An Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump

11 Nov

An Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump,

President-elect Trump, congratulations on your victory. I understand that you’re busy planning for your new administration, but there’s something happening right now that requires your attention. Not even President Obama has the power to intervene as you do, so I’m asking for your help.

Have you seen the Twitter feed “Day One in Trump’s America”? I’m asking you to read and watch the content, however partisan the perspective may seem, because regardless of Insanul Ahmed’s politics (which I don’t actually know), he can only curate what’s being posted. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find about how some people have celebrated your election.

President-elect Trump, your name is being invoked in the name of racist threats and violence. These people include citizens, hard workers, students, the elderly—and children. Brown and black kids—Middle Eastern, Asian, Latino and Black—in my community are being taunted by some of their white peers, who, at the news of your election, began jeering at them: “You’re gonna be deported,” “You’re gonna be sent to a camp” and “Go back home.” I can only presume these white children mean internment camps, as opposed to recreational summer sleepover camps. And that it doesn’t matter to them whether they’re talking to someone who is home already.

This is happening not just in high schools and middle schools, but in elementary schools and preschools. This is not just one child or a few children. And this is not just playground banter. There is no response to “You’re gonna be deported” that is equal in power, privilege and the ability to terrify.

Yes, this is happening. In your name.

Mr. Trump, I need you—we need you—to take action. What action?

Please don’t just disavow the racist slurs, threats and violence, as if this is someone else’s problem that you have nothing to do with or about. You are our President-elect. It is your name being invoked.

Please don’t just say you’re shocked, and these are not the values you stand for.

Please don’t equate these acts with the protests about your election. Protesting is, as you tweeted today, part of the US democratic process and culture, and you are not the first elected official whom some in this country have disowned as “not my president.” But while protesting is part of US tradition, terrorizing citizens and guests of this country is not.

Please tell the people who are acting in your name to stop.

Please own your part: finally, meaningfully address your own campaign rhetoric about Muslim, Mexican, Black, Chinese and other non-white people, and let your supporters know—let all of us know—whether you meant to authorize, incite and unleash violence against some of us on the basis of our race, religion or immigration/citizenship status.

You declared in your victory speech on Tuesday night that you would “be a President for all Americans.”

The time to keep that promise is not January 20, 2017. The time to begin delivering on that promise is now.

Please. We need your help.

Note: I attempted to submit this letter on the official Donald Trump website, but the “submit” button wouldn’t submit. If anyone can forward this to the attention of the Trump campaign/transition team, please do. Thanks.

Talking to kids about the election, post-election

10 Nov

Yesterday and today, I’ve had a lot of conversations with adults about the election of Donald Trump, and continuing–or in some cases, changing–the conversations we were having with kids and youth during the campaign.

What I’m hearing is that kids have questions, and not just factual questions: “How could this happen?” “Will we be deported?” and “Are we going to be OK?” are moral and emotional outcries, as much as they are about needing information.

What I’m finding useful for hearing and responding to these questions is Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton’s Courageous Conversation Compass.


Here’s how I use it:

I try to listen, observe and ask about where they’re coming from, where the election news is provoking them: head, heart, gut, or hands and feet (as in, let’s go!)

I try to respond to these four ways that they need to process this information:

  • What are the questions they have, and what are the facts they need to know (or we need to figure out) about what’s going to happen to the Affordable Care Act, whether immigrants Latino and Muslim are going to be rounded up or if we’re going to war? It’s OK if we don’t have all the answers right now. Let’s start with naming what we need or want to know. Here‘s a great example of a teacher doing this with high school students from NPR’s Here and Now. And while this is an example of talking to teenagers, I think this is scalable for young kids. My experience across schools during this campaign is that even preschool kids whose parents/guardians haven’t been talking with them about the election and other social and political issues know (or think they know) things about what’s going on in the country. If we’re worried about telling them too much too soon, all we have to do–if they haven’t already asked us–is ask them.
  • What is the misinformation our kids need to recognize? A tough truth: Trump will not be the first POTUS to say or do racist and sexist things. And Trump is not the first public figure (in politics, sports, entertainment) who is deeply flawed, despite our hopes that they’ll be a good role model for kids. As for the headlines, tweets and posts declaring: “Worst day in America 9/11. Second worst day in America, 11/9,” our kids need to know that the US has had worse days (here are a few, in no specific order): D-Day, the assassination of JFK, the assassination of MILK, Jr., the date FDR signed Executive Order 9066 to intern Japanese-American citizens, the many days that indigenous Native American people were forcibly removed from their lands in the 1800s, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, the Oklahoma City bombing. It is, I believe, not just inaccurate but immoral to diminish some national tragedies, despite legitimate concerns and fears about Trump’s presidency.
  • Which brings us to responding to and caring for the emotional reactions to the election. Being present for children’s fear and pain can be next to intolerable. So we need to ask: What’s our intention? What do we hope for our children? That they’re never scared or in pain? This is understandable, but unlikely in human experience. That they gain the self-awareness, skills and resiliency to survive their own, and sometimes a shared, pain and fear? That they have models of how to own their pain and fear, and find strength in others? Despite our instincts to protect, we may not need to–and may not do our children a service by trying to–make things better that we can’t. Maybe that means taking some care of ourselves before we respond to the question: Are you scared? Just like on airplanes where in the event of an emergency, you need to put on your oxygen mask first in order to be able to help those around you.
  • Closely connected to how we feel, is what we believe. The election result feels just as right for some as it does wrong for others. And helping kids know that what we believe isn’t a universal truth can help all of us become what my colleague Orpheus Crutchfield has described as effective, not just right. Because sometimes our conviction of our own right(eous)ness hobbles our ability to be effective in advancing the personal, social and political “rights” that we believe in. So we can ask, not “What were those people thinking?! How could they vote for Trump?!” (with implied moral condemnation) but instead, “Why would people vote for Trump?” And I would push for as many possibilities as we can imagine: not just the first assumption we make. This is not just an academic exercise. In asking what’s possible, we open up our minds and our hearts to perspectives, experiences… and our own location (geographically, socially, and hierarchically–meaning how social privileges and disadvantages shape what we think and believe to be right/wrong, and good/bad). I can personally vouch for how considering possibilities when I have just jumped to a moral conclusion shifts me not just mentally, but emotionally, as well. It’s not that I have to let go of what I believe: it’s that I invite more context to consider what I believe–and why.
  • All of this, I think, is incomplete without action. Without harnessing what we wonder and think, feel and believe into some social action, we are sometimes left feeling helpless, when we’re really not. To be honest, we would all still have a lot of work to do to combat sexism, racism, classism and xenophobia if Clinton had been elected. And whichever candidate wins in an election, the citizens who support the losing candidate are still part of our United States, on November 9th and for the next four years. So this election was never about voting and putting our feet up. The question is: Given what we know, how we feel and what we believe, what do we do now? We may have to ask ourselves to consider our spheres of conviction and social responsibility: What do I need to do for me? For my communities? For them–the people I don’t consider “my people”? This last question can seduce us into paternalism-dressed-as-social-activism (with us crusading to show others the light–see: White Savior Industrial Complex), or can become a practice of cultural competency for social good: listening and learning from folks we don’t understand (to whom we may be as weird as they are to us), in order to figure out how to do something about the systemic inequalities that may seem to impact us differently, but that ultimately cost us all. Some of the options playing out: protests, #notmypresident, “respectful” concession, working towards a peaceful transition and getting informed about what issues may require us to stand up and speak out under this new administration, from climate change to trade to national security to reproductive rights. And I believe our options can include hybrids of respect and dissent because, as many have pointed out yesterday and today, that’s what our democracy is all about.

Maybe, of course

9 Nov

I’m getting a lot of this in news coverage and my inbox today:

  • What happened?!
  • What’s wrong with (those) people?!
  • WTF, America?!

I’m not saying the same questions haven’t cycled through my head, heart and gut. I’m not saying I don’t empathize. It’s just that I think we (including me) are missing the point when we go–and choose to stay–there.

This is not just about a bunch of people (although not the popular majority, still an electoral majority) voting for an outsider who lacks the standard POTUS experience and credentials. This election is about why.

And the why isn’t them. The why is systems that privilege some, and marginalize and disempower others. Not just right now, but historical. Not just an individual or a few, but whole groups that identify and are identified together, whether socioeconomically, racially, regionally, politically, religiously, or on the basis of gender, sexuality, employment status, family status or age.

It’s so much easier to point to people and ask what’s wrong with them. Especially because the status quo, and the systems that perpetuate it, are so, well, status quo, that they can be invisible. And so we don’t notice the pernicious group effects, the institutionalized oppression and the systemic exclusion at work (just business as usual!) in the very communities we live in. We don’t examine the coal mine: rather we look askance at the canary and wonder why it has to cough so loud. Or die like that.

I’m thinking about SF 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick right now, and the controversy he unleashed when he began taking a knee during the national anthem. I’m thinking about the Black Lives Matter Movement, whose strategies and very existence have been controversial from the start. I’m thinking specifically of the critique, in both cases, that this is not how to handle a grievance.

And I wonder: Who gets to say how we should respond to injustice? Do those who benefit (in the short term) from systems of privilege (which, at the same time, are systems of oppression for others) get to say what appropriate critique, protest or resistance is? What do we expect protest to look and sound like when the dissenting group is experiencing invisibility and inaudibility? Is it surprising that inappropriate and sometimes seemingly or actually dangerous resistance erupts when people are fed up with being ignored, silenced and effectively erased?

Which brings us back to the election. What if there’s nothing “wrong” or “WTF” about the sizeable popular minority that voted for our now President-elect Trump? What if, like Kaepernick, like the Black Lives Matter protestors, like the Dakota pipeline protestors, they’ve exhausted previous attempts to matter to those beyond their communities and identity groups? And even if they haven’t, how should it matter to all of us when people step beyond the bounds of whatever we deem to be appropriate, civilized, rational and just plain common sense, to demand that we fix systems that don’t just happen to discriminate, but do so systematically, enduringly, impactfully and effectively?

Not qualified enough

9 Nov

There was a lot of talk (and polling and commentary) leading up to the 2016 Presidential election about Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s respective “qualifications” to be POTUS. And yesterday, we made history by electing the first POTUS ever to have no previous government or military experience (attending military school not counting as “military experience”). The post-mortem on the election includes repeated references to the majority of people polled (upwards of 60%, according to KQED this morning) who indicated that they recognized that Trump wasn’t qualified to be president–and the apparent minority within that same demographic who voted for him anyway.

I want to focus on this aspect of the presidential race for a moment. Among all the complex, interwoven, individual, cultural and systemic factors that went into how each of us voted, the perception of “qualifications” is one that deserves consideration. It seems obvious: vote for the qualified candidate, hire the qualified applicant. Qualified is qualified, right?

Wrong. It turns out that identity matters when it comes to discerning how qualified you are. Research persistently demonstrates that not only do minority or non-traditional candidates anticipate needing to accrue more “qualifications” when aspiring to a position–whether it’s POTUS, Head of School, board member or any role with a competitive selection process–they, in fact, need to be more qualified.

In “Critical Mass on Corporate Boards: Why Three or More Women Enhance Governance,” Vicki Kramer et al. present the evidence for why having enough women on a board isn’t just good for the women on the boards: it’s good for the boards and the companies and constituencies those boards serve because enough women growthfully impacts process and outcomes. That said, it’s not as easy as just adding more women. Fortune 1000 boards cite a critical barrier to increasing gender diversity: there just aren’t enough qualified candidates. Qualified, in what way, you might wonder? Having served previously or currently as the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company. Instinctively, this may seem like a reasonable or even essential qualification for someone to govern a Fortune 1000 company. And yet.

Not only does diversity of experience better serve any group (from corporate boards to the Supreme Court to any work or school cohort) than homogeneity of experience (which is to say, having only and all identically qualified people), Kramer and her colleagues found that women are held disproportionately to the prerequisite of Fortune 1000 CEO experience, compared to their male peers. In other words, when all is said and done, despite any talk or presumption of gender-neutral or blind qualifications that treat all candidates equally, women need to have this experience; men don’t.

In unsurprising parallel, Ara Brown identified multiple examples of the statistically significant differences between the education (pedigree and level) and employment (experience and credentials) between heads of color and white heads of independent schools. In “Examining the Pipeline: People of Color’s Pathway to Headship,” Brown presents data that demonstrates: heads of color as a group are more qualified than their white counterparts.

Why might this be so? Perhaps because only the most qualified candidates of color apply for headship (which in and of itself is worth understanding better). And perhaps–like women on corporate boards–only the most qualified candidates of color are considered qualified enough, while white candidates with less experience, less previously demonstrated career achievement and/or less adherence to traditional pathways to headship are apparently, as a group, deemed as, if not more, qualified for the same positions.

Bringing this back to the election, we could have predicted that Hillary Clinton’s over-qualification and Donald Trump’s under-qualification (according to traditional standards of “qualification”) to serve as POTUS didn’t really matter. At least not as much as we claimed to think it would. It turns out, again unsurprisingly, that Trump didn’t need to be qualified in those traditional ways. He is simply more “qualified” simply by having been born a white man, in a system that has historically accepted that as qualified enough. The takeaway, if we disagree with how “qualification” can be used selectively to reinforce sexism, racism, classism and other systems of privilege, is that any one point of qualification itself needs to be assessed in context and vetted for why and how it’s bona fide, as well as applied equitably–and sometimes equally–if it is, in fact or consensus of opinion, a bona fide criterion for admitting, hiring, promoting or electing.


8 Nov

Today, Election Day, I’m thinking a lot about tomorrow. By tonight, we’ll have a new President-elect. Tonight, I’ve decided to stay home. I don’t want to watch the vote tally with my neighbors, and experience my community’s public display of elation or despair. I, like some other US Americans, live—not by accident, but by design—in a politically like-minded community. The reaction of my neighbors will generally be in line with my personal beliefs and emotions. But I don’t necessarily always agree with the expression of those beliefs—including my own expression, which has included intolerance and socially accepted bigotry (about that guy, and those people who support him).

Am I worried about the outcome of this Presidential election, plus all the down-ballot elections, not to mention CA’s flotilla of propositions? Yes.

But I’m also worried about my own intolerance, that I see amplified and reflected back at me through my neighbors, and then amplified and inverted in the voices of other neighborhoods (that are intolerant of us). I’m worried about having gone so far that not only do some of us think the other candidate will never be our president, but that we’ve convinced ourselves that’s an option.

Tomorrow, I want to accept my responsibility as a citizen after I’ve voted. I sense (with admittedly no research or facts to back this up) that too many of us think we vote, and that’s it. If “our candidate” doesn’t win, then we give up, we leave, we go dormant, we refuse their legitimacy, we wait four years. And if “our candidate” does win, then, in eerie parallel, we coast, expecting all of our wishes and demands now to be so, affirmed in our victory over them/those people, shaking our heads at their intransigence, rolling at our eyes that they refuse to get on board.

Tomorrow, I hope I accept not just the outcome of this election (about which I do not feel neutral: I feel everything from the privilege of slightly removed disdain to genuine concern about my safety and the safety of people I love whom I don’t think are welcome in “America, Great Again”) but my responsibilities and opportunities because of what this election has revealed about me, my community and the broader US (that I sometimes pretend I have nothing to do with just because my life can be awfully provincial). I hope that if “my candidate” wins, I can both celebrate the historic election of our first cisgender female president, and recognize the yet-again election of another socioeconomically privileged, heterosexual, white, professional politician—and also respect the anger, alienation and fear at the root of some of the racism, sexism and classism that has motivated and made pariahs of folks on both sides of the political spectrum. Because that’s hard for me sometimes: remembering that a person or group isn’t the issue. And that no one person, even the President of the United States, is going to resolve our issues with one vote.

I really don’t care

7 Nov

I just finished reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, which I highly recommend. Nadia is a Lutheran pastor, former stand-up comic, Cross Fit nut and writer, whose work resonated with me in many dimensions. I kept finding connections between Nadia’s reflections about her work and my own, as a diversity consultant.

Here’s one of many passages I highlighted, perhaps the most important to me professionally. In an interview included at the end of Accidental Saints, Nadia explains the distinction between worship and belief:

The liturgy has its own integrity to it–it doesn’t demand my integrity in order to be efficacious. We get to enter this thing that stands on its own and doesn’t demand a particular type of piety or emotional feeling or even belief from us.

Q: It doesn’t require belief to work?

No, it doesn’t. I’m surprisingly unconcerned with what people in my church believe. Belief is going to be influenced by all sorts of things that I have nothing to do with, so I don’t feel responsible for that. I’m responsible for what they hear… I don’t find belief (intellectually assenting to a set of theological propositions) to be the core of Christianity in the way a lot of people do.

However different being a pastor and a diversity consultant may seem, Nadia named something in her work that resonates powerfully for me in mine:

I don’t actually care what people believe. I don’t need them to believe what I do about inclusion, equity and justice. I do care deeply about what they hear, read and think they know based on the texts of their own experiences and cultural reference points–in other words, I care about the “diet” of information about identity and diversity that they consume, actively or passively (just by breathing in the smog of ideas, facts and misinformation that surrounds all of us). Because our diets are what drive our discernment and action. And our diets aren’t just what we consume: they’re also a part of who we are. And ultimately, that’s at the core of identity, diversity, inclusion and equity: that this is about each of us, not just some of us.

So I don’t need everyone to believe [insert some assertion of social truth], and I’m certainly not going to wait for everyone to give their assent for the work of inclusion and equity to move forward. It’s just my job to make sure people have a more well-rounded exposure to information about identity and diversity: facts, yes (in the form of research, current events, history, and information beyond our daily easy reach), as well as the emotional, moral and social truths that matter, even if there’s no empirical evidence to prove them: the truth that inaction isn’t so much “neutral” as it is defaulting to the status quo; the fact that I’m biased, you’re biased, we’re all biased–and that bias is the human canvas on which we’re trying to paint landscapes of justice.

Racism, emphasis on the second syllable

6 Nov

The question of “reverse racism” or “reverse discrimination” comes up a lot. Still. Maybe for you, too. So here are some tools to frame and educate around the notion of “reverse racism.” Here’s how I explain it:

reverse-racismIn other words, anyone or any group can discriminate against anyone else or any other group on the basis, in this case, of racial identity: Asian people can discriminate against white people, white people can discriminate against multiracial people, multiracial people can discriminate against Latinos, Latinos can discriminate against black people, etc. Discrimination can go any and every which way. Thus, there is no “reverse” discrimination. Discrimination only and ever moves against/for another group, simply on the basis of phenotype, perceived ancestry and/or socially defined categories. Racial discrimination only requires the  bias and permission to treat someone else as better or worse, just because of how they identify or how we see their race.

So let’s talk -isms. Racism is racial discrimination backed by systemic norms and power, i.e.

Racial discrimination + systemic power = racism

What differentiates racial discrimination from racism is whether an act of racial discrimination is part of a larger, normative, systemic pattern of discrimination that is institutionalized, sometimes to the point that we don’t even notice it because it’s so normal. (Thus, “everyone does it” is not a great litmus test for racism. Everyone doing and accepting it may, in fact, be a symptom of deeply ingrained racism that we’re just used to.)

If racial discrimination doesn’t have this normative backing, it’s still discrimination, and it still matters. It’s just not racism.

“Reverse racism” requires undoing and flipping entire social and institutional systems that discriminate against a racial group(s) in favor of another. I can’t explain it better than comic Aamer Rahman in this stand-up excerpt. In a nutshell: reverse racism requires a time machine and some serious re-engineering of global history.

Then, the other night, I realized something. Like, literally woke-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night realized: perhaps the reason racism and “reverse racism” are so hard to understand is because we over-emphasize the first syllable: RACE-ism, when really, it should be pronounced rac-ISM. At least as far as placing power where it belongs.