Beyond "WHO IS" and into "I AM"

Having worked in schools my entire career, I always look forward to one particular event that seems to be common practice in the elementary and middle grades: the biography project. I distinctly remember my own when I was a child. I was in the 7th grade and researched a military dictator in an African country (I can’t even bear to write this leader’s name). Here’s the thing: I remember almost every single line of my 2 minute speech. I can actually recite this to you 31 years later.

But, here’s my question: Why the f*ck did I research this person? He is horrible. Atrocious. Did terrible things to his people. But, guess what - my report had nothing to do with that.

As an adult, looking back upon that report, I had absolutely no context for who this dictator was. I had no idea what words like “kleptocracy” or “nepotism” meant. And, certainly, there wasn’t a single adult who took the time to really digest with me all of the ways in which this leader engaged in violence and murder. No, all I remember was that “he was a leader” of “this particularly country” and that I had to do a 2-minute report.

Now, as an adult, I can’t imagine assigning this dictator without diving into lots of contexts with students. As a teacher today, I would have talked in great detail about violence, crimes, and the dangers of leaders. I would never be so neutral. I would have made it clear that even a single person with power can do terrible things. And, I would encourage my students to also know that a single person with power can also do great things.

Though my own biography project was a failed experiment, today, I love being an audience member, sitting in the too-tiny chairs of a 2nd grade classroom with half my rear-end hanging off of the edge of the chair, and bearing witness to the joy and the nerves of young people with their props, their fake mustaches, and their index cards in hand.

As I worked closely with elementary school teachers who wanted to lean further into diversity, equity, and inclusion, we knew the Biography Project was a great place to start. For some teachers, they started by adding more people of color into the current list of choices. My friend Caren (*pseudonym) took it a step further: “This time around, for the Biography Project, I didn’t offer any historical figures who were White. No. They learn about White people all the time. Everywhere. In every single class. For this one project, this one moment in their learning, they were going to learn about a person of color.” Caren was terrified of the pushback she’d get from parents and families. Together, we played through scenarios of white fragility, white anger, and even prepared for some white rage. We prepared her comments ranging from “Um, Ms. Caron? Yeah, why can’t my child research George Washington or Helen Keller?” to “Wait, so you are going to push your liberal agenda on my 2nd grader??” We role played it all.

A few times, Caron almost backed out. “I know it’s important, Liza, but I just don’t think I’m strong enough to stand up to parents who don’t think this is important.”

The big day came for Caron to send out the biography project directions. She waited. And waited. And waited. Not a single parent pushed back (at least not publicly). The next day rolled around and her students began choosing their person to research.

That was the greatest Biography Project Day ever. That day, I got to hear presentations of about 14 people of color. Then, I went to the next classroom and heard 14 more — some of the same, but some new ones.

While I have been watching other people’s children do their biography projects over the years, I was so excited when it was my turn. My child was finally getting to do the Biography Project! Oh, you know I was excited!

I eagerly waited for my child to get off of the bus and asked him, “Okay! So, who did you choose? Who are you going to research?”

He replied, “Well. I’m kind of sad about this, Mom.”

I thought, “Maybe someone picked the person he wanted and he had to choose someone different.”

“Son, why are you sad?”

He replied, “Well, my teacher said that we should pick from the Who Is? series. And, well, I just didn’t see any about Filipinos. I really want to research someone who looks like me or who comes from my heritage.” (note: My children are also Puerto Rican, and there are only two books about Puerto Ricans — Roberto Clemente and Justice Sonia Sotomayor). To date, there are 163 books in the Who Is? series.

But, here’s where the teacher mis-stepped without even realizing it: “You should use the Who Is? series because if they are important, then they are probably in that series.” That, my friends, is what stuck with my child. That statement, which seems probably so innocent, is what he remembered about that day.

ouch.

I mean, she wasn’t wrong. It’s just that she also wasn’t right.

So, my Puerto Rican/Filipino son came home with the disappointing belief that “If there isn’t a Who Is? book, then they must not be important.” He said to me, “So, Mom, does that mean that Filipinos and Puerto Ricans … does it mean that we aren’t important?”

I’m dying inside.

We had a conversation about publishers and the types of decisions that get made in board rooms. We had a conversation about ignorance and limited viewpoints. We had a conversation about how expensive it was to make books and that sometimes they pick the most popular people. We had a conversation about how to have agency and to find out our own information.

So we did just that.

My son and I came home and immediately Google’d “Filipino Activists” and learned about Larry Itliong, an activist for farmworker’s rights who worked in solidarity with Cesar Chavez (a name that more people know). Thankfully, there is a big movement in the West Coast to amplify the work of Filipinos and their role in activism. I’m forever grateful for Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Gayle Romasanta, and Andre Sibayan for their book Journey to Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong.

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Together, my son and I did indeed journey to justice. We learned about the ways in which Filipinos organized and fought for their rights and the rights of others. We talked about risk, courage, and challenges. We talked about standing up for what you believe in, even if it means risking your job. We even hopped onto YouTube to look for clips of Larry Itliong so that he really understood that Larry Itliong was a real person, and not just a character in a story.

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“Mom, I feel really proud to be Filipino like Larry Itliong. I feel like being Filipino and being an activist is also who I am.”

I’m alive inside.

Windows and mirrors, y’all. Windows and mirrors. What opportunities exist for our students to see the world through another person’s lens? What opportunities exist for our students to see themselves represented?

So, what can we do as classroom teachers, educators and parents?

  • Think beyond what is available. It is true, as educators we are often limited by what is published. And, given our grade levels, we are often even more constrained by age appropriate content and reading level.

  • Find opportunities to expand the cannon. Do you work in a PreK-8 or PreK-12 school? What opportunities are available for partnering with students in upper grades who could assist in creating age-appropriate content? Align these projects with their Humanities or History classes and work collaboratively across grades to increase the number of biographies available to young students.

  • Create your “wish list” of books for your classroom and tap into your Parent Council or your local identity-based organizations. Start with good lists like We Need Diverse Books, or (given that it’s API Month) check out this list of YA books by Asian American authors. Connect with identity based organizations like local chapters of fraternities and/or sororities, professional organizations, and educational organizations who are often looking for service opportunities for their members.

  • Read, read, read, and read. Every summer I make my list of 12 books to read. I try to do a book a week during the summer months. Most summers, I focus intentionally on identity backgrounds or experiences. One summer, I only read books by Black authors. Another summer, only books with Asian and Asian American authors. One summer, it was more broadly "authors of color”. I can only connect my students to racially diverse content if I, myself, am versed in this content as well.

  • Think about the people you know, and then find their contemporary in another cultural background. So, we grew up knowing about Helen Keller, right? As a family deeply connected to a community who has benefitted from her life and work, I love Helen Keller. AND, Go look up disabilities rights advocates of color. Here is a great resource for you: https://fakequity.com/2018/03/08/disability-rights-so-white-disability-and-racial-justice/

  • Don’t box in choices. Yes, the Who Is? series is great. It’s easy. It’s age appropriate. It works really well for our young people. And, there are other resources. Maybe some students want to put the work in and find other books. Maybe some students want to go to their local library and look up other influential people. Give them choices.

  • Use social networks for advice, information, or suggestions. There are lots of great message boards, Facebook groups, or places to post (hello, Twitter!) for suggestions. If you are focusing on windows and mirrors for your students, ask the network for suggestions. Crowdsource!

The Biography Project can be a fun, interactive learning experience for our young people. But, what happens when we only provide opportunities to learn about white people and limit their opportunities to learn about people from racially diverse backgrounds?

What happens when we shift from who is to I am?

Peace and love,
Liza

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Aeriale Johnson (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

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ADDRESSING (RACIST) INCIDENTS IN THE CLASSROOM

Let me start with this: I love teachers and school leaders. I do this work each and every day in schools because I believe in their impact on the individual, national, and global level. Teachers, in this country in particular, do some of the hardest damn work and, in many cases, are deeply internally driven (because we know it isn’t “for the money and the summers off”, am I right?) to show up every day for one the greatest responsibilities in this world: educating the mind, body, and spirits of young people.

I’m writing this post because I care about you/them. I’m writing this because I know that, in addition to teaching your subject, you are also tasked with making sure people are safe, that they aren’t hurting each other, and that young people feel whole each and every day. You’re also tasked with confronting some of life and society’s greatest challenges (in no particular order): poverty, hunger, violence, children’s basic needs, active shooter drills, a child who comes into school with a bruises, hormones, friendships-enemies-friendships, sexuality, sexual activity, social media, … the list goes on. And, you don’t get a pay bump for any of those — you are driven to connect with other humans, to provide, to inspire, to teach, and to love — and for many, the reward is knowing you are doing something every single day that makes this world better, even when it doesn’t always feel that way.

Truthfully, I wasn’t the greatest teacher in my early years (I’m confident I got much better as time went on and as I benefitted from helpful feedback). I think back to my very first year teaching 6th grade at a well-resourced independent school. While I wish I was awesome, truth is, even if I wasn’t the best teacher in the world, those students were going to be successful because they had many other people supporting them, helping them navigate this world, and connecting them to the opportunities only few can dream about. Many (not all) came from families where advanced education was a given, and that career success was going to come as a result of hard work as well as a safety net of love and resources. And, thanks to LinkedIn and Facebook, many of the students I taught those three years turned out just fine - they became Vice Presidents of global banks, professors, business owners and entrepreneurs, Broadway actors, successful musicians, teachers and school administrators, outstanding parents and caregivers, and more.

Though I may not have been skilled, in those early years, around classroom management, I did walk in with one particular skill that many others on the faculty did not have: I knew how to have difficult conversations about identity. My more formal training in leadership, facilitation, race, and racial identity meant that I knew how to stop a class, address issues of bias or racialized comments, get curious about the comment’s origins, and scaffold learning around these topics. I wasn’t afraid to lean into these conversations, unlike many colleagues who got uncomfortable, “shushed” the commenter, and moved on. I knew how to do this. It was a learned skill, not just a passion project.

As I travel across the country in workshops with teachers and school leaders, I meet so many adults who know that racialized, racist, or identity-based comments are damaging to a classroom climate. They know that these comments deteriorate trust in the classroom and in them, as adults. They know that these comments are hurtful to children who are there to do their jobs, too: to learn. They do know this. They can clearly spot when a comment is offensive. They can clearly spot when a student has said something that has hurt others. They do have that “tingling feeling” when they, themselves, have said something in a lesson or lecture that didn’t land quite right or triggered that “oohh, no s/he didn’t!” response.

They know when it’s happened.

They do not always know what to do next.

In my workshops, we spend a lot of time on case studies. But, rather than speed off to “how does this all end, “ I work with teachers and school leaders to process, examine, and understand their own experiences with conflict, risk, speaking out, and what they know about issues of identity. After all, if you are conflict averse (perhaps you grew up in a home where conflict was a negative experience, or if you had witnessed conflict=bad), you are less likely to confront an issue in your classroom that might bring up these same feelings. Maybe those feelings are rooted in gender. Maybe those feelings are rooted in race. Maybe those feelings are rooted in “Oh, I’ve tried to address conflict, but it didn’t go well, so I never really felt confident enough to do it again.” Those are questions for you to figure out.

In the meantime, here are some of the steps I encourage teachers and school leaders to take when faced with an incident that has aspects of identity baked into it:

  1. TAKE A TIME OUT/TAKE A BREATH …. BUT DEFINITELY RESPOND. You, out of all the people in that room, are role modeling what to do. Young people are watching you to see what is expected of them. Huge responsibility, right? I know. It really is. And, let’s be honest, it’s a moment that our graduate or teacher preparation programs didn’t cover. So, it makes perfect sense if you feel unprepared.

    • Helpful phrases: “Okay, let’s pause right here for a second, let’s talk about that word you just used”;

    • “That’s an interesting use of language you chose just now. Why did you choose that word?”;

    • “Hey! I heard that. C’mon everyone. We’re better than this, right? We are not the class where that word is okay in here.”

    • I’m not saying you need to dive into a whole TED talk about what’s going on, but students need to know that you know what’s up. Students need to know in the moment that what they said was offensive; and students who are on the receiving end of it need to know that you care.

  2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW ALL THE DETAILS TO KNOW IT’S OFFENSIVE. Listen, I don’t know everything there is to know about everything. I just don’t. And, too often as teachers and school leaders, we don’t take the same advice that we give to our students each and every day — “You will likely make mistakes today. And, that’s part of the learning process.” Teachers, I believe you know enough about what is racist, racialized, or just plain icky. You do. Because, my gosh, whether it’s in a critical race theory class, a sociocultural-foundations in education class, or learning about what the hell Gucci did with their turtleneck sweaters via Instagram, you are surrounded by tons of learning moments. But, sometimes we feel uncomfortable when students know we don’t know something. I’m asking you to role model what it means to make mistakes. I’m asking you to role model that it’s okay to not know it all, but it isn’t okay to ignore learning.

    • Helpful phrases: “I don’t know exactly where blackface comes from, but I do know that it isn’t right”;

    • “I’m not sure why that term is offensive, but (child in the class) says it is hurtful to them, so, we aren’t going to use that word. "

    • “(Child), thanks for letting us know about this. I’m going to read more about it after class, though.”

  3. STOP DISMISSING THE CONCERNS OF CHILDREN. Okay, this one’s personal. When I hear of racist or racialized incidents in my children’s classrooms, I have two immediate questions: “How are you feeling as a result of this?” and “So, what did the adult in the room do?” Honestly, I don’t put a whole lot of responsibility on their peers/children because I know far too much about our educational system and the curriculum that is taught in this country (aka not one that affirms learning about Black, Brown, and Indigenous people). I do, however, know that adults have a different responsibility in this situation. Imagine my emotions when I find out that children express concern in their classrooms — and I mean, directly, not “round about” — and to learn that the adult in the room was dismissive. What do I mean by dismissive? How about “Oh, xxxx, you’re making way to big a deal of this” or my latest favorite, “Oh, c’mon, it was the 1980s” (when subjected to a film that had absolutely no connection to the academic lesson, day or outcome, and is known for being a totally racist and rapey movie that even the star of that film has problems with)” or “No, (other student) isn’t trying to be racist.” In these incidents, this young person advocated for themselves, was explicit about their discomfort, and was dismissed by the adult in the room.

    • Helpful phrases: "I hear your concern, (student). What would be a helpful next step for us right now?”; (note: as a way to give agency to the student, not to be responsible for the education of the class)

    • “Thank you for letting us know, (student). This conversation is clearly not appropriate. And it doesn’t align with our classroom environment.”;

    • “Thanks, (student). Honestly, I don’t know enough about this topic, but clearly I need to learn more”;

    • “(Student making offensive comments), not okay, seriously. That term is really offensive. We have to move on to our lesson for the day, but we will be coming back to this topic.”

  4. PARTNER WITH PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS. I have been super lucky when I was a teacher to have principals who proactively dealt with potential issues. I have been on administrative teams where we have spent time crafting emails, responses, and notifications for parents/caregivers to be aware of things of concern. Having worked in K-12 schools closely, I know that there truly is no extra time to squeeze out in a day. And, hopefully, proactive communication doesn’t need to happen often when racialized or inappropriate incidents occur. A few times in my children’s experiences, they have come home to tell me of a very troubling incident in a classroom where a teacher was present. And, then I waited… waited.. waited …for even a quick note from a teacher or school leader. Silence. Nothing. I want teachers and leaders to know some things about that silence — while that silence is usually a result of “we are putting out lots of other types of fires” or “we are understaffed and underresourced and just trying to breathe”, your silence can also signal acceptance. There have been a few incidents — racial — at the schools that have been grossly unacceptable. Like, grossly. And, in all of those cases, I have been the one to reach out to the schools. I have certainly received school wide voicemails about graffiti, but have yet to receive an email from a teacher about an incident in the classroom.

    • Helpful phrases (teachers, feel free to copy this for your template):

    • “Dear families, today in our ____ class, we had an incident that I want you to be aware of in case you want to continue this conversation with your child when they get home from school. Today, students (e.g., viewed a movie that had inappropriate language/nudity/racial stereotypes; engaged in conversation in which there were racist phrases used; had a discussion about identity that may have been difficult and hurtful to students in their class). While education is meant to be challenging and to include issues of social identity, experiences, and beliefs, I also know that some conversations can create a sense of mistrust and worry. I have checked in with the students in class to see how they are doing individually and overall; however, I thought it would be important for you to have this information as well in case there were additional conversations you wanted to have with your student. If you would like to reach out to me, please do so. As a dedicated teacher, I am committed to making sure that each one of my students feels supported in my class and at our school. Thank you, xxxx.”

  5. ENGAGE IN YOUR LEARNING/BUILD YOUR NETWORK. Between teaching all day, faculty meetings, parent/caregiver emails, discipline hearings, IEP meetings, follow up conferences with tutors or specialists, and, by gosh, having things in your personal life also need attention, it is no wonder that teachers and school leaders are exhausted. Teachers and school leaders are tasked with doing more and more and more and more each year. So, what would it mean to partner with an organization or a trainer or a facilitator to help you through this learning, particularly around addressing race or identity in your classrooms?

    • Build your network of other teachers who are running on the same schedule and who also need to build skill.

    • No time to read a text book on culturally responsive teaching right now? Okay, so grab a young adult fiction book by responsible writers (preferably ones who hold the identities of their main characters) and get a glimpse into the issues (my favorites? Jason Reynolds, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Angie Thomas, Sandhya Menon).

    • Regularly check out teaching resources like Teaching Tolerance or Facing History

    • Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions.

Teachers, I love you. I really do. I know that what I’m asking of you is both another component of your work and such an integral part of your work. If children aren’t feeling secure in your ability to advocate for them, to stand up for what is right, and to address issues that can hurt and harm them, then they simply don’t learn as well. We need to continue to create conditions where our students come into our classrooms feeling whole, are challenged by what we teach and what we facilitate, and leave feeling whole.

I was in a powerful workshop where a parent of color held up a piece of paper. They then tore it into pieces - first in half, then in quarters, then in smaller and smaller pieces. “This,” the parent said, “is what happens when my child is at school and experiences racist and racialized incidents.” The parent then grabbed tape and began taping the pieces back together. “And, this, this is what I have to do when they come home.”

How can we change this narrative? What would this mean if this were true every single day? What would need to happen for us, as educators, to believe this is true?

Let’s build skill. Get curious. And work to keep our children whole.

Peace and love,

Liza

THE COST OF THE WORK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What cost would you assign to that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Peace and love,
Liza

READING AND REFLECTING

In my workshops, participants often walk away with one clear action item: “Get Proximate.”

As Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy and a lawyer who works closely with death row inmates) states, “There is power in proximity. When you get proximate, you learn things you cannot learn from a distance.”

People who participate in my workshops are often seeking the answer to this question: “How do I learn more about diversity and people from diverse backgrounds if my neighborhood, town, state, area, and social circles is glaringly not diverse?” One piece of that puzzle — one helpful tool — that people can implement immediately is to pick up books and start reading. This is only one piece of the larger puzzle, but it certainly is a start.

You can easily search for lists that focus on particular racial/ethnic groups, by racially diverse authors, or by issues. Given that it’s September, my mind is always focused on Latinx heritage, so here’s an example of a great list that includes authors from Latinx backgrounds.

If you are just getting started in all of this, I highly recommend picking up Young Adult fiction/non-fiction. I admit, this was not a category I had previously read. However, working in a PreK-8 school these past few years really opened my eyes up to a whole new space and conversation. I just finished reading the Jason Reynolds series of books. Jason Reynolds’ writing is a great example of how sophisticated, and yet simple and accessible, today’s young adult fiction/non-fiction is.

Other folks like picking up books by authors who, traditionally, have not focused their writing on race but who have courageously entered into that space. One popular one is by Jodi Picoult titled, Small Great Things.

And, coming up in November, I’ll be hosting a book discussion group of Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility. It’s non-fiction and addresses, head on, the issues of whiteness, white supremacy, and white fragility. RSVP is required and it is limited to 25 people. People take different approaches to this type of book — do you dive right into a book this direct OR do you ease into the conversation? I’ve taken both approaches in my own life. So, whatever your approach is, just do it.

Whether you are joining a formal discussion or you just want to process a topic, book, or issue by yourself, here are some helpful questions that I use during-and-after reading a book:

  • What did you notice about yourself and your reactions as you read this book? What parts of the book or situations did you most notice these reactions?

  • Why did you choose this book? What issue were you interested in getting more proximate to?

  • As you read the book, what took place when you had a “that can’t be true” reaction? What took place when you had a “yes, this is all so true” reaction? What would it mean for you to believe that the “can’t be true” is and can, in fact, “be true”?

  • As you read the book, who in your life came to mind in particular examples? Why?

  • What parts of the book felt very proximate to your own experiences? What parts of the book felt distant, separate, and far away from your own experiences?

  • Which characters, if any, in the book did you feel proximate to? Which characters, if any, did you feel furthest from?

  • What are you left wondering after you finished the book? How might you get closer to answering those questions or exploring those curiosities?

  • After reading this book, what you do you realize about yourself? About others? About your upbringing or socialization?

  • What parts of this book will stay with you long after you have read it? What does that mean for you?

I hope you find these reflection questions useful as you continue your journey to learning, planning and doing more to #makethingsbetter in our lives!


Peace and reading,

Liza

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Water Justice

My family and I have a 75-minute ride into work each day. While it is certainly not ideal in terms of waking up early each day, it does mean that we get quality time.

And, in this quality time, there is quite a bit of negotiating: negotiating which radio station we listen to; negotiating who gets the warm pink blanket and who gets the equally warm (and equally functioning) maroon blanket; who gets the blueberry cereal bar and who gets the strawberry cereal bar. Basically, there is a whole lot of talk.

Sometimes that "talk" comes in the form of our morning NPR news. Sometimes that "talk" comes from the children arguing. Sometimes that "talk" comes from me.

When that "talk" becomes my turn, I always bring up current events.

Lately, on my mind and in my heart are the tragic and absolutely horrifying events coming out of Flint, Michigan.

"Son," I begin, "Tell me what you did this morning."

"I woke up, ate breakfast, washed my face, brushed my teeth and washed my hands."

"Good. So, did you think that your water was clean (it was, son, by the way)?"

"Yes."

"Girls," my girls are older than my son, "Do you pretty much trust that the water we use to brush our teeth, to drink, to wash our dishes, to make our coffee, and to make your hot chocolate is safe? Like, our city has done things to make sure that the water is safe?"

"Uh, yea," they respond as if that was the weirdest question I could have ever asked.

perfect.

I then told them about what was happening in Flint, Michigan. I told them about the population of Flint, the demographics of people who live there, and what we reasonably expect from our government. I told them about the water crisis, the outpour of support from people providing bottled water shelters, and then the requirement for people to show ID.

My oldest child said, "Wait, I get that you have to show ID because, well, they want to know you are actually from Flint. But, what if you don't have an ID? Like, if you don't have the money to get an ID or if you aren't able to get an ID."

"Yup," I respond.

I told them about the people who had come together to provide water for those who did not have identification, for fundraisers that are raising money to buy water, and...

"and..." said my 9-year old, "That's great, but don't bottled water companies already make lots of money? Can't those companies help out and donate the water?"

She beat me to it.

"Yup," I respond.

For the next half-hour, my children began to identify ways in which the system/System was not working. They talked about the structural problems and the human problems that this caused. We talked about race, class, and how years of lead poisoning can impact lives of children.

As we pulled into our school parking lot, I realized that my children learned more about race, class, education, structural inequality, and structural racism in those 30 minutes than they might in a full day of formal schooling.

How can we, as teachers, educators and parents engage more deeply in these dialogues? What can you do to help young people learn about the world around them? How might we work in solidarity with those in Flint, Michigan?

These views that follow are my own and do not represent any organization to which I am affiliated:

  • If you are looking to financially participate, a scholar who I admire greatly, has begun a GoFundMe initiative. I firmly trust her.
  • On the flip-side, filmmaker and activist, Michael Moore, has asked for, not money but a revolt. Check out his piece here.

Whichever path you take, just do something.

Peace and love,

Liza

Great Books

If you believe the local grocery stores, then Christmas is right around the corner. (for real, can't we just get through Halloween and Thanksgiving??). And, I've become that Auntie/Friend/Tita who insists on buying books for birthdays rather than toys. One of the benefits of working at a school that has rockstar librarians is that I often get a "Hey, Liza, check out these books" heads-up. These three did not disappoint! I'd actually like to get into the habit of sharing great books that help to raise awareness of community issues that are parent/family/child friendly.  Of course, so proud that our school intentionally thinks about intersectionality and providing books that serve as both windows and mirrors into experiences.

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Carl Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Really beautiful book about a child who navigates her world using a white cane (the book does not go into detail as to why) that focuses on self-awareness, encouragement, and differentiation. The young girl struggles with feeling singled out, but also clearly enjoys a lifestyle in which her friends, school, and adults support her as she spreads her wings. Definitely a book that sparks great discussions about friendship, safe limits, and expanding boundaries! I also love that the girls, teachers and families in the book represent racial diversity and interaction. I think this is a good pick for grades K-3.

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer and Eric Velasquez

I was so glad that I was tucked away in the corner of the library while reading this book. At first, I thought it was too heavy with the topic of segregation and inequity (the book's theme hits race, inequality, and socioeconomics pretty hard). I hadn't seen a children's book call out racial inequity as forward as this one -- key moment: when the little Black girl makes note that the little White girl gets served first all the time. I wanted to put the book down and shy away from its mature content. And, then I turned the page and then the next page. And, I found myself tearing up. It's a beautiful story of both inequity and coming up with community based problem solving. After I closed the book, I took a deep breath and wiped away my tears of hurt, pain and joy. Such a great book, likely for older ones (grades 2-5) but absolutely a good read for anyone who is interested in introducing their young ones to big topics.

Stella and Her Family by Miriam Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown

Compassionately written and lovely! Stella is faced with her class celebration of "Mother's Day" which doesn't feel quite right given that she has two Dads. I appreciated how the topic was presented in terms of Stella's perspective; but I especially loved that there were characters who also had two Moms. And, in the end, the children with two Moms would have to face the same questions on Father's Day. Rather than simply say, "We just won't celebrate either", the families come up with inclusive solutions. Beautifully written and a great gift! I think this works for preK-3 and all others!

Check out these books and think about adding them to your library (or a friend's library!)

Peace, love, and rockstar librarian friends,

Liza

Celebrating Latino and Hispanic Heritage Month

in the United States, September 15 - October 15 marks the month-long celebration of Latino and Hispanic communities, issues, and contributions. While it is important to practice active inclusion all year, we honor this time to pay special attention to the many ways in which Latino and Hispanic communities and individuals have strengthened who we are as a country. My family is multiracial and multiethnic: both of Asian American/Filipino and Latino/Puerto Rican heritage. Therefore, it is important to our family that we continue to honor and appreciate the rich diversity within the Latino and Hispanic communities as well as highlight important contributions of Latinos and Hispanics in the United States. Oftentimes, these contributions are left out of history books, and it becomes increasingly important that we send positive messages -- and provide opportunities for critical thinking -- to enrich their perspectives.

Below are just a few ideas that you might also include as we focus on Latino and Hispanic communities, issues and contributions in the United States. These are divided up by age group, but each activity provides rich opportunities for dialogue, discussion and engagement.

PreK-2

  • Include books during your reading routine (or begin to establish one if you do not have one) that include issues impacting Latino and/or Hispanic communities or feature characters from Latino and/or Hispanic backgrounds. Some great suggestions that we have loved are Abuela by Arthur Dorros; Grandma's Chocolate by Mara Price and Lisa Fields. Yes, I admit. We've also read and included episodes from Dora and Diego or Maya and Miguel. My children loved those growing up! (Me? I think I've seen enough episodes of purple backpack to last me a lifetime).
  • Play music during your commute or when you are home together. Or if you are a teacher, have some music playing in your classroom. One of my favorites can be found on iTunes called "Cumbia Essentials" which is a great mix of different music.
  • Most children at this age are familiar with piñata. Print out sheets for them to decorate their own piñata and share with the class what they made and why.

Grades 3-6

  • Great opportunity to introduce different people from Latino and Hispanic heritage who have made an impact in our lives. You can introduce them by categories (e.g., sports, science, entertainment, law, gender identities, country of origin, contributions) or connect people with the fields you are studying or that correlate to your current curriculum.
  • This list here are Latino and Hispanic Americans who I really think of/look up to, but of course, there are hundreds and hundreds more who others would put on their lists.
    • Dolores Huerta, co-founded the United Farm Workers labor union
    • Justice Sonia Sotomayor, first justice from Hispanic heritage on the U.S. Supreme Court
    • Carlos Santana, musician and pretty much his music has been on rotation in my favorites since I was a teenager
    • Gloria Estefan, musician, I'm a child of the 80s and 90s, so yes, I know all of her music by heart
    • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate author of Colombian heritage
    • Isabelle Allende, writer, I recently read her book House of Spirits which was a riveting, haunting and beautiful novel
  • Again, lots of great book series that provide biographies of Latino and Hispanic individuals

Grades 6-12

  • PBS.org has a great list of documentaries on their website -- short clips that highlight an individual from Latino or Hispanic heritage that are so worth watching! You can find them at http://www.pbs.org/specials/hispanic-heritage-month
  • Great printables and activities can be found here from PBS as well
  • This age group is ready to talk about immigration and the impact of policies on people in the United States. One more advanced opportunity is to ask students about systemic oppression -- what are rules that keep people out of opportunities? You can connect that same theme to their lives related to sports, school, clubs, and even "friend groups" of who gets in and who is left out

College +

  • One of my favorite discussion questions always gets at "first messages". One good one for this month is "What were your first or earliest messages about Latino and/or Hispanic communities? What were your first messages about people who identify as Latino or Hispanic? Where did you get those messages? What did those messages mean?"
  • When I worked with college students, the homework I always gave out was "Go through a whole day - start to finish. Who do you notice or see who might identify as Latino or Hispanic? Where were you going? Where did you see people? Where do you not see people? What does that say about your community? Your commute? Your destination?"
  • Find good opportunities to interrogate stereotypes or existing ideas and ideals

This is just a small list of great ways to engage your family or students! And, remember, we hold this time to highlight and focus on issues impacting people and communities who identify as Latino and/or Hispanic. However, we must integrate and include experiences, issues, and critical thinking about privilege, oppression, systemic racism, and inequity throughout the entire year and throughout our entire education!

What ideas have you implemented?

Peace, love and inclusion, Liza

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:

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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

FOR A LIVING

"My friend is mad at me." Usually when my daughter comes home from school, she ignores me or, at best, answers me in one-word sentences. I knew to run quickly into this open door.

"What happened?" I asked, anticipating her middle-school answers of "She thinks I like this other person" or "I wouldn't sit with her at lunch" or "We wore the same sweatpants and people thought we matched on purpose."

"She's mad at me because I think people who are transgender are normal."

I wasn't expecting that. Yes! sang my inner activist-Mom-soul.

"Tell me more," as I swung the door of conversational opportunity wide open.

"Well, she asked me what you did for a living. I told her you do diversity stuff. She asked what that meant. So, I said that you try to end racism and sexism. I said that you talk to people about privilege and that you try to make the world more fair for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender."

This is awesome. Why? Because when my other daughter was 5-years old, she told people that I did aerobics for a living. I have no idea...

"So my friend said that she thinks transgender people .. and I corrected her and said 'people who are transgender' ... but anyways, she said that she thinks it's disgusting and against God."

"She said it was against God?" I asked. I, myself, had just come from church that afternoon, and that comment hit me in a particular way. "Okay, that sounds interesting. What was your response back to her?"

"Well, I told her that everyone has a right to their religion, but that I was taught that God made us and chose us for a journey that we were meant to have."

"Wait, wait," I interrupted. "Can I film this? Because, for real, I think you're about to drop some serious knowledge and I want other people to see and hear you say this. Can I?"

"No." There's the one-word answer I was looking for.

Damn. 

"So, she then said that God doesn't make mistakes and so if God made you a man you should stay a man."

I held my breath. I couldn't believe my 11-year old was having this conversation at lunch.

"So, I told her that when I was in your belly, that God gave me cancer. And, when I came out of your belly, I had cancer. And, when I was two years old and finally realized I had cancer, I had to do something or I was going to die. I had to take out my entire eye -- an eye that God gave me -- so that I could live. If I stayed the way God made me, I would be dead."

I began to cry. She's eleven. 

"And, I told her about how many young people who are gay have killed themselves because they felt that God made them and that they shouldn't be gay. And they weren't accepted by their families. And, they died. If I didn't change the body that God gave me, I would be dead, too."

I can't even....

She continued, "If someone is born in a body that God gave them, but that body isn't right. Then they might make a choice to change something about their bodies so that they can stay alive. That's what I had to do. If someone is transgender and they need to be in a different body, then they should do it."

"Okay, then what happened?"

"She said, 'No. They should just deal with it.' She got really mad at me and then she walked away. I wasn't mad at her, but I know I had offended her."

I couldn't speak. I was overwhelmed. My heart, my soul, and my spirit were overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by her sadness. Overwhelmed by her compassion. Overwhelmed by how readily she could articulate faith, gender, acceptance, and understanding.

"I'm really sad that she's mad at me, Mom. I'm sad that she's mad about me not agreeing with her. I know that you do this kind of stuff for a living, but I am going to do it for my life."

That's exactly why I do it, too, Joli.

Peace, love, and brave conversations,

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

WHEN WE WAIT

My 8-year old didn't want to go to school today. And, while I normally send my children off no matter what's going on, today, I let it slide. In all honestly, I wanted to be with her, too. I spent much of last night, November 24, 2014, stunned, angry, confused, enraged. Sad. Just after 9:00pm, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided that they were not going to indict Officer Darren Wilson -- a man who shot and killed a Black man in that same town. For months, vigils, protests, and social media activism kept us all engaged. I kept refreshing my Twitter feed expecting -- sort of -- cheers of joy that justice was on the right side. Instead, disbelief, anger, frustration, and sadness filled my screen.

Now, I certainly have my very strong beliefs, and I'm trying to remain open about how others are processing this. Some say it wasn't racial. Some say it wasn't gendered. Some say it wasn't offensive.

I just can't process that right now.

But, what it has done is continued the cycle of violence towards black and brown bodies, people, and issues.

As we got out of the car and walked to my office, I turned to my 8-year old and said, "So, I want you to know that I have a few meetings today, but I also have a very important workshop. In that workshop, we'll be talking about Michael Brown."

"I know about Michael Brown, Mom," she said. She turned her big brown eyes, covered by her bright blue and green glasses, and I saw my own reflection.

'Michael Brown, he was the kid who was wearing a hoodie and was killed by a man who said he was protecting the neighborhood, right?"

Before I could correct her, she replied,

"Oh, wait. No, that was Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown... Michael Brown.... oh, he was the young man who was shot and killed and had his hands up. Yeah, I know about Michael Brown."

I was both proud and deeply sad.

See, my husband and I both believe that our children should know about our world and our communities. We have talked with them, gently, about the lives of Trayvon Martin, of Michael Brown, and of DJ Henry. We ask them about the young Black and Brown boys in their schools and in their classes. We surrounded them with college-going Black and Brown men and women so that their first messages of our community is that We Matter. Their first messages will be positive messages of Black and Brown people as contributors to society rather than criminals of society. Their first messages are that their friends, their peers, their loved ones, and their neighbors with Black and Brown skin are people.

In the past 12 hours, my husband and I have received texts and messages from friends who are asking how to process this with their children and families.

I don't have the answer for you.Simply put, you need to have the conversation in the way that you can have the conversation. If you are afraid of the conversation, talk about that. If you are angry about the conversation, talk about that. If you are loving in your conversation, talk about that. I can't tell you how.

But, I AM asking you to have it. 

1. My children learn about the beauty, contributions and successes of the Black and Brown community; they do not just hear about the violence and injustice. Balance those. Find ways to honor and privilege contributions of music, art, literature, politics, philosophy, and histories of Black and Brown people.

2. Find out what message you want your own children (or people in your life) to have about you. I may not be marching out there with my fellow activists, but I am talking about protest, civil disobedience, anger, hurt, productivity, and activism in my home. At least one of my children will witness the forum I put together at work, and she will tell her own siblings what happened and what she heard.  Figure out how you want your children to see you, and make that happen.

3. Believe that some people feel this is about race. Believe it's true. Don't spend time arguing that it's not about race. Just listen. Listen openly. Black and Brown communities have witnessed and been impacted by a great deal of hurt, pain, and anger. Believe that it's true.

4. Do not wait until big moments like this to talk about race with your children. Having the talk about Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown was not scary for my children because they had already begun the conversations. That's sort of a 20/20 hindsight remark, but if you haven't been talking openly about race, start now.

5. Yes, we can be angry and prayerful at the same time. We can hope for peace and also be frustrated. Those are not mutually exclusive feelings. Allow room for both to exist.

"When we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Choose action. Choose response. Choose dialogue. Choose peace.

BEING A SCHOLAR-PRACTITIONER

Cross posted at ACPA Commission for Social Justice Educators blog at www.acpacsje.wordpress.com

Living in the always unpredictable New England climate, I always have the right tools in my car year-round: a snow shovel and an ice scraper, even on the hottest summer days; a large rain umbrella; a beach blanket for impromptu picnics; a soccer ball, that annoyingly rolls around the back seat; a spare pair of winter gloves; and a large bottle of water – only half filled to reduce freezing pressure in winter – to wash off sand from the beach.

Depending on the weather, I bring out a particular set of tools from the back of that trunk.

There are some professional conferences that I attend in which I must choose between being a scholar-practitioner or a practitioner-scholar. At places like ASHE (Association for the Study of Higher Education), I am a scholar, an intellectually and theoretically minded researcher and writer on the quest to uncover higher education’s biggest challenge. When I am at Student Affairs related conferences, I’m a practitioner, sharing best practices for programs, the ways in which I build capacity using student development theory, and discuss the latest crisis management efforts on my home campus.

But, where is the room to be both? Where are the other practitioner-scholars/scholar-practitioners?

I met with half a dozen other people who were thinking the same types of questions. We all entered the field through the practice – traditional masters programs, graduate assistantships in student affairs, and professional positions in academic and student affairs. At some point in our careers, we felt that pull to engage in scholarship that better informed our practice. So, we enrolled in doctoral programs, continued to push our existing notions of theory and scholarship, and some of us even began publishing and co-publishing in journals. Many of us are focusing our dissertations on the student affairs experience, student leadership, and the practice of engagement, all rooted in our professional experiences as administrators.

In his remarks at the Council on Ethnic Participation at ASHE, Dr. Shaun Harper, asked us to reflect on the differences that we are making – or think we are making – in higher education. Is our research actually impacting lives in higher education? After years of scholarship on issues affecting marginalized communities, what has changed? What have we done to actually change the landscape in higher education?

This is the space in which the practicing-scholar fits. As a scholar, we must seek to understand the relationships of problematic conditions and research findings. As practitioners, we need to put those findings into action. Both roles must be interconnected.

Though the umbrella shields me from the rain, it also protects me from the blaze of the hot sun. A beach blanket in the sand is also effective as a wrap that dries me off after a rainstorm. We must see integrate roles as scholars, practitioners — and, more importantly, the combination of both — to change conditions in higher education.

I’m thankful that a few of us found each other at ASHE. We have already begun a conversation about our roles, reflecting particularly on these two questions: 1) how will you combine your scholarship with your practice and 2) how will you inform your practice with scholarship?

 

Liza A. Talusan is the Director of Intercultural Affairs at Stonehill College in Easton, MA and a third year doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She earned her BA in Psychology from Connecticut College and her MA from New York University in Higher Education Administration. Her research interests include issues impacting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, doctoral student socialization, institutional inclusion and social change,  and experiences of faculty of color.

WE NEED TO TALK

It all started with gluten.  

My three kids and I were driving to Maine to visit a friend. As she is one of the most prolific writers, bloggers, publishers, feminist, moms that I know, I was looking forward to having a conversation about life post-verdict.

 

It didn't seem right to just turn off Radio Disney, interrupt the Cups song, and dive into the facts about Trayvon Martin. So instead, we started with gluten.

 

"Kids, my friend Patricia and her daughter have allergies to gluten," I started. "Do you know what gluten is and does?"

 

I truthfully know very little about gluten and celiac. I just know that I can't use the same cutting board to cut my bread as I use for my friend who has a gluten allergy. I know that she doesn't eat bread products. And I do know that I have to check labels and look for "gluten free." That's about it. I have no idea what type of pain it causes, what the impact can be, or how it is diagnosed (though, since writing this, of course, I have looked it up....).

 

It started with gluten.

 

It ended with "Well, that's just ridiculous," said my 7-year old. "What do you mean he killed a teenager, said he killed a teenager, and then didn't go to jail?"

 

Rewind.

 

ME: "Jada, read me the labels on the cookies we are bringing to Patricia's house."

JADA: "They say gluten free."

ME:  "So, if I know that Patricia gets hurt when she eats gluten. And, I accidently bring something that has gluten, and she eats it, and she gets hurt, what does that mean to me?"

JADA: "It means that, even when it's an accident, you might still hurt someone. Even if you didn't mean it."

ME: "What do you think should happen to me?"

EVAN -- my 4-year old son: "You should go to your room and sit on your bed until someone says you can come out. But if it's me, you should let me play."

** insert laughter **

ME: "Okay, seriously. Now, if I accidently hurt someone, and even if I hurt someone because I think they are mean, you're saying I should be, well, punished or, in my words, held accountable, for it?"

JADA: "Yes."

EVAN: "Yes, but only if I have candy."

****

Our conversation went much like that for the next 20 minutes -- a mix of laughter, seriousness, content they could relate to, and "what if" scenarios.

And, because they have grown up around conversations about race, we talked about Trayvon Martin, a young teen with Black skin.

 

Throughout this conversation, I was so thankful that this was not their first introduction to race. This was not their first time hearing about fairness, punishment, race, and gender. This was not the first conversation they have engaged in about skin color, about hair, clothing, or even being multiracial.

 

I've used the analogy about "crossing the street" many times when I discuss diversity and conversations with kids. I remember pushing my daughter's stroller, waiting at the cross walk, and saying, "Okay, honey, now we look both ways and cross." She likely had no idea what I was talking about, but as her mom, I knew to say it. I knew to warn her about cars. I knew to say the words, "Look both ways." When my kids could walk on their own at a quick enough pace, I no longer picked them up when I crossed the street. I let them wrap their fingers around my pinky, cross with me, and said, "Look both ways." As adolescents, I still say the same thing. To my daughter with one eye, I say, "Look both ways .... ALL the way. Turn your head ALL the way until you can see to the other side." She gets special directions. My one-eyed daughter gets special directions that the other kids do not get. These directions keep her safe.

 

Yesterday, in the car, at that moment, we were at the crosswalk.  A dangerous intersection. Except the cars were race; and the traffic lights were broken.

 

And, I held their hand. We looked both ways.

 

They are 9, 7 and 4. So, no, we did not talk about the legal system. We did not talk about jury selection, the message this has sent, and we didn't even talk about the pain I feel. We didn't talk about my perverted relief that my son is light skinned. We didn't talk about my fear that even as a college administrator, a soon-to-be-doctorate, and being a highly educated diversity director does little to protect the many young Black men in my own life.

 

But, we talked. And, friends, I have to believe -- in order to wake up each morning -- that even talking about race prepares my children to cross the road. They do not have to agree with me. They don't even have to believe me. But they do have to talk about it. They do have to engage with it. They do have to see it. 

 

There were many times during our brief conversation that I cried. I cried tears of sadness. I cried tears of joy. I cried tears of "that was the most hilarious thing I have ever heard" -- mostly coming from my 4-year old son, whose solution to all of this was "Why didn't he just take a sip of the ice tea, make a big bubble in his mouth, and spit it out a hundred ten hundred ninety-eight billion billion hundred miles at the man?" My son then proceeded to take a sip from his water bottle, create a big pocket in his mouth, and then spit it out all over the car....

 

Awesome.

 

My 7-year old said that the man should feel really sorry that the teenager was dead.

 

My 9-year old asked, "Do you think it would have been different if the teenager was a girl? Because if someone followed me and was driving slow near me, I would run fast and yell that someone is following me."

 

My 7-year old replied, "But, the teenager was had skin that was black. If he ran, that might look like he was running away because he did something bad. Even if he didn't do anything bad."

 

And then I just listened. I asked if they had any questions. I asked them how they felt about all of this. I asked them what they could do so things like this wouldn't happen.

 

And, because they are kids of color, I began to tell them what they should do if someone is following them.

 

And then I realized, it was the exact same advice that Trayvon had, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SILENCE

I take pride in the fact that I am quick writer - dare I even say, a witty writer. My thoughts move quickly from brain to fingers to keyboard to screen to publishing. I've written about disability, cancer, diversity, gender, love, anger, parenting, race and racism. I've written about the every day antics of my children, the peacefulness of a long run, and the joys and frustrations of doing diversity work.  

But I just can't write about the verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin.

 

I just can't.

 

On a long drive just hours after the verdict was announced, I thought of all the angles and I wanted to write about. I thought about the opening paragraph, the structure of the blog post, the funny stories that I would connect, the emotion I would attempt to elicit through careful positioning of words. But, I just couldn't. Nothing made sense. Nothing flowed. Nothing felt right.

 

And, so, today, I do not offer a witty blog post on the state of race in America. I do not offer up a commentary on the importance of young Black men in our society and the urgency with which we, as Americans, need to value them, their families, their contributions, their talents, their struggles and their successes. I do not offer up any solutions to long standing institutional racism nor to dismantling my own earliest messages of Black men and Black boys (or lack of) in my childhood. I do not offer up my sadness and fear for my own nephews -- who vary in shades of brown and black -- nor the twisted sigh of relief that my own son is light skinned and with hair that does not require a wave cap.

 

No. I simply offer this as a marker of time. That something so sad has happened not just a year ago, not just this weekend, but in the daily lives of black and brown men and boys, and the women and girls who both love them and who have watched them figure out the rules of a game they didn't create. For the ways in which we have tried to "raise 'em right" by valuing education, using manners, never walking alone never walking in groups, not carrying candy not carrying weapons,  live in a safe neighborhood live with good neighbors, don't run run, trust people don't trust anyone.

 

 

I offer this as a way for my kids -- who one day might actually read what I have written while they have sat in the living room in a bouncy seat or sleeping in a crib or reading books -- to know why the sounds of keyboard clicking and crying have occurred in our home.

 

I didn't want to be silent. And, once this passes, I will likely kick back into activist mode, engage in dialogue about race, racism, oppression, value and all the stuff that usually energizes me. All the stuff that needs to be discussed so that my children know the reality of our world and our society.

 

I haven't told them that a young man named Trayvon Martin was killed. I haven't told them that the man who killed him will be given back his gun.

 

Because they believe in fairness.

 

They believe that our laws protect us from being killed.

 

They believe that when you do something wrong, you get sent to your room or have your privileges taken away. Even when it's an accident.

 

They believe that their mom has always spoken up when things were wrong, that their mom always talks about important issues in our world -- issues that they need to know about in order to help create change in our world.

 

They will come to learn that their mom's inability to even talk about it,  says more than her blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

INCLUDING DIVERSITY

It's summer time, and hopefully that means there is a bit more time to make some intentional decisions around including diversity in your practice, interactions, experiences, and education. I'm actually writing this from the back row of my daughters' dance dress rehearsal, and thankful for the decision to choose a dance school that has incredible racial diversity. Back in August, when the two girls expressed interest in taking dance, we traveled to over a dozen dance schools. In all honesty, I was curious to find out the differences in prices -- with two girls and limited resources, I wanted to make sure they could both attend dance classes. However, as we visited schools, I glanced at all of the lovely, glossy photos on the walls. And, at each school, there were few-to-no children who looked like my own -- dark skin, curly hair, visible disability.

I was so committed to my children having diverse role models, classmates, and interactions that I was getting ready to close the door to dance classes.  As a feminist of color, I was also interested in how dance schools talked about body image, body-positive acceptance, and messaging around body size. So, despite my desire to give up, my older daughter pleaded, "Mom, just one more! Please let's look at one more!" I gave in, and we drove to the heart of our downtown city, and located a dance school. It was in a slightly run down building, and it was a very reasonable price for two kids. But, more importantly to me, the woman who ran the school is a dark skin, beautiful, plus size woman with a strong dancer's body.

As the year progressed, my daughters were exposed to a racially diverse group of girls, parents, families, and teacher. To them, their "first message" of who a dance teacher is will be their teacher -- their beautiful and strong teacher who looks like them; who looks like their aunts; who looks like their grandmother.

And, as I sit here blinded by the sequins and jazz hands from the back row, I am amazed at what a powerful message my girls received every week --- about themselves, about their bodies, about their teachers, and about their classmates.

One of my most linked blogs was the one on "what do to when there isn't diversity." Well, now that it's summer time, I thought it would be good to revisit some great tools for using this time to include diversity (now and always!). These are just beginning points, not end points. Let's get started!

  • plan a field trip to a local (nearby?) historic site that teaches from a point of view you may not have been taught. For example, we live near Boston -- this year, we plan on visiting some of the early African American and Native American memorials and historic sites. Our kids spend a lot of time learning about the "settlers"; well, let's also expand their education into those who were here first and who came with a different story.
  • Read a book a week. Borrow books that have representation from different ethnic groups, cultures, family structures, etc.
  • As an adult, introduce a topic of conversation with your kids/younger ones. WE tend to need some sort of segue, context, etc., but I have found that the whole "wait until they bring it up" approach really doesn't work. Would you wait until they ASK to cross the street before WE bring up the topic, hold their hands, and show them how? No, of course not. So, let's not wait until they ASK about race, gender, stereotypes, bullying, love, etc.
  • Go play at a playground you don't usually visit --you might see more diversity of mobility, race, ethnicity, body types, parenting structures. I grew up in a small town, with very little diversity in our neighborhood. So, even when we went to the most local playground, it was made up of kids who I knew from school. Whenever we ventured into a new neighborhood, I had to learn how to play with kids I didn't know; who maybe didn't look like anyone I played with; and who I was not used to. Try this. See if it takes you outside of your own comfort zone as a parent/care taker/adult, too.
  • Finally reach out to that person you've wanted to talk to, but felt like you were too busy -- it's summer. People tend to be a bit more relaxed; a bit more interested in meeting up with others. That person you always "like" on Facebook but never make eye contact with when you see him/her? Set up a coffee date, a walk, or a real live chat.
  • Volunteer somewhere for so many obvious reasons that contribute to socially just reciprocity, good old fun, feel-good experiences, and also as an opportunity to get out of your own comfort zone. Is there a family friendly opportunity? Take your kids or young ones, too.
  • Try a new food from an ethnic/racial/cultural group and be open to the experience
  • Listen to a new album, type of music, genre, style. I don't tend to listen to traditional/folk music, so I never look up these types of bands. Recently, a friend of mine told me about Carolina Chocolate Drops -- a old time banjo, string, guitar band of African Americans. Their stuff is awesome. I've listened to their album every single day for a week now. It opened up doors to music, history, culture, and information that I had never accessed before!
  • Find a street festival, a celebration
  • Go seek out different cultural organizations that are hosting lectures, get-togethers, community socials, and find ways to contribute and to be open the knowledge of that community
  • Find a book club that focuses on diversity and participate

Though these tend to fall into the food/festival/fun experiences in diversity, they are a good way to get started. But, also use this time as an opportunity to expand your own knowledge and the education of your kids/young ones. Talk proactively about race, love, families, disability, body image, gender. Why wait?

Peace, love, and actively including,

Liza

**Please note: Any ads you see below this line are not placed there by me. Rather, they are randomly selected by Wordpress and not by Liza at all. Thank you.

HOW WE LOOK

I have hesitated to post my sadness and frustration about the tragic death of Trayvon Martin here. Yet, I'm moved. And you know me ... when it hits me, I can't shake it.   

Whenever I meet a group of people for the first time -- via workshops, classes, or training sessions that I facilitate -- one of my favorite introductory exercises starts like this: "One thing you can't tell just by looking at me is __________. That's important for me to share with you because _________."  Participants are then asked to complete the sentences and share with the others their answers. Mine usually goes like this:

 

"Hi! My name is Liza. One thing you can't tell just by looking at me is that I am an avid runner, I have run half marathons, and I am incredibly physically fit. That's important for me to share with you because I am a plus-sized woman, I wear a size 16, and most people assume that women with my body are lazy, fat, and don't care about their health. I'm here to tell you that I'm fit, fabulous, and love how strong my body is both inside and out."

 

As we go around the room, people share interesting details about themselves and why those details are so important to them. We then talk about how we often judge people by how they look and the dangers of making assumptions about folks.

 

As the mother of a son with brown skin, the wife of a husband with brown skin, the aunt of nephews with brown skin, the sister of brothers with brown skin, and a mentor to many young people with brown skin, I am terrified by the death of young Trayvon Martin and of the death of DJ Henry (a young college student from my hometown).  The men and boys in my life already have learned the rules of "looking suspicious" (rules that the young white males in my life do not need for survival).

 

But, when they have done everything right, and still get hassled, treated as suspicious, or worse, beaten or killed, what is there left to tell them? 

 

Do I tell my son to not leave the house? To never wear a hoodie? As he gets older, we will tell him to always carry ID, to be well spoken, polite to law enforcement, and to cooperate if he is ever pulled over or pulled aside. Though he may be angry at what is happening to him, he will learn that his anger in the face of authority will rarely lead to a good outcome. He will make decisions about whether or not he will want to, or whether his heart will call him to rise up, protest, and refuse to be treated poorly. And, my husband and I will support him. We will love him through the struggles that come with being a young, brown man in our society. We will love him through the "it's not fair!' and the "why me?" and the "why are they treating me this way?" Because we have been there, and unfortunately, hearts and minds don't always change quickly.

 

The other day, Joli said to me, "Mommy, if you were a smurf, I'd call you Beauty Smurf." I replied, "Oh! You're so sweet! You think I'm beautiful?" She said, "Well, no, actually. I'd call you Beauty Smurf because you like to put on so much makeup that it covers up your beauty. So, if I call you Beauty Smurf, maybe you'll stop. Your face is pretty, brown, and beautiful."

Pretty. Brown. Beautiful.

 

One thing I hope my children, and all children of color, can tell just by looking at me is that being brown is a blessing. It is beautiful. Being brown does not mean we are suspicious. Wearing a hoodie does not make us suspicious.  We are people. We have futures.

 

And that's important for me to share with you because a family, a community, and a world lost another young person simply because of how he looked.

 

When my brother-in-law, an African American man, turned 25 years old, my sister wanted to throw a party -- not just to celebrate his birthday, but also to celebrate an age that many young, Black men do not reach because of violence.  On Saturday, my beautiful, brown son is turning 3 years old.

 

I pray each year that he has many, many, many more. And, I pray that we create a society together that embraces -- and does not condemn -- him for how he looks.

 

Peace, love, dignity and humanity,

 

Liza

FRESH AIR FUND

Hi everyone!  

It's been a long while since I've posted on the To Loosen the Mind site. Not to worry, though. I'll be back up to my regularly scheduled blogging once the academic year comes by again.

 

In the meantime, while we are in summer mode, I encourage you to check out this site for The Fresh Air Fund. When I was teaching on Long Island, a young boy introduced me to the Fresh Air Fund -- he was a Black student who was attending the very wealthy, prestigious, and privileged school where I taught. Each day, he would dress up in his collared shirt, tie, and khaki pants and attend school. But, we would spend much of his free period talking about how he didn't really fit in. He was really struggling.

 

One of the few times I saw him genuinely happy was when he'd talk about his summers in Maine. He was part of the Fresh Air Fund and escaped the city, the stress of his home life, and the temptations of hanging out with kids on the street by spending his summers with a generous family in Maine who opened his doors to him.

 

After a year, the student ended up leaving the school, his home, and the stress and it was his host family that took him in. I'm sure that changed his life.

 

If you are interested in and able to be a part of this tranformative program, please check out the Fresh Air Fund site. You can help create a better experience for a young person in need -- right here in our own neighborhoods.

 

http://freshairfundhost.org/

 

Peace,

Liza

DUALITY OF MEMORY

Though I had spent two years of graduate school in New York City, I was not quite a New Yorker. So, when I walked into an advisory meeting at the private K-12 school at which I taught on Long Island, I didn't quite understand what my friend Mary Alice meant when she said in shock, "A plane just hit the Twin Towers." It was just after 9:00am. At that time, the school campus where I was teaching was renovating the Upper School building, so we had all of our high school classes in trailers Modular Units. It was pre-texting and pre-Emergency Management on a global scale. We, as Head Advisers, knew we only had a few minutes until the entire campus would enter into a panic. At a wealthy private school just outside of the city, we were well aware that many of the parents worked in the Financial District. The Head Advisers walked out of the Modular Units only to have military jets fly overhead, so close it felt like they could buzz the top of the athletic center.

Quickly, the high school students communicated and were gathered into a conference room where we frantically tried to call their parents. Teenagers, who just a few hours before were fiercely arguing whether or not their skirts were too short (they had to pass the "knee test") or whether their collared shirts were, in fact, in dress code, were crying for their Moms and Dads. The Middle School division was carefully addressing what was happening in the city just miles away from the school; The Lower School Division -- they had to pretend as if nothing was going on. The teachers, through their tears, needed to be cheery for their young students who could not even comprehend what was happening.

Parents arrived. Dismissal and accountability procedures were set into place.

It was a day that seemed to never end. As teachers, coaches, and the adults who were nearest to the children, we had to serve as their parents until, thankfully, their parents returned to get them.

Except for one.

A student in my middle school class lost his father in the Trade Center. Countless others lost their uncles, friends of parents, and parents of friends.

I still remember the smell of the air the next morning. It was a mix of metal, fire, burning paper, and acid. As we learned more about what happened, it was a smell of hate. Of sadness. Of pain. Of fear.

Over the past decade, I have grown close to a few military families who have spent more time away from their spouses and children as they have served in the Middle East. I've celebrated (virtually) a welcome home, and within a few months, a deployment of my friends. I've been a support for a friend whose husband was deployed while her child was going through chemotherapy. I've reconnected with high school friends who have served, and some who are still in service to our country today. And, while I don't agree with war, I do respect sacrifice. I respect bravery. I do respect courage.

I do not celebrate the death of a man, for I know that his death does not represent the death of hate. It does not represent the death of terror. Of terrorism. Nor of intolerance.

My heart races with anxiety when I watch my husband play Call of Duty; I cannot imagine the feeling that the soldiers felt as they were feet away from their target. I cannot imagine the feeling that the families of those soldiers felt as they heard where their son, husband, brother, uncle was going.

Within minutes of reading that Osama bin Ladin had been killed, I felt relief, pride, and closure. Within another minute, I felt sadness, heartbreak, and anxiety. I thought of my student -- an American female who wears a hijab. I thought of my former student whose father was not here to see him graduate from the school at which I taught. I thought of the people -- who have never sacrificed a day to fight in the war, nor known anyone who had lost their life on 9/11 , nor actively held the hand of anyone who is serving away from their families -- who thought the honorable way to celebrate was to party and "Get.Drunk." I thought of my anger and disgust at the images of select groups of people in the Middle East burning the US flag on 9/11. And, I felt those same feelings of anger and disgust as I saw the images of select groups of Americans cheering on 5/1.

We were no better for doing the very thing that we hated.

Upon hearing about the US completion of this mission, I prayed for the safety of those who continue to serve away from home. I prayed for the safety of my friends and students who are frequently perceived to not "be American". I prayed for the many victims of hate, particularly in the name of religion.

I prayed for the people of all religions, who are often taught about exclusion rather than inclusion. I prayed that our nation, our world, and the world's people find equal opportunities to celebrate life. I prayed for the closure that this event brought to many families. And, I prayed for the road ahead for many families who may now be called into service.

At first, I struggled with the duality of this celebration -- the celebration of both death and life. But, I am realizing that the event can have multiple emotions because it is not a singular event. Rather, it is a moment that brings both sadness and joy; peace and heartache; success and defeat.

It brings closure to some and open new wounds for others.

I most certainly do not take a position of telling anyone how to feel. I do ask that we reflect deeply upon what has occurred, did occur, and will occur.

My thoughts and prayers for peace go to the families of those who were lost on 9/11, the victims of hate based on religious and cultural identities of Americans in the years following, and the safety of all those who have lived in service to our nation.

I pray that we respect the duality that this brings,  that we understand our community of memory is both shared and different, and we uphold human dignity by seeking to  unite rather than divide.

AMERICAN MANNERS

Cross posted from ASPIRE  

While brushing my daughter's long, tightly curled hair (which she inherited from her Puerto Rican's dad side of the gene pool), she hesitantly asked me about a "bad word."

"Can I say it, Mom? Can I tell you what the bad word is?" she asked me.

"Go ahead, honey. Tell me what the bad word is."

"D-u-m. Dumb. Is dumb a bad word, Mom?"

"Well, first of all, it's d-u-m-b, though I have no idea why, and it's a bad word if you are calling someone dumb or if you are making fun of someone. Otherwise, it's just a word. Why? Where did you hear it?"

She smiled widely. I heard it in this song, "Chinese people, Chinese people, Chinese people are so dumb!" She extended her forefingers. I knew exactly what was happening next. My early childhood years stuck me in my stomach, and I could feel the heat rising from my bile. She pulled at the corners of her eyes, mimizing her wide Latina eyes into squinty, chinky, silts of skin.

"Jo! NO! That is NOT funny." I could hear the anger of a thousand Asian children in my voice. I could hear my own timid, shy, and careful voice hush my rage.

"But, all the kids laugh when Robbie sings it at school! I think it's so funny!"

We sat down against the rim of the bathtub, placed the wide tooth comb on the floor and held hands. We talked for the next few minutes about the song, about her family -- the other half of her Puerto Rican/Filipino heritage -- and that the song makes fun of people who look like her mother.  We talked about how making fun of people -- any types of people -- is hurtful. She said she didn't want to say anything to her friends because she was afraid they wouldn't like her anymore. She was afraid that if she told them about her mom -- that her mom was Asian -- then they wouldn't want to be her friends anymore if she didn't think the song was funny.

She's seven. And, the truth is, the kid in her class heard it from somewhere. He heard it from somewhere, someone, who thinks the song is funny or who thinks Chinese people are D-U-M.

They are seven. Though obviously Asian, I grew up on these songs, too. I heard all sorts of racist and homophobic songs growing up, many of them I can remember the words to even 30 years later.

But, someone taught these seven-year-old kids this song. And, with the latest viral YouTube video here (reposted from Colorlines since the original was pulled down), these songs, beliefs, and language that disparage Asians are still prevalent today.

Organizations like ASPIRE fill a need for so many of us. Some of us need ASPIRE so we can feel connected to a family. Some of us need it so we can  feel connected to a cause. Some of us need ASPIRE so we can feel connected to ourselves. But, for all of us, we need ASPIRE as a statement of Asian sisters participating in reaching excellence.

WHAT ARE YOU?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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