Archive | June, 2013

Deposition transcript of the day

28 Jun

Reading the transcript of Paul Deen’s deposition for her discrimination lawsuit, I came across a new concept: using the n-word (to refer to African-Americans) in a “non-mean” way. Here’s the excerpt:

Miss Deen, earlier in your testimony you indicated that one of the things that you had tried to — that you and your husband tried to teach your children was not to use the N-word in a mean way, do you recall that testimony?
Okay. And could you give me an example of how you have demonstrated for them a nice way to use the N-word?
Or a non-mean way?
[Objection] (

While the prosecuting attorney could be accused of picking on Deen for poor word choice, there’s something to be said for the point he’s making about hiding behind intention (as in “I didn’t mean the n-word in a mean way”). The n-word has “mean” connotations, whether or not you intend it to.

As for the “it was a different time” defense, times do change, but language is intrinsically historic and social, and it’s a slim argument to claim that the use of a derogatory term is completely free of that word’s history and commonly understood connotations. And if you’re going to claim ignorance, that doesn’t get you off the hook. You’re still responsible for your impact on others, as well as your own education not just about the language you use, but also about who you are.

Hashtag of the day: #LoveIsLove

26 Jun

“Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove.”

–President Barack Obama’s official Twitter account on US v. Windsor

Racism? Baloney!

26 Jun

Here’s the story:

Celeb chef Paul Deen, who is being sued for sexual and racial harassment by a former restaurant employee, has admitted to “using the ‘N word'” ( in the past, which has cost her endorsement deals and her contract with the Food Network.

The story of Deen’s admission and the fallout from her disclosure are, in many ways, familiar. There’s the “but I’m a nice person” defense (read: so I couldn’t possibly be racist), and the pop culture defense, in two parts:

  • Historic: Deen’s use of the n-word has to be understood in the context of being “born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today” ( Of course, if you want the full context, Deen admits to using the n-word during 2005-2010, by which time culture had shifted.
  • Lighten up: While not copping to telling racial jokes, Deen rationalized that “’most jokes’ are about Jews, gay people, black people and ‘rednecks'” ( Thus, the logic goes, it’s harmless to tell jokes about minority and disenfranchised groups.

Then there’s the absurdity defense, as offered by Deen’s son Jamie, who claims, “[It’s] ridiculous – completely absurd – to think there is an environment of racism in our business, and it’s really disrespectful to the people that we work with. We have strong, educated men and women of character that have been with us for five, 10, 15, 20 years. To think they would allow themselves to be in this position is simply baloney. It’s ridiculous” (,,20712032,00.html).

Ridiculous (times two), is it? For context, here’s a summary of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s report on complaints filed with its office in 2010:

[T]he Agency reported the filing of the highest number of discrimination charges in 2010 since the Agency’s founding in 1965.  The total number of charges filed with the EEOC in 2010 was 99,922,  a 7.1% increase over 2009.  For the second year in a row, retaliation claims were the most frequently cited form of EEOC discrimination charges (36,948, which is 7.9% more than 2009).  Notably, race (35,890, which is 6.9% more than 2009), sex (29,029, which is 3.9% more than 2009), national origin (11,304, which is 1.5% more than 2009), religion (3,790, which is 1.9% more than 2009), and disability (25,165, which is 17% more than 2009) discrimination claims also climbed to record highs (

These record highs in reported discrimination are indeed “notable,” especially given the normative resistance to speaking up about identity discrimination for fear of retribution (note that “retaliation” claims were the most common charge in 2009 and 2010).

Now, the EEOC offers many, inter-related reasons for the record high in discrimination complaints, including “increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force, employees’ greater awareness of their rights under the law” and easier access to the EEOC ( And there’s also this perfectly reasonable explanation: discrimination is happening.

In other words, it is not at all “ridiculous” or “baloney” to “think there is an environment of racism” that persists and may even be on the rise in the business and public sectors of the US.

Yet people like Deen’s son continue to claim that charges of racism are ridiculous, improbable, outdated and even offensive to entertain. And that’s actually the most racist part of the whole Paula Deen scandal.

The refrigerated damsel in distress that needs euthanizing

24 Jun

Play video games? Or know people who do?

Find 25 mins to watch this analysis of female tropes in video games:

I appreciate that media critic Anita Sarkeesian frames her analysis as a “yes, and…” Namely, that yes, you can enjoy video games and think critically about the beliefs, attitudes and values that permeate those games. Not that it’s always easy: as someone who started online multiplayer gaming just this year, I’ll say that sometimes it’s frustrating, overwhelming and more than a bit angering to deal with the misogyny, homophobia and racism (not to mention classism) that are both already embedded in the games and imported by other players. More on that in a later post, and back to Feminist Frequency…

Sarkeesian firmly dismisses the notion that video games are “just games,” which is obvious in multiplayer games (in which you have very human interactions with other players, even if you’re “just” avatars) and adventure games (whose action is inevitably packaged in stock, and often problematic, hero’s quest narratives). Yet, the “just a game” protest rises every time there is social critique about the sexist, racist, homophobic and classist tropes which overrun the video gaming galaxy.

Still, this weak defense may have met its match in Sarkeesian’s argument that these games have “the potential to be a brilliant medium for people of all genders to explore difficult or painful subjects.” Absolutely! Video games that are propelled forward by figurative conflict and death are ready-made places where players can explore who we can be and what skills can be useful to us in confronting actual conflict and death. For most gamers, unrestrained violence and carnage are not real life options when we lose a loved one, so our game experience remains fantasy. But Sarkeesian envisions a gaming universe in which our avatars might win points and finish quests by practicing compassion, expressing sorrow, taking time to heal and accepting support and comfort from others. As she sees it, the problem in video games isn’t that female characters die; the problem and opportunity are how death and coping are represented.

And no, I don’t hear her arguing that we have to ban or give up fighting and killing in games (although some people would like to see that happen). Once again, hers is a “yes, and…” perspective: we can indulge in the fantasy, think critically about the media we’re consuming, and leverage the technology and tools we have to grow as human beings. All at the same time.

** Thanks to my colleague LM for the link.

Now that’s an apology

21 Jun

Exodus International, a Christian ministry renowned for its leadership in “curing homosexuality,” has just issued an apology to the LGBTQ community (

You can read the apology here:

In this open letter, Exodus president Alan Chambers writes about his intention versus his impact in championing and modeling reparative therapy. I’ll admit, it was hard for me to digest that he could have been so innocently unaware of the “trauma” he now recognizes having caused, even given his denial about his own sexuality. However, that’s part of the reality of living in a diverse world: there are perspectives, beliefs and personal realities that I can’t fathom. And I shouldn’t need to, in order to be in community with Chambers and others.

Ultimately, I’m just thankful for this letter and for Chambers’ courage in reconciling his values with his practice.

“Are you for real?”

12 Jun

In “‘My Teacher Is a Lesbian’ Coming Out at School,” Jody Sokolower writes about deciding not to “teach from the closet,” when, during her first year of teaching seventh grade, her students casually asked an off-topic but common question: “Are you married?” (

Her initial answer turned out only to be the beginning. “I have been with the  same partner for a very long time, but we can’t get married because  we’re lesbians. My partner’s name is Karen and we have a  daughter. She’s 9,” led to an array of student curiosity, questions and unfiltered reactions:

“Are you for real?”

“How could you have a daughter?”

“How do you know you’re a lesbian?”

“That’s gross.”

Sokolower’s response epitomizes the balance of personal care and professionalism that I hope all students have the opportunity to learn with and from: “Right now we’re working on Africa. But I want to answer your questions. How about this? You think about appropriate questions, and tomorrow we’ll save some time to discuss this. I’ll bring in pictures of my family to show you.”

This is a powerful and useful article about discerning why, how and what to teach about identity, especially when your own personal and professional safety is at stake.

It’s also a great model for any of us who have the opportunity and responsibility to educate students about identity, diversity and equity.

As someone who could answer the students’ question simply with a “Yes,” I am mindful of how else I can respond and what questions I can ask in this moment when I have the opportunity to help students notice the air they’re breathing: the culture they’re part of that prompts such an intimate inquiry so mindlessly. (And I don’t mean “mindless” in a critical sense; I just mean that it’s common for little to no thought goes into asking that question because the expected answers are a foregone conclusion for us.) Why do you ask? What does “married” mean to you? What would it mean to you if I said, “No”?

This is not to say that a simple “Yes” or “No” is a wrong answer. We don’t always have the time for a longer response. Then again, that can be a convenient excuse for sticking to the conventional script. And yet again, we don’t always need to say more. After all, a question is more about the asker than the responder.

When I’m asked (which is often, by both adults and children), “Do you have kids?” and I reply with a simple, unqualified “No,” the conversation often stumbles or stops. Clearly, that was not the right answer. (Now what is the other person supposed to say? They were all prepared to listen to names and ages and ask follow up, age appropriate questions about the children I should have.) What I wonder during their uncomfortable pause is why they asked (conversation filler? assumption based on my appearance or profession?) and whether they think the problem is my nonconformity or the narrowness of the question itself. I also wonder whether they add my response to their repertoire, broadening their tacit sense of normal through experience, or toss it out as an insignificant anomaly. (All of this, of course, often on an unconscious level.)

The question for me is what I want students to learn about me, about themselves, about our society and about simple ways we can include and exclude people without even thinking about what we just did or said. Because it’s not just the question, but our response to the answer that can communicate to someone that we think there’s something wrong with them.

If These Halls Could Talk

11 Jun

Let me begin this post by saying that I haven’t seen the latest film by Lee Mun Wah, who is best known for his documentary The Color of Fear.

That said, I still want to share that If These Halls Could Talk is coming out soon. The documentary features “eleven college students discuss[ing] what it is like on campuses across the country today. The students shared the frustration and anguish of trying to be understood and acknowledged on campus where the faculty and students are predominantly white” (

In an interview with his own staff, Lee reflected on what he had learned from the students:

What comes to mind is that so many of the things that they said, previously, I had no words for. When Jahmelia (African American) shared with Joe (White) in the film that he seemed to be angrier at the students of color for making him feel uncomfortable rather than about their condition, I was stunned by how that suddenly made so much sense to me. Because up to this day, I was always made to feel that I had done something wrong or inappropriate if I talked about or pointed out racism to whites.

Another key point was when Will (Black, Haitian, Dominican), pointed out to Leif (White) that Leif’s “not knowing” was really more about his ‘numbness’ and his loss of humanity.  I have seldom heard of that perspective before and it sent me into deep thought about how many times I had heard that from whites, “I don’t know how I feel” (

I can relate to learning from students how to name what I myself had previously “had no words for.” A couple of months ago, a student identified herself to me as “heteroflexible.”

I stopped, smiled and asked her what she meant. She explained that by “heteroflexible,” she meant that she has been and is currently heterosexual, but that she can’t say whom she’ll love in the future, and she’s open to whomever that might be. It made so much sense! And it seems so much better a way to most of us who simply can’t predict the future and don’t want to build walls just for the sake of having them.

Lee’s thoughts on his experience with these students has made me think (yes, without having seen the movie itself!) about the importance of creating spaces where youth can speak in their voices about what they have to say. Not just regurgitating or paraphrasing what they’ve heard from us. Open, diverse and innovative opportunities to talk about the world around them don’t just give youth forums to speak in. They give adults places to listen and continue learning.

If you’re interested in learning more about If These Halls Could Talk, the first link above includes a clip of the film.