Archive | February, 2013

Starting with “yes, and…” instead of no

27 Feb

You may have read about the US Department of Education’s January 2013 mandate requiring schools to “make ‘reasonable’ changes to sports programs so that disabled students can play—or else create separate teams for them”  (

If so, you probably heard about the immediate “no” response, summed up by Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative thinktank: “I’m sympathetic to the idea that kids with disabilities should be able to play sports, but this is an incredible example of executive overreach and a huge unfunded mandate.”

In other words, no. Too expensive.

Hold on, now… let’s try a little “yes, and…” thinking, shall we?

Yes, some changes would be costly. And, some changes are pretty affordable, like holding up visual coaching cues on the sidelines of a match or simply allowing students in wheelchairs to compete in track events.

Yes, Title IX was and continues to be an expensive mandate to enact and enforce. And, it has helped produce some of our nation’s finest athletes. And, not just women (hello, men’s gymnastics).

Yes, this is a budget question. And it’s a civil rights question. (And yes, civil rights are expensive to fight for. And, thank goodness we continue to fight for those rights for all, not just some of us.)

I’m not saying the budget question isn’t real or valid. It is. And, letting budget drive civil rights is, in the long run, a bad way to invest (or not invest) in a society.

In an interview, I was once asked how I feel about people like Tim Wise making big bucks talking about white privilege. How I feel is that people ought to get paid well for important work, and I think equity, inclusion and social justice are important work. (That said, I also think we need to ask ourselves why white heterosexual men in the not-too-young-and-not-too-old age range are the highest paid and most venerated in the field.) By extension, I would say that of course the important work and transformation of civil rights is costly (at least up front, although in the long run, it brings an excellent return on investment). And so we should not throw up our hands in surprise and defeat when we have the opportunity to expand civil rights in the US, but rather lean into the challenge and bring our best thinking to how we will stand for what we believe in.

So I would ask the good people at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to decide whether they think civil rights are vital to these United States. (I’ll wait.)

And, if so, then to please join us in applying some “yes, and…” thinking to help create equitable opportunities in athletics for athletes of all abilities, and schools of all budgets.

Donate a book

26 Feb

Heard of the It Gets Better Project?

The project “shares messages of hope and possibility with LGBT youth” that life does, in fact, get better (

These messages come through the personal stories of other youth and adults, that It Gets Better has compiled in:

the New York Times bestselling book, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. The book is a collection of about 100 incredible stories from allies and members of the LGBT community. From the kid across the street to President Obama, these stories provide hope to youth who may have trouble seeing the path to a bright future.

Your $25 contribution will enable [the IGBP] to send a copy of the book to a school library of your choosing. Contributions over $25 are also appreciated.

To make a donation, please go to:


“Stop talking about gender equality because [it’s] way off-topic”

25 Feb

Here’s the blog post headline a friend sent me: “attempts were made to calmly discuss feminism and sexism in tech on a large public mailing list dominated by men” (

Notice your gut response and your expectations of what this post will entail.

Now see if anything that happened in this particular group seems familiar…

The catalyst for this discussion was someone posting a workshop opportunity with discounted tuition for women.

According to blogger lillielillie, here is the fallout of that post:

  • “A man wonders aloud (we’ll call him Wondering Man) why we even need to worry about racial or gender diversity, since the dev shops he’s worked in are highly meritocratic and the numbers of women in tech are proportional to the numbers of girls in his high school advanced math classes.”
  • “A feminist man writes a very kind email explaining why Wondering Man should educate himself and that Wondering Man’s arguments have been disproven about a bajillion times.”
  • “Wondering Man freaks out toward Feminist Man and hilariously confirms every stereotype about men who don’t understand that the patriarchy harms them too.”
  • “People trying to talk Wondering Man down from the ledge.”
  • “A woman saying she is leaving the group in disgust.”
  • “A lot of name calling and general ill-will.”
  • “Some people saying things to the effect of ‘Stop talking about gender equality because this is a Ruby list and this is way off-topic’.”
  • And then when, coincidentally (?) someone posts about a women and transgender coding group, another member of the list posts back, “Do you know of any men-only workshops I can attend? I know that there is a majority of men, but is there one a person could go to that’s exclusively for men?”

Any of this sound familiar? Maybe a little too familiar?

I, for one, have been here before, and I don’t even know what SF Ruby Meetup is.

This conversation is so familiar. And constant. It makes me feel tired. It makes me wonder if we’ll ever get to the point of not only “calmly discussing feminism and sexism in tech,” but doing something about sexism and making inclusive strides towards equity.

To that aspirational end, I would advise considering, when you find yourself beginning or fully in the middle of one of these conversations:

  • What’s more important to you: being right or being effective? I know, I know: both. But let’s just say you have to choose one. Let that lead your strategy.
  • Try not to noun people. Stereotypes will pop up in your head, and, of course, stereotypes come from experience. However, when you treat someone like a stereotype (Wondering Man, Feminist Man and Angry Man), odds are good they can tell. And they’re not gonna be happy with you. This is not a critique of lillielillie or the folks on the mailing list. I understand she’s just writing on her blog, and we don’t have the actual transcript of the conversation. I’m speaking in general, and also suggesting that when we think of someone as a stereotype, we don’t actually have to say it in order for them to feel what we think about them.
  • Try “yes, and…” thinking and speech. I find it helpful to stop myself when I’m about to say “(no) but,” and ask myself: Is this really a “but”? Could it be a “yes, and”? And sometimes when I’ve already said “but,” I stop, go back and start over with “yes, and…” Works wonders. Because it’s not just words. It’s a belief in inclusion that helps me shift from a heels dug in stance to an aikido flow. It’s especially challenging, helpful and transformative for me, when confronted with someone who thinks equity is “way off-topic,” to sympathize with their perspective, even if I will never, ever really get it. Because equity isn’t about us all thinking and being alike: it’s about a diverse us being able to thrive with our different perspectives, privileges and challenges.

** Thanks to my friend and tech guru JL for the link. And I encourage you all to read the full post by lillielillie. She makes some great points about the group as well as her own decision to leave it.

I like the way they think

22 Feb

A friend sent me info about the Geek Feminism Allies workshop ( What is a Geek Feminism workshop about?

Often, when a sexist incident happens, we are so busy being shocked and amazed that we can’t react quickly. Sometimes days can go by before we figure out what to do. This is true for even for people who have a lot of experience and education in supporting geek women. For example, one experienced geek feminist who “wrote the book” on how to respond to pornographic presentations was present for a pornographic presentation. Despite knowing intellectually what to do, she was too shocked to respond in any way for several hours. If a world expert in supporting geek women can’t respond quickly, what hope to do the rest of us have?

The solution is practice. By running through theoretical scenarios and coming up with answers in a friendly environment, we have a better chance at responding in the real world. It’s like practicing a presentation.

I’m in love. The philosophy, the rationale and the emphasis on “try today tools” (to borrow from Mica Pollock’s phrase “try tomorrow tools”) all resonate with me and the work I hope that I do in my own workshops.

And I appreciate the clarity the Allies workshops put on language. Note their explanation of the terms “men” and “women”:

Gender binary language divides people into “men” and “women” and things into “masculine” and “feminine,” with no other options. Many people do not identify as either wholly “male” or wholly “female.” This means, for example, that using phrases like “men and women” to mean “all adult people regardless of gender” is inaccurate and incorrect (try “people of all genders” instead).

While I would argue they are confusing sex with gender, “gender” is commonly misused to talk about male, female and intersex identity, perhaps it’s too much to go into all at once. (Although I believe that distinguishing between sex and gender helps us better understand issues and nuances in these overlapping spheres of our identities.) And I love that last line: try “all” instead of “regardless” because there is no regardless of who I am or you are. There’s just the whole of us.

So thanks to my friend and tech go-to JL for this link. I encourage you to share the Geek Feminism Allies workshops with folks you know who work in tech, regardless of the diversity of their current employment. Because it’s not just about the tools and skills you think you need right now (because there’s a woman sitting next to you): it’s about lifetime everyday preparation.

Recruiting from the outside in

21 Feb

A colleague just shared a cool opportunity called The Board Match ( Here’s the deal:

The Board Match offers a unique opportunity for Bay Area residents to become stronger leaders by serving on the boards of directors of local nonprofit organizations. In particular, it offers young and mid-career professionals opportunities to become organizational and community leaders, with benefits for their own professional growth, as well as an entrée into philanthropy and civic stewardship that inspires others and can become a pattern for life. It offers seasoned professionals approaching retirement a vital next step in a lifelong career” (The Volunteer Center).

As my colleague put it, “You basically go and its a ‘Want to join our board?’ fair with reps from over 100 Bay Area nonprofits looking for potential board members.”

Go, Volunteer Center! Thanks for creating a vital conduit in recruitment: a community-accessible, intensive and inclusive opportunity for people outside organizations’ networks to find them.

All too often, recruitment is more by default, left to existing members to invite in those they know within the communities they themselves belong to. This approach seems inclusive from the inside because people are asking great questions and brainstorming lots of candidates, but is it inclusive if we only pick among the people already in the room (with the door that may not be locked, but looks shut to the casual passerby)?

And the reason inclusion matters is organizational well-being. It comes down to this: the broader you cast your net, the better your odds of hauling in the talent, insight, skills and understandings that, in synergistic dialogue, will help your organization to thrive.

When organizations claim, “We don’t recruit,” I tell them (politely): yes, you do. Relying on alumni networks or the usual suspects of people who already tend to come to you (because of feeder channels already in place, like schools or sister organizations) is recruiting. It’s choosing to invest in the status quo work for you.

And while that may seem to work, try to take the long view of your organization’s health. Stuff–like recessions and the dawn of new centuries–happens, and does your organization have the resiliency and the versatility to adapt? Does it have the diversity of identity (in addition to experience) that correlates directly with integrative complex thinking and more robust discernment?

So whether you attend The Board Match or not, I invite you to consider: How does your organization recruit? How is that working for the mission and community? Whom are you missing and excluding–both actively and passively? (All organizations have their bona fide exclusions. The opportunity lies in tossing the ones that don’t serve organizational mission, vision and health.) And how can you broaden access for the people you may not even know yet that you want in your organization?

**Thanks to PN for the link.

“Clothing is not racist”

19 Feb

I’m not quite done with Friday 2/8/13’s post (How about just dressing like college students?”) about the Asian-stereotype themed frat part at Duke University. I spotted this comment on the article, posted by ted409:

absolutely any human of any color or ethnicity who grew up in the middle of a poor chinese farming town would dress like this. Color or race has absolutely NOTHING to do with the way you dress. Clothing is not racist (

Interesting, ted409. I hear you: clothing itself (fibers or hides that are pieced together to wear) is not inherently racist. In general, clothing by itself does not perpetuate systemic inequity on the basis of the wearer’s race. However, clothing can be racist. Take as an example the Star of David that Jews were forced to wear in Germany during WWII to identify them to the government. That badge was racist. And consider t-shirts with white supremacist slogans. So, ted, I would argue that clothing, which can be assigned, forced or simply not chosen, can be racist. The fact that we don’t generally experience clothing as racist is perhaps due to privileged circumstances, like being born and living outside of Nazi Germany.

Furthermore, I would argue that clothing is very racial (as opposed to having “absolutely nothing” to do with race). Differently than, but similarly to how clothing is informed by sex, gender, ethnicity and class, it is also informed by race. Hence, it is racial.

What do I mean? Our race does not determine what we wear, but it offers us norms, based on what we see other people–whom we do and don’t identify with–wearing. For instance, when I dress for work, I dress white. I also dress woman, moderately feminine, relatively socioeconomically privileged and US American.

Try to imagine what that looks like (if you haven’t already seen me at work).


Snapshot: I typically wear pants or capris, flats, a button down shirt or a silk t-shirt. I wear neutral colors mostly: black, navy, browns and grays, and some jewelry (usually a ring, in addition to my wedding band, and a necklace).

Can you picture it? Ever seen that outfit before?

I dress in a way that is informed by the norms of the cultures in which I live and work (the latter is mostly schools). I am not white myself, but I dress in what I identify as a white US American education professional style. I might be a little off the mark of other people’s ideas of this group’s de facto “uniform,” but I haven’t gotten any stares yet or been asked to leave for violating the dress code.

This uniform of mine is not owned by white people. And at the same time, it is, I would have to argue, racial. In fact, “Color or race has absolutely NOTHING something to do with the way you dress.”

And as for ted’s claim that “absolutely any human of any color or ethnicity who grew up in the middle of a poor chinese farming town would dress like [the students at the Duke party],” I have to pause again. I agree, there are cultural norms around dress in any given place. However, conformity to those norms depends on several factors, including individual choice, financial resources (there’s big diamond norm around here that I don’t conform to because I have neither the means nor the inclination), expectations of the community–and how strictly the community enforces those expectations, and community resources for clothing. So when you look at pictures from the California Gold Rush, you will see lots of people wearing “typical” dress, depending on their sex, age and occupation. And you’ll also see outliers. So one more time, ted, I just have to say nope.

I do wonder, ted, what exactly are you protesting so vehemently?

Saturday quote

16 Feb

“[W]e are free together or slaves together.”

                              —Rebecca Solnit, writer

Saturday quote

9 Feb

“Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.”

—Rebecca Solnit, writer

How about just dressing like college students?

8 Feb

Oops, they did it again.

Yet another college fraternity has hosted a racial stereotype-themed party. The latest version: Kappa Sigma Asia Prime at Duke University. Kappa Sigma’s invitation e-mail opened, “Herro Nice Duke Peopre!!” and closed with a “Chank you” from the brothers (for an annotated copy of the e-mail, go to:

As this particular story goes, the advertised party elicited not only protest but a bias incident report with the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life, which led to a recommendation from the university that the fraternity cancel the party.

Didn’t happen.

Instead, sneaky Kappa Sigma sent out this re-invite:

The Brothers of Kappa Sigma regret to inform you that our forebrothers’ secrets of the far east have not survived the move back onto campus. Without them, Asia Prime cannot go on and must be cancelled.

Instead, Kappa Sigma presents: International Relations. A celebration of all cultures and the diversity of Duke.

Here are pictures from the “celebration of all cultures and the diversity of Duke”:


Posted by a group of student protestors including–but not limited to–members of the Asian Students Association, the fliers quickly became the focus of outrage.

Freshman Raffi Garnighian posted on Facebook Tuesday, “People with the fliers: you do realize most of the people in those pictures were NOT responsible for the party but just showed up. Nice job damaging reputations of random people, you’re [sic] group is a joke and should be dissolved at this point”

[Sophomore Emily Steemers also protested the protest, saying,] “I understand where [the students posting the fliers] are coming from, but I think their response was very emotional. Putting photos of these girls in public is unprofessional and condescending. I think they came across as very immature”  (

Nice job blaming observers for other people’s actions, Raffi and Emily. Fortunately, Senior Tong Xiang has got this one. He responded to the complaint, noting:

… the photos were already available on Facebook… “We won’t apologize. The people in the photos not only participated in the racist imagery of the party but they also decided to publish those images themselves,” Xiang said. “They decided that they would post these photos on Facebook for thousands of people to see. We are not the publishers.”

Reading this article, I felt both familiar disappointment (this? again?? where’s a wall to bang my head against?)… and hope. I’m inspired and optimistic, reading how the protesting students at Duke handled the situations and themselves. Senior Ting-Ting Zhou framed the issue well, noting that the protest wasn’t about a frat party: it was about “the culture of acceptance at these kinds of things.”

Of course, there’s still work to be done, and plenty of it.

The university’s initial response was to “express disappointment” about the party. Go, Blue Devils.

According to the Duke Chronicle:

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta [initially] noted that no course of discipline is planned for members of the fraternity, because he does not believe a single punishment or memo will resolve the persistent racial stereotyping that has occurred at Duke social gatherings. He said he will continue to work with student leaders to help them understand that.

So let me get this straight: because racism is epidemic, we shouldn’t address specific incidents. We should just continue to talk about it and hope niceness wins the day?

While Moneta is right that “a single punishment” will not resolve racism, he is wrong in thinking that, therefore, punitive response is not part of the solution. We learn who we are and how to be in the world through our interactions with others. And when those others, particularly those charged with our well-being, respond to our racist words and actions with a “disappointed” memo, we learn how little racism matters and how little it costs us.

So we need to continue punishing acts of intolerance and hate, as long as we claim to stand against them. And, to Moneta’s point, we also need to do more than play an endless game of whack-a-mole, waiting at the ready with our mallets for the next racist incident to pop up. We need to proactively educate students about the things that will seem like a good idea but really aren’t, help them name and assess the challenges of standing up to friends who are denigrating others, equip them with tools and language to speak up and act on their values, and inform them of the consequences that even nice people have to face when they choose to act in a way that endorses and upholds racism.

In other words, we need to recognize that learning how to engage a diverse world is part of a student’s education, whether we choose to teach about it or not. We need to reconsider the institution’s responsibility to teach students about antiracism, and discern our opportunities on the individual, community and institutional levels to educate, model and continuously strive for inclusion and equity.

Fortunately, Moneta seems to have listened and learned from his students, and “the operations of the Eta Prime chapter of Kappa Sigma fraternity have been suspended.” Again. That’s right. The fraternity has only been back on campus for 9 months, after losing their charter 10 years ago. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Duke?

** Thanks to KM for the heads up.

A Tour of Mantopia

6 Feb

Warning: this article is not an easy read. In “A Rape a Minute, a Thousand Corpses a Year: Hate Crimes in America (and Elsewhere),” Rebecca Solnit points out “dots [of violence against women] so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain” (,_the_longest_war/). It’s a nauseating but rallying article that points out the sexism, classism and racism that obfuscate the glaring, blood-red reality of violence against women of all colors, sexualities, ethnicities, ages, socioeconomic statuses, faiths, physical abilities, mental abilities and marital/family statuses.

I find particularly poignant Solnit’s reflection on David Leonard’s article, “Invisibility of White Masculinity: Innocence In the Age of White Male Mass Shootings” (, which, in Solnit’s words is “about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S” Solnit goes on to note:

… [T]he (mostly hostile) commenters [on the article] only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study [“Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood” by Wright et al.] does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

I find it curious and true that white trumps male. That at the mention of race, our view of ourselves and others can become blindered.

That is the power of race: we recognize it from infancy, we learn–even without anyone teaching us explicitly–how it matters… and we run from it.

That is, unless we acknowledge it, own our questions and discomfort with it, learn about it (as a social construct, a biological aspect of ourselves and an identity that matters in our relationships with others) and become intentional about how we live our racial identities and how race intersects with the rest of who we are.

We need to do that because it’s simply not as helpful to talk about male shooters if the problem is overwhelmingly white male shooters. In my work, I’ve consistently found that being specific about who’s struggling doesn’t just help that group: it helps the whole community because what we learn through focused inquiry gives us insight into what is required for anyone to thrive in the environment. It’s not about labeling people “white” or “male,” it’s about understanding how the experiences of white maleness (or male whiteness) may pose a risk factor–like exposure to tobacco smoke–to the well-being of not just one person, but all of us.

** Thanks again to my colleague LM for this article.