Archive | March, 2016

For those days when

12 Mar

Today, just a poem I just discovered through my inspiring colleague Rosetta Lee:

Stubborn Ounces
(To the One Who Doubts the Worth of Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything)
by Bonaro W. Overstreet

You say the Little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

This poem humbles me to recognize my own hubris at imagining that I could “do everything.” (Because isn’t that more about my own ego than social justice, which can only be a collective, collaborative justice?) And it beckons me past my excuses, my sometimes overwhelmed-ness and my worries that I’m not doing enough (or anything at all) to just throw my ounces in. Because they’re what I’ve got.

Thanks, Rosetta.

Don’t give me a “T”

9 Mar

The predominantly white high school basketball team chanted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “Build a wall! Build a wall!” at their rivals, a predominantly Latino team.

That happened in Indiana last week.

And also Iowa.

Apparently, this is now a thing. Dan Good of the NY Daily News writes, “Donald Trump’s name is the new slur.”

That is actually incorrect. To clarify, a slur is a derogatory word or expression for someone. The white students were not calling the Latino athletes “Trumps”. The white students were using “Trump” as a threat: the threat of deportation, the threat of exclusion, the threat of xenophobia, the threat of racism and the threat of physical violence that hatred on the basis of identity justifies.

And that’s where we are in our current racial political discourse: “Trump” and even “USA” are being used as “code-phrase for derogatory, racist statements,” according to Joe Enriquez Henry, National Vice President of the Midwest Region for the League of United Latin American Citizens.

In swift response to the Indiana incident, the diocese that oversees both of the Catholic schools involved issued the following statement:

Any actions or words that can be perceived as racist or derogatory to others are antithetical to the Christian faith and will not be tolerated in any of our institutions. It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that such actions would be happening at a gathering of two of our Catholic high schools. This is not what we teach our students.

… which leaves me unsurprised, and angry.

Unsurprised: This is a boilerplate what-to-say-when-something-racist happens.


  1. Racism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. We have to stop using identities like “Christian,” “ally” and “nice person” to deny the possibility that Christians, allies and nice people can say or do racist things. In fact, a lot of racist acts and speech are perpetrated by nice, good people. It’s a red herring to claim that racism is “antithetical” to the Christian faith. The more honest and more useful question is: how may Christianity, ally-ship and other constructs of aspirational identity elide over, resonate with or even cultivate racist attitudes–all while aspiring ?
  2. “It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that such actions would be happening.” Really? Athletics are steeped in a tradition of trash-talk that has long tolerated, if not encouraged, homophobic, misogynist, racist and other slurs. While I don’t know what this diocese has implemented in terms of training and rules around player, coach and fan conduct, it’s naïve and–more to the point–irresponsible to be shocked that name-calling and threats could possibly happen in the context of an athletic competition. I understand being surprised that a student would be wielding a giant Trump head on the sidelines. But it’s our professional responsibility as educators on and off the court, in and out of the classroom, to recognize normative cultural scripts that may be compelling to our students in their identity development. And to be prepared to respond.
  3. “This is not what we teach our students.” I believe this. My question is: what do you teach your students? Do you teach them how to talk about race? Do you teach them how to know and integrate their own racial identities? Do you teach them how to have difficult conversations about race? Do you teach them to recognize their own perspectives, biases, systemically-activated privileges and disadvantages? Do you teach them about the intersection of race, socioeconomics, gender, sexuality–and faith and politics? Because if you don’t, then you’re letting someone else teach them and acting surprised when the students don’t meet your expectations. And if you don’t, you’re still teaching your students something: that this is how adults handle race.

I hesitated over leaving the word “angry” in this post. I considered “frustrated” or even “frustrated but hopeful.” I am both frustrated and hopeful. But I’m leaving “angry” in because that’s how I feel whenever I think about a child or youth who is trying–trying in school, trying on the basketball court, trying in their free time to engage in the political process–and once again, they don’t get to be just a student, an athlete or a citizen: they have to be a skin color, or a sexual orientation, or a gender that is the object of a system of discrimination and oppression that everyone else gets to pretend is the exception, not the everyday rule. And after we gasp and shake our heads, we assure ourselves that the problem is not us, and we go back to, consciously or not, sowing the seeds for next time.

Just Mercy

5 Mar

Just a plug today. But a sincere one.

If you haven’t yet read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, please check it out. I wasn’t looking to make it a competition when I read it last year, but it was simply, without trying my most important read of the year. Hands down. It took me back to my years teaching To Kill a Mockingbird (which was a must-read for many middle school curricula at the time, and may still be, although why and how it’s taught are fraught with issues), it took me back to the beginning of my career to remember what motivated me then… and to reflect on what motivates me now: why I do what I do, how it matters (or not) and what potential I may still have. And it brought me to a reckoning with institutionally perpetuated and even sanctioned racial and economic injustice in the US: not just in abstract terms, but measurable in lives, particularly of poor people of color. Injustice that may seem distant and far-removed from my work in the elite world of independent schools but is, I believe, diffused in the same air we all breathe.

#elflivesmatter is not a thing

4 Mar

Imagine a man attacking a car with a sword with all the fury of someone high on LSD. Actually, he is high on LSD. And dressed up like a fantasy character.

What do the police do when they arrive on the scene? The man is armed, has already punctured the sides and top of the car several times and is still on his rampage. What do the police do?

They “cite him for criminal mischief and take him to the hospital.”

I was still trying to process the details (he was dressed as a “high elf”? the owner of the car thought a pirate was attaching her car–because that is somehow more believable in Portland??) when I scrolled to the comment at the end of the article.

This was the first post:

High elf comment

And a few lights went on:

First, I had filled in “white guy” in my mind without thinking about it, for a few reasons, including that if he weren’t white, I would expect the coverage to note his non-whiteness, and also because the stereotype in my mind of fantasy role-playing, Tolkien-loving people are male and white.

Because I colored him white in my mind, while I was surprised that that kind of violence and property damage would only warrant a citation, it didn’t shock me.

What would have shocked me? If a drug-addled, armed and violent black man had done this and gotten away with a citation. Unarmed black men, a black boy who “appeared to be pulling a gun in and out of his pants,” black men with knives who may or may not have been threatening the police–sober, drunk or high–get shot.

But the raging white man with the sword gets a citation.

I’m not saying I wish he had been shot. Absolutely not. I am entirely grateful that he wasn’t. I am also deeply moved by what I can only interpret to be the responding police officers’ commitment to his safety and their active protection of him, despite his own efforts (or negligence) in creating a mutually dangerous situation.

I just wish that kind of protection was something we could all count on, regardless of our skin color, size, gender or state of mind.

And to the folks who wonder why we’re not rallying behind #alllivesmatter, it’s because while they do, that’s not what we as a society seem to believe.