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/

The heart of America is broken

https://www.npr.org/sections/trump-impeachment-trial-live-updates/2021/02/10/966588090/the-footage-is-horrific-senators-react-to-gripping-new-video-of-capitol-riotWASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 10. 2021 (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Today is the second day of the second impeachment trail against former US President Donald Trump. The charge is “Incitement of a Riot at the US Capitol building” on January 6, 2021. It was a day that will live in infamy in America’s history, when a large crowd of extremist Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and intended to harm or kill Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and any other members of Congress who they found. The rioters had been incited toward violence for months by Trump, who kept up a steady stream of lies about the results of the 2020 presidential election. Despite no evidence whatsoever, he falsely claimed that the Democratic party “stole the election” from him. Then January 6th happened, the day the election results from all the states were to be certified by the Congress.

“It was one of the roughest days of our life,” he said. “We didn’t realize how much at risk we were. You knew we were at risk, but we didn’t know it was that much. I mean, literally, we could have been all wiped out.” Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/10/us/politics/impeachment-violence-senate.html

The second impeachment trial is being streamed live for the public this week on national news outlets.  I listened to the Democratic team of lawmakers as they took turns describing, in graphic detail, all the events of that terrible day. They played many videos containing footage showing the mob approaching and breaking into the Capitol building and various chambers, including the Senate floor itself. They smashed windows, pillaged and terrorized not only many members of Congress, but their families, many staff members, and journalists who were inside the Capitol that day. There was also video footage that hadn’t been shown to the public before, of the Capitol police, and later also the Metropolitan Police officers as they were beaten and hurt by the rioters. 140 police officers were hurt that day, and three died because of the insurrection.

“It was really horrifying what happened. You know, I think the House team really put forth a very strong connecting of the dots. I don’t see how you can watch any of this and listen to their presentation and not conclude that Trump bears tremendous responsibility for what happened,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told reporters.

https://www.npr.org/sections/trump-impeachment-trial-live-updates/2021/02/10/966588090/the-footage-is-horrific-senators-react-to-gripping-new-video-of-capitol-riot

The impeachment prosecution team presented their evidence in a direct, concise, and factual manner. I know I am not alone in saying that the evidence of Trump’s dereliction of his duty, taken under oath as Commander in Chief of the United States, is indisputable. Any sane human being, upon hearing the evidence, listening and watching the numerous videos, and reading what Trump himself actually said to his extremist supporters, would have to agree that this man is absolutely guilty of inciting a mob to violent insurrection against the United States government.

And yet, the most atrocious part of this whole story is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Republican senators, the very people who were in that Senate chamber when the rioters were smashing in the windows and attempting to get in in order to harm and or kill them, once both sides have argued their case, will vote to NOT impeach Trump. They will NOT hold him accountable for this highest crime against the US Constitution, against all the members of the House and Senate, and against everything that being the President of the United States of America stands for. Those senators, by their very refusal to impeach Trump, are, in my opinion, accomplices to his crime. They too, must be held accountable, and justice must be served.

Since January 6 of this year, I have been alternately in states of shock, anger, and grief regarding the condition of our country. America has had a long slide from its pedestal on the world stage, for many years now. But the past four years of Trump’s presidency has pushed it from a slide to the edge of a very tall cliff. Hearing and seeing the evidence of this cliff today forced Americans who are still sane to re-live that horrific day. We are staring at our collective shadow, and it is as ugly as it gets—terrifyingly so. Some of our leaders have sold their souls to the devil, which is the collective negativity created by unbridled greed and lust for power. It is the Beast of the Book of Revelation, on display for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

There are those who listened or watched all the evidence presented today, and yet still deny what they heard as untrue, who are stubbornly holding to Trump’s lies of a stolen election, and who continue to feed the shadow beast of hatred, white supremacy, and ignorance. There are far too many ignorant, deeply asleep humans who call themselves Americans. I think the most perplexing question of all is: How can the ones who are still so blind, deaf and asleep, awaken? The heart of America is broken. What will it take to heal it? Is it even possible at this point? Will we continue to be literally split down the middle in an unbelievable tension of polarization? What will happen once that tension breaks completely?

It is time for the American people to become more mature. As a country, we’ve been in primary school for long enough. We must graduate and become adults now, in all ways. At a moment like this, it feels nearly impossible that we will manage to do this in time to avert complete catastrophe. And yet, becoming mature and accepting the truth, which is plainly in front of our faces, is exactly what we must do. For if we do not, our fate will be sealed and the United States will become extinct, a relic much like the Roman Empire when it fell.

References: 

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/10/us/impeachment-trial/stacey-plaskett-the-house-delegate-from-the-us-virgin-islands-gets-a-high-profile-role-at-the-trial

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000007598512

https://www.npr.org/sections/trump-impeachment-trial-live-updates/2021/02/10/966588090/the-footage-is-horrific-senators-react-to-gripping-new-video-of-capitol-riot

The United States of Emergency

I-cant-breathe
Black America is screaming for justice now. (images via The New York Times)

The United States has ignited. The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis by a white police officer was the match that lit the tinderbox of racial tension. Floyd’s death is the latest in a long line of atrocities committed against black people in America at the hands of police. America is in a state of emergency as The People are in the streets battling with police from coast to coast.

 

Former President Barak Obama was quoted in today’s NYTimes. “This is something that’s got to change,” Mr. Obama said, arguing the challenges of the last few weeks were the result of structural problems in the country. “They’re the result of a long history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining and institutionalized racism that too often have been the plague of this original sin of our society.”

stop-killing-us
(images via The New York Times)

Thomas Friedman, an opinion columnist for The NYTimes, laments,

What to do? Where can we find the leadership needed to calm this situation, deal with its underlying causes and at least get us through the 2020 election?

Three years ago, I might have hoped that Senate Republicans would step in and restrain Trump. But now we all know better. The Senate Republican caucus today is nothing but a political brothel. Mitch McConnell is the madame. And McConnell and his caucus rent themselves out by the night to whomever will energize the Republican base to keep them in power and secure the economic benefits for their wealthiest donors.  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/ 

A similar tone is found in this opinion piece from The Times’ Editorial Board:

The chaos unleashed by the death of Mr. Floyd defies simple prescriptions; it is a result of too many underlying conditions. Authorities are facing a stern test: It can be all but impossible to police the boundaries of legitimate protest, particularly on the ground. And it must be painful for many police officers who put their lives on the line to hear themselves criticized by their fellow citizens.

Yet the testimony of local journalism, eyewitnesses and videos posted online make clear that too many police officers have little interest in protecting legitimate protest. While some officers have joined protests or knelt in solidarity, others, often in the same cities, have acted savagely, inciting or exacerbating violence.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/opinion/george-floyd-protests-first-amendment

America is on fire with anger, rage and anguish. Two months of being locked down, confined to our homes (if one is fortunate enough to have one) combined with the loss of employment, income and freedom to move about freely, created the conditions for the powder keg that exploded with the murder of George Floyd by the police. Hundreds of thousands are in the streets in more than 140 cities across the country, carrying protest signs, chanting “I can’t breathe,” raising their fists in solidarity and kneeling to remind the authorities of the horrific abuse of power that police have used on black citizens for far too long. Yes, Black Lives Matter. Yes, White Privilege is real. The magnitude of the protests and riots cannot be overstated. This is the Tsunami of Change, right now. We can choose to collectively pivot towards a just and fair society as the old paradigm of control by force breaks apart and goes up in flames.

black power_sky
Black Lives Matter. (images via The New York Times)

Dear Readers, some of you won’t agree with me, but the truth is that no matter where you live in this world, systems of institutionalized oppression have been visited upon your people, whether currently or in the distant past. No one on Earth has been immune from the control mechanisms put in place by those who profit from human suffering. The current crisis in the United States has been a long time in the making. Now that it is upon us,  we can no longer ignore it or be complicit in this struggle. It is ALL of our responsibility to participate in this awesome moment of Revolution. The alarms are screaming everywhere for our collective awakening and it is up to each person to shine the spotlight first within their own heart and see what is there. No matter how painful, how wounded, how dark or how hideous what may be found, it is finally time to really see it, acknowledge it, and then begin the difficult work of forgiving it. Forgiveness is not denial. Forgiving oneself first is the key to being able to change, and then to reconciliation with all others. It is a courageous process and it takes time. The past couple of weeks are showing Americans that the time for fighting violence with yet more violence is over. We MUST go beyond fear of the Other. There is no other.

The NYTimes put up this incredible photo essay showing visceral images from across the United States over the past ten days. I hope you will take the time to gaze at this moment, and ponder what it means to you. Photo Essay-George Floyd protests

Here is a link to an essay posted by Barack Obama in Medium. Many of us are grateful for his calm wisdom right now. https://medium.com/@BarackObama/how-to-make-this-moment-the-turning-point-for-real-change-9fa209806067

reconciliation is possible
Peace and justice go hand in hand when we open our hearts and realize the truth of who we are. (images via The New York Times)