Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible

I have a bit of a crazy week this week, as I am heading off to the White Privilege Conference in Albuquerque, NM.  I look forward to presenting a few workshops and to learning a tremendous amount from the other presenters!  To read a little about what I learned last year, check out my post, Reflections on the White Privilege Conference.

As I’ve been preparing myself to learn and grow at the conference, I’ve been watching some of the documentary Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible on Youtube.  Since I don’t have a lot of time to write this week, I figured I’d post the documentary (broken up into 5 parts on youtube) in hopes that my readers will reflect on its messages.  It’s my hope that you’ll watch it (or at least watch part of it) and engage.  Let me know your thoughts and reactions in the comments section!


Justice for Trayvon Martin: 3 Things You Can Do

Do I look suspicious to you?

How about now?

Of course I don’t.  I’m white.  And that is one of the most powerful privileges that I have in this country.  I can generally rely on the adage “innocent until proven guilty.”

But this person couldn’t.  To one White vigilante, he looked “suspicious,” like he was “on drugs” and “up to no good.”

And it got him killed.

As I am sure you know by now, Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old young man who was found guilty by a White vigilante of the crime of walking at night while Black.  He was unarmed, carrying only an iced tea and a bag of skittles for his sibling.  Immediately after Trayvon was shot in the chest, George Zimmerman admitted to the killing.

He was not arrested.  He was not tested for drugs or alcohol, as in common in cases such as these.  He was not even detained.  Why?  He claimed self defense in a state that boasts one of the nations vaguest “stand your ground” laws, and the police on the scene decided that Zimmerman was telling the truth.  They didn’t follow up with witnesses (some of whom say they heard Trayvon screaming and begging for his life), and they didn’t follow up with Trayvon’s girlfriend, whom he was talking to at the moment he was attacked.

It has now been nearly a month, and Trayvon’s killer walks free.

I have been wanting to write about this case for a few weeks now, but I wasn’t sure what I could add to the conversation.  I couldn’t sum things up better than Mother Jones.  I couldn’t address the related issue of White Privilege as well as Michael Skolnik at the Global Grind:

I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers on…in fact, that is what I wore yesterday…I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you.  I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me.  I won’t have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can “run my plates.”  I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get “stopped and frisked.”  I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only.  The color of my skin.  I am white.

Despite all of the evidence that Zimmerman killed Trayvon in cold blood, Trayvon was presumed guilty until proven innocent.  One of our good friends at Faux News even have the audacity to blame Trayvon (or his parents) because he was wearing a hoodie and he was looking “thuggish.”

It’s time for us to take action.  Here are three easy things you can do to pressure those in power to arrest and prosecute Zimmerman.

  1. Sign the Change.org petition started by Trayvon’s family.  With 1.5 million people having signed, the more voices that sign this petition, the harder it is to ignore.
  2. Pressure the state’s attorney responsible for the 18th district to do everything in their power to prosecute Zimmerman to the full extent of the law.  You must call between 9 am and 5 pm, Monday – Friday.  Get to an operator and ask to speak to the receptionist for Norm Wolfinger.
    Here’s a potential script: “Hello, my name is _________________.  I am calling regarding the Trayvon Martin case.  I just wanted to register my voice in support of Trayvon’s family as they seek justice in the murder of their son.  We ask that State Attorney Wolfinger publicly endorse the efforts to arrest and prosecute George Zimmerman, even before the Grand Jury has made its decision.  Thank you, and have a great day!
  3. Contact the original sponsor of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation, Rep. Dennis K. Baxley, and encourage him to sponsor a process of revision of the law so that murderers like Zimmerman cannot hide behind such a vaguely-worded piece of legislation in the future.  Here’s an example that you could use (but try to make it personal):
    Hello, my name is ______________.  I am writing to encourage Rep. Baxley to consider formally revisiting Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law that he sponsored, the vaguest of it’s kind in the nation, on the floor of the House.  Please open an investigation into ways that this law can be used to shield murderers from prosecution, just like it has done for George Zimmerman after he murdered Trayvon Martin.  You told the CBS Evening News that you would be willing to revisit the law if changes were needed, and we hope that you will hold to your word and at least investigate this possibility.  Thank you for your time and consideration.  Sincerely, ____________

JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON MARTIN.  Please take action today.

On Safer Sex and Consent At YourTango.com

This week’s post is a guest post over at www.YourTango.com, a love, sex, and relationships site!  A friend of mine who runs Lucky Bloke writes a regular column for YourTango, and she asked me if I’d like to guest post over there, so I present to you:

From Condoms to Consent: Making Safer Sex SEXY!

A special thanks to the folks at


Lucky Bloke


I’ve been involved this week with a lot of advocacy and activism around Trayvon Martin, and I am hoping to have another post up today or tomorrow with a call to action around this whole fiasco.

Limbaugh, Maher, and Sexism: Holding EVERYONE Accountable

Rush Limbaugh has recently found himself in some pretty hot water.  In response to her testimony before congress, Rush called Sandra Fluke a “slut,” a “prostitute,” and a “feminazi” because she thinks that birth control should be covered by a woman’s insurance.  To date, at least 140 advertisers have left the Rush Limbaugh radio program after these comments.  Unfortunately, this kind of sexist language is not new for Mr. Limbaugh.  He is famous for saying, “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.”  He has a long history of misogyny.

Courtesy of someecards.com

In response to calls to repudiate Rush’s comments and to distance themselves from him, many on the political Right have responded, “But the left has Bill Maher, and he’s crazy sexist too!”

The problem with this tit-for-tat approach to dealing with sexism is that it presumes that sexism is a problem of the political Left or the political Right.  Sexism has nothing to do with politics.  Sexism has everything to do with patriarchy and misogyny (which, in turn, affect politics).

Is Rush Limbaugh a sexist asshole?  Yes!  Is Bill Maher a sexist asshole?  Yes!  Should they both be repudiated and held to account for their history of misogynistic language?  ABSOLUTELY!

It’s time for men to hold other men to account for sexism, whether they are people we agree with politically or not.  We need to pressure the pro-Obama pac to return the money Bill Maher has donated just like the Limbaugh advertisers were pressured into withdrawing their support for Rush.

We live in a country founded upon free speech.  People can generally say whatever they want (within certain limits) and get away with it.  However, just because someone can say whatever they want doesn’t mean they should, and we have the power and right to withdraw our support for public figures who are blatantly sexist.  In much the same way, we can express to our friends that it’s unacceptable for them to talk about women in ways that objectify them; we can hold our friends to account for the use of sexist language; we can work to build more accountable, anti-sexist relationships across difference.

Men can indeed be feminists.

Kony 2012 and the White Savior Complex

The work that I do is complicated, and I don’t always feel good about it.  I have been struggling with issues like whether White folks should profit from diversity and inclusion work, and I have been trying to figure out where I fit in all of this.

Part of what makes this work complicated is that I get a lot of positive attention for the work that I do.  As a man who speaks out against sexual violence, I am lauded.  As a White person who speaks out against racism, I get a lot of pats on the back.  I regularly have young people tell me that my words and my actions have inspired them and changed their lives.  That’s enough to make my ego the size of a house . . .

So I have to check myself.  I have to ground myself in the reality that the work I do must be done in concert with activists of Color, with women, with Queer activists, and others.  I must remind myself that women have no choice but to do work to end sexual violence very day, and they don’t get accolades (in fact, they are often called “femi-nazis“).  People of Color must combat racism every day, and they are often rewarded with accusations of “playing the race card.”

I’ve got to be careful, or I could get a complex.

Perhaps I can ride in on my White Steed of Privilege and “use my privilege” to end racism on behalf of people of color and end sexism on behalf of women and ensure that every building is accessible for the differently-abled and end hate crimes and save all the African babies, and then I can ride off into the consensual sunset!

And that complex is the exact problem that often arises when people of privilege attempt to work “on behalf of” those who are “invisible” or “don’t have a voice.”  This kind of complex is created in a vacuum where there is little or no accountability to and relationships with the communities affected by the problem in question (racism, sexism, heterosexism, what have you).

I like to call this complex the White Savior Complex (though I definitely didn’t coin the term, and you could easily substitute White for any other position of privilege – “Straight Savior Complex”).  White people who are in no real way accountable to those they are trying to save attempt to ride in on their privilege and save the day, often making things worse for those they are trying to serve.

I see this complex everywhere:

– White teachers who want to “save the poor brown kids”

– White “voluntourists” who want to “use their time abroad to do some real good” and help build a school while they spend a week in Guatemala

– White college kids who want to create a video that tugs at the heart strings to get people to donate a bunch of money to raise awareness to a vague cause about an African rebel who steals children and makes them child soldiers

“Wait, I think I’ve seen something about that last one on Facebook!”

Enter Kony 2012.

Kony 2012 is an effort by Invisible Children to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, a Ugandan paramilitary and commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group that is known for committing terrible atrocities against civilian populations in Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.  The Kony 2012 campaign aims to make 2012 the year that Joseph Kony is captured and tried for war crimes that he has undoubtedly committed in his commanding of the brutal paramilitary army.

The main vehicle that the Kony 2012 campaign is using in their effort is the now infamous Kony 2012 viral video:

55 million views and counting

Continue Reading

10 Keys to Creating an Inclusive Classroom Community for LGBTQ Students

Lately I have been facilitating a lot of professional development sessions for teachers on building inclusive environments for diverse student populations, and one thing is clear to me: most teachers want to be as supportive as possible to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students but aren’t sure how best to do so.

The unfortunate reality is that few schools are safe spaces for LGBTQ students.

  • 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
  • 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
  • The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).
  • Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.
  • Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students %96 outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.
    Source: GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey

As a result, more and more teachers are looking for help in supporting their LGBTQ students, and schools are looking for proactive ways to create a safer environment for students of all sexual orientations.  To try to offer support, I have compiled a list of 10 things teachers can do to create a more inclusive classroom environment for LGBTQ students.  Though these can in no way be comprehensive, they are meant to be a starting place for better supporting our LGBTQ students in the classroom environment.

The Ten Keys to Building an Inclusive Classroom Community:
Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students

  1. Use inclusive language
    – Use precise terms like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) rather than homosexual or gay as an umbrella term.
    – Use terms like partner instead of boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife.
  2. Never tolerate abusive language in your classroom or in the halls
    – Language like, “That’s so gay” or “You’re such a fag” is common in schools, and it actively creates an unsafe environment for LGBTQ students and LGBTQ Allies.  We must respond to (and be sure not to ignore such language).
    – Don’t simply be punitive with hurtful language.  Instead, explain why it is not welcome and is hurtful.  This helps students understand why they shouldn’t use the language rather than just making them avoid using it around you.
  3. Never assume heterosexuality
    – Building relationships with students is wonderful!  Ask about students’ lives, but don’t assume heterosexuality in your language.  A question like, “Are you seeing anybody these days?” goes a lot further than, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
  4. Maintain confidentiality within the confines of your professional responsibilities
    – There are certain things like abuse that we cannot keep confidential, but outside of that, make sure students feel safe by always keep what they share in confidentiality.
    – Create a space in which students can talk to you about their struggles, helping all students to understand that you are someone they can talk to during free time.
    – Be careful never to “out” an LGBTQ student, meaning that if a student is not open in their sexual orientation and they share that with you, be careful not to share that information with others.  Sometimes being out can be more dangerous than being closeted.
  5. Keep an eye out for bullying and act to stop it
    – It’s tough to know the best way to respond to bullying.  Sometimes it means interrupting bullying as it happens.  Sometimes it means talking to the bullies or the bullied afterward.
    – In responding to bullying, be careful to not make the target out to be the weak one in the situation, as that can make bullying worse in the long run.
  6. Respect the needs and wishes of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual students
    – Support them in their decisions and their needs, helping them to make safe choices that will help them be happy and fully realized as a young person.
    – Questions like, “Are you sure?”  “Could this be a phase?” are not helpful.
  7. Respect the needs and wishes of Transgender students
    – Respect the names students wish to be called and the pronouns they prefer.  When unsure, ask with empathy and respect.
    – Respect the clothing choices students make, supporting them as they figure out how they want to perform their gender.
  8. Encourage respectful disagreement on issues of sexual identity
    – Dialogue and discussion inside and outside the classroom are helpful and healthy so long as respectful.  Don’t shut down conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity, but make sure to facilitate the conversation down inclusive roads and correct misconceptions.
  9. Recognize that you’re not an expert.  You will make mistakes and occasionally be insensitive.
    – Humble yourself and apologize where necessary; learn from your mistakes, and always try to broaden your understanding of LGBTQ issues so you can best support all of your students.
  10. Acknowledge that building an inclusive community is better for everyone, and fight to make it a school-wide priority.
    – Inclusive communities experience less bullying and violence.
    – Inclusive communities are likely to boast higher achievement and are stronger school spirit.

For more ideas for building an inclusive community, check out the recommendations for positive interventions and support from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.