Archive | October, 2012

Make Brad Pitt poorer

31 Oct

Just a little.

Brad Pitt is this close to parting with $100,000. He intends to donate that amount to the Human Rights Campaign, “the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans” ( But we have to donate that much first.

This is a call to donate what you can for double the impact if you believe in HRC’s work for sex, gender and sexuality equity. You may already be giving to assist recovery on the East Coast, so consider what works for you and your vision for social justice.

To donate, please go to:


A Halloween DIY workshop

31 Oct

This is another (and long overdue) do-it-yourself workshop, so read when you have a moment to notice, reflect and practice.

Imagine it’s Halloween, and everyone is dressed up: maybe you’re at work, a party, school or some neighborhood gathering. You turn around, and there’s an adult dressed as a border patrol guard.

1. What’s your gut response? (Remember, this isn’t your polished public response. This is just your raw reaction.)

2. And notice: who did you see in your mind? A man or woman? White, Latino/a, Asian, black…? Where does that image come from (your personal experience, stereotypes…)?

3. What concern, if any, do you have about this costume?

4. What is and isn’t surprising about this choice of costume? (Consider context and social norms.)

5. What could this choice be about? Imagine the spectrum of possibilities–and name at least 3.

6. What difference would it make to you if the person wearing this costume were Latino, instead of white? A woman, instead of a man? A child, instead of an adult?

7. So what, if anything, do you have to say to this person or to someone else (perhaps you’re at this Halloween gathering with someone whose reaction concerns you) about dressing like a border patrol guard for the holiday? Practice it aloud. With a partner, if you can find one (and then take turns).

Whatever you think about this situation, take advantage of this DIY workshop to add to your 10,000 hrs of practice speaking up about identity and diversity.

And happy Halloween.

“Thatz Not Okay”

30 Oct

I love the website Gawker, where I occasionally read Caity Weaver’s “Thatz Not Okay” (, a column about–you guessed it–what is and isn’t OK.

Here’s a brief excerpt that appeared recently:

Q: I’m worried my 8-year-old daughter’s trick-or-treat costumes might be considered offensive. This year she wants to be a Native American for Halloween. Last year she was a girl from India (she wore a sari) and the year before that she was a girl from Japan (she wore a kimono). Is that okay?

A: Thatz not okay.

… The debate about whether these types of costumes are appropriate always leads to a great deal of consternation around Halloween. Some people adopt the cause as a crusade, justifying blackface, tinfoil-grille costumes with excuses that run the gamut from “I’m celebrating my love of African American music” to “Halloween is a holiday about upside down make-believe and I can dress however I want because there are NO RULES and I DO WHAT I WANT.”

… a good rule of thumb is if one of your first thoughts when planning a costume is, “Is there a way I can do this so that it won’t be offensive?” the answer is almost certainly “No.” And you shouldn’t do it.

… It’s great that your daughter is interested in other cultures. Why not encourage her to explore this interest by talking to her about why some people whose families are Native American might be upset when someone whose family is not dresses up in a generic Native American costume?

And if the issue is that she just wants to wear feathers in her hair, have her go as a bird princess.

While my advice tends towards, “It’s not about asking for permission. You can do anything. Just be willing to take responsibility for your impact,” I appreciate Weaver’s insight, humor and helpfulness.

And for more on costumes that stereotype, check out this year’s “We’re a culture, not a costume” campaign:

**Thanks to my colleague RG for the “not a costume” link.

I do (think homeless is funny?) A DIY yourself workshop

29 Oct

If you follow pop culture, as I do, you know that Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel got married recently in Italy.

When I read that, I admit that one my first thoughts was about cost (having gone through a wedding myself, which we were fortunate to be able to do locally in my partner’s parents’ home–but while that saved us some money, it was still not cheap for folks who had to fly in). Of course, I don’t imagine my budgetary concerns are much like a celebrity couple’s.

Still. When I read about the well wishes from homeless folks in LA that were taped as a wedding reception gag by a friend of the couple, I was unnerved. According to online journal Gawker:

After the guests at Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel’s wedding were whisked to southern Italy via private jet last week, they were greeted by a video produced by Timberlake’s longtime pal, L.A. real estate agent Justin Huchel. The video had a gag: Huchel hit the streets of Los Angeles and asked a bunch of homeless people, street musicians, and transexuals to wish the multimillionaire newlyweds well. Funny, funny stuff.

The 8:30 video featured street interviews with ten people, many of them obviously homeless, premised on the idea that they were friends of Timberlake and Biel’s who, for whatever reason, couldn’t quite swing the trip to the Borgo Egnazia resort in Puglia for the nuptials, which were reported to cost $6.5 million. “Greetings from Your Hollywood Friends Who Just Couldn’t Make It,” reads the opening title card, “Featuring Sid, Chuck, Robert, and More!” Sid, Chuck, Robert, and others appear to be penniless and living on the street. Some of them are obviously intoxicated, mentally ill, or both, and at least one of them is entirely incapable of speaking


Wow, what a hoot, as we spend more money than some people make in a year (or years) on a weeklong party.

Now, picture this. You’re at the wedding. Jess and Justin are good friends of yours (or you’re a social climber grateful to be there and trying your hardest to work this opportunity). Or if that’s too far-fetched, imagine it’s the wedding of family or friends.

Cue video.

Cue laughter all around you. Maybe someone at your table is slapping their knee and almost crying, it’s so funny. Or the guy who made the video is sitting right next to you.

What do you do?

Considering the context; your relationships to various people in the room, including, but not limited to the couple getting married); and your own socioeconomic identity, culture and baggage… What do you have to say?

And here, before you practice saying it aloud, consider whom you will address, and when. If not right now during the video, then when and where?

Please give this a go. Because equity and inclusion aren’t just about the times when it’s convenient or easy to stand up. It’s about what we do when there’s an opportunity and a responsibility.

Saturday quote

27 Oct

“Privilege is the greatest enemy of right.”

–writer and Baroness Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach

Good for Marissa

26 Oct

You know the optimistic (or in denial, depending on your perspective) tendency to assume that the exception is the rule?

As in, if Obama is president, then racism is a thing of the past. If Ellen DeGeneres has a successful talk show and career, then homophobia is over. And if Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer can have a baby on the job, then workplace discrimination against pregnant women is kaput (

It would be nice. And it is progress. Yet.

It’s telling that we can still count these individuals (on one hand) who supposedly represent the post-ism era. Note the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)’s victorious people-counting:

At the launch of the 2012-2013 television season, GLAAD estimates that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) scripted characters represent 4.4% of all scripted series regular characters on the five broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, and NBC. This is an increase from last year, with 31 series regular characters identified as LGBT.  Additionally GLAAD counted 19 recurring characters on primetime broadcast scripted series.

The number of scripted LGBT series regulars found on mainstream cable is up to 35 in the upcoming season.  GLAAD counted 26 additional recurring characters on cable (

If you’re interested, 35 is 4.4% of almost 800. And if you try flipping that count to inventory all the heterosexual characters on TV, you’d get overwhelmed by the sheer volume.

This isn’t to downplay the progress we’re making against traditions and norms of exclusion and inequity (although, if we counted the number of those LGBT characters that really play to stereotypes, perhaps our yield wouldn’t be as much to brag about).

And it’s not to disparage counting. One of the issues with diversity and inclusion work is assessment. Numbers alone don’t do the job: numbers won’t tell us about people’s experiences and perceptions, and all the “soft” but real factors that tell us what change we’re really experiencing. But qualitative metrics along are just as flawed: stories and feelings are too easily ascribed to the individual to serve as a shared basis for measuring progress. In any serious diversity endeavor, we need both numbers and stories to hold ourselves accountable for realizing equity and inclusion.

And how many is enough? How many is the critical tipping point when we’re no longer counting individuals, but experiencing a consistent, systemic shift in equity and inclusion?

My guess is: too many to count. That’s a worthwhile goal to shoot for.

Racism: a performance by Donald Trump

25 Oct

For today’s performance of racism (actually posted by Trump yesterday), please watch:!

This isn’t just dogged partisanship. It’s racism in action.

In refusing to let go of the non-question about Obama’s birthplace and right to be President of the United States, Trump is playing his own race card as a white man who claims to speak for “Americans” (read: other white people). In demanding a host of Obama’s personal documents, ostensibly so that this president will be “like other presidents” in the eyes of “Americans,” Trump is barely veiling his premise: you don’t look like “us.” You don’t possess the most important qualification to lead us: white skin. So we have every right to ask from you what we would never think to ask of a white president, and to mistrust any response from you. Because you are not white like us.

On this note, I will say that Coulter’s use of the r-word (see yesterday’s post) to describe the president had racist connotations for me, in addition to explicit able-ism. Because anything you say as a white woman about an only partly white man is racist? No. Because her choice of words reinforces a racist stereotype about intelligence. And whether you actively or passively support racial prejudice–that is to say, whether you say it yourself, laugh along or just say nothing when someone else says it–you are perpetuating racism.

Seriously, Ann?

24 Oct

Regarding Mitt Romney’s deportment in the last Presidential debate, commentator Ann Coulter had this to tweet:

“I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”

OK, breathe.

The last time I heard the word “retard” used like that was in elementary school (along with a really shameful diversity of slurs putting down girls, gay people, Asians, blacks and large people). It was stunning to hear again.

And it still is.

So I’m grateful to John Franklin Stephens for responding. Stephens is an athlete with Down’s Syndrome and a global messenger for the Special Olympics. Here’s some of what he had to say openly to Ann:

[I]t has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more (

Please read the whole letter, pass it along and take some notes about what’s helpful to you as a way to stand up when someone says something discriminatory like this.

For me, it’s the dignity. We don’t have to meet someone at the low expectation they’ve set for how to treat each other.

** Thanks to my friend EB for the heads up.

The US: a global superpower

24 Oct

White American racism is an inspiration for racists globally, but it is also one of the great puzzles for people in other countries… ranging from illiterate peasants to distinguished professors [and the working-class]… I speculate that around the world White American racism is considered to be at least as typical a feature of life in the United States as is American wealth. People in other countries measure their own local experiences of racism against what they believe to be American patterns, deplore the global influence of American racism, and wonder how it is that American life can encompass such a contradictory combination of the best and worst in human nature.

–Jane Hill, The Everyday Language of White Racism

That’s a notion: that the US is a global leader, setting the gold standard for racism.

Just started Hill’s book. Also on my to-read list: Joan Walsh’s What’s the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a
Golden Age That Never Was.

What have you read or are reading now?

What are you doing over winter break?

22 Oct

There’s a must-read article for educators, families and students who are in, considering or were once part of the independent school world in last Friday’s NY Times ( In “Admitted, but Left Out,” Jenny Anderson connects the dots of a conversation that is happening across independent schools about the struggle to be a student at a private school when you’re a racial minority without the financial resources to go on class trips, go on vacation over winter break, buy designer label clothes, go to camp or even eat out for lunch.

I won’t summarize the article–but please do read it and pass it along. Instead, I’d like to share some thoughts about what all of this means for us as folks who have the agency and responsibility to create communities where diverse children and adults can thrive (and again, “diverse” includes everyone, not just the minorities):

According to Anderson, “The [independent schools interviewed for the article] point to efforts to hire diversity directors, create forums for discussion about race and privilege, and design mentoring programs to help students find connections.” This is necessary. And it’s grossly incomplete. The minority students interviewed for the article “report feeling estranged, studying among peers who often lack any awareness about their socioeconomic status and the differences it entails. They describe a racism that materializes not in insults, but more often in polite indifference, silence and segregation.” And there it is. The solution is not just trying to protect or connect the kids on the fringe: it’s developing self-awareness, intentionality and cultural competence among all members of the community. Each person who works, studies, coaches, volunteers or in any way engages students at a school needs to cultivate:

  • self-awareness (recognition of who I am and my relationships and impact as I engage with others)
  • intentionality (an understanding of and commitment to inclusion and equity in my interactions with others), and
  • cultural competence (the skills to enact and realize inclusion and equity)

The “effort” schools make needs to be 360. Otherwise, it’s perpetuating and adding to the inequity we’re trying to address. Because let’s face it: racial minority and financially-constrained students and families don’t have a choice about self-awareness and cultural competency when they come to an elite private school: it’s learn and adapt… or leave. So they’re already doing a lot of the heavy lifting. What about everyone else?

As head of the Calhoun School Steven Nelson says, “Students, and these are nice kids, too easily assume ‘I’m a white kid in this nice Upper West Side school, and that kid is a brown kid in this nice Upper West Side school; my understanding of us can stop there. Conversations have to move beyond the surface.” UMass Amherst professor Sonia Nieto would agree that, “Nice is not enough.” Schools have to acknowledge that it’s their job to teach the nice kids, educators and families how to make that move. Schools need to articulate their expectations regarding inclusion and equity, provide personal and professional growth opportunities and hold every member of their communities accountable for making their schools places where people can thrive, not just survive.

In order to mobilize a sustainable (and not just polite or afraid of looking racist) whole-community effort, schools must make the case that this work is vital to everyone. I’ve sung this song before. (Read Scott Page’s The Difference for the bottom line argument that diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups in ingenuity, creativity and effective problem-solving. Want kids to learn better? Diversity helps.) Understanding this is imperative, especially given the fact, as Anderson reports, that:

Spending on financial aid at the [Calhoun School] grew to $3.6 million last year from $1.7 million a decade ago. (It now represents 14.8 percent of total expenses, up from 14.1 percent over that same period)… At Trinity, where 37 percent of students are from a minority group, financial aid spending ran to $5.7 million last year, up from $2.7 million 10 years ago (13 percent of expenses, up from 11 percent). Minority students represent 38 percent of the student body at the Dalton School, on the Upper East Side, where financial aid totaled $7.8 million last year, up from $3.9 million a decade earlier (13 percent of expenses, up from 12 percent).

I can hear it now, the quiet murmuring about how much it’s costing people who are paying full tuition to support those kids. I mean, it’s nice and all, but is it our job to pay for them? (And, in silent looks, because we know better than to say it aloud: maybe their parents should work harder so they can provide for their kids?)

And this is where we need to acknowledge systemic inequity. Despite what Ruby Payne says in A Framework for Understanding Poverty, poor people as a group are not solely responsible for their own poverty. Yes, there are poor (excuse the pun) individual choices, but those are equal opportunity: I live in an affluent neighborhood and see lots of poor choices every day. So when Payne lazily stereotypes the generationally poor as abusing drugs, watching too much TV and lacking strong family ties, please ask yourself whether those claims apply just as well to rich and middle-income folks. Rather, as Dalton Conley argues in Being Black, Living in the Red, the distribution of wealth that we see today is inextricably linked to racist systems and laws, both defunct and ongoing. (That’s right, ongoing. See “predatory lending.”)

I offer this in response to Anderson’s almost bewildered reporting that “a connection persists” between racial minority families and financial aid. Yes, there is a connection because there’s a wealth legacy in this country based on historical, social and economic white-privilege. Add to that: private schools often tend to recruit for this demographic. It can be challenging for a poor white student to get a full financial aid package at some schools because that school would like to kill two politically correct birds with one stone by giving that package to a brown or black student instead. I am not arguing that it’s harder to be a poor white kid–let’s not get into a meaningless oppression run-off here. Rather, I’m saying that private schools may unintentionally stereotype prospective students, thereby helping to perpetuate the white-wealthy/of color-poor divide. Which is again, why we need to require and cultivate self-awareness, intentionality and cultural competency in every office, classroom and hallway in our schools.

And on that note, while this divide persists (and we should be prepared for that, even as we work to diversify access to opportunity and resources), we need to educate ourselves to how this dichotomy matters, in student experience and in our efforts to create more inclusive and equitable communities. For instance, inclusion and equity education for wealthy folks may need a stronger foundation in compassion skill-building (see my 10/9/12 post, or go directly to some of the research on how socioeconomic status impacts compassion: So the tools and processes by which we build awareness, intentionality and cultural competence are necessarily going to involve some awareness, intentionality and cultural competence in their design.

One final note about this article, and then I’ll let you go read it yourself: Anderson notes the critical role of documentary films about student experiences in raising awareness. And I even got a sense of a movement: more films being spawned, meaning more students being filmed and more witnesses to their voices. This again is necessary, vital work.

And. We cannot be content to put the responsibility on students, current and former, to educate us. We must step up. We must redefine our responsibilities as schools that “value” diversity; as parents and guardians who, at least in part, choose schools for “the diversity”; as parents, guardians and alumni who have been or see how hard it is to be the poor kid of color at a private school; as nice, well-intended folks of all ages who had hoped that things were as nice as we always intended…

We can’t just wait for and watch the documentaries. We need to stand up, speak out and act. That means me, and you.

*Thanks to my colleagues SK, CK, KF and GS for the article.