Communications · diversity · Gender · politics · social activism · Uncategorized

Watch Your Mouth; I’m Not Your Bitch!

images (1)International Women’s Day was a wonderful day aimed at celebrating women in our culture and around the world. I greatly appreciated all of the men who acknowledged, encouraged, and participated in the event. It’s wonderful to be supported by members of other groups, and solidarity among oppressed groups is especially important because it is a necessary component to ensuring  a more equitable society for all of us.

However, and you knew this critique was coming, I was annoyed this morning while listening to a radio commentator express his feelings about the International Women’s Day event and the issue of sexism. I was annoyed primarily because I felt that there were some elements of sexism that he did not seem to understand well. While I know that his aim was to be supportive, and I appreciated his intent, there were several things that were stated during the discussion that left room for critique.

One thing that annoyed me was that he attempted to put the issue of sexism squarely on Donald Trump’s shoulders. Now, I don’t like Trump as a leader, and I do not appreciate his apparent lack of respect for women, but his election merely tilted the discussion toward a long standing issue that has been diminished  over time as a necessary conversation. Donald Trump is nowhere near solely, or even principally, responsible for sexism.

There is some belief that because women are doing better than women of previous generations, sexism is really relatively benign. And while it is true that women have enjoyed a good amount of progress where gender equality is concerned, there is still much to discuss. Unfortunately, this idea about what constitutes adequate progress gives way to the idea that women really should not have anything to “whine” about. Quit Bitching!

The commentator this morning additionally stated that women fight for women, and men should fight for women too. This is true. However, women don’t always fight for women. In fact, men and women alike have been conditioned in our culture, and many cultures around the world, to believe that women are substandard when compared to men. As a result, women are known to impose a male standard, even at their own peril, onto women.

There are many things that women say to their children, young boys and girls alike, that illustrate the belief that women are not on par with men in terms of social conduct or capabilities; and women say these things because they believe them to be true. I can’t count the amount of times that I have heard the following sorts of comments made to small children:

“Don’t throw like a girl. That’s embarrassing. Let me show you how to throw like a boy.”

“Don’t cry like a little girl.”

“Stop acting like a sissy.”

“Girls should not play rough.” AND ON AND ON AND ON………………………………

My favorites, however, are the “B” word and the “P” word. These words should be no more acceptable than any other epithet aimed at an oppressed group. Yet, these words roll right off the tongue with relative ease for many people, and there is little to no social backlash for people who spews these hate filled words. Why must my gender be the insult that is flung at another in moments of anger or disapproval? Is my gender the worst thing you could think of as an insult? Really? That’s great! I feel inherently worthy!

You should feel no more comfortable using the “B” word or “P” word than you feel using the “N” word or the “F” word or the “S” word and so on. You should feel embarrassed to disparage women. The fact that people spew these hate filled words with ease is reflective of how much our society believes that protection and respect for women as a group is unimportant.

Women’s culture is also undervalued, especially when embraced by a boss. When a boss is accommodating and collaborative (aspects of women’s culture) and a woman, she is typically viewed as weak and incompetent by employees. In order to be an effective boss a woman almost needs to cut her arm off, so to speak, and behave in ways that are “foreign” to her in order to gain the respect of employees. And those of us who are thoroughly aware of women’s culture (i.e., women) also don’t appreciate the “foreign” behavior from one of our own, so we will readily fling our male prescribed insult (the “B” word) just as freely as anyone else.

Finally, the previously mentioned commentator spoke about how men are involved in sexism, whether active participants or as bystanders. Sorry, Mister, there are no bystanders in this game. In a hierarchical system were men are the beneficiaries of sexism every bit as much as Whites are the beneficiaries of a system of hierarchy that involves racism, you cannot opt out. This is a system; a system functions with or without your approval. A man’s lack of individual overt sexism does not result in the loss of any of the benefits of maleness, and that particular aspect of systemic oppression should not be forgotten.

I feel a little better now :0)

Communications · diversity · Education · Interracialism · politics · Uncategorized

Interracialism: A Debt To The Loving Family

mildred-loving-2-800With bigotry seemingly on the rise, in general, as of late, I have noticed an increase in the amount of stares and disapproving head shakes (interpreted as disgust) my family is once again privileged to endure in public spaces.  The southern part of the U.S. has always been my home, and I remember a time (not that long ago, I might add) when things were socially horrible here for my family.  There were even times when I felt that I was in danger in the face of extreme anger.  I honestly cannot count the times that I have been mistreated in public over my choice of a marital partner and/or the race of my children.

Over time, however, my family appears to have gained some ground, so to speak, within our community.  I actually think many people here have gotten used to us, and because we don’t fit the stereotypical beliefs often held with regard to interracial couples, we’ve been allowed a certain amount of acceptance during the last decade or so. Keep in mind, however, that increase in acceptance was a long time coming; more than twenty-five years in the making, to be exact.

While our tolerance as a nation for celebrity interracialism appears to be on the rise, I’m not sure that the same attitude persist with regard to “average” interracial couples, at least not in the South.  More, it’s important to note that celebrity status affords many things that “average” people are not afforded, both materially and socially.

This resurfacing of the old attitudes surrounding interracialism has made me reflect on the intensity of the fight to marry a man of my choice; it was significant, to say the least. Being a White woman in the South, often the belief is that I am the problem in the relationship, and therefore, in the past I often encountered social rejection, name calling, obstructive behavior by co-workers, and ostracizing by extended family, to name a few, all in the name of showing me what I could look forward to if I continued the relationship. Additionally, we (me and my husband) experienced all of the previously mentioned things plus police harassment; the specific reason for the policing was mostly aimed at my husband, and never once did the police encounters involve anything other than nonsense. As a result, I unfortunately no longer trust the police, and that’s a shame.

Last night I watched Loving with my husband, and today I’m thinking about the history of our group members, something that has been hard to define in a country where race is almost never viewed as a fluid construct.

Since America’s inception virtually every aspect of society has been entangled with the myth of racial purity.  As a consequence, interracial unions have historically been at the forefront of social equality concerns.  Miscegenation has a long history in the United States with profound consequences for social life and cultural norms.  Even presently, the language used in the United States indicates the pervasive essentialist thinking among American citizens, as it was invented out of a history imbued with dichotomous race thinking. According to Maria P. P. Root in Racially Mixed People in America, Americans often have a difficult time with the notion that someone is both Black and White.  The average American’s restricted ability to think about race beyond biology has resulted in a nationally limited race based discourse (1996).

In Tripping Over the Color Line Dalmage (2000) stated that in the United States families are overwhelmingly presumed to be single raced families, and the lack of positive language available to describe American citizens who do not fit neatly within prescribed social categories is a direct reflection of a country which has historically been at odds with anyone who challenges the color line.  There is little doubt that both interracial families and the offspring of interracial couples have historically raised questions about how we define race. According to Multiracial Couples: Black & White Voices, biracial children and interracial couples challenge both individual and group thinking that involves discrete, non-overlapping categories (Rosenblatt, Karis, & Powell, 1995). “Multiracial family members, by their very existence, threaten essentialist and racist thinking and thus endanger the color line. The discrimination and hostility directed toward multiracial families reflect continuing efforts to maintain the line” (Dalmage, 2000, p. 31).

Unfortunately, long standing American anti-miscegenation laws have left multiracial people and families “categorized as belonging in either one group or the other” (Dalmage, 2000, p.22).  It is likely that this type of essentialist thinking has left many multiracial family members feeling socially stigmatized.  Interracial marriage has historically signified a rejection of White supremacist values.  As such, those who love across the color line often sacrifice personal reputations and social status while enduring cultural stigma. Interracial love in America has long been interpreted in political terms (National Urban League, 2007).  And the political conversation is not decreasing as contemporary multiracial families are increasingly in search of new family customs and new language that more accurately and positively expresses their experienced social location.

According to Yancey (2007) in Experiencing racism: Differences in the experiences of Whites married to Blacks and non-Black racial minorities, to know Americans intimately is to understand the historical significance of race as a strictly defined social concept with very real socio-political and economic consequences.  While much of American history has been fraught with racial distinctions and the subjugation of certain racial groups within American society, more contemporary views of miscegenation are emerging as prideful family claims aimed at changing America’s dichotomous racial conversation, change that has been more than 400 years in the making.

These changes to the racial conversation surface in the form of new words, family customs, social classifications, and a growing number of multiracial family members gaining access to positions which include opportunities to engage in scholarly research. This opportunity to engage in scholarly research has resulted in a more balanced view of multiracial families and multiracial individuals, invalidating the long held view that multiracial families and individuals are abhorrent or unnatural (Root, 1996).

It appears as if mixed race families, in increasing numbers, are fighting for the right to define themselves for themselves (Dalmage, 2000), rather than allowing the larger population to devise the definition.  The Census Bureau has been principally involved in creating race in America, and previously “designated racial categories left little room for complexities and differences” (Dalmage, 2000, p. 144).  However, the multiracial movement has led to the Census Bureau offering a new way to racially classify members of the American population, classification that was once legally limited to the social distinctions of Asian, Black, Native American, or White.  The American kaleidoscope which began as the earliest English settlers arrived in the new world is becoming less and less of a social burden for those who cannot nor want to deny their mixed race heritage.

While contemporary American mixed race families may, indeed, relish their multi-dimensional family life in increasing numbers, getting to this point has not been easy nor is the journey complete.  Much work continues to be needed in terms of understanding the complexities of multiracial families, and specifically Black/White multiracial families, as these families have been at the center of the race mixing debate throughout American history.  Multiracial families often “travel through hardship, anger, solidarity, unity, hostility, terror, growth, happiness, fear, and uncertainty”  that results, in at least some ways, from life lived between the color line (Dalmage, 2000, p. 17).

I am thankful for Mildred and Richard Loving.

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Communications · diversity · Interracialism · Uncategorized

The Day My Baby Revealed His Race To Me

20170109_221827When my oldest son was four years old he revealed to me that he recognized himself to be a non-White person.  I was totally surprised because I expected a conversation about his race to surface at a later time; perhaps a year or two in the future.  This particular moment of self identification is one of my favorite memories for two reasons: (1) it was so sweet and innocent in nature, and (2) it was so complex at its root.

When my oldest son was a toddler we lived in a small three bedroom house that had one and one-half bathrooms. Each night after I would put him to bed I would shower in the one full bath in the house, which was across the hall from his bedroom.  I always knew that he was still awake when I would come out of the bathroom because he would either tell me goodnight again, or call me to come into his room to talk or read another story before he went to sleep.

On this particular night, however, the talk proved to be quite memorable.  He beckoned me with a quiet rhythmic (almost song like) “moooommyyyy, come heeerrrre.”  I opened the door to see him propped up on one arm with a huge grin across his face, baby teeth spread from ear to ear.  He gently pat the bed for me to come in and sit next to him, so I did.  We talked for a minute or two about why he was still up, and then he began to randomly point at my leg, which was partly viewable because of my night gown, and count aloud.

The hall light made for a low, warm glow, which span a few feet inside the otherwise dark room; the light was just enough for him to see my leg clearly.  All of a sudden he stopped counting, looked up at me, and asked in toddler style broken English,  “What all those spots on your leg?”   A little surprised by the question I answered, “Freckles.”  He immediately asked, “Frecks?”  And I corrected him, “No, they are freckles.”  “Oooohh,” he said.

After a moment or so he asked, “Why you have all those frecks for?”  So I gave what I felt at that time was a good child friendly answer.  I said, “I suppose God thought I needed a few extra decorations.”  He smiled, looked at his own leg and said, “God didn’t give me no frecks.”   I noted that he was right and with a smile on my face I shrugged and said, “Well, it seems to me that God must believe that you don’t need anything more.” I was pleased with myself  after this answer, believing that the answer would do it for the night.

But, that notion on my part was disproved quickly; He wasn’t finished just yet.  With an enormous smile that now spread all the way to his little eyes so that they squinted up at the corners he announced in a most pleased manner, “I suuurrre do like your frecks and your lellow too!”   I laughed and thanked him for the compliment.  I told him that it sure made me happy to know that he like my freckles.

He paused for a minute and looked back a his own skin, appearing now to scan arms and legs alike.  When he looked up this time he asked, “Well, do you like my brown?”   With a smile of pure astonishment and delight at his acknowledgement of self, something that I had not considered that he had even thought about before, I answered, “III looove it!”   He smiled back at me, giggled a little toddler giggle, and as he laid back to put his head on his pillow he said, “Yeah, me too,” still smiling from ear to ear.

Once again,  I thought he was finished talking, so I started to get up to leave the room when he asked, “Mom, did you know dad is Black?”   With that question, I lost my forward momentum and fell gently back to my previously seated position.  “Yes, I  do know that dad is Black,” I answered.  He immediately inserted before I could continue speaking, “Not really.  He’s really brown, but Brandon said he’s Black.”  “Yeah,” I said, “people do say that your dad is Black and that I am White.”  Again, before I could continue to speak he said, ” You’re not  even White.  You’re lellow.  I don’t think people know their colors very good.  Why would Brandon say Black when dad is really brown and White when you are really lellow?”  I immediately thought to myself that this was clearly a conversation that would have to wait for his years to catch up to the seriousness of the issue.  Frankly, the politics behind that kind of question are way too complicated for many adults to handle, never mind a four year old child.

However, given his thoughts at four, I knew that we would have the conversation in time, but for today it could and would wait.  So in an effort to satisfy his four year old mind I answered, “You may be right about that, darlin’. But one thing is for sure; you know all of your colors!  You know what?  You sure are a smart boy, especially to be only four years old.  Now, go to bed my handsome brown boy.”  He laughed, said goodnight again, and I closed the door, excited to go share the story of our child’s realization of self with my husband.

Later during the course of my son’s childhood other conversations involving race took place in our home many times, perhaps more times than are typical of race conversations that take place in monoracial homes, but none of those conversations stand out in my mind in quite the same way.  All of our children (we have three) have grown to embrace that they are both Black and White.  In fact, they have all self identified socially as Black/White Biracials.

Identification of self in the world is a powerful concept that is known to profoundly impact one’s worldview. The freedom to choose also implies freedom to think in unconventional terms.

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Communications · diversity · Education · Uncategorized

How the Movie Hidden Figures Saved My Saturday

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Earlier today Wolf Blitzer tweeted about how much he enjoyed the movie Hidden Figures.  I saw the movie last week and immediately told my husband that I was going to write about my experience because it was simply inspiring.  Not only was the movie fantastic, but the experience of watching the movie was uplifting in a time when I could certainly stand a little lift.

As I have written before, I live in a very conservative community in the Florida panhandle (otherwise known as lower Alabama).  The number of confederate flags that I see on the bumpers of cars or flown off the backs of trucks on the average day is more than I can count, quite frankly.  And while there is approximately thirty percent of our population that consist of people of color, the divide between the rich and the poor is astounding.

I’ve lived in this area my whole life. As an adult, I chose to stay in spite of being able to work elsewhere because I wanted to raise my children near family.  And while there are many things about my hometown that I don’t appreciate, there are many things about the south that I love, mostly things that fit into my romanticized notion of the south in terms of land, creatures, and culture.

However, I do not by any means ever pretend that I do not know what exists here in terms of ideology, or what took place here before I was born.  I’ve heard more racial epithets over the years than the law should allow, and as a woman who married and had children with a Black man, my family and I have endured a special kind of bigotry that exists to this day. This particular type of bigotry can manifest itself among majority and minority racial group members; social scientist have labeled it borderism (Bélanger Robinson, 2011).

What my lived experiences here in the south have taught me, however, is that you can only take them one at a time, and by them I mean people.  I have learned that I can never tell from appearance alone when someone will support our family, or go out of their way to try to make our lives miserable.  Sometimes I brace for the worst reaction possible, and then find out that there was absolutely no need to brace for anything.  I’ve found good and not so good people in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Watching Hidden Figures with my husband and youngest son was one more example of that important lesson in my life.  As I watched people fill into the movie theater I was struck by the fact that I only saw two other Black people enter, aside from my family.  The theater was composed almost entirely of White people, and at least half of those people appeared to be middle aged people.

I was delighted that so many White people paid to watch the movie in our community (some movies don’t even make it to our theaters), but even more I was delighted with the comments and cheers that arose during various parts of the film.  At the end of the movie, the most amazing thing happened; My community members sporadically burst into applause.

The south is a complicated place with long held complicated relationships, and my place in the south is about the most complicated relationship that I have ever known.  By no means does the sporadic applause for the film cancel out what I know to exist here in terms of overwhelming attitude; that would be naïve thinking on my part . However, what it did do was remind me that there are people embedded in my otherwise conservative community who are open, tolerant, accepting, and proud of all of American history.  My guess is that I am not the only person here with internal anguish regarding my simultaneous appreciation and rejection of the south.

I’ve always gone out of my way to take my children to films such as Hidden Figures, as well as to talk about other African American historical figures with them. I have always felt that those lessons were important for all Americans, but in particular for children of color.  I am thankful that my son got to witness a film highlighting significant historical contributions made by African Americans.  Additionally, I am thankful that he was able to witness other people in his community also appreciating those particular contributions to American history.  Overall, going to watch Hidden Figures with my family made for a great Saturday!

Communications · Education · politics

You can only teach those who you love

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A couple of days ago I had to speak candidly to my college students.  I had one student who referred to me as a “Hillary loving democrat,” which in my area of the country is interpreted as evil traitor by many.  I rarely, if ever, tell my students how I vote, so I was a bit caught off guard by the comment, not to mention the hurt that I felt at the disrespect and seeming disdain buried in it.

The context in which this revelation about my political affiliation surfaced had to do with an example I chose to use in a public speaking course while discussing Aristotle’s ideas surrounding ethos, pathos, and logos.  We were discussing what sort of elements make for good speech practice, as well as ethical guidelines for responsible speaker conduct.  We talked additionally about the impact of ethnocentrism on a speaker’s ability to effectively meet the intended speech goal.

During this discussion, I simply asked the class whether or not they believed that Trump would be appreciated by more people if he refrained from his disparaging words.  Most of my students agreed that he could potentially earn more support by making better language choices and refraining from sharing his negative views related to group membership publicly.  I expressed that as a future professional it would be important for them to remember that language choice makes a huge difference in how people feel about individuals and corporations.

I was actually surprised that anyone decided on my political affiliation based on that question.  In particular, I was surprised that the question reached far enough to make me a “Hillary loving democrat,” because it seemed to me that anyone of any political view could see the need for improvement in terms of Trump and public perception surrounding his public comments; perhaps I am delusional.

As I previously indicated, I was disappointed with the accusation because of the intent behind it, so I slept on it for two nights before deciding how best to handle the situation.  A class can easily get way off the rails, so to speak, when a new semester begins, and the last thing that I wanted was to have to regularly enter a room where I was not appreciated.

As a result, I decided to tell the class that I was going to do my job and teach my subject.  After telling them that I was disappointed by the comment in the previous class session, I reminded my students that we were sitting in a public speaking course, and by extension, I planned to critique various public speaking events as I deemed suitable, something that I have done each and every semester when teaching that particular course.  I told them that learning is of the utmost concern for me.  I noted that my teaching contract did not call for pandering, but it did demand that I effectively teach the subject.  I additionally reminded them of the importance of using real world examples in our classroom and attempted to clarify the notion that inspection of examples for the purpose of comprehension and improvement in the subject was a necessary component of meeting the learning outcomes designated for the course.

Eyes rolled, huffs surfaced, but so did nods of agreement and smiles.

Before I finished I said, “Like my favorite education reformer, I don’t believe that you can teach someone who you don’t love.  When a parent corrects a child, I believe that the correction is most often done in love because the parent wants the child to succeed.  When a teacher corrects a student, the same thing should be true.  I plan to love everyone of you as hard as I possibly can all semester, even when it challenges your world view.  That is my commitment to you.”  Many smiled, a few laughed, and the student who made the Hillary loving democrat statement apologized and offered that she also believed it was important for everyone to accept what another person does with his or her vote.  I thanked her for her kind words, and we moved on with our scheduled class discussion.

My students largely come from low income backgrounds and are most often first generation college students.  In some cases they are attempting to redeem themselves after a troubled past.  As such, inspiring critical thinking is important in terms of their ability to advance in their college careers and succeed as future professionals.  I know that certain perspectives are bound to surface more often than others in the classroom because of the area where I live, but I also know that other, more muffled and suppressed views exist in the room; those views should also be heard.  In addition, the ability to critique the world and make decisions that result from in depth investigation is an important part of the democratic process, so effective teaching is also a commitment that I make to my country.

As usual, this semester my students and I will challenge each other, of that I feel sure, and in that process we will learn from each other, of that I also feel sure.  The one thing that I have learned from years of teaching is that the classroom is always a place of adventure; just as it should be!

Communications · diversity · political commentary · politics · Uncategorized

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

Before you officially leave your post, I want to thank you for your service to our country.  I have appreciated your leadership for multiple reasons, some of which include policy, style and temperament.

First, thank you for favoring peace over war; in my opinion, this position demonstrates your commitment to and love for humanity.  In difficult times I have been grateful for your measured approach to conflict.  I have a child who serves in the military, and I have appreciated your deep consideration for the sacrifices that military families make during times of conflict.

Thank you for the controversial steps you took to bail us out of an economic meltdown.  You walked into a horrible situation and somehow managed to find a way to keep us afloat in a time when the immediate economic outlook was dire.

Thank you for the Affordable Care Act.  One of our young adult children lives with a chronic illness. The monthly medications that keep him well for work and school cost more than one thousand dollars a month, not to mention all of his direct physician based health management needs. As a young man with limited work skills, he simply cannot afford to be without the insurance coverage that we have provided for him all of his life. Because we can now keep him on our insurance plan, he can more easily go about the hard work of becoming a self-sufficient adult who can financially take on his own health care needs in the future, in spite of his pre-existing condition.

Thank you for having enough confidence in the goodness of your fellow citizens to believe that winning the Presidential election was possible; that speaks loudly to your faith and hope in this country.

Thank you for being a gentleman, something that feels like a throwback to a time long gone.  It has been a privilege to have a dignified and gracious leader travel the world on our behalf.  I believe that your composure, diplomacy, and generosity have likely stifled some of the less than favorable stereotypes held of American citizens by others around the world, so I offer a million thanks to you and your family for making us “look like we come from something,” as my mother would say.

While I feel certain that you and your family have encountered high points during your tenure as President of the United States, I surmise that you have all made significant personal sacrifices as well.  All Presidents make personal sacrifices, but my guess is that the personal sacrifices made during your tenure have exceeded the norm.  I don’t believe that I could have responded so gracefully to the many hateful race-based remarks directed at the First Family; your ability to show grace to people who withheld grace from you is commendable. Frankly, your commitment to civility is something we should all aspire to reach.

Finally, I apologize for the behavior of my fellow citizens who made your job nastier than it needed to be, were politics the only concern.  As you know, breaking a social boundary inspires joy in some and fear in others.  However, once that boundary has been broken, it is broken forever, making it easier for all to push against boundaries in the future; thanks is not enough here.  

One of my favorite books is East of Eden by John Steinbeck.   In chapter thirty-four Steinbeck wrote, “Humans are caught… in a net of good and evil….A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only one hard, clean question: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well-or ill?” (p. 411). Steinbeck goes on to tell the brief story of three men, with the last one “devoted to making men brave and dignified and good in a time when they were poor and frightened and when ugly forces were loose in the world to utilize their fears” (p. 412). According to the story, this man was loved by many. 

If I may answer the previously posed question, you have done well in your service to our country, Sir.

Sincerely,

Bélanger Robinson