The climb

The climb
Climbing together

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

It's getting cold in here, so put on lots of extra layers.

This is going to be a bit different. I'm taking scads of qualitative methods courses these days, and I'm also struggling with depression, so here goes nothing. 

You are the sky. Everything else is just clouds passing.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had trouble writing recently. I’ve threatened a blog post for weeks, now. The type of aimless writing associated with responding to emails and posting on the internet isn’t what I’m talking about – the productive type of writing is what appears to be the stumbling block. In a recent bad review of my performance my mentor criticized me as being low productivity. I hear the echo of some voice that belongs to no one I know and slightly resembles a caricature of my mother’s voice (but not really her voice), shrieking, “You’re SO LAZY!”

I can intellectually tell you that I am not lazy. That I have a 3.9 GPA in my doctoral program, which they say no one cares about but I do care about it, so I mention it. I have two children, one of whom has autism. He fell asleep next to me on the couch tonight, with his feet snugged up into the crook behind my knees and his body draped over my side. I slid out from under him and picked up his 65 lbs. body that is nearly as tall as me and carried him into bed.

I have a home and a family to maintain, in addition to school and volunteering. I have been making an admittedly half-hearted effort in this regard, recently. Since the beginning of August, really. All the fight drained out of me. I nearly called it quits, my friends. I nearly threw away everything.

There had been a lot leading up to this, of course. Chronic pain and an increasing effect on my mobility and energy levels left me sluggish at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t motivated. There were no positive, supportive relationships in my immediate academic setting. I learned recently that certain political maneuverings had increase tension in the department. I felt alienated, disconnected, and alone. In a manner typical to me and my family in general, I soldiered on. I forced myself to continue. I tried to communicate the struggle to my mentor but oddly enough I just don’t think I found the right words. Or maybe I said the right ones but she didn’t hear me…something got lost in the mix.

But that’s the most recent thing. If you had a few days we could climb back into my past, rung by rung, so I could reveal all my experiences that have led me here. And the experiences of my parents. And their parents. And so on and so forth. Not naming the names, as that chapter in the Old Testament, but naming the experiences. The emotional reactions that shaped what came from experience. The true legacy, that runs deeper than name. The legacy evident in your very epigenome. As usual, I digress. Back to the present.

I was charged with attending the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s 2016 National Breastfeeding Coalitions Conference as part of my participating with my state coalition. At this point I felt myself slipping into despair. I was doing the hard work of making lifestyle changes to address some of my health concerns. I stopped eating meat and dairy, lost weight, starting at least moving more. I was able to whittle down the number of prescriptions I was taking. But lifestyle changes can require a lot of investment, including time investment. It’s not like antibiotics where you start to feel better after 48-72 hours. I was also feeling a weird disconnect. The energy that had lifted me at the Kellogg First Food Forum has evaporated. I won’t be attending next year, and I’m a little disenchanted with the pursuit of knowledge in general because my idealism is dripping off of me like makeup sliding off my face in the Florida humidity.

Away we went, up to the conference. I drove with my family most of the way, then left them behind in Virginia to visit with family friends and their young son (at least they had a good time), and rode the train into the DC with a nervous stomach. There was a dessert reception going on at the time, but I’d already missed it. I had planned on getting takeout with a great friend and spilling the proverbial “t”, but I missed that, too. The train was slow. I ended up getting to the hotel late and ordering room service. I didn’t sleep well, tossing and turning through the night and waking, or rather getting out of bed, early - before the alarm went off. I painted on layers of makeup. I tried to smile as anxiety bubbled up inside my stomach. I wanted to throw up.

The Crystal Gateway Marriott is massive. Also note that there is a Crystal City Marriott in relatively close proximity, so that makes everything fun and confusing. I trudged down labyrinthine hallways in heels, went down an elevator, walked through a busy lobby and then up a double escalator, and through globs of people that tend to come together at the beginnings of large gatherings because it somehow makes more sense than floating as isolated agents…event though we’re all just looking at our phones.

I registered and got my random bag of things that every conference gives attendees. Some are “going green” and thus, bagless. This only serves to emphasize how empty one feels paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend a conference, receiving perhaps CEUs, but not even the courtesy of a Hollywood style swag bag with some samples of things and at least one full sized product. Stress balls and gum or mints should be mandatory, especially if you have lots of coffee available (coffee breath). There were lots of papers and a BPA-free water bottle. There was the requisite sponsor bingo sheet, encouraging us to visit all the display tables and listen to the various sales pitches to assuage the visibility concerns of said sponsors. I never do the bingo sheet. I can’t go through the process of pretending that I want to hear about their booth, because if I did I would listen to them of my own volition rather than being forced to in order to be entered into a sweepstakes.

I drank coffee and listened to the opening remarks. At breastfeeding conferences, I recognize lots of people, even if I don’t know them personally, because of the internet and the now requisite social media presence that is expected of anyone who is anyone. I found a lovely woman from NYC’s Department of Health to chat with. She had a French accent, which I found pleasantly refreshing.

The conference theme centered on racial equity, diversity and inclusion. If you have read any of my previous blog entries or happen to know me personally, you will probably know that I was vocally supportive of the opening remarks of Kiran Katira. “All of us have a story that we can use for social transformation.” I clapped vigorously, my hands above my head. I agreed out loud and nodded my head in agreement with her points.

You see, up until this point I had experienced this wonderfully connected feeling that there was a rising tide (not one that lifts all ships, LOL), but a kind of blossoming of social justice and racial equity, that mirrored my own blooming fascinating - an awareness of the significance of these issues in our current sociocultural contexts. I have seen the blood of my brothers and sisters and I feel the weight. Yet I began to feel unsettled. Looking around the room, around the table. Not everyone seemed to be as excited. In fact, I saw frowns of concern, pursed lips signifying words being held back. A ripple of – discontent? Discomfort, maybe. I’m not sure why. I feel alien. My feelers are out and I’m not getting that reciprocal excitement at the prospect of learning sometimes horrible truths that I tend to feel because I was made and created and built to be a scholar.

During the first networking break I was introduced to an MD, IBCLC but our conversation quickly soured as I expressed some discomfort with the reliability of the breastfeeding duration statistics because of the recent reports from qualitative studies that some parents report exclusive breastfeeding to their healthcare provider even when they are, in reality, combo feeding. For some reason the conversation became defensive. I didn’t understand why this happened and the unsettled feeling within me began to grow. I left the interaction feeling like we didn’t talk to each other, that no information was exchanged. I also had an accompanying tightness in my chest. Something was amiss. I have spidey sense in that regard.

Something is rotten in Denmark
I ran into some of my tribe from the Center for Social Inclusion’s First Food Racial Equity Cohort. One of them asked why I had been absent the previous day from the preconference workshop. I launched into a brief vent about my oldest child’s five-hour meltdown the day we were supposed to leave. As an autism parent, I just give in to those moments. It is what it is. The world won’t stop turning if I miss that meeting or whatever. I do what I must and always show up to salvage what I can, if there is anything salvageable. She told me that I had dodged the proverbial bullet. There had been some discomfort expressed in the preconference workshops. A lot of discomfort? I don’t know. The degree to which people feel comfortable communicating openly informs the degree to which anyone ever really knows what is actually happening. I never got the entire story, just bits and pieces as I moved through the day feeling disconnected and out of place.

Another highlight of the conference, after the lovely presentation by Dr. Katira, was a talk given by the phenomenal Dr. John Wesley Days, Jr. This was the first I had heard of his work but his explanation of his journey was a lightbulb moment for me. I realized that in holding onto what I had previously believed to be the only avenue to acquiring knowledge and information was causing me suffering because I assumed it had to progress in a linear fashion. Another blog post about the results of that a-ha moment will have to be reserved for whenever the dust has settled enough to disclose all of that hot mess. Let’s just say KRS One will feature.

Things sort of became a blur after that. I found myself at odds with colleagues that I was surprised to be at odds with. I had this bizarre disconnect happen during Dr. Days talk, where I was uplifted and transfixed, and turned to share the wonder and amazement to find the woman next to me rolling her eyes, tapping her fingernails on the tablecloth and generally having the appearance of an angst-ridden teenager that wanted desperately to be somewhere else. If she had seen her own body language she might have been more aware of possibility that the resistance she felt was from something deeper than boredom. She kept shaking her head, and again I observed the absence of communication – as I glanced at her I could see that she assumed I was reacting in a way similar to herself, and when I mentioned the applicability of a concept he introduced she chuckled as if I were making a joke. It stung. How do you bring that up to colleagues? You don’t of course. Custom dictates that you swallow you feeling and paint on a smile.

I think I started to disconnect after a while. There were no safe spaces available for me to retreat to, aside from furtive conversations with equally drained members of my tribe who also had nothing left to give. I sat through a presentation that had the word “diversity” in its titled but mentioned nothing of the sort. I had enough and walked up to the microphone during the Q&A, and said something along the lines of “Is there anything the organization actively does to recruit participation from groups other than those similar to yourselves? Have you personally invited the gatekeepers or do you just have an ‘open door’ policy?”

The speaker stammered and then admitted that they had not. Another member got up in her defense and mentioned that they had “a gay person” on the coalition, which sounds tragically like “I have a black friend!”

I covered my face with my hands. As a racially mixed person, I often feel out of the loop in these tensions. I feel like there is a secret, full-blood club that I can never really be part of. All my old high school insecurities about not being accepted, you see, never really resolved.

It seems that most had missed the memo about asking people of color to talk about racism, and I was disappointed in the lack of overt ally-ship by some. There were a few rock stars I must give mad props to – Elizabeth Brooks pretty much saved my faith in humanity during my own presentation where technical difficulties sparked with existing interpersonal tension to completely undermine my ability to give a coherent presentation. I actually had to walk out of the room during the second panelist’s presentation to emotionally collect myself with the help of some beautiful souls (Andrea Serrano, Nikki Killings, Mona Liza Hamlin, the one and only Queen Kimaree Bugg and anyone else that I didn’t see or mention because I was a hot mess in the bathroom). Liz asked me to elaborate on points I had touched on and I was able to calmly and clearly present the critical race theory analysis I had traveled so far a distance, figuratively and literally, to present.

After the presentation I left and went back up to my room. I got locked out somehow and sat on the floor at the end of my hallway with tears leaking out of my face. People walked by me without a glance. The engineer who showed up was a kind woman with a Mexican accent who called me honey and told me to go ask the front desk for my voucher for a free meal. I pulled myself together and went down for a halfhearted attempt at the awards ceremony but I didn’t even know what was happening at that point and I felt almost psychedelic. I felt like I was tripping on acid…not hallucinating, because that has never happened to me on any of my forays into the world of mind expansion (which may or may not have happened during my college years, such a cliché). Just like my perception of reality was altered. People seemed foreign and alien to me. I walked rapidly up an escalator to escape the incessant chattering of two male tourists in their 20s. They were of the type that pitches their voice up slightly at the end of each statement, making everything sound like a question.

My family had arrived by then, to help me with the transfer of belongings to the second hotel in DC that I was staying at, because that is what you have to do when you attend conferences and are getting reimbursements from sponsoring organizations that have very specific requirements for participation. I was able to relax in bed in my hotel room, temporarily. I got my free meal to go and brought it up to the hotel room and split crab cakes and a green salad. Why do I never think to put corn kernels into a salad? It’s actually quite good.

That night I drank a lot of wine at dinner with my tribe. I came back to the dim hotel room where my children were already sleeping. My youngest sat up and asked for me. I fell asleep holding him in my arms, but again my sleep was restless. I was comforted by his little warm body sleeping soundly next to me. His older brother shared the other bed with his Dad. Everyone snored or breathed deeply. The sound of their sleep also comforted me.

The next day, I was to attend a training to learn about how to talk about race in organizational and institutional settings. This agenda had been abruptly cancelled and we took the day to collectively process. Initially I felt pretty good about things. This is my tribe, right? Then after I communicated a piece of my existential despair related to academia, that I had lost faith in a lot of what it meant to be a faculty member in a University. That the reality of what I saw, and what I had learned about the racist origins of our higher education system (See Wilder, Ebony andIvy) had left me in a position where I didn’t know if I wanted to or could tolerate being within that system as a professional…another participant raised her hand and asked to comment off what I had just said.

I sat and listened to her defend the university tenure track system and her belief in its value. I understand that she meant me no harm, that she was speaking her truth. But the unfortunate side effect was that I slid into a place deeper than existentialism, questioning my path and wondering if I could make meaning, and I fell into nihilism. The sincere conviction that everything is chaos, nothing matters, and there is no such thing as truth, beauty, or goodness. Just random events that have no inherent moral value.

This was right before lunch. I tried to contain myself, but found myself weeping. I skipped lunch. Tears leaked from my face. I could no longer even participate in the activities. I sat and observed and simply could not stop my tears. They welled up over and over. For six hours I sat in that conference room on the sidelines, quietly sniffling, rubbing my eyes and cheeks raw to hide the wetness of the tears that couldn’t stop.

I left without saying goodbye to most. I was walked home by a lovely woman from the Bi-national Breastfeeding Coalition on the Texas border. Her stories distracted me. I was grateful. I hugged her.

I’m still in that place, though. I’m trying to refocus on what I have to be grateful for, even though part of me thinks that it’s just random anyway. That is the end of this very odd blog post. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Fifth Race: Tolerance for ambiguity

From this link that talks about the Society for the Study of this awesome human:

La Conciencia de la mestiza (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa) struck me in a very visceral way. “In a constant state of mental nepantilism, an Aztec word meaning torn between ways, la mestiza is a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another. Being tricultural, monolingual…and in a state of perpetual transition, the mestiza faces the dilemma of the mixed breed” (p. 100). Which collectivity does the child of two cultures speak to?

My father came from the Appalachian Mountains, in a rural town that is literally clinging to the side of a mountain, surrounded then by tobacco farms and now by the desolation of deep mineral mining spotting the landscape. There is a deep-rooted culture there, born from the Scotch-Irish-Welsh immigrants that settled there after the first wave of Western expansion into the New World. The land is not welcoming enough to strangers to encourage an influx of new blood, except perhaps in the flatter, more urban areas. The music, the lilt in the voices, the food, the ritual, are soaked in every aspect of living. The breakdown of the social structure is evident in the upkeep of the homes. Those that are tidy, even in poverty, have not yet succumbed. 

My mother is from the other side of the world, was raised in a country that had known colonialism, revolt, and civil war without respite. Being the active, take-charge person that she is, my memories of childhood are saturated with her presence, and the strange knowledge that this person who was as intimately familiar to me as myself, who I had known before I had even known that I was a person, was considered foreign and alien to the cultural context that I lived in. I never hear her accent. I mean I do, but I don't. This is the first voice I heard, and knew. It can't sound accented.

A tolerance for ambiguity might be the title of my autobiography. I have a curious capacity to maintain psychological fortitude in the face of overwhelming complexity and ambiguity. I live in a world of flat gray, where black and white and moral high ground cannot exist. I can’t even have a proper argument without being consumed with shame at my temporary blindness to this reality.

The 5th Race?

Jose Vasconcelos (1882-1959) was one of the most influential Mexican intellectuals of the 20th Century. He theorized, in a manner that was quite contrary to the white supremacy of his time, that the Latin American mestizo constituted a new, "cosmic race," marrying the virtues of Indians (in the idealized manner of the "noble savage") and Europeans. Vasconcelos believed that this fifth race would be the race of the future.

Vasconcelos was, by no means, some utopian genius who was born before his time. His description of this ideal 5th race is rife with stereotypes and simplistic, two-dimensional misconceptions: "His soul resembles the old Mayan cenote [natural well] of green waters, laying deep and still, in the middle of the forest, for so many centuries since, that not even its legend remains any more. This infinite quietude is stirred with the drop put in our blood by the Black, eager for sensual joy, intoxicated with dances and unbridled lust. There also appears the Mongol, with the mystery of his slanted eyes that see everything according to a strange angle, and discover I know not what folds and newer dimensions."

However, the idea of this 5th race has gummed up the works in my thinking cap. As a person of mixed race, living in a country that is still tearing apart at the seams because of the consequences of racialized a person involved in researching and understanding health behavior...I find it curious that we continue to parse out race as we do.

The Curious Case of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

Pictured here with one of his fav skulls
Blumenbach, a German anatomist and naturalist, was the student of Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carolus Linneaus. He is responsible for creating the single most influential of all the hierarchical race classifications - and it was not only NOT based in science in any way, shape, or form, his process was riddled with errors! So, there's that whole bizarre aspect of the reality we currently exist in. He basically had a lot of skulls. Let's not really explore why or how. That's probably for another blog.

In the third edition of his seminal work On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1795), Blumenbach was the first to propose five generic and hierarchically arranged racial groups specifically named “races” based on the study of human skulls: (1) the Caucasian, Caucasoid, or “white” race (Europeans); (2) the Mongolian, Mongoloid, or “yellow” race (Asians); (3) the Malayan or “brown” race (Polynesians); (4) the Ethiopian, Negroid or “black” race (Africans); (5) the American or “red” race (Native Americans).

Ironically, Blumenbach opposed slavery and professed to believe in equality, but he chose the place the Caucasoid at the top of the hierarchy because a skull that he found in the Caucus mountains was particularly beautiful and pleasing to him.

The influence of Blumenbach's Taxonomy on the US Census is partly related to the adaptability of the taxonomy to a sociocultural contract that centers whiteness, it was also just a matter of timely coincidence.

In her book Raising Mixed Race, Sharon Chang explains this event in more detail. It's breathtaking to consider the sweeping implications of the legislative posturing that characterized congress at that time, when slavery was still a central component of the American economy and tensions were escalating between the North and South. "Right between publication of the first (1776) and third (1795) editions of Blumenbach’s On the Natural Variety of Mankind. 18 The requirement for population enumeration, based on racial categories being solidified by white scientists at the time, was aggressively pushed by southern slaveholders seeking to insure that the South’s growing white and Black populations would be carefully counted for the purpose of increased white representation. Northern delegates actually opposed the provision, but it was passed, and the federal census has become the national template for racial categorization."

The "new" mestiza consciousness 

In 1993, this was the cover of TIME Magazine. Of this oft-cited image, Chang criticizes: "I seldom see recognition of the fact that the magazine used mixed race to operate out of age-old white racial framing and push an age-old white worldview on the future. First, Time sidelined contemporary multiracials by coopting their experience with a voiceless, lifeless avatar. Then the magazine fabricated a mixed race Galatea who was really “two thirds” white when the world’s actual population majority is Asian and African."

The idea that a post-racial utopia can be founded merely on the intermingling of the races is simplistic at best. Although race mixed challenges the mutable frames of whiteness that come from the racialized society, and while in many ways racial mixing reproblematizes concepts that had been assumed to be dead, it has not at all meant the end of race. Post-raciality is colorblind idealism; relying on some future racial utopia founded merely in racial mixing and bottom-up approaches that come from the community rather than from policy and legislation is incredibly loaded, dangerously unseeing, and potentially reinforces those racialized ideologies we see to escape.

The 2014 US Census projected that non-Hispanic white people would comprise less than 50% of the population by the year 2040. It's important to remember that the white racialized ideological frames that became part of the legislative foundation of the United States did not evolve in a vacuum. Just as trade has forced globalization, so too must our contact with other cultures and ways of knowing force an evolution in the concepts that we have tried to cling to so strongly that the forces of this delusion are literally ripping the fabric of the nation apart.

In 2013 roughly 12% of new marriages in the US were between spouses who reported different races. Photographer Martin Schoeller captured the changing face of America in a photography series featured in National Geographic Magazine.


The thing about identity is that it is not solid or immutable. It changes according to context, place, time, circumstances, and your own personal growth. Dr. Nina Boyd Krebs used the term "edgewalkers" to describe those who can move between cultures and traditions with a certain degree of comfort. Krebs envisions Edgewalkers as happy ambassadors who welcome questions regardless of the intent of the questioner, and who have the capacity to respond with equanimity and calmness. They enjoy confounding people, relying on humor and patience to use racial encounters, whether positive or negative, to spark authentic dialogue about dominant historical narratives and counterstories. 

As with most things, though, the work must begin at an individual level. Anzaldúa does an excellent job of characterizing this invisible labor: “The work of mestiza consciousness is to break down the subject-object duality that keeps her a prisoner and to show in the flesh and through the images in her work how duality is transcended. The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, between males and females, lies in the healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts. A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war.” (Borderlands, Anzaldúa, p. 102)

Soy un amasamiento – I am an act of kneading, of uniting, and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings. (p.103)

She becomes a nahual, able to transform herself into a tree, a coyote, into another person. She learns to transform the small “I” into the total Self. Se hace moldeadora de su alma. Según la concepción que tiene de sí misma, así será. (p.105)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Yellow Peril and Black Lives Matter

Again, this topic bloomed from my Critical Race Theory class yesterday. I had seen a photo online - a sign with the phrase "Yellow Peril Supports Black Power". I mentioned it in class and gave a brief description that didn't really delve into the history of the phrase, so I thought I'll blog about it because it is a pretty fascinating topic, and it also brings up the issue of cross-sectoral collaboration in the advocacy world.

Image from Love InshAllah

Whiteness as Property

Dan Truong explored the topic in a Huffington Post piece. I think it's important to reinforce the concept that whiteness isn't the same thing as being white. The concept of "whiteness as property" is one of the central tenants of Critical Race Theory. In 1993, Cheryl Harris, wrote an article that laid out the conceptual framework of whiteness as property. In the era that followed the slavery and conquest that characterized the infancy of the United States, whiteness became the prerequisite for access to racialized privilege. We refer to this as white privilege now, but the concept is the same - the term describes the often unconscious process of allocating both public and private social benefits based on the perceived degree of whiteness. 

It was the very racialization of identity that allowed the United States to be established - without this embryonic concept, the ideological justification for slavery and the conquest of the First Nations may have been impossible. As Harris writes, "The hyper-exploitation of black labor was accomplished by treating black bodies as property" and indeed, it was the very act of objectifying black people that conflated race and property. Similarly, it was the objectification of Native Americans that allowed the government to confer the rights of property to whites who settled in Native territory.

Yellow Peril

Check out this WOC in Solidarity Tumblr, Yo!
The idea of the Yellow Peril/Terror/Spectre/<insert terrifying association here> originated in the late 19th Century. As the fantastical story goes, Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany's leader at the time) had a nightmare involving the Buddha riding a dragon and threatening to invade Europe.

It was the threat to imperialism that initially drove the Yellow Peril phenomenon in Europe. In the US, however, the narrative was driven by social consequences from the surfeit of Asian immigrants providing cheap labor for the Westward expansion. The essentialism involved in reducing a human being into a color is part of a larger trend of othering and perceiving nonwhite features as alien. In the book Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fears (John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats, eds), the editors trace this particular brand of racism back to the European colonialism during the Enlightenment.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Tchen's outline of the origin of the harmful Asian caricature image that is still considered acceptable in many circles as a source of entertainment and amusement today:

“From my research, the transplantation of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism into a potent Anglo-American Protestantism is key. This was the underlying, interlocking political culture which formulated a particular notion of the property-owning, white, male, superior, rational male benevolently (and by right) presiding over an expanding north America—with Canada in their sights, south into Mexico and the inferior Spanish colonies, and westward into the Pacific with the luxuries of ‘the Orient’ always beckoning.” When part of that “manifest destiny” ideal was threatened, “the fallback position was to promote what historian Alexander Saxton called a ‘white republic’ with a racially exclusive form of wage labor and industrialization excluding those deemed too ‘lazy’ or too ‘hard working.’”

The 1917 Immigration Act was passed by a majority of Congress, sufficient to override President Woodrow Wilson's veto. The 1917 Act seems to have been written by previous incarnations of the current sentiment that has seized control of the GOP - the presidential candidate who shall not be named, and added to the long list of "undesireables" who were barred from citizenship in the United States. The list ranged from homosexuals, idiots, imbeciles, epileptics and also created an "Asiatic Barred Zone" prohibiting anyone from "any country not owned by the U.S., adjacent to Asia"

None of this was repealed until 1943, when Chinese were allowed admittance. Other countries within the Asian continent were added until the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act (aka the McCarran-Walter Act), which shifted the focus on control of immigrant inflow from country of origin to more nebulous, ideological reasons such as those who were deemed immoral, unlawful, or politically radical. "Good Asians" were now allowed admittance to the US; "bad Asians" - the Japanese that we had recently fought against in World War II - were still barred. Interestingly, this was also overwhelmingly passed by Congress, in a majority sufficient to override President Truman's veto.

I love Rowen Atkinson. 

I know that two similar incidents don't make a pattern. I'm already quite biased against Congress because of the utter ineffectual nature of our current "do nothing" Congress, as they call it these days. I suppose this is actually progress, when you think about it. Progress in the most incrementalist sense of the word. Yay incrementalism.

Those mischievous scamps in Congress! They are always good for a laugh. President, schmesident. Once you get a good mob mentality simmering, you don't even need executive participation. Free pitchforks for all comers.

Yellow Peril Supports Black Power

From Dan Truong's Huffington Post piece
The image above shows a famous image of Richard Aoki, a famous Japanese member of the Black Panther Party who is purported to have helped arm the group and more recently was publicly outed as an FBI informant by journalist Seth Rosenfeld, although the veracity of this claim was obtusely denied by Aoki himself in one of the last interviews he gave before he committed suicide at the age of 71. The evidence for Aoki's involvement with the FBI is superficial at best. I'm no conspiracy theorist by any means, but exaggerating the truth to sell books/get clicks is not a new phenomenon. 

Aoki's image, as he stands in an Oakland protest to free one of the Black Panther Party founders, Huey Newton,  is juxtaposed with a 2014 photo of Ara Kim, a Korean-American member of the Black Lives Matter LA and SoCal Outrageous Organized Bomb-Ass Koreans (SOOBAK) at a Mike Brown/Ferguson Protest in LA.

Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter

Colette Gaiter does a fantastic job of drawing comparisons and contrasts between the Black Panther and Black Lives Matter movements, so I highly encourage that you check her out.

Shortly after the back to back deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, a series of Tweets by Christina Xu spurred a strange and wonderful thing involving Google Docs.

I don't know that we will ever see another time where the words "strange and wonderful thing" are paired with "Google Docs" but considering the sheer madness that 2016 has delivered thus far, never say never, my friends.

Hundreds of Asian Americans crowd sourced a letter to their parents, explaining why it is important for Asians to support the Black Lives Matter movement. This snowballed into an awesome website called Letters for Black Lives, where Canadian, Latinx, first gen children of African immigrants, and yes, Asians of all types can get translated and tailored letters that can serve as a springboard into a deeper discussion with our elders.

This is very significant, because traditionally there has been a noticeable rift between Asian cultural values and the process of assimilation. Insert comedic relief here - shout out to Just Kidding Films on YouTube.

So there you have it, folks. The origins of the term "Yellow Peril" and the evolution from racial epithet to solidarity focused protest slogan.

Next week I'll be prepping for the United States Breastfeeding Committee National Biannual Coalitions Conference, and I plan to do a little bit of live streaming on the Milk and Equity FB page if I get the gumption. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Compartmentalize at your own risk

Troubling times, reflected in the tumult we see outside ourselves, and when you feel the same tumult within, you know you are allowing these observations and experiences to touch your heart. And that, my friends, is not a bad thing.

Today I ended up writing about something completely different from what I originally intended. An exploration of trauma bloomed from my head.

Compartmentalizing tragedy and trauma

African Americans experience more stress than their white counterparts. I know this raises hackles, but hear me out. The truth is, it's the same for most subjugated populations that are suppressed by a dominant cultural narrative. Coping while black is a thing. Monica Williams of the University of Louisville refers to this as race-based trauma, or race-based traumatic stress. This phenomenon focuses specifically on the increased stresses that people of color experience due to being unfairly targeted by law enforcement, the constant barrage of violent images associated with black bodies in media and entertainment, etc etc. Feel free to add more examples in the comments.

Hall (2010) used a grounded theory approach to explore the coping mechanisms of black women. In her section about coping, one statement stood out to me:

"...this participant’s coping mechanism provides insight into how most African American women manage stress: ‘‘I try to compartmentalize everything; that way, I manage the priorities. So I put things that are not so pressing on the back burner and sometimes just leave them there."

Indeed, in the days since the shootings of Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling, I have heard many black friends communicate the need or instinct to do just that. Compartmentalize. Move through your day. Because I am still a toddler mother, I can't help but think of the words of Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen, because I have memorized the songs against my will: "Conceal, don't feel. Don't let it show."

I experienced this viscerally, as this was something that my father - a career military man with several active tours of duty during the post World War II occupation of Japan, the Korean Conflict, and in Vietnam - often tried to impress upon me. He felt it was a critical skill to develop in order to survive the " slings and arrows of outrageous fortune " (Hamlet Act III, scene 1, lines 1749-1783). He was convinced that this allowed him to maintain a degree of functionality in the world that he would not otherwise have.

The Risk of Compartmentalizing

There is inherent risk in taking this pathway, and considering our current climate, where social media allows us to repeatedly view traumatic events and talk about them ad nauseum and ad infinitum, perhaps we could all benefit from being aware of this - and for our Black friends and family, even moreso.

Compartmentalization is sometimes considered a subclinical manifestation of dissociation. Dissociation is commonly associated with trauma survivors. Traumatic dissociation has been found to be highly associated with the development of PTSD and depression in rape survivors. Among veterans with PTSD, those with the dissociative subtype reported more severe PTSD symptoms, comorbid depressive and anxiety symptoms, alcohol use problems, and hostility than those without the subtype. Adjusting for PTSD symptom severity, those with the subtype continued to report more depression and alcohol use problems.

Dr. Cécile Rozuel discussed the moral threat of compartmentalization in detail in her 2009 paper:

"Even if we can safely store in the back of our mind a particularly negative feeling so that it will not affect our behaviour and perception of self, the feeling remains present and real. We have not dealt with it, we‟ve simply put it aside. We may no longer be affected by this feeling consciously, but our unconscious bears its marks. And it usually happens that one event or one sentence during a casual conversation, sometimes with little or no connection to the situation or the feeling we worked hard to dissociate from, will immediately trigger an uneasiness reminding us that the original feeling remains, notwithstanding the amount of conscious efforts to suppress it. We do not forget because we cannot forget. The most compartmentalized person nevertheless stores all of his or her cognitive and affective experiences in their psyche, whether at the conscious or unconscious level.

Jung examined this phenomenon through the concept of complexes. A complex develops when we have failed to integrate the dual energy of a particular experience or thought. This energy is then captured by an archetype (possibly the shadow which is our primitive, darker side) and remains unprocessed."

Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of the school of analytical psychology. During his career he briefly worked closely with Sigmund Freud (1907-1912), but he split with Freud over the significance of sexuality in human life. The term analytical psychology came from his later examinations into the symbolic meanings of the content of the unconscious.

This is getting woo, but stay with me!

Jung cautioned against compartmentalization, because it is an act of making some conscious emotional process unconscious, which can act as a force that splinters the self.

"Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual‟s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected, and is liable to burst suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions." (p. 76)

Channel, channel, channel

Rozuel argued that "In particular, compartmentalization challenges the possibility to ascribe personal responsibility to an individual and only provides a temporary and superficial relief from pain and distress. More importantly, it limits our ability to connect to our values, to be moral agents, and to act with moral courage and moral integrity."

This last bit struck me mightily.

My personal value, based on past experiences that significantly shaped my worldview in an extremely negative light and led to a lifelong relationship trauma processing, has for the last decade been about unification. Not outwardly, inwardly.

I've purposely been mucking around in all the deepest, darkest, forgotten, forlorn parts of my mind to try to shine a light on the dark parts. Just get to know them. Let them know I see them. Things I once feared, hated, or disliked about myself won't disappear if I try to battle them into submission. I don't want to conquer my demons with force. I mean, I've tried that and it doesn't really seem to end well for any of the parties involved. As above, so below, I suppose - you see that play out again and again in the world, throughout history, and within yourself.

Leshia Evans in Baton Rouge
It is possible that the very act of compartmentalizing trauma and authentic emotion can be an active barrier to participating in social justice efforts. To act with moral courage and moral integrity is the very foundation of what it means to be a social justice warrior. To connect with our values and be moral agents means that we are charged with the responsibility of seeking out those dark parts within ourselves and at least making peace with the purpose that you created them with, either intentionally are not. Coming to peace with these parts of yourself is a way toward nonviolence that tends to be less shaken by external events or complications, because the work is within, and you can pick it up and put it down at any time. My hope is that by doing this shadow work, within, I can externalize these efforts and so become a lantern to help light the way for others to see that this is a way. Not the way, by any means. But ... a way.

Sun Tzu's seminal and essential classic The Art of War has been a great comfort to me. Seriously. For all my social justice warriors out there, for all my friends struggling with anxiety and depression, for all my Black brothers and sisters who are struggling to come to terms with some troubling and earth shaking truths that have existed for some time and are only coming to light now because of the efforts of strong willed individuals, please take a moment to think on these tidbits. The whole book is good, but I know y'all busy.
  • The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers. 
  • If you know your enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle.
  • The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities... It is best to win without fighting.
  • Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.
  • Swift as the wind. Quiet as the forest. Conquer like the fire. Steady as the mountain.
Unity with and Respect to all my fellows who are risking so much to help those who are in need, Black Lives Matter, my LGBTQ and Latinx friends and peoples, our Disability Rights Advocacy warriors, and my social justice fam.

UPDATE July 16, 2016

Check out my facebook ramble that contextualizes the blog post a little bit more. And follow milk & equity on facebook for more of that kind of stuff, if you're into it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Woman Who Rode Away

Photo of Frida Kahlo by Isamu Noguchi
Pic for cuteness (just kidding, Photo of Frida Kahlo by Isamu Noguchi)

This was the title of an entirely different blog, but since I recently read that short story by DH Lawrence and I'm talking about my own existential angst in this post, I decided to keep it. If you like florid, visually decadent writing infused with spirituality and liberally seasoned with exoticism, I recommend it. Nice poolside reading while your kids play.

Recently a friend posted publicly about how she failed quals and dropped out of her PhD program. She felt like it was definitive proof that she wasn't intelligent enough. This was my response:

Graduate school is in no way a measure of intelligence or how smart you are. It's completely politicized. You have to know certain people, and get x number of publications and present at x number of conferences and "be visible in the department" - this is about 8000 times harder if you have a family and children. Then square that if you have a child with special needs.

I've been repeatedly warned about my lack of visibility in the department (so I showed up to a meeting with all the other grad students WITH [eldest child who has autism] in tow and monopolized the conversation while managing him by using the iPad mini, Doritos, Gatorade and popcorn chicken.) It's taking a toll on my body and my sanity and I wouldn't wish this on anyone. I just happen to have given in to my type of insanity years ago so I will probably crawl across the stage to get my diploma and then promptly drop dead.

so no. I don't think it's about how smart you are. it's about how well you play a game whose rules are made up as you go by people in positions of power of you who may or may not behave in ethical manners. It is ENTIRELY a craps shoot, like so many things in life.

I know a lot of people with PhDs who are complete and utter muppets! The colloquial modifier "a lot" is not used with any intention of literary hyperbole, here, either. I've sat through presentations that were utter shite, I've bitterly gnashed my teeth about the fact that getting an NIH grant has nothing to do with the fantastic innovation or idea but is entirely dependent on your ability to sell your idea and who of the two people selected from the study section happen to skim the proposal that you pour your soul into.

I'm having an existential crisis moment over here, don't mind me. I'm a year from quals and feel like I'm dying

So, two years from now I could be dunzo with this whole PhD program's stress and strife. I don't want to quit because I can honestly see how tremendously I have grown as a professional, academic, student, human being. I can see myself applying things I am doing now in the real world.

But I'm also struggling through a "dark night of the soul" a la St. John the Cross.

John of St. Mattias (later, of the Cross) lived in 16th Century Spain. He had a reputation for being mystical and actively taught contemplative prayer techniques similar to modern day "mindfulness methods". The people in power of the church at the time were not happy with his idea that regular folk could commune with God without the assistance of some intermediary (read: priest). He refused to stop, so they persecuted him, flogged him, and eventually imprisoned him in a 6 x 10 foot room where he was fed nothing but bread and water. Also, he was occasionally removed from his isolation to be publicly flogged again, weekly, over the course of  9 months. He somehow managed to escape his torment by squeezing through the small window of a cell.

I supposed this was the time honored tradition of forcing a person to relent by tormenting them. Yay Catholic church, good on ya for that one.

John continued to write poetry to God, and these poems/prayers were later titled "Dark Night of the Soul" - but it's somewhat of a misnomer. I've heard comparisons drawn between Mother Teresa and John of the Cross, but Mother Teresa had some serious doubts about God's existence. According to some sources, John never wavered in faith. He was tortured because he loved Jesus, but the Lord didn't rescue him. He prayed for delivery, but his prayers went unanswered. He got out of his predicament through his own actions, and went on to do more work with the charismatic Teresa of Jesus, but eventually fell ill and died of Erysipelas, a particularly painful and gruesome way to die.

"What matters most to an active man is to do the right thing; whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him." (Goethe)

The entertainment industry has poisoned me. I have this persistent belief that no matter what, if I just try hard enough, I will find that happy ending. But this is "special snowflake" type thinking, right? The self-esteem bolstering of the 1990s Western parenting style led to narcissism and an inability to empathize with others.

People work their entire life for things that crumble into nothing and fade away. They spend their life building a career that they thought was meaningful and saw it drift away into dust. They put everything into a fight and lost. They endured tremendous pain, suffering, agony, and died horrible, painful deaths for no good reason, even if they were the brightest, most beautiful pure light in the world for their short time.

So I have scanned the government job listings for agency positions that my current level of education could qualify me for. I could waste away into blahness shuffling pieces of paper from one entity to another and attending employee enrichment seminars.

Indeed, in DH Lawrence's short story, the woman rode away (the title is not witty). She left her children and husband behind in relative comfort and lost herself in the wilderness with no more than a naive wish to "know the Gods of the natives". She was, in turn, very viscerally allow to know their God as she is sacrificed and passes into oblivion in a way that struck me as similar to Albert Camus' The Stranger. There is an existential ecstasy that is only approached with literary description.

Lawrence's unnamed heroine is also weirdly blank and laconic, only moved to rage in the face of perceived insult to herself, but otherwise blank, passive, struck mute by the intensity and richness of experience that had previously eluded her in her 33 years of life? Or maybe mute out of sheer dullness?

This is where I am right now. I have flashes of emotions, clouds that skitter across a blank sky. Why am I doing this work? It's important. I love it. I have a mind that is uniquely suited to observing systems in large scale.

I can't expect success. I can't expect anything. I can just do the work, and do it in a manner than sets my heart at ease, listening to that tightness in my chest and using it as a compass.

I don't do this work because I have any faith that things will shift in the direction that I wish things would move toward. I do this work because I do the work. Full stop.

I am working on the second part of that Goethe quote, still not there. It matters lots to me that the right thing comes to pass. It matters tons.

This was an unsuccessful essay. I am still unconvinced by my own stated position, that it simply shouldn't matter what happens as long as I fight the good fight, as long as I can be featured in some 3 minute AJ+ uplifting viral video that shudders through the digiverse in a manner of nanoseconds.

But I'll post this blog anyway as part of my commitment to share failures and successes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Pain is a sign that something is wrong"

Feeling compelled to spill my guts, literally, today. I'm doing an experiment at the moment where I am delaying my morning dose of medications as long as physically possible to explore the chronic pain I am experiencing more thoroughly. Like most people, I am hard wired to shun pain. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, I say this in my mother to mother breastfeeding support often. Like a mantra. Get help if it hurts. You don't have to do this alone. You've got a team.

Those words feel hollow to me. I am low. "My heart is low, my heart is so low, as only a woman's heart can know." My experience with navigating the systems involved in asking for help is that you kind of do really have the capacity to advocate for yourself, and this isn't a comforting thing to hear when you are in pain and struggling to find a resolution. You really do have to do a lot of things on your own to get access to appropriate help, in many circumstances.

This is so not cool, I can't even. But this is the reality of the medical system that we currently exist in - and it is something that we really need to get together on to advocate for change.

I was listening to an NPR call-in show the other day that was featuring a panel that discussed the high rate of medical error and related mortality in the United States. It's the third leading cause of death, just behind heart disease and cancer, but is not currently listed or tracked by the CDC using an instrument that is sensitive enough to capture the true impact of human error. So there is this invisible thing that is killing a lot of us while we also simultaneously operate within a system that deifies the judgment of doctors who are, themselves, working within a flawed system.

Everyone says the medical system is flawed. Well, lots of people do - except one of the callers to the NPR show who was a healthcare provider himself, whose only compliment to the system was, "Look, the US healthcare system is....[pregnant pause], pretty good!" Yes, friends. An ad slogan to get behind:

How do we compare to Canada, or Germany? Well someone bothered to answer that question in a very detailed article. I'm not going to re-invent the wheel. As expected, the US scores lower in comparative epidemiological statistics (life expectancy, infant mortality, the cost of healthcare per capita). Hey, at least we aren't stepping over people dying in the street, right? Amiright? !! LOL, nope....awkward.

I've had a few bouts in the ring with the US healthcare system. Once, early in my life, left me with a disdain of the system that resulted in a 10 year hiatus from any kind of preventive care or checkups aside from the prenatal care for my unborn children. Once I had a steady job that provided, well, insurance, I went to a checkup. I was greeted with a system that was stymied in the problems that had initially driven me away. But this time was going to be different, I thought. I am armed with a level of education that matches that of any doctor, and I am more able to advocate for myself now as an empowered, adult woman.

Story time...

I had a nagging lower back pain that I attributed to the normal issues related to aging. I think the first time I really was bothered by it, I went to my OB-GYN who had delivered my youngest child in an unplanned hospital delivery after a failed attempt at home birth. He examined me, did a pap, explained that "as women age they may feel more discomfort in that area." WTF that means, no one will ever know. This doctor suffered a family loss and I was lost to followup in the intervening months, attributing my random abdominal/lower back pain to whatever, I don't know, getting old? I'm 36, so I'm actually not REALLY old. In Hollywood terms I am geriatric.

Anyway, months went by. I saw two primary care physicians, three psychiatrists, an internal medicine specialist, a PA, a nonsurgical spine doctor, another OB-GYN, and I've done chiropractor visits and 4 weeks of physical therapy. I've had an X-ray, an MRI, urinalysis, metabolic panels, an ultrasound of my uterus and ovaries, an ultrasound of my lower back. I'm now even more affected by pain than I was 6 months ago. 

The Complaint-Based System doesn't work for healthcare


I can see very viscerally that there are some issues with the system that I have to navigate. Would that I could offer my input and not be considered a complete dipshit...but, really, the insurance billing scheme controlling the way in which tests and preventative care are offered seems a bit backwards. Wouldn't it save money to just do an MRI of the entire abdomen, rather than one that is both complaint and specialist-specific? Rather than this that and the other test? But testing can only be complaint-specific under the current billing scheme.

Specialists operate in silos completely independent of one another, and it is up to the patient to bring all these people together and facilitate their communication process. Error in something as simple as writing the instructions on a prescription can cause a patient literally hours of extra work communicating between go-betweens. 

The issue of silos in healthcare is not new, by any means, Look at this white paper from 2011. There is a really established literature base detailing how silos in healthcare are making us sick, and possibly even killing us...but these models perpetuate because of how we approach care, based on the billing schemes that have been established by the insurance industry. Providing care based on how you are paid or reimbursed will never result in a high quality of care across the board. The most vulnerable and the poor will always suffer in these situations.

The people who directly offer care are overworked and their ability to be compassionate is fatigued beyond repair. The people who manage the care that is offered by the overworked, compassion-fatigued direct care providers are too removed from the process to understand the holistic impact of the narrow field of care they attend to. 

This is a complaint-based system. These rarely work. The epidemiological statistics show that as a society, we are in pain. If pain is a sign that something is wrong, I suppose it follows the current medical model that we continue addressing the symptoms rather than the cause, until the whole thing comes tumbling down.

If we truly want to cut healthcare costs, we need to revamp the complaint-based system and re-work our approach to truly commit to the shift to preventative strategies. These will not flourish under the existing schemas. This will require a massive shift in the way we think about delivery of healthcare. Can it be done? Right now I'm not so sure.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Do we really need another term for White Privilege?

Kiran Katira, Ph.D., program operations director, Community Engagement Center, Institute for the Study of Race and Social Justice, University of New Mexico in her presentation at the WK Kellogg First Food Forum 2016

First, I must acknowledge that it has been a hot minute since I've written on here. For a number of reasons, not entirely related to my longstanding obligations on the boards of two nonprofits, as a doctoral student, as a mother, as an advocate for my son who has autism, as research assistant. I had a sort of existential slump. Going through the motions, feeling ill at ease and very unmotivated. This resulted in some sub-par project results. I was not in a good place.

Anyway, as I forge ahead with no clear promises to regularly posting this blog but with promises of exhaustive updates when I finally straggle back, let's talk about White Privilege.

I had an exchange on Facebook (as we often do, don't we? Don't even play.) It was, ironically, while I was in sessions at the WK Kellogg First Food Forum focusing on achieving health equity.

To me, immersed in rooms chock full of established and emerging leaders in the field of First Food, breastfeeding advocates I have grown to know and love through the fabric of social media, among philanthropic professionals who center racial equity as a key factor to creating a better world, there was no question about the use of the term "white privilege." It was a fact of life acknowledged by the entire room because, of course, the attendees work with issues related to racial equity and health equity on a daily basis. The epidemiological, population-level statistics are clear.

But to those who are not surrounded by the evidence and the data, this term can apparently be incendiary and can incite a tremendous amount of resistance. An individual requested that I stop using the term "white privilege" because she was compelled to tune everything out associated with that term. I was gobsmacked. What other word could I use? Didn't she realize that this was discussed in every single sessions I had attended at the Kellogg Forum? I had some colleagues join into the melee, but at the end of it, no real progress was made. Those on either side of an issue that is fraught
with contention were merely more entrenched in their initial positions.

Going Deeper: Opposition to the use of the term "White Privilege"


What could be done? I lamented internally that no progress can be made, and succumbed momentarily to the defeatism that likes to linger on the outskirts of my emotional landscape and prey on opportune moments. But, as I have taught myself to do, I sat with my discomfort and buckled down to research these areas that cause discomfort in me.

What is the problem with the term? This Facebook friend of mine is not the first to question it's utility. Daniel Cubias blogged on this issue in 2015 and suggested a different term: "White advantage." I think the essence of the term remains the same in his breakdown of the obstacle, and if people can be more open to the use of a term that still retains the essential quality of what is being described, I'm down with that.

I also discovered that there are people out there who unironically use the term "race deniers." This is an entire platform. Prior to this I can honestly say, I had no idea that this even existed. Call me naive. But the further I went down the rabbit hole, the more grateful I was that I had been pushed to examine this further. You can't rightly establish a counter-message until you know what you are up against.

Unfortunately for my Facebook friend, most of the evidence I uncovered related to those
who oppose use of the term "White Privilege" suggests that opponents are largely white, and they often stand for the idea that there are genetic differences in the races that establish a ground for supremacy among the "subspecies" of homo sapiens.  Basically, the lion's share of those opposed to the term are either uninformed about the historical contexts and socioeconomic realities that we live in today, or they are outright, overtly racist pundits and thinkers.

Why is this problematic?


There is evidence to suggest that white people often react to evidence of white privilege by claiming their own hardships - the automatic knee-jerk reaction of othering that happens when we find ourselves affiliated with a group that doesn't jive with our personal values is a natural coping mechanism that people use to compensate for living in cognitive dissonance. We see, hear, smell, taste, feel the inequities and injustices, but rationalize (in sometimes bizarre, nonsensical ways) why this is how it is, why we have no part in it and oppose it on principal, and ignore our own complicit reinforcement of the very system that we intellectually oppose. This is survival within the dominant culture. This is how inequity and inequality persist.

Allan G. Johnson has an eloquent description of this process in his essay "Where White Privilege Came From":

"Most of the choices we make are unconscious, it being in the nature of paths of least resistance to appear to us as the logical, normal thing to do without our having to think about it. This means, of course, that we can participate in systems in ways we’re not aware of and help produce consequences without knowing it and be involved in other people’s lives, both historically and in the present, without any intention to do so."

Simran Noor, Vice President of the Center for Social Inclusion, also mentioned this in her speech at the Kellogg First Food Forum. None of us present today are responsible for how the system was established, but who but us can be charged to change this? And how can we fall back on the status quo as a reasonable path forward?

So what now?


Another great essay on the topic of The Racism of Good, White People is also a telling read. I would recommend to anyone willing to sit with discomfort and keep it warm and acknowledged. Sit with the discomfort until it composts into some really useful perspective and a deeper ability to empathize, connect, and make change.

I was introduced to the documentary three-part series Race: The Power of an Illusion, produced by California Newsreel, in my first training as a participant of the Center for Social Inclusion's National First Foods Racial Equity Cohort. This series is available for rent on, and can be purchased as well. Although it's now nearly 15 years old, the series powerfully contextualizes the concepts of structural racism and systematic oppression based on appearance that is sometimes heartbreaking and often terrifying. PBS built a companion website with activities related to the content of the film that can be useful to apply concepts.

Tim Wise, an anti-racist activist, also put together a perspective on white privilege from a white person called "White Like Me: Race, Racism & White Privilege in America" and there is an accompanying study guide for those who are interested in delving deeper and using interactive thought experiments and tools to internalize the necessary shift in thinking that must accompany the work we are all charged with in achieving a society that can truly be considered racially equitable and accessible to all communities and citizens.

And I leave you with a delightful photo of the women that I am privileged to work with for the next two years with the facilitation of the CSI. Stay tuned for more blog posts. At some point. I promise. As I said to my kiddos before I left for a 5 day work trip, Mommy will always come back for you. ;)

These women are change-makers!