“You Voted for Him Because He’s Black” and Why That’s Okay

Yo, White dudes were PISSED last week!

After all, they took a pretty good shellacking in the election, but man, was this really necessary?  I guess it’s not surprising when this, this, and this were happening before the election, but White men are acting like they suddenly don’t control congress, pretty much every state legislature, business, the banks, and every major media outlet.  Take a breath, grab yourselves some casserole, and chill out!

The reality is, though, that demographics are changing, and they’re not changing in favor of the Republican Party, the Whitest major party around.  Mixed race, Latino, and Asian-American populations are the fastest growing demographics, and all of these groups vote staunchly Democrat.  Plus, women, particularly single women, aren’t exactly flocking to the Right side of the aisle.

I mean, just look at how things broke down in this year’s race for the presidency:

Percentage of Important Demographics that Voted for Obama in 2012
93% of African Americans
73% of Asian Americans
71% of Latinos
67% of single women
55% of women
Sources: Latinos Post and The Guardian

Now, considering that those numbers likely reflect a lot of Democratic voting down ballot as well, there are two things we can assume about these numbers:

  1. Of the two major parties in the U.S., one is more responsive to the needs of women and people of Color; OR
  2. “The next time someone tells me that the Black voters are not bigoted, stick it in the trash can because Black voters are bigoted — 93 percent (of the Black vote went) for Obama, 6 percent for (Mitt) Romney — you’re bigots.” – St. Louis radio personality Kevin Slaten

I cannot tell you how many White folks I have heard in the last week freaking out to much the same tune as our buddy Kevin.  “Latino voters are racist.”  “Black voters are racist.”  “Women don’t vote for real issues like the economy or foreign policy. They only vote with their vaginas.”

Well, I hate to say it, but if that’s how we’re going to interpret these results, then White men, you might want to flip over that coin and look at the other side:

What the Electoral Map would have looked like if only White Men could vote:

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A Culture of Civility – Bullying and Student Achievement

I’ve been working hard lately to finish writing and shooting the content for A Culture of Civility, a three-part video seminar series for schools aimed at understanding and preventing identity-based bullying.

Whenever I talk to students about this project, they immediately get it.  They are excited about a new approach to understanding bullying in schools, and they recognize the need for building a culture and climate of inclusiveness.

When I talk to most administrators and many teachers, though, there’s a disconnect, a skepticism.  And I don’t  blame them.  For those tasked with educating our young people, there are about 25 chainsaws they are expected to juggle flawlessly: state standards, graduation rates, student behavior, state-mandated tests, district-mandated tests, college entrance rates, support for extra-curriculars, parent engagement, and on and on…

Above all, I hear the word “achievement.”  And in many ways, I should.  To quote a famous Bushism, we must ask, “Is our children learning?”  We must ensure that students are prepared for the world after high school, and as such, we need a lazer-like focus on standards and achievement.

But to focus on achievement doesn’t simply have to mean that we focus on tests, standards, and innovative reading, writing, and math instruction.  We need to ensure that students have an environment where they are safe to learn so that our academic work is not in vain.

In their article “School Climate as a Factor in Student Adjustment and Achievement,” (Journal of Education and Psychological Consultation, 9:3, 321-329) Yale University’s Child Study Center researchers Norris M. Haynes, Christine Emmons, and Michael Ben-Avie define school climate as “the quality and consistence of interpersonal interactions within the school community that influence children’s cognitive, social, and psychological development.”  School climate is essentially the sum total of interactions “among staff, between staff and students, among students, and between home and school.”

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“Invisible Oppression:” Cece McDonald and Violence Against Transgender People

Have you heard about Cece Mcdonald?

If you haven’t, you definitely need to read up on her and her case.  In short, “In June of 2011, CeCe, [a Black, Transgender Woman] was attacked while walking to the grocery store with her friends. After a group of White bar patrons shouted slurs at CeCe and her friends—calling them “faggots,” “chicks with dicks,” and “niggers”–a woman in the group smashed a glass into CeCe’s face, cutting through her cheek. A fight broke out and one of CeCe’s attackers [was killed]. The police arrived and singled out CeCe, who was seriously injured, for arrest. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged her with second-degree murder.”  Since her arrest, she has been denied proper medical care and has been housed with male inmates despite the fact that she does not identify as a man and that prisons and jails are notoriously abusive spaces for Trans people (source for account of Cece’s attack and subsequent treatment).

Eventually, Cece accepted a plea bargain for second degree manslaughter (which could carry a sentence of up to 3 1/2 years in pris0n), but she has been clear from the beginning: she acted in self defense.  The man who died that night would be alive if he and his friend had never attacked Cece and her friends, and it was clear that Cece was attacked because of her race and her gender identity.

It is hard to get a clear picture of the levels of violence that Transgender people face in the United States.  After all, the Federal government doesn’t collect hate crime data on Transgender hate crimes, and few states collect any data.  Studies have shown, though, that the rates of violence against Transgender people in the U.S. are SIGNIFICANTLY higher than other forms of violence.  Plus, there is evidence to indicate that the the murder rate of Transgender people is more than 10 times the murder rate in the general population in the U.S..

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Anti-Semitism and Criticism of Israel

I grew up in a community that staunchly supports Israel.  It’s the kind of place where you would regularly see billboards like this one:

In the U.S., there are three main pro-Israeli lobbies.  One is a mixture of interests that sees Israel as a key ally in a region that is volatile and that contains many American interests (like oil – lots of it).  Another consists of Jews and Jewish organizations that support Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.  The last describes most of the Israel supporters in my hometown: Christian Zionists.  Christian Zionists are Christians who see the return of all Jews to the Holy Land as key to the prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ and the Rapture.  Growing up around a lot of Christian Zionists, I couldn’t help but support Israel for similar reasons, but as I got older, I came to realize that Christian Zionism is super freaky and actually pretty anti-Semitic.

You see, Christian Zionists believe that once all the Jews return to the Holy Land (read Israel), the Second Coming will begin, and in that process, all of the Jews (who many Christian Zionists believe were responsible for the death of Christ the first time around) will be struck down by God for their refusal to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

So . . . Basically the Christian Zionists want to kill all of the people they claim to support . . . THIS IS THE RIDICULOUSNESS I WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE!!

In college, I was introduced to the other side of the narrative, a side where Israel is not some benevolent home of the Jews (“A land without a people for a people without a land“) but is actually a political pawn of the United States that uses its funding from the U.S. (to the tune of $3 billion per year) to oppress the Palestinians in an Apartheid-like system of suppression.  I learned of the narrative, counter to the dominant one in media and in the Churches and schools I had attended, where Palestinian loss of life and land is wildly disproportionate to that of Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian Children Killed since Sept. 29, 2000.
Source

0 Homes of Israelis have been demolished by Palestinians since Sept. 29, 2000. 24,813 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israelis.
Source

Then in June of 2009, I visited Israel and Palestine.  In Israel, I saw a bustling, Western country with seemingly-endless resources.  In Palestine, I saw poverty, desperation, and violent oppression.

Palestinian olive trees that were cut down by Israelis after the 2nd Intifada in an effort to damage the Palestinian economy.

The Israeli Apartheid Wall, meant to “protect the Israelis from Palestinians,” though it actually acts as a land grab that cuts deep into the West Bank.

These experiences helped me to understand the tremendous power imbalance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with one side backed and funded by the most powerful country in the world and the other being forcefully thrown from their land with little recourse.

As a result, I’ve long been active in the movement to secure a free and independent Palestine, partnering with Palestinians, Jews, and other concerned citizens in the U.S. and around the world.  In this activism, I found a troubling trend.  One of the first times I experienced it was while marching in a pro-Palestinian march in Chicago.  People were lining the street where we were marching, screaming at us and holding up photos of the atrocities of the Holocaust.  They were screaming, “BIGOT!  ANTI-SEMITE!  IF YOU HAD YOUR WAY, ALL JEWS WOULD BE WIPED OFF THE MAP!!!”

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Let Gay Men Donate Blood

To allow bigotry to contribute to a public health crisis leaves the realm of hurtful and enters the realm of absurdity, but that is exactly what is happening in the United States today.

Around the country, the American Red Cross is calling for donors to step up to donate blood in the face of severe blood reserve shortages in almost every state.  In the context of this reality, blood donation centers are encouraging anyone eligible under federal guidelines to step forward and donate.  But that meas that if you have had a tattoo in the least year or have visited a country where malaria is present in the last year, you’ve gotta wait a little.

Oh, and if you’re a man and have had sexual contact with a man since 1977, you can never donate blood.  Not once.  Never.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “WHAT!?  That can’t be right!  That is blatant homophobic discrimination!”  Well, while it may be blatant homophobic discrimination, it is also federal law.

What’s worse is that you don’t need to be actually gay.  Because of the law, screeners have turned away folks like Aaron Pace, a Straight Indiana man who was turned away from a donation center for appearing gay.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “Well, isn’t this just some sort of antiquated crap that just needs to be done away with?”  Well, while it is antiquated poo that needs to be disposed of, it was upheld by the Congressional Health and Human Services Committee last summer.

Those in Congress and around the country who support the ban on Gay men donating blood point to the fact that half of new HIV infections in 2005 were among Gay men, but they ignore the fact that the fastest growing rates of HIV are among young women, African American women, and Hispanic women.  Would the federal government consider banning African American women from donating?  No!  That’s absurd.  Such a policy would not even be considered, and if it were enacted, public outcry against the racism and sexism would be loud.

After all, blood banks are now required to screen all blood with advanced screening processes to ensure that it is safe for transmission to those who need it.  Thus, there is no need for supposed “lifestyle questions” that blatantly discriminate against Gay men.  So what explanation is there for discriminating?

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Power, Voice, and the Race Card

I have a tremendous amount of privilege, and I have done very little to deserve any of the privileges that I have.  I was born into a wealth in a white family in a country that is built for wealthy, white people.  I am a (mostly) heterosexual man in a culture that greatly privileges and benefits straight people and men.  My first (and only) language is English, the language that has, unfortunately, become the language of power in this world.  I was raised Christian in a culture that privileges Christians above all others, and as such, I can speak the language of Christianity.  In the words of Louis CK, “How many advantages could one person have!?”

One of the most incredible privileges that comes with my identities is the ability to have my voice valued and heard regardless of what I say.  That’s something that I talk a lot about in my work.  After all, I am a white, straight, male who earns his living as a diversity consultant.  The irony of that, which I make sure I express whenever I speak professionally, is that the things I am saying are said all the time by other people, but we just don’t listen to those voices.  Every single day, women must live the realities of sexism and sexual violence, and they speak out against them all the time, but we often tell them that they are being “overly sensitive.”  People of color point out all the time the ways in which our racially-stratified society hurts and oppresses them, yet when they do, we tell them that they are playing the “race card.”  LGBTQ folks speak all the time of the ways in which the society which is built for straight people and tells Queer folks that they are somehow dirty and wrong affects their lives and their self esteem, but again, they are accused of simply trying to use their experience to advance the “homosexual agenda.”  However, whenever I, in all my privilege, say these things, people often listen.

Now there are a host of problems with someone using their privilege on behalf of those without privilege to try to advance an agenda (which I try to check in with myself regularly to make sure I am not doing), and that can be discussed at a later time.  However, the point is that my voice is valued.  The people who are originally saying the things I say don’t have that privilege.

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My Journey and My Own Religious Bigotry

Jamie in 2nd Grade - Around the age I started training to be a lector

I’ve had some pretty negative experiences with religion in my life . . . particularly with Christianity.  Well, let me back up and give you a little information about my Christian experience.  I was born and raised Catholic, baptized in the church.  My family went to church every single weekend, and it was made clear to us that going to church was not really a choice.  We had to attend.  I went to Catholic school for 9 years, and I was the one of the youngest lectors in my church’s history, reading the gospel in front of hundreds of people at mass in the from about 9 years old until I was 16.

I was always incredibly inquisitive.  I remember when I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade asking the priest at school what it means if I don’t believe (as Catholics do) that the bread and wine we eat and drink on Sunday is ACTUALLY the body and blood of Christ.  What if I don’t believe that I am actually eating God’s skin and blood?  I was told, “Well, then you’re not really a Catholic.  You see . . . that is one of the core beliefs of Catholicism.”  Of course, then, I fell into line . . . more so out of fear than out of belief.

As I grew older, I became frustrated with much of the hypocrisy I saw in the Catholic church and in other Christian denominations as well.  I read the Gospel and saw the teachings of Christ as a call to serve, as a call to caste off worldly desire and possession and work for justice.  “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the head of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:24).  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:20-21).  Yet I didn’t see this in the Christians or the Christianity practiced around me.

I saw Christ’s message as one of pacifism rather than the bellicose preachings I was hearing from those in my church and elsewhere.  “You have heard it said, ‘An Eye for and Eye, and a Tooth for a Tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other” (Matthew 5:38-39).  Yet I saw Christians leading charges for war around the world.

I saw hypocrisy, and for many years I sowed seeds of doubt.  In time, I came to feel that while Christ has always been one of those I look up to as I search for how to lead my life, I could not say comfortable that Christ and God were one in the same.  I announced to my family that I could no longer attend church with them and that I no longer considered myself Christian.

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