Tag Archives: Diversity

Defining Racism in the United States: A Starting Point

29 Jul

racism_logo_sqThere has been an amazing amount of discussion after I posted my Paula Deen/ Trayvon Martin story.  While I am so appreciative of much of the conversations, I have to admit a few items gave me pause.  I shared this article on LinkedIn’s Diversity A World of Change group and I’m not sure that several people, while prolific in their comments, truly understand the definition of the word Racism.

Sadly, Racism, Prejudice, Discrimination, and Bigotry seem to be used a great deal as though they are interchangeable.  These words are not interchangeable — they are not all synonyms for Racism.  Racism has to contain an institutional and structural power dynamic.  Here in the United States that power dynamic is held primarily by white, heterosexual, middle-aged, Christian, well educated men; these are the people who establish norms in our society and have a great deal of unearned privilege because of the color of their skin.  This group, called the dominant culture, creates laws and policies — laws and policies that have an ugly history and were designed to help white folk while oppressing folks of color. Thus, Racism is: structural, institutional and systemic power that allows for discrimination and bigotry affecting someone’s health, well being, safety, and livelihood based on real or perceived racial or ethnic affiliation.

Perhaps a bit of a history lesson might be useful here.  Let us keep in mind the multi-generational impact of these laws both economically and emotionally.  1857 the Dred Scott Decision: The Supreme Court said that all people of African dissent were not and could not be counted as citizens of the United States.  Let us jump to 1935 with the start of Social Security — a great act to be passed, but sadly it did not initially apply to anyone who was not white, a significant economic impact.  Now let us move to the 1945 GI Bill — great opportunity for soldiers returning from WWII. Sadly, this bill did not initially apply to any of the soldiers of color returning from WWII.  Here we see a HUGE economic impact for generations of whites with great advantage and thus a huge disadvantage for multi-generations of people of color.  The GI Bill allowed for white soldiers to buy their first home and get a college education; this would qualify as unearned privilege due to one’s skin color.

Let us jump to 1954 when we witness the Termination Act.  The Termination Act stripped ALL Native Americans from their identities as our government told all of these people: “Okay, you are white now, so you must live in the cities and turn over your lands to the U.S. government.”  The cultural and financial impact on Native Americans was and remains profound.

Even more recent and disgraceful is SB1070 adopted by Arizona in 2010 and then adopted by Alabama in 2011, which demands that ALL Latinos/Hispanics must have proof of citizenship on them at all times.  If someone with dark skin that is, or is perceived, to be Latino/Hispanic and cannot provide documentation of citizenship, they can be put in jail.

I approach the work of equity and marginalization as a gay man.  Working as an agent of change means I am also obligated to know about the start of Gay Liberation in 1969.  The LGBT community has a long history of being targeted and imprisoned.  Until 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, it was against the law to be gay in the United States.  Sadly, regardless of Lawrence v. Texas, it is still against the law in most states in the south.  In fact, the LGBT community have zero rights and protections in almost all of the South.  My personal call to action is to stand in solidarity with all those that are oppressed by the dominant culture and to honor their narratives–to understand how LGBT people of color are targeted and why.

This history is carried with all targeted people and passed down from generation to generation, much like if you are Jewish your family knows about the Holocaust because it affected your family for many generations.  Of course, the impact is more severe if one carries more than one of these identities.  For example, if you are a woman and a woman of color or if you are a man and a gay man of color, the impact is far worse.

Finally, let us illustrate the sad state of racism in the United States with the belligerent, bellicose, bigot Ted Nugent.  As of late, Nugent seems to be the appointed spokesperson of the GOP.  In response to the Zimmerman verdict, Nugent went on a racist tirade:

Why wasn’t Trayvon [Martin] educated and raised to simply approach someone he wasn’t sure about and politely ask what was going on and explain he was headed home? Had he, I am confident that Zimmerman would have called off the authorities and everything would have been fine.Why the nasty “creepy a– cracker” racism and impulse to attack? Where does this come from? Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week?…When you live in a fog of denial, usually inspired by substance abuse — you know with all the lies about dope being a victimless crime, I think you’re listening to the victims of this dopey crime, because their brains are fried. They’re either fried on substance abuse, and all of them know who I’m talking about.

The fact that the severely misguided and undereducated Nugent feels justified making these very public racist comments, along with people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson makes it quite clear that we still have a long way to go around issues of racial and gender equity.

Call to action: Imagine how powerful we could be if all of the targeted populations joined together to stop this type of oppression and even more powerful if we enlist the support of all of our allies that are within the dominant culture?

My hope in publishing this article is to encourage and invite people to engage in a meaningful dialogue around the issues of race, gender, power, and equity.  I hope many will contribute to this conversation in a respectful manner and also correct me if I have committed any trespass in my exposition here.  That being said, I certainly appreciate all of the comments people offer on the Facebook and on LinkedIn; might I invite you to also share those comments here on the blog, so as to reach a larger audience?

Black History Month 2013: Loretta Long

27 Feb

LorettaLongToday we honor and celebrate a woman who has been a key part of the lives of millions of children, Dr. Loretta Long. As Susan, Long has been a member of the cast of Sesame Street longer than anyone but two colleagues: Bob McGrath and Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer who portrays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch).

Born in Paw Paw, MI in 1940, Long pursued a degree in Education, determined to make a difference in young lives. She was also interested in entertainment, and began co-hosting the WNET show Soul! while substitute teaching. The show mixed musical variety (including performances by Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle) with frank political commentary, appealing to all Long’s interests. One day she saw the set decorator preparing scenes for a new program and asked for more information. The show was Sesame Street.

[It] wasn’t Dick and Jane’s old neighborhood with the picket fence. That intrigued me.

Impressed by the educational and multicultural goals of the program, Long went to audition. What she didn’t know was that the creators were looking for a “Joan Baez type” for the female lead. All the other performers were there with guitars; Long had expected a pianist. Improvising, she sang “I’m A Little Teapot” to the children in the test audience, engaging them to join in. Her infectious good humor and way with the kids won her the part.

So that–I have some 4-year-olds to thank for a career!

Long taped the show, substitute taught (much to the confusion of students who saw her in the classroom and on TV), and pursued her PhD in Education from the University of Massachusetts all at the same time. She wanted to be sure to have the tools to make education meaningful and fun both. Her dissertation was entitled “Sesame Street”: A Space Age Approach to Education for Space Age Kids.

While educating generations of children on fair play, diversity, and basic skills, Long has also been a strong voice for social justice. She is dedicated to creating true equity and challenges people to think outside their comfort zones.

In 1998, she wrote the children’s book Courtney’s Birthday Party, about two girls who are best friends, one white and one black. When Courtney, the white girl, has a birthday party coming, her mother doesn’t want to invite Dejana, her African-American friend. The girls work together to solve the situation, promoting diversity and cooperation. Long faced some criticism for the book because people felt it wasn’t realistic in 1998. She demanded otherwise (quite accurately) and provided kids, parents, and teachers with a marvelous tool.

We seldom know about the backgrounds of the entertainers who create educational programming. As Long observes,

TV is like fire. It’s good when it keeps you warm and bad if it burns your house down. TV is very popular and you need to be aware of what your children are watching.

The cast of Sesame Street were all dedicated to true educational and social justice principles (including the late Will Lee, better known as Mr. Hooper). Thank you Dr. Loretta “Susan” Long for providing your voice and passion for so many years.

(For a wonderful, lengthy interview with Dr. Long, visit the Archive of American Television.)

Bigot of the Week Award: November 30, U.S. House Leadership

30 Nov

Bigots of the Week

Rumor has it that elephants never forget. It seems like the lumbering mastodon of the GOP never learns. In this month’s historic elections, American voters sent the most diverse group to Congress ever. Record numbers of women, African Americans, Latinos, LGB Americans, and other minorities are represented. So what did Speaker Boehner (R – is for Racist) do? He appointed all white men to be chairs of the House committees.

That’s right, there isn’t a minority heading even a small committee. You’d think an overgrown, tearful Oompaloompa like Boehner would be more sensitive, but apparently not.

Now, to be fair, there just aren’t that many minorities in the Republican House caucus, so the choices are limited (and usually creepy). After an election where the GOP got slapped down for its misogyny, racism, and homophobia, however, you’d think they would have made an effort. Maybe they could have borrowed one of Mitt Romney’s binders to find someone.

I can only think of one explanation. Since Romneybot 2012 cost the party the White House, maybe they are compensating by displaying their own white House. What do you think?

A dishonorable mention goes to Dr. Oz for thinking that it is acceptable to offer “reparative therapy” tips on his show.  Shame on you Dr. Oz!

Are We Represented?

19 May

So Many White Male Faces

America has the benefit of being a very diverse nation. That’s right Conservatives, I said benefit. But, when I think about the U.S. Congress, all that comes to mind are white men who fight hard to keep the status quo. That is a problem because they do not properly represent the diversity America has. When I researched minorities in congress and did some number crunching, this is what I found.

Congress

House

Senate

Delegates

Women

Democrat

49

12

3

Republican

24

5

0

African American

Democrat

39

0

2

Republican

2

0

0

Hispanic *

Democrat

17

1

0

Republican

7

1

0

Asian American

Democrat

7

2

2

Republican

1

0

0

Openly LGBT

Democrat

2

0

0

Republican

0

0

0

* Puerto Rico also has one Independent Hispanic delegate

So let’s compare. The U.S. Congress has 541 members: 100 Senators, 435 Representatives, and 6 non-voting Delegates in the House.

Comparison

U.S.

Congress

Difference

Women

51%

17%

-34%

African American

13%

8%

-5%

Hispanic

16%

5%

-11%

Asian American

5%

2%

-3%

Openly LGBT **

8%

0.30%

-8%

** This is a conservative estimate since there are no reliable figures.

When looking at the numbers, the disparities are all too clear.

1)    Women are greatly under-represented. Even within other minorities, women tend to be less than half the count. Men dominate whether white or not.

2)    No wonder the war on women has been so easily won time after time. Men are 83% of congress. Can you believe that?

3)    When looking at the percentages in congress and percentages of US population, you see that the percentages are divided by at least half or more.

4)    There are fewer Republican minorities than Democrats. A lot fewer.

I looked into this because I was curious to see the numbers. Looking at them, it is clear that things need to change.

So many are comfortable with the status quo and will do anything to keep it that way. Many people – like Mitt Romney – see diversity as bad, so they spread fear about it while at the same time denying that they are racist. This country is getting less white and less straight as the years go by, and some of us are ready for it and others are not. This year at the ballot box please vote for your best interests. Let’s give those white guys who have plagued Congress for years some colleagues who can challenge their outdated and anti-diversity views.

Submitted by TSM Contributor, James Queale

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