Not just an 11 year old girl

14 Dec

Here are some headlines reporting on an incident that happened in Grand Rapids, MI last week:

Headlines Dec2017

One of these headlines is not like the others. It’s the one that describes the victim of this “disturbing,” “wrongful” and “embarrassing” incident as not just any 11 year old Michigan Girl but as a black 11 year old Michigan girl.

Now hold up. You may be wondering: why do we always have to make everything about race? I mean, this is a human being. Isn’t that what matters?

Yes.

It matters if anyone is “inappropriately treated” (ABC News) by the police.

And…

If age and gender are relevant to understanding how and why Honestie Hodges was “inappropriately treated”, how is race not also relevant?

Because what we know, based on research across experiences, disciplines and contexts, is that race matters in how a human being is perceived:

race matters in ed

And no, it’s not that race only matters. In fact, what happened to Honestie isn’t actually surprising when you recognize her as black and female and a child in the US. As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate earlier this year, “Black Girls Are Too Often Treated as Older Than They Are—and Suffer for It.” And it’s not news, at least to the African American Policy Forum that black girls are “Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.”

I would argue that it’s critical for all of us (not just the Black Christian News Network One) to recognize Honestie as both “just” another human being and as a black 11 year old Michigan girl so that we don’t lose sight of our expectations of fair and just treatment, dignity and respect for all, while reckoning with disproportionate violations of those expectations for particular groups of people who are human, just like us. Because unless we see who is being treated unfairly clearly and completely, we can’t effectively address the systemic prejudices, discrimination and inequities that are just setting us up for the next headline.

On hybridity and why we keep arguing with each other (and should continue to)

3 Dec

At the NAIS People of Color Conference this past week, Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, reminded us that “[the United States of] America is an argument.” That since our founding through today, this republic has been about tension: between liberty and equality, between pluribus and unum, between centralized and local government, between identity-blindness and identity-seeing. Thus, “claiming a place” in the US means “getting comfy” with arguing as participation in civic life. Liu defined our challenge not “as getting into a defensive huddle,” but as “telling an affirmative story of us.” And to decide personally whether I will be an asset or a problem in the telling of this story. He called upon us to commit to hybridity: the combination of like and “super-unlike” elements in order to solve problems. In other words, diversity is not the problem or the answer: it’s just a fact—a historical, universal fact, despite the myths of some lost “purity” (racial purity, religious purity) that fuel too many of today’s political and social movements around the world. But it’s not enough to acknowledge, accept or even value diversity. Liu asserts that we need to activate hybridity. How do we do that? By explicitly integrating hybridity into our experiences, whether it’s a conversation with a friend or a lesson plan for students. And by creating environments that require hybridity: bringing like and “super-unlike” people together to “work on a third thing”—not to just talk about you and me, but to leverage our like- and unlikeness to solve a complex problem that will be enriched by having a diversity of perspectives brought to bear on it.

Thanks to Eric for the reminder, the inspiration and the challenge to do–not just be–citizens. Because citizenry shouldn’t just be about whether you happened to be born within a set of political boundaries or have documents: it should be about civic ownership and action. For more from Eric, check out his latest book You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen.

Quote of the day

27 Oct

“If you steal money, you probably get arrested and convicted, because everybody says stealing is wrong. But if you do something that is very sexist or racist, because there still is a critical mass of bias in this country, it takes more cumulative instances for it to be recognized.”

–Gloria Steinem, 2017

This is Gloria Steinem speaking in an interview alongside Jane Fonda about why the allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and assault against Harvey Weinstein seem to matter to people now. As Fonda put it, “It feels like something has shifted. It’s too bad that it’s probably because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white and everybody knows them. This has been going on a long time to black women and other women of color and it doesn’t get out quite the same.”

… which in itself is a quotable quote.

But I was struck particularly by Steinem’s naming of the “critical mass of bias in this country.” She flipped the script on something I try to illuminate, when I work with groups around -isms and -phobias, and specifically around what makes them hard to address: it’s that any real -ism or -phobia is, by definition, systemic. It’s the way things work. And it’s very hard to notice the default: the ways things normally are and seem always to have been. So it’s been harder than one might rationally expect for instances of violent and repeated sexual harassment, abuse and assault to be recognized, at least in part, because as a culture we have an alarmingly high level of tolerance–and even acceptance–for misogynist and sexist attitudes and behaviors. Socially acceptable gender and sexual biases don’t just blind us to everyday, pre-assault/harassment/abuse behaviors; they inure us to the very fact of how people are degraded on the basis of their gender everyday, publicly and with our tacit consent.

What can I do? How can I help?

12 Oct

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963

While Martin Luther King, Jr. was writing about social injustice when he wrote those lines, they seem entirely relevant as well to the natural disasters that are befalling communities near and close to us, within and across national lines, and across vast stretches of land and water.

Wherever you are, I realize that many of us who haven’t experienced the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate or the Napa and Sonoma fires, know people who have. I hope you and your communities are safe.

And if you’re having conversations with students, colleagues, friends and family about how to help, I wanted to share some resources: I’m just learning about the concept of effective altruism, and came across this tool: the Greatest Good Calculator from the Center for International Disaster Information.

I offer these not so much as any right answers to the questions so many people are asking: “How do I help? What can I do?” but as ways to advance our discernment about how to effect our values and aspirations most impactfully.

What to say when people attack the diversity of your community

29 Sep

I’ve been having conversations with communities about not just responding when an attack on identity and diversity happens in your community, but helping others to be prepared for what to say when… something unsafe happens.
It’s OK to be caught off guard. But to be unprepared–especially now, as hate speech, hate action and hate movements are on the rise–is, I would say, irresponsible.

Maybe you don’t know what to say. Maybe others don’t either. But together, you can brainstorm, practice (yes, actually, role play it out–because what you think or hope you’d say in a situation may be different than what comes out of your mouth looking into someone else’s eyes) and increase your collective preparedness for words and actions that we can reasonably expect to challenge the vital identity and diversity of our communities. And because identity and diversity are vital, we owe it to ourselves and each other to have some tools in our toolkits to respond, and not to let bigotry have the last word.

Here’s a quick video that I recommend you take 5:30mins to watch. This is Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria of the US Air Force when racial slurs were anonymously written on the dorm room white boards of black cadets. Toward the end of his address, Silveria tells the cadets and his leadership team what he has to say to racism and other -isms/-phobias, and what they can say. He tells the cadets to record him so that they can use him to deliver the message to anyone who hasn’t gotten the memo.

I encourage us all to use this example as a model of how to stand up for love and excellence in diversity. We need to convene and empower leadership and every member of our communities with everyday skills for living our values.

Resources if you’re wondering what to say or what to do about Trump’s decision to end DACA

6 Sep

Here is a beginning list of resources that you may find helpful. Please pass on and add to, as this isn’t complete or comprehensive… just a rolling list:

More soon…

And thanks to SK, ABT, MW and NPEA for sharing resources.

 

Holiday wishes to you and yours

19 Dec

Sending a wish to you and your community for the holidays you celebrate, the break you may be enjoying as 2016 concludes, and the new year.
Please click.