Archive | November, 2012

Why I do workshops

12 Nov

This fall, I hosted and facilitated a workshop: “That’s racist!” Talking to students, families and colleagues about what is (and isn’t) really racist, and here’s what one participant took away from that morning of conversations and role plays:

[I’m excited about a] simple approach to dealing with students where “racist issues are involved”…this approach is one I learned from a participant in one of the “pairing sessions”…that method is as follows…when there is a sensitive issue that arises and needs to be addressed, work through with the student whether what was said was: 1) true; 2) kind; 3) necessary.

I love the approach, and I love the source.

This is why I do workshops: so I can learn from the thoughtful, diversely skilled people who come together to work towards their 10,000 hours of diversity and equity practice.

Thanks to everyone who attends Blink workshops and brings their game.

Saturday quote

10 Nov

“Differences challenge assumptions.”

–Anne Wilson Schaef

The power of stereotypes

9 Nov

Here’s the headline from an October edition of the NY Times Magazine: “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/why-women-cant-do-pull-ups/).

I was baffled: I can. Depending on my fitness, I can do just one or maybe a few sets. But I can. So I had to read the article.

And here’s a synopsis:

Women can do pull-ups. There are some physiological, fitness and anatomical reasons why women as a group do worse at pull-ups than men as a group. Ditto for tall people and folks with long arms, who tend to struggle more with pull-ups than short and short-armed people.

But, I repeat: according to the very study journalist Tara Parker-Pope cites, women can do pull-ups.

For a great critique and response to the article, check out Gawker’s “Yes, Women Can Do Pull-Ups” (http://gawker.com/5954964/yes-women-can-do-pull+ups), which opens with the admonishment: “You should know better than to take fitness advice from the New York Times.”

I’d just like to note the chicken and egg conundrum here: Did stereotypes spawn the Times‘ inaccurate headline and biased journalism (Parker-Pope really strains in her attempt to make the evidence serve her incorrect thesis–maybe her point is that she can’t do pull-ups, and she wants research to prove that it’s not her fault?) Or does her article create a stereotype about women’s physical capabilities?

OK, it’s not a conundrum. It’s clearly a “yes, and…” situation. Her perspective is founded on the same stereotype that she perpetuates, and while a “column” may be less fact-driven than a “news article,” the very act of citing a study is a claim to fact, and thus, this column is a very serious endeavor to make a factually flawed stereotype (yes, that’s redundant) into truth.

Not cool.

All I ask is for a little more discernment and sense of responsibility from Parker-Pope and the Times (who is her editor??) if they’re going to tell people what we can–or cannot–do just because of who we are.

The 72% minority

7 Nov

According to Matt Negrin of ABC News, “White voters made up only 72 percent of the electorate in this election, according to exit polls”  (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/exit-polls-voters-improving-economy/story?id=17656990).

That’s right: only. Negrin conceded, “That’s still a majority, but it’s the lowest in exit polls dating from 1976.”

I guess it’s time to panic when you’re only almost 3/4 of the voting population–and even that only after a concerted national effort to block racial minority voters (http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2012/11/06/is-voter-suppression-a-real-problem).

And the panic is most certainly underway. According to conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly, “Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/bill-oreilly-romney-coast-election-night-coverage_n_2084926.html).

To summarize: “traditional” (read: good) America is white and has never “wanted” things (read: had special interests) in the political process. I have no idea what “America” O’Reilly is talking about, but I suspect this is one of those “good old days” remembrances when the fish we caught were all whoppers (word choice intended) and we walked uphill to school, both ways.

As the post-election analysis continues, I’d like to offer a fun and critical exercise: flip the scripts you’re offered about minority voters and offer back a reflection that includes the white voters whose mindsets and biases are absent from today’s conversations about identity politics and bias.

For example: Yes, minority voters want things. Just like white majority voters always have, including the right to control the outcome of the vote.

Living on One? Yes, and…

7 Nov

From the brief excerpts I’ve seen of the new documentary Living on One (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXvY1PqsaKo&feature=player_embedded), the film itself looks like it has some powerful moments, but the youtube video promoting the movie is actually also about… promoting the movie.

This makes a lot of sense when you realize that Living on One is about “four college students as they travel to rural Guatemala and live on one dollar a day”  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/28/living-on-one-college-students-one-dollar-a-day_n_2034537.html). Notice that it’s about the college students and their experiences. This is subtly but critically different than being about rural Guatemalans and their experiences, without the filter of the shock and struggle of US college students trying to get by on a budget that is literally and figuratively foreign to them.

I suppose that’s the way to capture the interest of the “thousands of young people” the filmmakers have explicitly named as their intended audience: tell them about someone whom they can relate to, having an experience they can’t begin to fathom. (And this helps clarify which young people the filmmakers see watching their film: young people like them. Not necessarily young working class immigrants from Guatemala, or impoverished US Americans who live on shockingly little every day right here.)

This is not to knock the film. I’m glad it’s out there, sparking discussion and hopefully inspiring minds and bodies of all ages to, as the filmmakers hope, “confront global poverty.”

And, the film raises a lot of individual and cultural self-awareness opportunities about how we do awareness (how’s that for meta?)

For example…

We still prefer crises over there, as opposed to over here. As I was watching the Living on One promo video, I couldn’t help but think about the original KONY2012 video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc), which also features young white folks learning about the hardships of brown folks in another country, taking on that group’s struggle as a cause, and bringing it back home to ask young people like themselves–not necessarily white, but from a similar socioeconomic and cultural background–to care and act now because they have the generational power to do the right thing.The exoticism of struggle and oppression is telling of the US’ struggles with domestic racism and classism. When the filmmakers of Living on One explain that poverty isn’t the fault of poor people (because they’re lazy, lack ambition or aren’t intelligent), I agree! And then I recall the sound of agreement across our country when Mitt Romney called 47% of us freeloaders.

We think “we” are all alike. Back to the KONY2012 parallels, the white savior industrial complex (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/) that is at the heart of both movements so strongly distinguishes the saviors (college educated white people) from those to be saved (Ugandan child soldiers and impoverished Guatemalans) that there’s no acknowledgement that the “youth” recruited for the salvation operation is actually quite diverse, and thankfully so. It’s diversity within a humanitarian operation that will foster the most innovative, durable, thoughtful and reciprocal initiatives (as opposed to one-way charity or salvation). Yet these movements presume that all the people capable of doing good in the world are like the leaders of the movements: needing the same revelations in order to “get it” and be inspired.

We like a good “us v. them.” And I don’t mean us v. poverty or even us v. Joseph Kony. We like to be clear about who, among the advantaged, are the good guys, and who are the if-not-bad-than-useless guys. Maybe it’s just me at 40, but the implication of youth-exclusive social movements seems pretty clear: older people can’t be trusted to care or do good. And maybe that’s fair because I’m pretty sure when I was “young,” I felt the same way. And yet. I can’t help but think that what we need is (say it with me) more diversity, including age-diversity, within movements so we think and act with greater discernment and effectiveness, in no small part because our model is one of perspective-sharing and taking, collaboration and partnership: not groupthink that leads to “us” doing what the hive mind thinks is good for “you.”

We really like a good film. Here, I’m thinking about the growing genre of films documenting the experiences of socioeconomically-disadvantaged students of color in independent schools (see my 10/22/12 post). The films are great vehicles for raising awareness and, as a young man says in the Living on One promo, “keep[ing us] connected to the world.” No argument there. And… I’m uneasy about the underlying presumption that social awareness is just another form of passive consumerism in which it’s not my responsibility to connect. No, if there’s something to connect to, shouldn’t it reach out to me? And so we continue to expect folks to testify about their hardship for our awareness and edification. This is not to say that we should never bear witness to another person’s experience, but rather to ask: do we really need to empathize, in order to care about another person?

On that note, and I’ll keep it short (see my 10.16.12 post for the long version), we really like to empathize.

While the ideals of equity and inclusion drive us to want to empathize, that’s often not entirely possible—in fact, sometimes, we just outright can’t. And I’ll admit: there are a lot of things I’m grateful that I don’t get. In fact, I wish no one knew what some things–poverty, war, starvation–are like. But just because I can’t empathize doesn’t mean I can’t sympathize, care and choose to act for social justice.

The students in Living on One want to “get” poverty. But there’s something inherently different about exploring poverty and living in it, maybe through generations. And I worry about what this endeavor models and encourages: that you need authenticity in order to act, and that you can, in fact achieve authenticity through a short-term experiment. (When, in fact, I think it can be very disrespectful and even delusional to say you “get” someone else’s experience: in order to claim that I empathize with living on a dollar a day, I have to force someone else’s lifetime experience to fit what I can comprehend, based on a trip that I know will end.)

Bottom line: I think empathy, while powerful and important in human experience, is a red herring in social change movements. Wanting to raise awareness (and more than that: challenging the deficit lens through which the wealthy view the poor, as the Living on One students talk about doing) is awesome. And, I think you don’t need to be able to (say you can) empathize in order to do that.

“Playing identity politics”

6 Nov

Watching CNN’s coverage of the voting results, and disappointed to hear a commentator remark, “If you’re playing identity politics, the Democrats are going to win.”

In the context of the coverage, her remarks seem clearly to refer to Latino and female identity specifically.

It’s disheartening that the votes of minority groups can be discounted as “playing identity politics,” while white heterosexual Christian men get credit for voting with inviolable credibility.

So this post is just to say: we need to speak up when someone tries to claim that the majority isn’t an identity, too.

What “many women” want in a president (according to ABC News)

6 Nov

Many women want to be in a relationship with a man who is clear, strong, kind, knows where he is going, can stand up when confronted and can make a woman feel protected and safe.  They really don’t have a lot of confidence in someone who is passive, unsure and unwilling to fight the good fight when needed.

Looking at the last debate through this prism for women, Romney came across as strong, assertive and clear, while President Obama came across as a bit weak and passive.  From this presentation — even with the issue landscape favoring Obama — women began to move to Romney (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/10/what-women-want-in-a-president/).

–Matthew Dowd, ABC News contributor and former Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign chief strategist

So if I’m reading this correctly: I vote for the candidate I want to marry?

Wow.

I’m sure when Dowd started writing this article, it made sense to him. But why didn’t he stop to read over it, before hitting “send”?

First of all, what a set-of up a premise: the choice for women is between a man who is kind and another guy who is “unwilling to fight the good fight.” The assumption being that the fight is, of course, good, so if the man doesn’t step up to it, he is, by default, bad.

And I suppose lesbians just don’t count as women.

As for “protected and safe,” yes, well, who doesn’t want to feel that way, men included?

And then the leap! Suggesting that women confuse presidential candidates with suitors… Off we go to elect a Husband in Chief when we cast our ballots today (or earlier, if we vote by absentee ballot)!

Now when I rein in my indignation for a moment, I do think there’s something legitimate in Dowd’s fundamental argument about a bias for presidential candidates who project a certain masculine profile (and I anticipate this will be true and trickier for future female candidates). That profile is strong without seeming too aggressive, and capable of keeping the US safe without being a global bully.

But it’s not just women who hold and are susceptible to this bias about what–and who–is presidential. The implication of Dowd’s article is that men are unbiased and clear in their own choice of president, as if it’s just a silly girl-thing to prefer the assertive candidate in a debate.

And Dowd isn’t just putting forth an opinion: he offers his own hopeful prescription for the future when he writes, “When we as men get better at constructing that model [of a blended Alan Alda-John Wayne archetype], we’ll be giving women more of what they want as leaders and as men.”

That’s right: When “we as men” (read: who control politics) “get better at constructing that model” (read: composing an appealing artifice), “we’ll be giving women more of that they want as leaders and as men.”

The answer, to Dowd, is not voter education for women and men about bono fide versus unhelpful biases. The answer is to capitalize on sexism and heterosexism to win.