Archive | May, 2013

Not wrong

8 May

I wanted to follow up on my blog post yesterday to say:

Father-daughter dances are not “wrong” or “bad.”

It’s not that simple or clear cut. As economist Tyler Cowen says, “[J]ust imagine every time you’re telling a good vs. evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by 10 points or more. If you just adopt that as a kind of inner mental habit, it’s one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly.”

True that, Tyler.

When I wrote that it’s unclear to me why schools would host an event that actively excludes some parents/guardians and children, I didn’t mean that I haven’t heard the reasons: an opportunity for fathers to bond with their daughters is certainly a nice notion. (One that I would hope doesn’t require an event to happen.) And tradition is an understandable rationalization, although lots of things have been traditional that I wouldn’t endorse continuing, like denying women the right to vote, prohibiting same-sex marriage… you see where I’m going with this.

What’s unclear to me is why a school, which is more often than not an organization that strives for inclusion and equity (see anti-bullying initiatives and other programs like Acceptance Week) would host a Father-Daughter dance. And this is where it gets interesting: at the three schools I know of that offer this kind of dance, it’s organized by parents/guardians (usually the parent/guardian organization affiliated with the school). And thus, it’s considered “their” business by the school, operating somewhere beyond the inclusion and equity values that the school is striving to implement in its curricula and programs.

This is not to say that the parents/guardians aren’t striving for equity and inclusion. Just that they may not have the awareness and understanding to discern what the school means by equity and inclusion, or the language and skills to stand up when something is unfair or exclusive to members of the community (especially when other members of the community seem perfectly content with the status quo).

Because volunteerism is vital to the life of most schools I’ve worked with, I believe volunteers, as agents and representatives of their schools, need education and guidance. It’s not that parents/guardians can’t have their own definitions of equity and inclusion. In fact, it can only enrich the education of students to have to discern values that are a continuous challenge to live by, instead of thinking all they have to do is memorize a “how to” manual. Knowing what the school’s values mean in practice–in the programs the school offers and how the school goes about its daily business–provides a forum for parents/guardians, students and employees to hone their own understandings and work collaboratively through a shared, even as it is diverse, vision.

And then we can talk about how a Father-Daughter dance does and does not fit a school’s culture, educational program and aspirations for students and for society.

The practice of acceptance

7 May

A friend of mine just forwarded me information about Acceptance Week at her daughter’s school:

This week ASB, Peer Resource, and GSA worked together to put on an incredible Acceptance Week with many activities that took take place during Advisory, Breaks, and lunch.

Our themes include self-acceptance and celebrating diversity (culture, race, sexual orientation) and ended  the week with a rousing performance by Ballet Folklorico.

We believe that raising awareness around accepting oneself and others will help create a more positive school climate for everyone! Go Pirates!!

I was glad to hear that her daughter had really enjoyed the week and read further on the information page about upcoming events, the first of which was… the school’s Annual Father/Daughter Dance.

And I thought: really?

The students have just had an engaging, intentional experience “accepting” diversity, specifically including sexual diversity, and now it’s time for the Father/Daughter Dance. A dance that, by definition, is only accessible to students who identify as a particular sex and who have a parent of another sex. And mind you, this is not just a heterosexist bias: this is a bias that favors girls whose fathers are alive, local, available and able to pay for the tickets.

I had to scroll further.

To the school’s credit, they explain:

This event is open to all girls and their fathers or father-Figures. It’s a great, fun event for ALL girls and their dads or their “dad figure”. Please join us for this fun, annual event!

So there seems to be awareness of unnecessary exclusion (by which I mean exclusion that doesn’t serve the intention of the event. Of course, why there is an event that excludes other parent/guardians and children in the first place is unclear to me).

And yet, even given that awareness:

  • The dance is still officially called “the Father/Daughter Dance.”  You have to get past the branding to discover that “ALL… dad figures” are welcome. This is basically posting a sign on the door that reads “Fathers Only” and figuring that mothers (and “dad figures” and “mom figures”) will feel welcome to proceed inside and see if you really mean it.
  • Regarding parental “figures,” notice the quotation marks. What do these say to you? They say to me that “father figure” isn’t really an idea that this school takes seriously. This school wants you to know they’re trying to be inclusive of your wannabe mom-and-dad-two-kids-and-a-dog-named-Spot-all-living-behind-a-white-picket-fence family. I don’t really read a respect for the diversity of people who can be mentors, guardians and family to youth. (I can hear the argument: well do you expect them to write out the whole list of grandparents, uncles, stepfathers, gay moms, friends of the family…? I would say that’s missing the forest for the trees. You only need a list if you’ve specified “father” to begin with, thereby excluding everyone else.)
  • The message of this dance is still: this is “great, fun”… exclusively for you gals with dads! Why just for you? Not because you earned it. Just because you happened to be born the way you were to whom you were.

And what I really wonder is how the school connects Acceptance Week with this dance. Is the point of the week to “create a more positive school climate” that expires in a week? Is the point that acceptance is good as long as it fits around the fringes of the regular curriculum? Or is the point for students to think critically and creatively about everyday biases and inequities, and to empower them to practice acceptance on a daily basis at and beyond their school?

**Thanks to my friend HN for the link.

“Coach is straight”

6 May

Following Jason Collins’ coming out in Sports Illustrated (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/), Melissa Segura of SI shared this Viewpoint “High-profile, openly gay male coach would be transformative” (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130430/gay-male-coach-jason-collins/index.html?eref=sircrc).

Indeed.

Segura opens by illustrating the culture of big league coaching:

Flip through the pages of any major college or pro sports media guide, and  you’ll find that nearly every coach’s biography ends the same way. Buried below  the exhaustive recap of every step of the coach’s career you’ll find what’s  known in business school as an attempt at humanizing the brand: photographs of  the coach with his wife and children, their arms locked and Trident smiles  gleaming. A family photo, a quick glimpse inside a Rockwellian home life — it  all cultivates a connection between the fan and the brand while less overtly  reinforcing an image of a different sort: Coach is straight.

… The notion that blowing a whistle and holding a dry-erase board on the sidelines  equals heterosexuality is so entrenched that in December 2010 The New York  Times ran a story chronicling that rare breed — the bachelor college  football coach. One anecdote: Shortly after leaving the University of Miami to  coach the Cowboys in 1992, Jimmy Johnson, fresh off a divorce, inadvertently  reinforced the idea that a wedding band is a job requirement when he said,  “There are a lot of social functions to deal with in being a college coach. …  It was good I was married then.”

OK, clearly coaching has its own barriers to inclusion, if even being single is considered risky. But aren’t the players the stars? Aren’t they the ones who matter?

Maybe the players are more in the spotlight, but Segura is making a point about shifting culture, not just tolerating individuals who don’t fit the norm. This is why Segura states that:

in the search for real equality… an openly gay coach could be even more transformative [than an openly gay male athlete on a basketball court or football field]. Coaches not only determine the lineup but they also dictate the direction of a program or franchise.

And for any competitive organization, a culture of inclusion only enhances each individual’s ability to contribute fully to the group’s goal. Segura speaks to this when she cites the example of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military:

Before the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy barring openly  gay service members, Marine Commandant General James Amos insisted that  homosexual soldiers could undermine “unit cohesion” and be a “distraction.”  President Obama repealed the law anyway.

“If you look back at that fight, one of the key turning points was when Mike  Mullen, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to [Congress]  and testified that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal was the right thing to do,”  said Zeke Stokes, communications director for OutServe-SLDN, a legal  organization serving LGBT military members and their families. “That trickled  down through the ranks and set the tone for not only getting the repeal through  but also a whole new landscape of fairness and equity in the military. That kind  of leadership will be incredibly important from coaches, owners and team leaders  in professional sports.”

And that’s what leadership needs to do: not just get behind the folks in their organizations who stand up for equity and inclusion. Stand out in front every day and when it matters. Stand out there because the change is about culture and systems, not accommodating exceptional individuals.

A really free agent

3 May

By now you’ve perhaps read NBA center Jason Collins’ first person article in Sports Illustrated “Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now” (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/#ixzz2SFgeQiYd).

His story is moving, particularly when he talks about what it was like for him when he hadn’t come out:

No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing.  I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel  stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy  to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous  lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone  knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.  I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my  friends still had my back.

… My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics  and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community.  One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard,  a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie  fence. He died five days after he was finally found.

He also provokes questions in moments as he tells his story:

Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.

…Go ahead, take a swing — I’ll get up. I hate to say it, and I’m not proud of  it, but I once fouled a player so hard that he had to leave the arena on a  stretcher.

… I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be  shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player,  even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you  soft?

I flinch a little reading these lines, thinking about internalized homophobia, what Collins needs to present and represent as he makes this public announcement… and I am humbled as I realize once again the privilege of not having to declare my sexuality with any anticipation of hatred, fear, pity or shame. And while it’s painful to see Collins leverage “the gay stereotype” for his own legitimacy, part of what is painful is that there is a stereotype. (Sure, there’s a heterosexual male stereotype, too, but it doesn’t have the same marginalizing and damning  effect when applied.)

As I listen to folks in my community talk about Collin’s story, I want to quote him back to them when they talk about how he should have just kept covering:

The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My  behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t  change. I still abide by the adage, “What happens in the locker room stays in  the locker room.” I’m still a model of discretion.

And as for the argument that gay is better left unspoken about, Collins writes:

Look at what happened in the military when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was  repealed. Critics of the repeal were sure that out military members would  devastate morale and destroy civilization. But a new study conducted by scholars  from every branch of the armed forces except the Coast Guard concluded that  “cohesion did not decline after the new policy of open service was put into  place. In fact, greater openness and honesty resulting from repeal seem to have  promoted increased understanding, respect and acceptance.”

Sounds like the sort of dynamics that make a winning team.

** Thanks to my colleague CS and the guys down at the bar for this story.

Racism-ish?

2 May

Last weekend, “after decades of separate proms for white students and black students, Wilcox County [had] its first integrated prom” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/us/in-rural-georgia-students-step-up-to-offer-integrated-prom.html?_r=0).

Yup, until 2013, Wilcox County had separate “white” and “black” proms (by the way, I’m wondering if there are students in the county who are neither black nor white? Or multiracial black and white? What prom do they attend?)

Here’s what struck me in this story. According to NY Times journalist Robbie Brown:

Wayne McGuinty, a furniture store owner and City Council member, who is white, said he had donated to fund-raising events for both proms in past years and saw no problem with separate proms. They do not reflect racism, he said, but simply different traditions and tastes. When he was a senior in high school, in the 1970s, he said, there were separate proms for those who liked rock music and country music.

Separate proms do not “reflect racism”? It’s just like having different proms for different musical tastes?

What exactly is McGuinty’s definition of racism, I wonder.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how people define racism. Note the responses to Suzy Weiss’ letter “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me”  (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324000704578390340064578654.html). Yes, I am still thinking about this.

Among the comments posted on the Wall Street Journal website:

  • As a 44 year old mom of three, who has experienced the same with our eldest… can I just tell you, Suzy Lee Weiss, I am so proud of you! Stay vocal.
  • You deserve a place at the best colleges with your sense of humor and writing skills.
  • I don’t care where (or even IF) you go to college. You are a WINNER. Anywhere, any place! Go girl – NO ONE will stop you!
  • May I say that several Admissions Officers missed a real jewel when they let you slip by.
  • You write well, are funny and really gifted. And kudos to the WSJ for giving you this forum. I’ll bet there are thousands of kids applauding your grit. ..Good for Everyone involved (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324000704578390340064578654.html?mod=WSJ_article_comments#articleTabs%3Dcomments).

Far too many comments on the WSJ page where this letter appeared support Suzy’s frustration, and therefore, endorse her entitlement (and her skewed sense of history: in her Today show interview, Suzy asserts that “in this day and age, we’re being judged by things we can’t control.” Hmm, as opposed to in the days of slavery, Suzy? Or the days when only men could attend the colleges that rejected you? Perhaps you mean the days when women couldn’t vote in the US?) And according to Suzy, she has received job, internship offers and other rewards for her hate speech her “satire” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/suzy-lee-weiss-high-schoo_n_3022159.html).

Yes, there have been some critical responses to Suzy’s letter. For example, “To (All) the White Girls Who Didn’t Get Into The College Of Their Dreams” (http://www.racialicious.com/2013/04/10/to-all-the-white-girls-who-didnt-get-into-the-college-of-their-dreams/) and this comment post in the WSJ:

When this is read as if it were satire it’s hysterical. Since these are Ms. Weiss’ real opinions I worry for her. Judging her based on these opinions, just like admissions officers judge applicants based on personal statement as well as achievements, it is no wonder why she was not accepted at her top choice schools.

This is a great example of “yes, and…” thinking. The question is not whether this letter is satire. The question is how can this letter be read (because text is never just about intention; it’s about interpretation as well). So rather than argue what it is, I’m interested in considering all of its impacts.

But by and large the responses to Suzy’s letter that I have found sidestep or downplay the racism and homophobia of what she wrote. Case in point: Suzy’s Today show interview (accessible through the Huffington Post link above). Notice how the interviewer softballs her questions and doesn’t hold Suzy accountable for effectively saying: kids with two moms and kids of color categorically don’t earn their college acceptances. According to Suzy, while other students work hard (whether sincerely or just to look good on paper), these two groups skate by on their overwhelming privilege. And the polite interviewer smiles as she listens to Suzy speak glibly about how “diversity is great, but…”

Krystie Yandoli of the Huff Post embodies this fear of naming the homophobic, racist elephant in the room in her observation:

While Weiss’s letter attempts to lightheartedly address the competitive nature of the college admissions process for high school students, some argue it contains hints of underlying racist and offensive comment.

Some argue? Hints?

I’m tired of the implication that racism is a matter of opinion, and it all depends on your point of view. While there is debate about how to define racism, there is also agreement about what constitutes racism at the core. And anyone who uses, considers, fears, rejects or otherwise engages passively or actively with the word “racism” has a responsibility to educate themselves and think critically and intentionally about its definition.

Here’s how I break it down:

Bias is an inevitable inclination towards or against a group of people, based on innate hard-wiring, personal experience and cultural norms, that we can choose how to act on.

The key here is that bias is human and unavoidable. However, acting out a bias in our relationships and encounters with other people is a choice. One that we can only consciously make and alter if we admit our biases.

Prejudice is a bias that has become, consciously or unconsciously, one’s default valuation of and attitude toward a specific group of people.

Circumstance can facilitate prejudice. For instance, the college application process, which is stressful and competitive, can encourage a bias to manifest as an explicit behavior (like writing an open letter) or an implicit attitude (like believing that separate proms aren’t at all racist. The prejudice behind separate proms doesn’t need to be visceral hate. It suffices to believe that, of course, “they” won’t like it “here” with “us.”)

Discrimination is the attitude and practice of a bias, whether by default or conscious choice, to advantage some over others.

Suzy’s letter is discriminatory in that she glibly perpetuates the idea that minorities enjoy unfair perks while acting as if her own unfair advantages (ex. her sister works for the WSJ) are just. This is the definition of entitlement: believing that your privileges are your right.

To be clear, discrimination works in any direction. In the case of separate black and white proms, each event discriminates by allowing only some students to attend, based simply on racial identification.

Racism is the perpetuation of a social bias, whether by default or conscious choice, to advantage one racial group and its culture through systemic actions and permission.

What distinguishes racism from racial discrimination is that racism has institutions and cultural norms backing it up, whereas discrimination just needs someone to act on a prejudice. Racism is not an individual act. It’s a whole system of prejudice, facilitated by individuals, cultures and institutions.

The debate about defining racism is whether this is a better definition:

Racism is the perpetuation of a social bias, whether by default or conscious choice, to advantage white people and their culture through systemic actions and permission.

In other words, is racism about white privilege, as opposed to any “empowered” racial group’s privilege?

I tend to take a macro level perspective: when I survey the distribution of power globally, yes racism advantages white people. And even when it appears locally that white people are not the dominant group, colonialism, internalized racism and prejudice in favor of white culture and norms are evident. Take South Korea, for example. While I wouldn’t argue that white people are the majority or dominant group there, an advantaging of and deference to whiteness is evident in the country’s politics and culture.

Again, this is the debate, so we can disagree on this point. But notice that the debate is who benefits from racism, not whether or not racism is a systemic level of oppression. So the question of whether or not something is racist should have a common basis for consideration. Sort of like whether or not something is capitalist. Yes, we can debate this, and our debate can and should have different interpretations and perspectives of a concept that isn’t just relative: it also has a denotation that we both have to negotiate.

Back to segregated proms and letters of entitlement. By entertaining what’s racist or homophobic as being a matter of opinion, we as a nation collectively give permission for racism and homophobia to rage on. And so I urge us all to be intentional, clear and inclusive of denotation and common connotations when we talk about -isms so that we can have a conversation that isn’t just talk but that potentially helps us understand and create social justice.

** Thanks to my colleague SK for the prom article.

Equity = Action workshop

1 May

In Summer 2013, Blink is offering a two-day Equity = Action workshop. This in-depth professional growth opportunity is designed as a collaborative, professional, practice-focused occasion for educators who are striving to help each and every student to thrive.

When: Thurs-Fri, June 27-28, 2013; 9am‐3pm

Where: SMART, 1663 Mission Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA (www.thesmartprogram.org)

Who: Blink defines an “educator” as someone who formally or informally contributes to the growth and learning of children and youth: teachers, school staff and administrators, mentors, advisors, parents/guardians, coaches, community organizers, and board members of schools and community organizations who work with or for preK-college students. This workshop is for you.

Who also: Blink is encouraging partner groups to attend. A partner group represents at least two different organizations who attend together with the intention of acting collaboratively for equity (ex: a school and an academic access program, a public school and a private school, a community-based organization and an education-focused foundation).

What: Because nice is not enough (Nieto, 2009), we can’t just intend equity, we have to do it. And how we strive for equity matters as much as what we do. Designed to empower educators with the understandings, skills and tools to align the intention and impact of their commitments to equity, this workshop is a focused inquiry opportunity for you to connect, reflect and work with others to help diverse children and youth to thrive as learners and leaders in and beyond schools.

For more information, please check out Blink’s website: http://www.rethinkingdiversity.com/workshops.html.

I hope to have the opportunity to work with you.