Archive | February, 2012

Because Ivy Leaguers are Born This Way, too

29 Feb

So much for the assumption that higher education correlates with less prejudice: Harvard’s secret court, an administrative body “authorized by Harvard administrators to investigate students alleged to be gay” in the 1920’s ( The court’s investigations led to the expulsion of 7 students who “were gay or perceived to be gay.” The original count was 9, but

[t]wo of the students were allowed back… but the rest were not—one killed himself over the ordeal—Eugene R. Cummings. He was only 23-years-old and three weeks away from graduation.  We are also disturbed to hear that Harvard pursued and persecuted these young men for over 30 years (

Harvard students, faculty and staff, armed with almost 3,000 signatures and celebrity power including Lady Gaga and Oprah Winfrey, will be rallying on campus today to demand that the university disband the secret court (which still exists! as if public denunciation by former Harvard President Larry Summers should suffice). Protestors are also urging the university to grant posthumous degrees to the 7 students.

As a Harvard alum (of the Graduate School of Education), I’m dismayed as much by the university’s continuing inaction regarding the secret court as I am by its actions in the 20’s. The fact that I read about this rally through the San Francisco Chronicle and not through university or alumni news is maybe not surprising, but it’s still disappointing. I have to wonder: what’s with the hush hush over the not-so-secret-anymore court?

To sign the e-petition and support today’s rally, go to:

For more information about the secret courts, you can check out William Wright’s Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals (

No kidding: a bias reconsidered

28 Feb

At a birthday party earlier this month, I met a family practice doctor who told me about her favorite clients: teen moms.

My response: Really? I wanted to hear more.

She said that as a group, they tend to be more natural and relaxed than older moms (who bring lists of questions and concerns to each appointment). It’s not that teen moms care less, pay less attention or just don’t know enough to be concerned: according to this doctor, while they are just as loving as their older counterparts, they simply aren’t as anxious.

Now, this is just one doctor talking, but she certainly has more experience with mothers than I do, and I was really interested in what she had to say, in no small part because she put a spotlight on a bias I’ve had and felt pretty comfortable hanging on to: that teen moms are at an inherent disadvantage in the caretaking game.

While some of that disadvantage is arguably legitimate (less education, less financial stability and independence), there’s a lot of stereotype and presumption that goes along with the label “teen mom.” Do a quick word association: irresponsible, too young, immature… 

Listening to this doctor made me examine my own quiet presumption that teen moms must be less capable, more or less because they are teenagers. Recognizing the conclusions I was jumping to makes me wonder how much well-intended social thinking and action around teen parenting is explicitly or implicitly fueled by negative stereotypes about teen parents, and what it means to address the real social obstacles and individual needs of teen parents without creating deficits where there’s actually strength and resource.

“If you don’t understand why racism still infects the Lin story and why there is an urgent need to stand up against it, then you really don’t understand America.”

27 Feb

As a follow-up to Friday’s post on the apparent “chink” in the Lin-sanity, I wanted to share this commentary by Dave Zirin for The Nation:

I appreciate Zirin’s assessment of ESPN’s use of the slur “chink” and how not all slurs–and minorities–are equal:

There are only two conclusions one can draw from all of this. Either ESPN has a group of stone racists sitting at the SportsCenter Desk, hosting their radio shows and writing headlines (doubtful), or they have no anti-racist mental apparatus for how to talk about an Asian-American player.

Zirin dismisses the desperate denial of any racism in the use of “chink” by complicating the profile of a racist. No, the writers at ESPN aren’t “stone racists,” but they don’t have to be in order to perpetrate what Zirin refers to as “casual racism.” As for the defense that such acts are unthinking, well, I’d challenge that: nice people sometimes say racist things quite thinkingly (because the clever joke seems worth it).

Zirin continues:

As a result [of an Asian-American-shaped blindspot] we see again that people of Asian descent are subject to a casual racism that other ethnic groups don’t have to suffer quite as starkly.

No one at ESPN would talk or write about a lesbian athlete and unconsciously put forth that the woman in question would have a “finger in the dike.” If an African-American player was thought of as stingy, it’s doubtful that anyone at the World Wide Leader would describe that person as “niggardly.” They would never brand a member of a football team as a “Redskin” (wait, scratch that last one.)

They wouldn’t do it because a mental synapse would spark to life and signal their brain that in 2012, unless you’re speaking at CPAC [the Conservative Political Action Conference], that’s just not OK. This collective synapse was forged by mass movements for black and LGBT liberation in this country that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue. There simply hasn’t been a similar national struggle built by people of Asian descent. I spoke about this with William Wong, longtime journalist, born and raised in Oakland’s Chinatown, and he said, “We haven’t had a national mass Asian-American civil rights movement because our numbers have been small and diffuse thanks to various exclusionary and discriminatory laws. Our communities are also too diverse in terms of American history and intra-Asian cultural and political differences. But we should note that many Asian-Americans in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were energized by the larger civil rights movement to organize an Asian-American movement in states like California, Washington and New York where we had the numbers to come together.” This is true. In places with concentrations of people willing to stand up, Asian-Americans have come together across differences of language and origin to demand respect and equal rights, often in the face of terrible violence.

 I would add that Asian-Americans’ “model minority” status has also shaped our civil rights history: as much as there is to gain from protest, I believe there’s been a fear of what we have to lose.

But hold on: let’s not blame the victim by pinning ESPN’s and NBA fans’ ignorance on Asian-Americans not mobilizing as effectively as other groups. Certainly, equity is also the responsibility of those who are already included, who already enjoy their civil and social rights.

Saturday quote

25 Feb

“It means I’m here.”

—Luke Clippinger, Maryland House of Representatives, when asked what the 02/17/12 vote to legalize same-sex marriage means to him

Lin-sanity and then some

24 Feb

Have you heard of Jeremy Lin? Now playing for the NY Knicks, he is a phenom, noted as much for his story as for his playing. The first Asian-American of Chinese or Taiwanese heritage to play in the NBA, Lin is also the first Harvard grad to play in the league since 1954.

“Linsanity” is the enthusiastic fervor that has sprung up this unexpected idol. But, of course, the insanity in Linsanity was due to emerge any time. Here’s a story forwarded to me through an educator’s listserv I subscribe to:

I had a feeling it might come to this.

I was drawn to the Jeremy Lin story when I heard about how he had been “overlooked” by coaches and scouts but kept on working hard to become a better basketball player.  Now he’s a sensation and a magnet for bad puns.  Are your students talking about Lin as a role model? Have you had discussions about where to draw the line between humor and racism?

This “mistake,” as ESPN describes it (click on the above link to read about ESPN’s “Chink in the Armor” headline and retraction), reminds me too much of the “individual” incidents of racism that I blogged about last week (see 2/16/12’s post). I agree with sports writer Cyd Ziegler, who commented, 

“We want to give ESPN the benefit of the doubt here, but it’s impossible to believe the person who wrote that headline didn’t know exactly what they were writing. Especially since ESPN previously came under fire for using the same headline…to describe a USA basketball game in China”

** Thanks to LH for the article.

I’m rubber, you’re glue

23 Feb

Teacher Shirley Bunn was handing out forms to her eighth grade class, when one of her students requested a Spanish version, repeating, “I’m Mexican. I’m Mexican” (

The two-time Texan Teacher of the Year award recipient replied that he should “go back to Mexico.”

Bunn was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave. The investigation into her remark uncovered a previous occasion when Bunn, in a private conversation with a school counselor, referred to a group of disruptive boys as “Mexican Mafia.”

The official conclusion by an independent investigator is that there was “a lack of intent for ‘go back to Mexico’ to be a racially or nationality based pejorative remark.” Supporters of Bunn have concurred, with more than one on-line commentator expressing, “There was nothing racial or racist about her comment.”

I’m troubled by the need to deny anything “racial” (let alone racist) in her comments to and about the students. In the most basic sense, the comments are racial and national. Presumably, that’s why the student demanding the Spanish language form went there in the first place. If we can accept that, then perhaps we can talk about the underlying issue: our concern about an adult fighting with a child on his developmental terms.

In the comments following the SF Chronicle‘s article about this incident, a reader suggests, “Let’s act like adults…” Great idea. That would include recognizing that Bunn was talking to an adolescent boy. By her own admission, she was having “an extremely bad day,” which is totally understandable. So is saying or doing something under duress that we wouldn’t normally do. I’ve been there. Maybe you have, too. But when all is said and done, it’s up to us adults to try to be there as adults for the children with whose care we are charged, and when we make a mistake, I think the adult thing to do is try to learn from it. It would be worthwhile for Bunn to ask herself why she would refer to students as “Mexican Mafia” even in private and to investigate, beyond just being tired or exasperated by a particular student, what racial and national beliefs shaped her “go back to Mexico” response.

The Chronicle itself would do well to remember who’s supposed to be the adult and reconsider its headline “Texas teacher tells brat student to ‘Go back to Mexico.'” Brat student? They forgot to call him “Mexican Mafia,” too.

Where are the women?

22 Feb

It’s like an Onion article, for pitch-perfect satire. And yet, it’s just the news:

At a House Oversight Committee hearing, House Republicans convened a panel on denying access to birth control coverage with five men and no women. As Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney asked, where are the women?

Nancy Pelosi is leading the call for women’s voices in policy conversations about women’s health issues. If you’d like to add your e-voice to this position, go to:

** Thanks to EB for the link.

The Colbert Report couldn’t have done it better

21 Feb

The American Life League, the largest pro-life organization in the US, has released an anti-Planned Parenthood informational video. The message in a condom-dressed nutshell: Planned Parenthood’s goal is to make sex addicts out of kids. According to the league, the “perverts” at Planned Parenthood hide behind science (and the apparently bogus concept of “age-appropriateness”) in order to peddle pornography to kids.

While most of the “I can’t believe it’s not satire” video ( is dedicated to the pornography conspiracy theory, the Life League manages to incorporate homophobia into its message:

Analyzing the PP website, the Life League’s spokesperson notes with dismay that on the “All about LGBTQ” page, Planned Parenthood teaches, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight are sexual orientations. All these sexual orientations are perfectly normal.” He merely presents the highlighted offending text, offering no additional commentary, as if “perfectly normal” speaks volumes about PP’s campaign to pervert children.

But he’s not done with the LGBTQ community just yet, suggesting that “the page on homosexuality, titled ‘Coming Out,’ displays a teenage boy in an intimate pose with what appears to be an adult man.” Once again, our Life League “reporter” trusts that we’ll connect the moral dots without his having to spell everything out for us.

But I say, if we’re going to do a close reading of text, let’s read the whole text. Here’s the picture:

And here’s the caption: “Coming Out: Only you can decide if and when to come out, to whom, and how to do it”  ( So yes, this is an “intimate” situation: one that could save this kid’s life.

What really gets to me about this video isn’t actually the explicit accusations made against Planned Parenthood, as ludicrous and incendiary as they might be. It’s the use of homophobia as a sure-fire tool to rally their supporters. Even more than that, it’s the effortlessness of their call to arms: they don’t need to elaborate on the homophobic tidbits they offer. It’s enough just to suggest it’s OK to be LGBTQ. That, apparently, will get folks right up on the bandwagon to protest–what was it again? Homosexuality? Pornography? Family planning? Whatever, and all of it.

Too bad the concerned citizens at the Life League didn’t read further on Planned Parenthood’s website, where the federation explains:

Homophobia — fear and hatred of lesbian, gay and bisexual people — is very dangerous. In our society there is a lot of homophobia — fear and hatred of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). It’s caused by ignorance, or other kinds of misinformation and lack of understanding about what LGBT[Q] people are really like.

Saturday quote

18 Feb

“Transformation literally means going beyond your form.”

—Wayne Dyer

How To Be Black

17 Feb

Maybe you’ve heard of Baratunde Thurston’s book How To be Black?

If you’re curious, here he is in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air: I like his style (but I’m not sure if Thurston covers how to be black at Landmark Steakhouse–see yesterday’s post).