Archive | February, 2014

The lesson on welfare

26 Feb

This is it. The next 13-1/2 minutes you can devote to this video are well worth the investment:


Ways to say I’m gay (or not)

25 Feb

You may have watched or read about Ellen Page’s speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference on Valentine’s Day ( It was about the important work the HRC does that benefits not just LGBTTQQ folks–it benefits humanity, it was about love, it was about the easy and powerful choice to be kind (that we somehow eschew), it was about the ridiculousness of having a celebrity say something you already know about yourselves. And Page came out during the speech.

It’s my hope that the folks listen to the whole speech and takeaway from it a myriad of observations, reflections and perspectives, including–but not just–that Page is gay.

One of my takeaways came after the speech, after The Guardian went to press with an article covering the speech. Journalist  Jane Czyzselska noted, “Some gay people, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, think Page’s coming out speech is newsworthy” (

There are at least three interesting facets to this statement:

  1. That the entire 8.5 min speech has become “Page’s coming out speech” (obliterating the occasion for the speech, including the immediate audience for the speech, and the issues that are the reason why Page came out during the speech or would need to “come out” at all).
  2. That of all people, only “some gay people” are taking note of Page’s speech. (Which is a direct descendant of the notion that homophobia is a gay issue, not a people-of-all-sexualities issue.)
  3. That Sir Patrick Stewart is gay. Apparently, this was news to SPS, too. But it made sense to Czyzselska, since, after all, according to the article’s logic, you must be gay if you are going to bother speaking up in support of Page’s coming out.

I thought Stewart’s response to his public–and in this case, inaccurate–outing was, in itself, “newsworthy.” While silence can sometimes speak volumes, so, too, can tweeting (

  • “But @guardian I have, like, five or even SEVEN hetero friends and we totally drink beer and eat lots of chicken wings!”
  • “Well, @guardian it makes for a nice change…at least I didn’t wake up to the internet telling me I was dead again.”
  • “Silly @guardian. You can’t catch gay by hanging out with #LGBT people.”

The Guardian promptly corrected its error: “Some people, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, think Page’s coming out speech is newsworthy…”

Yes, indeed.

The problem with “reasonable”

24 Feb

“Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis, and America’s Racist Heritage” by Jamelle Bouie is a great response and analysis of the Michael Dunn verdict that convicted Dunn on three attempted murder charges, but not on the actual murder of teenager Jordan Davis (

I’ll let Bouie’s editorial speak for itself and just comment on this observation of the defense’s defense of Florida’s self-defense laws:

“Under Florida self-defense laws,” notes the New York Times, “people can use lethal force and do not have to retreat if they ‘reasonably believe’ it is “necessary” to save their lives or avoid great harm. The jury must, in essence, decide what a ‘reasonable person’ would have done under similar circumstances.” Here’s more:

“The law takes the position that you have to step into the shoes of the defendant,” said Michael Band, a Miami criminal defense lawyer who was a longtime prosecutor in the city.

Ye gods.

Has Michael Bond just presented the textbook defense for all hate crimes? That if we “step into the shoes of the defendant” and assume their point of view, we must concede it is entirely reasonable to shoot multiple rounds into a vehicle of unarmed teenagers?

In other words, “reasonable” does not suggest any expectation of cultural competence (including an understanding of normative identity prejudices, that we, as jurors, are also susceptible to, in even considering the “facts” of a legal case). “Reasonable” suggests including the lowest possible standards for self-awareness and social conscience because it is possible, and even not uncommon, for people to be proudly bigoted. (Yes, I see the double negative there. I couldn’t bring myself to write “even common, for people to be proudly bigoted.” I would really like to believe otherwise.)

We cannot continue to allow cultural incompetent juries to render verdicts without recognizing their own identity biases and the prejudices not only of those on trial but of our culture. Maybe George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn would end up with the same verdicts. But at least these would be informed by all the facts of the cases, including the facts of our own inevitable partiality, that we can only mitigate by noticing, naming and discerning how to act upon.


** Thanks to the other AP for sharing this link.

Discrimination: It’s good for you?

21 Feb

To be transparent: I have not read the book The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by wife and husband team Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld. I just read the transcript of this interview with them about the book (

And I just want to play back what I think I read…

Amy explains:

This is a book, in some ways, about what it takes to be successful in America today, in this very, very tough economy. One way of getting at that question is by looking at the groups that at this moment today are doing especially well in terms of these very conventional metrics: income, educational attainments, etc. And these three qualities that we talk about are actually open to anyone, of any background, any skin color. When you do access them, they propel you to success. It’s like they generate drive.

We kind of looked around at the groups that seemed very different at first, and noticed that they actually all have these traits in common. It’s the combination of simultaneously feeling superior and special, and insecure and not quite good enough that really generates motivation.

Let me just give you a concrete example. Take a lot of immigrants. There are immigrants who come from, I don’t know, China or Ghana or Persia or [Greece], and they feel like they came from ancient civilizations, great civilizations. And maybe some of them had high status in their countries. And then they come to this country, and suddenly they are outsiders. They look different. They have a funny accent. You don’t feel properly recognized. And that feeling of being almost a little bit resentful, you know, “I’m gonna show everybody,” that can be an incredibly powerful motivator for success.

To recap:

While the qualities of “simultaneously feeling superior and special, and insecure and not quite good enough” are supposedly “open to anyone, of any background, any skin color,” it helps if you are a racial or ethnic minority (plus points for immigrants) because racism and xenophobia are working for you to foment these qualities. The fact that Chua and Rubenfeld identify eight “cultural groups” (Jews, Mormons, Indian-Americans, Iranians, Cuban exiles, Nigerian-Americans, Lebanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans) to make their case suggests that “open” is relative. One might even infer that, in fact, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant folks whose ancestors spilled off the Mayflower et al. are at a distinct disadvantage because they don’t “look different” (at least to themselves), and they don’t “have a funny accent” (again, in their own opinions).


I appreciate that Chua and Rubenfeld strive to base their claims on data, and I appreciate that they’re not trying to write what’s popular so much as what they believe is important to name.

And, I have to question the framing of their argument, which subscribes to the school of privilege-blindness that would suggest, to use my colleague Steven Jones’ real-life metaphor (, that the daily, systemic advantages enjoyed by right-handed people in the world (see: absence of stigma, availability of gear without additional cost or effort to locate, and everyday functions from unlocking your iPhone to shaking hands that are designed for right-handers) are void when compared to the obvious and overwhelming advantage of being a left-handed baseball pitcher. It just doesn’t add up. It’s simply inaccurate, not to mention unfair, to highlight the exceptional advantages of systemically oppressed and marginalized groups without naming the institutionalized advantages that tacitly and powerfully favor majority groups every day.

While Chua and Rubenfeld are making an economic argument, I have to wonder about the trickle down effect of what they’re claiming. I suppose we shouldn’t feel outraged on behalf of Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins, so much as envy him for the opportunities Richie Incognito provided for him to feel “superior and special, and insecure and not quite good enough” ( And then there are the black students at Ole Miss, who have maybe not been terrorized so much as given their chance to really excel (

According to Rubenfeld, he and Chua expect “sensitivity” in response to their book. Yes, and I would hope some sensibility, too.

And yet we crowdfund Jamaican bobsledding

20 Feb


Something has been creeping me out about the enthusiasm in the US for Jamaican bobsledding. Understand, I’m not against the Jamaican two-man bobsled team. It’s our support of them that has me uneasy.

It started with the constant, if understandable, pop culture references to Cool Runnings that has reduced the team to a cute Disney storyline. (And for the record, cute for Disney often involves more stereotypes than I find charming.) This infantilizing attitude toward the team is powerful and puzzling, especially in light of the fact that we’re talking about supporting (financially! let alone morally) two huge black men.

Because two huge black men living in the US generally provoke a different response. Heck, they don’t even have to be huge. Just black and male is enough to unleash a torrent of prejudice and even violence that we will argue endlessly may be “justified.” Take the murder trial of Michael Dunn, found guilty of attempted murder, but not the actual murder of teenager Jordan Davis in 2012( Take the so-frequent-it’s-become-normal-news about campus hazing and terrorizing of black students (see my 2/18/14 post). Take the White Savior Industrial Complex ( enthusiasm for service-abroad-to-help-poor-brown-people-over-there (as we shake our heads at the lazy brown people in the US who should just work harder and pull themselves up by their unlaced bootstraps).

In fact, that’s exactly it. There’s a little too much WSIC in our crowdfunding of the Jamaican bobsled team, down to the “special limited edition t-shirt” we get for our $50 donation (

And the thing about helping the black people over there is that it’s directly related to condoning hatred and violence against black people here.

A little gay

20 Feb

If you haven’t yet seen the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion’s Olympics ad, please take a moment now (and if, like me, you’ve watched it several times, please enjoy it again):

That’s right. To quote the CIDI: “The games have always been a little gay. Let’s fight to keep them that way.”

I’m loving this commercial. Like, watching-it-at-least-once-a-day-every-day-during-the-Olympics loving it.

The question is: why?

“That’s gay!” is a sadly still too common throwaway line that people use when they really mean: “That’s strange!” or “That’s stupid!”

In an uncomplicated nutshell, let me just say that it is not OK to say “That’s gay!” that way.

Gay is no more strange or stupid than heterosexual is (at least in my experience of being and knowing loads of hetero people). And using any identity as code for wrong/different/strange/less than is inaccurate and inhumane.

So back to: “The games have always been a little gay.” Why is this “gay” different?

IMHO (in my humble opinion):

The CIDI is using “gay” denotatively: to point out the physical intimacy of the luge, a sport that encourages a deep connection, physical, emotional and mental, between two people of the same sex.

… That is, denotatively with tongue in cheek. Probably anticipating that one reaction to their ad would be to defend the luge–there’s nothing wrong or weird about two men (or women) working as team!

Exactly. And there’s nothing wrong with being gay, either.


** Thanks to our North American friends. For even having an Institute of Diversity and Inclusion. And for being brave and real.[Insert fist bump]


Shut it down

18 Feb

Today’s headline from the University of Mississippi: “Noose tied on Ole Miss integration statue” ( According to the AP:

The FBI on Tuesday was helping investigate who tied a noose around the neck of a University of Mississippi statue of James Meredith, who, in 1962, became the first black student to enroll in the then all-white southern college.

University police found the rope noose and a pre-2003 Georgia state flag with the Confederate “stars and bars” on its face Sunday morning, said campus police Chief Calvin Sellers. Two men were seen near the statue early Sunday and investigators were looking at surveillance footage.

… “These individuals chose our university’s most visible symbol of unity and educational accessibility to express their disagreement with our values,” [Chancellor Dan] Jones said. “Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue — Courage, Knowledge, Opportunity, and Perseverance.”

Here’s my gut response:

Shut the school down.

If you want to show commit to “unity and educational accessibility,” do not go on with business as usual. Do not teach classes as if the classrooms are safe places for all students to learn. Do not host exciting and informative guests from outside the university to talk about anything other than what is happening on your campus. Do not play your regularly scheduled practices and games, as if being a team is just an athletic concept.

Shut the school down until whoever chose to desecrate the school’s symbol of “courage, knowledge, opportunity and perseverance” steps into the light and owns up to their actions.

Shut the school down because it is not OK for some students to be able to go on with their learning, perhaps a little uncomfortable but ultimately able to distance themselves from the image of a statue that’s been lynched, while other students feel that noose around their own necks.

Shut the school down because this isn’t just about one statue on one campus. This is about hazing at San Jose State ( and racist frat parties at Arizona State (,0,1723543.story). This is about a national epidemic of young adults not understanding the depth of their identity crisis and the impact of their actions. And why would they understand? We treat these hate crimes like a grand game of Whack-a-Mole: hate pops up! Embarrassed apology accepted! Hate pops up! Grudging apology accepted! Hate pops up! We shake our heads at kids these days, and ready our hammers… This is about a national crisis, so shut the school down.

Shut the school down to act on–not just express–your genuine commitment to every person’s right to safety, and to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Shut the school down so the community learns what education is all about.

The Vanguard Conference for African-American boys and young men

18 Feb


To register:

For more info:

And please read on for more information from the conference organizers:

A Gathering for African-American Young Men and Boys in Independent, Private, Charter, and Public Schools

The purpose of the Vanguard Conference is to unite, connect and encourage college bound African-American males in grades 6-12, in public, charter, independent, and private schools throughout the Bay Area. The conference was founded in 2007, and this year we will focus on breaking the stereotypical box society has placed on African-American males, while helping the attendees continue to create their own identity.

The Vanguard Conference developed from a social gathering of African-American men who serve as educators in San Francisco Bay Area Independent Schools.  These men gathered because of the need to spend time with each other.  They needed to discuss their experiences, reflect on their roles as educators, while processing in an emotionally safe space. They knew firsthand that independent schools were not founded to be beacons of diversity, but they are now committed to establishing more inclusive school communities.  The dozen African American male educators who had been meeting informally soon decided that the best way to get to know each other was by working on a meaningful project.  Thus, the Vanguard Conference came to pass.

There were several key goals to the conference including networking, normalizing the scholarly pursuits of African-American boys, and laying the foundation for a mentoring program.  The purpose of a conference geared exclusively to the needs of African-American boys in the Bay Area Independent Schools may be obvious to some people and unclear to others.  Listening to the stories of the boys as they explained the comfort and strength they felt being part of the majority at the conference instead of their everyday life as a minority in many of their schools should make the purpose of the conference clear to anyone.

‘Nuff said

17 Feb

Really, I have nothing to add. This says it all.

real man


Real simple? Well, it depends…

14 Feb

I recently received an e-mail from a colleague who was in a Blink workshop on cultural competency. In the workshop, I suggested that cultural competency isn’t an end unto itself: it’s a lens and a means for connecting with people who aren’t you, in order to do whatever it is you’re trying to do–understanding math, increasing profits or finding a cure for cancer.

Or, as it turns, reading a magazine article.

My colleague shared an article from lifestyle magazine Real Simple, titled “How to Handle Sticky Situations: Tactical tips and talking points that can help you survive an awkward social scenario” by Elizabeth Schatz Passarella. In this article, Passarella presents scenarios like:

  • A friend asks if she looks good in an outfit, and the answer is something other than yes.
  • You arrive at a party and find that you don’t know a single person in the room.
  • You find yourself walking alongside a casual acquaintance and you don’t want to chat all the way to your destination.
  • You called someone by the wrong name―and it wasn’t someone you just met.

Passarella then tells you the “right” way to handle each situation. (Ex. If “you find yourself walking alongside a casual acquaintance and you don’t want to chat all the way to your destination,” she suggests, “If you can do it discreetly and naturally, turn a corner or ‘duck into a coffee shop or public restroom,’ says Leil Lowndes, author of How to Talk to Anyone.” Passarella also thoughtfully provides a hyperlink to buy the book.)

Thinking back to the workshop, my colleague had a few questions about the assumptions and perspectives of the article: to whom would Passarella’s advice make sense? whom might it offend? did the author consider cultural norms and differences in forming the advice of how “best” to handle these situations? is it intentional that in the accompanying illustration there’s only one person of color depicted?

To these questions I would add: who says these situations are sticky in the first place? and even if they are sticky, why do we need to fix them? That presumption, in and of itself, is predicated on an insistence on personal comfort in interpersonal situations that not all cultures entertain.

Having read the article, I don’t read a lot of self-awareness (of even having a cultural framework that is defining how Passarella views these situations and their solutions). And that is evidenced by her advice. For example:

Situation: You called someone by the wrong name―and it wasn’t someone you just met.

If you flub someone’s name a single time, it’s fine to apologize and make light of the situation. “Say something about lack of sleep or that you’ve had a really crazy day, and move on. Don’t bring it up again, even to joke about it―this will just extend the awkwardness,” says Caroline Tiger. However, if you have been calling your cubicle mate the wrong name since day one, “the apology should be in earnest,” says Tiger. “Validate her mortification by reacting in a big way, and do it in person: ‘I can’t believe I’ve been calling you Nancy for three weeks. I am so, so sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?'”

I’m struck by how Passarella frames this interaction entirely in terms of the comfort of the person who has just called someone else by the wrong name. My advice (and as a disclaimer, let me say, this isn’t “right,” but it is self-reflective and grounded in the habits of cultural competency that I am working on habituating):

  • Notice that you’re uncomfortable. Consider how your identity and your relationship to the other person (including status and differences/similarities of identity like age, race, sex and other social markers) inform your discomfort.
  • Consider why you just–or repeatedly–got their name wrong. What’s going on with you? What part of your error is about them (or how you perceive them)? And why does getting their name wrong matter to you, both in general and in this particular situation?
  • Discern your intention in choosing whether or not to address the situation. And recognize what you need: what’s about you (which is natural–after all, you wouldn’t be in this situation without you–but making an apology all about you isn’t really doing anyone else any favors).
  • If you are going to acknowledge what you’ve done, choose a time and a place when you can be present to say or do what you need to. Then, with a clear intention, and knowing that your impact may be different than you intend, give it a shot.

This is not to say that Passarella’s advice is wrong: in fact, I find it very interesting as a cultural study. I just wish it were presented that way. Because as it stands, I’m just the “Advice from an Asian-American Women” sidebar to Passarella’s [implied regular] rules of etiquette.

**Thanks to EW for e-mailing and sharing this article. I love this kind of e-mail!!