Did you miss out on #MarchMiniLessonsOnRace? Read through all 31 days of lessons that were posted on Facebook here!
Race Education – Day 1:
Colorblindness is a myth. We all see skin color. Seeing skin color is not the problem – the biases we associate with certain skin colors are the problem. We all have biases, which develop from our upbringing, proximity and personal relationships (or lack thereof) with people of different skin colors, stereotypes in the media, and more. Denying these biases does not lessen their impact, but being aware of them does, because awareness leads to recognition of discrepancies between our biases and who people of color are in real life.
Race Education – Day 2:
When it comes to any tough or uncomfortable topic, remember the words of the wise Mr. Fred Rogers: “What’s mentionable is manageable.” Talking about race and skin color is only taboo if you make so, if you build it up in your mind as something too challenging to even mention.
When your child talks about, “That Black boy in my class” or “The girl with the funny-shaped eyes at the grocery store,” do not let embarrassment, fear, or discomfort get the better of you. Instead of dismissing, shushing, or changing the subject, use those moments as teaching moments.
Create open invitations for dialogue:
-“The Black boy in your class? Yes, the one who’s really good at drawing? What’s his name?” shows that mentioning someone’s race is okay, and that all people have an important identity beyond their appearance.
-“Do you mean the Asian girl at the grocery store? People who are from certain places in the world have certain looks and features. Most of the time, people whose eyes are shaped like hers are from a place called Asia. We can look at a map when we get home so you can see where Asia is,” promotes curiosity, learning, understanding, and acceptance.
Secrecy is powerful – it promotes shame and fear within us. Openness and discussion of tough topics promotes empowerment within all of us.
Race Education – Day 3:
Let’s talk about some important definitions and distinctions today:
RACE is a socially constructed set of categories meant to define people based upon appearance, namely skin color. When I say socially constructed, I mean it’s something people in the past deliberately chose, not that these categories occur naturally or inherently. It could just as easily have been decided that people would be categorized based upon their hair color, eye color, height, shoe size, or even things outside of appearance, such as athleticism, taste in food, tone of voice, etc. Seems pretty silly and arbitrary to categorize based on skin color when you think of that way, huh? It really doesn’t tell us much about how to identify a person, especially considering that there are some Black people who have lighter skin than Asian or White people, and vice versa. Examples of RACE: Asian, Black, White, Latinx (gender neutral Latino/Latina).
ETHNICITY is technically speaking about people who have a shared cultural heritage or ancestral background. While it is more specific than race, it’s still not always easy to fit people into these categories (this is me, speaking as an adoptee – even though I was born in India, I can’t really claim it as my cultural heritage since I was raised in the U.S. See how it starts to get tricky? There’s always an exception when we try to categorize.). Examples of ETHNICITY: Guatemalan, Mexican, African-American, Ethiopian-American, Irish, Indian.
Race Education – Day 4:
When I teach about race, many people are initially offended that I use the word “White” instead of the word “Caucasian”…until I explain why. I hope you’ll consider this short history lesson as you choose your words about race in the future, and share this information with others so that they can choose their words thoughtfully, as well.
We have been taught, mostly through the media, that the term “Caucasian” is preferable to “White” when describing race, because supposedly it is more politically correct. However, the origins of the word “Caucasian” are actually rooted in the belief of superior races of people.
In the 1700’s, in the Caucaus region of Europe/Asia, they “identified” two races of people: Caucasian and Mongolian. The former was considered to be the most physically attractive and morally virtuous, especially because of their pale skin, while the latter was considered to be less attractive and less virtuous, often labeled as “dirty white.” This idea was not initially based in science, but with the introduction of craniology during this period (studying skulls to determine qualities of people), the concept quickly grew into the myth that certain skulls/races of people were superior. Nowadays, we know that craniology is not an exact science, but the phrasing and underlying meanings were already mainstream in Europe and those migrating to the America’s at the time. As with any words in a language, roots become lost over time, and word usage became a habit. However, there are a number of phrases out there that we use every day that are actually rooted in racism (cotton-pickin’, gypped, peanut gallery, etc.).
If you’d like a longer history lesson, check out this article: http://www.firstpost.com/world/the-racist-history-of-caucasian-945375.html
Race Education – Day 5:
White privilege…this is always a delicate topic, because unnecessary defensiveness arises out of fear and guilt, and then learning and awareness cannot grow. So let’s consider it this way:
There’s going to be a new TV show this fall. It’s going to be a story about Joe. Joe is married to Lisa, and they live with their two daughters, Sophie and Marie. Joe works as an accountant during the weekdays, and likes to play basketball with his friends on the weekends. By night, Joe is a superhero that saves the city from violent criminals.
When you pictured this show in your head, what skin color did Joe have? Mostly likely, he was White. His wife and daughters were probably White also. Now a tougher question – when you pictured the criminals Joe is fighting, were they also White? Most likely, they were Black, or maybe Latino. The biases within us are strongly influenced by the media and what we see on TV and in ads every day. I’m Indian, and my tendency is still to picture a White person first as the hero, not someone who looks like me.
I think that, if we are truly honest with one another, we can agree that White is viewed as the “norm” in our society. For example, when you talk about your coworkers from the holiday party with your partner, you’re not likely to say, “Bill, you know, the White guy?” but you are more likely to say, “Dave, you know, the Black/Asian/Latino guy?” We don’t see White as a necessary descriptor, because it’s assumed. If you don’t buy it, try reading a few random news articles online – White people are never described by their race, but people of other races always are.
I think we can also agree that advantages and disadvantages are flip sides of the same coin – in order for one side to receive an advantage puts the other side at a disadvantage, and vice versa. People of color do not have the same daily privileges as White people. As a person of color, I didn’t even truly realize this until adulthood, and it took this list and the realization that I had never had a bandaid that matches my skin tone to understand it. These are examples of White privilege, please read through the list and consider it thoughtfully: https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf
Race Education – Day 6:
I’d like to give you some personal examples of white privilege vs. disadvantages minorities face based upon my own life experiences.
I was born in India, and adopted and raised in the U.S. I am fully aware that every time someone sees me for the first time, they see a woman with brown skin. This leads them to ask questions such as:
-“Do you speak English?”
-“Where are you from?” or “Where were you born?”
-“What’s your ethnicity?” or the even worse question “What are you?”
-“Do you have a good curry recipe?” (FYI – I don’t like curry)
-“Can I borrow a sari?”
-“Did you know anyone who was affected by the bombings in Mumbai?”
…And countless others, most just as inappropriate as those above. Here’s the thing: When you are White, no one asks you those questions. They don’t assume you are a foreigner or non-U.S. citizen, that you can’t speak English, that your history is an open book because of assumptions on their part about who you are. Because I do not have White privilege, I have to live my life differently. Here is a copy of something I posted online recently in a transracial adoption group, and I’d like to share it here to give you a brief glimpse into the mind of a person of color on a daily basis:
“…I need to run to the grocery store for milk on a Thursday morning, just a quick trip, but I should probably put my hair up and put on some clothes that don’t include sweat pants and wash my face…and I better make sure my toddler-age son who also has brown skin is in clean clothes and his hair is done and he doesn’t have any food on his face left over from breakfast…otherwise they’re going to look at me and assume I’m “one of those people”…unemployed, single mother, on welfare, limited English, doesn’t take care of herself or her child very well.
Driving to the grocery store…that person just cut me off and honked their horn at me like I did something wrong by driving the speed limit…I wonder if they’re thinking, “Damn foreign people, don’t know how to drive!” I better not put on my music too loud, my son likes the Bollywood music we’ve been listening to, but if people hear it, they’re going to see my brown skin and assume I’m “one of those people”…foreign, limited English, unaccustomed to American culture, blaring my music in a way that says I have pride in where I’ve come from and am not patriotic about this country that is supposedly the land of opportunity and where I do not belong but should be grateful to live in every day. We’ll listen to the music, but I’ll make sure it’s not too loud and the windows are rolled up in the car.
At the grocery store…grab the soy milk and head to the cashier, my son gets fussy and wants to get down and run around because he’s two and he’s active…but I can’t let him. Otherwise they’ll see me as “one of those people”…she doesn’t know how to manage her child, she just lets him run around wild, he is wild, like a little animal, he’s going to grow up to be a thug and a criminal. No, son, I have to hold you, whispering, “Please, buddy, just one more minute and we can go outside to the car.” I can’t be too loud and draw attention to our brown skin.
Paying for our soy milk at the grocery store…Why did the cashier smile and chat with the person in line ahead of me and then get quiet and avoid eye contact when I walked up with a smile? They’re thinking…she probably doesn’t speak English well, I bet she’s buying soy milk because she looks like she’s from a place where they worship cows or have to be vegetarian because of religion or something weird like that, I wonder if she’ll even have the money to pay for this…I see the cashier glance at my wallet and purse, as if wondering whether I stole something or have something unsavory inside…I carry my son and my soy milk out of the store with a sigh of relief. Headed home, to safety.
And all the while I want to scream, “I am just as American as you! I have a doctoral degree and a successful private practice as a psychologist, and I can read your body language and social cues and I know what you’re thinking! AND YOU ARE WRONG!”
These thoughts are so constant and so ingrained that I am hardly conscious of them anymore. They are as necessary to my survival as breathing. I have to wonder, have to question, have to be aware of how others view me as an Asian/Indian-American woman, my son as a Black/Ethiopian-American boy. I don’t want this constant loop of questions and reminders playing through my mind, but I have no other choice.”
Race Education – Day 7:
Remember that privilege is often invisible to those who have it. We grow up believing that others’ lives and experiences are similar to our own. There is no shame in not knowing what you don’t know. There is no reason for a White person to recognize their privilege until it is pointed out to them…but once it is pointed out and awareness follows, what will you choose to do about it? This is a video I show in many of my workshops with transracial foster and adoptive parents that seems to hit home:
Race Education – Day 8:
Let’s talk about a few more important definitions today…and when I say important, I mean CRUCIAL for understanding race relations in our country.
*PREJUDICE is a biased thought.
*DISCRIMINATION is an action based upon that thought.
*RACISM is systemic oppression built into our society, as is any “-ism” (sexism, ageism, classism, able-bodyism, heterosexism/homophobia – but trust me, as a psychologist, I can tell you that it’s not a “phobia”)
The distinction between these three definitions is necessary to understanding why there is no such thing as “reverse racism.” Minorities can engage in prejudiced thoughts or discriminatory actions towards people of any race, including their own, but cannot oppress White people as a whole within our society.
Here is an example: People who are not educated about race often cite things like the BET channel (Black Entertainment Television) as an example reverse racism. They say things like, “Well, we should get to have a White Entertainment channel, too!” Except here’s the thing…almost every channel out there IS the White Entertainment channel. Go through the lists of popular TV shows and shows you watch – the majority of the casts are White, correct? An occasional token Black or Latino or Asian person may be included, but how often are they the main protagonist or hero? How often are they the villain or the sidekick? If we created a White Entertainment channel, as you were flipping through channels, would you immediately be able to tell the difference from a “normal” channel?
Systemic oppression runs deeply, through our history, our legal system, our government, our entertainment, our businesses, and our beliefs. Those who are oppressed do not ask to be oppressed, and do not have the power to change it. Those in power – White people – are the only ones who can change this system, by speaking up for those who are oppressed and becoming true allies. This is a quote that has stuck with me in a powerful way:
“I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible….except by getting off his back.” -Leo Tolstoy
Are you willing to let go of the advantages you may have to build true equality?
Race Education – Day 9:
Tolerance. It’s a loaded word.
What is your view of tolerance? Do you see it as a positive, a sign of acceptance and love? Or do you recognize the pain it can cause?
Here’s the thing about tolerance: It implies that there is something wrong, something to be tolerated…because do you tolerate positive things in your life? Do you tolerate the birth of your child, a job promotion, receiving praise, or winning a prize? No. You celebrate those things.
Celebration implies that you are embracing someone or something with an open heart and mind, with total and unconditional acceptance and enjoyment.
When it comes to people of other races, to discussions about race, and to programs that are in place to build true equality among races of people in our country – are you celebrating or tolerating? Discussions about race can certainly be uncomfortable, but remember: What’s mentionable is manageable. Let’s celebrate the learning and embrace the discomfort, because change only happens when discomfort occurs.
Race Education – Day 10:
Many times, we assume (incorrectly!) that talking about racism with our children is going to scare them or put ideas in their head about how to be hurtful towards others when they’re upset. We’re afraid to acknowledge and share our own biases and talk about stereotypes with our kids, because we think that will promote the stereotypes. To this I offer an analogy:
When you are teaching your children about traffic safety, do you try to protect them by not telling them about things that could hurt them or accidents that could happen? Do you assume that by telling them about the rules for safety that you are going to give them ideas about how to be unsafe? Do you think they would be prepared to be safe in traffic if you chose to never, ever talk about it?
It’s not scaring, it’s preparing. It’s preparing kids to recognize stereotypes and racism, to understand what it means, and to effectively respond to it with confidence. So get ready…over the next few days, we are going to delve into all of the awful, uncomfortable, taboo stereotypes about various racial groups and talk about them openly.
Race Education – Day 11:
Let’s dive into racial stereotypes…We can start with South Asian people, since I am Indian and know from personal experience what these stereotypes assume. Here are some common stereotypes about South Asians:
-We don’t speak English or speak with a certain goofy accent.
-We are “foreigners.”
-We are techies who are good at math and computer-related tasks (You might be saying to yourself, “But that’s a compliment!”…except that it’s not, because you are expecting something of an entire population of people that may not be true, and may cause those who don’t fit that category to feel poorly about themselves for not meeting unfair expectations)
-We all work in call centers, or men work as taxicab drivers and convenience store owners. (Think “Outsourced,” “The Simpsons,” and every extra you see in TV shows and movies that take place in NYC.)
-We love spicy food and only eat curry.
-We eat dogs and worship cows.
-All South Asians are from India.
-Indian men are unappealing and Indian women are “exotic.”
-We grew up in slums.
-We smell/stink and don’t have proper hygiene.
-We are all child brides or in arranged marriages.
-We are not athletic.
-We are quiet, passive, and submissive.
-South Asian men are “effeminate” and not “manly.”
-We do not know how to have fun and only focus on school.
-We are overly eager, socially awkward, and nerdy when it comes to trying to fit in within U.S. culture. (Think Raj from “The Big Bang Theory”)
-We do not dress stylishly (see above).
-All of the women wear saris and bindis (“red forehead dot”) and all of the men wear turbans.
-We are all Buddhist.
-We know everything about Ghandi and Mother Teresa.
-Women are experts on sex and the Kama Sutra.
-We love Bollywood music and movies.
Be honest…how often are you guilty of wondering or assuming some of these things when you see someone who is South Asian? Remember, we all have biases, often based in perpetual media stereotypes – being aware of these stereotypes helps us to dismantle them and teach our children why they are unfair and inaccurate.
Race Education – Day 12:
Let’s move on to stereotypes about East Asians…and while we’re on the subject, it’s important to remember that “Oriental” is a type of rug, not an ethnicity or race – the correct term is “East Asian.” Here are some common stereotypes:
-Good at martial arts
-Eat with chopsticks
-No talent with singing or dancing (Think William Huang from “American Idol”)
-Do not speak English or have a strong accent
-Nerdy and socially awkward (Think “Long Duck Dong” from the movie “Sixteen Candles”)
-Very smart, and especially good at math, science and computers
-Love school and study all of the time because good grades are most important
-Work as doctors, own nail salons or massage parlors, or are bad guy ninjas
-Techies with modern fashion sense and outrageous hairstyles
-Submissive, passive, and quiet
-Men are sexually unappealing and unmuscular
-Women are sexualized and fetishized as exotic geishas or China dolls (see “Yellow Fever”…ugh)
-Women are mail-order brides
-Take pictures of everything as tourists
-All East Asians are from China
Once again, be honest with yourself…how often to do you make these assumptions based only upon appearance? How often do you laugh at a joke or an on-screen character that perpetuates these stereotypes? How do you recognize when you are starting to stereotype and categorize others unfairly and inaccurately? How do you choose to seek out representation of other races that does not perpetuate stereotypes?
Race Education – Day 13:
…And we’re on to more stereotypes. Today let’s talk about the stereotypes our society has towards people who are Latinx (Latino & Latina):
-“Illegal/Undocumented Immigrants” who have crossed the border from Mexico
-Do not speak English well or at all
-Refuse to learn about or participate in U.S. culture
-Men work as drug dealers or in labor (fields/construction)
-Women work as house cleaners
-Women have multiple children and are not “good mothers”
-Women are “spicy/feisty” and like drama and conflict
-Welfare check recipients mooching off of the U.S. taxpayers
-Alcoholics & substance abusers
-Eat spicy food and only eat food that comes in tortillas
-Listen to mariachi music
-All Latinx are Mexican
-Celebrate Cinco de Mayo & other holidays by shooting guns into the air while drunk
Let’s be real…today’s lesson is going to hit close to home for many of you. Immigration is still a controversial topic in our country…sadly. But if you believe any of the stereotypes above, ask yourself whether they are based on real people in your life who you see on a regular basis, or if they only come from your “impressions” when passing by a group of Latinx people on the street? The best way to end stereotyped prejudices is to have a truly diverse group of friends and community members, people you can point to and say, “I see you as a unique individual, not as a category.”
Race Education – Day 14:
Today let’s focus on stereotypes about an often-forgotten race of people – Native Americans. Here are some unfortunately common stereotypes:
-All from Cherokee tribes
-Live in teepees on reservations
-Serve as chiefs, princesses or warriors
-Wear feather headdresses and facial warpaint as daily clothing
-Chant and dance around fires
-Live off of government benefits
-Overly sensitive to being portrayed as team mascots
-Elders are spiritual and wise
-Good at hunting with bows and arrows
-Worship the sun and nature
-Have “animal nicknames”
-Only mentionable history is with the pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving
-Wear long hair in braids
-Warriors who use tomahawks to scalp their enemies
I find the stereotypes about Native Americans particularly disturbing, because they reduce human beings into caricatures, like team mascots and Halloween costumes. Imagine the very essence of your heritage and identity being twisted into an inaccurate representation that is put on display as a joke or a trend. Imagine how it would feel to have others tell you it is not a big deal or that you are overreacting, despite them not having a clue about where you come from or who you are. It is the epitome of oppression.
Race Education – Day 15:
We’re halfway through our lessons! For those of you who have stuck with it and continued reading despite the discomfort that arises, consider how much you have learned and how much your awareness has grown. Growth is rarely easy, but always worth it.
Today, we’re going to focus on stereotypes about Black people. This often gets to the heart of race relations in our country, and really raises awareness around the double standards that exist. Here are some common stereotypes about Black people:
-Criminals who are fairly incarcerated for the safety of society
-Violent “thugs” and gang members
-Drug dealers and substance abusers
-Uneducated & unintelligent
-Not articulate speakers
-Abuse the welfare system
-Single mothers of multiple children and absent fathers
-Physically abusive in partner and parent-child relationships
-Loud and obnoxious in public places, such as movie theaters
-Athletic in basketball and football and track
-Listen to rap music
-Good rhythm for singing and dancing
-Make everything about race by “playing the race card”
-Grew up in “the hood”
-Hair is worn in dreadlocks because it’s “dirty”
-Males wear baggy clothing and pants that sag
-Women wear bright colors and prints
-Eat fried chicken and watermelon
It’s easy to see how these stereotypes play out in the media every day. On TV shows and movies, the way news articles are carefully worded, the models in ads for certain products…these stereotypes are held in front of us every day, begging to be ingrained in our beliefs about Black people in the U.S. The trick is to notice when they’re being played out…notice the moments when you can turn a stereotype into an opportunity for growth, by pointing out the inaccuracies, both for yourself and your children.
Race Education – Day 16:
Now comes the part people don’t always expect. Let’s talk about the stereotypes about White people – because remember, they are a race of people, too – they are not just the “default norm” as society would like us to believe. Here are a few common ones:
-Educated and smart
-Live happy-go-lucky-charmed lives
-Own a home with a white picket fence
-Own a luxury car
-Men work in business/finance fields and play golf on the weekends
-Women are stay-at-home “soccer moms” who drive minivans and wear yoga pants
-Don’t have rhythm and cannot dance
-Eat healthy, organic foods
…And here is where a term called “intersectionality” comes into play, where factors such as class/socioeconomic status meet to form different kinds of stereotypes:
-Speak with a Southern accent
-Poor and abuse the welfare system
-Overweight and unattractive with poor hygiene
-Live in a trailer park
-Have multiple children
-Engage in dangerous activities out of stupidity, often involving guns or fireworks
-Men wear “wifebeater” tank tops
-Domestic violence is prominent
So let’s consider the differences associated with those who are White and middle to upper class with other races of people – notice that most of the stereotypes are positive for the former, and negative for the latter. Notice how White people of a lower financial status are associated with negative stereotypes, much like other races of people. Now think about who most of the people of lower financial class are in this country – people who are not White. It’s a double whammy – they just can’t win.
Race Education – Day 17:
So what’s the point of sharing all of those stereotypes over the last few days? AWARENESS. These stereotypes can become so ingrained in our thinking that we forget they are untrue and sometimes even absurd. Our brains function by categorizing – it is how we get through the day without becoming overwhelmed. It’s an important tool for our survival. But like anything else, it has its limitations. If you would not want to be categorized as only the stereotypes of your race, recognize that others feel the same way. No one likes to be placed in a box, because we’re all screaming for our uniqueness to be seen and understood by those around us. We are each more than a category can possibly even come close to defining. Constant awareness is necessary to reduce bias and create true and lasting change.
Race Education – Day 18:
Most people want to believe that racism is over, or at least not as bad as it was 50 or 100 years ago…at least, most White people. People of color know this is untrue. While there are still many overt acts of racism occurring daily (unfortunately, I could post a number of articles about hate crimes and shootings against people of color on any given day), the problem is that these are not the only acts of racism that occur. Because racism is not considered acceptable by most people’s standards nowadays, it has become more covert.
MICROAGGRESSIONS is an important term to know and understand – they are the “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” These are the covert ways people engage in racism.
Here are some examples of microaggressions:
-Someone asking a person with brown skin, “Where are you from?” or “Where were you born?” or “What ethnicity are you?” or “Do you speak English?” Many people balk at this, assuming these are perfectly harmless questions. Except they’re not. As someone who has brown skin and is constantly asked these questions, I can guarantee you it is harmful. It is the assumption that because someone is not White, they are a perpetual foreigner. These questions are a constant reminder that brown people are not assumed to belong in this country, and that we are outsiders. It’s called “othering.”
-Backhanded compliments such as, “You’re Asian, you must be really good at math” or “You’re cute for a Latino girl” or “Black guys are always the best athletes” – these put people into categories again, and assume that White is the “norm.” I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it is to live your life as a normal person when assumptions and expectations from stereotypes are constantly getting in the way of what you want for yourself – Should I feel terrible that I’m not good at math even though I’m Asian? Should I take it as a compliment that this person is usually only attracted to White people, but they’re making an exception for me? Should I stop running track even though I love it because people assume I should love it because I’m Black?
-The nonverbals…they are the worst. When a person of color or certain races is near a White person in public, and the White person avoids eye contact or stares, clutches their purse/wallet/children closer, moves to avoid any kind of physical contact, ignores them waiting in line and jumps ahead, interrupts them, assumes the person of color works there instead of being a customer, etc. IT IS RACISM. And it’s the worst kind in my opinion, because it’s so easily dismissed by other White people – “You’re being oversensitive” or “Maybe you misunderstood” or “Are you sure that’s really what happened?” These are the kinds of questions that cause people of color to feel there is something wrong with them for recognizing when racism occurs.
These are only a few of the microaggressions that occur, so for a more comprehensive list, visit: http://www.ucop.edu/academic-personnel-programs/_files/seminars/Tool_Recognizing_Microaggressions.pdf
Race Education – Day 19:
Let’s say we’re both at the sledding hill. You’re at the bottom, and I’m at the top, ready to slide down. As I take off down the hill in your general direction, my sled unexpectedly veers right towards you. I end up crashing into you with my sled, and you get a bloody nose.
You stand up and say, “What the hell?? You just crashed into me and gave me a bloody nose! That hurt!”
In response, I say, “I didn’t mean to hit you. It’s not like I intended to give you a bloody nose. You know me, I’m not a violent person. Aren’t you being kind of oversensitive? You don’t have to make such a big deal about it, I was just having fun on my sled. You know I try to be safe when I sled, why are you trying to make me feel bad about it?”
How would you feel about my response? Was it appropriate? Does it take the place of a genuine apology? Does it really matter whether I intended to hurt you or not?
INTENT VS. IMPACT, friends. It matters more than I could ever express in a Facebook post. When it comes to racism, whether a person intends to be racist or not when they tell a joke, share a story, describe a person of a certain race in a certain way…doesn’t matter. The only – READ: ONLY!!!! – thing that matters is the impact upon the other person. Do any of the following statements sound familiar?
-“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings / be racist / say something insensitive.”
-“It wasn’t my intention to hurt your feelings / be racist/ say something insensitive.”
-“You know I’m not racist.”
-“Why are you being oversensitive / playing the race card / always making things about race?”
-“It’s not a big deal, I was just joking.”
-“That really hurts me, you know I have Black friends. How could you say I’m being racist?”
A true apology does not explain away, minimize, dismiss, judge, or require reassurance of your character. If you hurt someone, own up to it. INTENT VS. IMPACT – it’s a good overall life lesson to remember.
Race Education – Day 20:
So many times in my life, when I’ve tried to explain to someone why something they just said or did is hurtful to me as an Asian person, I will inevitably hear a chorus of White voices telling me that there is something wrong with my viewpoint. They use all of the statements I shared yesterday and more to dismiss my beliefs about what is or isn’t racist. It took me until adulthood to realize that even if a hundred White people are saying something isn’t racist, if one person of color (specifically, a person of said race) says it is racist, then it is. Period. Intent vs. impact, right? Louis C.K. said it best: “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”
So often, racial microaggressions – especially the nonverbals like glaring, ignoring, changes in body tension, clutching a purse tighter, or just the overall atmosphere of a room changing – are literally FELT by a person of color, while a White person would be completely oblivious. Here’s a personal example:
When I was about 5 years old, my (White) parents and I went to a public pool at a campground in the South while we were on a road trip. My parents set up their things while I climbed into the kiddie pool. A (White) boy slightly older than me and two (White) girls slightly younger than me were already in the pool. As soon as I got in, the girls moved toward the boy and he wrapped his arms protectively around them. He said to me, “You know you have to pay to be here, right?” and I naively responded, “Yeah, my parents paid,” to which he said in a harsh tone, “You know you shouldn’t be here.”
I stood up, walked out of the pool, and went to my parents silently. They hadn’t noticed anything, just feet away. I felt shamed, humiliated, confused, sad, angry, and inherently wrong somehow. I could feel the kids’ hatred towards me, the way their eyes looked frightened and angry at the mere sight of me, the tension that hung in the air. I didn’t know it was racism at the time, but I came to recognize it as I became older. I wouldn’t have expected my parents to notice – their lived experiences with White privilege hadn’t taught them to recognize what hung so painfully in the atmosphere around us.
Now, when I share that story with people, inevitably a White person will question whether I comprehended the situation correctly. They suggest that maybe the kids were being genuine in their concern, wanting to be sure my family had paid. Or maybe they were just bratty, and act like that towards everyone. Or maybe…or maybe…or maybe… “But you don’t KNOW that it was racism,” they say. They’re wrong. I know. With every fiber of my being, I know. My intuition as a person of color, the intuition that works to keep me safe and protect me from people who choose to hate me because of the color of my skin – it’s like a sixth sense for people of color when it comes to racism. WE KNOW WHEN IT’S RACISM, EVEN IF OTHERS CANNOT “PROVE” IT.
When a person of color tells you that that a situation was racist, if you are White you don’t get to decide that it wasn’t. If you are White, you do not have the right to challenge a person of color’s intuition and lived experiences when it comes to recognizing racism, because you’ve had the privilege of never experiencing it firsthand.
Race Education – Day 21:
Now that we’ve talked about racial oppression as societal system, racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and the importance of trusting racial minorities when they describe what is or is not racism, our next lesson is on CULTURAL APPROPRIATION.
Cultural appropriation occurs when members of the dominant culture (i.e. White American culture) choose to use/exploit parts of other non-dominant cultures (i.e. African American hairstyles or music styles, Asian exercise/meditation/yoga, Native American dress and traditions, etc.) as a trend, but do not understand that part of the culture’s meaning or origins and do not give credit to said culture. It often involves the use of superficial stereotypes and limited cultural knowledge on the part of the dominant group.
Cultural APPRECIATION is different – it involves a genuine researched understanding of the culture, origins and meanings, and appropriate celebration. It does not objectify, poke fun, exaggerate, minimize, or twist the meaning of the culture. It does not result from the picking and choosing of which parts of the culture a person would like to copy (i.e. a White person who raps but does not stand up for Black Lives Matter).
A few examples of cultural appropriation include:
-Any form of “blackface,” “redface,” or “yellowface”
-White celebrities wearing their hair in cornrows, wearing bindis, etc. as a fashion statement
-Native American mascots and Halloween costumes
-Adapted forms of yoga, such as a form that involves strobe lights
-White celebrities engaging in other cultural forms of dance (Bollywood, twerking, etc.) while using people of that race/culture as “props” to back them up
Amandla Stenberg, an inspiring young actress who is using her fame to bring education of racial inequalities to the mainstream media, shares a wonderful video on this topic – only 4.5 minutes long: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1KJRRSB_XA
Race Education – Day 22:
When we talk about cultural appreciation, and truly understanding a culture, it’s important to think about what truly makes a culture. It’s easier to recognize appropriation vs. appreciation when we are thoughtful about what a culture truly consists of and what it means to the people who live within it. I think this is one of the clearest representations I’ve seen – The Cultural Iceberg:
Race Education – Day 23:
We’re going to spend the next five days identifying ways for every person to be a genuine ally to people of color. It’s easy to say that you don’t like racism or will stand up for what’s right when faced with it, but living those truths out in everyday life is much tougher. Being an ally is a thoughtful and intentional set of actions that you choose every single day.
Here’s the 1st tip for being an ally to people of color: Choose to introduce yourself to diversity and surround yourself with people of different backgrounds. If you are White, put yourself in the minority role by surrounding yourself with people of color.
-Go to restaurants outside of your typical comfort zone, especially those with ethnic foods owned by people from countries other than the U.S. For ideas about where to dine in Denver, visit http://www.denver.org/restaurants/denver-dining/ten-ethnic-restaurants/.
-Find local events and festivals celebrating other cultures, religions, and holiday traditions to attend – for events and schedules in Denver, visit http://www.denver.org/about-denver/diverse-denver/.
-Check out books from the library about other cultures, countries, and the history of various races of people in the U.S. – here’s a good list to start choosing from: http://www.booksforunderstanding.org/race/list.html.
-Follow FB pages and blogs by people of color to learn more about their experiences and perspectives – here’s a short list to get your started: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/16-thought-provoking-social-justice-blogs-on-tumblr_us_562f8638e4b06317990f591d.
-Watch films and documentaries about and by people of color who choose share their experiences – find some of these on Netflix: http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/85-films-by-and-about-women-of-color-courtesy-of-ava-duvernay-and-the-good-people-of-twitter-20150522.
Race Education – Day 24:
Here’s Tip #2 for being an ally to people of color: Do not compare your experiences with theirs when it comes to discrimination.
Sometimes, we believe that being a good listener and being empathic means that we have to offer a story about a similar experience to show the person we understand how they’re feeling. However, it usually backfires and has the opposite effect. Here’s a general example:
You tell your coworker how frustrated you are with your health insurance company, because you’ve been calling them repeatedly to work out a problem with a claim. Before you can fully complete your story, which you’re really just sharing because you need to vent and want to feel supported, your coworker tells you that they know exactly how you feel, because they got into a dispute with their cable company once, and had to continue calling to get them to drop additional fees. Your coworker suggests that you ask to speak with a supervisor next time you call the insurance company, because that’s how they finally resolved their dispute.
Now what? It seems awkward for you to continue with your story, right? Are you supposed to offer sympathy to the person for their struggle? Are you supposed to thank them for the suggestion and be on your way? You didn’t really get to express what you needed to…
The most important thing to recognize is that if you are White, you have not experienced racism – the societal, systemic oppression that occurs against people of color. You may have experienced discrimination, but by sharing your experience, you are dismissing, minimizing, or avoiding hearing them share about their experience. You are likely offering solutions that will not work, because you do not truly understand where they are coming from, and have effectively shut down any further communication that would help you understand. When in doubt: Just be there, don’t compare.
Race Education – Day 25:
On to Tip #3 for being a true ally to people of color: Listen and trust.
It’s as simple as that. When a person of color tells you about a racially-provoked incident they experienced, shares their feelings about how it felt when someone treated them poorly because of their skin color, or expresses their beliefs about what is or is not considered racism, listen and trust that they are the experts. Don’t question it or try to reassure them that all is okay, don’t judge them as oversensitive or paranoid, don’t minimize its impact upon them or the message it sends about society as a whole. Speak a little, and listen a lot. Believe them unconditionally.
Race Education – Day 26:
When it comes to being an ally to people of color, here is tip #4: If you are unsure about the best way to be an ally, ASK.
I know we are all worried about saying or doing something offensive without intending to or without realizing it when we are just beginning to understand racism, but please do not allow your fear to immobilize you when it comes to being supportive. Be ready to make mistakes, learn from them, and accept accountability graciously. Be willing to be told what you are doing wrong, so that you may learn what to do right. Be forgiving of yourself and celebrate your humility. Simply be willing to ask the people of color in your life how to best support them. It can be a statement as seemingly small as, “I would really like to support you right now. What is the best way?” And then, listen, trust, and follow through.
Race Education – Day 27:
And finally, the 5th tip for being an ally to people of color: Recognize that silence is a form of racism and choose to speak up.
When your friend posts a racist meme on Facebook about the “Mexican Word of the Day,” when your cousin wants to dress up in Blackface to be Beyonce for Halloween, when your uncle claims that Native Americans are “too sensitive” about the Redskins mascot, when you witness the teller at your bank ignoring the person of color who is next in line…SPEAK UP. Make it known that YOU are not okay with racism, even if a person of color is not there.
Your silence does more than condone racism – it allows it to grow, to be promoted, and to harm people emotionally and physically. If you are worried that speaking up will make you feel embarrassed, oversensitive, too politically correct, or judgmental – be glad you have the privilege that allows you the option of choosing whether or not you will speak up. Choose to use your power and your voice for the greater good. Imagine if every person in our country who truly wanted to be an ally did this – imagine how quickly the voices promoting inequality would be silenced.
Race Education – Day 28:
Ask yourself this question: Do you only choose to speak up in situations where you feel the need to defend yourself and prove that you are not racist, or do you choose to speak up to defend those whose voices are not being protected? Because there is a difference. Most likely, if you are only trying to prove to someone else that you are not racist, you are trying to reassure yourself, as well – and defensiveness is often rooted in knowing that we were in the wrong. When you are standing up for others and trying to do what is right, you recognize that you may say or do something wrong, and you are okay with being corrected and taught. You don’t let your insecurities stop you from trying build others’ awareness of racism. You speak out because you believe doing so will empower others to do the same.
Race Education – Day 29:
Did you know that researchers in the mental health field are finding that one of the psychological effects of racism can be Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? This is the same disorder diagnosed in war veterans, survivors of sexual assault and childhood abuse, and refugees misplaced by natural disasters. The toll of microaggressions and overt racial aggression can be that serious. As a psychologist, I can tell you that I have personally seen this tragedy occur.
This is one more reason that it is critical for all of us to understand racism and actively work to end it, and to be aware of our own internal biases, so that we are not unknowingly causing trauma in the people of color around us. To learn more about this research, visit: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culturally-speaking/201305/can-racism-cause-ptsd-implications-dsm-5
Race Education – Day 30:
Maya Angelou said it best: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
Ask yourself this question today, and answer it honestly: How are you planning to be proactive in the fight against racism?
Race Education – Day 31:
On our last day, I’d like to thank those of you who read the lessons each day, who took the time to “like” and comment – I am beyond appreciative. I hope you learned a great deal, and have opened your mind to how you can make impactful changes in your life and the lives of those around you to work toward ending racism. I hope you will use your newfound knowledge to stand up for people of color, and to create more space for them to share openly about their experiences without the fear of being dismissed or judged.
I want to offer our last lesson as a day for questions and sharing: What are you still wondering about? Which lesson hit you the hardest? How are you planning to move forward with your newfound knowledge?