Archive | October, 2013

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

A colleague forwarded this tool from St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, CT. St. Luke’s is taking on Halloween costumes as a proactive community education opportunity, rather than a discipline-as-needed reaction. Which just seems smart. While we may hope that no student is going to take it too far with their costume, who are we kidding? Halloween is about crossing boundaries of identity. Add a mask and a license to be creative, and voila. You have a situation stickier than a melted Starburst sitting in math class.

Kudos to St. Luke’s for acknowledging a cultural phenomenon as an institutional responsibility, and for providing their students, families and educators with a tool to help discern the public context, message, and impact of a personal decision today.


** Thanks to my colleague PN for forwarding.

“A sense of becoming”

24 Oct

I’ve heard it, and maybe you have, too: that transgender folks feel “trapped” in the bodies into which they’re born. Here’s gender and culture writer Thomas McBee speaking out critically about that popular and problematic perspective on transgender identity:

Here’s the story you may have heard about my body: I was tragically trapped in my female form, desperate to be a regular guy, and now that I’m a real man, I no longer want to die.

Pretty compelling stuff — and no doubt for some folks, an accurate depiction. But in the two years since I began injecting testosterone, I’ve grown increasingly suspect of the fascination with the “trapped” narrative. From talk shows to The New York Times, trans children to celebrities, the idea that trans folks are tragic or even heroic saddens me, because within the pity and pithy hope they generate lies a darker reality: The sensational portrayals dehumanize trans folks by making us strange. If I’ve learned anything by living in this body, it’s that when anyone’s dehumanized, we all are.

We’re more alike than not. Here’s my story: I saw myself, like a sculptor sees a face in the stone, become clearer and clearer with each passing day. I got to work on the business of being, constructing an approximation out of Ace bandages, then swagger, then surgery, then testosterone. I grew, over time, to be the man I am; and though I’ve felt the panic of dysphoria, I mostly had the sense of evolving. I didn’t feel trapped, exactly — only a sense of becoming (

Indeed. That sense of becoming resonated with me as a universally human experience. As someone who was born female and identifies as female, I can say that it’s been and continues to be a journey of being for me. And while that journey is undoubtedly different for someone who doesn’t identify with the body they’re born with, it’s still a journey. Our roads, our provisions and our challenges aren’t equal. But we share the need to grow and evolve.

I appreciate McBee’s inclusive framing–not because I need his story to be all about me, but because it’s true. If anything, respecting and striving to understand transgender journeys helps us recognize the diversity of the human struggle to see our faces in the stone, to become who we are and to recognize each other’s unique and common humanity.

Why I’m not on Twitter

22 Oct

Here are some Tweets from Todd Kincannon, former Executive Director of the South Carolina GOP, and self-proclaimed “Honey Badger of American Politics:

(I apologize for repeating Kincannon’s hate speech verbatim, but I do think it’s necessary. Instead of inserting … or [euphemisms], I believe it’s important to see and experience what he’s saying. That said, I’m not going to repost anymore of his hate spew because I also believe that you are what you consume, whether it’s food, images or language. And this gives me a case of heartburn and “food” poisoning, for sure.)

Back to Kincannon by Tweet. If you, like me, are wondering why someone would ever post things like this, here’s his explanation:

One of the things I like to do on Twitter is I’ll tweet something inflammatory, kind of borderline crazy-sounding just for fun. And I enjoy watching people go nuts. One of the best things about it is if you say something that’s borderline offensive or if it is offensive, the people that attack you and say just the awfulest [sic] things about you, they do the very thing that they accuse you of (

So to be clear: he does this for fun. He enjoys the impact he has. He loves getting other people to say “the awfulest” things.

All that, with no recognition that he’s not an equal target to the people he targets. I’m not saying that people who are transgender or poor or black teens are less than Kincannon. I’m saying that Kincannon is lobbing his comments from a place of cultural and institutional power. He chooses to be a target. And he cloaks himself in the judgment and presumed superiority and unassailability of The Majority and The Norm. Not to mention The Dominant Group That’s Not Afraid to Remind You People of Its Dominance (hence, his confidently “funny” quips about sending transgender folks to concentration camps).

In his mind, he’s starting a fight between equals. From where I stand, I see a bully. And let me say, I think that word is grossly overused and misapplied these days to describe a broad range of socially aggressive or unpreferred behaviors. But here, the shoe fits. (And I’m using social justice group Groundspark’s ( definition of bullying as persistent, aggressive behavior by one person or group toward another, that is intended to cause distress or harm, and is facilitated by the imbalance of power between the aggressor and the target.)

If I had to point to example of this definition, I would pull up Kincannon’s Twitter account. I don’t see Kincannon as exercising free speech or inciting a dialogue among equals. I see him as bullying. And if you do, too, I encourage you to let Twitter know by (

Thanks. May your twitterverse be a more inclusive and mutually growthful place.

** Update on this post: I’m still trying to figure out how to contact Twitter because the link above only works if you have a Twitter account. As if what is tweeted only affects the twitterverse. (Note to Twitter: You are a megaphone that many of us can’t avoid hearing from, even if we live in the nontwitterverse. Unlike in Vegas, what happens on Twitter gets replayed everywhere.)

Who are these people?

21 Oct

So here are the headlines that crossed my desk today:

  • “Scout Leaders Topple 145 Million Year old Rock Formation” (that would be a Jurassic Era rock formation that once stood in Goblin Valley State Park, Utah)
  • “Happy Tourists Catch Rare Octopus, Beat it to Death, and Eat It” (it was family fun, with Dad leading his 6 and 10 yr old children in the spontaneous vacation activity). Here’s one for their vacation scrapbook:


And just for the record: the animal being bashed to death here is actually a hexapus, a rare specimen of octopus.

  • “These moronic hunters actually shot and killed a rare albino moose” (by the way, the local Mi’kmaq people had known about the moose for years and not killed it as they considered it a spirit animal)

I felt sick just reading the headlines, and even more so reading about the events they describe (all of which you can link to through:

And I will be honest: the unfiltered question that popped into my head was, “Who are these people?”

Yes, I know: “these people.” A phrase cousin to “you people.” I’m not proud of what I’m confessing here. I think it’s a clear example of what I talk about professionally every day:

  • There’s a human tendency to form in-group identities, which invariably creates out-group identities. And part of in-group identity is in-group preference: the belief that your peeps are better than others (as a way of justifying your own value in the world).
  • Knowing someone and not just the identifiers we can use to name them goes a long way in facilitating our empathy with them, not just our reactions or attitudes about their “type.” If all we have are the outlines, then we fill in the details anyway; and if all we have to go on our generalities and stereotypes, then we don’t really bother to see the person, or we can’t because all of our preconceptions cloud our vision.
  • Stereotypes are alive and well, and we have to own our conscious or unconscious belief in them, in order to interrupt them.

To be clear, the “people” I was reacting to: “Americans.” That’s how a friend prefaced these stories: “They’re all Americans.” (Btw, the moose hunters are actually Canadian, which sparked a comment trail in the article about assumptions and what “American” connotes. While I agree with another reader that “American” is a term inclusive of Canada and Mexico and all of South America, I also overwhelmingly hear people use “American” to mean specifically and exclusively “US American.” So I personally use the term “US American” whenever referring to US Americans, in order to be clear. And I ask for clarification when someone uses the term “American,” if I’m not sure they really just mean a subset of people in North and South America).

So my working assumption from the get-go was that I was reading about US Americans’ destruction of nature. In other words, these people are my people. But they’re also not. In each story, the principal actor(s) was someone who looks at first glance to be a white man. And that’s the thing about “our” people: they’re a diverse group, defined by something we all share in common, and also unlike each other in a myriad of ways because being US American, or white or male does not entirely define any of us.

And as someone who identifies with and unlike the people in these stories, what I still find myself wondering is how identity matters in each of these incidents and in all of them collectively: how identifying as the dominant group in the US or in Canada, how having the privilege to be on vacation in another place (even if it’s a remote place in your own country, or the country where you were born but no longer live), and how notions of masculinity and leadership (whether for a scout troop or your own children) shaped what happened to the albino moose, to the Jurassic rock formation, and to the rare hexapus. Because I don’t believe these were just about three different sets of people. These were about how are identities in the world shape how we treat the world.

Building cultural competency in middle school: A POCIS opportunity

16 Oct

Just spreading the word about a POCIS (People of Color in Independent Schools) growth opportunity for middle school students, educators and parents/guardians:

Building Cultural Competency


Middle School

Join us at the Middle School Conference!

*All middle school students, educators, and parents are invited.

Co-hosted by the Julia Morgan School for Girls and East Bay School for Boys

When: Saturday, November 2, 2013, 9AM-Noon with light breakfast served at 8:30 and social to follow until 1PM

Where: Julia Morgan School for Girls, 5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94613

We will put our heads together as participants to think about how we facilitate and nurture cultural competency within and beyond the middle school classroom. The student workshop will be focused on practicing cultural competency and identity. Adults will spend their time thinking about how we make sure our middle school students are gaining cultural competency for middle school success. Plus, there will be performances from students from EBSB, St Paul’s and Edna Breur to remind us all why we do what we do!

Keynote Speaker: Ariel Luckey (


Students- Cultural Competency, A Life of Courage and Consequence

Teachers-Beyond the Color Wheel, Building Cultural Capital in the Classroom

Families-Cultural Competency, A Toolkit

Admission for students is free.

POCIS member adults are free.

Non-POCIS member adults (public or private) are $50.

Register: here

After ballin’, I get angry…

15 Oct

Disclosure: I don’t know what “ballin'”  is, as in “to ball, I ball, you ball…” It’s from a lyric in “Chinese Food,” a pop song hoping to become a viral internet sensation.

You can watch it here:

The fact that aspiring pop star Amy Gold is debuting with a video that so casually stereotypes, miscasts (geishas in a Chinese-American restaurant?) and mocks (what’s with the guy in the panda suit’s “accent”?) all Asians wearies and angers me.

But you know what didn’t? The fact that my introduction to this video was on this site:

And when I searched “Alison Gold Chinese food” last night, the top two hits were:

FYI: This song was produced by the same mastermind who brought the world the pop song “Friday” by Rebecca Black, which went viral a couple of years ago.

It was good to know that you can’t churn out thoughtless representations of already over-stereotyped groups without hearing about it.

However. Today, I searched the same terms only to find lots of sites talking about the video… and somehow failing to include racism in their sometimes detailed (down to the frame) analysis of why this is such a terrible song and video. This morning’s top search hits didn’t mention race at all, choosing to focus instead on empty lyrics, age inappropriateness and creepy sexual overtones. As if you have to choose one or the other critique. As if the combination of wrongs here don’t intersect.

For the record, the racism-focused critiques of this song video tend to, if only briefly, name the other seemingly easy to identify issues with this debut:

  • From Angry Asian Man: “A pop star wannabe, a creepy panda, and a racist, kid-friendly ditty about
    ‘Chinese’ cuisine.”
  • From The Smoking Section: “I’m not even sure what the chow mein reference with simultaneous shoulder brush
    move at 1:15 means. Or the fact that her “new friend” is a grown ass man in a panda suit… What I do know is he shouldn’t be laying in a meadow playing tickles with a teenage white girl. Or hanging out in her bedroom with her underage friends. Oh, then he pulls off the panda lid to rap his verses while fake squinting his eyes and using a slight accent?”
  • From Audrey: “The video combines the poor musical abilities of “Friday,” more than a handful of racist stereotypes, and lyrics that leave you wondering what sort of condition the creators may have been in while writing this trainwreck” (

And all this just makes me want to say: Look, people of the internet (I mean you, LA Times, Time magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and the rest of you know who you are)! This is perfect opportunity to practice naming racism. Not to be mean, spiteful or just to say something to shut this video down. But because it is, at the same time that it’s classist and creepy and vapid. To take the time to criticize everything but the racist treatment of Asian and Asian-American people in this video? Makes about as much sense as “Get me broccoli/While I play Monopoly.”

Come on now. You can do better than that.

** Thanks to my friend and colleague CY for sharing this video. No, really.

Identity blind (but still peeking)

15 Oct

As the Supreme Court listens to arguments regarding Michigan’s law that bans the preferences based on sex and race in public programs (, I’d like to ask:


The state of Michigan really thinks that by not asking for information about race or sex (or not reading the information applicants provide), they can ban the influence of race and sex preferences in admissions and hiring in their state programs?

Let’s break this down, focusing just on racial consideration in admissions to the state’s public universities.

Being a legacy at a school is influenced by race. University of Michigan was founded in 1815, and didn’t accept a black student until 1853. That’s almost 40 years of generating only white alumni at the school. And the first black student didn’t exactly open the floodgates for racial diversity: there has been a historical, consistent, gaping disparity in enrollment between black and white, and Latina/o and white students from 1853 through today: by 2012, black students comprised only 4.6% of first year students, and Latino/a students comprised 3.9% ( Notably, these numbers are part of a continuing downward trend ( Clearly, over the years, the numbers of Latina/o and black UM alumni, while growing, are growing much more slowly than the number of white alumni.

Thus, special consideration for legacy applicants actually and actively prefers white students. So when we talk about policies about race needing to be “race neutral” in order to be legal, how are we assessing neutrality? Are we seeking to level the playing field, or maintain the unlevel status quo? Because just banning the explicit consideration of race and social inequity, while allowing implicit racial preference doesn’t exactly add up to neutral.

UCLA seemed to get that in its own response to the state of CA banning affirmative action at state schools: through its blended criteria ranging from “GPA, to family income, to whether an applicant was the first in the family to go to college,” UCLA may not have singled out race, but it certainly continued to consider racial identity as a component of other identifiers. And “indeed, the percentages of black and Latino students [at UCLA] began to rebound” ( And despite protests and claims about an “undue percentage” of minority students being admitted (think about that for a moment), the university has stuck to its policy, and authorized a faculty review that backs up its process and outcomes.

But this isn’t about comparing UCLA to Michigan (well, not entirely). What seems missing from the Michigan case, and maybe I just missed it, is a social vision. Other than “fairness,” which should always be a guiding principle, especially in inherently unfair processes like hiring and admissions, what is Michigan striving for? Is it equitable access to education, despite the unequal credentials and resources of candidates whose qualifications weren’t simply forged by merit? Is it an equitable learning experience for all students once they’re accepted? Is it diversity in the community because diversity enhances group processes and outcomes? Is it interrupting cycles of poverty and insulation of opportunity and wealth? Is it maintaining the privilege of some groups who have historically enjoyed and come to feel entitled to their privilege, while trying to make things a little better at the margins for other groups, without rocking the majority-minority recipe?

Whatever the vision, with an understanding of the intended outcome, it seems to me that complex institutions and communities like the state of Michigan can do better than crying foul over the consideration of some identities (while quietly perpetuating the bias and preference for others). We certainly don’t have to forego fairness: we just have to be more intentional about fairness for whom and why.