Archive | December, 2013

A “friendly, secular” Santa Claus?

18 Dec

I’m still bugged by the black Santa controversy. Here’s what really gets me: I get what’s disconcerting the folks over at Fox News… and not in a patronizing, holier-than-they way. In a “I have my own issue about what Santa oughtta be” way.

Cue Skinny Santa. Perhaps you’re aware of the ongoing controversy about Santa’s weight. As professional Santa and former Biggest Loser (a reality weight loss show) contestant Roy Pickler says, “Santa is a role model, and kids don’t want to have a role model that’s fat” (http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/22/health/santa-claus-weight/index.html). Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. The fact is, an increasing number of adults don’t. And the argument against a fat Santa is compounded by the trend towards fatter Santas: apparently, Santa outfitters need to stock costumes in size XXXL to accommodate every larger jolly old chaps (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/21/santa-claus-obesity-santa-is-getting-fatter_n_2347178.html).

While I can certainly support the health argument underlying some of the protest of the traditional Santa Claus representation, I’m also cognizant that there’s a fundamentally sizeist, fat-phobic bias at play here. Just saying: it’s not all about heart health.

Yet another response I’m having is internal resistance to the idea of Skinny Santa. This is where I can empathize with Fox News’ gut response to black Santa. Let me repeat: I can relate to their gut response. Not how they’re handling it.

And whether your line is heterosexual Santa, male Santa, white Santa, fat Santa, old Santa, physically (and even magically) able Santa or socioeconomically flush Santa (because who else can run an operation like that with no income?), you probably have some non-negotiable that makes Santa Santa for you.

That’s culture. It’s the idea of how things should be. It’s about what’s right… according to me. And us, whoever “we” are. Culture is even if we know better, how we tend to see the world. And because Santa is culture, one size doesn’t fit all. The argument Aisha Harris is making for an anthropomorphic Santa (bag the human icon and go with something safe like a penguin) is and isn’t a solution for the real Santa issue. The fact is that Santa will persist, and that he is necessarily exclusive, in order to continue speaking to the cultural base that created him.

The challenge for us, if we really hope for Santa to “warm the hearts of children everywhere” (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/holidays/2013/12/santa_claus_an_old_white_man_not_anymore_meet_santa_the_penguin_a_new_christmas.html),  will be to feel welcome and safe to have our Santa without having to impose our Santa on everyone else, and to remember the point of Santa when we come across a Santa that challenges our expectations and sense of what’s right.

Upcoming POCIS Lower School Conference

16 Dec

 From the People of Color in Independent Schools, Northern CA:                     

Join us at the

POCIS Lower School Conference

Building Blocks: Creating community and connecting our identities.

 

Adults will engage in interactive workshops and explore identity. Facilitators will utilize case studies, data, and personal narratives to construct restorative justice action plans.

 

Students will explore identity through hands-on multimedia workshops and activities.

 

Who: K-5 Students, parents, and educators.

When: Saturday, January 25, 2014, 8:30am-12:30pm, followed by lunch

Hosted by: The Berkeley School, 1310 University Ave., Berkeley, CA

 

CONFERENCE FEES: POCIS Member schools/organization: Free

Non-member schools/organization: Adults $50; Students $20

(No student will be turned away for lack of funds.)

Questions: email events@nocapocis.org  RSVP by Monday, January 13, 2014

 

Register HERE

 

Keynote Musical Performance: Aisha Fukushima

 

Student Workshops and Adult Presentation by

POCIS member school faculty and community leaders

“Santa just is white”

16 Dec

At about 3 mins in this clip of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-december-12-2013/war-on-christmas—s–t-s-getting-weird-edition), Fox News references the Slate magazine article “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore”  (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/holidays/2013/12/santa_claus_an_old_white_man_not_anymore_meet_santa_the_penguin_a_new_christmas.html) by Aisha Harris.

It’s powerful and bizarro to me that in the middle of this editorial, the news anchor feels compelled to reassure children that “Santa just is white.” It begs the question: what is she defending? Because it’s clearly not just  a fictional character who slides down chimneys. It’s her childhood, her culture, her worldview and her determination that her sense of right is right. So right that it ought to trump everyone else’s. Which is why she feels comfortable trotting out what Stewart dubs “the slogan for oppression: Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it has to change.”

Because, after all, why should the majority have to change, when those in the minority can keep accommodating? (Contrast Fox News’ position “Santa just is white” with the explanation Harris’ father offered “that Santa was every color. Whatever house he visited, jolly old St. Nicholas magically turned into the likeness of the family that lived there.” The former is what you say when you want a tradition to remain exclusive; the latter is an attempt to make it more inclusive.)

As for Harris’ tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we turn Santa Claus into a penguin, a part of me had to giggle. Penguins, as you know, are white and black. (I see what you did there, Aisha…)

** Thanks to my colleague (was it you, LM?) for sending.

Books for middle schoolers

14 Dec

Lee & Low books has just shared their “Book List: 13 Funny Middle Grade Books with Diverse Characters” (http://blog.leeandlow.com/2013/12/13/book-list-13-funny-middle-grade-books-with-diverse-characters/), which you can also identify by cover here: http://www.pinterest.com/leeandlow/diverse-mg-humor/.

Sharing their list is a “yes, and…” for me:

  • Yes, I think it’s awesome and helpful to have resources for books kids will enjoy that diversify their perception of who gets to be in stories.
  • And, it’s a problem to use “diverse” as code for “not white.” That’s what Lee & Low really seem to mean: you’ll note that on their webpage, “funny middle grade books with diverse characters” = “humorous middle grade titles that feature characters of color or are written by authors of color.” Now, if we were talking about diverse characters, that would by definition include white characters, physically able character, heterosexual characters… you get my point. Diversity includes majority and normative identities. And thoughtful, intentional diversity doesn’t let those normatives and majorities define “normal” or right.

What’s wrong with using “diverse” as code for “minority”?

  • It’s inaccurate. Denotatively incorrect.
  • If that’s not enough, it confuses conversations about diversity by implying that “diversity” is really just about minorities (and specifically how they are unfortunate, and in need of special accommodations that, in a zero-sum world, threaten the entitlement of the majority). In fact, diversity is just a fact. Diversity is the reality that differences in our identities activate different privileges and disadvantages, not just for individuals, but for whole groups of people. And any work towards greater equity, inclusion and social justice won’t just be for the benefit of some. It will be for the diverse, unequal but fair benefit of all of us.

Ironically, Lee & Low actually hurt the cause they’re trying to support by perpetuating this conflation of language as they promote books by and featuring people of color. So, if you share this list with other educators or students (which I encourage you to do), I ask that you also help them think about the difference between “diverse” and “minority.” Because it would be a disservice to unintentionally reinforce this misuse of language while trying to help adolescents think more critically, creatively and good-humoredly about identity and diversity in literature and the world.

** Thanks to my colleague PN for sharing this link.

Not all discriminations are equal

11 Dec

I just read a blog on cross-racial casting in a HS theater production that you can read here: http://bittergertrude.com/2013/12/06/high-school-yellowface/.

In “High School Yellowface” (which took me back to my own high school’s almost exclusively white productions of The King and I and South Pacific), Bitter Gertrude makes some really thought-provoking points…

On how theater is vital in education:

There’s a reason theatre education belongs in schools. It teaches kids about the challenges and joys of creating art collaboratively. It helps kids learn how to extract meaning from text in very concrete ways. It teaches kids how to work under an utterly unforgiving deadline. It teaches kids about the massive, gorgeous, messy pile of dramatic literature available to us in the 21st century, which are all windows open to different places, times, experiences, and points of view. Theatre education is a life-changing, mind-expanding experience.

This is precisely why this is so disappointing to me. These kids are being taught that it’s acceptable for white people to play characters of color.

… If that’s the case, then what does ANY educational activity matter? Why not blow it all off and let them all play CoD: Ghosts instead of reading Catcher in the Rye or doing those calculus problems? I guarantee you that the skills theatre kids are learning are more likely to be useful to them in their future day-to-day lives as adults than calculus will be. If you believe education is important, then it follows that teaching kids that something highly controversial and racially problematic is just fine is shockingly irresponsible. Either education matters or it does not.

Speaking of what kids are being taught: in my own high school theater education, I learned repeatedly and consistently that while it’s acceptable for white people to play characters of color, it’s also acceptable for people of color to play people of any other color (hence a black “King of Siam”). But it is unacceptable for a person of color to play a well-known white character (so it was fine to paint “Asian eyes” on all the white people, but an Asian girl lost the role of “Anna” to a white girl who sang off-key and needed to be mic’d because no one could hear her). Yes, education does matter. Regardless of whether we intend the lesson or not.

And Bitter Gertrude has her own thoughts on how not all cross-racial casting is equal.

Now before you read what she has to say, what’s your perspective? If people of color can (and some might argue should) play traditionally white roles, is it only fair, just the same or not at all OK for white people to play non-white roles? Notice not just what you think, but your gut feeling about this question and where it comes from.

Here’s what Gertrude says (and repeats from a previous blog post):

It’s a common misconception that “multicultural casting” means that white people should be able to play characters of color because we cast people of color in roles originally written for white actors. To pretentiously quote [myself from a previous blog post:]

“Using a white actor as [a character of color] has a very different impact on the narrative than casting a person of color in a traditionally white role. It erases the physical presence of the person of color and substitutes it with blackface/yellowface, imperialism and cultural appropriation. The West has a long history of casting white actors in racist portrayals of people of color, of appropriating the narratives of people of color and reshaping them through a white lens, and of shutting artists of color out of positions of importance. An American audience viewing a white person portraying a person of color will be reminded of all of these, and of blackface, of yellowface, of the history of racism with which we still struggle. These are all present in any production wherein a white actor is cast as a person of color because they are so palpably present within our culture. Again, race is always part of the narrative.”

I have to agree. When I hear people talk about “reverse discrimination,” what I hear them suggesting is that all discrimination is equal. As if all people and groups are equal. As if all individuals and groups enjoy equal social, historical and institutional backing.

And that’s simply not true. It’s not that discrimination is ever OK. It’s that all discrimination isn’t equal, and pretending that it is, is just an extension of the power of normatively privileged groups.

** Thanks to my colleague NS for sharing the link.

Unmasking Whiteness

10 Dec

Just back from the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference with lots to blog about, but still getting my feet on the ground and playing catch up back here on the West Coast.

So just a quick professional and personal growth opportunity announcement:

The Unmasking Whiteness Institute will be happening July 24-27th, 2014 in Los Angeles. Here is more info from my esteemed (and fabulous) colleague, author of Witnessing Whiteness and institute facilitator Shelly Tochluk:

Unmasking Whiteness – A Summer Institute
AWARE-LA is happy to announce we are offering our 6th annual workshop series on building white anti-racist practice and community in an intensive 4-day institute designed specifically for white people. This institute is intended to help white people deepen their understanding of their relationship to white privilege and create a more effective anti-racist practice. Please pass this email on to your self-identifying white colleagues who might be interested!

The institute will run from Thursday, July 24th through Sunday, July 27th, 2014 and will take place on the downtown Los Angeles, Mount St. Mary’s College, Doheny campus. The cost for attendance is only $225 for the full 4-day institute.

This series invites white people to deepen their self-awareness and build community with other white people taking up work for racial justice. Through personal reflection, small and large group dialogue, and experiential activities, this institute invites the exploration of subjects such as:

  • The meaning of whiteness
  • White privilege and multiple identities
  • How to resolve guilt and shame
  • Institutional racism
  • Development of an anti-racist practice and identity

The registration application is available at: http://awarela.org/projects/2014-unmasking-whiteness/
Contact Shelly Tochluk at stochluk@msmc.la.edu for more information.

Shelly is also offering:

Witnessing Whiteness – A Workshop Series
Is your community committed to…

  • Developing authentic relationships across race?
  • Supporting racial justice initiatives?

A free, downloadable comprehensive workshop series is now available for groups interested in exploring their relationship to race and privilege.

Detailed, chapter-by-chapter agendas aligned with the book WITNESSING WHITENESS allow local facilitation teams to augment their leadership capacity as they lead book groups through an 11-part workshop series aligned with the recently
released second edition.

Topics include:

  • Why Pay Attention to Race?
  • Culture, Tradition, and Appropriation
  • Authentic Relationships
  • History of White Anti-racism
  • Racial Identity
  • Privilege and Multiple Social Identities
  • Transformative Relationships
  • Racial Scripts
  • Self-Evaluation and Goal Setting
  • Cultural Change
  • Group Goal Setting

Workshop agendas and resource documents to implement the series available for free download at www.witnessingwhiteness.com. Also, visit the website for more information regarding the workshop series’ development, book orders, and author’s contact information.

Happy #GivingTuesday!

3 Dec

Today is the second annual #GivingTuesday, “a ‘national day of giving’ added to the calendar on the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday” (http://community.givingtuesday.org/News). Happy birthday, #GT!

I found out about #GivingTuesday through Gender Spectrum, who invite us all to embrace #GivingTuesday as “an opportunity to reflect on what priorities and values are most important to us, and where we believe that change can happen in our communities.”

Today, as you think about where you can invest your dollars to cultivate the world you’d like to evolve into, I urge you to consider giving to Gender Spectrum, where your donation will enable teens to attend the Gender Spectrum Conference, an opportunity for gender nonconforming kids to be in community together and collaborate with loved ones, friends and community partners to work toward “creating gender sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens” (https://www.genderspectrum.org/outreach/family-conference).

That’s a lot more exciting than a new sweater.

To donate, please go to: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/genderspectrum.