Don’t Let Republicans Pretend Racists Face Discrimination

January 19, 2017 Civil Rights, Featured, In The News Comments (0) 330

A bizarre but illustrative moment came during last week’s confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions: As NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks offered testimony, Lindsey Graham (Republican senator from South Carolina) confronted him about the NAACP’s civil rights legislative scorecard.

Graham read scores for several prominent members of Congress, pointedly contrasting the high scores by Democrats with the low scores for Republicans. Graham then leveled the following:

“It means that you’re picking things that conservative Republicans don’t agree with you on and liberal Democrats do. I hope that doesn’t make us all racist and all of them perfect on the issue.

I think the report card says volumes about how you view Republican conservatives. Maybe we’re all wrong and maybe you’re all right. I doubt if it’s that way.”

Did you catch that? Lindsay Graham suspects the NAACP is discriminating against Republicans by giving them low scores on a Civil Rights scorecard. The Republicans, who have built a 60-year platform opposing civil rights and advancing policies that harm people of color.

Opposing Hate is Not Discrimination

It’s surprisingly hard to lay hands on a copy of a recent NAACP scorecard, but their 2009–2010 scorecard lays out the issues they deem important, including predatory lending, opposing school voucher programs, ensuring wage equality, health care reform, and strengthening hate crime laws, among others. As Brooks says in his response, “The ratings are based on legislation, not party affiliation.”

This is of a piece with recent right-wing outrage over fashion designers who announced they would refuse Ivanka and Melania Trump their business. Designer Sophie Theallet, the first such designer, issued a statement explaining her refusal to dress the incoming First Lady: “The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by.”

Non-discrimination laws, like those enforced against homophobic cake artists, do not forbid any person from denying service to any other person. They forbid certain specific types of discrimination, including that based on race, religion, gender, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, and others. The Supreme Court labels these “suspect classifications,” groups of people who are likely to be the subject of discrimination.

Republicans, apparently, believe that racism, sexism, and xenophobia deserve to be protected under the very laws designed to prevent them. Or, more likely, they believe that when those values are so ingrained into a political philosophy that they might be labeled “beliefs,” that political philosophy warrants the same protection against discrimination as, say, a religion.

This is a ludicrous position, however. For the record, there is no legal protection against discrimination based on political affiliation or belief. Nor should there be. Political parties exist for the sole and specific person of taking positions others may find disagreeable to the point where they would refuse association.

I’m certainly not in favor of predicating all commercial services on political affiliation. I don’t want my local deli asking me how I voted before they’ll make me a sandwich. But for an event as momentous as the inauguration, at which much fuss will be made over who produced the First Lady’s attire, a designer has every right to refuse service. Just as the NAACP should be able to announce that every single member of the Republican Party is taking action to harm people of color without being accused of “discriminating” against their oppressors.

There is no specific test to determine whether a group legally constitutes a suspect classification, but the Supreme Court has specified some criteria. Political affiliation meets none of them. It is not an immutable trait; you are not born a Republican, you align with the party based on your political beliefs. Nor is it highly visible, unless you choose to put on a button or a bright red hat. Political parties are by definition not powerless within the political process (particularly laughable for Republicans, in light of recent election results) and while members of political parties may be subject to hostility, to characterize that as stigma is too far to stretch. Political ideas and positions are meant to be subject to scrutiny and rejection; that is their nature and purpose.

It’s been common for some time to hear Republicans in daily conversation claim to be victims of discrimination. It is breathtaking, however, to hear a lawmaker as prominent as Lindsey Graham claim victimhood when his party is called out for its own discriminatory practices. That’s a level of rhetorical normalization that verges on dangerous.

Do not allow Republicans to claim they face discrimination. Do not acquiesce when people equate their loathsome defense of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-gay rhetoric with being born black, or Mexican, or gay, or Muslim. Do not allow oppressors to advance their cause by co-opting the language of the oppressed.

Look at it this way [and indulge the extreme example — it’s meant for illustrative purposes].

Imagine this was Germany in 1936, and Lindsey Graham was seated as a member of the Nazi Party. Imagine the NAACP was a group that advanced the civil rights of Jewish people. Would the Nazis say they were victims of discrimination when that organization gave them poor grades on Jewish rights?

Yes, you may be thinking. They almost certainly would. And that is something you should always remember.

Photo: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons license.

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A Poisoned Oklahoma Town Says Scott Pruitt Should Know about Lead

January 18, 2017 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 484

At his hearing today, Scott Pruitt (Donald Trump’s nominee to head the EPA) said he could not testify as to the impact of lead poisoning in children because he hasn’t read the science.

Okay.

It will be safe to move back into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone before it is safe to move back into Picher.

Scott Pruitt’s has been Attorney General of Oklahoma since 2011. Prior to that, he unsuccessfully ran for an Oklahoma Congressional seat (in 2001) and Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor (in 2006).Something else happened in Oklahoma during those years. A town, Picher, was ordered evacuated and abandoned because the history of industrial mining for lead and zinc had left levels of those heavy metals so high that 1/3 of the town’s children had lead poisoning. The order to permanently close the town came in 2006, while Pruitt was running for Lieutenant Governor.

Today, Picher Oklahoma is a ghost town, called “America’s most toxic town,” and one of the worst cases of industrial pollution in the history of the world. Where once there was a population of more than 2,000 residents, now there is an uninhabitable husk. It will be safe for humans to move back into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone before it is safe to move back into Picher.

How can a man who was Attorney General of that state, who ran for Congress and the office of Lieutenant Governor, NOT be familiar with the science of lead poisoning?

Better question: How can such a man be on record as opposing most EPA regulation?

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“Russia Didn’t Hack Voting Machines” is Fake News

December 29, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (1) 532

There is no compelling evidence that Russian hackers interfered with US voting machines to change vote totals in the 2016 election.

Read that sentence again, carefully. It’s true, to the best of my knowledge. There is, however, an important distinction between not having evidence of something and knowing it did not happen, especially when there has been no investigation that might have turned up said evidence.

In recent days, I have seen experts I respect quote, in mocking tones, a YouGov poll that says more than half of Democrats believe Russia tampered with vote totals. There is a valid point here: Many voters misunderstand recent announcements from the CIA and Department of Homeland Security that Russian intelligence agents hacked a number of entities in an effort to swing the election for Trump. Those hacks did not include voting machines, and no government agency (or any other reputable source) has come forward to say the Russians hacked US voting machines.

That said, reporters overstep the truth when they say “Russia did not hack American voting machines.” No one knows whether they did or did not, because no investigation has occurred. Continue Reading

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Don’t Be a White “Ally”

November 17, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion, Pop Culture Comments (0) 731

Irony, in the Alannis Morissette sense of the term, is when you write an essay using the word “ally” for simplicity’s sake, even though you hate the term, and that essay goes viral and becomes probably the most-read thing you’ve ever written.

A little too ironic, don’tcha think?

So I want to take a moment to explain why I dislike the term “ally,” and generally try not to use it. I’m adapting this from a response I emailed last July to Our National Conversation about Conversations About Race, a podcast that I absolutely love and to which I give my strongest possible recommendation?—?so if this sounds familiar, maybe you heard it there.

In my own life, I have encountered the term “ally” primarily as a member of the LGBTQ community. I’ve many times had straight people tell me they’re “allies,” and it’s always rubbed me the wrong way.

I think it’s that it’s because a person identifying as an “ally” immediately makes the discussion about themselves an their identity, and perhaps their membership and identification with the group.

When someone says “how can I help?” that’s great, but saying “I’m an ally, how can I help” tells me that your real goal is for me to validate you and include you in what you see as “my club.” If you see a car broken down on the side of the road, or a person who maybe needs CPR, you don’t say “I’m an ally,” you just ask if they need help.

I think what troubles me more is this: Inclusion and respect and equality are morals we should expect of everyone. They should come standard on all humans, and standing up for them should not constitute an identity. Recognizing and opposing discrimination and privilege shouldn’t earn anyone a gold star, they should just be expected.

There’s no word to identify oneself as opposed to murder?—?we just label the murderers. The same ought to be true of the racists, the homophobes, the bigots, and so on. A person who stands up for what’s right isn’t an “ally,” they’re just a decent person. I guess if someone wants to identify as extra-involved in the effort, they can use “activist.” But even that feels easy?—?I’d rather see a person demonstrate their activism than tell me they self-identify as such.

I recognize that, in the wake of Trump’s election and the ensuing rash of hate crimes, it’s clear that opposition to bigotry does not come standard, and there is value in announcing oneself as tolerant and respectful. The word still rubs me wrong, because it normalizes bigotry, and even if bigotry is terribly, frighteningly common, I still don’t want to see it normalized.

As a culture Americans are programmed to worship equality and justice and freedom, and we should all feel harmed and offended by violations of those values. Yes, our entire history is one of utter hypocrisy, and we have *never* since our inception been equal or just or free?—?but that doesn’t change the way we’re programmed, and it doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to make those values a reality, even if the men who wrote them were full of shit.

I’m not an ally, I’m a white dude who’s disgusted by racism and inequality, and I don’t want to live in a society that is systematically biased against other people, or where my tax dollars are used to oppress and harm my neighbors.

Like many white kids, I spent my formative years totally buying into the “Shining City on the Hill” mythology, before my eyes were opened by some very patient black activists who took the time to bring me around. Ultimately, what I’m really after is turning that mythology into reality.

I want to live in that make-believe America I heard about when I was ten. That’s a fairly selfish goal, but it seems like one a lot of white Americans would share, if they would wake up to the reality of our society instead of choosing to blindly believe the myth.

I have the feeling Trump’s election did wake a lot of people, which might be a sort of silver lining. But personally, I’d encourage people not to label themselves “allies.” Just, you know, be staunchly against murder.

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Racism Didn’t Elect Donald Trump. White Fragility Did.

November 17, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 560

I have this theory, developed shortly after the election results came in. I had a lot of time to think, because like a lot of people I couldn’t get out of bed. My theory goes like this: Yes, there is a shamefully significant population of Americans who are virulently, aggressively racist. These are the Deplorables, the people posting Pepe memes and anti-semitic messages on social networks, and currently committing hate crimes as if the coming of President Trump announced the beginning of the Purge.

But that kind of racism alone can’t explain Trump’s election. It doesn’t explain the people I count among my own friends and family who voted Trump, but consider themselves progressives on race. That kind of racism is enough to get Trump part of the way, but not enough to put him in the Oval Office; what really put him over the top is white fragility.

If you haven’t encountered this term before, white fragility is the tendency among white people to get upset when they are challenged on their own, or America’s, problems with race. YouTube channel Newsbroke produced a video about white fragility that, while funny, is way too real.

And let me pause here to say that yes, white fragility is a form of racism and white supremacy. Prioritizing the feelings and individuality of white people above entire communities of non-white or marginalized people is white supremacy. But for purposes of this specific argument, I want to draw a distinction—because Deplorables are making a conscious choice, while fragile white folks generally don’t realize what they’re doing.

What changed was that marginalized communities, particularly people of color, refused to just come along for the ride.

To reach an electoral majority, the Democratic Party’s coalition has historically relied heavily on poor and working-class white voters and marginalized groups like people of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants. Being a majority white party, however, the Democrats have tended to ignore the actual needs of those marginalized populations, and relied on the Republican Party to frighten voters across the aisle. In the 1990s Democrats campaigned on a platform of welfare reform and crime reduction, both built on thinly-veiled racist tropes. As recently as 2008, Democrats relied on LGBTQ voters while publicly opposing marriage equality.

What changed, importantly, in the run-up to 2016 was that marginalized communities, particularly people of color, refused to just come along for the ride. Early in her campaign, Hillary Clinton had a famous confrontation with Black Lives Matter activists. At the time she lectured, but that and other interactions shaped the way Hillary reached out to black voters. During her campaign, Hillary openly said that black lives matter, in those words, and she was the first candidate for US President to use the term “institutional racism” in a Presidential debate.

These are important first steps, and the right thing to do. However, I fear that fragile white voters felt alienated, and moved away from Hillary. That’s on them, of course, but if it’s true, I’m not sure what path the Democrats have to repair their coalition.

A point that’s come up many times since the election is that Trump won districts previously won by President Obama, and so “those voters can’t be racist.” But President Obama went to lengths to run as a non-racial candidate. He famously made a speech, regarded as one of the great speeches in US history, in which effectively absolved white people of their racial resentment, and gave cover to whites who prefer their racism to be presented as “economic anxiety.”

But make no mistake: Race was not just the key issue in the 2016 election. It was the only issue. Trump’s positions, almost to a one, flew in the face of traditionally conservative values, and yet he retained the majority of conservative support; yes, he received fewer votes than Romney or McCain, but only by a small margin, while Hillary’s support fell by millions of votes. The only issue on which Trump was consistently in line with traditional conservative values was racism and xenophobia.

Essayists and commentators will talk about other factors that led to Hillary’s precipitous loss in votes, and I don’t want to downplay them completely. Voter suppression and disenfranchisement, particularly, could have turned the election in many states. Economic anxiety is real?—?it’s just important to recognize that in the United States, economic anxiety among white people almost always takes the form of racism, with anger toward “welfare queens” and job-poaching immigrants, instead of fiscal policies and corporate greed.

But the fact remains that Trump took a huge majority among white men and a significant majority among white women, perhaps more shocking considering what we learned about Trump in the last six months (not to mention what we already knew about his attitudes toward women), and that is the reason he won. No other racial or ethnic group voted for Trump. Racism, of the Deplorable variety, does not explain those figures. White fragility does.

This is further reinforced by responses to the election result, as editorials insist that journalists didn’t do enough to understand the white working class. It’s apparent on social media, where white people point to low turnout among non-white voters as the cause. I’ve personally learned a powerful lesson in white fragility, as my criticism of wearing safety pins as “symbols” of racial unity has generated literally thousands of angry messages from white people, mostly variations on a theme:

Why are you criticizing people who are trying to help? Even a small gesture should be praised. If you criticize people, you’ll lose their support. I’m offended. My feelings are hurt. You should apologize and take that post down.

I have to assume Hillary got much of the same, when she dared stand behind a debate podium and point out the racism embedded in our government.

So what’s to be done about white fragility?

Well, for starters fellow white people, if we are truly outraged by the victory of a white supremacist demagogue, we need to change ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. A shocking number of white people still think Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group; even those who don’t go that far still complain about the “divisiveness” of the name and persist in reminding us that ALL lives matter. We’ve got to work to recognize white fragility as a defense of white supremacy, lean into our discomfort with being challenged, and stop insisting that our feelings be placated.

When non-white populations are facing hate crimes, police assassinations, mass incarceration, deportation, and public persecution, our feelings just aren’t that important. Not to mention that many white Americans, while our feelings may be hurt, are actively participating in a system that harms people?—?and all of us are benefitting from it. Our feelings themselves may be causing harm.

To non-white activists, and the Democratic Party? I’m really not sure what to offer. I’m legitimately concerned that there is no path where a candidate can honestly engage with marginalized groups on thee issues that really matter, and not risk driving away fragile white votes. I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe it’s to raise awareness of white fragility as a concept, in hopes that white Americans will recognize their failing and correct course. I’m really not sure. But I refuse to suggest, or even imply, that non-white voters should take a back seat to the hurt feelings of white voters so that “white economic anxiety,” which is generally code for racial fear and anger, can sit up front.

I’m at a loss. But I think we begin by recognizing the problem. White people, we need to stop being so damn fragile.

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Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarassing

November 11, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (141) 52485

Seriously? This is a thing now? Wear a safety pin to show “you’re an ally?” So immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, and others who were targeted and persecuted and (further) marginalized by the Trump Campaign will know they’re “safe” with you?

No. Just no. Please, take it off.

Let me explain something, white people: We just fucked up. Bad. We elected a racist demagogue who has promised to do serious harm to almost every person who isn’t a straight white male, and whose rhetoric has already stirred up hate crimes nationwide. White people were 70% of the voters in the 2016 election, and we’re the only demographic Trump won. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is there’s a white nationalist moving into the Oval Office, and white people–only white people–put him there.

We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by putting on safety pins and self-designating ourselves as allies.

And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better. They’ll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.

Remember the white guys in the 1770s who wrote all about freedom and equality and inalienable rights? Remember how they owned and sold slaves? Yeah, if that’s the spirit you want to evoke, go ahead and wear your safety pin. I’m sure lots of white people will smile when they see it. They might even congratulate you. But immigrants and people of color will recognize it as a symbol of your privilege.

Also, you know who is going to be out wearing safety pins like crazy? Trump voters.

If you really want to be an ally, and make a difference for the people harmed by Trump, there are plenty of ways to do that. In fact, here’s a link to a whole list of ways you can be a better ally to marginalized communities. Unfortunately, few of them will provide the kind of visibility or reassurance that you think your safety pin will.

I know, I know, you’re uncomfortable. You feel guilty. You think people are going to suspect you of being a racist, and you want some way to assuage that guilt and reassure your neighbors that you’re one of the good ones. But you know what? You don’t get to do that. You need to sit in your guilt right now. You need to feel bad. So do I, so do all of us. We fucked up. We didn’t do enough to change the minds of our fellow White people. We unfriended them instead of confronting them. We looked the other way or laughed uncomfortably when our aunts and cousins made racist comments. We were content then to be one of the good ones and now we want congratulations–but we fucked up, and now other people are going to pay the price.

Because guess what: Even if you aren’t a racist, you still benefit from racism. I’m a white guy with money. This isn’t going to hurt me much. Yes, I’m bisexual, and therefore subject to some of the threats against marginalized groups. But it’s highly unlikely I’m going to be told I’m not American, or picked up by ICE and held in detention until I’m deported, or beaten or executed by police who decide my mere existence presents a threat to their safety, or denied the right to make my own decisions about my own medical care. For the most part, I’ll go about my daily life the way I always have–and if I want to, I can put a safety pin on my shirt and congratulate myself for being so woke, for being one of the good ones. Meanwhile I’ll be benefitting, every minute of every day, from a system that is designed to favor me over people whose skin looks darker than mine.

Don’t do it.

If you really need some way to show your support, if you just can’t bear to sit in your discomfort for even a little bit longer, here’s my suggestion: Instead of doing the thing white people invented to make ourselves feel better, follow the example of the people from the marginalized communities you want to support.

I recommend carrying a big sign. You can make your own, it’s easy. On the sign you should write, in big bold letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

And hey, if you want you can use your safety pin to fix it to your shirt.

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How to Easily be a White Ally to Marginalized Communities

November 11, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (10) 10382

Hey, fellow white person. How much do we suck, huh? You know I used to defend the white racists who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution by saying “Well, they didn’t live the words they wrote, but they framed our country around morals that made us better than themselves.”

But that was kind of bullshit, because here we are 240 years later and we just elected a white nationalist demagogue, pretty much for the sole reason that he’s a white nationalist demagogue. We really fucking blew it, and we won’t even be the ones to suffer the consequences.

So now lots of white people are making themselves feel better by putting on safety pins, which is really bullshit. But not you and me. We’re going to do some things that will actually help the people we (as a racial cohort, anyway) have harmed. We aren’t going to congratulate ourselves on it, we’re not going to wear some stupid symbolic badge that says “Hey, I’m a good white person” so other white people will congratulate us on how woke we are. We’re just going to do these things because they’re the right things to do when you believe in fairness and equality and all those things the white racist founding fathers wrote about but didn’t believe.

Here are some really easy ways we can take concrete action that will bear results:

1. Be intolerant of intolerance

The first thing we have to do is make it clear that racism, discrimination, and intolerance are no longer values that we as a society will value. That means confronting other white people and making them feel marginalized for behaving in ways that do harm. You have to stand up against friends, relatives, and even strangers when you hear them saying racist or discriminatory things.

It’s not that hard; you say “What the hell is wrong with you?” and you walk away. One instance might not make a difference, but if it happens often enough, and if white racists learn that intolerance costs them social standing, they will eventually change–after all, the whole motive behind most white racism stems from loss of status.

The one exception is when you witness actual discrimination against another person. In those cases it is your responsibility to defend that person, not only by condemning the hate speech, but by staying with that marginalized person and treating them as an actual human being. You want to help people feel safe? Then forget your safety pin and do the work of actually helping people feel safe.

2. Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives

Here’s a question: How many black people do you follow on Twitter? How many black authors do you read? If you’re like many white people, the answer is not very many. I know I didn’t for a long time; I had to make a conscious effort to change that.

America is a culture that segregates by race, sometimes intentionally but often as an unexpected consequence of our social tendencies. Social media makes this worse–we’ve all heard of the echo chamber effect at this point. The best way to break free of that is to proactively seek out voices you aren’t hearing from.

The great thing, though, is that once you start paying attention to people different from you, whether that’s people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims, people with disabilities, Desi people, East Asians, etcetera, you will begin to encounter other new voices that you’ll appreciate. But you have to take that first step.

Here are a few people I would suggest following, who have helped to broaden my own exposure. You can find them on Twitter, or in longer form work if you’re not so much into Twitter. Just Google their names. This is not a comprehensive list, nor does it cover all communities, it’s just a good starting point in my opinion.

Deray McKesson; Roxane Gay; Shaun King; Baratunde Thurston; Raquel Cepeda; Rebecca Cohen; Xeni Jardin; Sara Yasin; Kumail Nanjiani; Anil Dash; Jamelle Bouie; Rembert Browne; Heidi Heilig; Ta-Nehisi Coates

3. Confront your racism and don’t be fragile

Here’s something I can promise, if you take my advice on #2 and start paying attention to more marginalized voices: You are going to encounter some opinions that will upset you. Some that might make you feel discriminated against, some that might even make you feel victimized by racism.

Don’t stop listening. Don’t tune out. Lean into your discomfort. Force yourself to consider other opinions, and understand why people might say something you find offensive. I’m not saying you can’t still disagree–in fact, the ability to respectfully disagree is itself a skill many Americans, especially White Americans, are not great at. So learn.

You’ll learn a lot of terms you might not have encountered before, among them “White Fragility.” This is a reference to the tendency among White people to take offense when they are called out for saying or doing something discriminatory or even racist. It’s that thing you may have noticed where some White people think “racist” is itself a discriminatory slur, and instead of listening and examining what about their behavior might be problematic they get offended and even demand an apology from the person they have offended.

So don’t be fragile. Your feelings might be hurt, sure. You might even be offended. But resist that urge, and make yourself listen. Lean into the discomfort. All of us are programmed by a culture that embeds racism, and if we are going to be allies we have to recognize we are all capable of racist actions–only by listening can we learn to do better.

And remember, you don’t have to AGREE with everything you hear, nor do you have to express your disagreement. You just have to listen to other people’s views and try to understand where they’re coming from.

4. Use your privilege to support marginalized movements

Join a Black Lives Matter march. Attend a meeting of your local community group. Go to a Black church. When people ask what you’re doing there, say “I’m here to support you.” Then ask how you can do that.

Your whiteness affords you privileges that can be a powerful asset for activists of color and from other marginalized groups. For one thing, police and politicians tend to take a movement far more seriously when there are white people participating–consider the difference in the way the Occupy movement was treated, versus the protesters in Ferguson Missouri.

However, you have to resist the urge to appoint yourself a leader. You might think I’m joking, but it’s something White people are programmed with, often by the prevalence of “White Savior” narratives in our entertainment media. Your job is to follow the leaders of the movement and do what you can to support them, even if you think you might know a better strategy.

On a related note, be prepared for the moment when a reporter with a camera will seek you out at a protest to be the spokesperson for the movement. As a white person in a minority space, I promise it will happen–it’s happened to me more than once. When that happens, here’s what you say: “I’m just here to support the movement, because I believe in it. You should speak with the leadership, I think they’re over there.” Then point in the direction where the reporter can find group leadership. Resist the urge to make further statements, because I promise it will be your face on the news that night, and none of the people of color who greatly outnumber you.

5. Give your time and money

There are a ton of organizations that do good work protecting marginalized groups in the courts, through lobbying and public advocacy, and through education and community organizing. You can donate money to them, and often you can donate time by volunteering.

Among those I would personally endorse: The Southern Poverty Law Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union, International Rescue Committee, Planned Parenthood, and the Disability Rights Network. All of these organizations are effective and deserve your money.

If you can’t volunteer for a large organization like one of these, you can find a food bank or other organization in your community that helps serve vulnerable communities. Your local Black church can almost certainly help direct you.

6. Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life

If you are in any position of authority, be it at work or for an organization or club, you have an opportunity to be more inclusive of people from other backgrounds and communities. But the mistake a lot of White people make is to think that simply not discriminating is enough. You can do more, and do better, by taking proactive measures to invite people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized people into your space.

If you’re recruiting at work, don’t simply put your ads on the usual web sites and newspapers and expect that to be enough. Seek out places where you can recruit people underrepresented in your workplace; in many locales predominantly Black colleges and Black business associations can help you recruit. LGBTQ community centers will have job posting boards, and your town or city may have organizations that exist specifically to connect immigrants, refugees, and racial minorities with the community.

Make sure that the space where you meet is accessible to people with disabilities, who may be confined to a wheelchair or otherwise unable to use stairs, or to reach buttons or door handles. It’s also good to be convenient to public transportation, since many people from poorer communities rely on public transit to get them around.

Also, don’t be afraid to outright say in your job listing or community post that you encourage participation from members of minority communities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, people with past convictions, and so on. This sends a signal to people who might otherwise assume that they are not welcome, and can go a long way to diversifying your environment.

7. Avoid segregation

Once again, American culture tends in many ways to self-segregate, for many reasons that I won’t get into here. For whatever reason, White spaces tend to be very White, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to fight that tendency.

If you’re willing to put a lot of effort into it, you can move. I realize that’s extreme, but I think it’s a powerfully transformative measure, especially if you have children. Growing up in a diverse community surrounded by people from different backgrounds tends to make people more accepting and open-minded, whereas growing up in homogenous spaces (like most suburbs) can make people fearful and insular.

Even if you don’t move, you can find easier and cheaper ways to diversify your own surroundings, or spend time in places that are less familiar. In many cases it’s as simple as going into the city nearest to you, and particularly neighborhoods that are not associated specifically with White tourism. In New York City, which is famously diverse but also strikingly segregated in many neighborhoods, you can eschew the Met or the Natural History Museum in favor of the New Museum or El Museo de Bario; skip dinner in Little Italy and go get soul food at Sylvia’s or matzo ball soup at a kosher deli.

Most houses of worship are very welcoming to people who don’t necessarily share their faith, especially parents seeking to expand their children’s horizons. Find a local mosque or synagogue and participate. Join a community group in a community different from yours. Your local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters is just waiting to help connect you with a “little” who, in many places, is likely to be from a family of color or an immigrant family.

If you’re willing to do a little work and a little traveling, there are lots of ways to make America less segregated.

8. Do the work to be inclusive

Finally, one of the easiest things White people can do (and yet often refuse to do) is to simply keep up with what’s happening in communities other than White communities, including the language people use with and about one another.

One does have to wonder how many White Americans out there will be wearing their little safety pins to indicate support for marginalized communities, but not even willing to learn the difference between Latinx and Hispanic, why “person with disability” is preferable to “disabled person” or “handicapped,” or recognize that “they” is now an accepted singular pronoun for those who wish to avoid gendering.

What many label “political correctness” is in fact a minimally difficult effort at using language that shows respect and engagement with communities that are not the predominant weilders of power in the United States. When White people complain that “they can’t keep up” with the changes in the way marginalized communities prefer to be addressed, what we are really saying is that we can’t be bothered to learn new words simply because they make other people feel more included and respected.

So take the time to learn new words, and learn what emerging issues are of concern to non-White people. If you’re following the other suggestions above, this actually won’t feel that difficult–but all of these things go a long way to actually help include and support non-White communities who have been harmed by recent American events. You can save your safety pin for laundry day.

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This Thomas Jefferson Bio for Kids Seems to Be Missing Something

October 28, 2016 Featured, History, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 266

A friend and former coworker shared these photos on Facebook. Her daughter picked up a book from the school library about Thomas Jefferson–specifically it’s “Thomas Jefferson” by author Doraine Bennett, published in 2012 by Georgia-based State Standards Publishing as part of their “America, My Country: American Heroes” series.

Does it seem like something is missing to you?

Thomas Wanted Freedom excerpt says "Jefferson believed people should be free."

This section, entitled “Thomas Wanted Freedom,” reads: “Thomas believed people should be free. People in America were not free. The king of England ruled them. Thomas did not think this was fair. Thomas went to meetings with other men. They wanted to make their own laws.”

"Thomas at Home" section of Thomas Jefferson biography

And “Thomas at Home” tells the story of Monticello: “Thomas’s father died. Thomas was fourteen. The plantation belonged to Thomas now. He wanted to build a house. He drew a plan for the house. Workers built the house. Thomas called the house Monticello. The name means little mountain. Thomas liked working on the house….”

Referring to Jefferson’s slaves only as “workers” strikes me as particularly eggregious.

My friend and her husband contemplated writing a few things in the margins, but ultimately have decided to visit the school Principal and recommend this book be pulled from the library. Granted, it’s clearly intended to be easy to read and understand (the publisher recommends the series for young children, those with learning or physical disabilities, English language learners, and those who lag behind in reading skills) but that doesn’t justify the whitewashing of American history.

The comments they received on Facebook were entertaining as well. “When was this book published,” one person asked. When the response came back “2012,” you could almost HEAR a gasp.

On their web site, the publisher brags, “Our focus on state-specific studies is unique in the market. While other publishers may provide state studies books, they may not fully cover the topics required in that state’s standards, or be written at grade level.” They also point out that their books meet Common Core ELA requirements. I sincerely hope that the state of Georgia has not established educational standards barring mention of slavery–though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texas State School Board is to thank for this.

 

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