The conversation about diversity, equity, & privilege in America

This is a tricky topic to write a blog post about, dear Readers. Even though it’s potentially asking for backlash, I want to attempt some thoughts around this politically tense issue.

Diversity, equity, and privilege are popular terms in our society these days, especially in the field of education. Being involved in this field for the past several years, I’ve seen these concepts only growing more prevalent. All facets of educating children and youth need to be run through the equity and diversity lens, and all white privilege must be checked at the door.

I like the pendulum analogy:  the pendulum is forever swinging from one extreme to the other in society, and at the moment we are in the wide arc of diversity.

What does this translate to in practical terms? Many things, including the fact that if a person happens to not be “of color” they are likely to be suspected of racism, white privilege, or else unawakened (not woke).  (Disclaimer:  I am a white person, living in the heart of the western United States.) I am in the midst of a graduate program to become a licensed special education teacher for K-12 students. I am a “mid-life career changer” as one recruiter put it to me, a polite way of saying I’m a little old for this game but am doing it, nonetheless.

Let’s face it, racism is as old as history itself. Since there have been different tribes of humans on the planet, there has been bias from one group towards others. Its manifestation as oppression, slavery, and violence is an ancient story here. In fact, I’ve been studying for a Praxis exam I must take and pass in order to obtain licensure; the dreaded Social Studies subtest. This test covers an insane amount of historical facts, from the time of European exploration of the Americas beginning in the 15th century, all the way through our current era. As I’m sure many readers are aware, the story of how America came to be the United States (and its 245 year history) is one of a little cooperation and friendship between different groups, and a lot of fighting, warring, pain and suffering. Abhorrent practices such as near extermination of indigenous tribes and slavery of Africans were common ways that certain white European-Americans got land, wealth and, yes, privilege. From the Spanish conquistadors who decimated Mexico, Central and South America, to the Dutch who brought African slaves to the Caribbean islands, (and consequently to the East Coast of the colonies) to the Spanish and English pirates who stole treasure as they traveled the high seas, to the Europeans who settled the original colonies at the expense of indigenous tribes’ lands and way of life, they eventually pushed across the entire continent and took what they wanted for their own gain in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” With so much bad blood as the foundation of settling and creating the United States of America, it is little wonder that 245 years later, this country is in a very tenuous position on many fronts. There is considerable evidence that we are on the cusp of complete societal collapse.

So here we are, in 2021. Never before have there been so many groups, individuals, famous and influential people of color speaking out, through all available platforms, about ending racism and unfair practices by the government at all levels. The truth of their message could not be any plainer:  People of color must be treated equally in every way as white people in the United States. It is incredible that over 150 years have passed since the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed which made slavery illegal and gave rights of citizenship to black people. It took a hundred more years for the Civil Rights Act to be passed, guaranteeing Black people equal protection under federal law. And yet, here we are–Black and Brown skinned people are still being treated as less than white privileged people in lots of places in the United States in the year 2021.

Of course we have made a lot of progress. Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States in 2008. People of color are at the top of their game in many fields of endeavor, such as music, the film industry, visual art, performance art– in fact all the creative industries. Obviously they are leaders in Sports. And in science, innovation, business, government, and also education. Yes, there has been a lot of progress. Still, the struggle to end policies and practices based in racism continues. The school to prison pipeline for youth of color is real in cities across America today. It is still true that in many public school districts, white women make up the majority of teachers, and white men the majority of top administrators. We still have farther to go.

Dear Readers, I’m afraid this blog post turned into a rant tonight. There is so much more to say on this subject. But I will end with a thought to ponder. We must never become complacent, and it’s important to continually check ourselves for hypocrisy. Case in point:  The Met Gala was just held in NYC this past week. It’s an annual event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where many famous celebrities come and model the most outrageous “formal” gowns and evening wear from New York’s fashion designers. I happened to notice that New York’s Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the gala event, wearing a gown with the words “tax the rich” written on her backside. Although I generally like her spunk and fearlessness at calling out corruption when she sees it on Capitol Hill, I must say that there was more than a little hypocrisy involved in her choice of attending that event, and wearing that particular message. See this article for more.

https://www.businessmayor.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-responds-to-criticism-of-tax-the-rich-dress-worn-at-met-gala/

Elegy for Our Common Identities

September 11, 2021

Today was the 20 year anniversary of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and Pentagon in Washington, DC.  I, and many other Americans, watched and listened to the event that took place at the 9-11 memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. For several hours, pairs of people took turns to read the names of every person who was killed by the terrorist attack.

The people who read the names of the dead were all relatives of someone who died. Two by two, they stood somberly and read name after name, in alphabetical order.

Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of that fateful and tragic day. As the names of each one were read, I listened. Musicians played lovely, quiet chamber music to accompany the readings. Many emotions washed over me during the course of the memorial service.  Sorrow was the keynote underlying the entire service. One by one, the readers honored the one they had personally lost. Patterns quickly emerged:  father, brother, cousin, mother, sister, daughter, son. People of all ages honored their loved one, including many children and youth who never had the opportunity to know the one who died personally. And yet, each one spoke similar words of knowing them through the stories, pictures, and family ties they had for the past twenty years. Most of the readers remarked that they wished their beloved could have been alive to see their families grow and mark the milestones of their common lives—graduations, births, marriages, and other significant moments. Some readers choked up and cried as they read their memorial, feeling the loss as acutely as if time stood still. Many spoke of the pain they still felt as they remembered their beloved one every single day. And many ended with the words, we will meet again one day.

Corey Kilgannon for The New York Times

The common threads that were repeated over and over during the course of the four hour ceremony became apparent and important to recognize. A few of these threads include:

The names of the dead read as a reminder of who lives in America. The ancestors of these people came from all parts of the world, and yet they were all together in New York on that fateful day. All races, religions, creeds, and belief systems were represented in those who died.

Everyone who died had someone (or many) who cared about them, and misses them very much to this day. And, the important point that each person was simply a human, living their ordinary life on a clear September morning, when something unforeseeable and utterly horrific happened to them that was completely beyond their control.

This blog post is not the place to discuss the implications of everything that came after 9-11-2001, or of how the world changed forever because of that day. This post is simply my way to honor and remember, along with many others, those whose lives were taken from those whom they loved.

During the livestream, they showed the memorial itself. It is a brilliant representation of the eternal nature of life, death and spirit. A deeply built square fountain and pool of water that continually recycles. Around the perimeter are all the names of those who died carved into the stone rim. There were flowers and flags placed next to everyone’s name. The symbolism is profound as a fitting memorial to the human spirit which can never die, regardless of the destruction of the physical body.

Although today’s memorial service was specifically for the ones who died on 9-11-2001, I also sensed the larger memorial to all of those who have left us through no fault of their own. The pandemic has taken many millions of lives and left millions more behind to grieve. In a real sense, this time on Earth seems to be one of intense grieving and loss. There is a line in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Christian-Judeo bible that states, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die … A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”  This is a time to mourn, to remember all that has happened, and to honor it for the lessons we have learned as the whole of humanity.

Radical Amazement

Mary Oliver once wrote that when death comes, she wants to be able to say that all her life she was a bride married to amazement. I think she always knew that she had it in her to do amazing, incredible things with her life, and so she went ahead and did them, through poetry and teaching and observing life and nature. For me, she embodies a life well lived, a beautiful marriage of giving oneself to the world and at the same time, making sure she always had enough time for herself, for solitude and contemplation. She has had the great fortune of a grace-filled life. She can rest in the knowledge that through her efforts, she has touched and inspired millions of people across the world. In my own humble way, I would love to be able to say, at the end of my life, that I too have been a bride married to amazement. That I too did something artistic and wonderful and giving which made a difference to others’ lives. That people grew for having known me, that they found a creative part of themselves which they hadn’t quite been able to access before. That knowing me inspired them in some way, and made their lives richer than it would have otherwise been. I don’t think this is purely an ego-desire on my part, but rather a sincere desire to share my gifts, to fulfill the purpose I was born to fulfill. I am beginning to see, starting to know why I am here, and what it is that I wish to do with my remaining time.

We are more magnificent than we can imagine.

It is not difficult to waste one’s life on trivialities and petty dramas. People do it all the time. We humans are masters of making mountains out of molehills, and conversely, denying and covering up our actual pain and suffering so that we don’t have to deal with them. We are all grappling with being in these human forms, and the difficulties of embodiment on earth at this time. We are all aware of the consequences of this life: addictions, violence, separation, depression, suicide, dissolution, despair, desperation. What can we do, how can we deal with our anxieties and fears?

life-quotes-inspirational-life-quotes-appreciate-life

Everybody has a story to tell here. The biggest favor we can do for each other is to listen to another tell their story. Not with judgment or condemnation, but simply for the fact that they will heal by telling it, eventually. Many of us love to read stories, whether fiction or factual matters not. We love certain characters in a novel, play or movie because he seems all too familiar, because we see ourselves in her. My story is a little bit yours too. Okay, now I don’t feel quite so alone out here on the high seas of life. Your story has given me a lifeline, something I can hold onto, a way to help me get back to shore. When I am feeling low and alone, and like no one else in the universe cares or remembers that I exist, when eating alone the tenth night in a row is making me feel completely miserable, or when the demons come in the middle of night and attack me with their punishing thoughts, what can I do? Give in, lay down in a puddle on the floor and want to end it all? No. I will not give into fear and thoughts of hopelessness. Somehow I must find strength within myself to climb out of the hole, to hold on until the morning, to find hope that I will again one day be cooking for two or twenty. Because I am not only doing this work for myself, but for every other lonely and afraid human out there also. My struggle, my battle with the darkness of my soul is everyone’s battle. The single most important work that any of us can do now, is to embrace the love and light within ourselves, while acknowledging the darkness and pain there too, and work to find all the ways, big and small, to shine it upon the world. Every single day.

By now, I am way beyond self-help books and pep talks (even though I sometimes still read and listen to them.) Life is about more than that, and is much, much more complex. Good advice is all well and good, but the times are calling for something far deeper and greater. Our world needs compassion like never before. It can be the smallest gesture, a smile or a friendly greeting to another human as we walk down the street. It can also be simply noticing others, from people to the birds in the tree above your head. Every gesture counts. Every thought also.

When I learn how to truly love what is in my own heart, it will automatically free me to love everyone and everything else which appears to be outside of me. The illusion is that there is any separation. I love you.

<p style="font-size:15px" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">[Note: This post comes from an older blog I had on WordPress, called <em>Clearskies, Bluewater. </em> I wrote the original post in January of 2014. In upcoming posts, I will be sharing some of the best writing from that blog with readers of <strong><em>interrelatedplanet.org.</em></strong> Thanks for reading and sharing.][Note: This post comes from an older blog I had on WordPress, called Clearskies, Bluewater. I wrote the original post in January of 2014. In upcoming posts, I will be sharing some of the best writing from that blog with readers of interrelatedplanet.org. Thanks for reading and sharing.]