Category Archives: community

Broken System, Part II: “Diversity Training”

by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils


In the first part of my “Broken System” series, I addressed the need for a landmark Supreme Court decision to be able to adequately affect the inequalities inherent in our public school system. In response, the inevitable debate began: what would actually fix these problems? A lot of great ideas have been suggested. However, at this point, many of the big changes proposed would be hard to push through, even with government backing, due to the mind-set of our general society. This post offers a possible solution to significantly alter our culture’s relationship to race, which could lead to positive change within our education system.

As a teacher and youth worker, I’ve been through my fair share of “diversity trainings.” And let’s just skip to the point and say that most of them are a big waste of time. They’re either too simple and obvious for people with any sort of awareness (or personal experience), or they’re too superficial to get anybody who really needs it to take it to heart. A couple hours of “diversity training” is never going to help a youth worker relate to kids of other races or backgrounds and/or get over their own sub-conscious (or conscious) biases.

The main problem, of course, is that these “trainings” come too late. Way too late. We wait until these folks are grown adults, with decades of experiences and ways of thinking behind them, and then we pretend that we can change their minds with some magical training. It doesn’t work like that. And we know that.

So how are we supposed to change race relations in our schools (and country)? How are we supposed to address volatile situations like the one in South Philadelphia High?

Well – what if we actually got over ourselves enough to talk to youth about it all? What if we directly addressed these issues? What if we taught our kids that talking about race isn’t a bad thing, that it can actually be helpful and positive? What then? Continue reading

How Do We Solve a Problem Like South Philadelphia High?

by Latoya Peterson

When you see a headline like “30 Asian Students Attacked,” one would think there would be massive rage.  An outcry about violence in schools.  A discussion of why our kids aren’t safe.  But in the wake of the attacks and continuing coverage by outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Asian-American blogosphere, the silence surrounding this issue confirms exactly who is considered media worthy in our society and who is not.  The kids being attacked at South Philly High School are part of our community – but where is the concern?  Where is the outcry from mainstream media? Where is the national conversation on…well, I’d take anything at this point.  Race, violence in schools, unsympathetic administrators, class, inter-community tensions, the right to an education in a safe environment – there are thousands of issues to be explored here, and we haven’t heard a peep from most mainstream media outlets.

I’ve been following the news with quite a bit of interest.  This kind of violence doesn’t pop up out of no where - it has to be nurtured.

Chaofei Zheng hiked up his shirt to reveal an angry bruise about four inches long on his right side. He pointed to a matching yellow and purple mark above his left eyebrow.

“I’m scared to go to school,” Zheng, 19, a freshman at South Philadelphia High, said through a translator today.

Zheng is one of several – community organizers say 30 or more – students who were attacked at the school on Thursday, targeted, they say, because they’re Asian.

Racial violence at the school is not new, but students and activists say this week’s attacks are emblematic of a problem that’s not going away.

“There’s a corrosive culture that’s hurting all the kids at the school,” said Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United, who said the district must apologize and “admit that there’s a serious problem at South Philly High School.”

District officials acknowledge the school has problems and racial tensions but say that before the incident, violence was down by 55 percent this school year. Inroads have been made, they say.

Looking at some of the source articles, a clear narrative starts to emerge.  And while it is difficult to opine on a situation that is still unfolding, there are some dominant ideas emerging that need to be scrutinized before any progress can occur. Continue reading

What Sarah Palin Taught Me About Beyonce

by Guest Contributor M. Dot, originally published at Model Minority

I am working on a paper titled, “How Beyonce and Capitalism Undermined R&B’s Ability to Normalize Black Love.”

The title may change to Beyonce Incorporated, as that is more focused and more appropriate for academia.

My professor wants me to l shift my focus to the media’s investment in what I have called the Beyonce Beauty Aesthetic – light skinned, size 4/6, curvy, blond hair.

But I am not interested in just talking about the media, I am interested in how Beyonce is a tool for maintaining US hegemony and the ways in which she normalizes really fucked up, patriarchal, Black heterosexual relationships.

I am fascinated by a light skinned, middle class Black woman from the Houston suburbs who sings about needing a soldier, who she could upgrade, so that he can put a ring on it, and if he likes her he can put her in his video phone.

Conversely, why is a woman worth tens of millions of dollars singing about needing a baller? Continue reading

The F word: On feminism, being an ally & social justice

by Guest Contributor Dumi Lewis, originally published at Uptown Notes


I am an African-American man. I am a heterosexual man. I am a middle-class man. These three statements are the basis for my social justice work and advocacy, but each carries its own hazard for working on social justice. While many will assume my position as a Black man in America makes me sensitive to “minority statuses”, in reality, over the past 10 years I’ve learned nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in many ways, my status as Black man in America has the potential to undercut my work of engaging the pursuit of equality of opportunity, equality of outcome and the right to self-determination for all people. I am both privileged and disadvantaged. I have identities that I celebrate, identities I conceal, and all these decisions matter for my view on the world and what I choose to fight for and against.

I didn’t really begin to grapple with my privilege as a Black man until I was a student in Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s class on Black Feminism at Spelman College. I can remember rebutting each point she made about the Million Man March (MMM) as an extension of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and an attempt to further embed misogyny. Besides being a slew of words I didn’t fully understand, I could not understand why she fixated on all the “negatives” of the March. In the class, she essentially argued the MMM because of the patriarchy, etc. she could not support it and thus thought it held little value. By the time I landed in her class I was a senior at Morehouse and certainly had come to believe the MMM was one of the most transformative events I’d ever personally experienced and I refused to have the event mischaracterized.

I paraphrase, but I told her, “Yes, it does ask men to come back into the family, but it doesn’t always mean that have to be at the head. I know some talked about being at the head of the household, but not everyone believed that. We didn’t invite sisters because it was our time as Black men to redefine our commitment to the Black family and Black community.” I wanted to her to see the value of the event beyond her points. She let me finish and sagely replied, “It must be a nice privilege to tell someone to overlook the oppressive elements of a program, because it was helpful to you.” My face fell, my mouth shut, and I  sat sheepishly quiet. My head spun between realization, frustration, and confusion. For the next few classes, I sat quietly and tried to figure out how I had not “seen it coming.” I realized that the lesson I had learned on the athletic field so many times applied to social justice work, “sometimes you got to get the wind knocked out of you to bring you back to earth.”Guy-Sheftall had pointed out what I’d seen done some many times but by those who came from outside of a community to do social justice work in my community. Someone(s) coming from the outside, declaring themselves an ally and expert and overlooking the view of those who were subject to the oppression in favor of their own perspective. Continue reading

When Allies Fail, Part II

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.] Last week, in a post titled When Allies Fail – Part 1, we began a discussion about maintaining alliances in the face of failure:

What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn’t easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.

In that post, I tackled the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege? Today, I want to talk about the responsibilities of marginalized people who want to work with allies. “Responsibilities of marginalized people”…already I am hesitant to speak about allied relationships this way.

First, marginalized people are the owners of the anti-racist and feminist/womanist movements. The outcomes of the movement are about our humanity, our treatment, our futures, our children. Our fight is based not on empathy, but lived reality. Yes, racism and sexism ultimately effect everyone, no matter their race or gender. But, for instance, women involved in the feminist movement feel the urgency for change much more strongly than our male allies. We are more invested, I think. I say this not as a slight against men. It is the rare human being who is not most invested in things that effect them directly.

Second, marginalized people, like POC, have historically been oppressed. As a result, we adapt to living in a society that does not treat us as equals and sees us as “other.” We try to conform. We code switch. We hide our culture. We change our physicality to match that of the majority culture. We hold our tongues in the face of the everyday dull aches of racism. We do this every day, both consciously and unconsciously.

Continue reading

When Allies Fail, Part I

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.]

Allies are important to any equality movement. It does not help people of color if we are the only ones who understand racism and how it still exists in society. It does not help women if we are the only ones that believe we deserve equal treatment. This is especially true considering the ways that women and people of color have been kept from places of power. The battles are ours to fight, and we can win them, but we need allies.

What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn’t easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.

And what do we do when this happens–when allies fail? How can we address mistakes, while preserving relationships and maintaining the power that comes through alliances with people outside of our group? How do I think an ally should respond when their bias or privilege is called out? How do I think marginalized groups should handle the mistakes allies make?

This is the first of two posts on maintaining alliances in the face of failure. Today, I will tackle the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege?

Continue reading

Toward A More Colorful Queer Future

by Guest Contributor Alex Niculescu


Over the last few years mainstream gay advocacy groups have focused their efforts on one issue, a panacea to seemingly solve all forms of inequality that gays are faced with: marriage rights.

With the passage of Proposition 8 this summer in California, many people’s hopes that gays would achieve full equality in this country were dashed. What was even more distressing, however, was the wave of racist backlash against people of color in California, who were accused of being the cause of Prop 8′s passage (this is a completely unfounded claim, as studies have shown). When I look at the actions of HRC, GLAAD, and other mainstream gay advocacy groups from the past years, they make me sad to call myself queer. In particular, their perpetual focus on marriage rights as the most pressing issue facing queers, the only obstacle blocking the road to full equality, is an awfully myopic and misguided claim. To assume that marriage is the main issue all queers should be organizing around automatically constructs an essentialized version of a gay person, when the very existence of queer people should enough to  contradict and confront any attempts to standardize our lives.

As anarchists say that “our dreams won’t fit in your ballot boxes,” queer bodies and experiences are too, well, queer, to fit in the state’s centuries-old definition of marriage. For queers to appeal for marriage is to desire assimilation into a heteronormative conception of sexuality, gender, and relationships, things which the government should have no business regulating or legislating in the first place. What scares me even more about assimilation is that it compels us to ignore the structures of power and interaction of power dynamics in this country.  Supporting marriage is supporting a means of institutional oppression. Historically, marriage was never rooted in religion, but rather it was a way for the state to regulate the transfer of property from a womyn’s family to her husband. This effectively bound the wife into a slaveholding document – she too became part and parcel of the man’s life possessions.  Consider the language that we use to describe when a womyn weds -  Mrs. is a possessive form of Mr.  For queers to appeal to an institution that has historically oppressed womyn (as well as non-whites – through miscegenation laws and the inability of slaves to exercise the so-called ‘human’ right of marriage, because, of course, it would humanize them in the face of their oppressors) baffles me. Continue reading

It’s Not All About You, or The Case for Empathy

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Back in 2004 when I first started speaking and blogging about race, I was invited to facilitate a phone discussion with a group of parents who had adopted children from outside the United States.

One of the mothers in the group was white and Jewish. She adopted her son from an African country, and was raising him in her faith. She told me that she wanted my advice on a situation she was dealing with.

Her nanny was a Jamaican woman. One day, the nanny came home and the mother noticed she looked upset. The mother asked her what was wrong, but the nanny just shook her head and said everything was fine.

The mother was concerned, so she kept prodding, but the nanny was still reluctant to say anything. The mother was persistent, and told her that this was a safe space for her to share. She said there wouldn’t be any judgments, no matter what it was about.

Finally, the nanny broke down and said, “You people don’t know how to act!”

She explained that anytime she took the child for play dates in their mostly white and Jewish neighborhood, parents would treat her brusquely and avoid eye contact. Whenever she went to a store, salespeople would follow her around to make sure she didn’t steal anything. When she went to pay for items, the cashier would treat take great pains not to touch her hand when giving her change back.

She had been putting up with this kind of discrimination for a long time now because she loved working with this family, but she didn’t know how much longer she could go on as it was wearing on her emotionally.

“Can you believe that?” the mother asked me, her voice shaking with anger.

I was about to respond by expressing how sorry I was that this level of prejudice existed in her community, when the mother continued.

“I’m going to fire her! How dare she call Jews ‘you people!’ I’m Jewish and my son is Jewish. I’m just going to have to fire her because I don’t feel safe around her anymore.”

I was stunned.

Not only did the mother completely ignore the very real discrimination her nanny was dealing with; she managed to turn the entire situation around so that she became the victim.

In subsequent years, I’ve come to realize that this kind of behavior is not at all unusual.

If anything it’s the norm, not the exception, for people to be pre-occupied with their own suffering and supremely uninterested in hearing about the oppression others face.

This lack of empathy is one of the biggest roadblocks we face in dismantling racism.

If we’re serious about social justice, we need to recognize that when one of us is discriminated against, it’s an affront to us all.