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May 31, 2007

Sticks, Stones, & Hateful Words

Who doesn’t know the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I’ve never had a broken bone, but I exaggerate not, as a human being, a person who cares about the world my children will grow up in, I have been hurt over and over by how people talk to one another. But I remember a time when I did just that. As an eleven year old in Los Angeles I would call my best friend a stupid Mexican because he insisted he was from Puerto Rico (and he actually was). Because I had never heard of Puerto Rico, I was convinced he must have been confused or wrong. Either way that made him stupid in my eyes. I just knew I couldn’t have been wrong. And how many of us actually can admit to our selves that we are the one who don’t know? How many of us have actually acknowledged our own stupidity, or more correctly, ignorance. Was I the only one who couldn’t do this at age 11?

There is a philosophical concept framed by Charles Pierce called the method of tenacity. It is a method that Pierce claims people use to lessen doubt, to assist people in not feeling guilty about not having something to believe in. I was so immersed in the use of the method of tenacity. My head was buried in the sand like an ostrich, I was so afraid to encounter a provocative new thought that I’d almost start sweating if someone said they had an idea. So to counteract this anxiety I would tenaciously express my beliefs, as if emphatically stating my position would be irresistible in terms of swaying anyone’s public opinion that was different from mine.

A classmate of mine from my elementary and middle school days, whom my friends and I considered unattractive (as if any of us were destined to win beauty contests), would often catch an endless amount of insults from us. Why did we feel as if we could dog her out? You tell me! What was it that made some of us feel as if we were better than others, so better that we could misuse and abuse them whenever we wanted to? How many of us have done something down right nasty to someone else when we were kids that we would love to take back? Here’s a question: What would you say to that kid if you had some time to talk with him/her?

Somebody please explain to me why people are so comfortable calling others’ names, but are ready to fight, perhaps even kill when they are called something they don’t like. Some words are sticks and stones. They break your bones, and really, really, hurt.

May 23, 2007

Gender Bender???

How many of you have seen the film Clerks? Well, there is a scene in the movie when a couple are arguing because, initially, the woman in the conversation is somewhat perturbed because the man admits he has had thirteen lovers. His girlfriend, after hitting him somewhat playfully yet forcefully enough for him to know the hit was more than playful, calls him promiscuous for his having what some would call the ultimate intimate experience with thirteen different women. She gives him so much grief that he finally challenges her to reveal her number of pre-marital moments. She says three with her bosom extended knowing she can flaunt her lower number. The conversation then drifts and the edge that was present for a moment over the topic wanes. A bit later, a customer that they had both recognized and chatted with pays for his merchandise and leaves. When he is out of earshot, they discuss the woman’s previous moment with him, and other men as well, with none of the acts (all the same) being described as an ultimate intimate moment, but definitely a landmark along that route.

Upon being badgered by the man, the woman then reveals that she had previously been in a moment like that with 35 other men. The man flipped, completely dismayed at how she could have been calling him promiscuous and yet had landmark experiences with 35 men, then practically insinuating that she was an Imus non-nappy headed “you know what.” Well, totally blown away with his response she tells him that landmark experiences are simply pit stops on the way to reaching your final destination, and that he should not feel threatened by her having had multiple pit stops. After she was corrected about the fact that 35 pit stops far exceed “multiple” pit stops, she let him know that the 35 pit stops were nothing compared to the final destination, that he and only a couple of other men had ever experienced. He was unable to reconcile her 3 ultimate intimate experiences and 35 so-called casual pit stops to his 13 ultimate intimate experiences.

In the "Examining Diversity Through Film" and "Philosophies of Romance, Sex, Love & Marriage" courses that I teach, there is quite a reaction from the students when they are asked to consider this highly intriguing gendered moment. The students are challenged to contemplate is this a gender thing, some type of subtle or not so subtle sexism, or is it just the way it is? Well, what is your take?

May 19, 2007

Unpacking the N word’s Relationship to Diversity in Northern NY

I am sure some of you may know that I do a presentation on the N word around the country from time to time, often with a colleague of mine, Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. We actually had the pleasure of doing it recently at SUNY Plattsburgh and enjoyed an audience of over 300 participants examining various dimensions of the rhyme and reason, power and pain associated with such a problematic word. So, I think quite a bit about this word, yes, even when it isn’t aimed at me.

I also engage many educational and business organizations in discussions on diversity and social justice. In fact, it is easier naming the schools in up, up, Upstate New York that I haven't engaged than the one's I have. So, you don't take a journey like that without stories galore. I recently shared with the ninth and tenth graders at Peru High School that two northern New Yorkers, one a seventh grader and the other an eighth grader, from two different schools, both responded to a question I asked them in similar ways. The question I asked was “When you hear the word diversity, what is the one word that comes to mind for you?” The answers I have received from this question are always intriguing, and wide ranging. People offer as answers “differences,” "energy," “choices,” bullying," “prejudice,” “fear,” "respect," etc. It never fails to amaze me what people might say. But these two students, upon being asked “when you hear the word diversity, what is the one word that comes to mind for you?,” both answered “nigger.”

What could have possibly been the reason the N word would be their answer to a question that basically asks what is a synonym for diversity, or the first word that enters your mind when you hear the word “diversity?” Now that we have been kicking around some different topics the last two weeks, I feel as if I have a crew that will assist me in attempting to tear the cover off of this topic so that we can examine it. Straight up, I need someone to help me unpack this conundrum.

May 14, 2007

Born on Third Base

Living in the North Country is quite an intriguing experience. In any given moment you can have a conversation with a millionaire or a farmer, depending on how comfortable you are with people, and where in the North Country you might currently be.

Every semester Professor Deb Light and I co-teach a course titled Examining Diversity through Film. When we get to our theme of socio-economic class we read an article that makes the assertion that many people, in terms of their economic position, will deny that they are privileged, not recognizing that they were born on third base. Some people will become irate in explaining that they worked hard for their success. The fact that you have worked hard for your success doesn’t negate the fact that you may still be standing on someone else’s shoulders, especially in contrast to others who never had the opportunity to stand on someone's shoulders.

So, what does being “born on third base” mean? Well by now you have figured out that it means you have opportunities available to you, which position you on third base, without you having to go through first, or second to get there. It means that you are 90 feet away from home, from the ultimate prize within the game. Many of us don’t think about how much better we are positioned for success when we never had to work in high school or college; consistently traveled in our youth which added to our worldly sophistication; had two working parents or perhaps one working parent and a financially secure home life supported by one stay at home parent; one or less siblings; parents that genuinely enjoyed one another’s company, which contributed to a stable environment; lived in a thriving, respectful environment where you could walk the streets at night or inadvertently leave your car or home unlocked at night; etc.

Many of the students then think this let’s them off the hook if they don’t originate from a middle to upper middle class background. And considering we live in a capitalistic society where wealth and/or material possessions are celebrated, if you didn’t have those highly valued social trappings you could convince yourself that you weren’t privileged enough to start the game situated on third base. Is it possible that there are some other ways beyond economic reasons that many of us may be starting the game in an advanced position? We may not be on third base, but starting at first or second is still an advantage, isn’t it? What are some of the ways that others may be advantaged in this game called life that they may never have truly considered?

Do you think there is merit in creating a society where people are challenged to consider their privilege?

What type of world would we live in if our children were taught some of the things that many of us as adults now realized we missed in our formative years?

“If” You Are So Inclined

One of my favorite poems is by the man who wrote the Jungle Book. His name is Rudyard Kipling and the poem is titled “If.” I was challenged to learn the poem when I pledged my fraternity (it was mandatory), Alpha Phi Alpha. However, I had learned the poem much earlier when my big sister was assigned to memorize it as an eighth grader (I was a fifth grader then). My mother would be testing her, and every time she stumbled on a passage, I would provide the answer to get her goat since she used to pummel me simply for exercise. It was the only way I could get retribution (or what Jim Dynko would prefer me to say “payback”).

This poem is currently on my son’s door where it hangs as a challenge to him. “If“ he memorizes a full verse, he will be rewarded with money going towards some large gift he has had his eye on. That being said, since I have a blog, I want to share with my blog crew the one poem that completely blew my mind and is probably the one complete thought that I call upon more than any other. From time to time I will drop a verse until the entire poem has been revealed and unpacked by those inclined to do so (though some of you will be impatient and google it, I'm sure). So, here is the first verse:

If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowances for their doubting too.
If you can wait, and not be tired by waiting,
or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
or being hated, don't give way to hating,
and yet don't look too good nor talk to wise;

What is the thought that jumps out at you immediately from this stanza? What are your different takes on this poem? What are your thoughts on it being the poem someone would attempt to challenge their child with?

May 11, 2007

Etiquette is not Eartha Kitts’ brother.

Recently I was with a colleague who parked to run into a building. At that moment, I was focused on inputting something into my schedule, and didn’t realize that my colleague had pulled into a handicapped parking spot. Now, while this may not have been a crisis for many people, it was for me. First off, not only have I seen the Seinfeld episode when Jerry and his crew pull into a handicap parking spot, I actually use it to teach and explore ableism, as well as promote activism. In the episode, Kramer encourages George to park in the handicap spot because they won’t be in the Mall long. George succumbs to Kramer’s urging while Jerry is silent, and Elaine protests mildly. I am curious, which member of the Seinfeld crew reflects the action you would take? Why?

Now, as a diversity director and consultant, people act as if I am the diversity police. If they speak out of turn, or laugh at something they feel they shouldn’t have, they look at me as if I am going to frown upon them, or worse, judge them. It isn’t necessarily right, but it’s real! So, when I look up from my inputting, see the car sitting somewhat in front of the handicap parking sign, I freak out. I immediately jump out of the car, walk around to the driver’s side, and proceed to move the car, without permission from my friend. I then realize that I am facing an awkward situation. If I move the car, it can be construed as a statement about my friend’s judgment that may not be taken well. If I don’t move the car, and I am seen in it, I could look like a hypocrite. What should I have done? What would you do?

I moved the car and interestingly enough, as I was moving it, another one of my colleagues, someone whom I respect greatly and would not want to see me as a hypocrite was passing by. This person doesn’t miss a thing and noticed where I was parked as I was getting in to move the vehicle. What should I have said, if anything? What would you have said, if anything?

May 7, 2007

The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

So, there I was years ago, watching my 5 year old son watch me kiss my 2 year old daughter on the lips. Wasn't there any truth in the lines from “As Time Goes By,” the classic song from Casablanca, “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss…” Well, I knew something was amiss, because my son had this look in his eyes as if to say “I know Daddy didn't just do something to my sister that he doesn't do to me.” Wow! What was I to do? What would you have done? I mean, my 2 year old daughter having seen me kiss my wife on the lips all of her young life had been puckering up for months with me to say hello or goodbye. My son must have never truly focused on what was going down, until now. So, with no further ado, this was the moment of truth. What was a brotha, or in this case father to do?

I teach a philosophy course called Moral Problems. In it I challenge my students to unpack moral dilemmas. Well, what could be more dilemmatic than my conundrum of whether or not to kiss my son on the lips? After all, his puckering up to emulate his sister’s receipt of a kiss from Daddy was long overdue. He may have subconsciously spied it before, but today, he was calling me to the carpet. And it wasn't like I could bookmark the moment and come back to it when I felt like it. No, no, no! It wasn't going to be that type of a party. So, I needed to “Stand and Deliver” for “Something New” or I would be “Unfaithful” to “The Mission” of not succumbing to “The War Within.” Sometimes when I am really stressed I speak in movie titles, so bear with me through those moments. Essentially my dilemma was:
If I don't kiss my son on the lips, then a positive consequence of not kissing him is that I can maintain my macho image. Like most men, I have worked diligently over the years to be seen as “cool” and “tough.” I couldn't run the risk of losing that image by responding to my son with too much affection, could I? Also, if I don't kiss my son on the lips, my daughter might continue to feel special. Lastly, if I don't kiss my son on the lips, I don't have to feel the sensation of ever kissing another male on the lips. After all, my dad never kissed me on the lips when I was young, did he? I'm still not sure about that! I wonder how many men's fathers kissed them on the lips when they were young!

Anyway, if I don't kiss my son on the lips, then a negative consequence of not kissing him is that I send a message to him and any other father and son tandem that might be caught in a similar situation that there is a double standard that fathers must adhere to if they don't want to be seen as different, or worse, less than the average guy. If I don't kiss my son, then he learns that Daddy is going to treat his daughter very different from the way he treats his son, and really for no certain reason except some ridiculous dysfunctional peer pressure that men respond to. Additionally I may be inadvertently telling him that he means less to me than the other two members of our household, his mother and sister, simply because I won't give him the affection he desires at that moment. Now remember, I am a diversity director, which only compounds this problem. I'm supposed to be somewhat enlightened. Another negative consequence is that my daughter might find a way to tease my son about the fact that Daddy kissed her, but not him. Though she was only two, she already had game!

If I kiss my son on the lips, a positive consequence could be that he feels as valued as his sister does, undercutting her game while developing his. I also could eliminate in my son any thoughts that there are limits to our affection that don't exist between his sister and I. Another positive consequence would be the statement I would make about my ability to not succumb to certain aspects of my socialization that truly are somewhat irrational. What is the big deal about a man kissing his son on the lips? Didn't I see the very chic Michael Douglas, the Michael Douglas who is married to Catherine Zeta-Jones, kiss the extremely Spartan Kirk Douglas, his father, on the lips once. If the man who portrayed the film Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko could do it, why can’t I.

If I kiss my son, on the lips mind you, a negative consequence might be that others might see it and that it might make them see me differently. Some might even say that it could even contribute to him being more comfortable kissing other males on the lips. Just because I am a diversity director doesn't mean I don't succumb to my socialization at times. The fear of people projecting to others who we are and what we are about is something that intimidates many of us. What would you do? What should a man do?

Well, I took a deep breath, puckered up, and went lip to lip with my Youngblood. It was a very strange sensation, this double consciousness, this feeling… Okay, let me say it another way… even though I was extremely proud of my self for having stepped up, I was just as relieved about the fact that somehow my son never puckered up to me again after that day. That tells you exactly how deep seated heterosexism is in our psyches. Or, that unlike my daughter and wife, my son either thinks the experience was overrated, or worse, that I am a lousy kisser. Still in all, what do you think should have been done? Why?

A History, er uh Herstory of College & Professional Sports

I was thinking recently about the celebration of the 2007 PSU Women’s Hockey Championship. It then occurred to me how there was something a bit amiss about the entire scenario. Am I the only one who noticed the coach of the team was a man? Yes, they have a woman assistant, but that none the less doesn’t change the fact that a man head coached all those talented women to the championship. As a matter of fact aren’t there also men coaching in the WNBA? Is this a problem, or just a way of life that we have all adjusted to, and accepted?

On the contrary, how many women are coaching all male major college sports teams, not to mention all male professional teams? I know that some men coach women in professional tennis, but do women coach male professional tennis players? What is up with this? Is it not a big deal? Is it just the way it is at present? Will it ever change? If not, why not? If so, when?