Why It’s Important

(cross posting from Intercultural Happenings http://www.interculturalaffairs.blogspot.com)

I spend a lot of time trying to get the message out about why it’s so important to understand about diversity. There are some folks who totally get it — they find ways to engage in diversity, take responsibility for learning and discussing with people from diverse backgrounds, and see this type of learning as part of their role in this world. There are others who, well, still don’t get it.

One of the parallels I make with the “diversity movement” is with Recycling. All of a sudden, in the past year or so, there has been a HUGE push towards going green. Buildings are green. Lightbulbs are green. People are buying hybrid cars in attempt to either save gas and/or save the environment. For the most part, people recycle their cans –again, whether it’s to get their $.05 back or to help save this planet. People aren’t wasting water they way they used to, lights are turned off after leaving a room, and the push to reduce-reuse-recycle has even found its way to grocery stores that give you a refund if you bring your bags back. Today,when I went to the grocery store, they even had the “reduce-reuse-recycle” logo on the plastic bags to encourage people to avoid putting the bags into the trash.

Then, of course, there are people who just still don’t get it. They still don’t recycle.

I have a friend who lives in a town that has not made recycling easy. They don’t have any town pick up of recycling (most towns have it along side their trash pick up). Unfortunately, my friend and her family practically live off of cans – sodas, canned food, canned dog food, etc. And, no, they don’t recycle. When I asked them why, (and even offered to have them bring their cans to my house to have MY town pick them up), they said “It’s just too inconvenient — it’s too much work.”

Honestly, I haven’t been back to that friend’s house in a long time. Something about their absolute disregard for the future of this planet and the future health of our generations to come just doesn’t match up with my own beliefs and practices. And, frankly, they all get funny looks from people when they easily throw a can into the garbage. I’ve even seen a stranger come by and take that can out of the garbage and put it into the recycle bin (which was located just next to the can). My friend, she just never got into the habit of doing it — even when it’s easy.

So, back to DIVERSITY. The diversity movement, if you will, has been around for more than 40 years — even before the Civil Rights Movement. So, given that I’m in my 30’s, the diversity movement has always been around. But, some folks just haven’t figured that out…. until now.

Whether you credit it to our recent Presidential primaries, or to the diversity on television and movies, or heck, even if you think Diversity = The Cheetah Girls, diversity is here, and if you haven’t figured it out, you may be the one who gets the funny looks.

Here’s my quick list of why I think it’s important to understand diversity (geared towards college students, the population I’ve been speaking to the past few weeks):

  • Because in today’s competitive economy, companies and grad schools are looking to get the most bang for their buck. With an increasing focus on global business (no matter how big or small the business), many companies want to make sure they are hiring someone who understands how to work with different people. Human Resources Offices don’t want to have to worry if you are a “diversity liability” or someone who they think they’ll have to spend a lot of time with teaching about differences. If they have a candidate who “gets it”, guess what? They’re going to go with the person who they don’t have to teach or train in this area.
  • Especially if you grew up in a “non-diverse place”, college will be the time when you meet people from all over the country and all over the world. If you find yourself in a job interview or graduate school interview your senior year, you will definitely be faced with the “what ways did you get involved with diversity at your college” question. Can you answer the question? Can you articulate examples of how and when you problem solved with someone who was totally different than you? If you didn’t take the initiative to do it in college, people will assume that you lack initiative and therefore won’t be as interested in you.
  • Hate crimes are some of the most severely scrutinized and socially punished actions in our society, and especially at our college. It’s not acceptable anymore to say, “Oh, I didn’t know that was a hate crime or a hate word.” In fact, NOT KNOWING tends to be a more negative aspect of the case. So, it’s incredibly important to know what is and what isn’t considered a hate crime — and, you do that by understanding about diversity.

Need more reasons?

Okay, 1 Disney thing that I do like

It’s no secret — I think lots of Disney things are totally racist. I do allow my daughters to watch their shows, though, because the character choices of behavior, race, stereotyping, etc., actually make for great material for me. We talk about “kindness” (or lack thereof in some of the characters), personalities, who the “bad” girls and the “good” girls tend to be, etc. While my daughters certainly can identify Cinderella, Belle, and all of those princess types, we read them books of the same themes but with Black/Brown characters in them (check out the Jump at the Sun series of books — they are awesome!). In their coloring books, my daughters easily make choices to color the princesses with white or brown skin, blond or black hair.

Have you noticed what colors your child(ren) in your life chooses to color princesses? What messages are they receiving, and then projecting, about who can be a princess and what a princess looks like?

My husband and I *always* watch every television show with the girls. We never let them watch the shows without a) us screening them first, and b) without at least providing some sort of lesson or awareness about key areas that draw our attention.

But, a shout out – finally! — to a Disney movie that I think gets it right… Camp Rock.

Now, disclaimer: The only way we have watched it is through recording it off the Disney channel. And, by chance, our recorder stopped recording with a few minutes to go at the end. So, far be it from me not to assume that something totally whack happens at the end.

Camp Rock. I love it. Latina main character with Latino parents who don’t have to make any ethnic statement other than to be visually Latino/a and to have the surname “Torres.” No one busts out any Spanish. No one starts doing salsa or saying they have to call their abuela (although, the representation WOULD be nice in a Disney movie!). No – they just get to be Latina without having to do the very-Disney-thing of qualifying their experiences. The lead not-so-nice-girl is thin, blond, and super rich. And, yes, she has the friends-of-color sidekicks so often found in Disney movies and shows.

But.. (spoiler alert for anyone who is actually holding out to watch the movie)…. in the end, the gals-of color sidekicks completely stick it to the lead character and refuse to be objectified by her. Nice going, gals! And, in a good Disney way, the lead character apologizes without being nasty — she just says she was wrong and eats it. Now, I’m not sure if there is anything that I miss in the last 2 minutes, but that’s my version of how it ended!

Why post about this on “To Loosen?” Well, a few reasons:

1. I am a big fan of having conversations about race that can begin in a relaxed way — like as a result of watching a movie or show

2. I am a FIRM believer that kids ARE aware of racism and messages about inequality. So, for me, the sooner I can talk about it in an age appropriate way, the better. And, unfortunately, so many of the Disney movies and shows are riddled with stereotyping and racism that it makes it easy.

3. I don’t think television is bad — I DO think that unsupervised television is horrible. So, if you’re going to let your kids watch tv, then watch with them. Use their interests as a way to engage them in conversations that affect their lives.

4. Lots of times, people say that I’m making a lot of the Disney race thing (I’m not, I assure you). It’s there, and it’s obvious if you are aware of race and racism. If you’re NOT seeing the racism in Disney shows and movies, then it’s time To Loosen Your Mind and figure out what that’s all about. Ignoring it is reinforcing the white privilege that comes along with not needing to notice it.

I like High School Musical, too, with my kids – but, for some reason, Camp Rock just really stuck with me this time on the race thing.

Are You Kidding Me?

 I’ve heard of lots of “good luck” cheers and traditions, but this one is a new one — pulling the corner of your eyes so that you “look” Chinese is now the new “good luck” cheer. Really?

Spain’s Basketball Federation published a “good luck” advertisement to wish their team well in Beijing.

There is no obvious intention to upset their Olympic hosts in Beijing, but the irresponsible picture is likely to cause controversy and could be interpreted so as to lead to accusations of racism.

Really, ya think?

This reminds me of Tami’s recent post about ownership of offensiveness. This is certainly a moment where I think everyone should feel offended – and, yes, feel free to tell me how much I should be offended, too.

Seeing this picture, as an Asian American woman, brings me back to those playground days of kids pulling at their eyes and asking me if “I can see them” or “Ching-Chong”-ing me in a playful, yet hateful, way. This picture brings me back to the days when I was humiliated that my parents chose to use their native language in the our white, Irish Catholic neighborhood. This picture brings me back to being picked last at kickball or picked-NEVER at basketball because, after all, Asian kids weren’t good at anything but karate…

But, here. Now. And, at the Olympics? I often hit a cross road when I talk to young people who say that they don’t think their world is as racist as it was when “we” were growing up, and then images like this surface.

What troubles me even more is that the article is, maybe, 4 paragraphs long and it ends with a promo of when you can watch the Spanish team play.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to see the television with my pulled, slanted eyes. Or, not.

Who are the people in your network?

Much of the educational work I do tends to involve groups made up of predominantly white individuals – students, parents, professionals, educators, etc. And, as many diversity facilitators would agree, I tend not to take the “guilt” route, but rather I work to point out ways in which we must actively make decisions now that we are adults.

One of the exercises I begin with in group facilitation is a variation of a popular exercise called “The Bead Exercise.” There are a few variations of the exercise that are designed to visually point out ways in which our circle of trusted individuals is often not diverse, or tends to reflect our own ethnicity or racial identity.

In my version of The Bead Exercise, I have various circles on a piece of white paper that have between 15-20 different professions or interests written within the circle: doctor, neighbor, roommate, best friend, hairstylist, favorite movie actor, favorite singer, mechanic, etc. The participants write down the name of the individual who they trust or admire. Then, I give them a “key” – – a list of colors that correspond to the major racial categories, with a few more thrown in. The participants must them color in each “bead” as it corresponds to the racial key. As the participants are doing this, I duly note that this exercise is very focused on “race” – and that we are well aware that individuals may have other areas of identity (ability, sexual identity, religion, etc) that are not mentioned here.

In the many times I’ve run this exercise, I usually hear the same thing in predominantly white groups: “Oh my gosh. I had no idea there were no people of color included in my circle.” or “Woah. I guess I’m not as inclusive as I thought I was.” Now, because I don’t operate from a philosophy of guilt, I process this exercise in a very different way than others. I encourage people to look at the entities that were chosen for us prior to having independence as adults (or that are still being chosen for us, if I’m working with a group of young people) . We typically don’t get a chance to choose our doctors when we are younger. We don’t get to choose our neighbors, our religious leaders, and we sometimes don’t get to choose our roommates.

But, the question is … now that we may be of age to make our own decisions, how are we actively diversifying our close network of professionals? What are the early messages we received about certain races, ethnicities, religions, colors, identities and their abilities to perform or not perform certain jobs?

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Things on My Mind .. to loosen.

No, I haven’t been slacking.

On one hand, there have been a million race related posts on my mind, that once I get started writing one, another one finds its way into my brain. So, rather than have you think I’m slacking off, here are some snippets of posts that will make their way up here eventually:

Hyphen or No Hyphen

I went out to lunch and came back to find a note on my desk from a student who found a website about becoming an unhyphenated american. So, a post will come soon about my thoughts on an unhyphenated american identity – the sociopolitical politics, the ethnic psychology of it all, and the practicality of hyphen vs no hyphen.

Actively Seeking to Diversify

After Carmen VanK. and I did the teleseminar, a few bloggers wrote about how they generally agreed with all of our advice except for this piece of advice: “Actively seek to diversify the professionals in your life.” People rang in on how they felt that we should only choose professionals based on their talent and not on their color. Which, to me, rings of meritocracy in a society that systematically blocks people from achieving based solely on merit and afford others opportunity when not always “deserved”. It also speaks to me that if people never actively seek to diversify or even try out a new doctor/professional/restaurant/place of business, then how will they ever know who is truly the “best?” How do we know that the white doctor/professional/restaurant/place of business is the best?

Ye Ole Reverse Racism

A colleague of mine recently told me that a program designed to help support students of color was “reverse racism.” This colleague is a wonderful ally, smart man, active in gender issues, and I couldn’t believe he had used the words “reverse racism.” So, I think it warrants a blog entry!

5-Year Old Cultural Questions

My kids are my best teachers, and so, out of the mouths of babes, comes more cultural questions from my multiracial child about Asia, Chinese, brown skin, curly hair, and language.

My Most Diverse Summer Ever

A few summer ago, I served as the Dean of Faculty for a summer academic program. My staff was certainly the most diverse staff ever: a Muslim woman, a self-identified gay Muslim man, a young white man in a motorized wheelchair, 2 upper upper class white women, 3 lower middle class Carribbean women, a Christian conservative female, a Canadian, 2 Asian women, 2 Latina women, 2 Asian men, 2 Latino men. Best lessons ever learned during this intense summer of strangers.

Can Change Come Too Fast?

People always talk about critical mass — the amount of people it would take to make an impact in an organization. But, can change come too fast? Can we advocate for more people if we don’t have the support systems for them?

Thanks for your patience, To Loosen the Mind readers! Certainly hope to get at least 1 of these posts up by the end of the week!

Peace,

Liza