diversity · family · Gender · social activism · Uncategorized

Honoring A Mother And A Brave Battle Buddy

20170308_115356A couple of years ago I unexpectedly lost a good friend, someone I had known since I was a teenager. My daughter sent me a text early one morning to break the bad news before someone else got to me. Needless to say, I was in utter disbelief. I struggled to make sense out of it, cried and eventually, I was simply overwhelmed with sadness, especially for her children and all that they had lost.

Jennifer was my battle buddy for all intents and purposes. We were involved in a social battle that united us early on in life, as we were among the only people in our area involved in this particular battle. Jennifer and I were both white females in the south who built multiracial families. We shared more than simply our involvement in this social battle; we shared overlapping social experiences and daily norms. We also shared the way we chose to approach the the hurdles put before us.

I enjoyed knowing that Jennifer was here on Earth with me in this particular space and time. In fact, I used to refer to her as the other me in the world. I could talk to her and she understood my point of view because she had also lived through similar circumstances that many other people may be removed from in such a way that they can only sympathize; Jennifer could empathize.

Jennifer, quite frankly, was beautiful, smart, kind, confident, and a fully committed mother to her two children.  She had her own style, a flare that she could care less whether it was embraced or not by others-part of her confidence. She never tried to be something that she wasn’t; She was comfortable in her own skin.

I never saw her when she didn’t immediately yell out upon seeing me “Hey girl!” And she was always interested in an update on my children. My favorite memory of Jennifer is of her wearing her hair in a loose bun atop her head and a humongous pair of sunglasses that covered a large portion of her face, smiling ear to ear. After she died, I started to wear my own big sunglasses in honor of her. They must look pretty bad on me because people comment on them a lot, but I don’t care. I simply say in response, “That’s okay; I’m wearing these for Jennifer.”

Jennifer in her own way changed the world we live in today. She took some knocks, rejection, more than a handful of set backs and kept right on going, as confident as ever. Marriage is not on the surface a political act, but it does have political consequences, whether those be positive or negative. Jennifer lived her life IN her beliefs about diversity.

Today Jennifer has two young adult children. Her daughter is now joining me in wearing humongous sunglasses in honor of her mom. We would like you all to share this post, and if you like, add on to it your own picture of you in a pair of your own humongous sunglasses.

diversity · employment · Gender · legal issues · political commentary · social activism

Bill For Genetic Testing At Work: Attempts to Limit Your Individual Pursuit of Happiness

thIt appears that 1984 is upon us, at least in a figurative and scary as hell sense. Apparently, George Orwell was on to something far bigger than any of us could imagine, and perhaps more elaborate than anything he could imagine during the time that his novel was written.

Over the years the concept of big brother watching us all has emerged as increasingly plausible, even likely, in terms of arrests related to internet use and so forth, where evidence of government entities surveilling the public seems apparent. But today, actually a few days ago, no, actually a couple of months ago, I became even more concerned about the looming notion of big brother being all up in my personal business, to speak frankly.

According to the Washington Post in an article published today titled You May Face Penalties At Work For Refusing Genetic Testing by Lena H. Sun, recently a bill has been proposed, already passing a U.S. House committee vote, in an effort to enact a law that would allow employers the right to genetically test employees, something that is currently illegal at a federal level.

Currently, the government must obtain a warrant or individual consent to collect this type of private citizen information. More, employers currently have no rights to private citizen information without voluntary consent, as the collection of such information is out of alignment with current employment laws surrounding disability and non-discrimination work practices.

However, the Trump administration aims to circumvent these currently held federal legal positions through new law that would allow the gathering of personal information by employers, specifically your genetic information, for use as part of a “wellness” program, where the goal is to “reward” some employees with reduced insurance rates for “healthy” living and “punish” employees for less than “healthy” life choices by up to a 30% increase in premium costs. An interesting concept for an administration that doesn’t seem to believe in science, something that should define the parameters of healthy living.

As for this whole bill turning into law? How about, um, no! And the answer is no for a number of reasons. First, I don’t want an employer to tell me what to do in my nonworking hours; that’s none of their business. And contrary to some beliefs held by employers, I have nonworking hours. Additionally, I want my employer to stay out of my family history, because in general who I am related to and what they have passed to me is none of my employers business either-way too nosey.

An employer doesn’t need to know what genetic markers I have or not. Next, employers will probably want a pregnancy test as part of hiring practices. Or maybe gain the legal right to speak directly with my physician; that’ll certainly make managing health in this country difficult because no one will want to talk to their physician. For an employer, the only concern should be whether or not I do my job correctly during the hours for which I have been scheduled to work, hours that are dictated to a large existent by federal law, at least for now. That’ll probably be the next thing to go.

Second, I don’t trust any employer to keep my information secure. My employer has had student information hacked a number of times, and the last thing that I need to worry about is my genetic information being freely released into the world. I already have to worry about my social security number and my transcript information as it is. Additionally, while we have FERPA law in this country, I know that it is extremely easy for everyone who works within a school to gain access to internal records; I feel sure that the same is likely true in many work settings. I don’t need everyone in the office knowing my personal business; we are not family, we are associates.

Third, this type of absurd law would almost certainly lead to discrimination in an ever increasingly hostile environment, especially at the government level, where racial, ethnic, and sexual identity politics are concerned. In short, the average employer cannot be trusted to be objective in employee hiring, firing, and evaluation when our current administration seems to have an agenda to return to the 1950s in terms of the social subjugation of specific groups, and as a caveat, we have lying Sessions as our AG.

Additionally, I am not in agreement with anything that further restricts my freedoms. As it is, we are all only as free as our culture will allow, and if you don’t believe that is true because for some reason you believe as an American you are free, test the outer limits of cultural norms and see what happens. You’ll line up with what we will allow, or you will be punished every day until you do. We already live within a set of rules that have been slowly chipped away at by many people before us who made gains in terms of restrictive social issues. These brave Americans worked toward removing those social restrictions so that we all could enjoy some measure of influence over our own pursuits of happiness, something that they had not been afforded. Their understanding that personal freedom was at stake was the very reason for the commitment to a slow chipping process. At this point, I am unwilling to return to a more socially restrictive time; it was simply too miserable for many of us who dared to push those limits previously mentioned.

Finally, Ervin Goffman’s 1963 Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity instructed us on what it means to be socially discredited versus discredible in terms of stigmatization. People who wear their identity (i.e., race, sex) are discredited upon inspection. However, many others are discredible (i.e., learned information that discredits such as physical or mental health, arrest records, etc.). Opening up genetic testing to employers is simply another avenue that allows the latter to happen without your involvement.

This recent push from the Trump administration is just one more reminder that we are dealing with a fascist leader who cannot be allowed to erase all of the hard work of those who lived before us and who worked tirelessly, and often in miserable social conditions, so that we could all be more socially free.

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)

diversity · Education · social activism · Uncategorized

Exposing Who I Am

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Teaching can be both the best and worst job at any given time, and I have never been shy about admitting that to other people. Some people believe that teaching is a calling, and therefore, there should be no complaints on the part of those who have been called into service. Other people, of course, believe that teaching is a profession, where the skills involved in teaching have been developed over time in an educational setting. I’ll go out on a limb and say that both beliefs are simultaneously true.

However, there are simply aspects of education that are not that enjoyable, such as policy issues, state legislature influences, budget, classroom behavior issues, etc. I’d be flat out lying about enjoying much of those aspects of my job. And God knows that I hate a department meeting where we (educators) are lectured on things like whether or not we should come up with new ways to satisfy our “customers.”

Frankly, that position has always irritated me. I’ve even had students tell me that they pay tuition, and so I actually work for them. No, um, not today, love. At the college level students pay for an opportunity to learn from someone deemed to be an expert in the field, and that’s it.

My students are not my customers any more than I have been a customer for my mother to accommodate. Had my mother aimed to satisfy me when attempting to teach me, I feel fairly sure that I would be a very different person today, likely a person with less than adequate skills combined with an overinflated sense of self. My mother was tough on me, expected my best efforts, and in many cases, she had excellence in mind; at this point, I appreciate her standard for my conduct.

Additionally, I never had a coach in any capacity that did not demand my best, and the result was that I thought highly of that coach. The truth is that I worked hard for people who demanded my best and then rewarded my improvements. Set a high standard, expect them to meet it, and then praise them to high heaven when they do.

Treating students like customers, however, implies that I must aim for their complete happiness all the times. I feel fairly sure that the care that goes into good guidance cannot always leave people happy, and I am more committed to education than I am to a returning customer. Making students happy is a responsibility of the administration and support staff; I was hired to teach.

My students learn fairly quickly during the semester that I view them as “one of my own,” but never will I see them as a customer. Customer suggests detachment, where what happens after my students leave me happy with the service that I provided is no longer a concern for me. But I feel just the opposite about my students. I feel they are a reflection of me, my influence, and my ability to teach. As such, what happens to them after they leave me does matter to me.

Yesterday after a lesson on research and evidence evaluation, which included discussion about what it means to have good critical thinking skills, one of my male students shared that he was unsure why he felt so emotion (his lip quivered while he spoke and he needed to stop a few times before continuing), but he wanted to thank me for caring about my students enough to make them work, and as a consequence, think. He apparently appreciated that instead of providing the answer, I typically refuse, telling them instead to figure it out and get back to me in ten minutes. Then after they try, and only after, will I guide them to a clearer understanding of the concept.

Our students, just like our children, know when someone is holding them to a high standard out of care for their welfare or simply to be hard. A high standard in an educational setting sends a message of great concern for the success of students. Because I do care about the culmination of my students’ education efforts, I must teach with integrity everyday, whether it is the model my employer believes grows a business or not. My chosen profession is teaching, and some days my “job” is a joy!

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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