Posts Tagged ‘race’

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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She looked at him – somewhat meekly – as if asking forgiveness. Her eyes were joining yet avoiding.
“So I’ve never seen a Black man before” she declared. “No need to get all pissy about it! I grew up on a farm – just north of here. Ain’t no Black folk ‘round there. I mean – like – the’re these two Black kids – but they’re adopted like. They grown up like us. That’s the only two. I mean like the Packers and stuff!”
A slight smile drew to one side of her cheek. She remembered that everyone referred to them as the Pacoons ‘cause there were so many Blacks on the team. She knew it wasn’t right to say it just then…but it was funny.
He glared at her. His brown eyes searing deep into…searching every corner of her soul. But he knew that she was right. He just didn’t know how to say it. There is a way to be when someone confronts you like that. There is a way you learn to pose and spit right back at them.
It just didn’t feel real ‘cause her darkness was pure and honest. She hadn’t seen one of me in the flesh before. I so wanted to be pissed and tell her how racist she was – but it just didn’t feel true. She didn’t know what she didn’t know…and I didn’t want her to pretend. “Just tell me you don’t know!” he thought.
That’s exactly what she did.
– Despite her fear of being misunderstood.
– Despite her fear of seeming ignorant.
– Despite her not knowing the exact terminology.
– Despite her fear of coming forward.
– Despite her fear of being rejected by her own.
– Despite her fear of being rejected by yours.
– Despite her fear of having nowhere to call safe or home anymore.
– Despite her fear of losing friendships.
– Despite her fear of being scolded for approaching…or not approaching.
– Despite her fear of vulnerability of openness and disclosure.
– Despite her fear of blurting out stereotypes – and being punished for it.
…she stepped to him and said:
“Hey, I don’t know. I didn’t have reason to know. Nobody around me knew. They didn’t have reason to know. Quit bitchin’ an blamin’ and teach me what you know.”

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Unless we re-conceptualize education and recognize that we have populations and sub-populations that are delayed within the twentieth century…we will continue to struggle.

Unless we acknowledge that any education system is designed to support the requirements of the culture – as described by the dominant group…we will continue to struggle. 

Unless we come to grips with the fact that education has shifted from a process of learning to a process of readying for employment…we will continue to struggle. 

Unless we allow some level of privatization of our education (K-12) system allowing for greater challenge to our current poor-accountability system…we will continue to struggle.

Until we acknowledge that a two-day training seminar on an emotionally pregnant issue such as race does absolutely nothing to shift anybody’s level of readiness…we will continue to struggle.  

Until we realize that higher education is a business and all the rhetoric of multiculturalism, and diversity, and inclusive excellence does nothing until you show me how the shift is going to benefit my company financially…we will continue to struggle.

Until we quit recycling the same song and dance and the same singers and dancers…we will continue to struggle.

Until we make a concerted effort to search for competence (if we know how to define and recognize it) rather than comfort (to make us feel safe)…we will continue to struggle.

Until we truly acknowledge that we are struggling and quit the stories of whose fault it is, and realize that we are nearing the water mark…we will continue to struggle. 

Finally ~ the chat and the rhetoric are all good; the meetings and the seminars are all good; the marching and the placards are all good – but every time we exit the room there is a strong scent of urine that nobody wants to clean-up.  That’s okay.  We seem to have lived with it a long time.  We could put some Febreeze on it, or just ignore it, or hide it with a flower pot.  We seem to be pretty comfortable as…we continue to struggle.

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Checking the Ethnic Box

flag_of_IranIt was December 23rd 2007 I believe.  It was that one rainy Christmas a few years ago – the one where snow didn’t fall until around December 27th.   It was raining really hard.  A bucket per drop is what we say in the islands. Next to me, sometimes sprinting behind me in hurried steps was an Iranian girl, a high school senior looking/hoping to be admitted to her neighborhood University.  It is clearly one of the best Universities in the United States.  That, plus the reality that her family culture would not allow her to go away to college, makes this a very anxiety laden afternoon.   Her acceptance letter had not yet come. 

Her family had migrated to the US relatively recently.  They had checked the White box. 

You see, there are all these boxes you can check as you enter high school, as you move toward college…every time you apply for anything there is an ethnicity box to check.  Relative to US law, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistani’s, Indians etcetera are considered White.  So they check the ethnic box next to White.

We are absolutely soaked.  We hustle through Pharmacy to meet with the Dean.  We meet with the Associate Dean.  The Dean’s not available.  The Associate Dean was very kind and quite personable.   She says that there is nothing she can do, and wishes us successful travels. 

The parking lot is flooding by the time we exit the building.  I motion to her to remain within the building until I bring the truck around.  She wades across, climbs into the front seat and we head toward the main building on campus. 

The parking lot is pretty deserted.  It is two days before Christmas.  It is raining.  It is flooding.  Folks need to get out to their homes and families.  We enter a side door that I am most familiar with.  The elevator is uncomfortably cold and slow this evening.  We exit, cross the hall and drip into the office of an old friend. 

We greet each other with careful hugs.  I relate my story.  After some thinking and processing, she makes a call to another building and sends us on our way.

It no longer matters.  I am not going to be soaked to the skin for nothing.  We are following any lead and creating others where none existed prior.  We head down the hill and across campus to the building she directed.  We have our pick of parking spots.  Not even the parking ticket people are out on patrol.  Even they have given up.

We enter the building, veer left and catch the elevator.  Once at the top, we enter the open greeting area. 

A gentleman greets us and summons us back to his crowded office.  Papers and files are all over his desk.   I repeat our story.  He listens.  I wait.  He offers something.   I stop listening half way in his diatribe.  I repeat my story with emphasis.

Then he says, “Did you do over the ACT?”  She answers in the affirmative.  I inject, “It should not matter.  Thirty is an excellent score. You cannot tell me you see students with 3.76 GPAs, As in all advanced placement classes, and an ACT score of 30 everyday!”

He ignores and searches for the file.

I continued. “If the University of __  really wants diversity, as they say they do, then let us encourage diversity.  Here you have a young woman whom you will not have to worry about.  She will be academically successful.  She brings the ethnic diversity that is so necessary for our students’ development.  She has a GPA of 3.76 with an ACT score of 30.  You are telling me she is not tops on your list of Get This Child Here?”

He ruffles through stacks of papers, eventually locating her file.  He fuddles with a calculator on his desk entering her most recent ACT score and comes up with a final number.  He turns the calculator to me (as if that mattered) and says, “I think we can get her in.”  He tells me that her new score of 31 (one whole point greater) shifted the algorithm just enough to get her in the door.

Now, that is nonsense! 

If you want talent…if you want diversity…if you perceive a benefit to having a diverse campus, then go after diversity.   Do not conflate disadvantaged with diversity.  They are not the same and should not be used as if they were.  You want thoughts and perspectives from different ethnic and social cultures.

I am not saying not to support our students who have been traditionally underrepresented.   Don’t get me wrong.  Academics is still the one secure path to social mobility.  If we are successful in attracting and retaining more first generation students in here, much of our current social challenges will shift to the left.   They will never fully go away, but they will not have the same weight or negative impact. 

I am talking about diversity of thinking, diversity of cultures, diversity of perspective…all while having confidence in that student’s ability to navigate the challenging academic environment of the university.

 You cannot get more diversity than an Iranian child with an ACT of 31 and a GPA of 3.76 on a 4 point scale. 

All because she checked the White box.

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Breaking the Egg


I lived first in a little house, I lived there very well

The world to me was small and round, and made of pale blue shell.

egg2Nestled 80 miles Northeast of Madison, the capital, and 82 miles Northwest of Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse city, lies the sleepy lumber town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

 The City of Oshkosh first came to prominence after the great fire of Chicago.  Oshkosh was one of the primary sources for lumber used to rebuild that city, and grew to become the third most populace city in Wisconsin.  In 1972, one of the children’s overalls made by a, then obscure, clothing company called Oshkosh B’Gosh gained notoriety when it was advertised in one of the more prominent magazines of the day.  Oshkosh Trucking was one of the largest and most beloved employers within the Fox Valley, and paper was king. 

 That was then.  This is now.

 Much of Oshkosh’s manufacturing base has disappeared exposing a large un-transferable labor force.  In an effort to rebuild a sagging economy, the Oshkosh Correctional Institute which was built in 1986 expanded its rated bed capacity in 1996 to receive 1,800 inmates.  This, plus Oshkosh’s history as a “low crime” community had resulted in a dramatic shift in its demographic make-up.  Within the span of one decade (10 years), Oshkosh’s African American (AA) census population ballooned to a near four-fold increase over its original numbers….almost exclusively lower socioeconomic.    

Although a large percentage of this immigrant population came from Chicago, Milwaukee, Racine, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Ohio also accounted for sizeable portions. 

 One of the largest challenges came in the education of this new group.  This population had neither a long history in Oshkosh, nor did they come from similar inter nor intra-geographic environments. The challenge was one of understanding this new population, bringing them together, all while trying to educate them.

 I recently held a conversation with eight (8) African American middle school students.  Each of these students was attending the same school.  Many had classes together.  Not one of these students was born in Oshkosh (0/8).  Only three of the eight (3/8) were born in Wisconsin.  And only two (2), a brother & sister pair attended primary school in the District.

 How do you acculturate a group of students into “how things are done here,” when the only secure cross-cultural connection they have is race/color.  They do not even know each other sitting in the car, yet our expectations are that they move forward toward a shared goal/purpose. 

Just think of it – we have dramatically increased the belly of our population through immigration (increased jail population), loss of jobs (closure and exit of manufacturing), and lack of transferability of employment (trained to do one thing, and have done it for years). 

When you sit within a culture that has lost jobs, has a population retention rate of 79% (79% of the population remain or return), a 29% bachelor degree or above rate (71% high school and below), and has a proud steeled cultural and social history, you must expect these changes to breed and harvest strong grief reactions!! 

 Not dealing with it does not make it go away.  But (a) know that is one aspect of grief, as is anger, and (b) change may need to be mandated.  It is not going to happen organically. And it is not going to happen without financial challenge. 

 We can sing the song of social change how much we want.  The words are nice.  You feel like hugging and offering the sign of peace afterward.  It will not change without a shift of market forces.  You either reward me financially for making the changes, or charge me financially for not making the changes. 

 I will not be happy.  I will not make them willingly.  I will be very resentful.  I will try to make perfunctory shifts, like moving the furniture.  But, with insistence, I will make the changes…if only because I want to retain my job.

 Then comes the, already readied and primed, social movement.  When changes are being forged, you must have a readied and primed social movement to support and enact that change.  Those are the people who do the work and place the moral cover over the mandate.  Eventually, we get to a new sense of “normal.”    

 This is not as simple as I’ve made it seem from this brief statement.  (See the challenges of our new Black president or a new Black principal) These are countervailing forces; change versus defense of change. 

 This challenge is nowhere near brief.  It is, has been, and will be with us forever. 

 As human beings, we identify, generate, re-identify and re-generate ourselves through difference.  We group.  And as we group through culturally similar identifiers (age, ethnicity, language, schools we attend, music we like), those identifiers themselves become the seed of separation. 

Even a kid with 12 earrings hanging onto or out of each orifice, identifies with another kid similarly adorned, all while arguing against society’s lack of individualism. 

Don’t expect it to be different because this is 2009.  That is simply another day, another year, another date. In many ways we are still basic and base animals in beautiful clothes and nice smelling cologne.

 If we are, however, to steel/steal the best of us, we have to figure this one out.  We are losing some great talent.

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Engaging is the beginning...Diversity is not a dirty word.  Nor is multiculturalism.  It is simple.  The world has changed before our eyes and we need to change, too.

I am Dr. Al Felice.  I am a Doctor of Psychology with a specialization in ethnic and social minority cultures.

Multiculturism is an invitation to embrace diversity.  Diversity of thought, shape, color, culture, attributes, character, race, gender, and abilities.  At best, multiculturism is a dream for the beloved community- an inclusive community where everyone can have a meaningful role.  It may be a Utopian dream, but if we do not dream it, and practice it in small steps, we will fail as a species.

This blog is my exploration of that dream and its mandate.  I invite you to challenge me, offer ideas, express your frustration and share your delights. 

In my homeland of Trinidad, West Indies, we have a saying:  All of we is one.  Despite the pain we cause each other, I hold this to be true.

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