Tag Archives: intersections of oppression

Black History Month 2015: Difficult Reflections

1 Feb

Black History MonthThis is now the fifth year that Social Justice For All (SJFA) has celebrated Black History Month. The past year has proven unequivocally why we still need Black History Month. I can only hope all of us in the United States are doing some reflection around our own racism and encouraging conversations around issues of racial disparities and systems of inequities and oppression. I also hope as we have these courageous conversations we have a better understanding of what racism is.

In the wake of Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and all of the other cities where black voices are being silenced, we have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations around race and racism.  I suspect many of us are still feeling the sting of the Supreme Court’s decision to dismantle the Voting Rights Act; continuing their racist agenda, they then upheld voter suppression in Texas.

Equity and Equality are still just a dream when 13% of the people in our country identify as African American (we know this percentage is not accurate because of the many barriers that prevent some African Americans from filling out the census) and far fewer than this are represented in most walks of life. Sadly, the places where African Americans are over-represented include poverty, dropout rates, and incarceration, further evidence that institutionalized oppression still plays a major role in how things work in America. In states like Alabama, blacks that are or were incarcerated lose their right to vote for the rest of their lives – so much for the 14th Amendment.

I would love to see a point in history when we don’t need Black History, Women’s History, or LGBT History Months. I don’t see that happening until we have a level playing field, which would require eradicating racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This also requires that we see accurate representation in history books of Blacks, Women, and LGBT folk. I can only hope that all of these targeted populations can find ways to build community and work together around issues of equity and equality.

Let’s kick off Black History Month in this historic year with an eye to so many wonderful accomplishments. Let inspiration drive hope to fuel more success and let each of us step back and reflect where we might be implicated in colluding with systems of oppression and racism.

 

The Clippers: An Opportunity for Healing

2 May

NBA: New Orleans Hornets at Los Angeles ClippersWhile I was not particularly surprised to learn that Donald Sterling reared his racist head, I was exceedingly disappointed that we have yet more evidence of how much work still has yet to be done around race and how our nation still perpetuates the targeting and marginalizing of African Americans.

Let us hope this horrific moment from Sterling will create space for us as a country to have conversations around race and racism and that we will also  include conversations around misogyny and homophobia and what I might call the intersections of oppression. If we can have authentic and empathic conversations around race and oppression, we can also pave the way for healing.

Of course, our collective hearts go out to the Clippers and for all of the African Americans renting apartments from Sterling — for all of the lives Sterling impacted with his ignorance. Perhaps the tonic will come in the form of a new owner of the Clippers. I have heard three names thrown about and a most wonderfully creative uniting idea. I have heard that Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, and David Geffen have all expressed an interest in buying the team. Personally, I think there is some type of poetic justice in Oprah Winfrey (a black woman) and David Geffen (a white gay Jew) co-owning the team.

I am also drawn to the idea of a collective ownership. A man named Rob Wilson has started an Indiegogo campaign online to get as many as one million Clippers fans to join him in funding a bid to buy the team. He observes

Major sports teams no longer need to be in the hands of a few wealthy individuals whose values are detached from those of its fans. Technology has leveled the playing field in many industries. Now, let’s use technology to change the ownership suite… This is an opportunity put the LA Clippers in the hands of its fans, supporters and others who will not discriminate against others.

Approaching this from a social justice lens, I hope this awful incident (an incident NOT in isolation) will provide opportunities for us to unite as a nation and focus on issues of racial equity and equality. For me, issues of race are also tied to issues of misogyny, homophobia, and how we target people who are not part of the dominant culture.

CALL TO ACTION: I hope each of us will examine ways we can stand in solidarity with those people who are targeted and oppressed.

Michael Sam: Black History Hero, Feb. 14, 2014

14 Feb

MSamBHMHeroThis week it is a real pleasure to honor a Hero of the Week who is also making strides in Black History. Michael Sam was born in 1990 in Texas. The seventh of eight children, he has faced significant family hardship. His parents separated when he was little. One brother died from a gunshot in front of him, another is missing, and two are incarcerated. Sam discovered a talent for football in high school, but met opposition from his mother, whose religion is opposed to organized sports. Often he had to stay with friends.

A promising player, Sam was accepted into the University of Missouri and joined their football team in 2009, the first member of his family to attend college. During his time on the team, he racked up an enviable record, including being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. (Wow, I don’t think I have ever used this many sports terms in my life.) He is considered a top choice for the NFL draft.

Michael Sam put that promising career at risk with bold honesty. Last August, he told his team that he was gay. They were very supportive and agreed to let him come out publicly on his own time — Bravo! Last Sunday, he did just that. He is one of a handful of openly gay college athletes and, if drafted, would be come the first out gay player active in the NFL.

Coming out is still, sadly, a challenge and a risk. It is even more difficult and risky for those facing many intersections of  oppression, and African-American men have historically faced even greater threats and rejections. Professional sports are hardly embracing, and the NFL is at the bottom of the pack. Despite all this, Sam decided that honesty and integrity made it worth the risk. In his coming out interview with the New York Times, he said:

I just want to go to the team who drafts me, because that team knows about me, knows that I’m gay, and also knows that I work hard. That’s the team I want to go to.

That’s as it should be. Hard work and talent should be enough for any team. Nonetheless, a number of NFL executives and officials commented anonymously in Sports Illustrated that Sam had doomed his chances. Playing the gay panic card, they said things like

There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that. There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction. That’s the reality.

How disgusting and how bizarre! Does it then naturally follow that all heterosexual men are unable to control themselves around all women that come near them? How ironic that Michael Sam made a strong public statement and those who want to tear him down will only speak off the record.

Fortunately, the official NFL stance is much more positive:

We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.

Let’s hope that this proves to be true, and that Michael Sam gets the chance he deserves to shatter an ugly, long-standing barrier.

How absolutely wonderful that First Lady Michelle Obama texted Sam:

You’re an inspiration to all of us, @MikeSamFootball. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage both on and off the field. -mo

Just when I did not think I could love her anymore than I already did. Brava, First Lady!

As a nice footnote to this story, Hero of the Week Honorable Mention goes to an unexpected representative of the dominant discourse. Dale Hansen, a white sportscaster on WFAA TV in Dallas, TX, celebrated Michael Sam and thrashed his critics during his segment Monday evening, ripping apart their hypocrisy:

You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome … You lie to police trying to cover up a murder? We’re comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!

Of course, I love that he quotes Audre Lorde! He rails against conservatives who want small government but also want the government to control who we can love and ends with a lovely celebration of the ways that our differences make us stronger. Thank you, Mr. Hansen!

The 50 Year War on Poverty: Where Are We Today?

16 Jan

LBJContinuing with my desire for an increased awareness around issues of poverty and class — which automatically addresses issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the many other intersections of identities — I thought it might be helpful to do some reflection since President Johnson initiated his War on Poverty 50 years ago.

As we reflect on issues of poverty and class (and all of the implications therein), it might be helpful to keep in mind that today over half of the members of the United States Congress are millionaires. Yes, leading the pack is our Republican Darrell (I Hate the Poor) Issa, with a net worth of approximately $464 million dollars. Of course, Republican Obstructionist Mitch McConnell also made the list of millionaires.  When those crafting policy are so far removed from the practical concerns of everyday people, it’s no wonder that they make so little effort to improve the lives of those people.

For years, polls have shown that the top priority for Americans is job creation. Congress has done virtually nothing. Instead, congressional Republicans have wasted money fighting the Affordable Care Act, a law that ensures that the poorest still have access to necessary health services. Trying to score Tea Points, they shut down the government, again disproportionately harming the poorest, both government employees and service users.

In a nation where the highest court has decided that corporations are people, it comes as no surprise that those conglomerate entities wield their power to collect more wealth. The result is an increasingly skewed distribution not just of wealth but of security. People who are scrambling for a basic living have precious little time to fight for their rights. That makes the recent fast food and Wal-Mart strikes even more impressive.

War on Poverty? It seems like poverty is winning, abetted by the authorities who should be bearing arms against it. How sad this makes me for the late President Johnson, who tried so hard to address issues of poverty by creating social programs that would help lift people out of poverty without judgement and shame.

Here we are now 50 years post Johnson’s initiatives according to the Pew Research Center:

Today, most poor Americans are in their prime working years In 2012, 57% of poor Americans were ages 18 to 64, versus 41.7% in 1959.

Far fewer elderly are poor: In 1966, 28.5% of Americans ages 65 and over were poor; by 2012 just 9.1% were. There were 1.2 million fewer elderly poor in 2012 than in 1966, despite the doubling of the total elderly population.

But childhood poverty persists: Poverty among children younger than 18 began dropping even before the War on Poverty. From 27.3% in 1959, childhood poverty fell to 23% in 1964 and to 14% by 1969. Since then, however, the childhood poverty rate has risen, fallen and, since the 2007-08 financial crisis, risen again.

Poverty is more evenly distributed, though still heaviest in the South: In 1969, 45.9% of poor Americans lived in the South, a region that accounted for 31% of the U.S. population at the time. At 17.9%, the South’s poverty rate was far above other regions. In 2012, the South was home to 37.3% of all Americans and 41.1% of the nation’s poor people; though the South’s poverty rate, 16.5%, was the highest among the four Census-designated regions, it was only 3.2 percentage points above the lowest (the Midwest).

Sadly, today we see our own version of the Hunger Games being played out.  The people with the most power have the most money and continue to strip benefits from those that need it the most.  Perhaps obliviousness is their greatest privilege.

A Holiday Invitation…

25 Dec
Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

As this year draws to a close,  I suspect many of us are in an introspective mood.  Many of us are reflecting back on the losses of family and friends and social justice pioneers, such as Nelson Mandela and Lou Reed and to a certain extent Pope Francis and of course Wanda Coleman.  I know I am constantly looking at what my legacy for humanity will be. I extend an invitation for us all to challenge anyone who shows a lack of generosity and heart — to challenge these human flaws with kindness and with love.

I believe that if we are serious about eradicating racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, and poverty, we must all be engaged – we must all stand in solidarity with one another. When we commit any type of trespass against another human being, we must be willing to do some repair work.

How lovely that we don’t have to do the heavy work of social justice in isolation, but instead we find ourselves more and more engaged with the world. There may not be a point of completion, but we have the power both individually and in community that we make progress. I challenge us all to make the world a better place and cast away the very false notion of “people need to pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

Let us hope that we are each carving out a legacy that creates equity and celebrates our shared humanity. We are all responsible in creating a  community where we can be our authentic and vulnerable selves.  I wish everyone a wonderful, safe, peaceful, and reflective holiday season.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Pope Francis?

27 Nov

pope-francis_2541160bWell, I suspect the gates of Hell are now freezing over. For those of you who read this blog, you know I am not a religious person. Never did I think I would be actually praising the Catholic Pope, but alas I am.  Today, Pope Francis actually said that Capitalism is “a new tyranny,” and he also managed to dismantle the ever present Reagan myth of “trickle down economics.” Is it possible the Catholic Church may be moving to a model of social justice and abandoning a platform of hate that has been in place for the past 40 years?

It is difficult for me not to think about the classism and avarice demonstrated by John Boehner, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the Teahaddists when I hear Pope Francis say:

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

Not only does he address poverty and how we treat humans as “consumer goods” but he addresses the systemic root problem which we call Capitalism. When I first read his comments, I thought he was talking about The Hunger Games, and in a way he is. The top 20% live off the remaining 80% and they watch us as we fight for any scraps available and mock us for needing social services because not everyone makes a living wage, not everyone has health insurance.

We are approaching the Thanksgiving Holiday; how many millions of families will be struggling now to put food on the table? Thanks for cutting food stamps just in time for the holidays!  The entire apostolic exhortation is really quite wonderful and if you have the time, I encourage you to read at least the first 25 pages.

Sadly, as wonderful as this movement towards social justice is, it left me wanting more. While he addresses poverty and the causes of poverty, he does not seem to be able to understand fully who is impacted and the intersections of oppression – -those oppressed by intersecting identities of gender, race, ability, and sexual orientation. I was hoping for a call to action to stand with all targeted populations and understand that poverty disproportionately affects people of color, LGBT people, and women, so one can imagine how one might be affected by poverty if one is a black lesbian, or Latina transgender woman.

Again, I give full kudos to the Pope’s address here, but when will “the voice of God” talk about women being able to govern their own bodies? Eradicating homophobia and racism? When does the church say: “All are welcome regardless and ever regardful?”

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Tama Seavey

23 Sep

Tama and I became friendsTama through social media and we both do the same type of work. I had posted a story about Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin and received a great deal of rather nasty resistance from a particular white heterosexual male.  His comments opened the door to meet a great number of lovely people such as Tama. We both run companies that provide Diversity/Inclusion and Racial Equity workshops. Sadly, we are across the country from each other, but I still hold out some hope that we will get to work together.  As you will see from this interview, it is difficult not to fall in love with Tama.

Many of you may already know Tama by her last name or by the work she does. Her first husband was Neal Seavey, a news reporter for WNBC who died of AIDS in 1983.  Tama lights up when she talks about Neal and it is clear she was drawn to him because of his dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice, core values which Tama shares. Her experience being married to a gay man helped Tama become a fierce LGBT ally and understand the intersections of oppression.  Her amazing compassion demonstrates that she operates from a place of abundance rather than deficit.  Like her late husband, Tama  challenges:  racism, heterosexism and the abuses against targeted people wherever she can.

Here is the interview with this lovely and amazing woman, Tama Seavey.

Tama is a black woman who will celebrate her 57th birthday in October.  She lived with her mother and her family in Newark, NJ until she was 11.  She left home at the age of 12 and lived in 14 different homes within the foster care system.  All 14 of the homes were white.  While Tama describes herself as “being a handful,” I suspect she was using all of her resources just to survive.  She managed to graduate high school with honors at 16. She was married at age 19 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire.  She has three daughters — she lights up when she talks about her daughters.

Tama, what brings you to the  work of social justice? 

I worked for a number of years in administrative capacities in human service agencies noting the great disparity between their stated missions/social justice agendas and the reality of how people of color and other disenfranchised people were treated both staff and clients.  All of the isms were present internally and demonstrated to the clients. The stated agendas were there with the funding dollars flowing freely to the agency based on the missions, yet the reality was every agency failed dramatically to “live to the missions/visions.”

I was outraged at what I saw as mini racist and exclusionary societies supported and functioning primarily with government dollars and realized the true meaning of systemic racism.  How systems were linked together – networked together to bring about a complete system of organized oppression against targeted populations.  The understanding of this fueled my drive to turn it around, one agency at a time, sometimes one individual at a time and to be a voice of freedom from oppression.  I decided to work as a change agent in every aspect of my life.

Over the course of the following years, I have brought education, training, insight, and management change to boards, executives, and managers of diverse non-profit human services organizations working to create systemic change while teaching to build effective bridges between the mainstream population and those who have been denied access in our society.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Yes, very much so.  My roots are in activism and I believe in activism at the grassroots level.  I am an effective trainer, writer, speaker and have worked for years studying organizations, systems and the responses of systems to the pressure of duty and responsibility to be inclusive entities and non-supporting of racism and injustice.  I believe that change – the sustained change we are looking for — that will create change for excluded populations will only come as a result of grassroots activism and by those people who work outside of the systems that keep exclusionary/unjust behaviors in place.

People comprise the systems that keep racism, discrimination, harassment and overall exclusion in place.  This condition in our country does not come from some huge overall entities without names and faces.  Those people sitting in the positions of power need to be called to task for maintaining the power imbalance, the privilege imbalance and for denying opportunity to all people.  This tipping of the scale, I believe, can only be accomplished through grassroots activism work.

What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?

Oh, the list is very long.  At the top though is that they must speak and must speak the truth of their experience (no sugar coating, no finding the exact perfect words to appease mainstream society’s [white men and women with power] delicate sensibilities) – they must speak the truth of the experiences of exclusion.  Marginalized communities must stop tolerating their experiences and “challenge with the purpose to change” when presented with discrimination and harassment.  They must use every resource available to seek compensation and force as much justice as is available.  We, as minority individuals, walk away from challenging what we meet up with far too often saying to ourselves “we must pick the right battle.”  This walking away and waiting for the right battle plays a part in strengthening the system of injustice.  Every instance is a reason to speak and every act of discrimination and harassment is actionable.  So, getting educated to your rights is probably number 1 with the rest following.  The system of injustice will not end/will not be changed until there are penalties in place and the penalties are paid by those who perpetuate it.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I believe there is a difference between duty and responsibility.  I have worked towards a legacy that will be that I fulfilled my responsibilities for the choices I made in my life and I lived up to my duty to humanity by being of service to others.

Tama, thank you for sharing just a part of your narrative. I hope we get to hear more narratives like yours and that we all can take action.  How lovely it would be if all targeted people could stand in solidarity with one another.  I am very grateful that I have Tama in my world.

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