Beyond Ignorance: Teaching White Privilege

I work for a college-access program designed for first-generation, low-income students of color. In a class of seventeen freshmen, one student is white. She’s incredibly willing to learn about race and diversity and, even as a high school freshman, already knows terms like privilege. She wants to be educated and do anti-racist work.

I work with this student twice a week through one-on-one sessions. We’re reading Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay (a collection of essays I recommend to anyone and everyone for Gay’s humor, vulnerability and realness when discussing modern day feminism). Multiple times, this student has expressed the opinion, “I’m really ignorant” when speaking about race, especially in regard to her uncomfortability when confronted with the notion that there’s a whole world of racial injustice she hasn’t seen and will never experience directly.

Though I’ve written before about how whiteness and Jewishness feel like two conflicting parts of my identity, when working with this student (and really all of my students) I am a white instructor. Especially when working with this particular student, I have been in her situation and still am in the situation of trying each day to unlearn racism. I too have stumbled over or whispered words like “black” or “African-American”, as if these descriptors have a negative connotation and I’m uttering an insult. This is racist of me and it’s a process to unlearn these patterns of speech and behavior.

But I don’t want this student to leave our sessions believing that she’s ignorant and that’s all she can do is admit to her ignorance because she’s white. I’m trying to move the conversation to a place where she has action steps and can recognize when that ignorance might actually be guilt or another uncomfortable emotion we haven’t yet named.

I sent her an article from Everyday Feminism: “‘I didn’t Know That was Racist’- Are You Using ‘White Ignorance’ to Dodge Responsibility?” and the accompanying video. I’m thinking of continuing the conversation by speaking about white privilege as a way of framing why she’s ignorant. I’m searching for advice and suggestions to have a more specific plan.

Does anyone have any resources or suggestions on how to have a conversation with this student that moves beyond white ignorance?

Resist Trump’s Ban on Muslims and Immigrants

As of January 27th, Trump issued an executive order banning citizens of Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria from entering the United States for the next 90 days. These are all majority Muslim countries. All refugees are suspended for the next 120 days and Syrian refugees are completely banned.

The ACLU is challenging the executive order and has temporarily halted the process to deport citizens from these countries currently stranded at airports, but this does not mean we have won.

Take a look at Kateschatz article for medium 20 Ways You Can Act Now To Support Muslims/Immigrants + Resist DT: A Solidarity Sundays Emergency Guide

Educate yourself about the executive order and the history of discrimination of immigrants in America.

https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/trump-begins-his-unconstitutional-program-anti-muslim-discrimination

Reach out to your friends (of all religions and no religion) and make sure they know about Trump’s executive order. From there, you can pool your skills and your contacts. What groups through work, through school, through family connections do you each know? Contact them this week and ask what are we doing to support our Muslim and immigrant siblings? If they don’t have an answer, work with them to create an answer. A public statement would be instrumental in voicing community anger toward Trump’s hateful and racist policies.

What skills and resources do you have that you can lend in support? Have a vehicle? Take people to a protest. Run a blog? Send out resources and information. Plaster your social media with #NoBanNoWall.

Encourage the businesses you support to issue public statements or put signs in their windows that voice support for Muslims and immigrant communities.

Contact your mayors as well as your Congresspeople and Senators. On a more local level, you can ensure that your town and your schools will protect people of all backgrounds, religions and colors. Find out what they are doing to ensure the safety and well being of all people in their district.

This is not (by any means) an extensive list. Check out a more comprehensive list of post 2016 resources (that’s constantly being updated) by Kit Mead here.

 

Not too Late to Save Obamacare

As of 1:30 a.m. last night, the Senate passed a bill to repeal Obamacare and the bill will go to the Republican majority House as early as within the next few days.

You can still call your House Representative and can find their contact information here. Bustle has a whole list of scripts to use on the phone, including scripts that voice your support of Obamacare as well as funding for Planned Parenthood. You can also add your support for Medicare and Medicaid.

Obamacare isn’t perfect (read more about the facts of Obamacare here and make your own decision) but the ‘repeal and replace’ rhetoric and action will leave 20 million Americans uninsured. If Obamacare is repealed we are either left in limbo without insurance while we wait for a new healthcare plan, or Obamacare is replaced with a plan that is immediate and poorly constructed due to lack of time to develop a comprehensive replacement (what Trump envisions: “We’re going to be submitting — as soon as our secretary’s approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan. It’ll be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously,” Trump said. “Probably the same day, could be the same hour.”).

But if you call your Representative, we can still fight. Follow your Representative on Facebook and twitter and tell them via social media what Obamacare means to you or your loved ones.

Just a few things we lose if we lose Obamacare:

Additional looming threats:

  • defunding Planned Parenthood
  • privatizing Medicare and Medicaid
  • loss of social security

I know I’m not covering the half of what’s at stake here, so please comment and add to my list. What else about our healthcare is threatened that I have not covered?

Please call your Representative. This is not about political parties, or even economics and budgets. It is a matter of life or death.

Optimism in 2017

Before I started as the blog managing editor for Luna Station Quarterly–a journal dedicated to female writers and speculative fiction–my editor asked me if I could write with a more positive tone. Could I present inclusive feminism as more than a pipe dream?

Equality sounds great, but do I actually believe it is possible?

My answer has to be yes.

Except, I’m not an optimist. Not in the long term when it’s so easy to view human history as great swathes of human disaster cloaked as something a bit more palatable–slow human progress. Glacially slow human progress.

When people want you silenced, imprisoned or dead based on your race, gender, religion, sexuality, ability, nationality or any number of intersecting identities, it’s difficult to believe humans have made much progress at all.

It is easy to be a pessimist. I fall into this trap all the time. When my mother tells me about some great nonprofit organization, my first thought is to list all the ways their goal and their mission will inevitably fall short. If this organization serves queer and trans youth ages 12-18, for instance, what about people under or over that age restriction? Are we supposed to hope that the 19 year old who needs these services will somehow manage to fall under the umbrella of another nonprofit? Also, where does this organization get its money from? I can guarantee it’s not all individual donations. I’ve been a canvasser for a 501(c)3. I’ve worked in development and written grants and had to wonder why I was asking Coca Cola and Wells Fargo to fund an organization aiding survivors of domestic abuse.

SARAHI’m not an optimist. But I’m trying because it’s grossly unfair of me to say that just because a nonprofit organization isn’t able to help everyone, that it therefore helps no one and is inherently useless.That’s giving up. It’s critiquing the solutions of others without offering a solution yourself. That’s saying all solutions are flawed so why bother trying at all?

Activism and the work of organizers isn’t useless. And whether that activism is through protests and rallies, canvassing, grant writing, religious charities, online communities, or any other avenue, our work is making a difference. We are building communities and uniting people across differences. We are promoting a world of love that knows no boundaries.

I hope for a world where we no longer need charitable organizations to take care of our country’s most vulnerable–that should be the government’s job. But my resolution for 2017 is to build optimism into my life each day, even if I have to force it. I will not move into 2017 from a place of hate.

 

The Silence after the Election Results

I didn’t think I’d be able to write today. Writing feels too much like talking and talking requires such effort. Talking means playacting at normalcy as if a misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, racist, ableist bigot was not just democratically elected to the highest political office in the United States. Talking means saying it’s okay. That things will get better, even though I don’t have a plan or any idea how that will occur. It’s either that or scream unintelligible nonsense.

Watching the elections results last night, my housemates and I were dead silent. We weren’t the only ones. Times Square in NYC fell silent.

I work at a high school for a college access program with low-income first generation college-bound students of color. It was painful to talk today. How do you look a seventeen-year-old in the eye and say, “This country just said it doesn’t care whether you live or die. Congratulations on submitting your college applications.”?

When a co-worker asked how I was doing, I told him, “It feels as if there’s everything to say, and yet nothing to say and I can’t say anything.” On the phone with a friend later this evening I repeated again and again, “I don’t know” because nothing I could say would have gotten either of us closer to feeling safe.

So many blogs and opinions pieces I’ve read today addressed minorities and told us to stand up, stand together and speak out.

641153And that sounds so powerful. Except I can’t picture what that means. Maybe my mind is still in a fog, but all I can picture is this weight on my chest and the heaviness of silence, struggling to have something to say, let alone something positive or encouraging or minutely helpful. But that can come later.

A few hours ago, I got into my car and just screamed. And it helped.

Not everyone processes the same, but please speak out (and write!). Even if you’re alone screaming into a pillow, even if you spew gibberish at a friend, or type nonsense on the page.  Even if you do not process through silence, please speak out. Take the time you need, but when you’re ready, speak out.

As Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you.”

Identifying With Characters Across Gender and Sexuality

492069I just had an article pitch accepted to Brooklyn Magazine‘s Book section!

I’m writing a personal essay on identifying with fictional characters across gender and sexuality. Felix Harrowgate, the protagonist of Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series, is a gay wizard who navigates his relationships through sex and sexuality. As an asexual woman, I never thought I would identify with him. But it is through identifying with him, that I was able to come out as homo-romantic.

The problem is the last book in The Doctrine of Labyrinths series was published back in 2009. The editor from Brooklyn Magazine is asking me to find a hook to make this article more timely. I’ve considered that the author wrote a well-received stand-alone novel in 2014 (The Goblin Emperor), and co-authored a book with Elizabeth Bear, published in 2015 (An Apprentice to Elves), but even that is not particularly relevant. For context, my piece will be published roughly December/January.

Especially as this coming week is Asexuality Awareness Week (!!!) I’m hoping other aces or people within the queer community (or anyone really) might be able to pitch in some thoughts and suggestions. How can I make this essay relevant to 2016/2017 specifically?

Queerness and literature are the timeless parts of my essay; I’m still searching for the timely pitch. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas.

happy-asexual-awareness-week