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.

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