Archive | April, 2014

Otherwise, a totally nice guy

15 Apr

In “Bullets, Blood and Then Cry of ‘Heil Hitler’” and Dan Barry of the NY Times write about Frazier Glenn Miller, the man who shot and killed three people outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and nearby Village Shalom on Sunday 4/13/14 (

A theme emerges in the interviews with people who know Miller: what a “regular guy” he is, “pleasant enough”–“affable” even… except for his virulent anti-Semitism and racism.

The Times‘ coverage, which keeps returning to these comments about Miller’s congeniality, suggests to me a level of surprise, perhaps even shock, that an anti-Semitic, racist former KKK leader could also be a nice “enough” guy. And I don’t think the Times is alone.

The popular conception of an anti-Semite and racist is that their hate defines them. They are not “a person who is anti-Semitic”: they are an anti-Semite. By nouning them, the rest of us can create a buffer between ourselves and any association with, accusation of or perpetuation of anti-Semitism and racism. Or so we hope.

But this myth of anti-Semitic and racist people being meat bags of pure hate doesn’t serve us so well, at least if our intent is to eradicate anti-Semitism and racism. Because the fact is that anti-Semitism and racism (and homophobia and sexism) are perpetuated by people who are often otherwise quite nice. They are perpetuated by our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends and family. They are perpetuated by us.

So we can hate on Frazier Glenn Miller all we want. We can point and express our shock at his hate crimes and try to convince ourselves that he had everyone fooled: they just didn’t see the true Miller under his fake “regular guy” exterior. But if we really are horrified, then we need to accept that he is both anti-Semitic and a nice guy (albeit only to people he perceives as white and Christian).

And, like Miller, we need to stop thinking of Them as the problem: whereas for Miller, “Them” is people who are Jewish and non-white; for others of us, “Them” is people like Miller. And no matter who my Them is, the problem is that I’m thinking of Them as a separate, sub-human group, which justifies my treating Them as less than (and helps me sleep well at night, confident that I am, in fact, a good person. After all, Them deserve what they get).

If we really want to stop reading headlines about hate crimes, I believe we’re going to have to get over this Us v. Them mentality and recognize that the victims and the perpetrators are Us.

The difference between intention and impact

14 Apr

Look, I know you’re a nice person. I know you mean well.

I do, too.

The question is: what are you and I doing with our good intentions?

This is an awesome short video about the difference–and sometimes the vast distance–between intention and impact:

It reminds me of Mia McKenzie’s decision to replace the noun “ally” with the action verb “currently operating in solidarity with.” Helping the poor is not a status. As McKenzie writes, it ought to “describe what a person is doing in the moment. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity without regard for current behavior. It does not assume future acts of solidarity. It speaks only to the actions of the present” (


“Let me show you how we did it”

4 Apr

The other day, I had the privilege of facilitating a conversation about inclusion as everyone’s work in a school. This particular community is experiencing a transition in staffing that involves several leaders of the inclusion work to date leaving at the end of the year. Throughout the conversation, colleagues touched on this change, noting their own sense of loss and concern as they looked to next year.

At the end of the meeting (which generated lots of concrete recommendations, requests and personal action items), I asked for any final thoughts, and one of the employees who is leaving stood up to speak.

She offered to show her colleagues just how she and others led the work of inclusion. I’ll do my best to quote her here:

We asked: why shouldn’t it be us?

We rolled up our sleeves.

And we got to work.

It was one of those moments that I’m so grateful to get to be part of, doing this work: learning from a colleague and witnessing the power of intentional leadership.

She nailed it: why shouldn’t it be us? Me? Once we’ve asked that question, there’s not much else to do but get started.

** Many thanks to this colleague for her voice, leadership and inspiration.

Horrible, even if you’re not offended

2 Apr

I just caught comedian Louis C.K.’s opening monologue for Saturday Night Live, and he nailed a very simple concept: that things can be horrible, even if no one feels offended. And the fact that no one’s offended says more about us than about the nature of the thing itself. Which leaves us with the question: so what do we do? Do we need someone to be offended (or more specifically, to let us know they’re offended–which presumes they have the agency to tell us) in order for a horrible thing to matter to us?

I won’t ruin great comedy–and truth–by summarizing it here. You can watch his monologue here:

Picture this

1 Apr

A high school senior just got accepted to all 8 Ivy League colleges.

Now you probably filled in this person’s age, based on the information I gave you. (If this HS senior were 40, I’m guessing you’d be more surprised than if they were 17.)

Research indicates that as soon as we meet someone, whether in person, on the phone, on paper or via e-contact, we read whatever information we have available to identify them. The first three categories we tend to fill in: race, sex and age. Not necessarily in that order.

So let me ask you: what sex and race did you picture this student being?

And if you want to answer that you didn’t picture a person of any particular race or sex, I’ll ask you why you think it may be important to you that to believe that you didn’t. Because odds are, you did. Reflexively, before you even noticed that you did it. Not because you’re racist, sexist and ageist but because you’re human.

Now what if I tell you the student’s name is Kwasi Enin? Now whom do you picture? (Here’s a photo of Kwasi:

The reason it’s important to notice our tendency to fill in identifiers as soon as we encounter another person is that on the heels of those identifications, our biases crowd in. And if we don’t notice those biases, they’re a lot more likely to drive our behaviors. Like, for instance, our public response to this kid’s good news (

I do wonder how the comments would read if Kwasi were Asian? White? Jewish? A student at an elite private prep school? A girl? (At least one viewer goes there with “No white or Asian student…”) And I wonder if, while we’re pasting all our identifiers and biases onto Kwasi, we can remember that he’s also a person.