racism

White supremacy’s legacy

I use the term “legacy” in the title because of an experience I had with a sweet girl who was my best friend in 8th grade whose parents left her with an ugly, ugly legacy of belief.

My best friend from 7th grade had moved away the summer before 8th grade; I admit I was sad and lonely. My favorite class of the new school year was art where we created works using various media. It was an oasis in the midst of inanity (seriously).

In this class, sitting at my table, was a petite, pretty girl with long wavy hair. We hit it off immediately. We were both quiet and reserved, shy even.

After months hanging out together at school, she invited me over to her house. But before I walked to her house (which was in the opposite direction from my house making it about 3.5 miles away from my house), she said she had to tell me something.

I gave her my full attention, expecting her to complain about her house or her mother.

In a low, secretive voice she said she was concerned about me because I seemed ignorant. She whispered something to me that blew me away: “Black people have smaller brains, so they are inferior to whites.”

Her words seemed to be couched in concern. In 7th grade I had had a run-in with some black girls, a group of three who bullied me every day for weeks. One day, I turned around and punched the ring-leader in the face. We all ended up in the vice principal’s office, but I got off with a warning because my mom was dating one of the P.E. teachers. Yeah, privilege. I knew it even then.

From that day on, those girls greeted me happily every time they saw me and I greeted them back. All was well.

Now, I could have decided that all black girls were bullies and nurtured resentment, but I didn’t. I had been bullied in elementary school by a white girl that lived down the street. I knew bullying had nothing to do with race.

Add in the fact that neither of my parents had ever said anything racist in my presence and I think we have a child who has not been taught racist ideology. It just never occurred to me to dislike someone because they were different than me.

So back to my best friend. I stared at her. Then I told her she was wrong. That was ridiculous.

She looked at me with pity. Yep. She was sad that I had not been enlightened.

I never spoke to that friend again. We awkwardly made our way through the rest of the school year, I made other friends, and I tucked that experience away in my memory.

Looking back, I am positive that this girl was being raised by white supremacists. She was completely brainwashed and felt the need to proselytize. She was a disciple. She was determined to spread the ugly news of racism.

What saddened me then and just as much now is that she seemed like such a lovely person, aside from the fact that she was a bigot, racist, and white supremacist. I can only hope that she grew up and found Jesus (literally or figuratively, whichever works) or something that taught her to love instead of hate.

Even now, what she said didn’t sound like it was motivated by hate, but just true belief, which I think is much more dangerous. We have all seenĀ believers do some awful things to others because of religious beliefs or cultural differences. I write about this quite a lot: the relationship between Christian beliefs and domestic abuse.

There is no place in an enlightened society for white supremacy. It is a belief system that is filled with lies. There is no truth in it.

Since moving to Houston, Texas, I read daily about this statue being removed, this plaque being challenged, the many monuments to the Confederacy being vandalized. Since I was taught in Miami schools, I was taught history in the south. I was taught that the “War between the States” was fought over states’ rights, and that slavery was secondary.

A couple of weeks ago I found some original sources and read them for myself. What were they? Secession declarations for five of the Confederate States of America. Eye opening, to say the least. Each stated slavery as a primary reason for seceding.

For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. – Georgia

History books can be rewritten depending on the prevailing political ideology in the country. If you want to study true history, you must find original sources, read them, and then using critical thinking skills, consider what might have truly happened.

Should the South be judged as racist because of its history? Yes and no. Yes because monuments to the Confederacy are everywhere. They are constant reminders that one group of people felt that they were superior, masters over another group of people. No because I don’t see this arrogant attitude of supremacy in my everyday life.

This is the basic tenet of white supremacy: belief that white people are inherently superior and should rule over non-whites.

Anyone with half a brain knows that this is hooey. It is utter nonsense.

So, in the past, when the KKK would get a permit to march down some street wearing hoods like cowards — show your faces if you are superior — they were mostly ignored. I laughed at them from afar, looking at them as though each one was a man-child playing dress-up and pretending like they had any power at all. They had none, in my opinion.

Now I worry that the lies I heard in junior high by a misguided, wrongly-taught young teenager have become a legacy of hate that might be spreading. Of course it is a legacy of hate. I am 57 years old. Most of the men who guarded a Confederate statue in Charlottesville were young enough to be my sons (I have a 39-year-old son). Some were my age, but the majority were younger.

Someone had to teach these men to be white supremacists. Babies are not born hating.

Was my friend’s son at that protest? Was he spewing hate at non-whites? What about her grandchildren? What will they grow up to believe and fight for?

I confess that I had a difficult time in high school with groups of girls who would only speak Spanish to one another, blocking non-Spanish speaking students from being included in their circle. I felt like I was on the outside. What they were doing was creating a school enclave, a place where they could be Cuban or Puerto Rican in a world of white. I know that now and understand it. Back then, I struggled to understand why they wouldn’t speak English and include me and other girls that weren’t like them.

We live in a country that is a melting pot. It has been this way since immigration began. White English people ruled for a long time. They were the landowners and masters of the rest. This is what is being challenged. No one has the right to be master of another.

There is no place for white supremacy or any kind of racial or ethnic bigotry in the United States.

In my son’s high school, he is a white minority. That is just the nature of Texas. It is an entry point for people from many different countries. It is the most diverse place I have ever lived. And it is beautiful. Precarious, but beautiful.

I personally believe all public school children should be bilingual by the time they finish elementary school. I wish I had learned Spanish when I was young. I am trying to learn it now, but my brain is hard-wired for the English language and it is difficult for me. I will not give up, though.

I have not witnessed any racism or bigotry since moving here. I saw it all the time in Connecticut, but less here. I am, however, living in a huge city and not rural Texas where the powerful landowners are mostly white.

And I think that is the entire issue here: power. Who rules over whom.

I have news for white people: you are masters over no one. No one left you a legacy of ownership over other peoples. If you feel power slipping out of your hands every time someone with brown skin crosses the border, then it is time to check your privilege and need for power.

In my most humble opinion, every monument and plaque that glorifies the Confederacy needs to come down. We do not celebrate oppression in this country. We fight it and celebrate freedom for all.

Thank you for tolerating my rant.

 

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Ladies have better handwriting: on stereotyping women

Huh?

I volunteered to help out with a college event last week. During an ice breaker exercise, one of the men at the table (I was merely observing up to this point), when told the group of two men and two women would need to record some educational challenges and potential solutions to share with the entire group later, asked if “one of the ladies could do the writing.”

Between this man and the two women in this group was another man about the same age as the first one; the speaker ignored the other man. I looked at the man who had entreated one of the “ladies” to record the thoughts of the men and stated out loud, “the women at this table are not your secretaries.” Yikes!

I could not help myself.

For the younger readers, there was a time when women could only get jobs in a handful of professions, and secretary, the servant of the oh-so-important male executive, was one of them. I was a secretary for over 15 years. I know of what I speak. I won’t go into the sexual harassment that accompanied that job, but suffice it to say, being a secretary was oftentimes quite demeaning back in my day.

(Secretary as a title/occupation has mostly been abolished and replaced with executive assistant or administrative assistant. At first, this change bothered me, but I see it as an attempt to create a gender-neutral type of job designation, one that is less indicative of how subservient the secretary was to her typically-male boss. To secretaries of this world today, your jobs are vastly different from the time when I was a secretary. Very different.)

Why did I speak up when this man begged the “ladies” to do the writing? I spoke up because last semester I was involved in a huge project that dealt with stereotyping. One of the actions recommended, which is supported by research, when an individual witnesses stereotyping is to say something. Speak up. Call it what it is. And so I said something.

I know I made this guy very uncomfortable. He needed to be uncomfortable. His view of women needed to be challenged. His tendency to believe that because women might have more legible handwriting than men, they should take notes for men is outdated and based on conscious and unconscious attitudes that need to change.

Is it my job to change them? Well, I was the only one who said anything, so I guess so.

The other two women were older (most likely the age of the man’s mother), probably used to being told that they needed to support the men in their lives, and felt quite comfortable taking a motherly role, so to speak. But this is wrong in a college environment.

(Without complaint, one of the women immediately took the job of recording responses for the group.)

At college, women are not there to support men (or find husbands). They are there to get an education, to discover their strengths and weaknesses, and to have their eyes opened to new possibilities. They are there for themselves.

When I started college in early 2013, I made a decision not to be the college mom. I don’t hand out pens and paper to the (mostly male students) who fail to prepare for class. I don’t take notes for the young students who miss class because they slept in. I don’t provide a motherly type of support to any of the students.

I do, however, mentor. That is completely different. I encourage the women, especially, to speak up in class if they are being very quiet (self-silencing behavior is common among black women, especially). I try to model confidence in using my own voice. I encourage students to advocate for themselves when faced with a challenge.

I do not tolerate men stereotyping women because it limits their potential and denigrates them as people. I don’t tolerate anyone stereotyping anyone, really. Women stereotype women a lot, too.

I learned while doing this project on stereotyping that it is silence that keeps stereotypes alive in a society.

Do ladies have better handwriting? Maybe, maybe not. So what? If a man has poor handwriting, he should work on that. It is a weakness that needs to be addressed unless he is already a doctor who is earning a couple hundred thousand dollars a year and can afford to hire someone to do his writing for him (and this stereotypical physician model is outdated as well — physicians are required to complete record-keeping tasks using computers now).

Did I make an enemy by speaking up? Possibly. Is that very important? Not really. It is much more important to address stereotyping because of how serious it is and how damaging it can be to all people.

By the way, students aren’t the only ones who make stereotypical comments on campus. I have heard a lot of anti-southerner comments from professors, faculty and staff (this kind of behavior is common here in Connecticut), as well as anti-Republican, anti-Christian and anti-conservative rhetoric.

When I was in Texas over Christmas I heard anti-liberal, anti-Democrat, and anti-northerner comments which I challenged. I almost got in a fight with one of my adult sons over showing respect for the president and first lady. You don’t need to agree with their politics or ideology, but you damn well better show respect for their positions, accomplishments, and humanity. I was faced with dogmatic attitudes, and that made me pretty angry. Go ahead and challenge a policy, a practice and even a belief, but do not resort to ad hominem attacks. That shows me that you don’t have a valid position to defend.

Comments I have heard on campus and off, here in Connecticut and in Texas were demeaning and meant to ridicule particular people groups. In nearly every case, I have spoken up. Yep, even with professors (I’m not very popular with some professors). I do tend to make enemies. Sigh.

I don’t defend the bad behavior of any political group, conservative, liberal or moderate, nor do I support offensive religious behavior (anyone who knows me knows that I really don’t like religion).

I have challenged what I viewed as anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic attitudes and comments in a group in which I am involved. One of my children used a derogatory, racist label for Muslims and that adult child got a tongue-lashing.

I feel it is important to address negative comments aimed at people groups. I speak up.

I plan to continue to address stereotyping when I see it. I think it is the better choice.

For more information on stereotyping:

OUCH! That Stereotype Hurts – or a PDF guide http://www.diversityresources.com/media/Ouch_LeadersGuide.pdf. Not affiliated in any way.

Implicit Bias – Harvard University – https://www.projectimplicit.net/index.html. Participate in the online surveys. They are eye-opening.

Internet search suggestions:

Stereotype threat
Implicit bias
Debiasing
Self-silencing

Free speech in 2014 exists because of two decades of fighting

I mentioned in my last blog post that I am writing a research paper on speech codes on college campuses. While meeting with my professor to discuss my thesis for this paper, I realized, and verbalized, how easy this paper is to write in 2014 as compared to how difficult it would have been to argue my thesis 10 or 20 years ago.

People, groups, students, and professors have gone before me, suffered, paid the price, lost careers, lost degrees, lost almost everything to see that I have the right today to express myself freely on my college campus. Additionally, court case after court case documents what the U.S. Supreme Courts thinks of most speech codes: they are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment rights of students and faculty.

I am so lucky. I have scholarly source after scholarly source, peer-reviewed and backed up by the SCOTUS to support my thesis. And yet there are still proponents of strong speech codes. This is America, so that is okay.

We all have the history of University of California-Berkeley in the 1960s to show us what happens when the government and college administration attempt to silence the voices of students: it can get heated, students are mobilized, and what “the establishment” attempts to suppress comes out like a volcano erupting. I was shocked to read that not only did the California state government get involved, but the FBI and CIA had infiltrated campus life with the goal of stopping the progress of liberal ideologies. Oh, how misguided our government can be.

You want to know what is the most amazing of all? Even today, in a global political climate with a global economy, the United States of America stands alone in protecting the rights of its citizens to freedom of speech and expression. We are alone. As ugly as it is to read anything homophobic or racist, it is legal to speak of such things without fear of prosecution. I didn’t say there wouldn’t be consequences. No one can eliminate the possibility that a CEO might be pressured to resign after supporting Proposition 8 in California, or that an anti-gay rights celebrity might be fired (though later brought back because of popular demand). This is how we deal with things in America. You have the right to be ugly, and I have the right to call you a racist or homophobic. That is my right. We can fly the Confederate Flag, the American Flag, the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and my neighbors can hate me for it and talk about me and refuse to associate with me. I have rights and they have rights.

That’s the thing about free speech: it allows the free exchange of ideas, the critical evaluation of those ideas, and the conclusion that, in some cases, we reject what some ideas represent and convey. We are evolving as a nation. We are becoming more tolerant while intolerance is common. We are more polarized while we often fear speaking up. Moderate voices are accused most of all because they refuse to buy in 100% to any ideology. When one ideology completely rules our land, there is no more hope.

I love my country, and am prouder than ever to be a part in some small way. I look forward to the further evolution of American culture. I had almost lost hope, but this research paper has changed that. As long as we can freely discuss ideas there is hope.