Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Peggy McIntosh and the invisible knapsack of doom: Part I

Today we are going to take a look at one of the most influential writings when it comes to the issues of multiculturalism and diversity. This essay is to multiculturalism what Vogue is to fashion, what The Art of War is to business students , what Playboy is to pictures of boobies. It is one of the go-to writings, and if you read it you will be way ahead of the curve compared to most of your peers.

Allow me to present to you, Peggy McIntosh White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In order to avoid any potential copyright infringement, I am going to link to the essay where you can read it on another site. I also found a youtube video that actually has a brief interview with Ms. McIntosh, and the list of privileges she describes in video form. So depending your favored way of receiving information, you've got some options. Although I will say, I am a pretty fast reader and I thought the list on the video was moving a little too fast for me.

Ok--the link to the essay is here. Even if you have read this essay before, I would encourage you to read it again to see how it affects you this time around.

And here's the video:

So here are my questions for you:

What are your reactions (thoughts and feelings) to reading this list?
What does it mean that the list was written by a white person?
If you've read this list before, how are your reactions this time different? How are they the same?
What items on the list are most significant for you? What do you think are the reasons for this?

Like I said in the title, this is going to be a multi-part discussion. For today, I would strongly encourage you to leave your comments and let the information sit in your brain and marinate. We will continue the discussion tomorrow.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Get on the floor, baby lose control, just work your body and let it go.

For this week's installment of Music Mondays, we have Nas' Sly Fox . Below is another homemade video I found on Youtube. The video does a good job of using images to highlight the lyrics, but if you would like to read along as the song is playing, you can do so here. Like some of the other selections, this one has its fair share of salty language--so be forewarned.

A couple of things about this song. I like it because it talks about media conglomerates, and how they can influence the information we receive. Since they own Youtube, I hope I didn't get on some list for embedding this video in my post (:

I never hear songs like this on the radio. I feel like there is a trend where a rap artist will come out with a CD and it will have a lot of "socially conscious" songs on the album, but the ones that get released as singles are the songs that don't carry the same provocative message.

One of my favorite lines is "I use Viacom as my firearm and let the lyrics split you." I like that Nas is using his talent as a wordsmith to get his message out. I also think it's a little ironic that he is singing the praises of one megacorporation to help him bring down another one. I would argue that people need to be critical of all of the sources where they receive information. It's a little too simplistic to say Fox News=Bad. PBS=good. Although that still talking about slavery being "necessary for an agrarian economy" was trés disturbing.

My other favorite line is: "I will not fall for the okey doke, I am tuned in." This is in line with one of the main messages of this blog, just for people to be more aware of--everything, really. Their thoughts, subtle messages they receive from various sources, their friends, their personal histories, etc. When we raise our awareness of ourselves and others, we are exposed to a whole new plane of things to know. And as G.I. Joe would say, "knowing is half the battle."

If you've got a comment, I'd love to hear it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Introducing: Follow-up Fridays

So, I had another idea for a recurring feature on my blog, follow-up Fridays. This is where I take a comment that was made on one of my previous posts, and respond to it with with my thoughts and reactions. My hope is that this will encourage people to comment more. Maybe one day I can give out a prize to the person who is chosen for follow-up fridays (that would be cool, huh?). For now though, they'll have to settle for a very small amount of fame.

So this weeks comment comes from mrsmarlowe, on the post about the game Candy Land found here. In that post, I asked some questions about how the kids on the box would or would not influence a white parent's decision to buy the game. This is what mrsmarlowe shared:

"Being white, I don't know that I would notice where the white kids are. I would probably not buy it if all the kids were black. It seems to be impeeding on another culture. Like me getting a perm to straighten my hair. KWIM?"

This is a great comment and provides a lot of good jumping off points for further discussion.

"I would probably not buy it if all the kids were black. It seems to be impeeding on another culture. Like me getting a perm to straighten my hair. KWIM?"

I have to say that I am not sure that I know what you mean. My first thought when I read it was, "So does that mean that my parents shouldn't have bought the old version for me, since it only had white kids on the front of the box?"

Is who's on the box an illustration of who is supposed to play with it?

And then I thought to myself "Well, yeah,--it kind of is!"

There are two reasons I'm advocating for more variety on the box.

First, I want kids from marginalized groups to see themselves represented. I want them to look at the box and say, "This game is for me. Kids that look like me like to play Candy Land."

Secondly (and dare I say--equally as important,) I want white kids to look at the box and say "Kids that don't look like me like to play Candy Land too. I see a picture of a kid like me holding hands with a kid that doesn't look like me. I see kids that don't look like me in front of me in the line--and I'm okay with that." Even, "I don't see myself represented here at all, but this game looks like fun--so I'm going to ask my parents repeatedly to buy it for me."

That's what happened for a significant portion of the games, toys, and books that I had--and I discovered some cool -ish that way.

back to mrsmarlowe
"Being white, I don't know that I would notice where the white kids are."

I am so glad that you wrote this. This is like, one of the key points of my blog.

Has anyone ever noticed how I talk a lot about "white people" on this blog? That's kind of strange, huh? I'm betting money that in your daily life, you are rarely referred to as a white person. That's why I do it so much here, to remind you that it's true.

I don't think it's a bad thing.
I don't think it's a good thing.
It's just a thing--since it's part of your identity, it's up to you to decide what it means.

Much like in my daily life, I am very rarely referred to as an "able-bodied" person. But I am.

Our society is set up in such a way that I can choose not to think about that fact at all. And if I do choose to think about it, I can say, "Yeah, well that's just the way it is--people who can't move around like I can just need to deal with it." and lots of other people will back me up on that.

Or, I can say as I'm walking down the street, "Hey, I notice that these curbs aren't slanted down--that must make it difficult for people in a wheelchair to navigate in this neighborhood." Or when I'm in a store I can notice, "Boy, these racks are really close together, isn't this a violation of ADA regulations?"

I am making a choice to become more aware of myself and the world around me, and how that world might look to someone that's not me. I haven't always liked what I've seen, but closing my eyes to it sure as heck isn't going to make it all go away.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

You wanna hug it out?

So like I said in my very first post, when I was growing up, I always knew that I was black. I probably didn't always know, but I've known for a really long time. It wasn't something that I thought about really, unless I was reminded of it for some reason. Today we're going to take a trip down memory lane, and talk about one of those early times that I was reminded.

I was in 3rd grade. It was MLK day, or a day surrounding that day, because wouldn't we have had that day off from school? Anyhoo, we are all sitting on the floor watching a video of his famous I have a Dream speech. I am sitting watching the speech, pretty much minding my own business. There was this girl sitting around me, I'll call her Carrie.

Now, Carrie and I were not enemies, but we definitely were not friends. We didn't eat lunch together, we didn't play at recess together, we didn't go to each others houses after school--we didn't do any of the things that 3rd grade friends typically do. So she is sitting near me, not next to me--because we also didn't sit next to each other during videos.

So we're both listening to Dr. King talk about "little children" and "content" and "character," and the next thing I know this Carrie chick comes out of nowhere and puts her arms around me! I'm laughing thinking about it, because I distinctly remember thinking, "What in the heck is this girl doing?!" It was extremely awkward. I remember that I didn't respond in kind, so we're just sitting there for awhile while she's hugging me and I'm watching the video. She eventually stopped, and that was the end of it. It was never brought up again, and that was my first (and last) Carrie hug.

Why am I telling that story? Because I think what she did was weird. I get that she may have been moved by the speech, but the response to that is not to invade the personal space of someone that you don't even know that well who happens to be the same race as the speaker. As a wise person once said--all relationships are essentially about boundaries, and that chick was definitely violating mine. I wonder what was going through her head--was she happy that there was a black kid in her class? Was she sad that Dr. King was dead? Something else that I don't know?

So, that concludes this episode of the adventures of myblackfriendsays: classroom edition.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sugar, doot do doot do doot dooo, oh honey honey...

One of my favorite games when I was a little kid was Candy Land. I've never been a big fan of candy, but something about the colors and the drawings mesmerized me.

When I played the game, the the box and board looked something like this:

Now, there's an updated version. Check out the box and board for the 21st century Candy Land:

What's different about these two versions of the game?

That's right, the newer version has more than just the blond, blue-eyed children represented. Yay!

Take a closer look at the new board...

How come the two blonde kids are holding hands, and the two kids of color are holding hands?
How come the two blond kids are in the front, with the kids of color in the back?
How come there are two blond kids in the first place? If they had only had one blond kid, they could have put in an Asian or Indian kid too. Or a kid in a wheelchair. Or, ooh--a blond kid in a wheelchair!

So white parents, (or white parents-to-be,) let me ask you these questions:

Would you buy this game for your kids if the white kids were in the back of the line?
Would you buy this game for your kids if there were no white kids represented at all?
Why or why not?

This may seem like a minor thing to some, I think that it's subtle messages like these that influence results like the ones we see here.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You're a real--special lady...

So today's post is about President Obama's comment about the Special Olympics that he made on The Tonight Show. Brief recap: Mr. Obama was talking about how his bowling score is 129. Jay Leno clapped for him and said, "Oh, that's very good!" And then President Obama said, "This is like the Special Olympics or something."

One of my white friends asked me what I thought about this and what happened afterwards. I think a couple of things.

1) I think that if Mr. Obama made a similar gaffe about another group of people like women or gay people, it may have garnered more attention. I am leery of the idea of putting marginalized groups on some kind of heirarchy. At the same time, I do believe that some groups are more organized, have more political influence, etc. Part of the reason this isn't that big of a deal is because the clout isn't really there to make it that big of a deal.

2) Another more unfortunate reason for the response is that a lot of people say things like this, and so they are more likely to cut the President some slack. You are much more likely to hear someone say the "r" word than the "f" word or the "n" word (don't worry, I've got a post in the pipeline about the whole " first letter of the word" word phenomenon).

3) It's helpful to Barack Obama that he's friendly with the Shriver family, so the head of the Special Olympics can say, "Hey, everything's cool, we're not mad about this." I applaud Tim Shriver for trying to turn this into a teaching moment, but I can't help but wonder how their personal relationship influenced his ability to deem Obama's apology as "moving" and "sincere." Now, I'm not saying it wasn't. What I'm saying is that when you know and like someone, it's a lot easier to accept an apology from him or her.

President Obama seemed to be saying that in the Special Olympics, people are cheered and applauded for performance that really isn't that impressive.

Does he believe that? He's got to believe it on some level, otherwise it would have never come in his mind as a thing to say.
Do you believe that?
What does it mean if it's true?
Does it matter that he didn't intend to hurt anyone's feelings?
Should the intention behind an insensitive comment ( for example "I was only joking,") make a difference in how people choose to respond to it?

As an interesting sidenote: I was watching Inside Edition and they had an interview with a guy that actually did bowling in the Special Olympics. He had bowled five perfect games ( a score of 300) in his career. Wow.

Looks like President Obama might need to step up his game.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Music Monday Time!

Welcome to another installment of Music Mondays. This week's selection is Dead N[*]gga Blvd. (Pt 1) by Me'Shell Ndegéocello. I was able to find a version on youtube that has the lyrics, which is always a bonus. You should know that this song has a lot of profanity in it, so be forewarned if you're not a fan of cursing. Although I have to say, if you don't like to listen to music with curse words--you're missing out on a lot of great music. Listen actively, and follow along with the lyrics.

A couple things that I want to share...

First, there was some level of apprehension about posting this song, because it appears to be a song that is from a black person talking to other black people about problems that the "black community" has. I think there is always a risk presenting this information to white people, because white people can then say, "See black people, this is all your own problem--not mine. I'm gonna go over here now. doot dee do dee doo..."

I have two responses to that.

First, there are definitely things that black people can do to improve race relations and the inequality that exists in our society. AND, there are definitely things that white people can do to improve race relations and inequality in our society. Everyone has to share in the task, it's not just one group's responsibility.

Second, I think that this song can apply to anyone, regardless of their racial background. The way she keeps asking, "Are you free?"--anyone can answer that question. I really like the focus that this song has on money and how that motivates people to do things that aren't necessarily the best. Because if there is any group that can relate to putting money ahead of other goals-- it's white people.

My favorite line is when she says,

"Perhaps to be free is is to love all those who hate me
And die a beautiful death
Make pretty brown babies"

So ask yourself these questions:

What's your favorite line?
What does freedom look like to you?
Are you free?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam?!?

So, my husband thinks that in keeping with the "friend" aspect of this blog, I should also post about random stuff I think of, not just about race and inequality. On the one hand, I can see where he's coming from. I have a very multi-faceted personality, and think about a lot of other things. On the other hand I'm skeptical, because it seems the best blogs are the ones where the posts revolve around one certain theme. But I'd like to think of myself as a flexible and open person, so I'll try it out and see how it feels.

Do you think that the people who work at T.G.I.Fridays wear less flair now as a direct result of the movie Office Space ? I wonder.

How was that for you? If you have any thoughts on the matter, leave me a comment.

ETA: I just couldn't help myself (:

Ask yourself these questions: How come Samir wasn't the main character in this movie? Have you ever seen a movie like this where a person of color was the main character, and the white characters are the supporting roles (besides Harold and Kumar go to White Castle )? Do you think this movie would have been as popular/made as much money if the actor that played Samir was cast in the role of Peter? Why or why not?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lord of the Dance

In honor of St. Patrick's Day. Yeah, I know it was yesterday--you wanna make sumthin' of it?

First golf, now this--is there anything we can't do?


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The elephant in the room...

I think the issue of racism is a lot like that story about the five blindfolded people and the elephant. Each person can't see and they are taken to an elephant and put their hands on it and then try to describe what an elephant is like.

One guy's got the tusk: He says, "Elephants are smooth and cold and kind of pointy at the end."
One guy's got the ear: He says, "No elephants are flat and wide and they flap around a lot."
One guy's got the leg: He says, "No no no, you're both wrong--elephants are sturdy and thick like a tree trunk."

and so on.

The same thing is true when it comes to issues of race relations. Most people who have something to say about this issue are coming from a place of truth, but they're not recognizing that the people that don't agree with them oftentimes have valid points as well. It is an acknowledgment of all of the viewpoints that allows us to create a complete picture of what is really going on. Most of the dialogue I hear about race, the opposing sides aren't even discussing the same things! How can we make progress if we're having separate conversations? We can't.

In my experience when trying to have discussions about these sensitive issues, two major things tend to happen.

white people just get overwhelmed by guilt and feelings of helplessness.
people of color people get overwhelmed by anger and rage.

Both sides get defensive, and conversation breaks down.

When is the last time you heard of someone who was overwhelmed or defensive doing anything productive, getting anything accomplished?

I feel like this is one of those issues where if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

The status quo is not good enough for me--I know we can do better.

You know the drill--comments, yo.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Everyone Deserves Music.

For this week's installment of Music Mondays, I'm takin' us back to the early 90's. We'll be listening to Tupac Shakur's Keep Ya head Up. I picked this song for a couple of reasons. First, I really like it. Second, Tupac has a reuptation to many as a "gangsta rapper." He was that, and he did a lot to popularize that genre. He was also a social commentator, and this song is a really powerful anthem about continuing your struggle in the face of adversity.

As always, I suggest you follow along with the lyrics. You can find them here.

Rest in Peace, Tupac.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You are not the father!

It's funny, ever since I've started this whole "posting every day" thing, I've been worried about whether or not I would find something post-worthy on a daily basis. I've got a list of things that I can write about that aren't particularly time-sensitive, but I would hate to run through that list and then be topic-less. But The Universe works in mysterious ways, and I found something today that I was quite eager to share my opinions on.

I was watching a story on 60 Minutes about eyewitness testimony. Since some recent date in time, over 230 people have been released from prison after being convicted of crimes like rape and murder, after DNA evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that they were innocent. In 75% of the cases, a big part of what helped them get convicted was eyewitness testimony. All the people that they showed in the story were either black or Latino/Arab looking. I'm sure some white guys have gotten off, but we all know that black men are disproportionately represented in the prison system, hence the relevance to me talking about it on this blog.

Some of the takeaways that came from the story are that suspects should be shown one by one, instead of in a lineup. Also, someone not involved in the investigation (i.e. not the detective on the case,) should be the person interacting with the victim during the i.d. of the perpetrator process, so that the victim is not unduly influenced by that person's comments. Also, it should be stressed to the victim that there is a real possibility that the person who committed the crime is not in the lineup. In all of these 230+ cases, the real perpetrator was not in the initial lineup.

I personally think that we should pass a law that says all cases with DNA evidence available should have those tests run. I also think that we should make it illegal for the State to destroy physical evidence--no matter what the amount of time that has passed since the crime was committed. If we're committed to putting the person that is truly responsible behind bars, there should really be no problem with enacting either of these measures. I personally cannot think of much worse in life than having your freedom taken away for a crime that you didn't commit.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


So, today I want to talk about Michelle Obama and two unsettling portrayals that I saw of her in the media last night. The first was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. They were doing a segment on Michelle Obama's fashion, and how the media is obsessed with the fact that she is always showing her arms. My opinion on the matter is that it may have been a little out of place at the speech President Obama made to Congress last month, but every other time it has seemed appropriate. Besides, she is a grown woman and can wear what she wants. I also recognize that critiquing what First Ladies wear is pretty standard, because a significant number of the judgments we make about women are based on how they look.

No, I am concerned with a little fashion show piece that they did to tie into the story. They were talking about how Mrs. Obama could use her fashion choices to champion causes she is interested in. One of the things they said was that Mrs. Obama was concerned with transparency and then they preceded to show her in a dress with a front but no back and so her entire butt was exposed, and blurred out like they do on tv when nudity is shown. I tried to find a picture on google images to describe what I am talking about--and I'll spare you the disturbing details of the stuff I had to look at along the way. But, I couldn't find one, so just imagine Michelle Obama with her back to you, and her naked butt blurred out.

The second instance occurred when I was watching Nightline. After sitting through an interview with Jeff Bezos (that was really just 10 minute long advertisement for the Kindle, ) they run a story about how Michelle Obama is a big celebrity and on the covers of a bunch of magazines. They interview this woman named Sally Quinn. I'd never heard of her before, but after reading her Wikipedia entry, I think I understand a little more where this comment I'm about to describe came from.

Ms. Quinn and the interviewer are sitting around a coffee table that is filled with magazines that have done stories on Mrs. Obama, and the interviewer asks something like, "What do you think this coverage says about Mrs. Obama?" Ms. Quinn's response:

"I think it means she's a sexual person."

Um, what?

Please tell me how one looks at photos like this:

and the first word that comes to mind is, "sexual." Does she look like she's trying to seduce you with her eyes? Is what she is wearing super revealing? I don't think so.

Which brings me to my point: I don't think the graphic that was shown on The Daily Show, or the comment that Ms. Quinn made would have happened if Michelle Obama had been white. The fact that when I type the words "First Lady," they are supposed to be capitalized shows that we are supposed to treat the person who holds that title with a certain amount of respect. Have you ever heard/seen any other First Lady portrayed in or talked about in such a way? I've had a pretty good grasp of what was going on with Presidential wives since Nancy Reagan, and I can't recall anything like this.

Let me be clear that I am in no way saying that President and Mrs. Obama can't be criticized or made fun of, and that anyone who says anything negative about them is a racist. That's not what I'm saying at all.

What I am saying is that black women have a long history in this country of being portrayed as sexually promiscuous. While white First Ladies in the past have had their fair share of jabs taken at them, as soon as we have a black First Lady--I see two overt references to her sexuality in the same night. From both liberal and conservative source.

What's up with that?

As always, I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What happens to a dream deferred?

So, I was watching this new show on the Investigation Discovery channel called Gang Nation. This guy named Ross goes all around the world interviewing and hanging out with different gangs. I have always been fascinated by Nazis, so when I saw that there was going to be an episode on neo-Nazis in Russia--I fired up my tivo and eventually got to watching.

I want to clarify my "fascinated by Nazis" comment, because I know that it might sound a little weird. What I mean is that it is mind-boggling to me that in the last century, there existed this group that was able to murder millions of people with the implicit support of millions of others who stood by and did nothing. How does an organization like this run? How does it get popular? How does it remain popular? It's these types of questions that I ask myself, and so I consume information about the Nazis in order to try and formulate some answers.

So back to the T.V. show: Ross goes to Russia and meets with these Neo-Nazis. In order to gain entrée into their group they set him on fire, and make him have a duel with a gang member with a bb-type gun that just happens to be not loaded.


So once he has passed these tests, he starts hanging out with them and talking with them, getting to know them better. Russia has apparently had a recent surge in neo-Nazi activities. And (not surprisingly,) they've had a surge in hate crimes too.

From what I gathered from the program, the neo-Nazis are pissed off about all the "black" immigrants that are coming over and taking all the jobs and threatening their Russian way of life with their Muslism-ness.

There were four important takeaways that I had after watching this program:

1.) That someone that looks like this:

could be considered a black person. The skinheads call the immigrants from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and other areas "black" because they are not from Russia. This to me is an example of how dumb these arbitrary labels can be at times.

2.) One of the main problems that the skinheads seemed to have was that these immigrants were taking jobs away from them. Oh, that classic white supremacist line: "They're takin' our jobs!"


What is keeping these Nazis from directing their anger and hatred at their fellow white Russians? The white Russians that are the business owners and industry leaders, that are happily hiring these immigrants for these low-wage, marginally skilled jobs? What is the benefit for these business owners to have this steady supply of cheap labor? Hmmm...what could it be? I wonder...

3.) Near the end of the show, Ross said something that took me by surprise. It was something like, "This is the most disgusting group of people I've ever had to hang out with." That isn't an exact quote, but that was the gist of it. I thought this was a pretty unexpected thing for him to say. Here's why: they had extended some level of hospitality to him, and they did give him a fair amount of access to their group. Also, I'm guessing that he is putting himself out there as at least a quasi-journalist, and I always thought journalists were supposed to be objective (Is there even such a thing as being objective? I don't think so--but that's a topic for another post.) So then that got me wondering, "What made him say that?"

And then I remembered that there was a part of the show where Ross interviewed the family of one of these hate crime victims. They talked in detail about how their son was murdered, and how they just came to Russia because they wanted a better life, but because of what happened they were thinking of moving back to their home country. It was really quite sad. The dad talked about how the skinheads were cowards because:

a. they attacked his son from behind.
b. there were several of them, and his son was only one person.
c. they had weapons, and his son was unarmed.

Yup, those all sound like pretty d!ck moves to me. I'd be interested to hear how skinheads justify this dishonorable behavior. Even if they think they're fighting in some kind of war, there are these things called rules of engagement that soldiers with ethics and morals play by. So, I think this is at least part of the reason that Ross was so unimpressed with these guys and gals (yeah, there were a couple gals too--yikes.)

And, my final takeaway

4.) I can't help but wonder, what is causing this rise in Neo-Nazi activity in Russia? Near the end of the program they said that Russia was believed to have the highest concentration of neo-Nazis in the world.

My theory is that Russia is in some ways very similar to how Germany was at the end of World War I. They used to be this feared superpower and now...they're not. I was watching another show about this Russian juggler who had immigrated to the United States, and even though his parents still lived there, he never went back to visit. His explanation was that he wasn't interested in going back because everyone in Russia was, "drunk and angry."

Now, I'm not saying that's true of everyone that lives there, but I am saying how I can see how people would be extremely upset if their whole system of government collapsed, a few oligarchs took control of the immense wealth that was suddenly up for grabs, the vast majority of the citizens were left with the scraps, and the standing of the country in the world changed drastically for the worse in a short period of time.

I can see how that might piss people off. My assertion is that the anger is being completely misdirected to the wrong people. So if any skinheads are reading this, I would encourage you to think critically about what's really going on and who's really responsible for what you're going through. Oh, and when you figure it out--please don't jump them from behind in the middle of the night three-on-one and bash them in the head with steel-toed boots--because that's just not cool, ok?

As always, I welcome your comments.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Hey Mr. DJ, put a record on...

My friends, it's time for another installment of Music Mondays. This week's selection is List of Demands (Reparations) By Saul Williams. You can listen to the song in the video below. And click here to read the lyrics, because there's going to be a quiz after.

How do you feel listening to this song?
What are some of the lyrics that stand out for you?
Who do you think Saul Williams is singing to?

A couple of things of note about this song: I typed the full title of the song above, and when I went on You Tube to find the video, I noticed that most of the listings had the last word left out. What do you think are the reasons for that? Another interesting thing about this song is that it was featured in a very popular Nike campaign recently. What does Nike's use of the song mean? Also, when I went to find the official video, every version posted had embedding "disabled by request." Who do you think requested embedding be disabled, and what do you think were the reasons behind that?

If you'd like, you can see the official video here.
And you can watch the Nike commercial here. Gotta love YouTube.

I asked you a lot of questions, and I'd love to hear your answers--so leave me a comment below.

Friday, March 06, 2009

They print my message in the Saturday Sun...

This is a video that I want you to watch of an experiment that a high school student did as part of school project:

I think like Kiri says at the end of the video, the goal is not for people to pick the black doll over the white doll as being the "good" doll. I think an ideal situation would be for the kids to say, " I can't make such a judgment based on simply looking at the dolls, I'm going to have to play with them to get to know them better." That my friends, would be a huge step in the right direction.

I would argue that it is indcidents similar to the ones I talk about here, here, and here that contribute to the results that we see in the video. It's all connected, people...

What are your reactions to watching this video? What do you think the results would have been if she asked 21 white children?

If you would like to watch the full documentary (it's only 7 minutes,) you can do so here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Would a rose by any other name...

Have you ever wondered why I use the words and phrases that I do? Why I say, "people of color" instead of "minority?" "Black" instead of "African-American?" Why I say "marginalized groups" and don't say "non-white?" I thought you might, so let me explain...

I don't say minority, because globally people of color are not a minority. If current trends continue in the U.S., they won't be a minority here much longer either. I also don't like the word minority because to me it connotes a lack of power, and reinforces the idea that people of color are in a one-down position to white people.

I say people of color, because currently it doesn't have any negative connotations and it is easier than saying, "black, brown, asian, latino, middle eastern and native american." Try typing that three times fast. I say "currently doesn't have any negative connotations" because it seems like what happens when we talk about these labels is that something will become the accepted thing to say, only to become unacceptable to say a few years later, or vice versa. For example, did you know at one time it was considered rude to call black people black? Like, really insulting. I didn't know that until a few months ago.

I only say African-American when I am writing a paper and don't want to get too repetitive. I don't know any black person that calls themselves African-American. I don't know that many black people, but I bet you would find similar results if you did a study. My understanding of how African-American came about was to have a term that got rid of some of the negative connotations of black, got people in touch with their African heritage and, made more of an ethnic distinction instead of a racial one. Saying European-American instead of white goes along these same lines.

I have positive connotaions with the word black: "Black is Beautiful" "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud!" I'm also aware that the word black has a lot of negative connotations, but I choose to keep using it in an effort to counteract some of those associations.

I'd like to get more in touch with my African heritage. I think it's something I would be more interested in if I could actually trace my bloodline to specific families, instead of just a region of a continent. That has always been one thing I've been envious of white people for, the ability (for some of them,) to trace their geneaology back several generations. I've got some plans to get more in touch with my "African-ness," perhaps I'll write about the results in a future blog post.

Marginalized groups: this is one of my favorites for a couple of reasons. First, it encompasses a number of situations, not just race. Age, sexual orientation, ability level, gender, etc. So it's a very useful term. Second, I like it because it highlights the fact that these groups often exist "on the margins" and a often placed there by the dominant group. It puts some of the responsibilty on the dominant group to actively work to bring these groups away from the margins. I also like it because it encompasses the idea that people can be marginalized in one way (like race) but be dominant in another way (like sexual orientation)

Finally, I don't say non-white because (once again,) this term reinforces the idea that white is the standard, and everything else should be defined in relationship to it. White is not the sun, with all the other groups revolving around it. White is just one of the many planets in the solar system, and we are all revolving around something greater and more powerful than our little spheres of dirt.

So that's it in a nutshell. As always, I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What're you looking at?

Have you ever noticed that when you're watching stand up comedy, and a white comedian makes a joke about black people or some other group of color--the cameraman almost always puts the camera on a member of that group in the audience?

What's up with that?

Related: Whenever you are about a marginalized group, and there's a member of that group involved in the discussion, do you (in)voluntarily glance over at that person? I do--or at least I used to.

What's up with that?

For me, I would look over at a gay person whenever I was talking about something related to gay people. I wouldn't stare at them the whole time, but I would definitely take a quick glance. And I noticed in classes, that if the discussion was something related to black people, I'd get a look from the speaker as he/she was talking.

So I started thinking about why this happened and came up with two theories:

1) You're looking at the person to make sure they're not getting pissed off. This is what is happening during the comedy, the director is saying, "Look white person, the black person is laughing--so it's okay for you to laugh too."

2) I just thought of this one, so make it three theories: It's like the whole elephant thing: If I say, "Don't think about an elephant!" what do you do? You think about an elephant. So, you're telling yourself "Don't look over there!" But that just makes you want to do it more.

3) I think this is the most disturbing one: You're doing it to say, "Look at me, aren't I so cool for talking about your issue, person from a marginalized group? I'm not even in your group and I'm sticking up for you--what a great ally I am, huh?"

So, I don't do this anymore. I consciously make myself not take that quick glance. Because the things that I am saying are not about that other person. They're about me, the speaker. I also know that I don't like being looked at when black comes up, when I wasn't being looked at before.

I don't want to say the things that I say because I'm trying to curry favor with certain people, I want to say them because they're the things I believe. And so if I'm not actively looking for that positive reinforcement to come my way, it is another way to let myself know that I should do something because it's the right thing to do, not because some group of people might think I'm
"down with the cause" for speaking up.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

It's the story of a man named Bobby...

So I was watching 60 minutes last night, and they had an interview with Bobby Jindal. I was immediately reminded of the "Oh, God" incident that happened recently. One of the first things I noticed is just how skinny the guy is! He is really skinny--like 15-year-old- gangly-teenager skinny. After getting over that initial observation, I settled in to watch what was an informative and engaging interview. And not surprisingly, since we're dealing with the mainstream media interviewing a person of color, I was able to find something remarkable for my blog.

Morley Safer was interviewing Jindal and it was revealed that Bobby's given name is Piyush, and Bobby changed it sometime when he was a kid. When I heard this, I had flashbacks to to Barack Obama going by "Barry" when he was in school. To me, it is an example of a brown person trying to make their identity more palatable for white people. It's like, "Hey, is Piyush too 'weird' or diffcult to say? Ok, just call me Bobby then."

Later on in the interview, Jindal's wife came out and Morley asked them how many Indian customs they practiced in their household. They both looked at each other with smiles and then looked back at Morley and said, "Oh, not many."

Now, I want to make it clear that the point of this post is not to say there is something wrong with Jindal because he goes by Bobby or because he doesn't keep many Indidan traditions alive in his home. One of the main themes of my blog is that people of color (like white people,) should be able to express themselves in the way that feels most comfortable for them. And it is not anyone else's place to say, "No, you need to be this way in order to be a real Indian person/black person/Latino person etc. So, while those might not be choices that I would make for myself, I fully support his decision to do so, and might even celebrate them--because he is challenging and pushing off the boxes that people of color are often put in.

No, the reason that I am writing this post is because of something that Safer and other journalists interviewed in the story attempted to imply because of the choices that Jindal has made for himself and his family--that Jindal was a "real" American. The actual quote was that he was a "true blue American."

Sorry guys, that's not going to fly with me. Someone who's name is Bobby is not more American that someone who's name is Piyush. Someone who is Catholic is not more American than someone who is Hindu.

This is just one more example of mainstream culture putting forward the idea that things that white=American and non-white=something else. People of color whose names weren't John and Elizabeth helped to make this country great, and they have as much of a right to claim being American as the people that came over on the Mayflower. People who eat noodles, pig intestines and linings of cows stomachs are as "true blue Americans" as those that eat apple pie. Being an American doesn't have anything to do with what your name is. Loving this country isn't measured by what kind of accent you have. Believing in the American Dream, wanting the best for your family doesn't depend on whether you listen to Rascal Flatts or Talib Kweli. And don't let anyone (even if they are on 60 minutes, ) tell you otherwise.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Rest of the Story

So the Mayor I talked about in this post has resigned.
That was fast. He'll still be on the city council though. Hmm...

Introducing: Music Mondays

So, I've decided to start this thing called Music Mondays. Basically, each Monday I will post a video to a song that I like and feel has some relevance to the topics discussed on this blog. I really feel that music can sometimes help to capture emotions and ideas that other forms of expression aren't able to. I hope to be able to introduce you to some new music, but I can't know for sure if that will be the case--because I have no idea what type of music you listen to (:

This week's selection is Tie My Hands, by Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke. Lil Wayne just won the grammy for best rap album, and they performed this song at the ceremony. As soon as the show was over, I went upstairs to my computer and downloaded the song from itunes. I really like this song, because it gives voice to a very sad event in our recent history, and at the same time has a very hopeful tone. This video is actually a homemade one that someone on youtube made; I don't think there is an official video for the song. They have the lyrics posted along with the pictures, but some of them are hard to read, so you can also find them here.

As always, I welcome your comments.