All posts by Jen Chau

Practice Makes Progress

by Guest Contributor Jen Chau, originally published at The Time is Always Right

Talking

In my years of diversity work, I am pretty sure about one thing. The people who are “good” at talking about race issues are those who have practiced.

As a participant in discussions about race, I have heard certain white individuals (not all) lament, “I just don’t know how to talk about this stuff.” And then I have heard some people of color (not all) in turn, say, “I am tired of talking about this stuff every day.”

Part of the disparity in who is comfortable talking about it and who is not, stems from our different experiences with race growing up. If it was a present topic at the dinner table, getting ready for school as our breakfast was eaten and our shoelaces tied, or on the walk home after the bell rang, then we probably grew into adults who were comfortable with the topic of race. It was a part of everday life and our consciousness. It was an issue that was freely discussed, so it didn’t come with the fear and hang-ups others might feel when approaching the subject.

On the flip side, if race was never mentioned growing up, or if difference was brought up in a very passive or subtle way; and as a child, you had the feeling that such issues would not be welcomed at the dinner table because you never saw the adults in your life discuss such matters, then you grew up to be an adult without years of practice. Maybe you are uncomfortable with these discussions now; maybe you have figured out how to get practiced as an adult.

Due to our experiences growing up, we either became practiced in talking about matters of race, or we didn’t.

This is important because it means that practice gets you there. It’s not something that you are born knowing how to do (though you might argue, it’s something you are born into depending on your family’s orientation toward race/culture), it’s something that you practice. And practice now, or at any point, really, will get anyone more comfortable with the subject. Once more of us are comfortable (or just willing to come to the table), I am confident that we will make progress when it comes to how we address issues of race and identity in this country. Continue reading

My people – who are they?

Note from Carmen: I’m happy to announce that Jen Chau, my former partner-in-crime at New Demographic, is back in the blogosphere! Check out her new blog, The Time is Always Right. I’m cross-posting one of her recent blog posts here.

by guest contributor Jen Chau

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about community and identity, and how the two interact. Usually, we build a community for ourselves out of those who reflect some piece of our identity. Perhaps you feel you belong to multiple communities because there are many aspects of your identity that are compelling enough to you to warrant you taking time to connect with others on the basis of it.

For all intents and purposes, in this country, I think community has come to be understood as something that is very racialized. You mention your community, and it is assumed that you are talking about those who share your same racial/ethnic make-up.

Aren’t we more than our ethnicities though? While ethnicity is obviously an important part of our identity, it’s not the only thing to which we feel connected. And on top of that, if we are only building community with others on the basis of the fact that we share the same ethnic make-up, doesn’t that become problematic? What are we prioritizing here?

I have been thinking about exactly what it is that ties me to other people…In the past, I have mainly defined my community as a group of people inclusive of those who were similar to me, ethnically (read: mixed folks). I have even worked to create communities of mixed people for the past seven years (Swirl). I still recognize that ethnic identity-based communities are important…but in addition, shouldn’t we also be building communities of individuals who are tied to each other based on common interests and common fights? Imagine activist communities….communities of people who are trying to reform education (I believe this is starting)…communities of people who are committed to challenging racism…all with a diversity of members so that you don’t get a group of mixed activists over here, and a pan-Asian group of activists over there, and a black group here….but across ethnicities, we are coming together to address one common goal. I have not seen much of this (if you have, hit me up and let me know!).

Obviously, there are tons of interest-based groups out there (read: organizational communities; nonprofits), but when I think about how the typical person relates to this type of a community, I think…you visit it when you have time, when you have a task, when you are interested. It’s a kind of community that needs you and your commitment to it more than you need it. Right? Your actual community — the community to which you truly feel a part is the group of people to whom you may go when you feel vulnerable and need support, when you want to have fun, when you want to be yourself, when you want to let your guard down completely. For most people, this is a group of people who are the same ethnicity. You share the same culture, so you are most comfortable with these people.

But what if interest-based communities could play this role in our lives? What if the people who you were working/protesting/acting alongside were also your best friends and your confidantes? What if they were like family to you? What if we formed our communities based on interests, causes, and ways of thinking instead of ethnicity? Wouldn’t we help to break down barriers? Wouldn’t we experience less separation and racism if we built more multi-ethnic communities?

Who do I consider my people now?

What I want today (I say today because we are always evolving…what is important to us today may not be as important to us years from now) is a community that is ethnically diverse, where everyone is working toward change of some kind. We represent different issues and causes, but we are all passionate about changing our world for the better. We are in it for the long haul. These are my people. These are the people with whom I want to surround myself. I have realized that over ethnic identity, I am looking for people with similar values and goals.

What kind of community do you want to build for yourself?

Jen transitions out of New Demographic Co-Director role

by Jen Chau

jen chauPlease scroll down to download or listen to our latest episode of Addicted to Race, in which Carmen and I discuss this news.

This is the hardest decision I have made in a while. After more than two years of working with Carmen, co-directing New Demographic, co-editing Mixed Media Watch (now Racialicious), and then creating Addicted to Race and many more fabulous blogs (Race Changers, Anti-Racist Parent), I have decided to transition out of my Co-Director role.

In the past several months, our work has intensified exponentially. With the addition of several new projects this fall, Carmen and I have been contacted by more media outlets for commentary, we have been approached by more organizations interested in our workshops, and we have had the pleasure of engaging with more and more of you, our readers and listeners. However, New Demographic is not the only thing in my life that has picked up the pace — my work with Swirl (the non-profit I founded 7 years ago) and New Leaders for New Schools (my full-time job) has also become more demanding. In an effort to really do a couple of things well instead of spreading myself too thin, I decided that it made sense to focus on my work with Swirl and New Leaders for New Schools, knowing that New Demographic would be carried on by the more-than-capable Carmen!

So, Carmen will continue on as the Director of New Demographic. Given her talents and knowledge, I am confident that New Demographic will only continue to grow by leaps and bounds. I am excited to stay abreast of all of New Demographic’s projects to see how they transform and grow.

I am going to continue to contribute to the work of challenging society’s ideas around race and identity through my role as Founder/Executive Director of Swirl and with my Human Resources Director role at New Leaders for New Schools.

Swirl (www.swirlinc.org) is a social justice organization building and serving a mixed heritage community through support, education and empowerment. We are focusing on the re-launch of our new website, growing and expanding to serve more cities across the country, and building more programs for our growing diverse communities. I am glad to be able to devote more attention to the organization, really building off of our past successes and taking the time to be strategic about shaping the work we do, moving forward.

I am also very excited to be a part of an educational reform movement through New Leaders for New Schools (www.nlns.org). For the past six years, this organization has mainly served as a training ground for exceptional teachers to become principals. They go into schools that are struggling, where children aren’t at the reading and math levels they need to be, and help to turn those schools around. New Leaders operates with the belief that all (every single) child can achieve at high levels. There is a built-in drive to reach equality in education in order to level the playing field for children — no matter what background (class, race, etc). This is an important mission, and one that I am committed to. A just education must be provided if we are going to chip away at the racial disparities that exist. I have been at New Leaders for about one and a half years now, working on the HR Team and I have just recently been promoted to Director. I am glad to be helping to provide strong systems and processes to an organization that is going to change education as we know it.

I may no longer be an official part of New Demographic (other than being one of its proud founders :)), but I will very much be a part of the work we are all doing to challenge the status quo and break the harmful stereotypes that fuel many of our interactions with one another.

The last couple of years have been fulfilling and exciting for me. Seeing the change that is possible through connecting people of different backgrounds and experiences, seeing how eyes are opened by the offering of new information, realizing how many like-minded people are out there willing to challenge the ways we think about race…it has made me very hopeful. I am looking forward to seeing not only how New Demographic grows, but how more and more people will become a part of our growing community of people dedicated to challenging racism, moving us forward, and connecting people of different ethnicities rather than separating us. I may not talk with you regularly (through Racialicious, ATR, ARP, etc.), but I will be right alongside you, working to educate and to break down the racist ideals that still plague us today.

Thanks for the learning and the laughter. I’ll see you all out there, making a difference,

Jen

(btw, I encourage all who are interested in continuing to stay in touch with me or those who are interested in getting involved in community organizing around race and identity, to reach me at jenchau@swirlinc.org.)

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Kimchi in aisle two!

by Jen Chau
kimchiGood news for you “ethnic” foodies out there! Looks like our tastebuds are changing enough that ethnic grocery stores are being noticed more and more…big supermarkets are even carrying more ethnic foods in order to satisfy our cravings for Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Korean and Cuban cuisine.

Mealmakers across the country are discovering small ethnic grocers that once primarily served immigrant communities. Even in overwhelmingly white regions like Albany, culinary adventurers like DeFrancesco troll the aisles of stores like Lee’s, stocking up on whatever unusual sauces, candies and snacks strike their fancies. Tracking the growth of these grocers is difficult; most of them are scattered wherever immigrant populations appear and want foods familiar to their heritages, says Michael Sansolo, spokesman for the Food Marketing Institute in Washington.

But the growth hasn’t gone unnoticed. Major supermarket chains are dedicating more space to ethnic foods, Sansolo says. It’s an attempt to draw shoppers who may otherwise head for these specialty markets.

Demographically, it makes sense. Hispanics and Asians now represent about 18 percent of the U.S. population, and account for more than half of the nation’s population growth since the start of the decade, according to the Census Bureau.

Basically, at this point, we still see that anything aside from apple pie and hot dogs is relegated to “ethnic food” aisles. It would be nice to see a bit more integration at the grocery store ;), but perhaps it will take a while since clearly, the way that we discuss ethnic cuisine sets it apart. Certain ingredients are easily labeled “unusual,” with only “culinary adventurers” as takers (Are they really that unusual? Perhaps people who find themselves closed to trying food “not their own” are the unusual elements here?? :)).

Ok, perhaps this is a small (even petty) thing to be analyzing, but I do think that this speaks to how Americans tend to be so confined in our thinking. So, if you are X ethnicity you are only meant to eat X food? And if you stray from that, then WHOA! You sure are adventurous!? I think I probably just take for granted that I live in a very diverse neighborhood where you can’t help but get familiar with a variety of cuisines….but I do recognize this is not the norm for others. Anyone want to head over to Stop and Shop, get some spicy daal, cilantro, dumplings, and have a wild and adventurous night? ;)

Wasted youth?

by Jen Chau
Aw hell. At first I thought it was cool that there was actually a category that involved rap lyrics on Jeopardy, but notice Alex Trebek’s comment to the woman who keeps getting the correct answers.

Wasted youth?! Gee, tell us how you really feel, Alex?! :| I think someone needs to call Trebek on his corrolation of listening to rap/knowing rap with *waste*. Wasted time? Wasted childhood? No surprise that he is making this connection. Disturbing that this kind of comment typically (probably) goes unnoticed and unchecked.

Even with his negative remark, it still seems like he is having too much fun reciting those lyrics… ;) By the way, why is an older white man rapping the most hysterical thing ever? Does anyone remember a video that was being passed around a little while ago of this guy doing really good impressions of famous hip hop celebrities? Everyone who sent it my way would comment on the hilarity of it. I guess it was really just awe that such a person (read: older white man) would be interested in hip hop enough to actually spend time listening to it and perfecting his performance of it. I guess you would never see Alex Trebek doing that. What a waste of time! (YES! I love YouTube. I can’t believe I found it.)

Check out another Trebek questionable moment.

(Thanks to my little bro at TheThink, where I saw this originally).

Hailing a cab was never so easy…

by Jen Chau
the cabs are just lining up!That is the thought of New York Times Week in Review writer, Calvin Sims. He remembers that just several years ago, it was much tougher to hail a cab, being a young black male. He wonders if it has to do with law enforcement, the fact that drivers are less discriminatory, or because he is less threatening now that he is a bit older and “well-dressed.”

Now, my friends and I look more mature than we did 10 years ago and, if I dare say, we dress better, which may account for our newfound taxi-hailing success. But numbers make me think that something else may be going on. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s “Operation Refusal” program, in which undercover officers of different races randomly hail taxis, found in its most recent study a 96 percent compliance rate among cabbies. The commission says the compliance rate has grown consistently since the program was instituted in 1997, when it was 88 percent.

“It’s a better climate today for everybody in the city to catch a taxi than it was back then, no matter what your race,” said Matthew W. Daus, the city’s taxi commissioner. “Drivers realize that the person they refuse to pick up could be an undercover officer and that has reduced the temptation to discriminate.”

Ah, no reason to get happy people, “progress” has been made due to fear of repercussions. :|

Gotta love your babies’ daddies

by Jen Chau
babies daddies teeAnd if you do, here’s a shirt for you. Thanks to Ani for the heads-up. It’s a nice follow-up to the milk bottle shirt that we loved to hate a little while back.

Note the description: yay for different-raced babies?! :| Gee, I guess interracial baby-making is still kitschy, huh?

Girls, do you collect babies? Well, if you do, then celebrate your babies and their various daddies with this fine shirt. Look, all the babies are different races.

“Collect babies” is also a little questionable. :|

PBS ‘NewsHour’ not so diverse

by Jen Chau
PBS NewsHourEver notice how experts and commentators in the media are usually white (conservative) men? Yes, not so surprising/groundbreaking. Well, PBS’ ‘NewsHour’ is being blasted by advocacy org Fairness and Accuracy in Media for just this kind of lack of diversity. After all, there are people of color who know what they are talking about too! [sigh] :|

FAIR’s researchers found minorities used as sources 15 percent of the time, even though they make up 31 percent of the population. Hurricane Katrina sources, mostly victims of the flood, make up about half of those sources, he said.

In stories about the Iraq war, people who advocate a U.S. withdrawal were outnumbered by more than five-to-one, the liberal group said. Its researchers said they couldn’t find a single peace activist had appeared on “NewsHour” during the six months studied.

Those stats are crazy (but not surprising). And I love that the PBS spokesperson blames the heavy white male, Republican slant on the fact that we have a Republican White House and Congress. Too easy. Weak.