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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

What are you willing to sacrifice?

That’s a question every white person should be asking themselves right now.

“What am I willing to sacrifice in order to be anti-racist and resist the Trump administration?”

If the answer is “nothing,” you’re part of the problem, and you’ve come to the wrong place. Part of talking with other white people, especially those we know well, is that there have to be consequences for bad behavior. If someone you know is racist, and their beliefs are never challenged and they never face consequences for it, why would they change? Maybe they don’t deserve your loyalty or the gift of your company anymore.

I fully expect to be ending relationships with people in the days and weeks ahead. I used to be able to agree to disagree on politics. Not anymore. Someone who cannot see my humanity and the humanity of millions of Americans is not someone I want in my life.

If, however, there are people in your life you think can change, or if you need to work on your own views, here are some more things to think about:

–If a person of color says something or someone is racist, don’t argue with them. Don’t say “well, actually,” or defend the racism. The same applies if someone tells you that you have said or done something racist. Don’t be defensive. Don’t deny it. You’re being given a chance to identify and change your behavior. Take it and be grateful. An example of how not to act would be Ellen DeGeneres. She has done racist things on her show and continues to deny her racism. (This is also why the “I have a black friend so I can’t be racist” trope is false. DeGeneres is clearly a fan of Barack and Michelle Obama, yet she obviously at the same time holds racist views about black people.) It doesn’t matter what her intentions were. Few people would admit to being deliberately racist.

A good example of how to behave is Chris Hemsworth, who this year apologized for appropriating First Nations clothing at a party.  He didn’t make excuses. He acknowledged he should have known better and apologized. That’s how it’s done.

–Don’t be the person who says “talking about racism is racist.” Talking about racism is its only possible solution.

–Know that racism is not a mental illness. Neither is sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, or Islamophobia. They are learned behaviors. Mental illnesses are not. That’s why it’s dangerous (and ableist) to dismiss Trump and people with similar views as “crazy,” “nutjobs,” “lunatic,” etc. It denies the racist person agency and obscures the fact they have control over their behavior. They can choose not to be racist, or sexist, or homophobic, etc. People who are mentally ill cannot choose not to be.

–Speaking of ableism, people who are disabled and receive government support are some of the most vulnerable under a Trump administration. Cuts to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security/SSDI are literally a matter of life and death for some people. Do not forget them and their struggle. One of the things that struck me about the deaths caused by Hurricane Matthew was how many of the people used wheelchairs. We must do better for people with disabilities so they can lead full, healthy lives. Consider donating to Human Rights Watch or Disability Rights Advocates.

–Finally, here are some good resources for how to have those hard conversations with people at Thanksgiving (itself a racist holiday) this year:

How to Tell Someone They Should Racist by the incomparable Jay Smooth

A post-election guide to changing hearts and minds

Speak up: Responding to everyday bigotry





What white people need to do to resist the Trump administration

After the violence and protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, I started following journalist Sarah Kendzior on Twitter. She was a local white woman who had a lot of insightful commentary. Eventually she started posting about Donald Trump and the danger he posed to the country. I didn’t disagree with her, but she was also sure he would win. I thought that she was being alarmist. I knew what the polls said. I knew many people who had worked to re-elect President Obama were also working for Hillary Clinton. I was pretty confident we would get the right woman for the job. Last spring, I muted Kendzior.

Then, of course, everything she predicted came true. Trump won the election, and his bizarre behavior over the course of the campaign made sense through the authoritarian lens Kendzior provided from reporting on Central Asian dictatorships.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am not paranoid. But I believe the United States is heading toward being an authoritarian dictatorship faster than the majority of the population realizes. I underestimated the threat Trump posed once. I will not do it again. We cannot afford to. As the saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And because Americans are convinced of our exceptionalism, believe “it can’t happen here,” it will. It already is, faster than most of us can keep track.

This is not normal is only a partial list of all of the things that are abnormal–racist, misogynist, corrupt, immoral, etc–about the incoming administration. Every day, there are more things to add to it. It’s difficult to keep up, which is why a lot of it isn’t being reported as vigorously as it should be. Trump settled a fraud lawsuit over Trump University. His daughter is sitting in on visits with foreign dignitaries. White supremacists are being nominated for Cabinet posts. NONE OF THIS IS NORMAL.

This is not politics as usual. This is the freedom of our country and the world at stake. As someone on Twitter so aptly put it, the United States is one terrorist attack away from becoming a military state. And there are no checks on his power. The Republicans will go along with it. Democrats may put up a token resistance but people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, supposedly liberal lions, are already talking about compromising with Trump.

There is no compromising with a fascist.

Our institutions have failed us. The only thing we have is ourselves. Our belief in a better world than the one Trump envisions. The certainty that he and his supporters are a minority of the population. Roughly half of the voting population didn’t (or couldn’t, because of suppression) vote, about 25 percent voted for Hillary, and slightly less than that voted for Trump. Hillary won the popular vote by more than 1 million votes (and counting). There is reasonable suspicion that Russia hacked our systems and swung things Trump’s way. At the very least, there should be an investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election.

I believe dire times are ahead; indeed, they are already here. The day after the election, there were reports of up to eight trans youths who had completed suicide because they were terrified of living under a Trump administration. Another woman had a friend complete suicide because she knew her health care would be taken away, and she could not live without it. Hundreds of hate crimes have taken place. And it will undoubtedly escalate.

There is little good news to be found since Nov. 8. However, there ARE things we can do to resist Trump and fight for the future. Here is a far-from-complete list:

–First, no safety pins. Most people who are being targeted by Trump–people of color, immigrants, Muslims–see this as an empty gesture with little real effect. And white supremacists are already planning to co-opt it and use the pins as bait to attack unsuspecting people.

–Call your senators and representatives and let them know you oppose any effort to put Steven Bannon and Jeff Sessions in the White House. Calling is more effective than emailing. If aides are on the phone all day taking calls, their bosses will hear about it. Call regardless of which party your representatives are. Let them know you are watching them closely and will hold them accountable for their actions.

–Donate to organizations that will be on the front lines: the ACLU, your local abortion fund, Planned Parenthood, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Trevor Project, CAIR, Sacred Stone Camp (fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline), Black Lives Matter, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center.

–Reach out to your local mosque, synagogue, temple, and black church and ask what you can do to help. Let them know you will stand with them in the coming months and years.

–Consider running for office. Too many down-ballot Republicans run unopposed. Republicans understand many of the decisions affecting people’s everyday lives are made at the local level. Democrats haven’t made many strides here. If you can’t run for office, recruit your friends to do it.

–Donate to Foster Campbell, a Democrat running for Senate in Louisiana. He’s in a runoff election in December and could secure another seat for the Democrats in the Senate, which would be crucial. If you’re near Louisiana, consider volunteering for him. Encourage your friends and family nearby to do the same.

–Donate to and volunteer with your state Democratic Party. This is important for many reasons. First, the statehouses are the ones that do the redistricting for congressional seats. There will be a census in 2020, and whichever party is in control at the time will determine the congressional districts. In 2010, Democrats didn’t turn out to vote, and Republicans swept to power in statehouses across the country. They gerrymandered districts so that even though House Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote nationwide, Republicans are safely in control of the House. We cannot let them continue to dominate statehouses. Second, it takes three-fourths of states to ratify amendments to the Constitution. If many more statehouses turn Republican, they will have a clear path to doing away with any amendment they don’t like (for example, the First), and adding any amendment they please (forbidding marriage equality, ensuring lifetime terms for presidents, prohibiting abortion, whatever your nightmare scenario might be). The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is a nationwide group devoted to putting Democrats in more statehouses.

–Work to restore voting rights to disenfranchised people and felons. Voter suppression worked exactly the way the Republicans wanted. We must push back against this and work to expand voting rights. It’s crucial to our democracy.

–President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder have created the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which has a similar goal to the DLCC. Watch for more information on that and how you can get involved.

–Hold people accountable for normalizing Trump. There is no “everyone does it,” “both parties do it,” “nothing to worry about here.” Every. Single. Thing. He. Does. Is. Not. Normal. The media have already started by refusing to call white supremacists what they are. They won’t call a racist racist or a fascist fascist. Words have meaning. We need to use them.

–Read this and believe it: Autocracy: Rules for Survival

Read this.

–Lastly, but most importantly, we white people need to work on our racism. Many anti-racism activists and researchers, including Jane Elliott, believe we are all racist simply for growing up in the country we did. The United States is a country built on racism–first the genocide and colonization of indigenous people, then slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. We have never acknowledged any of it. Too many white people, who often only know other white people, believe racism is a thing of the past. They think black people talk about racism too much. They insist “I don’t see color.” It’s easy not to think about race when you’re white because it affords us so much privilege. We aren’t targeted by police for being white. We’re not incarcerated at higher rates for being white. We’re not denied housing, education and employment for being white. We don’t die at earlier ages because we’re white. The list goes on.

We are all taught racism, if not by our parents, then by our culture. I grew up in a predominantly white area. There were no black students in my class until I got to high school. I had maybe two teachers who were people of color until I got to college, though I did have one white science teacher who would perform in blackface each year for his lessons on George Washington Carver. This teacher admired Carver and I’m sure he thought he was honoring Carver by wearing blackface. The administration allowed this. My classmates thought it eccentric but not incredibly racist, as it is for me in hindsight.

My classmates were more likely to be Asian–Chinese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Pakistani–than black. There were two or three black students in my class of 300+ people. And it never occurred to me to discriminate against them for anything, but it also didn’t occur to me until years later how hard it must have been for them to live and grow up and learn in such a white area.

So, just because you don’t go around saying the n-word, that doesn’t mean you can congratulate yourself on not being racist. Being non-racist is a lifelong process. It’s a matter of degree. It’s being able to call each other out when we mess up. It’s being able to admit most of our favorite popular culture is racist–because most of it is created by white people. And it’s important to remember that liking it doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. But it’s also important to know that the issues are there.

Some favorites who are problematic: Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American ancestry, which genealogy has disproved. She has never really apologized or had a conversation about why what she did was wrong. That is racist. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which I love dearly, is racist. Her new series is racist. The Lord of the Rings is racist. Star Wars is racist. Katy Perry is racist. Gwen Stefani is racist. Johnny Depp is racist and an abuser. Cultural appropriation is a real thing. Stealing someone’s culture and identity for your own use is racist and wrong. White people having dreadlocks is racist. Saying things like “you speak English so well” is racist. Asking a person of color where they’re from is racist. Buying into the “welfare queen” stereotype is racist (the majority of welfare beneficiaries are white, not black). Consuming all-white media and not criticizing whitewashing is racist.

It’s also racist to think there is such a thing as reverse racism. Racism is based on power structures. As long as there has been a United States, white people have held the power. White people have never been an oppressed population here. So people of color may dislike white people as a group or stereotype them, but they cannot be racist against white people. However, they can be racist against fellow people of color. White supremacy is a powerful thing, and it rewards people of color who buy into its myths, the same way patriarchy rewards sexist women (e.g. Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, etc).

Don’t assume racism is something that will die out with older generations. Young people are plenty racist. Racism is taught, so if Baby Boomers and Gen X are racist, their children will be too. There’s also no rule that says just because you have one black friend you can’t be racist, or because you have gay friends you can’t be homophobic. It doesn’t work that way.

If you know people of color, remember it’s not their job to educate you about all of this. It’s your job to learn and do your own research. People of color have had to learn how to live in a white society to survive. White people’s lives don’t depend on knowing the ins and outs of black culture and history, so we are ignorant. The good news is, there are plenty of resources available. Go to your library. Use your friend Google. Make sure  to study and read authors and researchers who are people of color.

When the economy crashes–because Trump has plainly stated that’s his goal–remember it was white people who voted him into office and white people who implemented his policies. He will try to blame everyone else for what happens. Nothing is ever his fault. Remember. It’s not the fault of immigrants. It’s not the fault of people of color. It’s completely Trump and the people who voted for him.




No sympathy for Penn State

The grand jury report indicting Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child sexual abuse of should be required reading for anyone commenting on the scandal at Penn State University. To date, it has brought down football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier, and athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president for business and finance, have been charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse. Curley has taken administrative leave and Schultz has decided to step down.

Penn State students rioted last night when the board of trustees fired Paterno instead of letting him retire at the end of the year, as he had announced he would do earlier Wednesday. Apparently they think the football team’s 8-1 record is more important than the welfare of children. I have to believe most of the rioters had no idea how serious the charges against Sandusky are, because if they did, they should turn in their humanity cards.

The report made me sick to my stomach. It detailed eight victims with whom Sandusky acted inappropriately, anywhere from unwanted touching on a thigh to the anal rape of a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower. That most serious charge was witnessed by a graduate student in 2002. Instead of immediately intervening and calling 911, he walked away and called his father. He later reported what he saw to his supervisor, who reported it up the chain of command.

None of them called the police.

None of us knows how we will react in that situation, but I like to think I would not just go about my life as if nothing had happened. If I reported it to my supervisor, and no police investigation ever happened, I would start shouting it from the rooftops, telling anyone and everyone what I saw — especially if the man still had access to more young kids to abuse.

It’s a good bet that this story is only going to get worse. Eight victims have been identified, but given the easy access Sandusky had to young boys through his Second Mile Foundation, there are likely many more. There’s even a rumor he was offering boys to wealthy Penn State donors.

What has been almost lost in the media coverage and reaction is any thought to the victims and their families. The sister of one victim is a student at Penn State, and she can barely stand to go to class. Apparently there was a vigil last night on campus, but the media’s focus was on the riot. I hope the victims have gotten the help they need and are leading healthy, happy lives. They have finally gotten to hold their abuser accountable for his actions, and it’s my wish they will get justice for the innocence he stole from them.

Despite the title of this post, I do have sympathy for the Penn State students and alumni who have been disillusioned by Paterno. It can’t be easy to find out a man you admired and respected is capable of covering up something of this magnitude. I once worked for a man who was a public figure whom I liked a lot — until the day I found out he’d been forced from his position for sexually harassing an employee with whom he’d been having an affair. And that pales in comparison to the scandal at Penn State.

I should add that Sandusky is innocent until proven guilty and he has denied the charges. But again, the grand jury report is compelling. Read it with a trash can handy, and then see if you have any sympathy for the adults who lost their jobs this week for failing to protect vulnerable children.

Only boys can do homework

Or so JCPenney seems to think, according to this shirt the retailer had for sale:

This shouldn't be happening in 2011.

Anyone who thinks sexism is a thing of the past and feminism has won need only look at this to be proven wrong. After a petition brought the shirt to the public’s attention, Penney took it down. But according to the petition, the caption for the shirt to the right was “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.”

Not only does this shirt, aimed at girls 7-16, make the assumption that pretty girls can’t be smart girls, it also assumes the brother is smarter than his sister.

Here’s another shirt on sale by Penney, also directed at girls ages 7-16, that pushes the idea girls can’t possibly be good at school. (The text reads “My best subjects: boys, shopping, music, dancing.” As far as I know, only one of those is an actual subject at most schools.)

It should surprise me that in 2011, major retailers such as JCPenney are selling shirts such as these.

It should, but it doesn’t.

It doesn’t, despite the fact more women than men are earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. All you have to do is scroll through the entries at Microaggressions to see how pervasive it still is that women are bubbleheads.

Here’s a thought experiment for you. I’m going to list some of the occupations of my high school acquaintances and friends. You decide which jobs you think are held by men and which are held by women.

Veterinarian. Electrical engineer. Elementary schoolteacher. Construction management engineer. Doctor. Computer science PhD. Citigroup vice president. Self-employed performer. Art teacher.

OK, I’ll give you a couple more seconds to make your guesses.



Done? Is your mental list ready? Here are the results:

They’re all women.

And they’re all so accomplished I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, although some of my friends do have brothers, they didn’t need to rely on their male siblings to achieve their success. Episodes like this make me want to bang my head against the wall and moan in despair that girls and women will ever be taken seriously. But I’ll keep fighting for the day when retailers sell “future rocket scientist” and “future president” shirts for girls 7-16.

In the meantime, JCPenney has lost a customer. Let the store know how sexist it is by contacting the company here. You can read more commentary at Jezebel, Feministing and Shine.

The spectrum of empathy

I’ve become really interested in empathy since reading George Lakoff’s “The Political Mind.” So I was fascinated to read “The science of empathy” by Simon Baron-Cohen. He suggests we think of empathy as a spectrum, with people we typically consider “evil” at one end (Adolph Hitler), with zero empathy:

Zero degrees of empathy means you have no awareness of how you come across to others, how to interact with others, or how to anticipate their feelings or reactions. It leaves you feeling mystified by why relationships don’t work out, and it creates a deep-seated self-centredness. Other people’s thoughts and feelings are just off your radar. It leaves you doomed to do your own thing, in your own little bubble, not just oblivious of other people’s feelings and thoughts but oblivious to the idea that there might even be other points of view. The consequence is that you believe 100% in the rightness of your own ideas and beliefs, and judge anyone who does not hold your beliefs as wrong, or stupid.

Baron-Cohen says most of the people with zero empathy suffer from personality disorders. I don’t want to suggest most Republicans have these disorders, but the above characteristics do seem to fit a lot of well-known GOP politicians. Or, if they are empathetic, it’s toward a very small percentage of the population: millionaires and big corporations. For some reason they can’t seem to put themselves in the shoes of 90 percent of Americans who make less than $30,000 a year.

Baron-Cohen says that’s a big mistake:

Empathy itself is the most valuable resource in our world. Given this assertion, it is puzzling that in the school curriculum empathy figures hardly at all, and in politics, business, the courts or policing it is rarely if ever on the agenda. We can see examples among our political leaders of the value of empathy, as when Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk sought to understand and befriend each other, crossing the divide in Apartheid South Africa, but the same has not yet been achieved between Israel and Palestine, or between Washington and Iraq or Afghanistan. And, for every day that empathy is not employed in such corners of the world, more lives are lost.

I agree that empathy is a key part of understanding our increasingly global world, which is why I was glad to see it being taught to children, especially as self-reported rates of empathy are declining in young people. You can take this quiz to find out how empathetic you are. Read some of Rick’s thoughts on empathy here and here.

WHM Day 18: National Women's History Museum Online Exhibits

Today I was thrilled to see a link to the National Women’s History Museum’s online exhibits. There are nearly 20 exhibits on a wide range of fascinating topics, including Women in Early FilmClandestine Women: Spies in American History, American Women in the Olympics, Young and Brave: Girls Changing History and Women with a Deadline: Female Printers, Publishers and Journalists.

There are so many interesting exhibits I almost didn’t know where to start, but I began with Chinese American Women: A History of Resilience and Resistance. It talks about some of the first Chinese women in the United States, who were unfortunately exploited as curiosities:

Large crowds attended the Chinese women’s “acts,” which again included lessons on how to count and speak in Chinese, and play Chinese instruments and use chopsticks.  Such shows gave rise to the earliest stereotype of Chinese women as foreign curiosities.

By marketing Chinese women as a form of public entertainment, businessmen like P.T. Barnum and the Carne Brothers developed and exploited a sensationalist mass culture in America, instructing American audiences to view the Chinese, especially Chinese women, as human oddities.

There’s so much information it’s going to take me awhile to digest it, and I can’t wait to read some of the other exhibits. Thank you, National Women’s History Museum, for all of your great work. Please consider signing their petition to build a permanent museum in Washington, D.C. A bill has come before Congress but was blocked by male Republican senators.

WHM Day 15: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Today is a catch-all of interesting facts about women. First up I’d like to recognize Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was born March 15, 1933. On Aug. 10, 1993, she became the second female U.S. Supreme Court justice, and is one of only four women to serve on the court. She also became the first female Jewish justice.

From the U.S. Census Bureau comes some interesting statistics about women in the United States. For example, 58% of women between the ages of 25 and 29 have education beyond a bachelor’s degree, compared to 42% of men. As of 2008, there were 1.5 million female military veterans. And 3.1 million high school girls participate in sports programs.

BlogHer has come up with a list of 20 Women in Science Who Changed Our World. It includes famous women such as Marie Curie and Sally Ride as well as less well known ones, like Annie Jump Cannon and Maria Agnesi. Great resource to show girls to get them interested in STEM fields.