Even clearer

14 Dec

While partisan jockeying is inextricable from the declarations of who and what is racist in my last post and this one, I’d like to focus on what we can learn from the headlines, no matter who says what.

As The Huff Post reports:

In oral arguments over the case Fisher v. the University of Texas Wednesday, [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia suggested African-American students would do better at “slower-track schools” than UT. He added that black students come from “lesser schools, where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

“I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible,” Scalia said (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/harry-reid-scalia-racist_56698f1ae4b0f290e5221cbd).

Here is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s response to Scalia: “These ideas that he pronounced yesterday are racist in application, if not intent.”

I had to stop and take a moment when I read this. Harry just disrupted the all too familiar script of public opinion, which takes something that someone said or did and (intentionally or not) turns it into a question of character, when, in fact, it’s really a question of what got said or done.

Reid went on to say that he couldn’t speak to Scalia’s intent, clearly making the point that whatever the intent, Scalia’s stated opinion has a real and racist impact.

And (note to the BuzzFeed staff) to further that point, the issue isn’t whether or not Scalia is a racist: it’s a matter of the ruling, not the person or their character.

Because it is

9 Dec

The writers at BuzzFeed operate under an Editorial Standards and Ethics Guide, which states that “Reporters and editors should refrain from commenting in a partisan way about candidates or policy issues.” So they asked their Editor in Chief Ben Smith whether calling Donald Trump “a liar and a racist” violates that policy (http://gawker.com/buzzfeed-editor-in-chief-assuages-staffs-fears-over-cal-1747018268).

This is Smith’s response:

The goals of this policy (which is stricter with BuzzFeed News staff) are twofold: To preserve our readers’ confidence that we can be fair; and to not needlessly undermine the work of reporters on the beat. And in that context, Trump is operating far outside the political campaigns to which those guidelines usually apply.

It is, for instance, entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist, as the politics team and others here have reported clearly and aggressively: He’s out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign. BuzzFeed News’s reporting is rooted in facts, not opinion; these are facts.

While I question why it matters how conventionally or not Trump is running his campaign, I appreciate Smith’s clarity on this point: “racist” isn’t an opinion. It’s a fact.

Racism is the perpetuation of systemic social biases through individual and collective language, actions and permission, whether by default or conscious choice, that advantages a racial identity and culture as the norm or ideal. While anyone can discriminate against another person based on any racial identity (i.e. Asian people can treat white people as less-than), racism has normative cultural and institutional power behind it.

So it’s not unkind, baseless or (necessarily) partisan to call it racist when Trump advocates for banning all Muslims (including US citizens) from entering the US (http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/07/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration/index.html). It’s accurate.

And I just wish we would apply this discernment when we react to declarations like this suggested ban or the call to build a wall at the US-Mexico border. Instead of decrying these statements as “offensive” (which they apparently aren’t, to more than a few of our fellow citizens), we should focus on what they actually are: infeasible, negligent regarding the etiology of our national issues and crises, contrary to our professed national values  (although consistent with too many historical precedents like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the creation of reservations for Native Americans, Jim Crow laws and the internment of Japanese Americans) and racist. To call profiling, containing and excluding people “racist” isn’t political correctness. And we can’t afford to indulge the perception that it is.

A white man writing about a white man swinging an axe

9 Dec

One of my favorite colleagues (also educator, academic, activist, blogger, good lump of carbon on the planet, and more, not necessarily in that order) has posted a historical and personal perspective on the ongoing truth that while all lives matter, there is a persistent, real and fatal inequality in how those lives are cherished and preserved. I urge you to read and share forward “A White Man Swinging an Axe” (http://chris.thinnes.me/?p=2533).
And thanks, Chris.

An Instagram poem

15 Nov

Today, I’d simply like to forward a poem by blogger Karuna E Parikh, with gratitude for her framing of the terrorist attack in Paris (https://instagram.com/karunaezara/):


Karuna accompanies her poem with this note:

I woke this morning deeply disturbed by the news from #Paris, but more amazed by the attention it received on social media. I understand Paris is a beloved and familiar space for a lot of people, but it troubled me that #Beirut, a city my father grew up in, had received so little attention after the horrific bombings two days earlier. It also troubled me that #Baghdad, a place I have absolutely no connection with, received even less attention after the senseless bombing that took place there last week. Worst of all, I found the understanding of the refugee crisis skewed and simplistic. If you’ve been following the journeys of the people leaving their homes around the world right now, perhaps you’ll understand why the words #SyrianRefugeeCrisis are just as devastating as #PrayForParis. It’s time to pray for humanity. It is time to make all places beloved. It’s time to pray for the world.

This is a “yes, and” so well put, and so important to put out there. (Here’s some coverage of the Beirut bombing that Karuna inspired with her poem: http://usuncut.com/world/beirut-this-terrorist-attack-didnt-get-any-media/.)

** Thanks to my colleague EG for sharing.

What’s racist, and why

13 Nov

A colleagues passed along this article “MU students tell their stories of everyday racism”  (http://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/higher_education/mu-students-tell-their-stories-of-everyday-racism/article_81f35cfe-84af-11e5-b4e4-ef223ec60553.html), which reports racial microaggressions experienced by Missouri University students, sought out by the Missourian because:

Throughout the Missourian’s coverage of race, we’ve heard from readers who say they can’t relate to stories of racism. Many have said they don’t see racism in their worlds, and they just don’t think it’s still a problem.

The honest obliviousness to racism in their own community isn’t surprising. I see ripples of it in the SF Bay Area when we read about race and racism at MU, in Ferguson and elsewhere in the South: with the hope, confidence or shield of stereotype that this is their problem, not ours, too.

It’s hard to confront racism in our own communities, especially when its manifestation is more often micro than macro (that is to say, evident in individual actions, as opposed to codified in institutional policy), which is why I would posit that it’s vital to learn to recognize microaggressions.

But they’re micro! Shouldn’t people just stop being so sensitive and get over it?

Well, yes. And.

It’s not healthy to allow microaggressions to define our experiences and identities. And, it’s not healthy to ignore the underlying, systemic (i.e. not just about this one time involving you and me) prejudice and discrimination that microaggressions sometimes indicate. I say “sometimes” because a microaggression can target any identity, including empowered, majority and normative identities (ex. I can be belittled for being “on of those Ivy League snobs”). But not all microaggressions have social or institutional might behind them: snob or not, I still experience the normative social and professional privilege of having my degrees.

And then, some microaggressions do have the power of an -ism behind them. This MU student breaks down what makes some racial microaggressions not just offensive or insensitive, but racist:

One example of a racist experience was when I walked home to Greek Town one night my sophomore year. A pair of white men who seemed to be intoxicated were walking towards me. Before I passed them, they placed their hands in a praying position, bowed and said “konnichiwa” and laughed hysterically before continuing on their way.

Initially I brushed it off because they were intoxicated. And I don’t find being miscategorized as Japanese offensive either. But looking back, I realize this was racism. It is racist to steal another culture’s traditions and words and use them mockingly. It is racist to categorize me based on my race and mock me for it. It is racist to lump all Asian people together into a stereotype. It is racist that though they were intoxicated, this appropriation was embedded in their consciousness to whip out on a passing Asian subject.

Am I forever marked by this occurrence? No. It doesn’t define me. Neither does my race. This occurrence points to a culture that reinforces racism and demeaning behavior. And that is what frustrates me. Words, action and inaction all have power.

And we need to respond when words and actions contribute to cultural and systemic inequity. When a microaggression or pattern of microaggressions reinforces and is reinforced by an -ism, it doesn’t suffice just to tell targeted individuals to cultivate a stiff upper lip. It hurts not just them but us to cultivate fear, ignorance and hate.

** Thanks to CH for sharing.

Entitlement is a cup of coffee

11 Nov

The current controversy (yes, controversy) about Starbucks’ new holiday cups is a powerful illustration of entitlement. Here’s the newly designed cup:


Here’s Starbucks explanation of the design, according to their Vice President of Design + Content, Jeffrey Fields:

On color, we have always utilized this “Starbucks red.” We love being able to energize, so we try to target a specific red to be poppy and bright and happy. This year, we focused on the simplicity note regarding design. Simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve. I think this year, when we created this cup, we wanted it to have design sensibilities that were sophisticated and iconic but we asked ourselves, “What can we do to give it a little more?” That’s where the ombré effect came into play. What it did really is weight the cup and give it a beautiful intention. It was depth (http://www.coolhunting.com/design/starbucks-holiday-cup-design-2015).

Here’s a reaction to the new design from Joshua Feuerstein, described by US News & World Report as “an evangelist with impressive social media clout”:

Starbucks “removed Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus” (http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2015/11/10/starbucks-faces-backlash-over-plain-red-holiday-cup)

Given that Starbucks is selling “a Christmas blend, whole bean offering” this year, just as it has in years past, I have to challenge to leap to the charge that Starbucks is joining “the war on Christmas” (http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/09/politics/donald-trump-starbucks-boycott-christmas/index.html).

Yet I actually totally get the backlash to this year’s reindeer-less, fir tree-less and otherwise Xmas-holiday-esque-less design: it’s a perfectly understandable reaction when one is entitled.

Entitlement is basically the misunderstanding that one’s privilege is one’s right. Because my privilege is entirely normal, not just to me but to my community, and has been reinforced to date by my experiences in my community, it is shocking when that privilege is checked.

In this case, we’re talking about the entitlement of religiously and culturally Christian folks, who expect not just an acknowledgment but a celebration of Christmas, even in the most secular and not particularly Christian sectors of life in the US, just because they’re used to it. (Note: I am referring to those religiously and/or culturally Christian folks who feel entitled on this issue, not implying all religious and cultural Christians automatically feel entitled.)

The extremism of the notion of the “war on Christmas” reflects the powerful conditioning of entitlement and the equally powerful conditioning of the privilege that underlies it. And the challenge for all of us, whether our privilege and entitlement stem from religious identity and culture, racial identity and culture, gender identity and culture (ex. calling it “interrupting” when Carly Fiorina does it, but accepting the interjections of all the other men in the debate: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/trump-thinks-fiorina-serial-interrupter-article-1.2430573), class identity and culture or another aspect of our individual and collective sense of self, is to take our outrage as a cue and redirect some of our reaction back on ourselves to ask: What’s going on with me? What do I expect as my right? And what’s actually my privilege, as opposed to my right?

Today’s post is Leslie Miley’s post

4 Nov

Who is Leslie Miley?

Picture who comes to mind. (This is relevant.)

Leslie was an Engineering Leader Specializing in Mobile and Web Development at Twitter. As such, he was the company’s only African-American leader in engineering. He was also committed to being “a leader in eliminating environments where I am the only African American in engineering leadership.”

Leslie just quit and explains why in this blog post, which is the blog post I urge you to read today: https://medium.com/@shaft/thought-on-diversity-part-2-why-diversity-is-difficult-3dfd552fa1f7.

The question for any organization that claims to value diversity and claims to be striving to increase the diversity of its community at all levels is: How are you currently taking care of the people whom you already have? And more specifically, how are you taking care of people who identify with groups that are currently and historically under-represented in your organization and field? What does it take for people who don’t identify (in Twitter’s case) as white and male not just to survive but to thrive as employees, colleagues and leaders?

When Leslie writes about a colleague’s remark that “they forgot that you were black,” Leslie wonders:

Is a prerequisite to working in tech as a minority that one is expected to, in the eyes of the majority, sublimate your racial identity to ensure a cultural fit? In attempting to achieve the appropriate level of blackness that makes me palatable to tech, had I unwittingly erased the importance of maintaining my blackness in a sea of white faces?

Which leaves Twitter with a helpful starting point, if they actually mean that they’re “committing to a  more diverse Twitter” (https://blog.twitter.com/2015/we-re-committing-to-a-more-diverse-twitter):

What is the “appropriate level of blackness” or womanness for a Twitter leader?

Because it’s not enough to shoot for more racial and ethnic minorities and women at the bottom of your organization. Real change means shooting for transformation at the top.


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