Trans*forming A Mule

I

This is an essay about gender.

II

If we are to truly understand gender as socially constructed, we must first recognize that gender programming and performance (i.e., socialization) begins at birth and informs how we engage each other in our daily lives. Gender is more than the clothes we wear, the pitch of our voices, and much much more than our body morphology. Gender is informed by and intersected with race, sexuality, social class, and disability.

[Before I go any further, I should pause to acknowledge that the ideas of many others inform my thinking in this post. Some of those sources I will name as they come up, but most of which I won’t be able to, because they are so ingrained and entangled in my mind that I no longer can pull them apart to tell what came from who. Here is a list of those influences, in no particular order: bell hooks, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde, the compilation This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Sarah Smith Rainey, Michele Wallace, discussions with Z Nicolazzo, Allan G. Johnson…]

III

Foreground yourself.

In the word processing program that I use, I can insert a picture and choose among various options for how that image should appear relative to the text or other images around it. If I set it as “foreground” then I am putting it in front of other text/images such that if they overlap, then what is foregrounded appears on top of the rest.

I have been told lately, “foreground yourself.” Essentially, among the overlapping roles I hold, pulls on my time, and needs for self-care, I have been strongly advised to put myself in front of all the rest. To see my needs first and foremost, on top of everything else. I heard that advice and was mystified about how to enact it.

This is gender in action, gender as performative (thank you, Judith Butler).

IV

I need…

Need, needs, needy, needing, and neediness are gendered. To be seen as “needy” is definitely gendered (as feminine which equals bad in case you were wondering). Neediness is a state of lack, of want for something that you do not have. It is weakness as it’s portrayed in pop culture. Those “in need” are usually portrayed as women and children. It’s central to why our society refuses to accept a man as being in need of public assistance. Men are defined as “not in need” but also as the ones whose “needs” must be met (by women and children).

To assert that *I* need and have needs and am in need is being subversive.  I am violating the gender norms assigned to me because I do not fit within the category “man.”

V

“All you/I need to do is stay Black and die.” I’ve heard this my whole life.

All I need to do is stay Black and die.

[I’ll leave for another blog post, perhaps, a critical race-poststructural analysis of the directive to “stay Black” grounded partially in the ways in which one can become not-Black, perhaps similar to Monique Wittig’s concept of lesbians as not-women.]

This was a proclamation of resistance when an I was the subject – denying anyone else’s right to force me to take any action I did not want to take: No, I don’t *need* to keep my hair long and straight to be sexually attractive. No, I don’t *need* to focus more on getting married than I do on my education and career. No, I don’t *need* to accept somebody denying my worth and value and authenticity just because “everybody has issues.” I rebuffed many an external constraint on my self-determination by flinging back that response with all the certitude and attitude my grown-ass womanish Black self could muster, as in “Excuse me?? No, all I neeeeeed to do is stay Black and die!” Yes, cue the neck roll, eye roll, and teeth sucking along with the implied dare to keep on talking.

VI

All you need to do is stay Black and die.

[And here, I could do a different blog post about how Blackness is surveilled and policed such that people who are deemed Black, stay Black, and die as Black in ways appropriate for Blackness. And in that post, I would give a shout-out to Michel Foucault.]

This was an indictment of my selfishness when a you was the subject. The speaker denied my assertion of my desire to do something other than what was being demanded of me in that moment so that I could perform to satisfy someone else’s needs that were more important than my own.

What was being communicated was some version of the following: No, you don’t need time for yourself really. No, all you need to do is stay within the respectable bubble of Black-womanness (i.e., don’t be queer or trans* or womanist or too educated or not educated enough) that has been erected to make your Black-womanness palatable to White folks and stay small enough to be subservient to others’ interests and wear your mask and die with it on. Oh and while you’re at it, you can also disappear and be of no consequence and leave no mark so that no one ever knows your pain, your need, your want, your desire so that you don’t infringe on those who are really important. And the I that is the dominating Other is watching you to make sure that if you step out of line and forget your programming that you will be brought back in line (thank you, Michel Foucault).

VII

This is still an essay about gender.

VIII

So, I engage in lengthy episodes of anxiety-ridden angst about whether it is permissible for me this time to put my needs, my neediness, and my need up front. This is about gender and my gender socialization and how I have been socialized NOT to EVER foreground myself. As Zora Neale Hurston’s character Nannie asserted in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the Black woman is the mule of the world, made to bear others’ burdens and fulfill others’ needs, not to have any of her own.

[Nanny]: “Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” (2.44) [Retrieved from http://www.shmoop.com/eyes-were-watching-god/race-quotes-2.html]

How many have gained their freedom, had their autonomy recognized, had their needs met by crossing over on the work of women of color (thank you Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa)? Like, everybody except women of color. Hello somebody…

IX

But I am not a Black woman, though I was raised to be one.

And so if I’m really going to show up as an AFAB (assigned female at birth), genderqueer, non-binary trans* and MOC (masculine of center), then doing so must mean doing more than wearing a badass suit and bow tie, unlearning the practiced (and unnatural) feminine pitch of my voice, and slinging a prosthetic phallis between my thighs in order to trans*form myself from the mule I was trained to be to become the person that I am. My gender identity and expression is not kink.

But it cannot mean picking up another’s load and then passing it off to a Black ciswoman to carry because I have deemed myself, as not a woman, to be higher than she.

This is the gender knot that must be unraveled (nod to Allan G. Johnson).

No, it must mean refusing to pick up someone else’s burden (to NOT be Simon the Cyrene for someone else’s crucifix), but to foreground myself, my needs, and my neediness as legitimate, valuable, necessary and NOT as a weakness to be squashed so that I can remain some kind of superhero (nod to Michele Wallace there, thank you). It must mean wresting the right to make my life matter for me and to me, to put myself first, to say that I need to do more than stay Black and die to be alive in this world.

This is about self-preservation being subversive and countercultural and militant and necessary (thank you, Audre Lorde).

X

This is an essay about gender. This is an essay about race. This is an essay about social class. This is an essay about trans*gression.

This is an essay about freedom.

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Death Rattle? Naw, Just Clearing Its Throat

This post begins on last Tuesday night, about 11:12pm EST, when MSNBC called Ohio for Obama putting him over the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election. It begins when four states broke the 32 straight losses handed to marriage equality proponents. Throughout the course of the night Maryland, Maine, Washington, and Minnesota added to the number of states where any two consenting, unrelated adults can get married, regardless of their sex or gender. This post begins when on that same night 19 women were elected or re-elected to the Senate, the largest number in history. This post begins when a record number of Asian Americans, queer people, and people with disabilities were elected to legislative office on the national and state level. This post begins on that night when people who straddle the intersections of multiple oppressed identities, like Tammy Duckworth (woman, double-amputee, and Asian American) and Mary Gonzalez (woman, pansexual, and Latina) were elected to represent districts on both the national (Duckworth) and state (Gonzalez) levels that were supposed to reject them and their complicated multiplicity, but didn’t. This post begins when Florida was finally called for Obama, bringing the final Electoral College tally to 332-206 and Obama winning 50.6% of the popular vote, while Romney carried a karmic 47.8%.

This post begins with a dance party, ushered in by none other than DJ Kool’s iconic song surely “to get the people going” (nod to JayZ and Kanye), “Let Me Clear My Throat”:

If you’re like me, you couldn’t help but dance in your chair a little, just now. Indeed, over the past week, the victory of the marginalized has been heralded and people have been literally dancing in the streets, in their chairs, and anywhere else. Obama’s Democratic Party has been cited for its ability to build a diverse coalition of voices who recognized that we really were all in this together. Meanwhile, the GOP has been mocked, hammered, and castigated for allowing itself to become the handmaiden of (religious) extremists, out of touch with the modern world – “a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world,” as Maureen Dowd quotes some Republicans admitting. Liberal commentators are announcing the “death throes” of the GOP, and of white, male (read, Republican) privilege to boot.

That’s an appealing narrative, heady and very seductive, and completely delusional. I refer back to DJ Kool and assert that White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, economically-secure privilege has merely taken a moment to “clear its throat.” Let me explain by means of an historical analogy.

Fifty-six years ago, on this day in 1956, the Supreme Court struck down segregation on public buses. Mostly affecting the South, no longer would White people be able to unseat a Black passenger. Black people could ride anywhere on the bus they wanted, front, back, didn’t matter. Folks celebrated and although there was no DJ Kool yet, I would imagine that the sonorous tones of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” stridently proclaimed victory in church basements and house parties. Wait, that song hadn’t come out yet either, so maybe it was a really bumping rendition of “We Shall Overcome” instead.

It was not just a matter of racial animus that made the idea of Whites riding the bus with Blacks side-by-side repugnant. Social class was also at work, most of the Black riders were domestics, cooks, day laborers – men and women who shared a social class status that put them beneath Whites whose own blue collar jobs afforded them the protection of unions, higher pay, and the illusion of class mobility into the upper income strata during an era where cars were still a luxury purchase.

The creation of the suburbs, which led to urban decline, the disappearance of walk-able neighborhoods in the inner-cities, and the exodus of property tax dollars from the city-center to the suburbs, allowed the racism and classism that birthed segregation on public buses to turn its death rattle into a throat-clearing reinvention of itself.

I couldn’t see how this operated until I left my small hometown of New York City for the Midwest,  ostensibly just for college. When I was growing up, it seemed like everybody rode the public transit system. From people who worked on Wall Street to people who worked Wall Street, social class did not appear to distinguish who rode the buses and subways and who didn’t.

But when I went away to college in Michigan and have since continued to live in Ohio, I noticed a very different dynamic. When I first moved to Columbus in 1996 to begin grad school, for example, I found an apartment on a main bus line, excited that I could leave my car at home and take the bus to campus, probably about a 40 minute ride on two different buses. When I shared that plan with others, people looked at me like I had ten heads and was dumber than a rock. Why would you ride the bus when you have a car? People explained that the buses were “dangerous,” “dirty,” and that they really were the enclave of the unhoused and the mentally unstable, as much as those who were simply poor. I rode the bus a couple of times anyway, just to see for myself, and what I noticed more than the filthiness and the unreliability of the service schedules was how few middle-class, White people I ever saw on the bus, especially beyond the downtown limits. I’ve seen this same dynamic play out in other cities in Michigan and Ohio and have heard the same bus narrative retold in other places around the country. The racial and class privilege that birthed segregation just found a new way to assert itself, cloaked in a narrative of convenience and independence.

So even as residents across more than 30 states file secession petitions and D. L. Hughley insightfully comments on the cognitive disconnect produced by the phrase “we, the people” for some U.S. citizens, what we are witnessing is hardly the death of anything. Privilege is just pausing to clear its throat.

An election victory, or even several in one night, is not enough to dethrone the notion that certain people want Bill O’Reilly’s “stuff” and “things” (i.e., the benefits of privilege), as they join O’Reilly in bemoaning the new minority called the White establishment (by the way, Bill, white men still control most of the seats in Congress). As Jesse Hagopian argues, and I agree with him, the current budget negotiations do absolutely nothing to reverse the flow of wealth from those who already have it to those who don’t have enough. Compromise inevitably preserves the status quo. As Frederick Douglass said over a century ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Compromise is not a demand.

November 6, 2012 will go down in history for many reasons, but it was hardly the demand strong enough, loud enough, persistent enough to force the hand of power. Not unless it’s followed by continued momentum. As President Obama said himself in the wee hours of November 7th, our work was not completed at the polls on November 6 and it can’t wait until November 2014, either.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So, what are we, those who want to sound the death knell of privilege, demanding? Are we really satisfied with women occupying 19% of the Senate when we are 55% of the population? Are we really placated merely by electoral victories? Political parties don’t reallocate power and privilege. Such reallocation requires the dismantling and rebuilding of the structural systems that award privilege. Tweaks and compromises won’t get us there.

 

Note: This post was originally going to be about the Republican Party and where it needs to go from here, but the anniversary of the end of public bus segregation took me on a whole different path.

 

Racing the Olympics

Today’s opening ceremonies launch the 2012 London Olympics. For nearly two weeks, fanatic and occasional sports enthusiasts will watch the world’s best compete for the title of THE best athlete in their event and nationalists across the world will keep track of the medal count for their country’s athletes. It is heralded as a time when political squabbles take a backseat to international cooperation and camaraderie. Of course that’s not always the case and the Olympic Games have often served as a stage for political rivalries, David-Goliath dichotomies, and whether one way of life will win the day over another.

As a critical race theorist (CRT) (click here for a summary of CRT), I recognize the prevalence and pervasiveness of race and racism in daily life and so I have paid attention, or tracked, issues of race and racism in this year’s Olympic Games. For some reason though, issues of race haven’t been hard to notice at all. They’ve been practically screaming even before the games began this week. First was the controversy over London’s logo for the Olympics that has included concerns over insensitivity to people with epilepsy, whether the logo is part of an Illuminati conspiracy and concerning race, earlier iterations of the logo have been criticized (ironically) for both harkening to Nazi symbolism in one iteration and by Iran for covertly supporting the Zionist movement in another form. It’s also the 40th year since 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and murdered in Munich during the Opening Ceremonies of the games in what was clearly an ethno-religious hate crime and the IOC has refused to hold a moment of silence in remembrance of this horrific act that violated not only the spirit of the games but human dignity and equality. Most recently, on Thursday, it was reported that a Greek Olympic athlete, Voula Papachristou, a member of their track and field squad who was to compete in the triple jump, was expelled from the Olympics by her home country for a racist tweet that when translated read, “With so many Africans in Greece… At least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat home made food!!!”

Clearly that is a WTF moment.

Elsewhere, the presence of race and racism (and suspicions of it) are less obvious. Also this week, the Huffington Post reported that British weight-lifting Olympic athlete, Zoe Smith, was taunted via Twitter with bullying tweets disparaging her and her teammates for being female weight-lifters. Smith fired back with some truly excellent zingers and wrote further about it on her blog as reported here by Yahoo! News. So what’s this got to do with race, you wonder. Well, one of the tenets of CRT is a recognition of the intersections of racism with other forms of oppression. Zoe Smith appears to be a young woman of African descent, and although not unique to Black and other women of color, the hateful comments targeting her take on the same look as those that have been used to brutalize women of African descent in the U.S. and globally since Europe colonized Africa. I was reminded instantly of South African track athlete Caster Semenya, who was accused in 2009 of being a man for her very muscled body and undeniable dominance in the 800m event, supposedly not natural for someone born female. Semenya was ultimately required by the IAAF, the world athletics organization, to take a gender test to prove she was female. Although not as extreme as Semenya’s case, the bullying Smith endured is very reminiscent of the ways that pan-African women have long been de-sexed and made anti-feminine by White European standards of hegemonic femininity and heteronormative sexual desire.

Yet there is another way in which race plays a subtle, often overlooked role in the Olympic Games and in sports in general, through what bodies are on the playing field for any respective sport and which bodies are expected to win. Racialized expectations for performance outcomes in the Olympics have become trite: an African will win the long-distance running events, particularly one from Kenya or Ethiopia; the Chinese will do best in diving; the Central Europeans excel at gymnastics, while South Americans are the key threat in soccer on the world stage.

Meanwhile, for as much progress as has been made in racial equality and opportunity through athletics, we will still see most of the Black athletes on the track, the long jump, the soccer pitch (outside the US), and the basketball court, especially when they’re from the US (the football field is another place but that’s not an Olympic sport – yet). People of African descent and darker complexion will be noticeably far fewer on swimming, gymnastics, golf, and tennis teams, for example (with equally notable exceptions in 2012 like Gabby Douglas and John Orozco for the U.S. gymnastics squad, and Lia Neal, who is one of 3 Black swimmers on the U.S. swimming team). Latin@, Asian American, and Native American athletes are few and far between in the sports that get the most press coverage in the U.S.

Is this a problem? What difference does it make that there isn’t more racial diversity in our Olympic cycling, rowing, or lacrosse squads? Isn’t this just a matter of preference and talent? Well, putting the eugenics tone of the last question aside, I guess it doesn’t matter – unless we care about the intersections of racial and economic inequality. The marginalization of people of color from higher-income employment sectors depresses the economic mobility of people of color and their access to a wider variety of leisure activities, including sports. What I’ve noticed is that sports with a lower entry fee, so to speak, are the sports where you’re likely to see a higher proportion of people of color. When all you need is a ball, or a pair of sneakers, or both those things and a hoop, and when you can play anywhere – the middle of the street or somebody’s schoolyard, the sport is more economically accessible. If the sport you play requires not only pricey equipment, but also many acres of manicured grassy lawns, access to a natatorium (even public pools are few and far between in most economically challenged areas), an ice rink, gymnasium, long trails to ride, or a lake AND coaching supervision to prevent injury inherent in the sport (thinking about gymnastics especially), you’ve changed the complexion of the sport. Basically, the price to play structurally and systematically excludes significant numbers of people of color from playing the game on the basis of the ways that race and social class intersect. The result is fielding an US Olympics team that doesn’t reflect the total diversity of our multicultural, multi-ethnic nation, but does reflect the racial segregation that still marks our daily lives from Sunday morning at 11am (tip of the hat to MLK) to the playgrounds and backyards of our children’s lives.

One thing I know is that the ability to play together is fundamental to creating bonds of loyalty, mutual care and respect, and cooperation. We see it in groups of young children, the best of our intercollegiate athletics, and through the boardroom deals that begin on the golf course or squash court. Maybe we’re stuck in this quagmire in our nation because we don’t know how to play together and don’t seem to want to. What do we do about this? Honestly, I haven’t a clue. But another thing I know is that in order to get to an answer, we’ve got to start talking about the question.

Monday: Coming Out as both Risk and Privilege

Introducing Higher Ed Wedesdays: A Giver-Centered Philanthropy

To help focus my blog and help readers decide what content may be of more interest to them, I’m adding a new feature to my blog beginning this week. My interests in societal issues are broad and varied, including politics, faith and religion, and higher education primarily and my blog reflects that breadth. My social identities as a Black queer masculine-of-center woman with ADHD who practices a progressive Christianity also get reflected in the many kinds of topics and issues that attract my attention and show up in my blog. At the same time, I know that many of you who have heard about my blog and are following me on Twitter and friends with me on Facebook know me through higher education and student affairs circles; I want to acknowledge that audience and develop a way for you to know when topics related to higher education and student affairs will be featured in my blog. So to do that, I’m dedicating the Wednesday post on my blog to higher education and student affairs issues. You can use the hashtag “#higheredWed” on Twitter to comment and pass the word on. Mondays and Fridays will be dedicated to a broader range of topics and issues with a social justice bent and especially dealing with issues of race, gender, sexuality, faith/belief, disability/ability, and social class.

So, let’s kick off this first #higheredWed with a reflection on philanthropy in higher education, particularly alumni giving. An article by Elise Young in Inside Higher Ed yesterday, reviewing the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education’s (CASE) annual meeting, spoke to the need for alumni giving officers to connect with alumni from the Millennial Generation in ways that reflect the trends on that group. In particular, using technology and social media to more effectively connect to alumni and tell the college’s story were more effective than traditional solicitation techniques like cold calls and postal mailings. However, the article also pointed out the need to help Millennials see where their money was going tangibly; comparisons were made to other fundraising campaigns that told donors that a certain amount of money made it possible for this activity to occur, while another amount enabled something else. Millennials want to see where their money is going and connect to a larger story, not just give into a generic annual fund campaign.

I’ve argued a similar point myself in a white paper I wrote in the spring for Kalamazoo College’s alumni and development staff and our Alumni Association Executive Board of which I am a member. Using a generational perspective, informed by the work of Strauss and Howe and others that have characterized trends in approaches to careers and family and views of authority, loyalty, and education, the crux of my argument was that a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging alumni as donors would likely be less effective than tailoring one’s approach to fit the needs and attitudes of smaller groups of alumni. These distinctions may be done according to generational characteristics as argued in Inside Higher Ed and my paper. However, other social identifiers may also be considered as alumni and development officers seek to more effectively engage different groups of alumni.

Marybeth Gasman, alone and in collaboration with including Nelson Bowman most recently, have focused on issues of race in college philanthropy, particularly for Black students at our nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).  From her research on the history of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to a blog post in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Gasman has noted that the dominant model of philanthropy that is focused on wealth and economic privilege is not relevant or suitable for developing philanthropy among Black college alumni. A review of the research by Pascarella and Terenzini (How College Impacts Students, 2nd ed.) on the conditional effects on quality of life after college demonstrates the lower earnings of Blacks with a college degree relative to Whites. These differences likely reflect the pervasive and intersecting structures of racism and economic inequality. Moreover, in Bowen and Bok’s study of Black and White graduates from highly selective colleges (published in their book The Shape of the River), they found that Black students were also more likely to pursue careers in sectors that didn’t typically have high earning potential (e.g., social work and education) or focus careers in law and medicine on lower-income clientele and economically depressed neighborhoods. Consequently, large amounts of excess disposable income are not available to give to their alma mater, regardless of their satisfaction with their college experience or loyalty to the institution. Gasman argues in her blog post linked above and in her recently published text with Nelson Bowman, Fundraising at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: An All Campus Approach (2011, Routledge) that a broader concept of philanthropy that incorporates “time, talent, and treasure” is necessary to effectively engage Black college alumni in institutional philanthropy. In addition to alumni financial contributions, alumni who devote time volunteering to assist with recruitment and retention efforts and who donate their professional expertise also make valuable philanthropic contributions to their alma maters. As Gasman notes, this is useful and relevant for all alumni, not just Black alumni, and for all institutions, not just Black colleges.

Student status, whether undergraduate or graduate, is also important to consider. Also covered in the Inside Higher Ed piece was the challenge of connecting with graduate alumni versus undergraduate alumni. Advanced degree holders have different needs and interests than undergraduate alumni and their experiences on campus as graduate students were very different from most traditional undergraduate students. These distinctions need to be accounted for as college advancement officers plan their institution’s annual fund drive.

The old marketing principle, know your audience, must be sensibly and intentionally applied to alumni and development activities in higher education. Traditional models of alumni engagement and philanthropy, although perhaps more financially efficient, won’t necessarily work to effectively engage a broad diversity of alumni across generations or social identity groups. After all, I would argue that the goal of alumni engagement is not just to increase financial giving to the institution, but to also build on and sustain the sense of community membership and sense of belonging that (hopefully) was developed during the student’s

Personally, as an alumna of a private high school and two higher education institutions, as well as a faculty member at a higher education institution, I get multiple appeals to give every year. Frankly they’re quite overwhelming. If all you want from me is money, you’re not likely to get a lot and you’re going to force me to make decisions about who’s going to get the little bit of money I have. If you expand my opportunities to give back to include more than just financial contributions, then I’m more likely to want to donate my time or talent in some way – and then also find a way to throw at least a few dollars your way. Just saying. Consider who I am as an alum and engage me appropriately. It’s a giver-centered approach to philanthropy, instead of the institution-centered focus that has seemed to dominate in higher education traditionally.

Thanks for joining me this #higheredWed – hope this helps you get over your hump day!

Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

This summer I have had the pleasure of teaching a cohort of incoming first-year students at Bowling Green State University who are participating in the Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy (PLA). These twenty-five students are merit scholars, mostly from Ohio and Michigan (Detroit, in particular). This racially diverse group (mostly either Black or White) spends their very first summer at BGSU getting an introduction to college, taking classes in writing and communication, leadership, service-learning, and information technology and library skills. For the past four years, the summer session has also had a workshop series on diversity. This year, the diversity component is a class, four sessions of 90 minutes each, and is being graded along with the other classes they are taking.

This is my first year teaching in the summer program and I’m their instructor for the diversity course. My objectives are simple (or so I thought): to expose them to issues of difference and diversity beyond race; to help them see each other’s diversity and the ways that systematic privilege has differentiated their lives; and to set them on the path toward allyship and acting as leaders amongst their peers for promoting pluralism and social justice. We’ve completed two of four sessions and the twenty-five students in my class have taught me a great deal about how much they don’t know and haven’t been taught.

For instance, the terms privilege and oppression were themselves foreign concepts to many of them. They seemed surprised to consider that biracial and multiracial people don’t have to choose one race or the other and that race itself isn’t a biologically determined fact but a social construction – like gender. And then they didn’t know the difference between sex and gender – although this is hardly surprising since most adults don’t know that and the terms are consistently conflated in the public discourse, including survey items (see my forthcoming article in TRUTH magazine for a more extended discussion of this). We spent nearly forty-five minutes in Q&A expanding their dichotomous assumptions to include intersex and transgender people and ideas like androgyny so that they thought of sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation as continuums instead of binaries. Explanations begat more questions, which begat further explanations and further questions. Finally I had to just stop the discussion because I had to explain an assignment that’s due on Tuesday. And then that prompted more confusion.

Students weren’t confused because I was trying to force them into believing some kind of liberal ideology that didn’t reflect their realities. Each of them could name the social groups they were members of and, for the most part with the exception of social class, they knew whether those social groups were privileged or marginalized. There was no rejection of the concepts, no refusal even to recognize that groups they weren’t members of were marginalized. (Whether they believed that marginalization was unjust is a different issue that I didn’t have time to dig into – yet.) Most of them just had never had anybody talk with them about any of this before, in a class, before this summer. They aren’t just confronting these kinds of issues in my class either; the leadership class instructors are also delving into these issues as they introduce them to Astin’s Social Change Model of Leadership (here’s a book by Susan Komives based on the model) that PLA is based on.

All this got me thinking about when is the right time to start these conversations. I hesitate to make the argument that multicultural competence is one more thing that K-12 isn’t doing right and should be doing. Sorry, you won’t catch me beating up on K-12 educators. Yes, exposing young children to diversity and teaching them that they don’t have to be afraid of difference and they can stand up to bullying and unfair treatment can be taught in elementary, middle, and high schools. AND there are lots of good teachers out there who are doing just that in classrooms across the country (check out this great example of a school in Oakland, CA that introduces the concept of gender diversity, though not without controversy).

However, that’s not the end of the line and higher education has a duty and responsibility to continue students on that journey. Research has indicated that understanding diversity beyond superficial, dichotomous, value judgments requires both psychosocial maturity and cognitive complexity that is simply not present prior to college for most young adults (Baxter Magolda & King, 2005; Chickering & Reisser, 1993; King & Shuford, 1996). Moreover, groups like the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) assert the need to include knowledge and appreciation of diversity and skill with relating across lines of difference in their essential learning outcomes and a plethora of research demonstrates the positive growth and development associated with exposure to diversity-related experiences in college (Bowman, 2010; Denson, 2009; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006).

Yet, all too often whether to include any focused discussion on diversity, multicultural competence, and social justice is subject to debate and academics from different disciplines struggle to agree upon what constitutes appropriate language, pedagogy, and outcomes. Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague at another institution during which she explained that multicultural competence wasn’t a required part of the curriculum that was taught in the honors program there although it was included as a learning outcome. It seems that for some administrators and faculty in colleges and universities, diversity and multicultural competence are not seen as learning outcomes, but rather as recruitment goals and retention tools.

If we don’t deliberately equip college students – of all ages – with the multicultural awareness, multicultural knowledge, and multicultural skills needed to effectively live and work in an increasingly diverse global society, then we cannot say that we are preparing good leaders, or leaders at all. That equipping must begin early in their college experiences, yes, even their first semester on campus. Therefore, battling through the frustration, confusion, and blown lesson plans is worth it to help get at least this cohort of students a little further in the journey toward realizing a just society. Hopefully, some of this will stick and as they continue through their time at BGSU, they’ll build on the foundation we’ve laid this summer. Hopefully.

References:

Baxter Magolda, M. B., & King, P. M. (2005). A developmental model for intercultural maturity. Journal of College Student Development, 46(6), 571-592.

Bowman, N. A. (2010). College diversity experiences and cognitive development: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 80, 4-33.

Chickering, A., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Denson, N. (2009). Do curricular and co-curricular diversity activities influence racial bias? A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 79, 805-838.

King, P.M., & Shuford, B. C. (1996). A multicultural review is a more cognitively complex view: Cognitive development and multicultural education. American Behavioral Scientist, 40(2), 153-164.

Pettigrew, T. G., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 751-783.

Telling a Whole History

**Prelude: I know we’re out of LGBT Pride Month (June) and the 43rd commemoration of the Stonewall riots is about two weeks old, but I think the issues raised in this post are still relevant and one of the biggest mistakes marginalized groups make is limiting our discussion of our history to its “proper” month, day, or season.**

“By institutionalizing memory, resisting the onset of oblivion, recalling the memory of tragedy that for long years remained hidden or unrecognized and by assigning its proper place in the human conscience, we respond to our duty to remember.” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura

This quote begins an essay written by the Reverend Irene Monroe wherein she recounts her memories of the night and early morning hours of June 27-28, 1969 when police raided the Stonewall bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Stonewall is commemorated as the trigger of the LGBT rights movement in the U.S. and every June (and throughout the summer) through Pride celebrations across the nation and world. In the excerpt published in the Huffingpost’s Gay Voices column, Rev. Monroe recounts the intersection of race and sexuality that likely triggered the police raid at the Stonewall and the history of Black queers in New York City. Monroe summarizes the gentrification that pushed Black queers out of lower Manhattan in the early 20th century north to Harlem and the politics of respectability that informed the homophobia that pushed Black queers to the margins of social and cultural life after the Harlem Renaissance period of the 1920s through 1940s. Monroe remembers for us that Black and Latino patrons heavily frequented the Stonewall and that there was a family on her block in Brooklyn that had a son who they knew also frequented the Village on the weekends. When word came that the police, mostly White, had raided the bar and were beating on drag queens, mostly Black and Latino, Monroe’s Black neighborhood community was up in arms and ready to join the fight. The recognition that one of their own was likely being victimized propelled this crowd, ranging in ages from Monroe’s preteen years to middle-aged parents to make their way from Brooklyn to the unknown territory of lower Manhattan. They recognized that their struggles against police brutality as Black people were linked to the fight against police brutality experienced by gays and lesbians – and moreover, they realized that those communities were not mutually exclusive.

Monroe titles her essay “Dis-membering Stonewall” to shed light on the whitewashing of Stonewall that has taken place in the 43 years since those three days in June 1969. Although non-Whites are clearly present in many of the pictures from those nights in New York, Blacks and Latinos have been virtually absent in the historical canon of the origins of LGBT civil rights movement beginning with the Stonewall Riots. Monroe talks about remembering the same way that I did in my last blog post (Don’t Forget Me), as putting the pieces back together again. Instead of putting the pieces back together, Monroe argues that we’ve pulled the pieces apart, dismembering queer history by separating from that history the critical role that queer people of color (QPOC) played in it.

How does this dismembering happen? As someone who has always been fascinated by history and is about to embark later this summer on a historical research project, I find history to be profoundly relevant for navigating and understanding our present. I deeply believe in the West African Sankofa principle that teaches the importance of remembering one’s history as you move into the future. As philosopher George Santayana has said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What do we have to do in order to wholly remember the past, to re-member it with all its parts? I think drawing on varied historical sources is helpful and important: relying on the written record leads to a history dominated by the voices of those with the privilege of being able to write or have their words recorded in print, of having those papers preserved, and cultural traditions that value the written word. Oral history is fundamentally important and must be sought out, particularly to include the voices of marginalized groups. Stories are passed down and across orally for various reasons: to protect the storytellers and listeners, to transmit the emotional content, musical elements, and community ethos of the events and people in the stories. Oral history is multidimensional, but a White-middle-class history that privileges the written narrative told from the perspective of one or just a few is more likely to be one-dimensional.

What are the consequences of dismembering and what do we do about it? Well, in short, the consequences of dis-membering history is that we are left with a history that is inauthentic and incomplete; a history that is not capable of helping us grow beyond our past, let alone prevent us from repeating it. The example of Stonewall is a powerful one in this regard. The dis-membering of QPOC voices from Stonewall’s history has helped to foment the supposed divide between people of color and working class folks and a LGBT community that has been represented as largely White and middle-class. Consequently, efforts to bridge across these communities have become increasingly popular and organizations that bridge the gap, like the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) play a critical role in helping us to re-member. Also important are efforts to tell history in different forms, including film projects like Before Stonewall that highlight the voices of QPOC, and the writing and sharing of oral histories like Monroe’s that democratize the telling and retelling of history through social media outlets.

Re-membering our history involves faith that these stories matter, hope that they will help lead us to a better future, and shows our love for the courage, bravery, and commitment of the elders that paved the way for us. Let us strive to re-member, to understand the importance of a whole-history that can pull a community together when the forces of injustice threaten to tear it apart.

Coming this week…

Now that I’m back from vacation, I’m ready to keep my blog rolling. [And you thought I was blogging from Atlanta! ;-)]

Coming up starting this week will be reflections on Elizabeth Warren’s interview in HRC’s Equality magazine; Stonewall and the intersections of race, class, and sexuality; race and gender in sport; and the idea of “a fair balance.”

So check back in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or make it real easy and click the link to follow my blog!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and stay cool.

For peace and justice,
Dafina

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