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Growing By Doing

If you’re like me, chances are you sometimes freeze when hearing racist ideas, words, messages, metaphors, and dog whistles.  Your mind goes blank.  Knots form in the pit of your stomach.  Your fight or flight instincts kick in.  While I’ve come to embrace this reaction as my process, I can usually trace these feelings to my experiences growing up as multi-racial Black girl in a predominately white suburb.

I will also say that over time this fight or flight instinct has subsided.  The work I do has contributed significantly to this fact since it involves me supporting people to wrestle with ugly realities of racism.  In these spaces, I’ve learned to embrace the discomfort that stems from these conversations.  Its something I welcome—even crave.  Discomfort signals cognitive dissonance; a sign a participant’s worldview is being challenged.  But when I’m in my day-to day, walking to the train, working out, or riding in an Uber, without fail a problematic comment is made or a situation occurs that signals racism is alive and well.  When that happens I still find it difficult to respond.

As a result, I’m determined to improve the ways I can #InitiateEquity in these smaller, more intimate moments.  Below are some ways I’m finding comfort in the discomfort that stems from challenging racism in my everyday life.

  1. Forcing myself to say something.  Anything—just act.  When someone makes a racialized comment I make it a point to get out of my head and respond with, “What do you mean by that?” or “Tell me more.”  This forces me to act quiet my screaming my brain and turn the conversation back on the other person.  A book I just finished reading titled, The 5 Second Rule, reveals that a 5 second window is the critical link between thoughts —> actions and thoughts —> inaction.  Therefore, the next time you find yourself paralyzed, count down from 5-4-3-2-1 and then ask them what they meant.
  2. Practicing the language I would use.  This means I literally practice the words I would use aloud.  The exercise allows me to hear my own voice and workshop my response to racism.  If I’m watching TV, I even do this with the program to simulate a dialogue.  Not kidding.  Therefore think about the typical comment(s) you hear in your day-to-day and practice what you would say in response.  It could be a difference maker.
  3. Surrounding myself with individuals who can help me process my experience.  This can include calling a homegirl to discuss the situation.  She helps to validate my experience and keeps me sane.  For those who experience racism—its frustrating to hear you’re being “too sensitive” or to see your experience “white-washed” away as innocuous incident.  Call people who care about you.  They will let you know whats what.
  4. Strengthening my understanding of the complex history of race and racism within the US.  Being rooted in the historical and current ways Black people and People of Color collectively experience a racialized system of disadvantage is critical.  One book in my current rotation is Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi.  Within it discusses the incendiary nature of racism and how its ideology is deeply seeded in Western society.  Check it out to support you deeper understanding of our collective history.
  5. Listening to podcasts that discuss racism and intersectionality within pop culture, politics and everyday life.  Though not exhaustive—they support my ability to critically read what’s happening around me.
    1. The Read (My definite fav—though disclaimer its intended for mature audiences).
    2. Code Switch.
    3. Another Round.
    4. Pod Save the People.
  6. Remembering compassion.  Confronting racism is hard and preserving my physical, spiritual, mental and emotional well-being remains a priority even as I actively play my position in dismantling this system.  There may be times my response doesn’t come out in the way I intended or my words become twisted and unclear.  However, in these moment, its important I still act  Action builds confidence.  Also, I can always rephrase my words if necessary.  Speak it how you feel and the rest will come.

Over time, these actions have supported my own sense of agency and preparedness to address every day racism.  This list may grow, and it may change, but its provided me with concrete ways to act and I hope it will do the same for you.  If after reading you too found them helpful or if there are others in your toolbox, share your experiences below so others can see how you #InitiateEquity.

Raise the conversation, revolutionize your organization. 

New Year, Greater Focus, Stronger Resolve

A New Year marks a time to reflect on what you want to accomplish and the new heights you want to reach.  Its a time to reflect on how you want to stretch, grow and be that better version of yourself.  With that comes the chance to focus on ways to strengthen your commitment to social justice within your sphere of influence.  As someone who sees herself on a journey—here are some reflections and resources that I’m taking with me into 2018.

  1. Connect with other folks who have a similar mindset and/or doing similar work.  Following the presidential election results, I traveled to Facing Race’s bi-annual conference.  Like many, I was shocked and scared at what the election results symbolized.  It was a type of fear that gripped my heart and made me concerned about my physical safety.  It was at this conference I was able to cry cathartic tears and share my fears with others around me.  The conference also filled me with resolve and determination because of those in attendance who were equally committed to the liberation of marginalized peoples.  Also, of course while there, I met a dynamic group of Black women who became my tribe and my source of strength.  Here are the workshops and conferences I’m attending in 2018 as I strengthen my spirit, grow deeper in my knowledge, and build relationships with others equally committed to justice.
  1. Process. Process. Process.  Last year I understood in a deeper way the need to really process my experience on an ongoing basis and I plan to take that reflection with me into this year.  I find it vital to take time to process my experiences and the ways privilege shows up in my own life.  Because when I do take the time to process, I’m amazed and humbled at the ways I see the blindspots to my own privilege as a cis, hetero, Christian, able-bodied, light skinned, US-born, upwardly mobile woman.  While I’m always aware of the ways I experience oppression as a Black Woman, I also recognize and need to continually be aware of the ways privilege and opportunity marks my life.  Often time in ways that I’m not always fully cognizant of.  This intentional focus helps me to examine my privilege and how that privilege contributes to the marginalization and exploitation of others.
  1. Be kind to myself and others.  Social justice crusaders won’t win the fight for to justice if we’re constantly beating up on other people for not being far enough on their journey.  My husband teaches me this every day.  We need to be kind to others (and OURSELVES) because this is a journey.  Last year I heard this phrase during a talk at the Schomberg in Harlem.  One of the panelist said, this is not about calling people out, but rather calling people in and building a bigger tent to bring more people into the fold.  Now I force myself to reflect  on how am I building a bigger tent.  How am I calling people into the work I’m doing?  Because at point, someone loved me enough to help me grow so how am I doing the same for others?

I hope my rumination helps you consider the ways you can increase your capacity and compassion for others in 2018.

You ask questions like a girl…

So Cam Newton showed his behind this week.  He told a reporter that he found her question about running routes funny because she’s a “female.”  I will allow Twitter and other forms of social media to drag him accordingly (as he should be dragged) given that nonsense of a statement that not only left his brain, but traveled through his lips and out his mouth via a chuckle.  Nor am I paying attention to his insincere apology.  The Internet has already said what needs to be said about his commentary including calling out the racist comments made by the same reporter who went to the Internet and called foul on Cam…I see you too girl.  I am both black and a cis-woman.  Intersectionality is a thing.  Look it up.  

I, however, am reserving my continued beef and read for the NFL and their shenanigans.  They quickly put out a statement through their spokesperson Brian McCarthy that Cam’s words, “are just plain wrong and disrespectful to the exceptional female reporters and all journalists who cover our league. They do not reflect the thinking of the league.”

Clearly, the NFL is batting clean-up with these statements.  Yet their batting average is .000.  Their past and current actions do very little to support their belief that gender inequality is “wrong” and “disrespectful.”  Rather its more of a PR stunt to distance themselves from sexist behavior by one of their employees.  Its easy to drag a player when hoards of folks are already doing so.  Just likes its easy to take a knee as a team of players, owners and coaches when 45 tries to challenge an owner’s power to do as they like with their players.  (I can’t even with this…I just have to leave this commentary for another day). 

“The NFL like so many other institutions become complicit in maintaining sexism as a system of oppression…”

Here’s what seems clear.  The NFL is only about their paper—women be damned, black people be damned.  Because there are many incidents of public record that involves sexual assault allegations (see: Ben Roethlisberger) and domestic violence situations in which the NFL Commissioner gives players either a slap on the wrist or a harsher punishment when folks cry foul (see: Ray Rice).  From 2012-2014 alone, there were 33 incidents that occurred that included domestic violence, battery and murder, with half the victims being women.  Yet even POST the NFL’s updated policies to combat violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence, the NFL has failed to pay attention to its own updated language.  Language that unequivocally states its a “privilege to be part of the National Football League” and that “everyone who is part of the league must refrain from conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL.”  Because somehow wonders and coaches still recruited and signed individuals with incidents of domestic and sexual violence on their records just this past year.  

The NFL like so many other institutions become complicit in maintaining sexism as a system of oppression by willfully ignoring or responding in ways that are problematic that ultimately sanctions this messed up behavior due to their weak response.  Behavior that has its roots in patriarchy which deem identity markers like cis/trans women, femininity, feminine, and femaleness as “lesser than” simply because of one’s sex and/or gender expression.  It makes it socially acceptable that anyone within these identity categories are targets of verbal, psychic, physical and/or sexual abuse and violence— a notion built into cultural, institutional, and structural fabric of society.  And to those who want respond with the counter argument that women are violent and target men too, #stopyourself. Then do your homework and review the CDC’s report that homicide was the number 1 killer women nearly half of homicide victims were killed by a former or current male partner.

Yet the NFL is not about truly ending sexism and the violence that helps to maintains it; any more than are they committed to addressing racial inequality, criminal justice reform and police violence.  Rather owners and coaches are about ensuring capital keeps rolling their happy behinds into the seats and cheering on their respective teams.  Once again, women be damned, Black folks be damned. Therefore this Black, multi-racial feminist is not here for more false platitudes about sexism having no place in the NFL.  Clearly it has a place.  A special reserved place, center field, on the 50-yard line.  

No human being is illegal. Period.

The assault on communities of color, low income communities and immigrant communities is continuing at a rampant pace given the latest news coming out of 45’s administration. DACA now hangs in the balance, which means that the lives of 500,000 young people are hanging in the balance. Educators and communities need to be on guard and armed with information that can support and defend the rights of all students and their families. Below are some concrete action steps that educators can take to support students in their care.

This list of resources comes from American Federation of Teachers.

15 things educators, school support staff and communities can do to help protect undocumented students and their families.

  • Inform students and their families of their rights.
  • Stress the importance of taking proactive steps to ensure the safety and well-being of children and entire communities.
  • Distribute “know your rights” materials to students and communities about what to do if a raid occurs or an individual is detained.
  • Find out if there is a local immigration raid rapid response team. These teams usually consist of attorneys, media personnel and community leaders who may be able to provide support.
  • Partner with a pro bono attorney, legal aid organization or immigrant rights organization to schedule a “know your rights” workshop on campus to inform students and families about their rights.
  • Provide a safe place for students to wait if a parent or sibling has been detained.
  • Provide counseling for students who have had a family member detained by ICE.
  • Maintain a list of resources, such as the names of social workers, pro bono attorneys and local immigration advocates and organizations, that can be shared with your students and their families.
  • Identify someone at your school who can serve as the immigration resource advocate in your building or on your campus.
  • Work with parents to develop a family immigration raid emergency plan.
  • Make your school an ICE-free zone/sanctuary school.
  • Work with your school board to pass a resolution affirming schools as welcoming places of learning for all students, distancing the schools from enforcement actions that separate families.
  • Issue statements condemning raids and calling for the immediate release of students.
  • Participate in National Educators Coming Out Day, held annually on Nov. 12, and “come out” in support of undocumented students —
  • Participate in National Institutions Coming Out Day, held annually on April 7 —

Focus on “unity” and forget the struggle…

Today marks a major event. Solar eclipse 2017 is occurring across the continental United States. When listening to mainstream media reporters discuss this moment, I heard someone (ignorantly) suggest that it offers the chance for unity and for us to come together. Before I get into that let me be unequivocal in my support of the sciences and the pursuit of knowledge, especially in a country that now prides itself on ignorance in the form of #alternativefacts and #fakenews. As an educator it makes my heart sing to see children (and adults) excited to see our cosmos at work. However, we can certainly walk and chew gum at the same time, and this event CANNOT replace the very real unity work that people are doing to fight against systemic racism and its roots in white supremacy.

The media’s and society's desire to move on to a more positive story and call for “unity” certainly feels good because it allows us to the escape the ugly past and present of this country, to turn away from its blinding reality because it’s too painful to watch. It allows us to turn away from the fact that just a week before the eclipse, in Charlottesville, white terrorists marched through the streets and a woman who was protesting was murdered (I know that “murdered” is a legal term but I’m using it here intentionally). It allows us to ignore the vicious beating Deandre Harris experienced by avowed white supremacists. Calls for unity ignore how this is an opportunity to teach ourselves and our children – because our educational system did not – about the history of white supremacist groups in America. Great number of resources exist for educators to teach about the history of the KKK and to contextualize the march through Charlottesville. Examples like, “Violence, the KKK, and the Struggle Equality,” “Birth of the Ku Klux Klan,” “History of the Klan,” “Testimonies Leading to the Ku Klux Lean Act of 1871,” and “Why I Quit the Klan” are lesson plans educators can use—all of which are included in Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.

Emphasizing the eclipse as a unifying moment allows us to have a Pollyanna view of the world – the view that if we just “unite” it will end the physical, psychic, institutional and structural violence against people of color and other marginalized communities committed in the name of white supremacy. It ignores the fact that racist and racist-adjacent behavior is sanctioned by our current government, and that white supremacist violence remains white folks’ response to advancement by people of color. For more evidence of this check out Dr. Carol Anderson’s well documented book White Rage.

As we revel in this solar eclipse, why not use it as an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the unsung heroes who have contributed to our ability to participate in this moment? Who are all the scientists that helped get us here—in particular, the Black and Brown, differently abled, working class, intersex, immigrant, and/or queer scientists? Their stories are not mainstream, but they exist. It’s important to acknowledge that the work of folks from a wide variety of backgrounds contributed to our ability to know the exact time that the full eclipse would occur in South Dakota or Oregon or at any of the other watch centers (some of which are CHARGING money for tickets <insert side eye to #capitalism here>). Movies like Hidden Figures teach us that some stories are indeed erased and therefore we must mine for them. It’s important to acknowledge the range of people who have contributed to this moment so that we do not continually hold up examples of cis-gendered white males, such as Bill Nye the Science Guy, as the only examples of “real” scientists (but no shade to Bill; he played an integral role in my understanding of science as young child).

This eclipse is a teachable moment to do more than offer weak platitudes of unity. It is an opportunity to offer concrete examples of real unity equity that include challenging white supremacy by acknowledging the collective contributions of people from diverse backgrounds to the discipline of science.

Otherwise we will have ignorant politicians like Steven King touting on MSNBC that only white people have contributed to civilization (yup, you read that right). Let’s know better, so that we can do better and be better.