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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,

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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Dear Dr .Al,

When our class met with the mayor he talked about the
possibility of forming an academy for African Americans.  Do you think this would be advantageous for
the improvement of cultural learning, or do you think this could be detrimental
due to the segregation that would be created between Caucasian and African
American students?

Student.

 

Dear S,

What you’re asking here is about the relationship
between “cultural learning” and academic success…and by extension, if “cultural
learning“ is best delivered within the context of an Afro-centric environment –
within an Afro-centric curriculum. There is enough data to suggest that there
is tremendous social and academic benefit to holding a positive historical
cultural self identity (HiCSI), and home cultural self-identity (HoCSI).  HiCSI has to deal with learning one’s
history, foods, music, the story of one’s beginnings, language, traditions,
etc. and viewing it as a strength. This is what the Turtle school in Green Bay
is based on.  HiCSI deals with positive
strong messages delivered within the context of the home.  So in this case, your parents are delivering
the messages of who you are and how you represent yourself, your family, your
culture.  This is what many immigrants
do.  They teach their children what it means
to be African, Latino, Asian, etc.  The
children may not be taught the history, per say, but they are bathed in the
language, the music, the foods, clothing, etc.
This is central to a student’s success as it represents both the base or
launching-pad for ethnic minority students…as well as a place of strength and
safety (a home) to retreat to when emotionally challenged.  Now, let’s take this to your question.

If we accept that this “learning”  is integral to a student’s academic success,
and that this “learning” needs to be secured early during a child’s formative
years, (particularly since you have competing messages) then either the child
gets this in the home or in the school…or is defined and defines himself
through the messages in the environment.
If these “learnings” are not being delivered
adequately/appropriately/satisfactorily in the current school environment; and
if its not being delivered adequately/appropriately/satisfactorily in the
current home environment, and we acknowledge its importance to academic
success…then we simply find an environment that would do it.  This is the basis of the argument for many of
the charter schools.

Relative to the segregation part of your question “segregation that would be created between
Caucasian and African American students
,” (a) I do not see how different
that is than what we have today, and (b) maintaining a weakened posture has
done nothing to enhance or advance the process of integration.

 

Thank you for your question.

Dr. Al

 

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What our brain takes in is very much determined by our environment.  The smells that we find favorable and unfavorable are determined by our environment.  The foods we find acceptable and flavorful, unacceptable and gross are very much determined by our environment.  Friend, foe, safe, unsafe…are taught to each of us by our environment. The cerebellum, to the hippocampus, to the cingulated cortex.  It gets locked in.  

What people don’t acknowledge is that this is all of us.  These learnings affect all of us.  It’s just what’s put in front of our plates and how it’s introduced to each of us. 

An example:  I was brought in a cultural environment where dogs are for protection…not for petting, and certainly not to be in your house!  Family and friends who visit are quite put-off, initially, when they see a beagle greet them at the front door.  The discomfort, the fear, the anxiety are palpable.  By the end of their 2-week visit, they are petting my dog.  They understand that this beagle is part of my family structure.  Do not, for one moment, think that they are going back home with a newly discovered urge to see dogs differently!  They are not.  But they are more open to the concept of a different way to see dogs.  There are different realities – and more so, these different realities exist in certain environments.  What does that mean?  It means that if they come to America and visit your home, they will ask you if your dog is friendly.  If they never had the experience of difference, they will never know difference.

Now let’s go back to our discussion.     

So let’s see – – – What have we been collectively taught about this population that we call Blacks?  What are these popular images? Do remember that these are images that bathe all of us!!!  No one is immune.

  1. We have the Black athlete.
  2. We have the Black as comedic relief…the fool…the jester.
  3. We have the Black as the over-do…the one that helps us to amplify and laugh at his own.
  4. Black as the pimp…the overly sexual Black.  The well-hung.  
  5. The Black as the entertainer.
  6. Oh!  How can we forget the Black as the criminal.
  7. The Black as the slave. 
  8. The Black as the distressed, the poor, the destitute.
  9. The Black as the thug.
  10. The Black as the lazy, can’t read, doesn’t read.
  11. And finally, there is the Black as the buffoon…the Black that, because he needs to be friends with Whites to be accepted, will play the buffoon.
  12. One more ~ the Black as the Brown Egg! 

The intellectual, the academic, the scientist, the entrepreneur, the tender, the engaging, the CEO – are rarely seen. 

What’s sad is that, many times, these roles (1 – 11) become the roles of ascendancy. 

You want to get ahead in life?  Play this role. 

You want to get paid?  Play this role. 

You want to be part of my social group?  Play this role.

You want to feed your family or live in this fancy house?  Play this role. 

Discuss this blog in light of everything we’ve seen and experienced and interpreted in our limited lives to this point.  

Let’s have a wonderful discussion.

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  • Share your thoughts on any aspect of the movie Crash…not on the movie as a whole.
  •  Site fragments of the movie to bolster your comment. 
  • Link your thoughts to something physical or emotional as evidenced in the movie.

Here are a few tag words to jar your writing.  POWER     INSENSITIVITY     TENDERNESS     FEAR   APPREHENSION     PAIN    IGNORANCE    BROKEN PEOPLE    DIGNITY    DESPAIR    REDEMPTION

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