Posts

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.

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.

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.

           

How companies can avoid “Black Lives Matter” and Juneteenth becoming the new Kwanzaa

Over the past few weeks, I have seen “Black Lives Matter” stated by companies, schools, famous people, and everyday people. It has been spray painted across stores in protest and even the Mayor of Washington, DC Muriel Bowser had it spray painted across a prominent street leading up to the White House. I opened up my iTunes account, Amazon Prime and even turned on my PlayStation and there it was again, “Black Lives Matter.” This has been followed by companies like Nike and Twitter deciding to honor Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when the last group of enslaved people in America found out they were emancipated, with days off or some other form of acknowledgment. While I think that these gestures of solidarity with those of us in the black community are indeed appreciated, I find myself asking, “What happens on June 20th?” “What happens after ‘Black Lives Matter’ comes off the website?” Enter Kwanzaa.

I come from a family that has always celebrated Kwanzaa, the holiday created by Dr. Maulana Karenga for African Americans to honor their African heritage. Though it starts on December 26th, it has always been a cultural celebration and not a replacement for Christmas, which is a religious holiday. This is the reason why some black families celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas. For those of us who celebrate Kwanzaa, it’s a sacred holiday, which is why many of us became frustrated when it started to become commercialized, starting with Hallmark issuing Kwanzaa cards in 1992. Now there are stamps and debit cards where the 7 candles of Kwanzaa are prominently displayed. Some companies issue statements honoring Kwanzaa or will put out some form of display in their lobbies. This superficial nature of Kwanzaa causes the true nature of it to get lost or never even learned. The true nature of Kwanzaa is black empowerment. To quote professor Keith Hayes, author of Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition:

Whereas black power uses Kwanzaa to connect black Americans with the continent of Africa, multicultural America uses Kwanzaa to sell products and consumer goods. Whereas black power expected Kwanzaa to liberate African-Americans, multicultural America has tried to use Kwanzaa as evidence of racial diversity and black inclusion.

But is there real diversity and black inclusion in your organization? While “Black Lives Matter” has become a great slogan to show solidarity with black causes, there are black employees in every sector from schools to corporations who have been saying for years that they want to matter within their organizations. They’ve called for this in the form of demanding equal pay, demanding a shattering of the glass ceiling, challenging everyday discrimination on the job, and so much more. And this is also happening with Juneteenth. Most black employees I know would rather have a shot at equal pay or an opportunity to advance in their positions than a day off, which in reality should be a day on in terms of continuing the work of racial and social justice.

If companies are serious about “Black Lives Matter” and Juneteenth they have to immediately re-evaluate their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They have to do the work to finally hear the complaints and concerns of their blackstaff. They need to challenge systemic racism that may have existed in their organization for years. This is the same country where a statue was built to the father of American gynecology James Marion Sims, whose work was performed on black enslaved women without anesthesia. It’s the same country that touts having some of the most prominent universities in the world, but they were built by enslaved Africans. And it’s the same country where some companies have engaged in global travesties such as the Holocaust and apartheid.

But this country has the ability to self-correct and so do companies, schools, and other organizations. The statue of Sims came down. Schools like Georgetown have begun to create programs so descendants of enslaved Africans that were sold to keep the university afloat can go to Georgetown for free. Companies like Kodak, Coca-Cola, General Electric, General Motors, and I.B.M. did end up divesting from apartheid but none of this happened without activism, similar to what we are seeing now. This is how you show that Black Lives Matter, which is an organization started by three incredible women named Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Before organizations state “Black Lives Matter” I would strongly suggest visiting the Black Lives Matter website to truly understand its commitment to social, racial, and economic justice. “Black Lives Matter” is about a way of life for society that is truly committed to equality, not band-aids on an open wound still seeping blood from the sword of systemic racism.

I have had some very powerful courageous conversations with companies and schools in the past few weeks. Some organizations are very far ahead in their work on diversity, equity, and inclusion and some are just starting out. Wherever your organization may be on the road, what’s most important is to stay on that road and not veer off. If we’re honest, almost everything organizations need to do in order to bring true diversity, equity, and inclusion matters to the forefront has already been documented by the black employees in those organizations. Companies must go beyond the external displays of solidarity to internal responses to the concerns of their employees. This is the best way to truly show that #blacklivesmatter beyond the hashtag and to celebrate Juneteenth 365 days a year.

Breonna Bland Arbery-Floyd (a poem for the slain)

George Floyd

George Floyd


Watch hip-hop music video here

I’m tired, I’m tired, but also inspired

Time to vote folks out get these DAs fired

Grandmas stand in front of cops defendin’ they kids

Grandpops now the man of the house if they ain’t dead

And I ain’t watching more videos of me getting killed

Cause I see myself in every video that’s real

And if I don’t see me I see my whole family

My best friends, my students, my community

If you don’t see yourself where’s your humanity?

What you gonna do to stop this insanity?

If you won’t stand up for you will you stand for we?

Show that black lives matter, fight for unity?

But I’m a let you know we ain’t waitin’ for you

We gonna fight until “all lives matter” too

Before the next one is murdered, we gon’ see this through

And make change with the girls and the boys in blue

Let me also point this out ’fore I continue to rock

The McMichaels, Zimmerman and Roof ain’t cops

So when they murder us in church or on the block

They represent white supremacy and that whole flock

And along with these cops they represent a system

Designed to take a black man and convict and kill him

Aligned to take a black woman and make her a victim

Then put ’em both on trial to dehumanize them

Then put ’em on TV to verbally brutalize them

Then never share stories of these cops and brethren

Then they let these killers prep the same story

And rarely ever charge ’em with a felony

The justice system doin’ what it was built to do

Protect the cops at all costs no matter what they do

But real change is gonna come it’s long overdue

Cause we had something that we never had before…YOU!

Jamar Clark, Breonna Taylor, Ousman Zongo

Cameron Hall, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo

Tamir Rice, Sean Bell, Jemel Roberson

Eleanor Bumpers, Walter Scott, Fred Hampton

Harith Augustus, EJ Bradford, Trayvon Martin

Lajuana Philips, Antwon Rose, RaShaun Washington

Daniel Simmons, Robert White, Tony Green

Clemente Pickney, Philando, Botham Jean

Sandra Bland, Stephon Clark, Alberta Spruill,

Nathaniel McCoy, Russell, Travares McGill,

Cameron Hall, Yvette Smith, Anthony Hill

John Crawford, Danroy Henry, Emmett Till

Yusef Hawkins, Michael Brown, George Floyd

Jerame Reid, Kayla Baker, Rekia Boyd

Juan Jones, Miriam Carey, Jordan Edwards

Atatania, Ahmaud Arbery, Medgar Evers

Deantea Farrow, Danny Thomas, Linwood Lambert

Marcus David-Peters, Diante, Michael Stewart

Malisa Williams, Claudia Gonzalez,

Ronnell Foster, Prince Jones, Anthony Baez

Jordan Baker, Henry Glover, Tony Robinson

James Brisette, Shem, Tanesha Anderson

Shermichael Ezeff, Freddie Gray, Ronald Madison

Oscar Grant, Ayana Jones, Dondi Johnson

Raheim Brown, Victor Steen, Cedric Chatman

Timothy Thomas, Aaron Campbell, Tarika Wilson

Ajibade, David Raya, Steven Washington

Nehemiah, Orlando, Patrick Dorisman

Ramarley Graham, Terence Crutcher, Daniel Simmons

Manuel Diaz, Alesia, Tamon Robinson

And to all the Chris Coopers and the coulda-beens

Could be you or me tomorrow, we must never give in!