We may be the architects of our own destruction…

Gary Howard (1996) asks, (p. 324) “What does it mean for White people to be responsible and aware in a nation where we have been the dominant cultural and political force?

One of the reasons Howard cites (p.325) for those of European ancestry feeling so ambivalent toward the perceived threat of a multicultural society is that–for many of them– persecution, prejudice, and discrimination are part of their own ancestral past, a history that many feel has not been adequately addressed. Weren’t the Irish and Italian immigrants ostracized and often outright killed, even as they settled into large, industrial cities? Weren’t the Eastern Europeans looked upon with suspicion, having to change their sir names and lose their accents, in favor of more Anglicized forms?

Taking this into account, perhaps white American culture should be more mindful of the high cost their own ancestors paid to become part of this nation. Should we not afford the same chance to other races and cultures, who continue to come to our shores looking for the very same things European immigrants sought so long ago? And once here, should they not be given the opportunity, not to simply assimilate and comply with established White norms, but add to the society that has given all of us a chance at freedom and self-determination?

Every time this nation makes room for new people, new languages, and cultural backgrounds, it enriches us all in ways we do not fully realize. It happens so minutely, that the dominant culture believes that these newcomers must be assimilating, becoming “Good Americans”; And, though on some level they are, they are also “adding their perfection to our own” (sorry, I cannot resist the Borg dictum from Star Trek). Everyday life—from what we eat, to who we choose to provide us with medical attention—is enriched by immigrant contributions.

Even as many whites rail against “foreigners” bringing crime, poverty, and odd belief systems into their communities–these same whites are more than glad to partake of the delicious foods, the social and luxury services, and professional, thoughtful care immigrant people provide to them, each and every day. Not to mention the often demeaning and difficult jobs they are willing to take on, that white workers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

So, how can white Americans be more responsible? They can own up to the fact that we need immigrant people’s cultural contributions, just as much as they need what a new life in our country offers. We can defend them like our long-lost brothers and sisters. We can throw out common, prejudiced misconceptions (or at the very least, adjust them according to new truths we encounter). We can help to raise their voices, and give them room to contribute, rather than try to keep them down.

What can be our unique contribution, and what are the issues we need to face?

Howard (p.327) suggests that our white, dominant-culture privilege affords those of us who inhabit it to prosper more easily than our multi-racial counterparts. He also acknowledges that, even when whites fail, they never have to worry that it is because of their skin color. So, I think perhaps our unique contribution can come from our position of relative ease: We can use our privilege to make room for those who do not have it so easy. We can advocate for them. We do not speak for them, but provide them room to speak for themselves. We defend their dignity, we honor their tenacity. We level the playing field, not just for the white race, but to include all players—not to assimilate and deny their ethnicity, but to celebrate it. We should call out institutional racism, and fight for equity for all. White people have the power to do good—that is our contribution. But we must be vigilant not to let that make whites feel superior, however. Instead, we should be custodians and mentors, allies and partners. Sometimes even silent partners.

How do we help create a nation where all cultures are accorded dignity and the right to survive?

Howard states (p.328), that underlying both the denial and the hostility (of whites toward other races), is a deep seated fear of diversity. White dominant-cultural “guardians” defend the supremacy of a white, European-based, Christian society, that actually does not really exist. We have actually been a nation of many religions and races for much longer, and continue to go in that direction, even as widespread racism and violence has taken hold again. It is all fear-based.

Immigrants and the multi-racial populations typically become scapegoats, when there is an economic downturn, or increased crime. But when we examine the issues at a deeper level, these events are symptoms of the fear that caused them in the first place. Growth comes in fits and starts, but then we defeat ourselves as a society when fear settles in. Violence begets violence. We take two steps back, even as we step forward. How do we change this paradigm? Own up to our cultural shortcomings, and begin to heal. Facing reality is the beginning of liberation (p. 329). As noted earlier, we as a nation must advocate for the marginalized and oppressed among us. Get educated, open a dialogue, and decry racism, violence, and backward thinking at every opportunity. Lose the fear that grips us as a people, before it really is too late…we will become our own undoing. America was not meant to be exclusive–check the Constitution. At its central core, it is a set of agreements that provide basic rights and freedoms for ALL. That has not changed, nor should it, but we can amend and improve upon it to reflect the times. Those times, bad or good, depend on all of us pulling together. Simple, yet not so much.

Cited:

Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Gary Howard, Chapter 17-Whites in Multi-cultural education—rethinking our role. Teachers College Press, Columbia University, New York, NY.

 

 

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Activism: Does it Matter?

Everyday my Inbox is full of entreaties to protest for, petition in support of, and donate to a myriad of causes. Most are in response to the continuing assault on the environment, human rights, immigrant rights, education, and to fight the Trump administration’s agenda.

Although I am a supporter of the activist spirit (as I myself have been activist, both passive and active), I wonder sometimes how much of what I sign, write about, or donate to, has any effect whatsoever. Sometimes I feel I would be better occupied by continuing to educate future people– so that these same issues, and the clearly destructive decisions by those in control, can at last be eradicated by a more intelligent, compassionate generation.

Of course, how we engage with current events and social issues is also being watched by those whom we teach. How we deal with them is watched by our own children. If we do nothing, say nothing, then they will think there is nothing to be done. And so, the cycle continues.

So—even if it feels as if we gain no real ground by venting our discontent with the status quo and the wrongs of the world, through our passive and active acts of protest, perhaps we should continue to do so. Diligently, conscientiously, but not randomly. We cannot hope to fix everything, especially by passively signing every petition on social media or in our e-mail. We must make our truth a reality by living it.

Being honest about what we believe in and support, without negligent judgement, or pressure (especially on the younger generation) is an important first step. Showing, instead of telling. Encouraging others’ exploration into issues that concern us all. And then, asking those who read or hear us to decide for themselves.

It is our responsibility, almost a sacred duty, to educate and prepare the next generation. But we need to be prepared to ask and answer the hard questions, always and without fail.

And occasionally, delete some petitions in favor of others. Small but significant steps.

einstein

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Why We Should Honor the Dream, Not Just the Day

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The national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. was hard-won in the state of Arizona. In the late 80s, we had an ultra-conservative governor, and a complacent  legislature (as sadly, we do again), who refused to join the majority of the country, and honor this great American figure for freedom. Despite the public outcry, and the eventual impeachment of then-governor Evan Mecham, it took about 5 years for the holiday to become law in this state. A short timeline:

1983, Congress passes, President Reagan signs, legislation creating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

1986, Federal MLK holiday goes into effect

In 1987, Arizona governor Evan Mecham rescinds MLK Day as his first act in office, setting off a boycott of the state. 

In 1992, Arizona citizens vote to enact MLK Day.

1993, For the first time, MLK Day is held in some form—sometimes under a different name, and not always as a paid state holiday—in all fifty states.

So today, I am off of work from school. It is a day of reflection for me, and hopefully for many other citizens in this state, as it should be in states across the nation. I started the day watching a special on PBS World, on the filming of Eyes on the Prize, a massive documentary released in 1987. (click on photo below for more information)

Eyes on the Prize

It has also been a day to reflect on how far we’ve come, as well as how far we’ve stepped back—and how what was once a fight for equality and social justice, now encompasses much more. Poverty, economic inequality, and continued violence continues nearly unabated in our country. It continues to be perpetuated against those of color, those of other national origins, different religions, and sexual orientations. Our only weapon against it spiraling completely out of control is the power of social media, and a new breed of activists who are not afraid to stand up.

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So today, I am grateful for MLK’s legacy, and for his message of The Dream. It is a day for reflection and service to others. For some others, this time may be more about having an extra day off to go buy discounted products, and binge-watch their favorite TV shows. I think it is profoundly sad when our society uses a holiday such as this one, a day that should be about giving back and standing up for what is right, to sell products and cash in on it.

Although it is admirable to grow our economy at the grassroots level, and to encourage people to work and earn a living, using this day as an impetus to get out and buy stuff is a bit insulting, especially as there are still so many in this society that cannot partake in our economic freedom, because poverty and inequality is still so prevalent, especially among non-white races.

Martin Luther King Day Sales: All The Best Deals From Target, Walmart ...

Refugees, immigrants, and disadvantaged citizens of this country will not benefit from any “deals” on this day. More likely, they will be on the other end: Working long hours, making little money to show for it, and having no real voice in our society–and thus, no real rights. What kind of “deal” is that?

MLK Day Parade

 

So, if one is inclined to go out and buy things in the name of MLK Day, remember that our freedom, which was (and is still) so costly, is the reason that we can do so today.  That we can have a day off from work and service, that we can shop anywhere we wish, that we can eat in any restaurant, that we can ride on public transportation, and most importantly: That we can stand up publicly and speak out against what is wrong in our government and society–these are the reasons for a holiday. We still have a long way to go in gaining the full impact of MLK’s dream, but there is still hope that we will, if people of all ages, orientations, religions and races, here and  in the world over, keep their eyes on the prize.