Dr. Seuss and False “Cancel Culture” Claims

Recently I appeared on the Sean Hannity Show to discuss the controversy surrounding Dr. Seuss. The title for the segment was “Cancel culture comes for Dr. Seuss.” This was in response to Dr. Seuss Enterprises deciding to discontinue six books that they considered to “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” In response to this decision, sales of Dr. Seuss books spiked on Amazon and eBay had to step in to prevent the selling of these books online. Once again, credit card activism comes to save the day. The challenge with the Dr. Seuss outrage from so many people is that this rush to just yell out “cancel culture” denies us the ability to do the real critical thinking needed to actually analyze and attempt to understand this book controversy and others.

Regarding “cancel culture”, Business Insider wrote:

On one end of the spectrum [of cancel culture] are people like Bill CosbyHarvey Weinstein, and R. Kelly who were canceled by the public before their sex-crimes trials. On the other end are everyday people like David Shor, who faced criticism on Twitter after he tweeted a study from an academic journal questioning the political consequences of violent and peaceful protests. Shor, who tweeted the link during the George Floyd protests, was fired, though the company has said it wasn’t over the tweet.

The problem we have today is that “cancel culture” has become for some, particularly on the political right, a catch phrase for anyone who wants to hold on to their antiquated views and not be challenged to think critically. A critical thinking mind would see, for example, that no one “came for” Dr. Seuss. Dr. Suess Enterprises decided on their own to review and remove 6 books from publication. This is called accountability. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, when you know better, you do better. If a school decides that it is going to remove books that they have used over decades that are insensitive or if Disney decides to acknowledge or remove racist images from their television shows and movies, they are taking responsibility.

While it is true that protests have occurred that have led to the discontinuing of a brand or a removal of an insensitive advertisement, it is not fair to or even accurate to accuse what occurred with Dr. Seuss as “cancel culture.” We cannot live in a society bent on using trigger words to suppress thought. Too many of us instantly choose a side when we hear phrases like Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, critical race theory, free speech, reparations, second amendment rights, liberals, republicans, and so much more. We then search out media sources that do not provide us with more information but more affirmation of what we already believe and then rinse, repeat. I am sure these phrases triggered something in you as well but we have to go beyond the trigger to action.

I wish that more individuals and organizations would take similar steps as Dr. Suess Enterprises. They are fully aware that for some they went too far and for others they did not go far enough. Some believe Dr. Seuss books are completely fine and others are asking why The Cat in the Hat isn’t being discontinued since the character seems to be based off of minstrel characters from the Jim Crow era. At the end of the day, if we want to have schools, organizations, and other spaces where everyone feels truly celebrated and not tolerated, we should all take a look at the literature, cartoons, television shows, movies, and anything else we were raised with and ask the question if these images and symbols are appropriate beyond our nostalgia. We need to focus less on outrage and more on outcomes for the sake of our future and building a country as good as welcoming as its promise for everyone.

4 Reasons to Stop Using the Word BIPOC…Like Now!

I pride myself on being a continual student of life. I am always looking to learn more about what I do not know. I also know that if I am going to continue to do my work in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, I can never become too arrogant to think I have it all figured out. Enter the word BIPOC, which is a word I am afraid to admit I just learned about in 2020. I first thought it meant “BIsexual People of Color.” In what I have learned about this term, I have come believe that this term is problematic for several reasons and organizations especially should stop using the term immediately.

According to the New York Times, the term first started appearing in social media circles in 2013. The term started to gain more prominence in 2020 in the wake of protests over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Since then, the term has sprung up everywhere. Organizations such as the BIPOC project are centered on a mission to “build authentic and lasting solidarity among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), in order to undo Native invisibility, anti-Blackness, dismantle white supremacy and advance racial justice.” They also state that they use the term BIPOC to “highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.” While I respect their mission and the sentiments of others who identify with this word, this term should no longer be adopted into our lexicon for the following four reasons.

  1. The term “BIPOC” is like a double negative (or double positive if you prefer).

If Black people are “people of color” and our indigenous or Native American people are “people of color” than the term itself is repetitive.

  1. Black & Indigenous people don’t have that much in common.

While the term BIPOC exists to express solidarity, it groups together a group of people whose histories could not be more different. The experience of Native Americans is like no other and is an extremely understudied aspect of American history. Native American history is often told from the perspective of the people who arrived on boats as opposed to from the perspective of people who were on the soil whereas black people were brought to this country through the transatlantic slave trade.

Both black people and Native Americans have experienced great oppression but their stories are also complicated by the fact that some Native Americans were also owners of enslaved Africans. Then of course, we can talk about the African American soldiers known as the Buffalo Soldiers who killed Native Americans in the 1800s. So what do these two groups really have in common? Queue reason #3 to stop using BIPOC—whiteness.

  1. Uniting around whiteness is not the way to go.

Black people and Native Americans have experienced severe forms of oppression at the hands of white colonizers and enslavers. Native Americans were also enslaved by colonizers. There are indeed countless examples of Native Americans and black people working towards unity, demonstrated in the 20th century by the fight for equality and civil rights and black & brown empowerment movements. The point here is that historically, most of the times that Native American and black solidarity has been demonstrated has been in response to white oppression. Is this reason enough to combine these groups in such a generic fashion? We cannot build movements based off of opposition to another group because real solidarity does not fully exist if it can only exist with a common enemy.

  1. Why do white people just get to be white?

I have seen so many terms used to describe nonwhite people throughout American history from Negro, colored, and Hispanic, to Indian, people of color, and LatinX. Now we have BIPOC. Throughout all of this, white people just still get to be called white. Not only is this annoying because, last time I checked, white is a color too, but also because the more terms we come up with, the more white people are viewed as being the original people and everyone else is colored into that white narrative of originality. Putting white people basically at the center of creation is not historically accurate. I have written more extensively about the broader problems the term “people of color” creates and why we should not use it so I will not revisit that here. I will just say that the more time we spend coming up with new terms to describe nonwhite groups, the more we actually strengthen the narrative of white Eurocentric dominance in America.

At the end of the day, I do not have the right to challenge how any one individual chooses to identify with a culture or identity. I am speaking to the challenges that exist on a collective level when we continually create new terms for people who ultimately do not have that much in common, as we have done with the term “people of color.” I argue for us to be intellectually energetic enough to treat each group with the respect they deserve in the same way we do white people. Both white people and Native Americans owned slaves but no one has come up with the term WIPOC to express solidarity. Let us tell the story of Native Americans, black people, and all cultural or racial groups with the individual respect they deserve. This is crucial in your commitment to create communities where everyone is celebrated and not tolerated. Let’s GO!

The Rule of 7: Testing Your Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

I have truly enjoyed engaging so many companies, schools, and individuals about pressing issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have found that most people are serious about challenging themselves on seeing where their biases lie and doing something about it. One challenge that I have seen, however, is that too often, people with whom I interact ask me what books they need to read or what terminology they need to adopt in order to not make a mistake and be called out for being racist, homophobic, etc. While the concern is understandable, this is not the way to achieve true diversity, equity, and inclusion and definitely not a way to become antiracist. It’s more of a way to check off a box saying “I did this so I’m good.” I would like to propose a simple, but more in-depth measure of seeing how serious you are on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I propose The Rule of 7.

Rather than checking the box or reading an assigned book, The Rule of 7 is personal. Only you know the answers to these 7 questions and therefore only you know what you are supposed to do about it. The real questions is do you have the will to actually do something about it or are you going to stay comfortable and not rock the boat? You can come up with your own list of 7 questions or you can do it as a group of friends or even at your job. The goal is not come up with an easy list. This should be a list that challenges you to become better on this journey. The reason why The Rule of 7 can be powerful is because it speaks to what you’ve already done versus what you’re doing. The 7 questions could include:

  1. What do your 7 closest friends look like (or the 7 closest friends of your children)?
  2. Who are the authors of the last 7 books you read (or books bought for your children)?
  3. What do your 7 closest neighbors (in terms of proximity) look like?
  4. What did your last 7 teachers look like (or the current teachers of your children)?
  5. What does the cast of the last 7 shows and movies you’ve watched (or that your children watched) look like?
  6. What did your last 7 hires look like or what do the 7 closest members of your work team look like?
  7. What do the last 7 toys you bought for your kids look like?

I could go into more detail about each question but they are all self-explanatory. If, for example, you’re white and all the answers to all or most of your 7 is “white,” you have more work to do. If you are black and your answers are mostly “black,” you have work to do. I would also say that if you are a member of one group, say Latinx, and your responses to the most questions are mostly “white,” you also have some work to do. For those of you with children or students in your life, this is also important because you may be programming them in way that reinforces a narrative or superiority or inferiority in their minds in the same way you may have been programmed.

If this article is too vague for you, that is the point. The goal of this article is to challenge you to work on your own or with colleagues and friends to actively challenge your biases and do the work to diversify your experiences and practices. I can give you books, documentaries, glossaries, and TED talks for days. At the end of the day however, you have to do the work to challenge yourself on your thoughts and experiences with diversity, equity, and inclusion when nobody is watching. Lastly, if you want to go to a deeper level, spend time exploring why your neighbors and teachers all look the same or why you do not work with anyone who does not look (or think) like you. That is an entirely different reading list for you. Are you ready? Let’s go!

3 Reasons Antiracism Efforts Are Failing At Your Organization

The year 2020 has been called the year of America’s racial reckoning by some. It’s been called a time where movements for racial and social justice exploded on the national scene. I have to be honest. I am not convinced. As a student of history, I have learned to analyze the difference between what activist Joe Madison calls a moment versus a movement. Was #metoo a moment or a movement? In my opinion, it has turned out to be a moment in history because I have not seen wholesale systemic change in how women are treated in the workplace beyond certain individuals like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and others rightfully having their careers and fame challenged and more or less ended. I feel a similar vibe happening with the work of antiracism.

I have been engaged in so many powerful trainings and talks with organizations on the issue of antiracism, defined by some as “the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance.” From the human resources to the executive level, I have been truly impressed by the sincerity by which these organizations have taken issues of racial or social justice head on. Below I am sharing three reasons why the antiracist efforts of your organization may not be working.

  1. You do not fully understand what antiracism is.

Is antiracism just a word at your company? Are you and your colleagues really learning vocabulary that speaks to the challenges we face today? Can you and your colleagues explain the difference between racism and systemic racism or a microaggression and a stereotype? Words matter. Definitions matter. I have had multiple situations where I had to work with an organization on just agreeing to the same definition of a term like antiracism before we could move on in any other part of the discussion and it was completely worth it because in times when this was not done, we had to backtrack and start over with definitions.

This is an extremely important step because if I’m looking at systemic racism as a “a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization” and you are looking at racism from the lens of “I never owned slaves so I’m not responsible for racism” or “if you just work hard you can overcome anything” without even acknowledging the “systemic” part of “systemic racism”, any training we do is going to be unintentionally sabotaged from the beginning. Invest the time necessary to get on the same page before you move forward.

  1. You are too focused on the problem and not the solutions.

Too many organizations have focused their antiracism efforts on reading articles and books and talking about them. This obviously must continue but it cannot be enough. For many nonwhite people, especially black people I have spoken to at some organizations, antiracism training is just the replacement term for diversity training. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is the new version of saying “We value diversity.” Organizations that have been more successful with their antiracism efforts have shown that black salaries matter and black employees matter. In short, they understand that representation matters.

Organizations that have hired more nonwhite people at the executive level, granted more power to their directors of diversity, and have increased representation of nonwhite people across the board are experiencing greater employee satisfaction and are celebrated more by their customers, exemplified by MSNBC naming Rashida Jones as president of the network and introducing more shows hosted by black people such as Tiffany Cross and Johnathan Capehart. It is represented by President-elect Biden not just saying he believed in diversity but making his cabinet more diverse including adding Native American congressperson Deb Haaland to his cabinet as well as appointing the first openly gay cabinet member in Pete Buttigieg.

  1. Antiracism is a fad at your organization.

I remember during the summer of 2020 seeing “black lives matter” signs going up everywhere from Dell to Starbucks. Even republican senators like Mitt Romney had marched for black lives and verbalized the phrase. Microsoft’s advertising department got in trouble after an email surfaced asking that they paint a #blacklivesmatter mural while the protests were “still relevant.” This led to a powerful response by artist Shantell Martin, who partially wrote that “Education and Accountability must occur in order to see REAL change. Supporting equality only when it’s popular is in itself a form of racism.”

While the aforementioned situation does not represent all of Microsoft, it does express the sentiments that I have seen by some leaders of organizations and companies that see work on antiracism as the flavor of the month. The fact of the matter is that, especially in the age of social media, your company will indeed be exposed positively or negatively. Your organization would actually be better off doing nothing rather than putting forth a half-hearted measure that will create more problems than you are trying to solve. Make sure your efforts are sincere and you are more likely to get buy in from most parties involved.

     Going forward.

At the end of the day, it is important that your organization steps back to truly assess what your goals are when you state that you want embrace antiracist policies. I have stated before that even though I am an antiracist and committed to the work, I am not a big fan of the word because it literally focuses (by the definition of the word “anti”) on what we are against as opposed to what we are for. It is similar to the late Mother Teresa stating that she would never attend an anti-war rally but would attend a pro-peace rally.

If you really want to assess your antiracist efforts, you should look at what progress your company has made eight months after the killing of George Floyd, which was one of the major catalysts for today’s antiracist efforts along with the killing of Breonna Taylor. In the same way you have not heard their names on television lately due to potential social justice fatigue, is your organization experiencing antiracism fatigue or just not moving forward? The three steps above may help you but only if you and your organization are sincere about the work and honest about exposing the challenges your organization faces in order to make sure that you are part of a movement and not a moment.

Sexism isn’t the ONLY reason for Dr. Jill Biden hate

Famed scientist Isaac Asimov wrote in 1980 that in the United States, there is a “cult of ignorance in the United States” and that the “strain of anti-intellectualism” boils down to the idea that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” While so many have rightfully pointed out the sexist and misogynistic overtones of Joseph Epstein’s Wall Street Journal article suggesting Dr. Jill Biden drop the title of “Dr.” from her name, the other major issue that merits our attention is how it highlights how deeply many in this country resent intellectual thought and critical thinking and this notion has been spearheaded by President Donald Trump.

We live in a world today where we no longer watch the news or search the Internet looking for information, but for affirmation. We surround ourselves with people who think like us and then expand that into our social media spaces. It’s the mentality that would lead a voter to say that everyone she knows voted for Trump, so he must have won. Maybe it started in 1987 with the end of the Fairness Doctrine; the policy implemented in 1949 mandating that networks provide a balance of opinion in their broadcasting. The end of this policy led to the rise of “infotainment” spearheaded by talk personalities like Rush Limbaugh. Fast forward to today and most of us have a strong roster of podcasts, audiobooks, social media people we like, and news networks that all enforce what we already want to hear. What too many of us have heard over the last thirty years is a decreasing disrespect towards education and intellectual thought.

I remember when President Obama ran for his first term. One of the main knocks against him from some critics was that he was too “professorial.” Yes. A former college professor was criticized for sounding like a college professor. Critics prepared his style with his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who was someone you could just sit down and have a beer with. I recall thinking that I never want to just have a beer with the President of the United States and it has nothing to with the fact that I don’t drink. I want to have a leader who I believe is smarter than me on issues related to leading my country. Fast forward to the 2016 election and we have President Trump boasting that he was the same person he was since he was in the first grade. Little did we know that he was just getting started.

Over the course of four years, President Trump questioned or outright demeaned the credibility of every institution we had because he was smarter than them all. He said he knew more about the military than the generals. He said he knew more about viruses than experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and knew more about everything than anyone else including taxes, visas, infrastructure, renewable energy, borders, and even more about Senator Cory Booker than Booker knew about himself. Add to this the creation of “alternative facts” spearheaded by multimillion dollar book deal recipient Kellyanne Conway, and you have a society where someone’s real educational achievement means nothing and is therefore constantly undermined. On a weekly basis I endure comments on social media from people whose first line of attack is asking how someone like me was “given” a PhD or stating that someone with a PhD wouldn’t be as stupid as I am. It’s literally their opening move.

As we prepare to usher in a new president, we need to also usher in a period where intellectualism is respected again. I may actually be more excited about Dr. Jill Biden than I am about Joe Biden. Dr. Biden is not just someone who values education, but is an educator herself who has always supported teachers. Contrast that with First Lady Melania Trump’s plagiaristic shadowingof former First Lady Michelle Obama and this country could be on track to becoming a respected intellectual giant once again. Finally, we must look deeply at our educational system from elementary school and beyond to ensure that we are teaching civics once again in addition to providing a curriculum that allows students to think intellectually and critically as opposed to checking the right answer on a multiple-choice exam. These steps will aid us in creating a world where the term “doctor”, regardless of the specialty it covers, will forever be celebrated and not just tolerated or outright disrespected.

Trump cutting off aid while Americans are dying is treacherous

Today I woke up to read the headline: “Trump administration overrules Jerome Powell and cuts off Fed emergency lending programs.” Not only is President Trump attempting to steal an election where he lost the popular and electoral college vote, he is literally starving Americans by cutting off money to hard working people literally trying to survive a pandemic. This is treacherous. This is not leadership and as upstanders, we cannot be bystanders to this.

Millions of Americans are literally starving, don’t have a job, or are losing their homes or a combination of all three. Suicides are on the rise and, by the way, we’ve lost over 250,000 people to the pandemic. Families will have to meet by Zoom this year for Thanksgiving, if they can afford a computer and have enough money to pay for access to the Internet. With all of this, Trump is not only not creating real programs to help people, he is cutting off funds that already allocated. The is savage, inhumane, and a betrayal of his oath of office. America deserves better.

Border children: charge Trump with crimes against against humanity

This past week, my son turned 6-years old. We celebrated with cupcakes, board games, and video games. It was a great day that I was so looking forward to. Yesterday I was reminded that under the Trump administration, there are at least 540 children who are still separated from their parents from babies to toddlers. On the news I saw a child staying with an uncle in the U.S. and when asked what he wanted for his birthday, his immediate response was his father. What the Trump administration has done to these families is the ultimate crime and he needs to be charged with crimes against humanity charges.

The only more inhumane action he could take is to kill these parents physically after he has killed them metaphorically, These children need to be united with the family but Trump’s administration is now stating that these parents don’t even want to be reunited with their children. These parents deserve the same right to be with their children in the same way we are with our son and daughters. What would you do if it was YOUR kids taken from you? The nerve of such ignorance only speaks to the arrogance coursing through the veins of this corrupt administration. Justice delayed is justice denied and he must face justice for this heinous act!

The President is not a leader for us on Coronavirus

President Trump said that as our leader he had to do what he had to do as he urged us not to let the coronavirus dominate our lives. When the President has to worry about losing a job because if covid, losing a business because of covid, becoming his child’s teacher because of covid, losing insurance because of covid, losing his physical or mental capacities because of covid, losing a loved one because of covid, or losing his own life because of covid and possibly dying alone, then the President of the United States can talk about being the leader for all of us on covid.

The President is a leader in spreading this virus. From his joyride at Walter Reed to his removing his mask before possibly infecting whoever was waiting for him in the White House or spreading the virus via helicopter blades, Trump never has and never will have the ability or desire to lead by example in ending the coronavirus. He uniquely has the ability to spread two viruses at the same time: the coronavirus and the virus of hate and this is all happening while he takes advantage of the best healthcare that is free to him while attempting to rip away the Affordable Care Act from those who need it most. President Trump is not a leader. He is public enemy #1.

Breonna Taylor deserves better

191 days all for a charge that had nothing to do with the killing of Breonna Taylor. The charges of wanton endangerment were made against apartments other than Breonna’s that were shot into. Taylor’s life was taken and no one is accountable. This is why we march. We launched a global protest for 6 months to only be denied the possibility of justice once again. State attorney general Daniel Cameron has made good on his campaign promise to make the police untouchable. Until white people know what it’s like to fight 6 months for no charges, to March for 191 days for no charges, and to bring our case to a global stage only for no charges, there will continue to be an empathy gap in America. Justice delayed is justice denied yet today we’ve been denied even the attempt at justice. Breonna should be here today. She didn’t die. She was killed and Cameron couldn’t even bring himself to say that. The fact that so many of us aren’t even surprised speaks to the decades of injustice we have had to endure at the hands of the police. #blacklivesmatter #BreonnaTaylor

Should schools also speak separately to white students, parents, and staff?

I have been really impressed by the steps taken by schools to speak to the racial tensions engulfing America right now. I have had the honor in my work to also lead some of these discussions as well and will be leading more. As a parent of K-12 children, I have also watched my own school’s response to the crisis in America today. Moreover, I have spent a great deal of time reviewing the responses of schools at the university level. While I have appreciated the fact that so many of these institutions have initiated or renewed a commitment to ensuring that black lives matter, I have found myself asking one question over and over again: what direct message is going out to white students, students, and staff?

            Across the country, many social media posts have popped with some form of @blackat… handle. These are accounts where black students as well as alumni have posted their negative experiences being black at their schools. These stories started to really trend in 2016 after incidents of racism at schools like American University, where I teach. I was inspired by this movement to finally write about my own “black at” experience from 7th-12th grade at Boston Latin School. I believe the @blackat… postings are also a large part of the reason why schools have been feeling more pressure to respond to their black students in ways they have not before. I wonder if, in some unintentional way, that this is leading to black students being singled out in ways that might do more harm than good despite the best intentions of schools. Let’s look at an example.

            One high school I was watching sent out an email that they were having a zoom call for black students, another call for multiracial students, and a third one for all students. I have spoken at enough schools to know that this can backfire. While many black students can be vocal and will speak up on issues, this type of action can lead to black students feeling they have to be the representative for all black people, which is an added burden, particularly in schools where they are not in the majority. Furthermore, not meeting with the white students separately can make it seem like they’re being brought in as allies and not as partners. I have writtenabout how this concept of “allyship” can create more problems than it solves. Another reason this is problematic is because many of the challenges black students face come at the hands of white students in addition to other issues, such as curriculum and staffing. Did I expect the students who wore white hoods in protest of my running for class president to really care for a call to all students about racial unity? Those students needed separate interventions, which never came and made me feel more marginalized. Schools therefore need to create environments where white students can be organized and spoken to directly about the antiracist work they must be doing amongst themselves. Robin DiAngelo speaks in White Fragility to the work white people must do to challenge racism. The book is primarily for adults but much of the work can be instructive for students as well.

            This takes us also to white parents and staff. I have appreciated the calls I have been on and led with parents of all backgrounds, and oftentimes the white parents and staff outnumber the black parents and staff. This makes sense given the makeup of these schools but if the black parents and staff are going to be separated or addressed in separate conversations, which happens, wouldn’t the fight for equity and equality necessitate that white, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American parents and staff be spoken to separately as well? Are schools equipped to even have that conversation? Are they ready to discuss, for example, how many private schools always use a black child as the face for the financial aid campaigns although the school may have more white students in the school on some form of financial aid? Are they ready to discuss the social networks that often form among white parents and staff that often exclude black people unless some form of representation is needed? My wife and I have had to often think twice before sending our kids to some birthday parties because we had to be sure that our kids were really invited because of friendship and not out of a desire to have diversity at a party. Examples like these are endless.

            At the end of the day, I could write an entire dissertation on the ways in which our schools are failing its black students. Many like Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Glenn Singleton have already done that work and more are doing it now. What is most important now is that schools realize that black students are suffering for real reasons that go beyond lack of representation of their full history in the curriculum. Much of what we suffer as black students, parents, and staff in these schools comes at the hands of our interactions, or lack thereof, with white students, parents, and staff. If schools are going to be really serious about addressing issues related to the black lives matter movement, they must be equally dedicated to challenging white students, parents, and staff in an authentic way that leads them to understanding their role in this movement. It is obvious that all white people are not to blame and I commend the white student, parents, and staff who are out there doing the work every single day to condemn ignorance and create true equity and equality. It is high time, however, that schools directly challenge their white students, parents, and staff in ways that go beyond a book club and curriculum review. Those are good points of departure but the journey is long and must go deeper beyond this moment.