One woman’s take on Obama’s legacy

21 Nov

I just want to repost today’s Perspective on KQED. Patricia Riestra speaks about “Obama’s legacy” for her. She tells us:

I became a U.S. citizen in 2007 and voted for President Obama. I admired his prudence and tolerance, his calm when others were issuing threats and screaming. I’ll miss his voice and eloquence, which seemed so reassuring. But mostly, The way he treats his wife and daughters gave me hope and helped restore my view of men.

Whatever our own personal experiences with misogyny, it’s part of our cultural experience and norm. We see plenty of examples of misogyny in its most brutal forms (sex trafficking, domestic assaults and sexual assaults–which are not solely perpetrated against women, but are still normatively inflicted upon and against women as a group), as well as its more socially acceptable iterations (referring to “Hillary” and “Trump,” the unchecked use of slang for women’s body parts to disparage men, and the perpetuation of social inequalities via the intention or guise of chivalry).

While I believe and hope that we’ve had presidents before who have treated their female family members well, I agree with Riestra that Obama has been particularly notable for how we refers to and appears to treat his wife and daughters–including getting out of their way when it’s not his place to stand in it, even as POTUS.

That, I believe, is part of his legacy for all of us.

Forget about the kids for a moment: How are you?

16 Nov

In response to a school leader’s query about supporting the adults who are engaging in supportive conversations with their students post-election, I wanted to share a few resources in today’s post. Please note: I think these frameworks and reflections are potentially bipartisan and multipartisan–that is to say, regardless of whether you feel you “won” or “lost” in this Presidential election, it’s been and continues to be a politically, emotionally, socially, personally and morally turbulent time for many of us. I hope these are helpful.

I think adults practicing what we’re doing with students with ourselves, too, is a great strategy. Once again, it occurs to me that if it’s good for kids… it’s usually good for us, too.  I’ve found that facilitating adult spaces with the Courageous Conversations Compass, seeking clarity about enduring intentions and discernment of the specific issues and possibilities for action has been helpful (please see previous posts for more on this).
Regarding additional resources…

I think it’s vital to understand what self-care is, not just as a catch-all buzzword, but as specific, intentional practices regarding political engagement in this inundating time. Self-care as a means to, rather than a destination, is critical in order to do our jobs, and redefine as necessary and helpful what our “job” is.

And here’s an essay “Five Habits to Heal the Heart of Democracy” from Parker Palmer framing our work as healing together. Applying this essay to politics right now means opening ourselves to what suffering, exclusion, disenfranchisement and inequity may be the undercurrent or tide carrying forward the beliefs, speech and actions of whomever we disagree with (and perhaps fear). Inclusion and equity are all or none propositions. We can’t justify inclusion over here for this group, at the exclusion over there for that group. This is the challenge, opportunity and real advancement of justice: what we do when we are hurting, and others are, too (including those who are empowered).

Finally (but not comprehensively by any means), the article “An analysis of Donald Trump’s election win and the prospects for his presidency.” I’m including what I actually wrote to the educational leader who asked me about resources to support faculty and staff as they support their students:

I may be going out on a limb here. Please feel free to tell me to step it back. But in my inbox with your email was a link to this article “An analysis of Donald Trump’s election win and the prospects for his presidency.”
Please click on it before continuing to read this email.

There was something cathartic about it for me. No need to be eloquent, rational. It’s just a page full of visceral response. Which made me laugh. Which opens a space for reflection: so now what? (from an emotionally different place). This is all to say, I might use this as a conversation opener, also later acknowledging this isn’t everyone’s perspective. But first we just exhale. Then we put our educator hats back on. If not this article, then perhaps there’s some other way to give permission for a primal scream?

Again, I don’t know if I’m way out of bounds sending this. But it seemed worth taking that risk.

Notice how my framing was concerned with what was “inappropriate” and “appropriate” to say, and the “appropriate” and “inappropriate” ways to say it. I sense that many of us are grappling with this, which can be exhausting in and of itself. Just having to maintain the bounds of perceived propriety, especially when we’re triggered not just intellectually, but emotionally, morally and by the very social context that we find ourselves having to play “appropriately” within. This is not to suggest that we cast off all filters and let rip whatever we’re feeling however we choose (or feel compelled to). It is to reflect that every person I have made the discernment to share this with has replied back with a visceral exhalation. And, it seems, renewed ability to forge on with more of their whole selves.
* Thanks to my colleague ML for the question.

Cultivating versatility and resilience

11 Nov

A few more resources for educators, parents/guardians, youth… heck, for anyone who’s not just disappointed with “losing” this election, but emotionally, morally and socially anxious about what this election portends for the liberty and safety of all, not just some, people in the US.

  • Today’s Science Friday episode on NPR: “The Cure For Election-Related Stress? Believe Your Political Adversaries Can Change” with Kelly McGonigal, psychologist and researcher at the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism. Not only is it inaccurate that people’s attitudes and values don’t change, it goes against what many of us claim to believe–namely, that we shouldn’t stereotype (i.e. hold inflexible, fixed ideas about) other people.
  • The Stories That Bind Us” an article from The New York Times in 2013, that cites research from the Drs. Duke, psychologists who have studied resiliency in kids. In brief, their research demonstrates that “[t]he more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.” This turned out to be true with their original focus: children with learning disabilities, as well as their unexpected focus: children in the immediate wake of 9/11. (You can see a copy of the “Do You Know?” scale here.) My takeaways from the Duke’s research is that kids can better handle individual and collective stresses with knowledge of their people’s history and resilience. I take some latitude with the Dukes’ research and imagine that a child’s “people” includes concentric, overlapping circles of biological family, identity groups to which they belong (like religious or ethnic groups), and even nationality. It turns out that, given a context of love and support, knowledge of challenge, hardship and trauma may not be as harmful to our kids as ignorance of it. In other words, they’re not as fragile as we may imagine them to be, but as with other self-fulfilling prophecies, we can make them more fragile by treating them as if they are.

I am not by any means advocating that we unleash a torrent of unfiltered horror on kids. Rather, I’m trying to connect some dots: maybe the fixed ways we see “them” (in this case, those who don’t agree with us politically, or those who are terrorizing people of various minority identities right now–and if you’re like me, it’s hard to see the perpetrators of these violent words and actions in an open-minded way) is what makes it harder for us to talk to kids about conflict. If I can allow (or compel) myself to believe that someone who commits an act of racism, sexism or homophobia can grow and also act in anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-racist ways, maybe I can talk about my fears, what happened and what we can do now with not just more performed confidence, but actual felt and believed confidence.

This may require asking myself why I may be choosing a narrative in which people are innately bigots and haters, over the truth that everyone can change. I think it’s scary to admit that there is no clear and hard line between evil them and good us: all of us can and do, in fact, do things that are homophobic, racist and sexist (if not through overt acts, then sometimes just through inaction, and other times through complicit, if subtle, permission). All of us can and do also act for social justice. And given the chance, we could do it more.

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.