Thursday, January 31, 2013

Times they are changin'...

It's commerical Thursday! Watch this classic Diet Coke commericial:

That commercial came out 19 years ago. Yeah, you're old.

That guy is still hot too. I think muscular and hairy chest never goes out of style. Amirite, ladies and some gentleman?

Ok, now check out the updated 2013 version:

What is different about the two ads? Well, lots, but remember what this blog is about...

The second one has a black lady! It was only after seeing them back to back that I ever thought about the fact there were no people of color in the first one. In the mid-90's it probably wasn't so strange to have an office scene with all white workers.

But in 2013, it would be highly unusual to have a commercial with five women and one them wouldn't be black. In fact with five people, you'd probably have a black person and maybe even an Asian or Hispanic person. The old commercial had seven or eight women--all white.

Should we call that progress? I'm in a good mood today, so lets go ahead and call it progress.

That's all. Leave me a comment if you want.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Follow up Fridays

Hi all. So, if you're new around these parts, follow-up fridays is where I respond to some of the comments and questions that I have gotten on recent posts. It's a way to keep the conversation going, and sometimes leads to totally new conversations.

Let's start with a comment I got from chunk hatzumomo on this post, How to stop being racist (for reals this time.)

Chunk said:

In point #3, we are asked not to judge ourselves better than people who make more overtly racist comments. Are we not free to judge on the content of character? I obviously look like an A-hole trying to argue that I should be judged better than Johnny, but by lumping us all together in the same category of racist humans, you are removing the carrot that motivates one to stop posting racist comments. I think it would be better to say we can never achieve the elimination of racist ideas, but we can certainly do "better" than to post racist comments.

This comment raises a really good point; a concern that I think a lot of other people besides Chunk share. The popular narrative is that overt racists are bad, and everybody else is good. I think I can understand some of the unwillingness behind starting to lump yourself in with the already established bad people.

I agree with Chunk's last sentence that we should try to do "better" than to post racist comments. The difference is that I think that it should not be about being better than other people, it should be about being better than ourselves. Does that make sense?

Like, I don't see a lot of value in trying to get some feeling of moral superiority because you don't do things that other people do. We all do the things that seem to be the best for us to do at the time.

Another problem with comparing ourselves to others, is that if you look at someone who is doing worse than you, there is little motivation for you to improve yourself. It's like, Well I don't use slurs on twitter, so my not being racist journey is done.

To me, it makes a lot more sense to look at yourself, and ask if your behavior is in line with your own values. Is the no slurs on twitter standard the standard you want to hold yourself to? Or do you want to go further than that? I'm not saying there is a right or wrong answer, you're the only one that knows.

But Chunk, even if you can't buy into the argument that you are not better than Johnny--there is still something really important for you to think about.

The way that white privilege works, even if you think you are better than that troglodyte johnny--you both get the same privileges from our society, because you are both white.

Now, you might think you are entitled to those privileges for some reason (because you're nice and smart and work hard or something,) but you can't possibly think that he deserves them, can you? That sounds like a pretty good reason to dismantle white privilege to me.

Ok, moving on to my most recent post, Why school funding will always be unequal.

First, let me say that I really appreciated you all sharing your personal experiences and opinions on that post--I enjoy reading what you have to say, and I know that it is easy to just read a blog post and keep it thanks for not doing that.

Paula said:

music, art, etc., are still an advantage even if everyone has access to them. That earlier statement that it was no longer an advantage if everyone had it bothered me. Learning is an advantage to the person because it enriches their life, not just if it allows them to be one up on others.

I have to say after reading this, I have to agree. I didn't mean to imply that having a well-rounded life doesn't have inherent advantages, but I can see how what I wrote made it seem that way. Reading a great book or looking at a beautiful piece of art can change someone's life in a positive way, regardless of how many other people have done the same thing.

I was thinking more about it in the way that anonymous started to describe:

Music classes and computer labs can have advantages even if every school has one. The better teachers tend to teach at the better schools. The instruments can be better if they cost more. The computers can be upgraded and have specialized software, etc.

On some level I disagree with the first sentence, because I agree with the sentences that follow.

Let's just talk about the computers. If there is a federal law that says, Every school must have x computers per y numbers of students. Every computer must be in working order, and must have Microsoft Word and Excel.

So now the poor schools get computer labs. I am pretty convinced that in a few years time, we would start to see something like virtual reality labs in the fancy schools.

Because it's not really about yeah we have a computer lab and hey it's no problem if other schools have them too if they can scrape the money together.

It's about being better. It's about being the best.

And if you can be the best now with just a computer lab, then great. But if all of a sudden you have a bunch of other schools in the running that were never competition before, it becomes What do we have to do to stay on top? That's our society, that's capitalism. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just calling it like I see it.

Harvard is a big deal because it is very hard to get in. 1+s (or 1-s, thank you Chunk,) are a big deal because every choir doesn't get them. If you put the word private in front of a word (like park, school, garden, bus, etc.) 9 times out of 10 it is going to be nicer and/or higher quality than the same thing that has the word public in front of it. The exclusivity itself brings something.

Trying to legislate our way to equality is not going to work. Some people don't want things to be equal, because equal means more competition. And if you're not confident you can beat all that new competition, it's better to just keep them out of the game from the jump. Or if that doesn't work, to constantly raise the bar or change the rules so that you're the one that is most likely to make it to the end.

Virtual reality lab experience will become the thing that gives someone an edge in college admissions. Foreign language classes in all high schools? Well, now the people that have been studying them since elementary school are the ones that will get the job. Are you picking up what I'm laying down?

I know some people might say that I am cynical. But I tend to see myself as being honest, and looking around the corner at what is coming ahead. If we really want things to be better (whatever that may mean,) we need to get real about what is going on, and try to find solutions that don't just give us the same problems presented in different packaging.

But enough about what I think--what do you think? Leave me a comment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why school funding will always be unequal.

Today, I am going to share three somewhat related anecdotes from my life, a sudden realization that came to me while I was contemplating writing this post, and then give the reason behind the title above.

Anecdote #1)

In Juvenile Delinquency class my senior year of college, I read this book:

If you can't see the picture, it's Savage Inequalities, by Johnathan Kozol. This is one of those great books that makes you look at the world differently after you finish it. I don't remember a lot of the specifics of the book, but I do remember walking out of class one day and thinking,

After I graduate, I want to work on legislation that changes the way that schools are funded.

Anecdote #2)

Fast forward several years later. After becoming an adult,I realized that getting a BA in Sociology and Political Science from a state school doesn't typically put you on the fast track to a job crafting education policy in Washington D.C. ;)

I was talking to my friend (I'll call him Thomas,) who was a high school Science teacher. I say was because like many smart, capable young people who become teachers, he decided a few years in that teaching was not for him. I think I have a pretty good understanding of the reasons why, but I don't want to speak for him. So if you see him, just ask him yourself.

So anwyay, Thomas worked at a school in a district that had a reputation of being a very high-quality one, with schools in it that had a lot of money. However, the school that Thomas worked in had a lot of middle and low-income students, and had little in common with another well-regarded high school in the district. Since by law, both schools got the same amount of funding from the government, I was curious to know why there was a discrepancy in the facilities, resources, etc. of the two schools. His answer? Fundraising.

Anecdote #3)

At some point down the road, I started thinking about my own high school, and how we got a lot of the things that we wanted. The answer? Fundraising.

For example, when I went there, my high school auditorium had these really ugly, florescent orange, plastic seats. There were no seats broken or missing, (because we had an adequate maintenance budget,) they were just ugly.

At some point after I graduated, someone(s) decided that those seats had to go. Now there are these really nice blue velvet seats in the auditorium.

How were they paid for?

Parents and other members of the community pledged money for a seat, in return for having a little plaque on the arm that they could use to recognize someone, like their kids or themselves or a deceased loved one. I don't remember exactly how much the plaques cost, I just know they weren't cheap. And now my fellow Eagles (not my school's real mascot,) get to watch performances in style.

I was also in a singing group at that school, and we got new formal gowns to perform in each year.

I know what you're thinking, Singing and blogging?!? Yes it's true--I am a woman of many talents ;)

How did we pay for these? Parents could just cut a check, or students could sell stuff to cover/defray the cost. I remember one year we were selling holiday cards, and the woman who did my mom's nails bought three boxes. I remember being amazed, because like most school fundraiser stuff, these things were ridiculously overpriced.

It was only looking back that I figured out that she was also probably trying to make a positive impression on a customer, in order to bring more business back to herself.

So each year we would have these snazzy new dresses to wear and the male members would have equally snazzy tuxedos. When we went to concerts and whatnot across the state, it became clear that many other schools (with all-white choirs,) had robes or dresses that were passed down year to year.

On a semi-related note, the choir that I was in was very good. I'm not just saying that, we would win competitions and have people go to all-state and stuff.

There was one competition that we went to where we got a 1+. The lower the number the better, so a 1+ was like, the best you could get. Actually 1+ wasn't even a real score, 1 was the score that was on the form to give to people that were the best.

Okay, anecdote #3 is over.

And this is the part that I've been thinking about recently: how much of our 1+ was due to the fact that we were (to use the parlance of child beauty pageants,) the total package ?

Yes, we were very good singers, but would we have been as pleasing to the judge if we had come in wearing ill-fitting robes? Would we have felt as comfortable and confident if we weren't in clothing we had specifically chosen? Could that have made the difference between the 1 and the 1+?

Which leads me to my final point: the reason that school funding will never be equal is because even if there is Federal legislation that decrees every school in the land will get x amount per student, fundraising will always be there for certain schools to pick up the slack.

Why certain schools? Because in order for fundraising to be effective, you have to have a group of adults willing and able to buy overpriced products. They have to have the disposable income to buy things that they don't need, and the desire to use that income to put towards the extras that are nice for schools to have.

And I don't see anyway that you could eliminate fundraising, because like the Citizens United case has ruled, money is speech. And is it even possible or reasonable to try to infringe on a parent's right to give money to their child's school?

One final thought before I ask y'all some questions: As I have a two-year-old that I have started researching preschools for (a year in advance,) I am struck by something. Parents often talk about wanting their kid to have advantages. But an advantage is not an advantage unless, by definition, some other kid is deprived of that same opportunity. Music classes are not an advantage if everyone takes them. A computer lab doesn't give students an advantage if every school has one.

So when we talk about advantages (that seem ingrained into the very fabric of our school system,) advantages over whom? What is it that we want our kid to get that these other kids aren't? What do we think these early experiences will bring to them later in life?

Oops, I already started with the questions. Here's some more...

Did you go to public or private school? Or maybe you were homeschooled.
What was your school like in terms of facilities, extra-curriculars, resources, etc?
How did students get money for things they needed and/or wanted?
Is there a way to make school funding more fair? If so, how?
Is fairness even a goal that we should be pursuing in education? Why or why not?

Feel free to answer any or all of these questions, or to leave your thoughts about whatever strikes your fancy in the comment section below.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

How to stop being racist (for reals this time.)

Awhile back, I wrote this post about how people should buy postage stamps with people of color in an attempt to help solve the race problem. I mentioned in that tongue in cheek way that makes all my regular readers fall in love with me that I wasn't going to make a list of 101 ways to stop being racist, because such a list defeats the whole purpose of everything. There is no such thing as a handy checklist that will magically make you not racist.

Well, wouldn't you know it--ever since I wrote that post, I have noticed in my traffic statistics that people are happening on this blog by typing into google How to stop being racist.

So, I thought about it and decided that if these people are caring enough about this issue to type it into google, then they should have the opportunity to come across an intelligent response written by an intelligent person that experiences racism, that gives them concrete things that they can do do try to improve themselves and the world around them. I really don't think we'll get to 101 things, but you never know...Let's see where the night takes us.

Oh, and I'm sure there will be some overlap with things I've written on this blog previously. That is what happens when you have a blog for 6 years and keep all the posts focused on a limited number of topics.

So, without further ado...

14 Ways to Stop Being Racist

#1) Realize that you a) are racist now and b) will never, ever, ever completely stop being racist. This is the most important rule, which is why I put it first.

You have been living in a society that tells you day in and day out that white people are prettier, smarter, harder working, cleverer, funnier, trustworthier, more talented and basically every good thing more than any person that isn't white could ever hope to be. If you need some examples of what I am talking about feel free to click here, here or here.

Or you can just watch this video, it pretty much sums it up:

So you get these pro-white messages everyday and chances are you have only been interested in learning how to stop being racist for a small percentage of your life. Additionally, not only have you been interested in counteracting these messages for a relatively small period of time, everyday you are still being surrounded by images that reinforce what you learned previously. That is what I call an uphill battle.

Have you ever heard of SMART goals? Good acronym to memorize if you want to acheive a goal.

Well, part of SMART goals is they have to be realistic and achievable. It is neither realistic nor acheiveable to think you can remove every racist thought from your conscious and unconscious mind. So if you want to be SMART, just make the goal to significantly reduce these thoughts and behaviors.

#2) Stop being so afraid of the word racist. I didn't say you were the spawn of Satan, I just said you were racist. This is a big part of why I made up the word racish, but that hasn't really caught on in popular culture yet. When I say you're racist, think about it like if I said you were selfish, or rude or impatient. I'm sure you are all of these things...sometimes. It's a character flaw. Our flaws are what make us human. I'm willing to bet you have many other good qualities, and being racist doesn't discount all those. So chillax.

#3) Yes, there are people more racist than you. So what do you want, a cookie?!! True, you're not going on twitter making racist tweets about the hunger games, and you never, ever say the n-word, even when you're drunk.

Whoop dee do. It doesn't make you better than the white people that do do those things. So just because you voted for Obama twice/dated a black person once/married a black person twice/have a black friend/have a three black friends doesn't make you better than racist hunger games tweet Johnny. Hell, I'm not better than racist hunger games tweet Johnny.

Johnny has problems, and his tweets are just one dysfunctional way that he tries to deal with them. We can all relate to dealing with our problems in dysfunctional ways. I mean think about it: This whole idea of certain people being better than other people is how we got into this whole mess anyway.

#4) Don't ask me questions related to being black that can be answered by doing a quick google search.

Things like, What is Kwanzaa? or Who is Tyler Perry? Don't waste my time asking me things like that--just google it.

Now, if we are friends and you want to ask me,

Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? What's your favorite principle? or,

I find Tyler Perry's movies to be quite ___________, what do you think?

I am probably going to be willing to share my thoughts. This is because you have done some work on your own and aren't coming across as lazy, expecting me to be your magical guide to all things black people.

#5) See more Tyler Perry movies. I'm only partially kidding with this one. This is kind of related to my postage stamps suggestion. The excuse that corporations often give for excluding people of color is that if they are included, whatever product they are hawking won't sell as well. Meaning, white people won't buy it.

Like, why do you think Eminem is the top selling rap artist of all time? Is it because he's the best? No.

It's because millions of white people bought his CD and never bought another rap CD in their lives. That just doesn't make sense to me. It's like, if you're interested in good music, wouldn't you just buy what was good--regardless of the skin color of the person putting it out?

If corporations are truly motivated by money, then it would seem we could get rid of a lot of racism by showing them it was in their financial interest to do so. So if a movie preview featuring black people seems mildly interesting to you--go see it. You like that one song by that black guy? Buy his CD (or hulutube it, or whatever the kids are doing these days.) We live in a capitalist society, and you make your voice heard very clearly by what you choose to spend your money on.

#6)a) Don't touch my hair without permission. b) Don't ask me if you can touch my hair. This has been covered by many black women before me, so I'm going to try to keep the explanation brief. Unless I have explicitly invited you to touch my hair (which is probably never going to happen,) don't. Just don't.

It is not normal for one adult to go up to another adult and to touch a part of the other person's body. The idea that some white people think this is okay brings up memories of white people thinking that black people are just there for their amusement, and that it is okay to violate someone else's boundaries just to satisfy your own curiosity.

#7) Smile more. If you get into the habit of smiling at most everyone you come into contact with, chances are you will end up smiling at the black people that you meet.

Smiles say, I'm nice! I'm friendly! I think you might be nice and friendly too! Let's talk maybe! There's no real downside, as far as I'm concerned.

#8) Go to therapy. This one is related to the previous rule. It's hard to smile if you're not happy. I actually wouldn't recommend it, because I am a fan of expressing your emotions authentically.

However, it is quite possible that the reason that you're not happy is because you need to go to therapy. Not so you can talk about how to be less racist, but so you can discuss unresolved issues from your childhood, or tell someone that big secret that you've only told zero other people in your life, or so you can finally confront and deal the trauma that happened to you in the past that wasn't your fault. I have sung the praises of therapy on this blog before , and that is for one simple reason: because it works.

Here is a nice, comprehensive article about therapy with suggestions on how to find a good pracitioner. I would add that therapy is just like any other profession: there are people that are really good at it, and people that are not. So it is important to find someone that you click with, because the most important indicator of whether or not therapy will be successful is the relationship between the client and the therapist. However, if you go to three different people and find reasons why they all suck, it may be time to examine if it's really them, or just you trying to find a reason not to go to therapy.

#9)Learn more about institutional/structural racism. Like, A LOT more. You may or may not know, but there are different types of racism. You can find other definitions for institutional racism, but the one I'm going to make up now is:

Thinking white people are the best ever + power = Institutional racism.

When I called you racist above, I wasn't really talking about this type of racism. And it is this type of racism that I think is the worst.

Now, wait. The more that I think about it, the more I think I might actually be talking about you. Are you...

A cop?
A hiring manager?
A loan officer?
A judge?
A teacher?
A jury member?
A health care professional?
A voter?
A dictionary writer?
Someone who works in advertising?
A journalist?

I could go on, but you get the point. These people have power, and if they use their power for evil instead of good, it can have serious negative consequences for other people.

And if I may make a sweeping generalization: I think one of the main differences between black people and white people is that black people are much more familiar with institutional racism. Either because they've taken electives in school that have taught them about it, read more about it on their own time, have personal experience with it, or know other black people that do.

So how do you learn more about it? Well, you can start by reading one of the books about it on my goodreads list. Or you can just go to the race section of the library, and pick up whatever looks interesting (that's what I often do.) And if you haven't read my blog before, this post has a nice, depressing summary.

#10 .) Don't tell me within 5 minutes of meeting me that I remind you of a black woman you went to college with.

#11.) Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about race, or give them the impression that race is an off-limits topic in your house. It's like my white friend Serena said in the comments of this post--the less you talk to your kids about race, the more likely they are to be racist. I think that's because the less you speak to them, the more likely they are to be influenced by things like the dictionary.

Also, if you teach your kids that they are not allowed to say people are black, it's reasonable for them to assume that the reason is because being black is bad. Like, that's why our kids can't say the f-word--because it's bad.

We are not color-blind. Being color blind is an actual medical condition, and most of us don't have it.

At the same, you should be careful about saying things like, Everything about us is the same, except the color of our skin. Of course we all want that to be true in some idealized version of the world.

But when you tell a kid that, and then they see that there is only one black family on your street, but several in that crappy neighborhood you drove through that one time on accident, it's very easy for them to think, "Well, why do all these black people live in a crappy neighborhood? They must not try very hard."

We need to be honest with our kids about race (and the country's history related to race,) in the same way that we are honest with them about other uncomfortable topics like sex, sexual abuse, drugs, etc.

We need to give them information that is age-appropriate, and more importantly let them know that as their parents there is nothing that they can't come to talk with us about. Open communication with your kids is like smiling--no downside.

#12) Stop telling me to get over it. I would get over it if it was actually over. But since you're googling, how to stop being racist I think that means we can both agree there is still work to be done. You can read more on my thoughts about getting over it here.

#13) Take an inventory of your life as it relates to race. What is your earliest memory about race? Try to remember it with as much detail as possible, trying to incorporate all of the five senses.

Look back over your entire life and think of things that happened to you or that you saw that were somehow related to race or racism. What do you remember doing, thinking, feeling? You can even write the memories down if you'd like. How do you feel now, remembering them after the fact? Looking at these different stories will help you get a clearer picture of the role that race has played in your life.

#14) Speak up! If you see something--say something. I'm reminded of this pin that I've seen on pinterest:

You don't have to know what to say, or how to say it. But I can tell you from experience, the more you do it the easier it gets. But it's really not about it being easy, it's about you doing what you know is right and living your values. That's hard--but it's worth it. (You can read about me speaking up here, here and here.)

People often say to me, I have these conversations about race with my grandmother/spouse/co-worker, and I don't know what to say back to them when they say racist things. I think there are two reasons for this:

The first is that you don't know what to say because on some level, you agree with them. I know it's hard to hear, but like my man Dr. Phil says, You can't change what you don't acknowledge. I'm an actual black person, and I have to consciously tell myself that the negative messages I hear about black people aren't true. So I know white people that actually gain some sort of benefit from these beliefs can't just let them go.

The second reason is related to rule #9--you don't know what to say because you don't know enough about history and the present state of affairs to make cogent arguments.

I am confident that I can have a conversation about race or racism with anyone and effectively counter any racist argument they might make. That's because I know a lot about race (and racist arguments,) but more importantly because I truly feel that I have logic on my side. I have read the same things enough times in different books that I can remember them easily, and I don't have to fumble around for evidence to support my points. The more you learn about race, the easier you will be able to do that too.

In closing, I was somewhat apprehensive about even writing this post. But I decided that if even one person is helped by the tips that I've written here, then that's good enough. Because regardless of what anonymous might have you think, I want racism to go away. And I believe that it can...we just have to work at it.

As always, I would love to hear your comments.

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