Archive | March, 2013

Who’s to blame for homophobia?

29 Mar

In “The county where no one’s gay,” CNN columnist John Sutter visits Franklin County, Mississippi, which, “statistically speaking… should be straighter than John Wayne eating Chick-fil-A. The middle-of-nowhere rectangle in southwest Mississippi–known for its pine forests, hog hunting and an infamous hate crime–is home to exactly zero same-sex couples, according to an analysis of census data” (

Sutter does, in fact find gay residents of Franklin, who are candid about their experiences and how they live their daily lives in a place where, as one man states, “We don’t exist–you didn’t know that? We’re zero. We’re nothing.”

I recommend reading the article. And I’ll give away the ending. (Go to the article now if you don’t want me to spoil your read. It is worth reading in its entirety.)

As Sutter considers the stories he has heard and his own experience as a gay man passing through Franklin, he reflects:

At first, it was easy to blame people in Franklin County for perpetuating anti-gay sentiments. Preachers tell their congregations that gay people are on a path to hell. Parents hear these messages and pass them down to kids who, if they so happen to be gay, are more likely to commit suicide or become homeless than their straight peers. Our society’s hesitancy to wrestle with sexual orientation results in real consequences. Forty percent of homeless youth in America identify as LGBT.

But the longer I stayed in Franklin County, the more I realized we’re all to blame for this — gay and straight, religious and secular. We’re not quick enough to call out anti-gay hate speech, too ready to tolerate people who are different, to hold them at a comfortable distance, rather than understanding and embracing them. And, in the gay community, we’re too shy about being who we are, especially if we find ourselves in seemingly hostile or unwelcoming territory.

I agree: this is not just about those homophobes in Franklin. This is, start to finish, about us, too. And while I also agree with Sutter that we each have the terrifying responsibility to be who we are in our communities and lives, I don’t equate fear for one’s safety with being “too shy.” I think he’s exploring the line between being uncomfortable and being unsafe. And ultimately, nothing changes if we’re not each willing to make ourselves and our loved ones uncomfortable by challenging conventional ideas, language and behaviors that perpetuate fear and alienation.

Wednesday quote

27 Mar

“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb ‘Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya’: ‘He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.'”

The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays, Chinua Achebe

And a quick reflection on this quote: as Achebe refers to the Igbo’s practicality, I find myself feeling a “yes, and…”

Yes, that is a stereotype. Stereotypes always press a button for me.

And, this is also a style of speaking that I hear differently coming from someone who is self-aware and reflective about their own cultural identity, than coming from someone who professes not to have a culture but is willing to point out other people’s. When I hear my mother talk about Koreans, white US Americans or other groups of people, I hear how her awareness of her own identity, as formed by her cultures as well as her individual experiences, has activated her recognition that people aren’t just individuals: we’re all members of groups and cultures that share beliefs and ways of living, and that inform our beliefs and ways of living. This is another “yes and…” Every person is both discrete and unique, and resemblant of others within their cultures.

Case in point, that button pushing I mentioned when I hear a stereotype? That’s a cultural, not just an individual response. And I believe that in order to value the humanity of others, we need to recognize who they are individually and collectively.

* Thanks to my colleague LM for this quote.

Heterosexual people attended the Supreme Court arguments on Prop 8 today

26 Mar

Why hasn’t that made the news?

Because here’s what did:

“Chief Justice John Roberts’ lesbian cousin to attend Proposition 8 arguments” (–election.html;_ylt=AhRJMOpUhnhYndlfeeiGQAdg24cA;_ylu=X3oDMTRrdGt1OHM3BG1pdANCbG9nIFNwZWFybWludCBPcmlnaW5hbCBMaXN0BHBrZwNhMDg4N2Q3NC0wNWU1LTM1NWYtOTBlZi1iNmQxN2RjNWYwYjYEcG9zAzcEc2VjA01lZGlhQkxpc3RNaXhlZExQQ0FUZW1wBHZlcgNkYjQ0MzQ3MS05NTYyLTExZTItYWY3OS02MGU1NWFhMTZiNzM-;_ylg=X3oDMTM0MmlsZnNtBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDYjYwYTBlYjctMDVhOS0zMDNjLTg3NDUtOGFmMTU0MTg2NmYzBHBzdGNhdANwb2xpdGljc3xjb25ncmVzcwRwdANzdG9yeXBhZ2U-;_ylv=3)

That was the headline on Yahoo! News yesterday.

What kind of headline is that? What and whom does Yahoo! think this issue is about and for?

OK, so a lesbian attended the oral arguments. Thanks. Let’s talk about all the heterosexuals who are not just attending but arguing today. As well as those who are covering the news.

And let’s talk about their biases. Thanks.

Flipping the script on “illegal immigrant”

25 Mar

Here’s today’s moment in rethinking everyday language and intention:

illegal immigrant

* Thanks to my colleague SK for the graphic.

Critically rethinking charity

18 Mar

It’s all about TED Talks, isn’t it? Maybe there are lousy ones, but every time I watch one, a light goes on. In this case, it’s the light I’ve been trying to turn on, but while I was rubbing two sticks together, Dan Pallotta was hooking up the Klieg lights.

If you haven’t already watched his TED Talk “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” please stop reading this blog and go watch it now (

I just have this to say (clearing my throat):



As I listened to Pallotta, I kept saying my version of “Amen” (which is, “Sing it, sister!”)

His (and I like to think, our) points, in brief:

  • We ought to pay people well for doing work that makes the world a better place. This is my response when folks wonder about paying the high fees of folks like Tim Wise, who speak about and consult on white privilege. Why would we quibble over professional wages for social justice, when we readily pay someone loads more for making the world more unjust? This is Pallotta’s essential question. Of course, it’s important that we look at the inequities within industries as well as across them, as merit alone does not explain Wise’s prominence in our field.
  • Use the same effective practices you use for other endeavors (including for profit and “non-social justice” work) in your social justice efforts. I advise schools this way: look at what you do well, whether its admissions, fund-raising or hiring. What are the practices and habits of mind that you bring to that work? How can you leverage, import and benefit from those practices and habits in your inclusion and equity work? As Pallotta says, instead of writing a “separate rulebook,” just adapt the one that already works for you.

And finally, his overarching theme (which I won’t make any co-claims to): don’t confuse morality with frugality. Don’t limit necessary and potentially great social change work by imposing Puritanical guilt and conventions on it. When trying to discern what organizations and initiatives to invest your resources in to make the world a more equitable and inclusive place for diverse people, “ask about the scale of their dreams,” ask what they need from you and then do all that you can do.

** Thanks to my friend EB for the link.

Thanks, Dennis Rodman (did I just say that?)

15 Mar

You may have heard there’s a new pope.

I won’t go into a discussion of Pope Francis right now as there’s plenty being said by other people on who he is and what his papacy means for Catholics and nonCatholics. If we can rewind just a little, there’s a snippet of the pre-pope discussions that I’d like to highlight.

According to AP News:

After raising eyebrows by going to North Korea, former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman is continuing his bizarre global tour by visiting Rome — purportedly to help Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson become the first black pope.

But Rodman didn’t seem too sure who he was supposed to be promoting when asked about it Wednesday. “From Africa, right?” Rodman asked, wearing a hat and T-shirt promoting the Irish betting firm that organized his trip (

Note your gut response to Rodman’s reason for supporting Cardinal Turkson.

Here’s what I think AP News was fishing for:

How ridiculous. Choosing a pope just because he’s black?

Fair enough.

But what about the fact that all the previous popes (and now Francis) have been chosen at least in part because they’re white? I’m not arguing that they were only chosen because they’re white. I’m pointing out that all of them have been white, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Consider the origin of Catholicism and the way Catholicism went global (including to predominantly brown countries). Historical affirmation of white superiority, anyone?

My ouch (and I did say ouch when I read this) comes from Rodman’s poor representation of how race always matters when we choose our representatives and leaders. His ignorance undermines the legitimacy of identity as inherently part of politics (while perhaps no one asked, “From Europe, right?” to support Cardinal Angelo Scola, I’m confident that his being from Milan mattered to many).

So next time someone disparages the idea of “making an election about race” or sex, sexuality or any other aspect of identity for that matter, I ask that you consider how you can respond to point out that the real issue is not talking about when all the candidates fit the traditional stereotype.