Can’t anyone take a joke anymore?

19 Sep

In the wake of newly hired and more recently fired Saturday Night Live comedian Shane Gillis, a lot has been written. In it all, I appreciate Andrew Yang’s statement directly to Gillis:

“I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots. But I’m happy to sit down and talk with you if you’d like.”

I’m not interested in weighing in on whether Gillis should or shouldn’t have been fired. That’s a question for a company or organization to make, based on their values, facing their pressures, fears and aspirations, and discerning how to do what’s right for their employees and the public they serve at the individual and collective levels.

I appreciate that Yang (who, btw, doesn’t think Gillis should have been fired) named the issue with making comments like “Let the fucking chinks live there” and makes a distinction between the action and the person. Let’s stop with the “nice racism, good racism” (McGillis’ words) but not write off the person.

And you know what? Even as I write that, I know it’s hard sometimes. What Yang doesn’t unpack is that there’s a history and a current culture of socially acceptable anti-Asian racism that have helped to spawn and facilitate McGillis’ comments, and the defense of his comments. (Notably, in his own campaign rhetoric, Yang plays with the racist trope of Asians being “the model minority.”) McGillis words are not “just a joke” to me.


I agree with Bryan Stevenson, who wrote in Just Mercy, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

So here I am, quoting someone (Yang) I don’t always agree with, whom I think has some helpful ideas even while I think he says some damaging things in public, about someone (McGillis) whom I don’t think deserves a bigger platform than, say, peers who can be funny without relying on racist stereotypes and sentiments, but whom I also hope has the resilience to learn, grow and become funnier. Not just to people who look and talk like him.

Toni Morrison flipping the script on labels

9 Aug

“In 2012, President Obama awarded [Toni Morrison] the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, recognizing her for “her nursing of souls and strengthening the character of our union.”

Obama described her as ‘one of our nation’s most distinguished storytellers,’ a judgment that was nearly unanimous among literary critics. They tussled, however, over whether Ms. Morrison was best described as an African American writer, an African American female writer or simply an American writer — and whether the label mattered at all.

‘I can accept the labels,’ Ms. Morrison told the New Yorker in 2003, ‘because being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.'”

 – Excerpted from Toni Morrison’s obituary in the Washington Post, August 6, 2019

This is who we are

19 Jul

Several years ago in Los Angeles, a guy cut me off in a parking lot. That escalated into yelling out of windows and, to my utter shame, I yelled for this Arab-looking man to go back home.

I was ashamed then and more so now and have never repeated this epithet.

But to say this is not who we are as Americans is not entirely true. This is who we are on our worst day. I would give a lot to be able to apologize to this man.

Matthew Sunderland, Joshua Tree, CA in “16,000 Readers Shared Their Experiences of Being Told to ‘Go Back. Here Are Some of Their Stories” in The New York Times, 7.19.19

In a pattern of reporting on hate speech and action that includes a subsequent disavowal by communities of what got said and done by members of their communities in their communities (“those aren’t our values”… “that isn’t us…”) I appreciate this individual owning their actions, and thereby owning that this is him. Not all of him. I believe what Bryan Stevenson has said: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

And still. This is Matthew Sunderland. This is California. This is the United States.

And so could be the admission and the desire to repair.

I worry about the denials of communities and individuals regarding “who we are on our worst day,” because if we don’t admit it, then we can never repair it and get better. And that’s the insult upon injury: you’ve been told to “go back” and then that it didn’t really happen, it couldn’t have. Because that’s not us. OK?

Quote–and call to action–for today

19 May


Moral arc of universe

Here’s more about Robert Smith’s commencement address and gift to the graduating class at Morehouse today.

And here’s a question: what have I done today to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice? How about you?

Quote of the day

3 Apr

“Rather than being grasped too tightly and hugged for too long as a morning greeting, my hand was shaken and I was looked squarely in the eye and I was welcomed to my Monday morning. I realized this is what it actually feels like to be on the inside, to be one of the boys. In this space, respect and safety are out in the open. They are not just found in the shadows and the corners.”

–Michelle Williams, Actor

National Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action Starter Kit

14 Jan

A quick post to share this resource: The National Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action (February 4-8, 2019) Starter Kit.

The demands of the BLM at School movement are commonsense, vital and beneficial, yes, for black students–and for all students, teachers and families:

  1. End “zero tolerance” discipline, and implement restorative justice
  2. Hire more black teachers
  3. Mandate black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum
  4. Fund counselors not cops

And even if you don’t teach, this document, which includes tips for talking with young children, is worth a read.

If you believe that black lives matter, what are the principles you stand for, and how do take action?

“She/her/hers”… thanks for sharing?

23 Oct

When I added my pronouns to the signature line of my work emails, a couple of colleagues and friends asked: what’s up with that?

While I was certainly not the first to do, I was, for some of my contacts, the first they had noticed. And I want to say how grateful I am that they asked. We live in a time when there’s a lot of felt pressure to “get it right,” to “be woke,” and to already know what is socially correct to others.

Good luck with that.

All we can do is accept that we live in a world of people who aren’t us, notice whatever we think is normal (and how much it may mean to us), decide whether we care about connecting with others, and if we do, then get curious and learn.

So a sincere thanks to those who asked, who cared enough to take a minute to get curious and have a conversation. I ended up writing a couple of emails about how the English language ends up assigning gender through 3rd person pronouns (“Alison founded Blink Consulting. She has been a consultant for almost 15 years…”), and that I work with a lot of people–some of whom I haven’t met yet, and many of whom have never asked and I’ve never told which pronouns to use when referring to me. And since we use pronouns like names for people, doesn’t it make sense to let others know which ones we respond to? I don’t get emails addressed to “Alex” or “Buttons,” probably because people have taken the time to find out to whom they should address their correspondence. And if they care enough to know my name, it makes sense that they would want to know my pronouns, so they can refer clearly to me, not Buttons.

This brings me to today, when I noticed another colleague’s signature line. After her pronouns, she’s inserted: (What’s this?)

That link takes you to a blog post: “Why sharing gender pronouns at work matters” on Culture Amp by Alexis Croswell. It’s a useful read, that addresses the practice and  underlying beliefs about pronoun sharing, including this framing for those of us who are wondering what’s the big deal:

If a person has never had to worry about which pronoun others use for them, gender pronouns might not seem important. [Culture Amp’s Insights Strategist Steven] Huang says, “For most, their singular and visible gender identity is a privilege. Not everybody has this privilege; those that are referred to with the wrong pronoun can feel disrespected, invalidated, and alienated.” You can’t always tell what someone’s gender pronouns are by looking at them. Knowing and using someone’s gender pronouns is a positive way to support the people you work with.

The article is now hyperlinked in my signature as well. And I’m happy to continue having the conversation.

*Thanks to my colleague SL for the resource.