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On Critical Race Theory protests and removing Hitler from history books

Across America, school boards have become the latest battleground on the issue of mask mandates in schools. People have been threatened one another, even coming to the point of physical violence. In some states like Florida and New Hampshire, local anti-maskers are teaming up with white supremacist groups like The Proud Boys to intimidate school board members to allow students and staff to enter schools maskless. While the fight rages on, there was another issue that ignited controversy in schools and school board meetings before the mask protests—Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Spearheaded by FOX news hosts like Tucker Carlson, protesters have demanded that CRT not be taught in their schools because it, in part, teaches white children to hate themselves. Republican governors like Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt signed legislation banning its teaching, stating that “we need policies that bring us together, not rip us apart” and that “not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.” In short, as Oklahoma City Public Schools School Board President Paula Lewis stated, the ban is an “outright racist and oppressive piece of legislation.”

As anti-CRT legislation is pushed nationwide, few realize what CRT actually is and that it is not being taught in K-12 institutions. Critical race theory is, well, a theory created in the 1970s by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others. Its main goal is to analyze the impact of America’s policies from a racial lens, such as the racial implications of housing policies that denied mortgages to black people. CRT has also been used as a lens across other fields of study, according to Education Week. Although simply a theory utilized in college, CRT has become the catch phrase for anything related to protest racial injustice. The question I find myself asking is how far do CRT protesters want to take their fight?

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert, I work with private, public, and charter schools across America. At one school, I met a teacher who told me how frustrated he was with a parent’s preference for teaching about Dr. King but not Malcolm X because Malcolm was, in his words, “the villain”. Have we come to a point where parents can now make a menu of their favorite historical figures that make them feel nice and wholesome like their favorite television shows growing up? Furthermore, where were these so-called CRT activists when I along with millions of nonwhite students were being taught to hate ourselves via the ways we were depicted in the school curriculum? In reality, these misrepresentations still occur today as schools across the country look for more representation of diverse perspectives and stories in their classrooms.

If we refuse to teach history in its totality, we will create the ultimate whitewash through an educational brainwash. I find myself thinking about World War II. What would removing Hitler from the history books look like? Would our books only write about the actions of then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt without talking about the evil Roosevelt helped to defeat and the millions of Jewish and other people liberated from concentration camps? Would we only talk about the heroism of the “Greatest Generation” and ignore the stories of sexual assault by American soldiers on European women? The list is endless but the main point is that we ultimately do our students a disservice when do not teach a complete and intersectional picture of history.

A recent survey by Axios survey showed that across the board, college students, including over half of college republicans, believe that legislatures should not block the teaching of history in its totality. Moreover, most college students surveyed including almost half of college republicans believe that teaching about institutional racism is necessary. In Pennsylvania, students are protesting a move by a schoolboard to ban books and videos just featuring nonwhite people like kids’ books on Rosa Parks and Malala. This generation of students do not want to have history sugarcoated. As an American University professor, I have seen first-hand the anger in the eyes of students when they learn about aspects of history that they should have learned in their K-12 experience such as how The 13th Amendment to The Constitution did not fully ban slavery or that America had a nonwhite Vice President by the name of Charles Curtis in the 1930s decades before Vice President Kamala Harris. We build a better America by raising a better informed America and that starts with teaching our full history in schools. Rather than cherry-pick history, we need to teach it all for the sake of our future.

 

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.

We need you NOW to stand with us for Ahmaud Arbery

I want to start this off by saying happy birthday to Mr. Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud, you’re a man who should be here today. An all-American athlete, and kind and loving person as described by family. I’m not going by these false media reports and narratives working to put you, the victim, on trial. In my course at American University entitled Intercultural Communication, we talk about a wide range of issues from Islamophobia and homophobia to anti-Semitism and sexism. One of our sections deals with #blacklivesmatter and unarmed killings of people, primarily of black people by law enforcement, but also in situations like this as well as the case with Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, who were slain by vigilantes. I stopped watching videos of black people being slain until it’s time to teach this course so I have not watched the video of Ahmaud Arbery being slain.

One of the questions that I ask to my majority white students in class is the same question I’m asking you if you are not black: do you see yourself or your family members or people you know who are not black in those same situations? And the overwhelming response for the majority of my students is that they do not. And this is where the problem lies. This thing we call common humanity, many people don’t have it as it relates to black people. There’s still this mentality of “Well, he must have done something…” or “Well if he wasn’t running…” then Arbery would still be alive. These questions are never asked of white people.

There is always a reason to justify black death because we all don’t see ourselves in the lives of black people. People don’t see themselves in our predicament. When I see somebody get killed who’s Jewish in an antisemitic attack, I see myself and people I know in that situation. When I see somebody get attacked and beaten or bullied because they’re gay, I see myself in that situation even though I’m not gay because they’re human beings. As Dr. Maya Angelou said that, we’re human beings so nothing should be foreign to us. If we are going to find common ground in these uncommon times, I need you to start seeing your own children, your own mother, your own father, and your own brothers and sisters in these situations and really take a deep reflective stance as to how you’re going to be an upstander for all humanity. If all lives really matter, then we need you to join the fight to prove it!

The Arbery tragedy is every day for us. Many of us don’t even click on these videos anymore because we’re tired and it hurts in our soul. A recent study spoke about how racism itself should be considered a disease or linked to disease because of the way it shortens our lives. Do you think about this if you are not black? Do you just call yourself an “ally” and call it a day? We don’t need allies right now. I don’t believe in allies. I believe that the term allies has become a very arrogant term. And it’s the term that people have used to act like they’re kind of better than people. Allies go to sports games, cheer their home team, and go home. We need people to see common humanity and do something about it!

We have to get out there and do the work. We need all of you to get out there. Keep Ahmaud in mind when you’re running because he can’t run anymore. Keep Ahmaud in mind when you get out and exercise. Keep him in mind when you’re out there doing your best and forgetting the rest. Think about his parents and think about his mom on Mother’s Day, his father and Father’s Day and all of the people out there from the Sandra Blands to the Trayvon Martins of the world. Live and fight for the people who we won’t be able to get back.

We don’t have time to wait. We need you to get out there with us in solidarity because we are human beings and we deserve that respect that we have given to so many of you all across diverse communities around the world. That support has always been shown, oftentimes at the expense of our own community and now we’re asking for just a little of that back. I think that’s the least that many of you out there can do. We’re not waiting for you. Whenever you’re ready, come out and hit the streets, hit the airwaves, hit whatever with us because we are hitting it hard to get justice for Mr. Ahmad Arbery and so many other people. So I say to Mr. Arbery, rest in peace and rest in power. Whenever the rest of you are ready to join us in this common fight for humanity and dignity and decency, you have a place with us. Peace.

The 10 Antiracist Commandments (lyrics)

I been in this land for years, they see me as an animal

Time to end these racist lies, just read a manual

A step by step booklet for you to get

Time we learned how to be anti-racist

Dr. Kendi laid out the blueprint of how to do it

You wanna be an antiracist this is how you pursue it

Said it ain’t just good enough to say what you ain’t

You gotta do the work, box that hate out the paint

Start by checking yourself why you got those fears

Look at who’s been teaching you those racist ideas

White hate black, black hate white, black hate black

When it comes to being racist we should all step back

And check it all from how we police clothing and behavior

To how our system’s based off the need for a white savior

From power and body to class and biology

The racist roots of society is our biography

But it ain’t gotta be just because it’s how it was

We can’t keep the status quo just because

With our future on the line I believe that it’s time

To look in the mirror start to change our design

Rule nombre uno:

Gotta let people know

The racist views you hold

And how you plan to let em go

#2: here’s a good next move

Get a good reading list that challenges your views

#3: Never trust nobody

Who says they ain’t racist when actions speak loudly

#4: Know you heard this before

“Some of my best friends are black” don’t say that no more

#5: you don’t want racism to stay alive

Learn how it all started then make sure that it dies

#6: post-racial rhetoric, forget it

Think voting for Obama stopped racism, forget it

#7: this rule is so underrated

Understand why our neighborhoods are still segregated

’cause money and race don’t mix

Like Trump havin’ real ethics

Find yourself impeached real quick

#8: Never keep no hate in you

Exorcise it all costs maybe lose some friends too

#9 shoulda been number one to me

Know from day one we been a racist society

#10: a strong word called “alignment”

Get with like-minded people is your next assignment

Follow these rules your racism starts to shake up

If not, maybe hundred more years until we wake up!

Workplace Issues Under Trump? Here are 3 ways To Handle It!

I have worked with both the Trump and Obama administrations during my career as a diversity & inclusion practitioner, so I have inside experience on how both administrations work. I have been critical of both administrations for different reasons. From corporations to schools, I have also worked with organizations dealing with the challenges the election of the first African American President brought them, which is a discussion for another day. The goal of this article is to provide some steps companies can take during the presidency of Donald Trump to deal with challenges related to diversity.

Whether you love or hate President Trump, we all know that he has been called by some the most divisive president in recent United States history. Whether you agree with that statement or not, one thing that we cannot disagree on is that since 2016, tensions have risen tremendously in the country in the form of an increase in hate crimes, an increase in tensions between non-white communities and law enforcement, and increased tensions in the workplace. More employees are experiencing tension because of what they are experiencing outside of work as well as on the job. Here are three steps companies can take to start to create a more productive work environment in a country that is only going to become more tense as we approach the 2020 election.

Create Free Spaces

There has been much written about the importance of organizations creating safe spaces, but there also needs to be free spaces where your employees can express themselves without being judged or develop a fear of reprisals. There should be a department or at the very least a representative of your company, not affiliated with HR, where employees can express themselves and their concerns about how the climate of the country (or your company) may be affecting their work performance. You can have employees who feel they are being targeted because of their race, religion, gender, or any other identifier that they feel singled out for. From the rich white male in your company to the Muslim middle-class female in your organization, anyone can feel marginalized at any time. They need spaces to speak their mind!

Create A Diversity Statement AND Diversity Trainings NOW Before…

…the crisis hits and a crisis will hit! I have encountered so many employees who have told me that they feel tolerated and not celebrated in their organizations because their jobs do not have a stated commitment to diversity. The idea of the diversity statement can indeed be controversial, but I believe that it is better to have and not need a statement than need and not have a statement. A diversity statement is a promise to everyone who walks through your door that your company is committed to hiring the best talent regardless of their background. In order to honor that promise, companies must engage in regular events and trainings focused on building a culturally competent work force in order to demonstrate that actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Remember That Silence Is Compliance

As I am writing this, the term #silenceiscompliance is trending in regards to frustrations with politicians not speaking up on some of the issues facing America today. Whether it is the situation with the flag and Colin Kaepernick or environmental issues such as the effects of straws in the environment, we now live in a society where consumers want their companies to take a stand, one way or the other. Even the candy company Skittles, had to issue a statement after the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. In this day and age, you do not want your company to be caught off guard by an issue that is quickly going viral. In the last year, Starbucks, Gucci, Macy’s, Home Depot, H&M, Sephora, Burberry, and so many other companies have found themselves the subject of backlash from issues such as racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. You want to make sure that your company is proactive in the face of controversy because the companies that are reactive tend to suffer the most criticism from the public (and stockholders by the way).

At the end of the day, we live in a society that is on the brink of something beautiful or on the brink of something disastrous. Your company should not wait to respond to issues regarding diversity and inclusion. I have not yet read a study saying that companies that are more diverse and celebrate its diversity are less profitable. Forbes, for example, reports that companies increase their revenue by as much as 19% when they embrace diversity. As the country becomes more diverse and the world becomes smaller, you owe it to your employees and your consumers to continually be ahead of the curve. As Dr. King stated, the time is always right to do right. If your company is strong in one or two of these areas, strengthen yourself in the third area. If your company is shaky in all three, there is no time like the present to fine tune your programs by working with experts in this area. If your company is proficient in all three, do not get comfortable, for as Zig Ziglar said, you can always better your best! Let’s GO!

The Case For Impeachment (Lyrics)

We got a president that wants to be king

A media that obsesses on the pettiest things

A republican party that will do anything

That the President says man, he’s pulling their strings

Well he ain’t pullin mine I’ll say what’s on my mind

While Pelosi seems scared to charge Trump with high crimes

And misdemeanors, while his team ignores subpoenas

Fell in love with North Korea while our country’s getting meaner

A puppet of Putin, on that ain’t no disputin’

Helsinki press conference showed which flag Trump’s salutin’

His treasonous acts give us reason to act

Like the Oval Office meeting with Sergey Kislyak

Or not firing Conway for axing the Hatch Act

Or his support for Neo-Nazis and continued press attacks

And I beg your pardon, gotta talk about pardons

And how sells us all out on the White House Gardens

With his hourly lies more 10,000 times

Or how he sits with then hates on the New York Times

Or how he oversteps the law with legalese

And offers to pay violent supporter’s legal fees

If they attack a demonstrator, but he’s the real hater

And if you work for him and disagree? See ya later

Come on homey, Look at how he did Jim Comey

If that ain’t obstruction congress what’s your function?

And I think Bob Mueller made it pretty clear

About obstruction actions I don’t know what you fear

C’mon man, look at how he did Don McGhan

Or how to get noble prize nod, he calls on japan

If y’all would just give a damn it’s easy to understand

Need to reach Heather’s Heyer ground and save this land

And he’s guilty by association, check the cohort

Flynn, Cohen, Gates, Stone, and Paul Manafort

Stormy days on the horizon, or should I say Stormy Daniels

Americans lookin’ sad dog ears like cocker spaniels

Wasting our tax dollars, the man ain’t frugal

50 trips to Mar-a-Lago, payoffs to McDougal

He supports neo-nazis while so many will not see

His racist tendencies favor white supremacy

Says he’s the President who will bring law & order

But acts lawlessly just look at kids on the border

Trapped in cages, babies to teens of all ages

More dying by the month as this created crisis rages

And in DC can’t forget emolument’s clause

And how he profits from that office man, it’s time to pause

America if you’re listening hope you can find

The 30,000 reasons to impeach this guy

And if we really don’t impeach yo I gotta ask why

We didn’t vote y’all in office to watch the country die

JAY Z Is A Billionaire. What Will Black Boys In YOUR School TODAY Be Tomorrow?

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,

Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head

Not sure if that’s how adults should speak ta kids

Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class

JAY Z, So Ambitious (Blueprint 3, 2009)

There are many reasons why I decided to write my doctoral dissertation and forthcoming book on JAY Z (born Shawn Corey Carter). I could speak about him becoming hip-hop’s first billionaire or his marriage to megastar Beyoncé. I could speak about his rags-to-riches story or his incredible, yet silent activism such as bailing out fathers and financially supporting organizations like Black Lives Matter. All of these facts are relevant and worthy of their own chapters and articles but the aforementioned quotation from the song So Ambitious speaks to me as an educator who works with schools on elevating their black males like no other JAY Z line. The lines resonate because I realize that we spend so much time celebrating JAY Z while ignoring or outright ostracizing the JAY Zs in our classrooms today.

At eleven years old, JAY Z was a poor, self-described “half orphan” living in the crime and crack-infested Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. When I interviewed his sixth-grade teacher Renee Rosenblum-Lowden about his three biggest influences at that time, she stated without hesitation: “drugs, drugs, and drugs.” She talked about the pressures hard-working students faced from other children making money as drug dealers. She spoke about having to let some of her students sleep in class because they could not sleep at home with all the gun shots and violence. She spoke about her students walking out of school and seeing dead bodies. Though her classroom was a haven for JAY Z and other students, it is also worth noting that the school itself was so underfunded (like many inner-city schools across the country then and now) that it could only hire a male gym teacher who “supervised” both male and female locker rooms.

What were JAY Z’s life chances? In all reality, this was a boy who should have never reached adulthood but as this article is being written, there are still JAY Zs in classrooms across America who are just as bright and determined but are not being given a chance to reach their fullest potential. It should be noted here that despite JAY Z’s challenges in and outside of the home, he was a child prodigy, demonstrated by the fact that on citywide school exams, he received senior level scores though he was only in the 6thgrade. In other neighborhoods he would have been called a genius, but in 1980s Brooklyn JAY Z dropped out of high school to sell drugs. Did he fail school or did school fail him?

Judging by what is happening with our black boys in schools today across America, school failed JAY Z then just as schools are failing black boys now. Using JAY Z’s lyrics, I will highlight three immediate steps that schools can take to genuinely reach their black male students, and by default, all of their students.

I’m a hustler, accept that

No correctional facility can correct that

NYMP (1999)

These lines remind me of a quotation from Dr. Cornel West, who said that black male rage cannot be destroyed or caged. He said it can only be redirected. Unfortunately, in too many of our schools, the rage that many of our black male students enter schools with or develop while in schools (and of course many black girls too) is redirected towards detention, suspension, and expulsion. It is this redirection that is greatly responsible for what has been called the preschool to prison pipeline. Within schools, however, this is best manifested by black male students being separated from the “general population” by being placed unnecessarily in special education or in-school suspension though what many of them need is the critical thinking skills developed in honors and advanced placement classes. Unfortunately, in many schools, according to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, about 20% of teachers make 80% of referrals as it relates to discipline and serve as the gatekeepers to who gets to experience advanced courses. Give black male students the same opportunities to excel as all students instead of setting low expectations and not being surprised when they meet them!

Teacher said I was a lost cause ’cause I used to roam the halls

Still I spit knowledge, dropped out of high school, skipped college

Who’d a thought I’d make it BIG like Ms. Wallace?

This Life Forever (1999)

A carryover from the last point, teachers and administrators must set high and honest expectations for black males and verbalize them. I say “honest” because students can always detect fake intentions. I once spoke at a high school where the principal saw a student and smiled in his face and encouraged him to not be late to class. As soon as he turned the corner, the principal said: “You know he is going to make a great prisoner one day.” I believe that student, like so many others, saw through her façade and knew exactly what that principal thought of him. As study after study and educators like Jane Elliott have shown with her brown and blue eye test, students of all backgrounds will rise or sink to the expectations set for them. If you enter your school with low expectations of any student, it may be time to either find the passion for every student that led you to become a teacher or leave the profession.

I went to school, got grades, could behave when I wanted

But I had demons inside that emerged when confronted

Now all my teachers couldn’t reach me and my momma couldn’t beat me

Hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seeing me so

With that disdain in my membrane

Got on my pimp game

F*** the world, my defense came

December 4th (2003)

Whenever I see a mass shooting conducted by a white boy or man, conversations quickly emerge about mental illness oftentimes before the name of the shooter is even known. If the shooter is Muslim, they are automatically labeled a terrorist. If they are black, they are usually labeled a thug. I do not, for example, hear discussions about mental illness in conversations about violence on the streets of Chicago. Do you? Non-white people deserve the same mental health prescription that is assigned to most white male offenders. In order to make sure black male students can reach their apex, schools should survey the services that these students need that could range from mental health services to basic dental care. As Jonathan Kozol talks about in his book Savage Inequalities, a student cannot excel during an exam if he is suffering from a simple toothache. In fact, some children have indeed died in America from a “simple” toothache due to a lack of access to health services. Many of our black male students have those “demons” inside that could be exorcised with the assistance of community and school health services.

There are so many lyrics by JAY Z and other rap artists that provide clues about why our schools are failing black males. Rather than ignoring those signs and praising these rappers as the ones that “made it out the ’hood”, we need to do a deeper dive to better understand their stories because theirs are the stories of our students in our classrooms today. The next JAY Z is in your classroom right now or at the very least in your school. He may have aspirations to be a rapper, teacher, sanitation worker, lawyer, or president. Whatever it is, we need to do the work needed to help him reach his greatness. Our black male students should not feel the need to leave school in order to reach their greatness. If we listen to JAY Z beyond the surface level, we will indeed see that he has provided us the Blueprint (pun intended) to do just that.

A Motivational Speaker’s Take on White Supremacists

            Motivational speakers are supposed to be objective. We are supposed to speak about how there is always a window opening when a door closes. We are supposed to speak matter-of-factly that life doesn’t care about our excuses, only our results. We are expected to be apolitical and focus on the bright side no matter what. While I have been proud to call myself a motivational speaker, I was an activist and an upstander before I was anything else. Whether I am motivating, teaching, or rapping, fighting for social change will always be at the root of what I do.

When I see our nation facing increasing hostilities from white supremacists who blame others for their own station in life, I am obligated to speak. To that end, I would like to share some words that I hope will inspire these individuals to see the real problem that is facing their advancement—themselves. There are certain motivational principles we speakers share that in the end, will help these individuals take control of their lives and stop attempting to destroy the lives of others, if they have the will to do so.

  1. “When you point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you.”

Les Brown once said that life doesn’t care about your excuses, only your results. While you attack immigrants for taking your jobs (they’re not), DACA students who became valedictorian over your child, or grab your TIKI torches, the question you should be asking is what have you done to improve your life in the last few years? Have you signed up for any certifications? Have you decided to go back to school? Learn a trade? Learn a language? It is impossible to look at yourself and take personal responsibility when you spend so much time looking down on others. As we say in the ‘hood, do YOU! Part of the reason hatred is so strong towards others is because it is partially rooted in envy.

  1. “A negative mind will never give you a positive life.”

You will be whatever consumes you. If you are consumed by hate and ignorance toward someone else, that feeling will eat you alive. When the late South African President Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, one of the first stops he made was to the home of his prison guards to show that he forgave them. The hate you give others could be a manifestation of some form of contempt for yourself. How much time is spent thinking positively about your future as opposed to practicing evil against others? Your hatred towards others is literally preventing you from forging a path that could change the course of your life. Once you run out of people to hate and attack, you’ll have no one else to judge but yourself. Self-reflection is harder than negative outward projection but in the end it’s worth it.

  1. “Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.”

These powerful words spoken by Carol Burnet should be your mantra. There is no cavalry coming for you. No matter how much ignorance you express online or in real life, you still have to look at yourself in the mirror and do something with your life. Someone once said to pray as if it all depends on God but act is if it all depends on you. What is one thing you did today that helped advance in your own life, build on your knowledge, or improve yourself professionally? If your answer is “nothing” than you have no one to be upset with but yourself. If every person whom you hold in contempt disappeared today, it still would do nothing to improve your chances of success if you have done nothing to improve your chances for success.

In closing, it is important to remember that whiteness is a construct, designed to ascribe a certain set of privileges to white people that they neither earned nor had to compete for. As the country has become browner and a bigger part of the global community, there is no way to avoid competition from others. Extremism is on the rise in America in part because of a perceived threat of the “other” coming to take jobs and other opportunities from white people. In 2017, most of the acts of terrorism committed on American soil were committed by white men, emboldened by an administration that has members with their own history of racism, including President Trump himself. If the same anger was focused on looking inward instead of acting out, these individuals may learn that there is indeed a better future for them if they are willing to do the work to prepare for it.

Elevating the Black Male: Strategies to become a more culturally competent teacher

As I look back at my days as a Boston Public Schools student, and as I look at the multitudes of black male students still being excluded from the educational process today, I’m left to believe that we are dealing with nothing short of a tragic epidemic. As a seventh grader in the early 1990s, I remember a white male teacher dragging me to the office telling me: “Do you think I’m gonna put up with your s_ _ _ all year you f_ _ _ _ _’ punk?” Fast forward to 2009 and I’m speaking to a black female principal in DC. She sees one of her students from a distance and says: “He’s really gonna make a great prisoner one day.” Here we have 2 different cities, over 20 years apart, 2 different races, and 2 different genders, but one overwhelming similarity—low expectations towards black male students.

My belief is that if you develop strategies to reach your black males, you learn techniques to reach all of your students. Below are some strategies that will assist you in improving not only the participation of your black males who may be struggling, but ultimately give you a diverse range of tools to pull from in order to make for a dynamic teaching experience for all of your students!

Have high expectations for all of your students and communicate them. Many teachers fail to communicate that they expect all students to succeed in class. By default, there are students who are going to feel as if they cannot succeed. Whether it’s by their placement in the back of the class, their watching the same students get chosen to speak, or even the different levels of discipline for different students, your message will be communicated one way or the other. If you truly believe everyone can succeed, show them!

Increase your knowledge about their history. One game I play when I conduct my trainings is asking teachers to name 10 black male famous athletes, actors, and musicians. In less than 30 seconds, we have the answers. However, when asked to name 10 famous black male (living) doctors, scientists, or authors, the list often is never completed. If you widen your knowledge of black male success, you will not only develop a better picture of what is possible for your students, but you will also help them craft an image of themselves that is greater than what society tells them they can be. What you know is what you’ll show!

Utilize a wide range of equitable practices in order to involve all students. Rather than calling on the same students, utilize random calling popsicle sticks drawn from a cup so every student knows they could be called upon at any time. Students are more likely to be prepared if they believe they’ll actually be asked to participate. You can also have random grouping so students do not get comfortable with the same students. Lastly, remember that every student does not always learn solely by written exams. Develop additional ways that students can present their knowledge be it through oral presentations, musical interpretations, or group projects. Much of these practices can be found in books like The Skillful Teacher by Saphier, et al.

If you make a dedicated effort to utilize the steps above and just have a mindset that, as Donna Graves states, there’s not an achievement gap but a teaching gap, you will turn yourself into a teacher with the ability to incorporate not only your black male students, but all students irrespective of race, creed, color, gender, or religion! Teach on!

I acknowledge my privilege. Why can’t white people?

I recently read an article about a “white privilege” essay contest that caused a bit of controversy in Westport, Connecticut. According to The New York Times, this wealthy coastal town is over 90% white and has an average salary of $150,000. While most of the students did not have a problem with the question, many parents were outraged. The question asked: “In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege’. To what extent do you think this privilege exists? What impact do you think it has had in your life—whatever your racial or ethnic identity—and in our society more broadly?”

The question sparked outrage by some parents who called it “race baiting,” “offensive,” and “divisive.” As a diversity & leadership educator, as well as an upstander, I encounter comments like this across the country as well as internationally when the topic of white privilege is raised. The idea for some white people that their incredible success could not be derived from anything other than their Protestant Work Ethic mentality that says essentially that “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” and nothing else is impossible to conceive. Rather than become offended, I think it is important to acknowledge that most of us have some form of privilege and part of the path to making our privilege irrelevant is to acknowledge it.

I am a black man living in inner city America, I am not wealthy, and I don’t have a “common sounding” name that allows me to easily blend in. I have experienced my fair share of racism, stereotyping, profiling, you name it. Despite this, I have to realize that I also have my own bit of privilege. I am a man living in a male dominated society. My gender provides me with the privilege of not needing to be engaged in certain conversations that disproportionately affect women. For example, I can, if I choose, completely ignore conversations relating to sexual harassment and assault, because this issue generally affects women more than man. If I indeed fall victim to a sexual assault, no one will blame the clothes I was wearing that day or accuse me of seducing my attacker or look at my body development and say “well what did he expect to happen?” That’s privilege.

Being a man also allows me to generally choose any career that I want and not have to worry about passing “my time” to advance my career to the fullest. For example, I have female friends who work for the State Department and the Foreign Service in general. One friend told me that she and her female friends have to decide if they are going to start a family young and risk not receiving certain promotions because of maternity leave for example, or forgo starting a family in order to rise through the ranks faster. I have yet to speak to a single man in the foreign service who has had that problem. It’s still a problem for younger generations too evidenced by a survey I took of my American University students. I asked them how many feel as if they have had to plan out the stages of their lives since the age of 10 with set deadlines based on their age. Only the females raised their hand. One male student was shocked because, as he said, “I never had to think about” an age limitation. That’s privilege.

I also happen to be an American passport holding citizen. In most places around the world, simply showing this passport affords me a certain level of privilege than someone from my parents’ home country of the Congo. This has become even more evident in a Trump administration where even green card holders are no longer guaranteed entry into the United States. As stated previously, I face many forms of stereotyping, racism, and profiling, but generally speaking, my nationality has served as a net plus in the more than 20 countries I have visited to date. That’s privilege.

At the end of the day, if we think hard enough, we can all realize that there are some privileges we do enjoy over others because of our education, race, gender, zip code, nationality, etc. For the people of Westport or other well-to-do white neighborhoods, no one denies that you have worked hard for what you have. But it is also important to know, as professor Tim Wise points out in his film and book “White Like Me” that this government has been set up over a period of centuries for the advancement of white people. We can go back as far back as Slavery to programs of the last century such as the post-World War II GI Bill that provided white military veterans with more opportunities for education and homeownership over black soldiers. Opportunities such as these gave many white families a head start on opportunities to build wealth. There is a racial history of privilege in the very zip codes that most of us reside in and the schools our children attend. To ignore this basic fact is to simply ignore reality.

As Georgetown University professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson stated, the concept of white privilege is at the heart of many of the challenges we face in America today. White privilege keeps white people who are not part of the upper echelon arguing against their own interests and failing to realize they have more in common with marginalized communities of color. Denial of white privilege allows for those white people who make up the majority of upper class America to deny that they or their forefathers may have had access to opportunities that were often (legally) denied to other communities, thus limiting their pool of competition. I recently came across a picture that shows the difference between equality and equity which is shared below:

The picture says it all. This is a country who, for almost 400 years has never fully approached equality and therefore not even come close to equity. Taking the bold step to acknowledge our privilege will get us closer to equity, if we would only be honest with ourselves, equally.