Archive | September, 2011

Cricket, anyone?

24 Sep

Since 2008, the New York Police Department has sponsored a cricket league for teens. According to the NYPD, this new offering is part of the department’s recognition that its outreach efforts, which have traditionally included softball, soccer and basketball youth leagues, need to reflect the interests of an increasingly diverse population. (Cricket is a national pastime and popular sport in many South Asian and Caribbean communities.)

Kudos to the NYPD for figuring out that if they actually want to connect with kids, they need to connect through the kids’ interests—not
just their own tradition or sense of how to connect. This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for well-intentioned groups that want to be inclusive: seeing the limits of their hospitality and recognizing that what’s inviting and friendly to them is perhaps off-putting or even exclusive to the very groups they’re trying to engage. This is not to say that the NYPD’s previous outreach was bad or inadequate. It was everything the NYPD intended—just for a very limited demographic, as opposed to the general public with whom they intend to connect.

The NYPD’s example asks educators to consider: when we offer “an open door” to students, parents and colleagues, for whom is the door obviously wide open? For whom is the door perhaps ajar, but certainly not an invitation to enter? And how else can we invite engagement and connection for all of the people with whom we work, staying true to our values while diversifying our methods?

Equal rights, not sainthood

23 Sep

Singer Melissa Etheridge’s legal battle with her ex-partner Tammy Lynn Michaels over child custody, spousal support and division of property has captured some media attention: critical to the determination of who gets what is whether or not the couple were, in fact, married. Etheridge is claiming that they were not.

This news has sent some proponents of gay marriage reeling. Isn’t Etheridge’s position an undermining of the entire movement? Isn’t she single-handedly undoing all that equal rights activists are striving for? How can a lesbian deny the reality and legitimacy of her own marriage?

While I’m sympathetic to the concerns of activists who don’t want to offer any ammunition to the opponents of gay marriage, I don’t think it’s just or fair to conflate the right to divorce (with all the ugliness that can entail) with the right to marry.

To be blunt: I hope that what we’re fighting for is simply the right to marry–not the right to marry saddled with the contingent responsibility to act better than heterosexual people do when marriage doesn’t work out.

Whether or not it’s disappointing that Etheridge is using a legal technicality/reality to define her current obligation to Michaels, she is making a legal argument. And yes, it all gets muddled if she once claimed it was a real marriage and now doesn’t… but there’s a familiar heterosexual ring to that duality, isn’t there? And should she be denied the right to use a legally sanctioned argument that countless heterosexual exes use every day in the dissolutions of their own unions? Isn’t it doubly discriminatory to deny the right to marriage… and then deny the right to argue the fact that she wasn’t (at least legally) married?

While I do hope that equal rights means equal access and opportunity to privilege, rather than equal opportunity to act like a heel, I don’t think it’s fair to ask gay people to be better at marriage and divorce than heterosexual people. I don’t think they should have to be saints to share this legal privilege.

Hate matters

22 Sep

During her interview on KQED’s Forum yesterday (, Patrice O’Neill, executive producer of “Not in Our Town” fielded a call from a listener questioning the differentiation of  certain crimes as “hate crimes,” essentially wondering, why aren’t they just crimes?

To paraphrase, O’Neill responded that hate crimes target and terrorize whole groups of people, and thus victimize entire populations in an act directed against one individual. Thus, they are not like other crimes.

I thought O’Neill handled the question well, and she got me thinking more about why it is legitimate, and even critical, to make the legal distinction when a hate crime has been committed. If we as a society intend not just to dole out punishment but to prevent crime, it is imperative that we understand the etiology of criminal acts. If the motivation for a violent act is hatred for an entire group of people, is it adequate to lock up the perpetrator? Does that deliver justice to the population that the victim represented, and to society as a whole?

While a particular individual or group must be prosecuted for a crime, identity-based hatred is usually more diffuse: we learn bigotry from the people around us who would never raise a fist against another person (and who preface prejudiced statements with a wink, “I know this is politically incorrect, but…”), we absorb fear and disdain for others from cultural biases and stereotypes, and we study intolerance every day from jokes and derogatory names “that don’t mean anything, really.” In order to address a hate crime then, we must think and act beyond just who is being prosecuted.

What if we acknowledged bias as human and, recognizing everyone’s potential to discriminate, teach all children how to handle the impulse to put down an entire identity group just because they’re women, Latino or transgendered? What if we recognize the environmental, synergistic circumstances that fertilize potential hate crimes, and commit ourselves to interrupting intolerant speech and action before it crosses the line to criminality? Perhaps then we would put a real and permanent dent in hate crimes. But first, we need to acknowledge that these are not individual, isolated incidents. These are hate crimes, and hate is a socially engendered and perpetuated motive.

In Our Town

21 Sep

Not in Our Town was featured on KQED’s Forum this morning. NIOT documents and broadcasts the efforts of communities working together to stand up to hate and hate crimes. The latest in the NIOT series airs tonight on PBS: “Light in the Darkness” chronicles the response of Patchogue, NY residents when anti-immigrant violence escalated to murder in 2008. In an excerpt from the documentary, one man expresses appreciation for the communities of Patchogue coming together, but notes with regret and frustration that it took death to get people to notice and care about a deep and angry divide among them.
This reflection gave me pause. Every community has a threshold for intolerance: a point up to which the expression of bigotry is acceptable, whether because we see the perpetrator as harmless (they’re just kids or that’s just our cranky uncle Joe) or because we see the action as not having any real impact (this is the rationale kids use to defend the expression “That’s gay!” They insist it doesn’t mean anything.) And the truth is that every community has a justified target for intolerance—in the Bay Area, it may be political conservatives, people who are deemed too “showy” about their wealth, or folks who are “really” religious. But how much intolerance is already too much? What hatred are we already sweeping under the carpet (and inevitably tripping over, since out of sight does not mean out of heart and mind)? What intolerances of our own do we need to address—not ignore or deny, but actually look deeply at and understand in order to transform? Even if it never gets to murder, what is happening right here and now in our towns and schools that ask us to stand up against hate?
Check out: for more resources and discussion, including a DVD of “Light in the Darkness” and the Not in Our Schools (NIOS) movement.

Critically rethinking blogging

21 Sep

The best work Blink does has always been in dialogue with fellow educators who are open to critically and compassionately rethinking diversity, from purpose to practice. Realizing that this community of thinkers and activists cannot come together every day for a workshop, roundtable, or even just a lunchtime check in, Blink is launching the Rethinking Diversity blog, as another forum for news, reflections, and discussion about inclusion and equity in our schools and communities. This is a space for folks to read, share, comment, ask questions and connect with others who care about every individual’s right to thrive where they work, learn and play.