Archive | December, 2017

Not just an 11 year old girl

14 Dec

Here are some headlines reporting on an incident that happened in Grand Rapids, MI last week:

Headlines Dec2017

One of these headlines is not like the others. It’s the one that describes the victim of this “disturbing,” “wrongful” and “embarrassing” incident as not just any 11 year old Michigan Girl but as a black 11 year old Michigan girl.

Now hold up. You may be wondering: why do we always have to make everything about race? I mean, this is a human being. Isn’t that what matters?


It matters if anyone is “inappropriately treated” (ABC News) by the police.


If age and gender are relevant to understanding how and why Honestie Hodges was “inappropriately treated”, how is race not also relevant?

Because what we know, based on research across experiences, disciplines and contexts, is that race matters in how a human being is perceived:

race matters in ed

And no, it’s not that race only matters. In fact, what happened to Honestie isn’t actually surprising when you recognize her as black and female and a child in the US. As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate earlier this year, “Black Girls Are Too Often Treated as Older Than They Are—and Suffer for It.” And it’s not news, at least to the African American Policy Forum that black girls are “Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.”

I would argue that it’s critical for all of us (not just the Black Christian News Network One) to recognize Honestie as both “just” another human being and as a black 11 year old Michigan girl so that we don’t lose sight of our expectations of fair and just treatment, dignity and respect for all, while reckoning with disproportionate violations of those expectations for particular groups of people who are human, just like us. Because unless we see who is being treated unfairly clearly and completely, we can’t effectively address the systemic prejudices, discrimination and inequities that are just setting us up for the next headline.

On hybridity and why we keep arguing with each other (and should continue to)

3 Dec

At the NAIS People of Color Conference this past week, Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, reminded us that “[the United States of] America is an argument.” That since our founding through today, this republic has been about tension: between liberty and equality, between pluribus and unum, between centralized and local government, between identity-blindness and identity-seeing. Thus, “claiming a place” in the US means “getting comfy” with arguing as participation in civic life. Liu defined our challenge not “as getting into a defensive huddle,” but as “telling an affirmative story of us.” And to decide personally whether I will be an asset or a problem in the telling of this story. He called upon us to commit to hybridity: the combination of like and “super-unlike” elements in order to solve problems. In other words, diversity is not the problem or the answer: it’s just a fact—a historical, universal fact, despite the myths of some lost “purity” (racial purity, religious purity) that fuel too many of today’s political and social movements around the world. But it’s not enough to acknowledge, accept or even value diversity. Liu asserts that we need to activate hybridity. How do we do that? By explicitly integrating hybridity into our experiences, whether it’s a conversation with a friend or a lesson plan for students. And by creating environments that require hybridity: bringing like and “super-unlike” people together to “work on a third thing”—not to just talk about you and me, but to leverage our like- and unlikeness to solve a complex problem that will be enriched by having a diversity of perspectives brought to bear on it.

Thanks to Eric for the reminder, the inspiration and the challenge to do–not just be–citizens. Because citizenry shouldn’t just be about whether you happened to be born within a set of political boundaries or have documents: it should be about civic ownership and action. For more from Eric, check out his latest book You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen.