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/

Our Summer of Dissonance

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary online, dissonance is defined as:

1 a: lack of agreement, the dissonance between the truth and what people want to believe; especially : inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and one’s beliefs;
b: an instance of such inconsistency or disagreement; “the mingling of bitter comedy and stark tragedy produces sharp dissonances”— F. B. Millett

2: a mingling of sounds that strike the ear harshly : a mingling of discordant sounds; especially, music : a clashing or unresolved musical interval or chord.

Synonyms of dissonance include: conflict, disaccord, discord, discordance, discordancy, disharmony, dissension (also dissention), dissent, dissidence, disunion, disunity, division, friction, infighting, inharmony, schism, strife, variance, war, warfare.
(Citation: “Dissonance.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dissonance. )

As any skimming of news websites clearly shows, Dissonance is now the buzzword of our current times. Those of us living in the United States are immersed in our collective dissonance 24/7, with no relief save for turning off all devices, airplane mode or taking an off-grid getaway.

Case in point: President Trump travelled to Mount Rushmore National Monument on Friday, July 3, to hold a political rally for the Independence Day weekend. I guess one could argue it was a savvy marketing campaign—the backdrop for his barely veiled, White Supremist propaganda was the faces of four American presidents carved into the granite rocks of the monument. The link to the NYTimes article is here.

As America’s POTUS denounced “dangerous left-wing fascists” who are defacing “national heroes” by toppling many statues of White Supremists (including confederate heroes) across the country, he conveniently neglected to mention that the Coronavirus infection rate increased by 90% over the past couple of weeks. Dissonance. As the Trump administration continues its deliberate denial, fact twisting and blatant lying about the pandemic’s effects on all aspects of American life, the tones and cadences of dissonance reverberate ever louder throughout our collective souls.

Then there’s America’s national shame about racism that continues to lay bare the core wound of its founding and accumulation of wealth through the slavery of and violence against Black people. Since the George Floyd murder by police at the end of May, a tidal wave of protests, opinion pieces, journalists, political voices, writers, and scholars have clamored to amplify this collective moment of dissonance in the hopes that finally, finally, White people will get it. Systemic racism is everyone’s problem, perpetuated by White silence and complacency to the status quo. One of these voices, Marvin Blakely, a civil trial lawyer, in this weekend’s NYTimes opinion section, writes,

And how could I calmly describe how people of color are penalized for not knowing and adhering to the culture of white America, while no value is placed on our culture, which they so freely appropriate for profit? How do I help these friends understand that the solution to the race problem lies with them? Ultimately a conversation is just more talk. What about taking action, no matter how small?

If they truly wanted to be of help and have meaningful conversations, with me or anyone else, I decided to tell them, they should begin by acknowledging that the problem lies in the hearts and minds of them, their brothers, sisters, parents, and in-laws.

I told them that a conversation in which you acknowledged years of undeniable oppression and then suggested Black people “move on” was as offensive as taking no action and remaining silently complicit. After the acknowledgment, I would ask that they educate themselves (and others) and, before engaging in those conversations that white America suddenly finds necessary, listen. After completing Steps 1, 2 and 3, you are ready not just to talk, but to act in a manner consistent with our mutual humanity.

Dissonance. Discord. Disharmony. Dissolution. Disrespect. Disregard. Disease. Dis. The prefix is defined as: negation, reversal. It is undeniable to the vast majority of us by now that we are smack in the middle of a collective Dark Night of the Soul. Our collective soul is being forced to face its shadow. In Jungian terms, the shadow of the soul is made up of all the unresolved, denied, repressed, hidden and shamed elements of our ego. Until the shadow is exposed to the light of acknowledgment, clearly seen and somehow forgiven, it remains as a force of negation, a receptacle of humanity’s sewage. We are in the midst of shining the strongest, most piercing light yet on our collective, core wound and its devastating consequences on entire sections of the human race. This is the most important work we must collectively do now. No matter how frustrating, horrifying, nauseating, disgusting, or dirty, facing our collective shadow is imperative for healing the unspeakable wound we must all heal.

Dear Readers, the moment we are living through now defies description. Though many (including me) attempt to describe what we are facing, ultimately we are rendered speechless. The dissonance runs so deeply through the core of our humanity, that it is tearing us apart, quite literally. What can we do, how can we hold the dissonance without breaking into a million pieces?

One suggestion is to simply surrender and let the pain of our collective wound open you. You may experience what feels like dying, a pressure so tremendous that it is unbearable. Yet, if you are willing to let the forces of dissonance break you open, what you find within the heart of that pain will astound you. Rumi once wrote of a field that exists beyond the pain of the world. And that field absolutely exists, waiting eternally for anyone curious and brave enough to find it. It is a place of utter calm, of peace beyond human understanding, and of constant love. It is not far from each one. Just as the composer understands the supreme importance of silence within a symphony, we too must learn to understand the importance of finding the depth of wisdom within the heart of pain. Dissonance leads to eventual harmony when one is willing to do the work.