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Because you don’t want something to be as it is ~ does not make it not be as it is. Telling your son that he is equal to everybody else does not make him dismiss reality. He is very aware that he is spoken to/at differently. That their smiles hold a wariness, or a “Poor kid – you know it’s got to be hard for him living there…” You son is fully aware that he is perceived as “less than, wounded, need to keep an eye on, a B is probably the best he can do…” And stop quibbling on language. Don’t get angry about it. Anger does not change reality. But please, do not deny reality. Pretentious blindness does nothing to change reality…and it surely does not help him navigate those waters. If you want your son to look beyond race ~ then say that. Tell him: “Don’t let it be a block,” “Don’t let it define you,” “Climb over it,” “Show yourself what you’re made of”… Use all those wonderfully supportive phrases – and back them up! But never ever tell him that race does not matter. Because he knows differently. Because he is going to look at you as the biggest liar in the whole world. Because he trusted you to protect and guide him. Be kindly – but truthful. “RACE DOES NOT MATTER” is a lie. Don’t ever lie to your son – definitely not about that!!

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M.P. recently wrote me a sweetly ill-informed response to a guest article I penned for the Progressive Magazine.  (see February issue).  I thought I’d share my response in an open letter. We all might learn something.

Dear Mark:  Let me first thank you.  For without engagement, even if powerfully and aggressively half-educated, we will not move forward. You do advance a strong point…not around the issue of illegitimacy, as that in and of itself is non-causative. There has been no identified causal relationship between a child born out of wedlock, parents who choose not to marry, divorced parents, adoptive children, or children born to same-sex parents and what you so aptly term “the fate.” I recognize your word-choice “illegitimacy” and “impregnating” as a fevered attempt at inciting divisiveness. Again, I smile in acknowledgement.  Your use of those terms is “nice” but your argument lacks legitimacy. (I am using your own words – pretty cool eh!) What you allude to, and I agree with, is a too-early sexual maturing of many of our young men. This tends to be needs and environmentally-based.  Any environment lacking in adult, male influence and supervision will demonstrate this.  (please see,http://thesestonewalls.com/gordon-macrae/in-the-absence-of-fathers-a-story-of-elephants-and-men/)  Why this environment consistently lacks male adult presence, is socially and historically based. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.  One of your greatest challenges though Mark, is the stalled perception of singularity.  I would strongly encourage you to expand your readiness to learn on this issue, because we do need you as a partner in this change.

Thank you so much for sharing.

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I’ve been sitting her thinking of something very profound to say.  It is Black History Month after all.  I was looking for things to push up to the sun and celebrate.  I was looking for these great achievements.  And I got more and more sad and stuck. So I thought I’d share my ten top wishes with you

  1. I wish that we as Black adults would apologize to our children for somehow leaving them the impression that we had arrived.
  2. I wish that we as Black people would take responsibility for teaching our children their history, and not leaving it White educators.  Schools have their place.  Do your job. That is why our kids think that the “N” word is cool!
  3. I wish we could truly understand how coupling education with property taxes cripples our children.
  4. I really wish that rappers, entertainers, and athletes with money begin investing in our children’s education.  Open schools!
  5. I wish they’d find me something other than a White savior…one who looks more like me.
  6. I wish we could find more rounded stories of our history to recreate in the form of a movie.  Give me some balance.  There must be other stories you could find.
  7. I wish I could hug the creators of the two biracial advertisements. One is with the cereal. The other is with the swift-duster.
  8. I wish our school choirs and choruses would inject one or two African American songs in their repertoire.  Not the same tired Negro Spirituals.  It just might encourage my kids to join and parents to attend.
  9. I wish we would stop parading ourselves with food and song & dance every February, for some idiots to pat us on the back.  Stop shining shoes!
  10. Did I mention that I wish my Savior looked a bit more like me.  Little dark tan and rounded nose would help.

But I’m not going to hold my breath.  I have not seen evidence of us jogging just yet. We’re still in the walking chair.

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Dear Dr. Al,I’m concerned for/about my 16 year old daughter. It seems there
are a multitude of things swirling around her spirit lately…none of them
allowing her to move from this cloud.She is almost 17 and in her second semester of her junior year.
She is also on the track team and she is the track captain. She also lost her
father to cancer 2 years ago. I believe her pain about this is surfacing and
is mixed in with all of the above.

It is my opinion her health is starting to show signs of all
this stress. We have been to the Dr. twice in 2 months. She is having difficulty
with pain when she breathes. This could be/is related to her running track.
Her chest muscles seemed to be inflamed near the sternum. Her last track
meet, she was unable to run all her events, due to this issue. She called me
crying.

Most of all I have noticed my ALIVE, VIBRANT, ENERGETIC daughter
succumb to a tired, worried, stressed 17 year old. I see more stress than
smiles. I am there for her 24/7, but understand she may not even be able to
sort all this out. My conversations with her end in…”I’m just tired
mom”…I do believe she is as very worried about the condition of her
breathing as am I.

Just need some guidance as a mom so I can support her through
this. She deserves it.

Mom

Dear Mom,

This response may be a bit longer than either you or I anticipated.  I will start with the end point. Then I will list some of the concerns you shared and address each briefly.

  1. You mentioned that “she deserves it.”  I have no doubt that she does, and that is part of reason for your concern.
  2. She is 16 and a junior in high school.  Do you remember you at 16 and a junior in high school?  Do you recall your emotional roller-coasters – your ups, your downs,  your crying for what seemed to be no reason at all, your parents who did not
    understand, your cliques at school (those who liked you, those who hated you and those you disliked?  Your daughter
    is right there – right now. Under the best of circumstances, that is a difficult place to be.  The acne
    outbursts do not help either.  So in the best of scenarios where, let’s say, 10 negative points put you into
    the high stress region, that alone amounts for 5 of those 10 possible points.
  3. She is the Captain of the track team.  Let’s add 1 more stress point for that.
  4. She lost her dad to cancer at age 14.  Any loss at any time is horrific – can you even imagine what the loss of her father, at this critical stage of her life, does to this young woman?  And she is still trying to play the role of captain and leader?  How does one really do that effectively?   You seemed to suggest that she may not yet have mourned his passing. Let’s add another 3 stress points.   A conservative estimate puts your daughter at a 9 on a scale of 1 – 10.
  5. You also mentioned some swelling in the sternum area, and shortness of breath – plus an inability to complete her events.
    This tends to have a child question her own competencies.  Her team is expecting her to compete, compete well, and lead.  She feels incapable (at this time) – both physically and emotionally.  How does she tell herself that?  How does she tell her team?  How does she forgive herself?

My suggestion is that you get her to a specialist.  Try to find a kind, competent, male pediatric specialist dealing with activity and sport related injuries.  You seem to be an extremely competent mother.  This is evidenced in your ability to identify and list her potential challenges.  What your daughter needs is a kind, competent male specialist.  Her coach (if male) cannot do it.  He may be well-intended, and capable of understanding intellectually, but he has a track-meet to contest and win.  His job depends on it.  His ego depends on it.  His first reaction will probably be to suggest a relief from her responsibilities as Captain.  This actually does the reverse of what’s intended and places additional internal stress on the child.  This tends to be perceived as another failure.  She
may begin to develop an internal perception of herself as a failure.  Because of her strengths (as you identified them) this will more-than-likely not be shared with you.  So she will carry this pain by herself –  possibly leading to symptoms of depression.
Have your daughter checked-out physically first – a thorough check-up in critical.  At the same time the plan is the
development of the relationship between (a) herself and herself, and (b) herself and the doctor…with you guiding it.  Give
the doctor some insight on what’s going on.  Guide him as to the questions to ask.  He will be the first line to her therapeutic engagement.  If psychotherapy is deemed necessary – meaning that there is no evidence of a physiological reason for her chest pain – then have the doctor speak with her about it in your presence.  If you bring it up, she will reject it.  If he brings it up after a thorough evaluation (tests, et cetera) as part of the assessment and recommendation, there is a much
greater likelihood of compliance.

Good luck and thank you for your question.

Dr. Al

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Dear Dr. Al

How can teachers help students who may have difficult
home lives become successful?

A

 

Dear A,

The easy answer is to do as much in school as can be
done in school.  Relieve the children of
as much of the additional stress, on top of the already highly unfair and
stressful home life, as you possibly can.
No homework.  Keep schools within
the neighborhood…comfortable, safe, walk-to-school distance.  Establish after-school social, academic, and
integrative opportunities.  Provide pre-
and post-school meals.  Conduct home
visits: teacher, social worker, school psychologist, principal.  Anything that takes the additional burden off
the kids would help.  I have been in
houses, right here in Madison, where there are no tables, no chairs, no lamps,
no clear space designated for academic pursuit.
I have been in houses, right here in Madison, where the living room
floor and couch double as mattresses…mattresses that have to be given up when
family from Chicago come to visit.  I
have been in homes, right here in Madison, where the eldest male or female
child is the parent, picking up his/her younger siblings after school and
caring for them.  I have had the
experience, right here in Madison, where a child refused to come to school
because her mother was on dialysis – and she was not going to take the chance
to come home to a dead parent.  I have
seen, right here in Madison, where a child had to carry the emotional burden of
walking past his mother everyday on the street on his way to school.  Not one of these examples is made-up, and
they are all very current.

Who knows?  Mummy
may have to work, or mummy may simply not be available to that challenge.

As much additional stress as you can take off that
child’s slender frame, to help it from bending so dangerously close to
breaking, would be supportive and highly appreciated.

 

Thank you for your question.

Dr. Al

 

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Dear Dr. Al,

Just curious: is it possible for an oppressor to be unaware
(or at least, maybe unreflective) it is acting as an oppressor? Or to put it
another way, are the consequences the same for the lost people if the
oppression is calculated and intentional (for example, U.S. policy to
exterminate Native Peoples during the westward expansion, or Jim Crow laws) or
blindly self-serving (for example, people who argue American values/laws/social
policies are color blind and therefore reject concepts like white privilege,
red-lining, etc.). I’m not phrasing this very well, but I think you probably
get my drift ….

Just curious:

 

Dear JC,

The term “unaware oppression” has
been revised to “unconscious bias” – I suspect, in part because the former term
carries an aggressive tone that the latter does not.  Choice of language is, and therefore titles
are, important because they affect the audience’s emotional posture, and readiness
to engage. “Oppression” is an active
term that emotes a feeling of purposeful and calculated dominance.  “Unaware
suggests that you (the larger you) are just running through the market place
overturning people’s goods and livelihoods innocently oblivious to all the carnage
that’s going on around you.  I am taking
time on this aspect of your question because terms and titles are carefully
measured.  They are not haphazardly
chosen.  I am neither agreeing nor
disagreeing with the term – I am pointing out that there is a reason why it is
termed “unconscious bias” and not “unaware oppression.”  With the latter, people stop listening right
away.  At least you’ll get 5 minutes with
the former.  Now let me deal with the
essence of your question.

We all have biases.  Biases are natural to our existence.  Blonde or brunette?  Tall or short?  Basketball or golf?  Ford or Toyota?  Blue or red?
Brown eyes or blue?  Comedy or
drama?  Country music or pop?  Blacks or Asian? Powdered detergent or
liquid?  See how easy and natural that
is? I am certain that you were going along just fine until you came to the
Black or Asian one.  Then your body went “Ouch!”
Didn’t expect that – did you?  Bias is
that simple – and it is that subconscious – and it is that formed and hard to
change.

Where does it come from?  Some are natural.  Some are learned.  Many of the early biases were there to save
us and make sure the species was able to survive.  Certain tastes.  Certain smells.  Certain reactions after tasting
something.  Many others are learned…and
learned very young.  It’s the “in group” – “out group” thing.  Sort of
like the clicks or cliques in school.  I
had a great friend (no longer with us) whose then 3-year old daughter clutched
on to her leg for dear life as she observed with great consternation: “You’re
Black!” Her mom was so pained and apologized over and over.  That was a very precise observation.  I am Black.
In her learned experience, I was “out group.” She recognized it and stated
it.  No biggie!

So what’s all the hype about?

It’s the “power over” aspect of bias.  That
is the truly insidious part when it comes to human behavior.  It is the power over.  …and
some humans, some races, some groups have systematic, sanctioned, defended
power over others.
   When you have power over a person, a race, a
people, a group…and you have an entire system that normalizes that power over,
this is what you get. The unconscious aspect of it is the lack of recognition
that bias is occurring.  “Power over” is
so normalized that people are genuinely shocked if you point it out, and are royally
pissed if/when you challenge it.  The
sickening part is that although power over is not universal, bias is.  Since bias is learned, you can easily be of
the “in group” and hold bias against the “in group.”

Now, remember I told you that some
of it keeps us safe.  So what happens if
that “learned bias” is learned within the context of “safety?”  Let’s say that you love dogs…but there is
this one type of dog that you will not go near to.  You play with every dog you see except this
one type of dog.  You have a learned bias
against that type of dog.  What is you
level of anxiety when you see that dog?  Your
neighbor owns one of those dogs – what would have to happen for you to be
convinced that his dog is not dangerous.
Will that feeling of safety extend to other dogs like that?  Why?  Why
not?  How anxious would you be to go close
to that dog?  If a law was passed that stated
that all of those dogs should be terminated, how would you react?  Would you be pained of silently relieved?

Remember that I am not dealing with
right or wrong – and a dog is not a human being…but I do want you to feel how
deep this thing called “unconscious bias” is.
Many people try to make excuses for it, or rationalize it.

Going back to the dog analogy:  Until
and unless you grow up with that type of dog to know it’s beauty, or you see
more of those types of dogs in helping roles, or starring on television, or
walking the blind, or saving children from fires, or finding illicit drugs at
the airport…until and unless you get enough data to challenge your deep-seated
bias against that dog, NOTHING WILL CHANGE.   

UNLESS THERE ARE MORE, THERE WILL NOT BE MORE – AND THE FEW
THERE ARE WILL BE SEEN AS OUTLIERS…DIFFERENT…NOT LIKE THE REST. 

Thanks for your question.

Dr. Al

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The original piece can be found at: http://www.npr.org/2011/02/18/133848837/segregation-in-america-dragging-on-and-on.  Please read.  Below is my response.  I invite your response.

There are a number of reasons for what you observe. (1.) Early immigrants naturally seek out others-like-self (comfort, familiarity, etc). (2.) A high percentage of early immigrants, unless in college or university, fall within the lower socio-economic strata. They move to areas that they can afford in order to satisfy those primary needs. (3.) As they become more solvent they move into more middle-class neighborhoods. (4.) As their children become more acculturated, they move into more middle-class neighborhoods. (5.) Whereas many immigrants. from diverse cultures, enter the U.S. at a zero or negative 3 on the Emotional Perception scale, African Americans (as a group) sit at -8. There is less emotional willingness, within the larger “power” population, to allow African Americans the freedom of integration. There are many reasons for this – not to be discussed here. However, this is clearly evidenced where one Black with a foreign accent is afforded greater freedom of engagement, even after controlling for education, than an American Black. …or when a lighter-skin Latino or Black is still perceived as “safer” and hence more able to negotiate and navigate a variety of cultural environments. It is truly not just this one.

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