Archive | February, 2012

“Would you like a racist slur with that?”

16 Feb

Do you notice anything about this restaurant receipt?

Yup, on the lefthand side, right above the word “VISA.” That would be the restaurant’s table identification: “Mc Stinkynigger,” party of 1.

Here’s the full story: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/black-customer-received-n-word-receipts-settles-restaurant-202347883.html.

For me, the stunning drop of the other shoe is the article’s citation of two other recent incidents of fast food “[insert racial slur] and have a nice day!”

 

“Lady chinky eyes”?

In all three cases, the restaurants located the problem with “inappropriate” or “unthinking” individuals, swearing on their corporate goodness that there isn’t “even [the] suggestion of racism at our restaurant[s]” (http://laist.com/2011/12/12/chick-fil-a_on_racist_ching_chong_r.php).

In the case of Corona Del Mar’s Landmark Steakhouse, the “individual” involved (a bartender who issued at least one of three receipts bearing variations on a racial slur) seems to accept his individual responsibility. As MSNBC reports: 

In one voicemail, the bartender said: “Yo Mark. Hey it’s [NAME WITHHELD]. Give me a call when you get a chance man. Just wanted to apologize for that tab, dude. You know we were totally jokin’ around.”

In a follow-up text message, the bartender said: “I know I made a big mistake by crossing the line. I have a family & mortgage that depend on me.”

In another text message on Christmas Eve, he said: “merry christmas! hope to see you soon. we miss you! please forgive us for being stupid. its not the same without you there. luv u bud!”

Yeah, luv u, too.

The question I’m left with is: how many “individual” actions does it take before we see that there’s a group, including us, who bear some collective responsibility?

Working cross-culturally

15 Feb

NPR’s Talk of the Nation did an interesting article today on “Providing therapy across cultures”  (http://www.npr.org/2012/02/15/146936181/providing-therapy-across-different-cultures?ft=1&f=5), addressing the challenges of therapy between US counselors and immigrant clients who have different cultural frames of references, shaped by ethnicity, language, religion and migration. Check it out…

Our inner Karl Lagerfeld

14 Feb

The cast of characters…

Karl Lagerfeld: German-born fashion designer, associated with the likes of Chanel and Fendi (aka $$$$ clothing and accessories brands)

Adele: English singer and songwriter, who just won 6 Grammys this year, known for her heart-wrenching (and quite catchy) songs about “rubbish” relationships

What does one have to do with the other?

Lagerfeld, also guest editor at the global free newspaper Metro, was opining on various topics on 2/6/12, including Adele. Of the singer, Lagerfeld had this to say: “The thing at the moment is Adele. She is a little too fat but she has a divine face and a beautiful voice”  (http://www.metro.us/newyork/life/article/1089980–karl-lagerfeld-on-lana-del-rey-the-greek-crisis-and-m-i-a-s-middle-finger).

That’s right. He called her fat. If this is news to you, take a moment to notice your reaction. And if you’d heard this before, try to remember your initial thought or feeling about Adele being “a little too fat.”

Outrage seems to be the general consensus: (just for starters, check out Anderson Cooper’s take: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/category/the-ridiculist/ and The New Yorker‘s: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/lauren-collins/2012/02/karl-v-adele.html).

And that’s what I’d like to explore today: the outrage. Women and men are attacking Lagerfeld (Cooper called him a “chronic foot in mouth sufferer”) and his weight history, with Lauren Collins of The New Yorker noting that Lagerfeld used to be 90-plus pounds heavier than he is now. She continues, “Lagerfeld’s favorite hobby, since becoming skinny, seems to be making fun of  other people’s weight.”

Sounds like a case of internalized sizeism to me. (Note: while a quick bing search of “internalized sizeism” turns up no hits, I’m running with it.) I propose that internalized sizeism  is the adoption of attitudes that devalue and even outright hate the idea of “fatness” and anyone who embodies it. As a person who works in a size 0 industry, Lagerfeld has internalized a sizeist attitude that makes him critical of anyone who is or could be considered “fat”–including himself. One could even argue that to Lagerfeld, anyone unlikable is therefore “fat,” as the two qualities are synonymous in his mind. (Case in point: in response to a magazine’s announcement that it would be using “ordinary, realistic” women instead of models in its photos, Lagerfeld dismissed the “absurd” idea, proposing that “[the critics who don’t like the models] “are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly” http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/12/lagerfeld-size-zero-thin-models). In Lagerfeld logic, the “mummies” are ridiculous, and therefore must be fat.

The thing about internalized sizeism, like internalized racism or sexism, is that it can thrive in silence. One need not shout one’s fat-phobia into a media megaphone to hold sizeist attitudes near and dear to one’s heart. Which brings me to the public outrage over Lagerfeld’s putting his foot in his mouth (which is itself an interesting charge: is the problem that he felt the need to judge a singer by her size, or that he was dumb enough to say it aloud?)

As I read the vehement protests over Lagerfeld’s most recent act of sizeism, I’ve had to wonder how many of us protestors are not just speaking out against Lagerfeld’s remark, but against our fears of our own, internalized sizeism: Are we afraid of our inner Lagerfelds? And in condemning him, are we trying to absolve ourselves from any sizeist thoughts that we may know better than to utter but that we know still lurk in the periphery of how we perceive ourselves and others?

I know it’s something, at least for me, to think about.

Ironic side note: in his Metro interview, Lagerfeld also noted (on the subject of alleged racist remarks by a British football player), “[People] say a thing and then they forget what they said. It’s very difficult today, as you open your mouth and everything is printed somewhere. You cannot even make private jokes anymore.”

 

It seemed like such a good idea at the time

13 Feb

I’m sure it did, Pete.

Republican Pete Hoekstra is running for Senate in Michigan. He ran this ad on Superbowl Sunday to make his point about incumbent Debbie Stabenow’s fiscal irresponsibility: http://youtu.be/kxw4uZAezaI.

… and I guess to make his own point about xenophobia? (Btw, if you missed Friday’s post, it makes for an interesting prologue to today’s.)

When criticized for the ad’s anti-Asian and anti-Asian-American portrayal, Hoekstra claimed the only “insensitivity” was regarding “the spending philosophy of Stabenow and Democratic President Barack Obama” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/pete-hoekstra-ad-china-michigan_n_1256912.html?ref=mostpopular).

Really.

Clearly Hoekstra isn’t alone, with some media wondering, “Is Pete Hoekstra’s ad racist?”  (http://www.politico.com/arena/perm/Ryan_Rudominer_7E97845E-79BB-48B6-809C-9E3242E7BC1D.html)

Hmm, is it?

 

And while Hoekstra has some in-party supporters–fellow Republican Glenn Clark called it a “great ad”–I’m pleased to report that a national party consultant chooses instead to describe the ad as “really, really dumb.” I’m also heartened that this hasn’t been identified as “an Asian issue” for Asians and Asian-Americans to address alone.

Among a group of Detroit pastors who have called for the ad to be pulled, Reverend Charles Williams of King Solomon Baptist Church has spoken up, stating, “The Asian woman speaking in this video would be no different than him having a black person speaking in slave dialect.” Williams, whom I believe identifies as African-American, goes on to criticize Hoekstra for knowingly “using the whole politics of fear, and the whole politics of division.”

Even so, Hoekstra has refused to pull the ad. Local, economically linked anti-Asian violence (remember Vincent Chin’s murder in the 80’s?) notwithstanding, his campaign goes on.

Let’s hope the only person his decision hurts is him.

Saturday quote

11 Feb

“We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.”

—Abigail Adams

IQ, politics and racism

10 Feb

Are racists dumb? Are liberals as a group smarter than conservatives?

Gordon Hodson and Michael Busseri’s study “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact,” published in the 1/5/12 issue of Psychological Science, does, in fact, suggest that there is a correlation, if not a causal relationship among low IQ, political conservatism and racism (http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/01/04/0956797611421206.full.pdf+html):

Our synthesis demonstrates that cognitive ability plays a substantial role not only in predicting prejudice, but also in predicting its potential precursors: right-wing ideologies and authoritarian value systems, which can perpetuate social inequality by emphasizing the maintenance of the status quo, and a lack of contact and experience with out-groups (Hodson and Busseri, 2012).

Their study also references a 2010 study that identifies right-wing authoritarianism as a predictor of antigay prejudice (“Abstract reasoning as a predictor of attitudes toward gay men,”  Journal of Homosexuality, by S. W. Keiller).

 While the validity of IQ and tests that measure it is controversial, there is something resonant in the study’s logic:

In psychological terms, the relation between [general intelligence] and prejudice may stem from the propensity of individuals with lower cognitive ability to endorse more rightwing conservative ideologies because such ideologies offer a psychological sense of stability and order. By emphasizing resistance to change and inequality among groups, these ideologies legitimize and promote negative evaluations of out-groups… [O]ur longitudinal analyses… demonstrat[e] that childhood [general intelligence] predicts racism in adulthood independently of education and socioeconomic status.

Translation: people want stability and order, and as inequality is a lived reality, it’s not surprising that we may prefer to rationalize it (and maintain a racist status quo), rather than to challenge it (and invite upheaval). And I do mean “we,” not just those conservatives over there.

While self-identified liberals are preening over the study’s findings, I’m curious about how this research may yet apply to those of us who consider ourselves high IQ and/or left-leaning. Certainly, in my work as a diversity consultant whose primary clientele consists of intelligent, progressive folks, I’ve observed attachment to ideologies like colorblindness, which absolutely functions as a filter to preserve one’s sense of self and the goodness of the world. While colorblindness (like class or sexuality blindness) does not explicitly “promote negative evaluations of out-groups,” it does promote negative evaluation of those who do name race, while maintaining a positive self-image (as someone who is “above” or “beyond” race). Ironically, colorblindness, despite its noble intention to treat people equally, can lead to the opposite effect: if we do not name race, we cannot address social inequalities perpetuated on the basis of race.

Despite the illogic of colorblindness, it is a persistent, popular ideology that seems to me to serve much of the same function as right-wing ideology, in the terms of this study. So perhaps this research is not so much a smug victory for liberals as it is a call to self-awareness for all of us humans who tend towards fixed ways of seeing and being in the world.

People on welfare don’t do drugs

9 Feb

On 2/2/12, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a great satirical investigation of Florida’s controversial law requiring welfare applicants to get drug tested in order to receive benefits (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-february-2-2012/poor-pee-ple).

It’s worth watching. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.

What’s not so funny in this otherwise so-farcical-it-must-be-true story is how the governor and majority of FL legislators (who voted 2:1 in favor of the law) are so ready and willing to believe that people who receive welfare are “much” more likely to abuse drugs than people who don’t receive any government assistance. In Governor Rick Scott’s own words, “studies show that people on welfare are using drugs much higher [sic] than the general population.” Which studies? He doesn’t bother to say.

But apparently, he didn’t read the September 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which found that 2% of FL welfare recipients abuse drugs, as compared to 9% of the state’s general population. (Thanks to The Daily Show for bothering to fact-find, rather than putting faith in unsubstantiated generalizations.) This low rate of actual drug abuse is substantiated by the law’s findings to date: according to FL Representative Scott Plakon, a whopping 2% of all welfare applicants are failing drug testing.

Yet Plakon stands by the legislation, and other states are following FL’s lead. Now, how is it possible to continue advocating for the mandatory drug testing of welfare applicants, when hard numbers suggest that the program is unfounded, ineffective and costly (to the tune of $200,000 so far)?

Simple: bias. In one of the great moments from the Daily Show’s piece, journalist and comedian Aasif Mandvi sums up Plakon’s fundamental rationale, concurring, “We know how much poor people love drugs.” While Plakon responds that he “wouldn’t say that”… doesn’t he, more or less?

Our culture, the same culture that created a welfare system, holds deep and tenacious beliefs about people who “go on” welfare. We suspect them of laziness and playing the system. We feel they’re immoral (for taking what they didn’t earn). And not so deep down under that, we believe they are criminals. Of course they take drugs! That is, when they’re not drinking, smoking, eating junk food, neglecting their children, having unprotected sex with multiple partners, fighting with each other or watching cable on their jumbo flat screen TVs. That’s right, welfare queens—we know your game!

Many of us would never admit to holding these beliefs, but the flourishing of mandatory drug testing laws speaks volumes about the stereotypes that persist in our hearts and minds–yes, in even the most progressive, antidiscriminatory and egalitarian hearts and minds among us.

And like other stereotypes, this one has consequences—practical consequences. Beyond the intangible price of fear and suspicion that prejudice extorts from each of us, whether we’ve been on, are applying for, or have the privilege not to need welfare, there are quantifiable costs: each individual applying for welfare has to pay $30 for the mandatory drug test. While the 98% of applicants who pass the test get a refund, they still have to come up with the $30 and loan it to the state until their results are in and the paperwork is processed. And then there’s the cost to “the general population”: that $200,000 and counting in FL. While the effects of prejudice are sometimes readily dismissed (see next Monday’s post) as only affecting a minority of people (who should just get over it), the case of targeted mandatory drug-testing vividly exemplifies how prejudice matters to all of us, in very real terms.

Now, if you’re thinking you’re glad you don’t live in FL, I hate to rain on your state pride, but mandatory and discriminatory drug testing may be coming soon to you (despite FL’s law currently being challenged on the basis of unconstitutionality). Here’s some CA chatter on the topic of whether the Golden State should follow FL’s lead: http://www.norcalblogs.com/post_scripts/2011/08/should-california-adopt-d.html. Notice the photo Butte County Republican party chair Steve Thompson uses to illustrate his musing, “Should California Adopt Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients?” And the abundant, diverse and yet familiar stereotypes about “these people” (that is, folks applying for or currently receiving welfare) in the comments that follow. So much for being able to shake our heads condescendingly at Florida.

And on that note, an invitation for any of you who are concerned about mandatory drug testing or welfare prejudice in any form: jump into the conversations, whether on-line or old school (live!) and spread SAMHSA’s statistics: folks who receive welfare don’t do drugs (as much as non-welfare recipients)!

Poverty: so over it in 2012?

8 Feb

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was upset last week that his comment about “the very poor” during a CNN interview was taken out of context. He felt misrepresented when the media quoted him as saying, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

Fine. Here’s what Romney said in full:

I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/way-florida-romney-signals-won-t-let-gingrich-185925558.html).

Somehow, I’m not feeling that much differently, context or no context. Notwithstanding how his comment in full seems to suggest that only the middle class qualify as “Americans,” here’s what I have trouble with:

A safety net for the poor is good enough. In other words, there’s very poor, and then there’s unacceptably very poor. As long as the very poor hover at their present socioeconomic status and don’t fall any lower, then we’re all good, right? Romney more or less implies that like the very rich, the very poor are “doing just fine” even if they’re just inches from that safety net. Given this low standard for socioeconomic intervention, Romney seems fairly unconcerned with inevitable holes in the “safety net,” through which already impoverished people may fall even deeper into the crevasse of poverty. Because, rest assured, he’ll get some duct tape and patch things right up, so the very poor may continue to fall only to socially acceptable levels of economic struggle.

Social action is about helping struggling individuals. Romney seems to think that “catching” people is effective socioeconomic intervention. What about identifying and eradicating the systemic issues, practices and hurdles that impoverish people and keep them impoverished? No, I’m not saying: once poor, always poor. I’m saying that beyond individual effort, merit and luck, there are social and institutional factors that facilitate and hinder “upward” socioeconomic mobility: for instance, nepotism in hiring, perpetuated prejudices about class identities (see tomorrow’s post about drug use among people who receive welfare), and discrimination in lending to prospective home buyers, students or entrepreneurs. As much as we need to continue helping socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and families, we need to address the social and institutional factors that contribute to poverty, or we’ll just end up treating the symptoms without ever addressing the underlying illness.

Majority matters. Regarding both the very poor and the very rich, Romney asserts that he’s “not concerned.” In these back-to-back declarations, he effectively categorizes these two disparate groups together. How is that possible? Because they’re the minority. But let’s be clear: not all minorities are equal. And to dismiss people in need because there aren’t very many of them is unjustifiable. (Not to mention questionable–I’m not sure where Romney is getting his statistics, but the US Census Bureau’s “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage: 2010” reported that 15.1% of US Americans were living in poverty. Even if that’s gotten slightly better over the past year, that’s some millions more people than Romney cares to acknowledge.) Of course, in Romney’s case, advocating for “the 90, 95 percent” is smart campaigning. And Romney’s not the only one who knows his audience…

The middle class v. the poor. Last week on NPR’s Forum, host Michael Krasny was discussing financial access to higher education (http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201201310900). A caller who identified as middle class expressed a sentiment I hear increasingly, opining, “It’s almost easier to be of a lower income bracket to get [Pell] grants.” (Note to this caller: the Pell Grants were explicitly and intentionally created to help low income applicants, so, yes, low income is a main criterion.) Krasny responded sympathetically, noting to his panel that it’s “often the case” with tuition assistance that “the middle class bear the toughest row to hoe… a certain amount of income disentitles you.” I’m sorry: the poor have it “easier”? And the middle class has it the “toughest”? This perspective, while understandably seductive to those of us who have not qualified for a grant, tax break or other financial assistance on the basis of earning “too much,” is based on narrow, selective reasoning. And while Krasny and his caller limited their remarks to the issue of tuition assistance, they were on a slippery and problematic slope, leading to the same dismissal of poverty that Romney has been attacked for, with the same disturbing classist premise: that the middle class are more deserving of our sympathies than the poor (who already “get” all those handouts, right?)

While the question “what about the middle class?” is important for us to ask and answer, I can’t help but feel that the middle class favoritism that is so in vogue right now speaks volumes about the poor’s invisibility and inconsequentiality. And certainly, any transformative social justice is not just for the majority, or for the group that cries, “Disentitled!” the loudest.

Rethinking Prop 8

8 Feb

One word: unconstitutional.

At the federal appeals level, Prop 8 has failed the standard of constitutionality, with San Francisco’s Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling today that even if a majority of voters “disapprove of homosexuality,” the state can’t revoke gay rights (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/02/07/BA1H1N3T1H.DTL#ixzz1lkQlr28b).

Speaking for the majority opinion, Judge Stephen Reinhardt stated, “Proposition 8 serves no  purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of  gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their  relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort.” Although the majority ruling did not explicitly declare a universal right to marry under the Constitution, I’m hoping we are laying the legal foundation to get there.

In the meantime, here’s to love.

“Rape tag”: a DIY workshop

7 Feb

That’s right, “rape tag.”

5th graders at a Minnesota elementary school invented the game, which is like freeze tag, except that you have to be “humped” to be unfrozen (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/parents-forced-to-discuss-rape-with-kids-after-offensive-game-of-tag/article2326116/).

When a parent at the school discovered the game and contacted the school, Principal Bill Sprung took immediate steps to stop the game, increase supervision at recess and inform the parents/guardians. It sounded to me like a textbook example of exactly how to handle a situation like this:

  • Stop what needs to be stopped.
  • Assess and implement the environmental/institutional changes that are needed
  • Communicate with parents and guardians.

However, some parents were apparently unhappy with how Sprung handled the situation. Why? According to Sprung, they were “mainly upset because they had to talk about the ‘sensitive topic’ of rape with their kids.”

Notwithstanding that it was the students, not Sprung, who named the game, the parents’ discomfort is understandable. Even when we know, as Sprung puts it, that “[t]his age level of kids – 10, 11, 12 is a time when kids start to mature; start to experiment. Part of that experimentation is that they do things we wish they wouldn’t have done,” knowing in theory is different than feeling confident about handling our children’s unstoppable development in reality.

As a diversity educator, I’m often asked when it’s “developmentally appropriate” to talk to kids about race, sex, sexuality and class. My answer is usually, “Already.” Research indicates that kids start picking up on and reacting to differences in social identity (that they perceive through physical appearance) during infancy. The question is not whether they see differences, but how they learn to talk (or not) about them. Not surprisingly, learned muteness around adults can lead to precisely the kind of experimentation that Sprung cites as part of normative social development. Knowing just enough about the word “rape” (or “Jap” or “gay” or “hobo”) children may invoke it to excite, provoke or just to learn more about what it means and what they can do with it.

But, of course, just because they’re ready to learn doesn’t mean that we’re ready to teach or to learn more alongside them.

And this is what I’ve come to realize: when someone asks me about the “developmental appropriateness” of talking with children about identity–or, in this case, rape–they’re often telling me something about their own feeling of unreadiness. In order to support children’s development, we need to consider not just their readiness, but the readiness of those adults who, as mentor, role model, guardian or parent, are expected to do some of the talking. And our developmental readiness hinges on practice.

Most of us are not born with an innate ability to say the right thing 100% of the time. But we can learn how to say what we have to say to our children in order to support their growth. So here’s today’s Do It Yourself workshop:

Scenario: Your 5th grade child/student has been playing or observing rape tag at recess. You’ve received Principal Sprung’s letter explaining the game and the school’s response.

  • What’s your gut response? (That visceral, not necessarily very adult and articulate 1st reaction.)
  • What are your questions about the situation and your child/student’s participation/understanding? What are your assumptions? (Consider any judgments you’ve formed: for example, about people’s intentions, motivation or innocence.)
  • What are 3 possible explanations for the game and your child/student’s role in it. (Ex. S/he has no idea what “rape” means and is just playing tag, s/he is uncomfortable with the game and language but doesn’t feel capable of saying s/he doesn’t want to play, s/he likes to shock others with risqué language…)
  • What outcome do you hope for when you think about having a conversation with your child/student about rape tag?
  • When and where would it be best to have this conversation?

Now, find someone who’s willing to help you practice. That’s right: it’s role play time! Your partner will play a 10 year old, and you play yourself. Then you can switch, to see what it’s like to be in the conversation from your child/student’s point of view.

I’d love to hear and be able to share any thoughts you have on what you could say or do in this situation–and, of course, since all 10 year olds are unique, there’s no 1 right answer, but rather a whole toolbox of possibilities that we can fill up. So feel free to hit me back–and if you have a great “when to say what” scenario to propose, I’d love to hear that, too.