In one compelling segment from the 2014 documentary, “I’m Not Racist…Am I?” high school students huddle around a board game modeled loosely after the game “Life.”
This one is called “American Dream.”
To play, each student takes on an identity different from their own. So a young black student is now a middle-class white male; a white peer is now a lower-class Asian woman. As they move the pieces around the board, players hear instructions that begin to heavily favor a certain demographic: “All females lose one turn” follows “LGBT players move back one space,” which follows “All welfare recipients move back five spaces.”
At the end, the young black student — playing the game as a white male — threw up his hands in victory. “I just kept moving forward,” he says, “while everyone else got pushed back.”
This quick lesson in privilege is the cornerstone of the prickly 90-minute film. For one full school year, filmmakers followed 12 New York teens as they dove into an intensive anti-racism curriculum developed by The Calhoun School, a prestigious college preparatory institution in Manhattan. The film is part of a larger initiative called Deconstructing Race. It aims to begin educating its students, teachers and families about structural systemic racism.
The Cleveland chapter of Facing History and Ourselves organized a May screening at John Carroll University. Organizers broke the film into three chunks with ample time for the audience — high school students, teachers and community members — to share their reactions in between.
While 12 students participated, filmmakers focused primarily on five students:
Kahleek, a black 17-year-old from Brooklyn, who is teased by his family and peers for skateboarding and other markers of “white” behavior
Martha, a 15-year-old whose white family is the only one in her subsidized Harlem apartment building
Abby, a 16-year-old biracial girl struggling with identity in Manhattan
Sacha, a self-described liberal 16-year-old from the Upper West Side, who says it’s just coincidence that his friends are all white
Anna, an adopted 17-year-old Korean American student who says if not for the mirror, she’d think she was white
Viewers see the students wrestle with identity, stereotypes and prejudice. To launch the program, the participants attended a weekend retreat to root their conversations in shared language. First on the menu: What does racism mean?
The facilitators of the “Undoing Racism” workshop defined racism as race prejudice plus power, which exists in two forms: individual bigotry and institutional control. Racism exists, the facilitator told the students, primarily to uphold white supremacy.
“So are all white people racist?” one student asked. The facilitator didn’t hesitate: “Yes.” The students look dazed, a mixture of confusion and shock as they let the answer land.
In another workshop on the “N-Word,” facilitator Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., an African-American man in a pinstriped shirt and vest, asked the group to close their eyes and imagine that “a nigger has just walked into the room.”
“What did you see when I said that?” he asked. A handful of students’ erupted in response: “Sagging pants…gold teeth…Kunta Kinte.” But one student, Sacha, made the Cleveland audience gasp with his answer: “I saw you.”
Moore latched onto the moment.
“It doesn’t matter how you articulate, it doesn’t matter what degree you get, it doesn’t matter how hard you study, doesn’t matter how many books you read,” he said. “The only thing they see when they see you is that…and then that kid doesn’t make it home from the store.”
During one of the breaks, director Catherine Wigginton Greene conceded that the film doesn’t offer solutions, but rather exists to expand the conversation. “We want white people to watch this film and know that [this discussion on racism] is very much about them,” she said.
And after more workshops, Sacha, at least, appeared to hear the message. On camera, he admitted he saw the wrongness of his response to facilitator Moore’s prompt.
In March 2012, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush stood on the House floor dressed in a gray hooded sweatshirt, one month after Trayvon Martin was shot dead in a Florida suburb. “Just because someone wears a hoodie, does not make them a hoodlum,” said the Illinois Democrat. “Just because someone is a young Black male and wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum. . .” He was escorted off the floor and out of the chamber by the sergeant-in-arms for violating decorum.
Author Alison Kinney begins her “Hood” – publishing this week — with this telling moment. Part of the publisher Bloombury’s “Object Lessons” series, “Hood” contains a definite chill as Kinney tracks the history and significance of the garment through the 15th century to the present.
“We all wear hoods,” Kinney writes, “but our hoods evoke everything from recess and the wind chill factor to executioners and cross burning.” The hood, at its core, is all about power, she writes: who has it, who lacks it and where the power originates.
Kinney tells a riveting story of the origins of the Ku Klux Klan’s hooded uniforms. The deadly persistent terrorists of the Klan originally lacked cohesion: some members simply wore blackface to conceal their identities (and taunt their victims) and others donned horns or flour sacks. But after D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation premiered in 1905, the cinematic outfits became standard. Factories opened in Atlanta to mass-produce the regalia, outfitting some 100,000 new recruits. Kinney doesn’t editorialize here, because she doesn’t need to—the facts are eloquent.
The adoption of the “hoodie” over the past few decades as a ubiquitous part of American wardrobes reflects our need for protection from the elements. But as Kinney reports, the “only criminals don hoodies” stereotype became a convenient and covert way to discriminate against Black people. A Harlem bodega threatened trespassing charges on customers wearing hoodies; several school districts restricted hoodies as part of the dress code. “There are lots of crimes happening on Wall Street, but we don’t stop and frisk people who wear Brooks Brothers suits,” one interviewee says. “What suit was Sheldon Silver wearing? What kind was Bernie Madoff wearing?”
This examination is part of the strength of the Object Lessons series. (Other titles look at “Silence,” “Glass,” and “Dust.”) Kinney, a writer in Brooklyn, New York, knits seemingly disparate subjects — burkinis and gentrification, for example — together in such a way that the connection is instantly appreciated – and she does her work in fewer than 200 pages. It’s thought-provoking without the lecture.
In examining these small yet significant objects of daily life, we find new meaning in the world around us. Next time you get a little chilly and reach for your hoodie, thank Kinney for this history lesson.
Marlon James begins his 2-minute video on racism with the following question: “Are you ‘non’ or are you ‘anti’?”
Published by the Guardian and viewed more than 10 million times, the video asks viewers to grapple with their own sense of personal responsibility when it comes to dismantling white supremacy. James broke down his thoughts on non-racism vs. anti-racism when he spoke at the Cleveland City Club September 12. Here is a handy video recap of his point to share with friends:
by Sarah Marcus
Like many of my days spent teaching, today feels hard, but important. By 10 a.m. I’ve already had some awesome, small victories. A student ran upstairs 10 minutes before class to make sure that he understood what the word “vixen” meant and wanted to discuss if he could use it in a feminist context within his “Be A Man” poem. He told me that this felt like the biggest and most important question that he had all year. He caught the bus early so that he could be at school early to talk to me about it.
The “Be A Man/Woman” poem assignment originated from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender and masculinity. In my 12th Grade Creative Writing Class, largely due to the influence and materials of one of my incredible mentors, Daniel Gray Kontar, we have recently been examining Feminism and Hip-Hop. We are learning to identify poetic and literary devices through the analysis of classical poets and Hip-Hop poets. We are looking at the larger conversation that occurs in R&B music amongst emcees. We looked at ’80s and ’90s hip-hop feminists and we are now looking at and discussing the feminism and anti-feminism of Nicki Minaj. We are talking about objectification and authoring our own identities. We are talking about the double standards and negative connotations that come with women “acting like men” and vice versa. We began this unit by watching the documentary film MissRepresentation in order to provide context about how gender is portrayed in the media.
During one of our discussions about gender expectations and slut shaming, one of my senior girls says, “A master key is a key that can open any lock. That’s how we treat boys having sex. But, a lock that can be opened by any key is a bad lock. That’s how people look at girls.” Brilliant. Devastating.
We watch an interview with Nicki Minaj where she talks about how a man is a boss and a woman is a bitch when they try and get things done. We want to know what it means to be a successful businessman/woman. Some of my students have deeply held and extremely traditional beliefs about gender roles. We talk about how that is OK, if that’s what both people in a relationship want. We talk about how feminism means that you get to choose. We talk about consent.
My students, for the most part, are pretty invested. They are also super insightful. They are becoming educated consumers. I get emails and texts at all hours of the day and night with video clips or pictures that involve pop-culture that addresses feminist themes. As a teacher, this fills my heart with joy.
One day, we began a class with a short video from the #VogueEmpower Campaign to #StartWithTheBoys called “Boys Don’t Cry.”
During our follow up discussion, one of my girls says, “I would want my husband to tell my son to stop crying. I don’t want no sissy son. My daddy hit my mom because his daddy hit his mom. Not because someone told him not to cry or to stop acting like a girl.” I think being a good teacher means that everyone feels safe in your classroom, even when comments make your stomach turn. Everyone’s voice must be respected and valued. Everyone comes from different experiences. To model this care is what allows students to explore and challenge each other in a moderated space. So, I try to respond with the love and tolerance that I desperately want them to show each other. I say, “That’s a really interesting point. It makes sense to me that the act of simply telling a boy not to cry doesn’t necessarily make him into an abuser. Do you think that was the message in this video?”
We talk about life cycles. About what happens when we are not allowed to have or express emotion? What happens when we are punished for our emotions? How many people have ever bottled up their emotions and then it all came out at once in an angry explosion, raise your hand? All hands go up. I relate, too.
One student is deeply is offended by the video. “I would never do that,” he says, “That’s not fair.” I give them a brief history of #NotAllMen and then I give a race analogy. What does it mean to say, I wouldn’t say racist things, so the problem of racism doesn’t apply to me? What is our responsibility as humans? As advocates? What does it mean to say that you don’t see race, or that in your personal experience, that’s not how racism works? What is the danger in that narrow perspective? How does it perpetuate racism? Rape culture? We begin to scratch the surface of intersectionality.
We spend another class talking about whether there is such a thing as a “real” man or a “real” woman. Is “real” just our way of separating out how some people use their actions, beliefs, and attitudes to help others and some people use them to hurt others?
Everyone wants to be black; everyone doesn’t want to be black. People want to be black when it benefits them. They try and show so much pride in them when we get a black president. They don’t want to show up for the million man march the next day. It’s not a choice to be black, it’s your life. You have to choose. To you what does that mean? Are you the thug on the street with a gun at your side dealing drugs or are you in school getting your education?
Another student responds: “Things I’m tired of hearing as a black man and from other black men: You got any felonies, you got kids, can you rap, you play basketball right, you getting them new J’s, nigga, spare change, who is you, you’re not my dad, f- the police, he talk white…”
I love these kids. I really love them. I don’t need them to think like me, but I do need them to feel challenged to think deeply. They challenge me, too. Most of my students still want to know when I’m going to stop “holding [his abusive actions] over Chris Brown’s head, because he’s apologized like a million times, Ms. Marcus!”
One of my students aptly points out that if you are conditioned to have no emotion, if you are programmed that way, it isn’t possible to believe that other people have emotions. It’s not possible in this scenario to have empathy, because you feel nothing.
I talk about the importance of empathy and being sensitive and expressing emotion… how I personally believe that expressing emotion and the ability to be sensitive and empathetic is healthy and helps us act loving and tolerant towards one another. I say that true strength comes with showing people care and forgiveness.
The boy sitting next to me says emphatically, “But, Ms. Marcus! Isn’t your boyfriend a bodybuilder!?”
And I say, “Yes, he is! This is an excellent point.” I talk about the stereotypes I had in my head about what I thought it meant to be bodybuilder before we met. I told them about the assumptions that I made about how I thought that my partner must have defined masculinity based on my assessment of his social media pages. I told them that I almost didn’t give him a chance. How I thought he was a hyper-masculine “bro.” After all, how smart could you be if you cared so much about muscles? Bodybuilders (in my mind) were self-absorbed, obsessed chauvinists with a one-track mind. Unfair? Extremely. I thought that he had a whole lot of dudes drinking out of red cups in his pictures… He had a lot of memes about #squatting and #fitgirls… oy vey, I thought. No thanks.
But, throughout our correspondences he was smart and witty and thoughtful and attentive. He read all of my online articles and was able to make intelligent comments about them. My partner, like many men I’ve met in their late 20s, didn’t identify as a feminist (despite being one) until he met me. Today, he is an incredible and visible ally and advocate. I tell my students that he is the kindest, most compassionate, sensitive, chivalrous and emotionally advanced man I have ever met, and we get to talk about how a man can be all of those things. I tell my partner about our class discussion and he writes a beautiful, thoughtful response to the kids about what masculinity means to him. This is how “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems happened. I knew we needed to creatively process these discussions.
In regards to this morning, another one of my senior boys wrote a truly powerful poem about masculinity and orchestrated opportunities for audience participation. He even came to me after school last week to discuss my partner’s response to what it means to “be a man.” We went paragraph by paragraph. He was so interested in how someone could identify as both a very “masculine” bodybuilder and also as a feminist. This is a student who turns in no work and is constantly on the verge of being kicked out. I wrote a positive letter home, and when I went to put it in his file, I saw a long list of notes home about failing classes. This was his first positive home contact and he has been here for four years. Another one of my male (cis) seniors wrote a poem from the perspective of a young gay man. Kind of groundbreaking, right?
I was so invigorated by these wins. These dedicated and brave students. Then, I open my email from our school social worker to read that another one of my freshmen girls lost a family member to a fatal drive-by shooting. These types of emails are not uncommon. Recently, another one of my senior boys lost four family members in a brutal home murder. Sometimes it feels like you are doing so much, and then you realize that you are doing so little. These kids live in a reality riddled with violence that most of us can’t possibly begin to understand. I learn from their strength and fortitude. I try to grow from it. I am humbled and blessed to be able to do this job. So, when I feel like I’m having a tough day because my body hurts due to a slew of not fun health issues, I think about how my day isn’t actually tough at all. It’s all about my perspective and attitude. It’s never going to be as hard for me as it is for them. That’s why I teach. Because everyone deserves a chance. These kids, especially. I want them to have the tools to change the narrative. They are brave and they are empowered to author their own identities. Our actions matter. Teachers matter. Students matter. I want them to have a voice, to know their voice, and to use their voice.
Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (2013, Finishing Line Press) and Every Bird, To You (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press). Her other work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, CALYX Journal, Spork, Nashville Review, Slipstream, Tidal Basin Review, and Bodega, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and a spirited Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH.
“Why are we addicted to hate in America?”
That was the simple, provocative question of Rachel Lyon, as she introduced her 2014 documentary to a crowd at the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Hate Crimes in the Heartland” spends an hour exploring two separate, racially motivated killings that occurred nearly a century apart.
The film begins in Tulsa, Oklahoma, following the April 2012 “Good Friday shootings” that took three lives and critically injured two others. Two young men — one white, the other Native American — drove around the city, opening fire on groups of black people. The random slaughter attracted national media attention and stirred the ghosts of another racial atrocity — the 1921 Tulsa race riot.
Rioters obliterated the wealthy black enclave in Tulsa, affectionately known as “Black Wall Street.” Historians still debate what sparked the violence (some say a black man stepped on a white woman’s shoe, others say it was attempted rape), but the outrage of white residents was swift: in fewer than 24 hours, more than 300 people died and more than 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. Nearly 9,000 black residents were left homeless.
“Hate Crime in the Heartland” features commentary from civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, Oklahoma NAACP officials and journalists who covered the 2012 shootings. But the survivors of the 1921 riots, only children when their town burned around them, provide the most moving portions of the documentary.
Dr. Olivia Hooker was six years old in 1921. “My grandmother made me these beautiful doll clothes and I remember seeing them burn on the clothesline. My grandmother let me peek out the window. ‘You see those machine guns? That’s your country shooting at you,’ she told me.”
Lyon, who wrote and directed the film, noted that among several race-related massacres in the early twentieth century, Tulsa is best remembered because of an unusual circumstance: Prosperous black residents could afford the cameras that documented the rampage and destruction.
After the screening, Lyon joined a panel discussion that included Rev. Dr. Jawanza Colvin, pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church; Skyler Edge, an LGBTQ activist; Bettysue Feuer, regional chair of the local Anti-Defamation League; and Rev. Courtney Clayton Jenkins, senior pastor of the South Euclid United Church of Christ.
“I think we underestimate how hard it is to learn from the past,” Lyon said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t keep repeating it.”
“When we talk about race, we tend to use words that make us comfortable,” comedian W. Kamau Bell told a crowd assembled at John Carroll University. “Words like ‘minority,’ ‘Caucasion,’ ‘colorblind.'” He paused. “We won’t be using any of those words tonight.”
Dressed in a button-down shirt and dark pants, Bell paced leisurely in front of roughly 200 students, community members and administrators as he presented “The W. Kamau Bell Curve,” the keynote of the university’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
His talk — subtitled “Ending Racism In About An Hour” — was born of frustration in 2007. Bell’s comedy career was stalled, so he rented a theater in San Francisco to present a one-man show. It would be easier, in Bell’s estimation, to talk about race in a theater than a comedy club. His show caught comedian Chris Rock’s attention and landed Bell a show on FX, with Rock as executive producer. Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell ran 64 episodes before its cancellation in 2013.
His “Bell Curve” show may be more than seven years old, but the material is still crisp. Bell sprinkles in breaking news and fresh controversies, making his remarks zing.
Born in Palo Alto, California, Bell moved a lot as a child. His reluctance to make new friends (he figured there was little point) helped him become comfortable being by himself. Young Kamau would immerse himself in comedy specials by his idols, including Eddie Murphy. Building off such influences and adding his own physicality, Bell carved a niche in political comedy, a space he doesn’t always claim as his own. “If you’re black and have opinions and those opinions don’t rhyme, then you’re political,” Bell told Buzzfeed in a 2013 profile.
Now in his early forties, Bell’s humor is piercing and current. Performing less than 15 miles from the spot where police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November, the comedian said “I was excited to see my black president say something. He hasn’t stepped up the way black people would like him to. But it doesn’t matter because we have to defend him due to the racial attacks leveled at him.”
On the John Carroll campus, Bell swung from topic to topic, riffing on diversity in Congress and secret black people meetings (“Don’t worry,” he told a couple black women in the front row, “I won’t tell them where the meetings are.”) He was quick to feed off crowd reaction, and to experiment with new jokes along with the tried-and-true.
Midway through his set, he listed racial words that are too soft, taking particular offense to the word “post-racial.”
“I can disprove the idea of post-racial in two words — Cleveland Indians,” Bell said to applause. “Do Native Americans get any benefit from that? Do they get 10% off tickets? No? Why can’t we just be respectful?” He added: “We wouldn’t name a team the Golden State Arabs . . . Wow, look how quiet it got in here.”
Bell’s take-home: American demographics are changing rapidly, and it’s time to get real about racism. “By 2050, the U.S. will be 30% Latino,” he said. A sole Latina clapped enthusiastically in the back of the auditorium. “That’ll be a lot louder in 2050,” Bell quipped.
Bell ended the evening by transitioning his set to his own family. He told the audience that his two children have given him a fresh lens through which to view himself. “When I first saw my daughter, I knew it was the first time somebody looked at me and didn’t think of me as black. I was just dad. Or, the one without the milk.”
Shakyra Diaz, policy manager for the ACLU of Ohio, asked everyone in a crowded meeting hall who knew someone with a criminal conviction to raise a hand. Almost every person – mostly youth – lifted an arm overhead.
This was a respectable crowd – a City Club of Cleveland forum – and the arms aloft were eloquent. “The land of the free cannot be the land of the lock down,” Diaz said, and a junior at Gilmour Academy jotted the sentence in pencil on her program.
The note-taking at “A Conversation on Race” at the City Club youth forum was no accident. The urgency of police killings in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland had drawn a crowd. Panelist and poet Basheer Jones challenged the hundreds of high school and college students assembled: “There is more we can do. Come prepared to write things down. You won’t remember everything said today. Teachers, have their students bring their weaponry. An African proverb says: ‘Do not build your shield on the battlefield.’”
Diaz and Jones were joined at the front of the room by Jonathan Gordon, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, and Andres Gonzalez, police chief of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.
“Cops, we don’t always get it right,” said Gonzalez, the first Hispanic chief of police in the Northeast Ohio County. “That’s true….A police department is only as strong as the community allows it to be. When the community loses faith in the department that is almost the beginning of the end.”
Diaz zeroed in on system inequity: Cleveland is the fifth most segregated city in the United States; Ohio is sixth in its incarceration rate; fourth for incarcerating women. “This country is number one in the world for incarcerating adults and children,” she said.
Gordon brought forward Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book, “The New Jim Crow,” which examines a system that has now put more African Americans behind bars than there were slaves in 1850 before the Civil War. Jones stressed that the students in Collinwood and Glenville High Schools struggle in dilapidated buildings while the new juvenile detention center gleams like a “Taj Mahal.”
Metal detectors in schools condition students for prison, Diaz said, and schools that lack soap and toilet paper telegraph a lack of worth. All this connects, she said, to the Black Lives Matter movement.
When one student asked how to respond to those who claim they don’t see color, Diaz replied curtly: “That’s a lie. If you can see, you see color. What we shouldn’t do and cannot do is deny human dignity.” Echoing Ta’Nehisi Coates, who spoke at the City Club in August, Jones said, “The worst part about racism is that it creates self-hatred; some look in the mirror and don’t like what they see.”
Jones challenged the students to make sure their younger brothers knew more about the ABCs than Waka Flocka lyrics, more math than Usher. He stressed the importance of allies, noting that among the 30 Clevelanders he organized to go to Ferguson were Jews and Hispanics while “there are people in your community who look just like you who are working toward the destruction of it.”
Gordon underscored the importance of action, starting with the reformation of the Cleveland police department. He pointed to the good work of Facing History and Ourselves and the students at Shaker Heights High School who have battled racism. AutumnLily Faithwalker of Laurel School said she wished the panel, while strong, had focused more acutely on what exactly could be done.
Little is more urgent, Jones said. “If not addressed, these issues we are dealing with right now will be the downfall of our country.”
Two elders of the American Civil Rights movement—Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr. and Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell—went before a sold-out Cleveland crowd to consider “the unfinished business of race,” a topic heightened by the November police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun in a city park.
“Tamir Rice was our child, Cleveland’s child, God’s child,” Moss said at the City Club of Cleveland, “and every parent should feel the loss.”
Dr. Rhonda Williams, director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University, came directly to her point: “How do we dismantle white privilege?”
Moss, 79, who counseled U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said the movement makes the most progress when its steps are deliberate. He listed, in order: research, education, mobilization, presentation of findings, negotiation, demonstration.
“The demonstration is not a means to itself but designed to bring about something higher,” said Moss, who served on the inner circle of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Whenever we followed the formula, we won. When we did not, we often lost.”
The former senior pastor of Cleveland’s landmark Olivet Institutional Baptist Church cautioned, “We cannot be filled with so much bitterness that our actions are taken as illogical.”
For her part, Campbell, 82, spoke directly to white privilege. She stressed that meaningful racial discussions must be honest, something she and Moss modeled at the City Club, drawing on long decades of friendship. She described professor John Hope Franklin at the Clinton White House calling on whites to be honest about the advantage they enjoy every morning, walking out of their homes free of suspicion simply because of their race.
“Otis Moss, you walk out knowing how the color of your skin makes a difference in how your day will go,” Campbell said, “even though you are Otis Moss in a town that loves you.”
Moss and Campbell told several stories apiece about victories and struggles waged a half century ago, often evoking King’s name. Throughout the room, there were tables of high school and college students, and a sense of generational change.
“Often we demean young people for going out without our approval, after we did the same thing in our time,” Moss said. Asked by a retired school teacher what to do about youth ignorance of history, Moss answered, “Adults don’t know their history either. People read history with their prejudices, not their minds.”
Jerome Mills, a senior at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, asked a question much on the audience’s mind: “How can we create change and protect ourselves in today’s world?” The African-American teen stood listening for an answer.
“Be the best you can be,” said Moss, who carries a copy of the Bible and the U.S. Constitution in his brief case wherever he goes. “Whatever you do, do it so well that no one dead, no one living and no one unborn could do it as well. When you become excellent, you become a leader. In your time and in your space, you can make a difference—at Shaw High School, in your community, in your living room and especially in the library.”
Moss held up Atlanta as an example of a city “willing to come to grips with race and racism there,” insisting, “justice is profitable; oppression is expensive,” an echo of the teaching of W.E.B. DuBois.
“In Ferguson, the dead person was put on trial and the living person, the police officer, was defended by the prosecutor,” Moss said, stressing that expecting victims of police violence to have led perfect lives is another form of racism.
Margaret Mitchell, who leads the YWCA Greater Cleveland, announced her organization’s arrangement of “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race” February 23 at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland. She invited listeners to join, contribute, and perhaps become a racial justice facilitator for the day.
“It’s time for action, Cleveland,” Mitchell said, “on the unfinished business of race.”
Thanks to generous supporters on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, anti-racism activist Tim Wise has raised more than $41,000 for a feature film adaptation of his 2008 book, “White Like Me: Reflections On Race From A Privileged Son.”
A frequent MSNBC guest and lecturer, Wise, 44, has crisscrossed the country to discuss white privilege, racial bias, and discrimination. He wants the film to further the national conversation on race, specifically what it means to be white in this country.
“We live with the legacy of inequality,” Wise says in the trailer, “but also the legacy of obliviousness that allows those in the dominant group to rarely even think about these matters.”
The film is enhanced by an impressive list of scholars, including Princeton’s Imani Perry; Michelle Alexander, who ignited much discussion with her 2012 book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”; Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree and his colleague Nilanjana Dasgupta, who does National Science Foundation-funded research on implicit prejudice.
The film is scheduled to be released in September 2013. Watch the two-minute trailer below and let us know what you think:
by Sally Wiener Grotta
A recent Anisfield-Wolf blog post asked, “What Biases Are You Carrying?” In the blog, Attorney Louise P. Dempsey used the following riddle as part of a lunch talk:
A man and his son were in a car accident. The critically injured man had to be helicoptered to the hospital. His son was rushed by ambulance to the same hospital. When the boy was wheeled into emergency surgery, the surgeon looked at him and said, “I can’t operate. This is my son.”
The blog then asked the question, “How is this possible?”
If you haven’t heard that anecdotal test before, consider your answer for a few moments before continuing to read.
I’ve seen the riddle before. So, I knew the answer. Of course, the surgeon was his mother. But even steadfast feminists (including Dempsey) have been known to not get the answer right away.
Though my previous knowledge of the answer invalidated the test for me, I can’t pretend that I am that of that very rare (probably non-existent) breed that has no bias. My comment on the Anisfeld-Wolf blog was, “Prejudice and bias is human nature. How we handle it in our lives is a measure of our commitment to a just, balanced human society.”
People are tribal by nature. We’re comfortable with what we know, and tend to prefer being with people similar to ourselves. Like most folks, I feel awkward whenever I’m thrown into a crowd of strangers. If those strangers are heavily tattooed and pierced, or particularly raucous, or sporting t-shirts with “offensive” slogans, I really don’t know how to relate to them. I assume from their appearance that whatever I would want to talk about would be far beyond their experience or interest. And that is my loss, because I miss the opportunity to learn from them, have fun with them, and thereby experience a wider perspective of our human existence.
But prejudice is a two-way street. I’m sure those tattooed rowdies would rather I simply stayed away rather than invade their space.
Remaining enclosed in our safe tribal circles is like staring in a mirror. Nothing much changes in our reflection, other than the slight variations of age and circumstances. Without the stimulation of contrary discussions or new perspectives, we become staid, unable to synthesize new thoughts. Living only in the status quo is bad for us personally, as well as economically, scientifically and societally. We need strangers and their fresh interpretations to generate new ideas and instigate growth. But turning our gaze outward, beyond the closed doors of our personal circles, can be frightening. Not only for the strangeness of the experience, but because we may be rebuffed — or worse — by those strangers we are attempting to approach.
Fear of the unknown, fear of being hurt, of being on the receiving end of prejudice, often keeps us in our place. Victims of bias and prejudice, in turn, can become biased and prejudiced about “those others” – anyone similar to the perpetrators of their pain or shame. But you don’t have to have personally experienced hatred or unkindness to buy into the escalating cycle of bias begetting bias, leading to prejudice, devolving into bigotry and cruelty. Consider those raucous tattooed biker-types I mentioned above. My discomfort with them is founded not only on their strangeness to me, but on oft-circulated stereotypes of “those kind of people” being foul-mouthed bullies and even physically violent.
As our communities become more diverse, we have increasing opportunities to either burrow into our safe habitats, lashing out periodically in fear at strangers who dare to invade our world, or we can reach beyond ourselves to discover new ideas, new hopes, new friends.
No, we cannot free our inner thoughts or instincts from inherent bias. But if we keep a national conversation open and talk honestly with each other, if we restrain ourselves from being mesmerized by our own reflections and seek to know, understand, learn from strangers, we can make our world something much greater than a collection of loosely connected, mutually distrustful tribes.
This post originally appeared on Grotta.net. Republished with permission. Sally Wiener Grotta’s new novel, Jo Joe, challenges readers to consider the sources and painful ramifications of prejudice, bias, and preconceptions.
The gorgeous new documentary, “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” delivers several jolts of insight, including this small one: Women who can hit and bend those beautiful notes have glorious laughs.
Laughter buoys much of this 90-minute film that explores the unheralded world of backup singers. The spotlight falls on Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Tata Vega and Merry Clayton. “About time, too,” as Bette Midler remarked in 2011 when she introduced Love as a new inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
These women – mostly African-American – sang back up on countless rock classics, adding vocal transcendence to the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and plenty of others. And because they sang the bridge, they – not the stars – are the ones we invariably sang along to.
Expect to get a head rush of revelation.
Many of these singers were preacher’s daughters, notes director Morgan Neville. “These voices make their way from the church onto vinyl,” he says. British legends such as Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker and David Bowie jumped to hire them, partly to import soul and authenticity into their songs. Neville splices in archival footage of all three performers with their backups – and we see and hear with fresh eyes why “Young Americans” sounds so good.
Neville said that this project blew apart his assumption that the voices in the background were less talented than the ones at the front: “Backup singers can blow away lead singers any day of the week, every day of the week.”
The psychology of being a secondary is explored in these women’s stories. “I felt like that if I just gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star,” says a pained Merry Clayton, whose magnificent voice didn’t make her a headliner, despite the best efforts of Lou Adler.
Clayton describes being awakened in the night to record with the Stones – arriving at the studio in silk pajamas and curlers to be handed the music for “Gimme Shelter.” She delivered the immortal “Rape. Murder. It’s just a shot away.” And it still stuns Jagger, 50 years later, as he listens to it here.
The film tucks in other stunning bits. We learn that Darlene Love—Darlene Love!—cleaned houses to pay her bills before her comeback in the 1980s. We soak in the jazz-saturated richness of Lisa Fischer’s voice, and witness her emphatic joy in singing harmony, even after winning a Grammy.
These women take us places that Auto-Tune will never go. Can I get an Amen?
Students at Humboldt State University in northern California analyzed more than 11 months of Twitter data to locate the biggest pockets of hate speech in America.
For the “Geography of Hate” project, students manually sifted through more than 150,000 tweets containing hateful speech targeting sexuality, race, and disability. Student read each tweet to determine whether the slur was used in a positive, negative, or neutral manner. Sample keywords included “homo,” “n*****,” and “cripple.”
To enhance accuracy of the map, researchers “normalized” the data to ensure that larger populations would not appear more racist simply because there are more people living there.
Researchers found that most of the slurs were not centralized to one particular region. A few terms were more concentrated—”wetback,” for example, was more prevalent in Texas than any other state.
Do any of the results of this project surprise you?
Let’s start this post off with a story. Imagine if you will, that you are older and your health is failing. You do not have many family members around to help care for you, get you to doctor’s appointments and generally keep an eye on your wellbeing.
Then imagine that the year is 1893. And that you are black.
A fact of life in the years after Reconstruction is that there wasn’t any real option for aging African Americans. Nursing homes were segregated and even homeless shelters would turn away black people at the door. Eliza Bryant, the daughter of freed slaves and a well-known humanitarian in the Cleveland area, found this utterly unacceptable and took on the task of creating a space for the elderly to reside and live with dignity. She helped found the Cleveland Home of Aged Colored People, in 1896, effectively establishing the first nursing home in the country for African Americans.
Today, her legacy stands. The home was been renamed to the Eliza Bryant Village in honor of its founder in the early 2000s.
CWRU professor James Sheeler understood the historical significance of Bryant’s actions and charged his journalism class to capture the stories of the residents who lived there. Students brought microphones, tape recorders, video cameras and more to record the oral histories that, in most circles, had never been told before.
Join us on Thursday, January 31 at the Baker-Nord center (on the Case Western Reserve University campus) for a presentation highlighting the stories of the residents’ of Eliza Bryant, the nation’s oldest African-American nursing home. Register here.