To Stir the Conscience

What do you think about when it is silent?

I started my teaching career at a Quaker school in Long Island, NY. I had made the transition from working in higher education; had moved from Connecticut to New York; and was getting ready to marry my sweetheart. New job, new place, new friends, new life. 

Though those were major transitions, for sure, I was not prepared for a different transition. I was not ready for silence. 

As a Quaker school in a wealthy, suburban community, we did our best to uphold values of simplicity and honesty; humility and service; and kindness in the light of each other. While we sometimes fell short of those ideals, one thing we did well was silence. Every week, our community came together and gathered in the Meeting House. 

In my own upbringing, I was raised Catholic and actively practicing. I was used to the singing, prayers, recitations and even, what we joyfully refer to as, Catholic aerobics — the up-down-sit-stand-kneel-stand routine that occurs in a 60-minute Mass. 

But, Meeting for Worship was different. Meeting for Worship meant we walked into a downloadwooden shelter, walked into the space in silence, and sat. We just sat. At first, I was so uncomfortable. I kept looking around at others. I kept twiddling my thumbs. My eyes darted back and forth from row to row and seat to seat. I kept looking at my watch and wondering how much longer I had to sit on this uncomfortable, rickety, wooden bench. Only 2 minutes had passed since the last time I looked. I felt awkward when members of the Facing Bench, a small group of elders or community leaders, were sitting across from the rest of the gathering. I didn’t know whether to look at them, past them, away from them, or down at the floor. 

I remember the day that Meeting for Worship changed for me. I was feeling particularly unsettled and just wanted to go home, curl up on my couch and watch television. I filed in silently with the rest of the school. I sat on the bench. And, I took in a deep breath. I began to feel a wave of warmth come over me. I felt my heart racing. And, I took in another deep breath. Then, I felt my body settle into the silence. In that moment, a deep sense of peace came over me. My mind was open; my heart was filling listening to the words of community members who were moved to speak; and I felt my body lighten as my own tensions eased away.

I spent four years in the practice of attending Meeting for Worship. After I left Friends Academy, I continued some of the practices I had learned. I started each meeting with a moment of silence. I taught my students to end each workshop in silent reflection, speaking when so moved. 

But, time slips away and my life returned to the busy day-to-day world. Before I knew it, nearly 12 years had passed since I worked at a Quaker school.

Speed Dialogue Activity


Last night, I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address to the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference. And, after I gave my address and facilitated an activity, I could leave the conference and begin the long drive home. As I began to pack up my computer and grab my jacket, the conference organizers announced that it was time for Meeting for Worship. And, I felt that same sense of deep peace — just at the mention of the phase Meeting for Worship — and sat down.

For the next 40 minutes, I allowed my mind to settle. I gave myself over to silence. I listened to the words of community members who were moved to speak. And, I felt my body lighten as my own tensions eased away. 

I reflected on the theme of the conference: (In)Equity, Past, Present and Future. I reflected on my own activism, my collective roll in this world. I reflected on my own stereotypes, biases, and powerful messages that I received about (M)yself and about (O)thers. 

And, in that silence, I began to think about what stirred my conscience. I began to think about the power behind my own words and ideas. I began to think about the power behind the systems I am a part of and the ways I treat others. 

What stirred my conscience is that silence is not the absence of noise; it is the presence of peace. 

A wonderful friend and student from FA

A wonderful friend and student from FA

What stirs your conscience? 

Liza

Great Books

If you believe the local grocery stores, then Christmas is right around the corner. (for real, can’t we just get through Halloween and Thanksgiving??). And, I’ve become that Auntie/Friend/Tita who insists on buying books for birthdays rather than toys.

One of the benefits of working at a school that has rockstar librarians is that I often get a “Hey, Liza, check out these books” heads-up. These three did not disappoint! I’d actually like to get into the habit of sharing great books that help to raise awareness of community issues that are parent/family/child friendly.  Of course, so proud that our school intentionally thinks about intersectionality and providing books that serve as both windows and mirrors into experiences.

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Carl Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Really beautiful book about a child who navigates her world using a white cane (the book does not go into detail as to why) that focuses on self-awareness, encouragement, and differentiation. The young girl struggles with feeling singled out, but also clearly enjoys a lifestyle in which her friends, school, and adults support her as she spreads her wings. Definitely a book that sparks great discussions about friendship, safe limits, and expanding boundaries! I also love that the girls, teachers and families in the book represent racial diversity and interaction. I think this is a good pick for grades K-3.

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer and Eric Velasquez

I was so glad that I was tucked away in the corner of the library while reading this book. At first, I thought it was too heavy with the topic of segregation and inequity (the book’s theme hits race, inequality, and socioeconomics pretty hard). I hadn’t seen a children’s book call out racial inequity as forward as this one — key moment: when the little Black girl makes note that the little White girl gets served first all the time. I wanted to put the book down and shy away from its mature content. And, then I turned the page and then the next page. And, I found myself tearing up. It’s a beautiful story of both inequity and coming up with community based problem solving. After I closed the book, I took a deep breath and wiped away my tears of hurt, pain and joy. Such a great book, likely for older ones (grades 2-5) but absolutely a good read for anyone who is interested in introducing their young ones to big topics.

Stella and Her Family by Miriam Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown

Compassionately written and lovely! Stella is faced with her class celebration of “Mother’s Day” which doesn’t feel quite right given that she has two Dads. I appreciated how the topic was presented in terms of Stella’s perspective; but I especially loved that there were characters who also had two Moms. And, in the end, the children with two Moms would have to face the same questions on Father’s Day. Rather than simply say, “We just won’t celebrate either”, the families come up with inclusive solutions. Beautifully written and a great gift! I think this works for preK-3 and all others!

Check out these books and think about adding them to your library (or a friend’s library!)

Peace, love, and rockstar librarian friends,

Liza

Celebrating Latino and Hispanic Heritage Month

in the United States, September 15 – October 15 marks the month-long celebration of Latino and Hispanic communities, issues, and contributions. While it is important to practice active inclusion all year, we honor this time to pay special attention to the many ways in which Latino and Hispanic communities and individuals have strengthened who we are as a country.

My family is multiracial and multiethnic: both of Asian American/Filipino and Latino/Puerto Rican heritage. Therefore, it is important to our family that we continue to honor and appreciate the rich diversity within the Latino and Hispanic communities as well as highlight important contributions of Latinos and Hispanics in the United States. Oftentimes, these contributions are left out of history books, and it becomes increasingly important that we send positive messages — and provide opportunities for critical thinking — to enrich their perspectives.

Below are just a few ideas that you might also include as we focus on Latino and Hispanic communities, issues and contributions in the United States. These are divided up by age group, but each activity provides rich opportunities for dialogue, discussion and engagement.

PreK-2

  • Include books during your reading routine (or begin to establish one if you do not have one) that include issues impacting Latino and/or Hispanic communities or feature characters from Latino and/or Hispanic backgrounds. Some great suggestions that we have loved are Abuela by Arthur Dorros; Grandma’s Chocolate by Mara Price and Lisa Fields. Yes, I admit. We’ve also read and included episodes from Dora and Diego or Maya and Miguel. My children loved those growing up! (Me? I think I’ve seen enough episodes of purple backpack to last me a lifetime).
  • Play music during your commute or when you are home together. Or if you are a teacher, have some music playing in your classroom. One of my favorites can be found on iTunes called “Cumbia Essentials” which is a great mix of different music.
  • Most children at this age are familiar with piñata. Print out sheets for them to decorate their own piñata and share with the class what they made and why.

Grades 3-6

  • Great opportunity to introduce different people from Latino and Hispanic heritage who have made an impact in our lives. You can introduce them by categories (e.g., sports, science, entertainment, law, gender identities, country of origin, contributions) or connect people with the fields you are studying or that correlate to your current curriculum.
  • This list here are Latino and Hispanic Americans who I really think of/look up to, but of course, there are hundreds and hundreds more who others would put on their lists.
    • Dolores Huerta, co-founded the United Farm Workers labor union
    • Justice Sonia Sotomayor, first justice from Hispanic heritage on the U.S. Supreme Court
    • Carlos Santana, musician and pretty much his music has been on rotation in my favorites since I was a teenager
    • Gloria Estefan, musician, I’m a child of the 80s and 90s, so yes, I know all of her music by heart
    • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate author of Colombian heritage
    • Isabelle Allende, writer, I recently read her book House of Spirits which was a riveting, haunting and beautiful novel
  • Again, lots of great book series that provide biographies of Latino and Hispanic individuals

Grades 6-12

  • PBS.org has a great list of documentaries on their website — short clips that highlight an individual from Latino or Hispanic heritage that are so worth watching! You can find them at http://www.pbs.org/specials/hispanic-heritage-month
  • Great printables and activities can be found here from PBS as well
  • This age group is ready to talk about immigration and the impact of policies on people in the United States. One more advanced opportunity is to ask students about systemic oppression — what are rules that keep people out of opportunities? You can connect that same theme to their lives related to sports, school, clubs, and even “friend groups” of who gets in and who is left out

College +

  • One of my favorite discussion questions always gets at “first messages”. One good one for this month is “What were your first or earliest messages about Latino and/or Hispanic communities? What were your first messages about people who identify as Latino or Hispanic? Where did you get those messages? What did those messages mean?”
  • When I worked with college students, the homework I always gave out was “Go through a whole day – start to finish. Who do you notice or see who might identify as Latino or Hispanic? Where were you going? Where did you see people? Where do you not see people? What does that say about your community? Your commute? Your destination?”
  • Find good opportunities to interrogate stereotypes or existing ideas and ideals

This is just a small list of great ways to engage your family or students! And, remember, we hold this time to highlight and focus on issues impacting people and communities who identify as Latino and/or Hispanic. However, we must integrate and include experiences, issues, and critical thinking about privilege, oppression, systemic racism, and inequity throughout the entire year and throughout our entire education!

What ideas have you implemented?

Peace, love and inclusion,
Liza

BECAUSE I AM NOT (Kelly Osborne version)

It’s been a while since I’ve watched daytime TV. Okay, it’s been about a decade. But, the formula certainly hasn’t changed in those years.

Every so often, my world of race and racism collide with something on daytime TV. And, today I caught this one about Rosie Perez and Kelly Osborne (thanks to Michael Pina who posted it originally).

Certainly, read the whole thing if you like. But, here is the very brief version:

  • Kelly Osborne made a remark about Donald Trump and his references to Mexicans, the border, etc. Cool. Love it. Until she says this, “If you kick every Latino out of the country, then who is going to clean your toilets, Donald Trump.”
  • Ouch. Ooooh. No she didn’t.
  • Rosie Perez, famed Puerto Rican movie star and co-host of The View, calls her out on her shit.
  • Kelly gets flustered, backtracks, freaks out, they go to commercial.
  • During commercial, executives swarm upon Rosie Perez saying she must apologize to Kelly Osborne. (now, read that sentence again…)
  • Perez concedes. Not only apologizes but really does quite a big apology. Then goes to Twitter and apologizes.
  • Osborne writes this:

Screenshot 2015-08-12 10.02.29

So, props, Kelly. You apologized and took responsibility. So, why, then… oh why ... are you not identifying that your comments are a result of racism, racialized systems, our racialized understanding of Latinos (and, specifically in this example, Mexicans), and the problematic assumptions that have been ingrained in us about an entire racial and ethnic group?

Why couldn’t she just end with “… for my poor choice of words.” End. Done. Tweet that shit.

I was taught from a very early age that to use to term “BUT” in an apology simply undermines the apology. BUT, she ends with that part about NOT apologizing for being racist… because, you know, she is NOT.

Whatevs. I, like, half expected that.

But, why do we have such a problematic understanding of the word racist.

How do we even begin to untangle these feelings around the word “racist?”

A few years ago, I was leading a discussion group on race and racism (okay, I lie…. I could never have called it a group on race and racism. We had to call it a “diversity discussion group” for all of the problematic reasons you can come up with on your own). A White, middle aged man began by saying, “My name is _____ and I am a recovering racist.”

The room went silent. So did I.

I began to think, “He’s a recovering racist?? What the heck had he done in his life? Who did he beat up? Who did he lynch? Who did he spit on at a lunch counter?” Why? Because, even for me, the word racist brings up a limited library of images.

I think he sensed that the entire room was wondering the same thing. So, he added, “I’m racist because I participate in a system that has given me, as a White man, every advantage I could ever want while keeping people of color on the margins. I’m recovering because, every single day that I wake up, I need to actively remind myself of this because it’s too easy to forget. I have to commit to myself, every day, that every move I make is because I benefit from racism.”

Every day he does this.

No one makes him. No one asks him to. Heck, our world is even BUILT around the idea that he should never need to.

And, yet he does. Every day. He reminds himself that he is a recovering racist.

As it did to me, the word racist elicits a particular type of physical, visible, and deadly violence. And, we have seen far too often how racism continues to do that today.

But, racist also reminds us that there is entire system that is working so beautifully — so well — that when we use the term racist, all we can see is one image and fail to see the subtle, tiny ways in which the system keeps going.

I’m sure Kelly Osborne does not believe, in her heart and soul, that “if there were no Latinos in the country, no one would clean the toilets.” Maybe I’m giving her too much credit, but I have to believe that in order to wake up in this world. Having worked in this capacity with many White people who are trying to untangle their ideas about (and connection to) racism, I know that her comments are a result of many moving parts. She said that comment because of her earliest messages about Latinos; because of a racialized system that does disproportionately marginalize many people of color (of many different ethnic and racial groups) in areas such as (but certainly not limited to) economic advancement, educational opportunities, legalized status, and employment; because of a financial status that allowed her to even make comments about other people cleaning your own toilet; and because of a system of racism that keeps it all invisible.

And, yes, Kelly Osborne, because of all of those things — largely none caused by you as a single individual but rather a system of things that are put in place long before you were even born — your comment was racist. Just own it so that we can move past it with confidence that you won’t do it again — not because you worry about what people will say about you, but because what you will no longer believe.

Peace, love, and because I am not tired of the fight,

Liza

FOR A LIVING

“My friend is mad at me.”

Usually when my daughter comes home from school, she ignores me or, at best, answers me in one-word sentences. I knew to run quickly into this open door.

“What happened?” I asked, anticipating her middle-school answers of “She thinks I like this other person” or “I wouldn’t sit with her at lunch” or “We wore the same sweatpants and people thought we matched on purpose.”

“She’s mad at me because I think people who are transgender are normal.”

I wasn’t expecting that. Yes! sang my inner activist-Mom-soul.

“Tell me more,” as I swung the door of conversational opportunity wide open.

“Well, she asked me what you did for a living. I told her you do diversity stuff. She asked what that meant. So, I said that you try to end racism and sexism. I said that you talk to people about privilege and that you try to make the world more fair for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

This is awesome. Why? Because when my other daughter was 5-years old, she told people that I did aerobics for a living. I have no idea…

“So my friend said that she thinks transgender people .. and I corrected her and said ‘people who are transgender’ … but anyways, she said that she thinks it’s disgusting and against God.”

“She said it was against God?” I asked. I, myself, had just come from church that afternoon, and that comment hit me in a particular way. “Okay, that sounds interesting. What was your response back to her?”

“Well, I told her that everyone has a right to their religion, but that I was taught that God made us and chose us for a journey that we were meant to have.”

“Wait, wait,” I interrupted. “Can I film this? Because, for real, I think you’re about to drop some serious knowledge and I want other people to see and hear you say this. Can I?”

“No.” There’s the one-word answer I was looking for.

Damn. 

“So, she then said that God doesn’t make mistakes and so if God made you a man you should stay a man.”

I held my breath. I couldn’t believe my 11-year old was having this conversation at lunch.

So, I told her that when I was in your belly, that God gave me cancer. And, when I came out of your belly, I had cancer. And, when I was two years old and finally realized I had cancer, I had to do something or I was going to die. I had to take out my entire eye — an eye that God gave me — so that I could live. If I stayed the way God made me, I would be dead.”

I began to cry. She’s eleven. 

And, I told her about how many young people who are gay have killed themselves because they felt that God made them and that they shouldn’t be gay. And they weren’t accepted by their families. And, they died. If I didn’t change the body that God gave me, I would be dead, too.”

I can’t even….

She continued, “If someone is born in a body that God gave them, but that body isn’t right. Then they might make a choice to change something about their bodies so that they can stay alive. That’s what I had to do. If someone is transgender and they need to be in a different body, then they should do it.”

Okay, then what happened?”

“She said, ‘No. They should just deal with it.’ She got really mad at me and then she walked away. I wasn’t mad at her, but I know I had offended her.”

I couldn’t speak. I was overwhelmed. My heart, my soul, and my spirit were overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by her sadness. Overwhelmed by her compassion. Overwhelmed by how readily she could articulate faith, gender, acceptance, and understanding.

“I’m really sad that she’s mad at me, Mom. I’m sad that she’s mad about me not agreeing with her. I know that you do this kind of stuff for a living, but I am going to do it for my life.”

That’s exactly why I do it, too, Joli.

Peace, love, and brave conversations,