Archive | March, 2014

Simulating poverty

31 Mar

Have you played Spent?

Key word: “played.” It’s in the URL ( for this poverty simulator, which is another reminder that some folks–too many folks–don’t have to “play” at poverty to understand the experience.

I do recommend this simulation to you, whether or not you yourself have experience or currently live in poverty–to notice what the simulation provokes in you. And I recommend playing out different choices, to see not only where the simulation leads you, but also what it feels like to make those different choices (ex. opting in or out of health care).

Now, if you’re thinking about using a poverty simulator with students or already do, I would add some recommendations:

  • Don’t assume that poverty is a new or unfamiliar experience for all of your students. Introduce the activity as an experience people understand and are connected to in different ways. (For example, I am one generation removed from poverty, but not the kind the simulation proposes: both of my parents grew up in Korea during the war and lived through starvation and homelessness. Getting a job with any kind of consistent pay, let alone health insurance, wasn’t an option for their parents, their older siblings or themselves. So while I myself have never lived in poverty, the people closest to me have.)
  • Let the students know that whether or not they’ve ever lived in poverty, they’re perspectives are no more or less valid than their peers’. Everyone’s experience is authentic. What we need to be mindful of is when we assume that our experience is the norm, and that our opinions are right, as opposed to just our experience-informed opinions.
  • Talk to the students about empathy, including what I think of as empathy simulation. That is, claiming empathy when I really don’t understand an experience because I think saying “I get it” is proof that I’m a good person. (See Mia McKenzie’s blog post on “being an ally” that has appeared in a couple of my earlier posts this month.) Sometimes, I really don’t understand your experience or perspective. And acknowledging that is a lot more respectful than editing, revising and contorting your experience to fit what I can understand.
  • Use individual reflection and journaling to help students process and think before they speak.
  • Ask students to notice their reactions (questions, feelings, impulses to act), where those are coming from (in their experience, identity, worldview) and what’s going on for them as they navigate their choices. (To start the simulation, you have to choose to play or “Exit.” Then, throughout the simulation, you can click “I can’t do this.” I wonder when and why people click this button.)
  • Address the idea that money = happiness (in The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner discusses how a baseline of money is a critical factor in happiness, but beyond that, more money doesn’t correlate absolutely with being happier). In other words, address a common, normative assumption that wealth makes us happier. Acknowledge the truth and misconceptions in that, as well as students’ perspective on their own experience and cultural norms surrounding the pursuit of wealth.
  • Connect the experience to a concrete “try today” or “try tomorrow” (ex. helping to educate when someone else says that people who are poor should just work harder, volunteering at a food bank…)

On that last point: if you’re going to educate about poverty, you have to empower student to do something about it, and not just to learn more about the issue. Learning more is important, but education without application can be demoralizing and even destructive. They may not end poverty (although I’ll still hope!) but they can stand up when someone says something classist. And that’s a real part of the problem that simulators like Spent are trying to solve.

What’s with the “”?

30 Mar

A microaggression is a subtle (to the person or group who just did it) but stunning (to the person or group who just experienced it) slight or dismissal of an identity as being unimportant, invalid or unworthy.

An example: I just took an online survey (because I’m procrastinating), and at the end, the company was gathering demographic information, including the relationship status of the survey takers. My options included:

Married or in a relationship with a “significant other”

The air quotes were theirs.

It’s a small detail, but one that potentially screams: “Because that’s what you call each other, but we all know your partner is only really significant when you put a ring on it!”

I’m just saying. And as a married person who:

  1. Has experienced the weird and powerful legitimization that “married” status suddenly confers on couples, not just socially but legally,
  2. Knows people who previously hadn’t been able to or still can’t get married because marriage is a heterosexist institution, and
  3. Doesn’t think people should get married (because a committed relationship is a committed relationship)–although it’s fine if they choose to

I think this company is doing itself a disservice by casually letting its unmarried but committed customers know (in a throwaway question at the end of this survey) that they are persona sorta-grata… after the marrieds.

To which I say (and wrote in my e-mail to the company): just remove the quotes already! Because they don’t serve your customers, and they don’t serve you. That’s the thing about microaggressions: they’re not useful for much, if you want to build community.

When support is the same as hate

28 Mar

I happened across this article “So you support your gay teen, great: You still have to parent them” ( The thesis:

“The problem for most gay kids is that they can lose their parents whether their parents are hateful or supportive,” says Dan Savage, author, sex columnist and creator of the “It Gets Better Project,” which helps gay teens recover from bullying. “When a kid is queer, the hateful parent shuts down and wants nothing to do with them. But sometimes a parent who is accepting feels like they can’t be critical or interfere, and they don’t fulfill their duties as parents any more than the hateful parent does.”

Savage, who has a son with his gay partner, says that he frequently hears stories about parents who are afraid to tell their gay son that they don’t approve of his boyfriend for fear of sounding intolerant or who help their gay teen sneak into gay bars by securing them a fake ID — a double standard that he finds frustrating.

“You’ve got to parent your queer kid like you would any other kid. Would you parent your straight 17-year-old daughter that way? No, you would not,” he says.

Savage makes me think of Mia McKenzie’s critique of “allies” ( As McKenzie argues, being an ally is not about your beliefs (like, it’s OK to be gay). “It’s not supposed to be about your feelings. It’s not supposed to be a way of glorifying yourself at the expense of the folks you claim to be an ally to. It’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s supposed to be a way of living your life that doesn’t reinforce the same oppressive behaviors you’re claiming to be against.” And those oppressive behaviors include not saying what you need to say because your kid is gay (and you don’t want to be seen as or called homophobic). Back to Savage on this:

“Whether it’s a dating relationship you don’t approve of, or it’s your kid saying, ‘You said you loved and accepted me for who I was, and now you’re not letting me enter a Mr. Leather contest in a dog collar when I’m 16 years old,’ your response should be, ‘This has nothing to do with your being gay, and everything to do with the fact that I’m your parent and I don’t approve of the choice you’re making,’” says Savage. “Love them by parenting them — that’s the key.”

And as McKenzie puts it, being an ally is about what you do. It’s about “currently operating in solidarity with,” which includes helping your kid learn what their sexuality has to do with the rest of who they are and their relationships with other people, including you.

I say “happy,” you say “transgender”

27 Mar

Definitely a word association the world could use more of.

Another association that could help the world? “We’ll say things like, ‘God made you special’… because there aren’t many little girls out there that have a penis!” ( That’s the mother of Jazz, a transgender child (who in her own words has “a girl brain in a boy body”), connecting God and folks who are transgender through love, not condemnation.

Click the link above for a great interview about Jazz, her family and her experience, including a moment when Jazz responds to her older sister’s description of Jazz’s gender identification as “a disorder” (starting around 4:45) by saying she sees her identity as “special” or “unique.”

I will say that I think Barbara Walters, the interviewer, seems to confuse gender and sex: a mainstay of her argument that Jazz is, of course, a girl–just look at how “girly” she is! But, of course, a boy who is transgender could identify as a girl and express her female identity across a spectrum of gender possibilities, including as a girl who doesn’t love pink or dresses but is still a girl. Because transgender identity isn’t just about expressions of masculinity and femininity: it’s about identifying as someone our reproductive organs say we’re not (around 3:16 Walters points out that “many” young boys who identify as girls are into mermaids, and Jazz’s mom offers an interesting, compelling thought as to why).


2014 Ivy and Pearls Foundation Scholarship Announcement

26 Mar

Please share this information forward!

The Rho Delta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is pleased to announce applications are now being accepted for scholarships offered through their Ivy and Pearls Foundation. Since its inception, the Ivy and Pearls Foundation has awarded thousands of dollars in scholarships to help aspiring youth further their education, growth, and development.

In 2014, a minimum of four scholarships will be awarded, and are intended to aid entering college freshmen by providing financial support based on academic merit, community engagement and need. Completed application packages must be postmarked by 31 March 2014. Finalists will be publicly acknowledged during the annual African American Baccalaureate Program in San Jose, CA on Sunday, 01 June 2014.

Applicant requirements

o Be a resident of the RDO service area (San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties)

o Be African / African American

o Be a high school student, senior year

o Have a cumulative grade point average of 2.75 or above / 4.0 scale

o Be enrolled as a full-time student in a two or four-year college in Fall 2014

o Show recent community involvement


For more information and to download an applications, please go to:



“First Gay Hug (A Homophobic Experiment)”

21 Mar

I’ve watched “First Gay Hug” by the Gay Women Channel on youtube ( a few times today. I appreciate it. And it’s making me think that maybe we should talk more about heterophobia, which I would define as the reasonable fear of heterosexual people and heterosexist attitudes, words and actions. As brave as these heterosexual folks are to hug people they see as being or doing things that are wrong or “gross,” I’m humbled by the bravery it takes their gay partners to lean in and hug it out.

“Cheers to Guinness”

18 Mar


I appreciate this news from yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations: As journalist Denis Hamill notes, “Pope Francis is more accepting of gays in the church than the anachronistic [New York City] St. Patrick’s Day parade committee.” And it’s not just the committee. Hamill continues, “I hear from people all the time that gays are welcome to march up Fifth Ave. in the parade as long as they don’t identify themselves as members of the LGBT community.” That is, as long as they identify-by-default as members of the hetero community?

Hmm. Here’s to corporate activism making a difference.