOT.

Whatevs. I, like, half expected that.

But, why do we have such a problematic understanding of the word racist.

How do we even begin to untangle these feelings around the word "racist?"

A few years ago, I was leading a discussion group on race and racism (okay, I lie.... I could never have called it a group on race and racism. We had to call it a "diversity discussion group" for all of the problematic reasons you can come up with on your own). A White, middle aged man began by saying, "My name is _____ and I am a recovering racist."

The room went silent. So did I.

I began to think, "He's a recovering racist?? What the heck had he done in his life? Who did he beat up? Who did he lynch? Who did he spit on at a lunch counter?" Why? Because, even for me, the word racist brings up a limited library of images.

I think he sensed that the entire room was wondering the same thing. So, he added, "I'm racist because I participate in a system that has given me, as a White man, every advantage I could ever want while keeping people of color on the margins. I'm recovering because, every single day that I wake up, I need to actively remind myself of this because it's too easy to forget. I have to commit to myself, every day, that every move I make is because I benefit from racism."

Every day he does this.

No one makes him. No one asks him to. Heck, our world is even BUILT around the idea that he should never need to.

And, yet he does. Every day. He reminds himself that he is a recovering racist.

As it did to me, the word racist elicits a particular type of physical, visible, and deadly violence. And, we have seen far too often how racism continues to do that today.

But, racist also reminds us that there is entire system that is working so beautifully -- so well -- that when we use the term racist, all we can see is one image and fail to see the subtle, tiny ways in which the system keeps going.

I'm sure Kelly Osborne does not believe, in her heart and soul, that "if there were no Latinos in the country, no one would clean the toilets." Maybe I'm giving her too much credit, but I have to believe that in order to wake up in this world. Having worked in this capacity with many White people who are trying to untangle their ideas about (and connection to) racism, I know that her comments are a result of many moving parts. She said that comment because of her earliest messages about Latinos; because of a racialized system that does disproportionately marginalize many people of color (of many different ethnic and racial groups) in areas such as (but certainly not limited to) economic advancement, educational opportunities, legalized status, and employment; because of a financial status that allowed her to even make comments about other people cleaning your own toilet; and because of a system of racism that keeps it all invisible.

And, yes, Kelly Osborne, because of all of those things -- largely none caused by you as a single individual but rather a system of things that are put in place long before you were even born -- your comment was racist. Just own it so that we can move past it with confidence that you won't do it again -- not because you worry about what people will say about you, but because what you will no longer believe.

Peace, love, and because I am not tired of the fight,

Liza

Changing the Complexion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YES. THEY COULD BE SWIMMING.

Is There a Right Way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think/Don't Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SKY IS FALLING... THE SKY IS FALLING

By guest blogger, Jeff G.

 We all know the story of Chicken Little and how the moral of the story is to not always believe everything you hear.  For many of us, this can be quite difficult because we are taught from a very early age to take information at face value (i.e. – teachers, media, family members, etc.).  At the very least, most of us go from grades K-12 without questioning our sources of information.  For some of us, we reach a point in our lives where we learn that we have to dig a little deeper to find the truth.

 

For me, that point came very early in my college career…I remember that day so vividly because it was the day that forced me to strip away my foundation and anything I ever learned about “our” great country…America.

 

I was sitting at brunch with one of my fellow RAs and one of my friends from Afghanistan.  Wanting to know why we received the day off from classes, my friend asked me, “Why do Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus?” Everything that I learned in school rushed through my mind:

 

§  Columbus sailed the world to prove it was not flat.  So he hopped aboard the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria…He DISCOVERED America and everyone was happy.

§  Europeans fled mother land in order to escape religious persecution.  They decided to come to America.  When reaching a giant rock (Plymouth Rock…kind of like the back in the colonial day version of Ellis Island) they realized that the land was inhabited by “Indians.”

§  Europeans turned into Pilgrims

§  The Indians loved the Pilgrims and they had a nice dinner together…we call this Thanksgiving.

§   John Smith married Pocahontas…Disney made millions.

§  America went through a revolutionary war, signed the Declaration of Independence, and called America our own.

§  Colonial America continued to grow in the name of Manifest Destiny…

§  Native Americans lost their land, still had Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, but now lived on reservations sanctioned by the Government.

 

Then it hit me…

 

Everything I had learned in school had been a bunch of bullshit lies or half truths.  I had been spoon fed American propaganda that all of my American brothers and sisters (Africans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans) learned during their education.  America, according to several generations of white leadership, was a country built off people looking for a new beginning; people with hopes and dreams. 

 

The fact of the matter is that Columbus, during his “discovery” of America, enslaved the natives and killed them if they could not provide him with what he wanted…which was gold.  Europeans followed suit, leaving their country to escape from being oppressed and persecuted.  They came to America, killed off the natives, and claimed the land in name of Manifest Destiny.  America, the land of opportunity and freedom, was built off of oppression, greed, and bigotry…and according to our teachers…God wanted it this way. 

 

Hmmm…really?  So…God’s message is to spread hate and kill others in his/her name?  That is nonsense.  That would be like if George W. Bush used God as an excuse to invade Iraq (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1007-03.htm).

 

I hope you are catching on to my sarcasm because I’m laying it on pretty thick.

 

In all seriousness…

 

Our entire history consists of oppressing various groups in order to get ahead.  We have been conditioned as Americans to believe that it is our right to live our lives as the oppressors.  We are apathetic in our approach to create a society that strives for equality and unity of all races, sexes, and religions.  These are the seeds that were sewn by our founding fathers; seeds that have grown and been cultivated to represent “our” country and who we are, as Americans, today.

 

How are we supposed to educate our children about things like racism and hatred when we refuse to accept the fact that “our” country was built off of those exact values?  How do we overcome issues of systematic oppression when we fail to question the “truth” we have been given? 

 

No, the sky is not falling, but we do continue to set our future generations up for failure by providing them with the same apathy and social ignorance that has been instilled in us.  Now, more so than ever before, we need to shift directions and take action; not only to educate our youth, but also to pave the way for them. 

 

As the Native American proverb goes, “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”  It is time to live by the words “our” country’s Natives spoke.  Let us retrace our steps and learn from our past so that we may create a new path for our future.

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

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

"An Open Letter to White Voters"

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

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

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

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

Are You Kidding Me?

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

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

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

Really, ya think?

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the people in your network?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing the point, yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Great Parenting Post

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

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

 

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!

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.