Tag Archives: Color

The Many Shades of Racism and Many Shades of Passing

Everyday Triggers

Every day I trepidatiously scan the latest news on the internet hoping to avoid the most egregious triggers. This week began with a debate on “white Hispanic” trending in social media regarding a Deputy Sheriff in Los Angeles who shot and killed a Black man. That debate was similar to the “blue dress / gold dress” debate of 2015, with the exception that it was about race, and racism, and death. As a woman who has spent too much of her adult life responding to the statement: “You don’t look Puerto Rican!” Meaning: “You look white,” these debates make me cringe. Yesterday had its share of reports of violence against people of color by law enforcement officials, politicians, and haters-in-general, but one story jumped out at me. “A white professor lied about being Afro-Latina for years.”

Colorization

I spend a great deal of time thinking about the construct of racial and ethnic identity. Throughout history there have been people who chose to pass as white (if they could pass as white) because they sought the privilege provided by passing safety from violence, job opportunities, improved housing conditions, etc. Many mixed-race people do not have to try to pass. Genetics are a funny thing. We do not all carry the same percentage of our ancestors’ DNA. We come out all mixed up. I have siblings with blond hair and blue or grey eyes and siblings with black hair and dark brown eyes. We have a range of skin tones. I was encouraged by my mother to stay out of the sun long before fears of skin cancer were a common concern, as she did not want me to get too brown.

The point of all of this is that we have been taught and conditioned for hundreds of years that there are clear advantages to being white. In recent years, people of color – Africans, descendants of Africans, Asians, descendants of Asians, Native Peoples, descendants of Native Peoples, and every possible combination of the above with varying degrees of European DNA mixed in – have begun to learn to value themselves. The assertion that Black Lives Matter, that people who are not 100% white matter, comes at the price of being attacked by those who disagree (aka racists). Those attacks may be verbal (hate speech): “You dirty spic!” Those attacks may be written (racist billboards) “Diversity = White Genocide!” Those attacks may be physical “The police shot into the crowd of protesters with rubber bullets at point blank range.”  

Co-opting Suffering

What this woman, especially as one in the academic sector wielding an incredible sphere of influence, did by impersonating people who are born into a world where those attacks and the threat of those attacks are a daily experience was to disavow the value of our lived experience. I once had a friend who said, “I cannot compete with you!” She was referring to my childhood of poverty and abuse, my first husband being killed in a taxi accident in Beijing, and other personal struggles and tragedies that I have experienced. She also referenced my being a Latina. This ‘icing on the cake’ apparently made it hard for a white woman to complain about how difficult her own life was. This was long before I was facilitating discussions on white privilege in my workshops, but her complaint created a breaking point for me. White, non-Hispanic / non-Latino people cannot even let us have our suffering. They even have to co-opt that!  I have survived being spit on, having a full soda can thrown at my head, having a bucket of water with laundry soap thrown in my face, in addition to many verbal racist attacks by people who did not like having dirty spics as neighbors in our public housing projects in Astoria, NY. These are traumas that I would gladly trade for a life of safety and prosperity or privilege.

Every time we are confronted with the assault of a white person passing as a person of color, we are forced to face our internalized racism. The many shades of internalized racism within our own communities that focus on whether someone is being Black enough or Latino enough. The debate over how Hispanic a ‘white Hispanic’ person is versus an ‘Afro-Hispanic’ or ‘Afro-Latino’ causes us to fracture further and further apart. Racism has been part of Latino culture for as long as there have been Latinos (think of the Conquistadors). As we gain self-realization, self-esteem, and work to unlearn the internalized racism that we have been taught for millennia, we must remember that teaching to value shades of color perpetuates the Spanish system of la Casta* which was a very effective way of keeping people divided and disempowered. As long as we focus on shades of color as a value system we perpetuate racism. This perpetuates our division, our separateness, our lack of connection and inclusion, and ultimately our ascendance to full privilege. We have an opportunity to stop reacting to the racism that we have been taught and to start intentionally being who we are: the legacy of those who came before and new, beautiful, and whole people.

Onward!

Wendy Amengual Wark
September 4, 2020

Wendy@InclusionStrategy.com
www.InclusionStrategy.com

* La Casta [Spanish  categorization of race in the colonies]
 

What Difference Does Difference Make? Is the Candidate Qualified?

What Difference Does Difference Make?

I have been asking this question for decades: What difference does difference make? It came to me when I was confronted by very privileged individuals who could not even imagine what life would be like for those who are not white, Christian, educated, socioeconomically secure, heterosexual, without a major disability, born in the USA, and for the most part, male. I needed to find ways to get through the resistance to inclusion, to create a bridge that would help those who were taught that difference is bad to cross the chasm from ignorance to inclusion. I needed to develop a methodology to help these people to unlearn the lies that they had been taught all of their lives: that they were not part of the problem of racism nor the cure; that all people who worked hard, followed the golden rule, and kept out of trouble would be able to be successful in American society; that affirmative action was unfair and helped those who were less capable, lazy, and did not deserve the jobs that they got; that the majority of Americans have not been victims of racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of hate; and that discrimination is not a cornerstone of privilege. I have been told hundreds of times by individuals who actively reinforced institutional racism and sexism that they were neither sexist nor racist. Usually, I was told this vehemently.

Intersectionality

With the announcement that Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his Vice-Presidential running mate, the internet and media worlds lit up with an incredible range of responses. Most of the statements, however, have not focused on Ms. Harris’ political position on various matters. Most of the statements have focused on her gender, race, or ethnicity, in other words, her intersectionality. As the first woman of Indian and Jamaican descent to be nominated (presumed at the time of this writing) Vice Presidential candidate by one of the two major political parties in the United States, comments regarding Ms. Harris’ intersectionality have abounded. Kamala Harris identifies as a Black woman. She is representative of millions of Americans of mixed ‘race’ and ethnicity. Many of us were deeply, positively impacted by having a President who was of mixed race when we elected President Barack Obama. Now, we have that opportunity again. The opportunity is to normalize and embrace our intersectionality rather than engage in debates over how Black or how Indian Ms. Harris is. At Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC, we discuss intersectionality in many of our workshops. I, for example, cannot dissect my intersectionality. I cannot only be a woman today, without being a person who is in her 60s, or someone who is half Puerto Rican and half Irish descent. All of my distinct demographic identities combine to make me who I am. They have always shaped and impacted how others see me, respond to me, and treat me. I am the sum of my parts. I am the sum of my experiences and perceptions. I do not need to be aware of the cause and effect of those perceptions for them to exist. I, like Kamala Harris, am among the ‘offspring of the colonial embrace’ – a phrase first coined by Paul Scott, author of The Jewel in the Crown. We have European, African, Asian, and Native American DNA to varying degrees. Kamala Harris is not Indian or Jamaican or African or European, she is American, very American. I love Aurora Levins Morales’ poem, “Child of the Americas” for this specific reason: we are new and cannot go back to those elements of which we are comprised.

Is the Candidate Qualified?

We have an opportunity to pay attention to how we describe and define each other. Kamala Harris is many things as a human being. The most important things that we need to focus on in determining if she should be the next Vice President of the United States, is her qualifications for the position. As a Senator, a former State Attorney General, and a former District Attorney, Ms. Harris clearly meets the qualifications of a dedicated public servant who knows the law and has navigated the pressures incorporated in the positions that she has held.

This is not a political endorsement, but rather an illustration of the recommendations that we make to our clients on a regular basis. When asked for assistance with increasing diversity in organizations, especially at the leadership level, we are often given the proviso that the candidates need to be qualified. My consistent response is that you should never even interview a candidate who does not meet or exceed the qualifications for the position, even if the candidate is a white male. I will further argue that, based on the adversity that Ms. Harris has had to contend with as the child of a Black man and a brown woman, both immigrants, she is more qualified than one who has had a life of privilege. Privilege, for anyone who bristled when reading the previous sentence, does not mean that your life is free of grief or adversity, but that people of color, especially women of color have to deal with all of those things on top of the double edged sword of living in a world rife with racism and sexism.

Representation

When I think about the question: What difference does difference make? The answer to me is obvious: Difference makes a tremendous difference! I did not have a single Puerto Rican teacher until I was in college and did not have any Puerto Rican professors in graduate school. This is astonishing to me still as one who was born and raised in New York City. I had a Puerto Rican baseball coach as an adolescent and he provided me with an incredibly positive role model as a man of color who, despite tremendous odds, achieved his master’s degree. Kamala Harris represents so many people who are not accustomed to seeing people like themselves in positions of power. She represents so many people whose parents came to the United States because of its reputation as a democracy where anyone, everyone has an opportunity to succeed. That representation also means that issues of importance to women, Black people, children of immigrants, people of mixed race and heritage, have a greater likelihood of their concerns and issues being addressed.

To those who are threatened by difference, I want you to think about your role models, mentors, teachers, influencers. Who in your world has held a mirror up to you so that you can see your future self? Who has created a bridge for you to cross from poverty to economic stability? Who shared stories of overcoming obstacles so that you could have hope of a better, brighter future? Those of us who are the majority of the human beings on this planet have had too few of those representatives. Kamala Harris has not been successful because she is a woman of color, but despite being a woman of color who had to and continues to overcome barriers that most white people cannot even begin to imagine. Representation matters. History matters. If we are to create a future based on equity and inclusion, difference matters.

Onward!

Wendy Amengual Wark
Partner
Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC

New York City
August 16, 2020

Wendy@InclusionStrategy.com
www.InclusionStrategy.com

 

Diversity Equals …

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Diversity Equals …

The first time that I saw a billboard with the message, “Diversity = White Genocide” I was honestly a bit confused.  After all, what most people call diversity (the inclusion of diverse people), is the opposite of genocide. Groups subjected to genocide historically include: Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Rwandans, and Bosnians. Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. This matters because once we forget what happens when we exclude any group of people, we are destined to repeat the horrors of the holocaust and other shameful episodes of human history. “Genocide” is a combination of the Greek word génos (“race, people”) and the Latin suffix -cide (“act of killing”). The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Genocide conjures up the most horrific images and acts that humans perpetrate against ‘others,’ members of groups other than their own idea of their specific sub-set, whether race, religion, or tribe.

I have since learned that there is an entire movement, a growing movement, of people who claim that Anti-Racists are ‘Anti-White’.  Yes, that is an oxymoronic concept. In my blog post “What’s in a Word,” (December, 2013), http://www.inclusionstrategy.com/blog/?p=11 I wrote about the importance of vocabulary, the power of words to harm and to exclude. I will continue to posit that words and how they are used is a critical element of advancing equity and social justice. I must continue to use words to try to persuade those who are threatened by diversity and inclusion that we are really not so bad, those of us who work to bring humanity together, to find our common ‘touch points’ and share some love. Words are actions and our words can be loud and clear and true.

Truth

I must also continue to use words to state the truth. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and Islamophobia all rely on distortions of the truth. Racists have embraced the false premise that they, based on a concept of what race is, are superior to others, hence the term ‘White-Supremacists’. Obviously, there is no single group or sub-set of human beings that is superior to any other sub-set, yet all we need to do is look at a chronological list of genocidal epochs to know that the lie of superiority over, or the fear of, others has resulted in the murder, rape, mutilation, imprisonment, and ‘bans on’ or exclusion of people for millennia. How do you ban an entire group of people? This is not only a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Charter of the United Nations, it violates several U.S. treaties, most notably the Treaty of Tripoli ratified unanimously in 1797 by the US Senate:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (Art. 11.)

The truth can be distorted, ignored, and hidden. If it is raining, my saying that it is not raining is meaningless, as the apparent and obvious evidence of the falling rain dismisses my statement.  So, if someone or some group states that ‘diversity equals white genocide’, the absurdity of that statement is blatantly obvious. However, the groups promoting this concept are growing and the current President of the United States has re-tweeted messages by these groups. A search on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) website for ‘white genocide’ brought up 179 results. There have been many billboards since the first one appeared in Harrison, Arkansas in 2014.  These signs are not limited to the American south, but have also been put up in numerous locations from Washington State to Great Britain. People have come to Black Lives Matter rallies with ‘white genocide’ banners and they continue to appear at various events across the country.

Hate

whitegenocide_0

The Hate Index created by City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism‘s NYCity News Service has documented 318 hate crimes in the United States since January 10, 2017.   https://hateindex.com/  January 10 was only 18 days ago! In other words, we are averaging 17.6 hate crimes per day in the United States. That number includes only crimes that can be confirmed as hate crimes, not those where hatred based on the victims’ protected class status (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, etc.), is the suspected motive for the act. The SPLC identifies 892 hate groups on its Hate Map: https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map. These numbers are staggering in comparison to 10 years ago.

The Uniform Crime Reporting program (1930), the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (1990), and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009 require data be collected on all crimes motivated by hate based on race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and physical and mental disabilities.  The total crimes classified as Hate Crimes in 2009 was 688.3 (including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, and vehicle theft) or 1.88 crimes per day.

Words are actions and words that are hateful incite actions that are dangerous and deadly.  Words matter. It is also vitally important to remember that not only are those who are from certain countries, or members of certain religions being targeted by those who hate, those who appear to be foreign or gay or Muslim or Jewish or different are also being targeted.

Call to Action

StatueOfLiberty160527a

So, why am I sharing this negative information?  My intention is not to add to the already overwhelmingly negative news updates that seem to come at an amazingly rapid rate. Nor is it my intention to provide a political commentary. My arena is inclusion, the inclusion of diverse people in organizations, such as our entire civilization, the quintessential organization of people. When the daily news updates increasingly include decisions, actions, words, and thoughts that exclude, divide, defame, or discriminate against human beings, it is my business.  Literally.

Many people have reached out to me in recent weeks and asked what I plan to do to help people and organizations to cope with so much divisiveness. Yesterday, someone reminded me that I need to be blogging every week and sharing a call to action. So, I will continue to do what it is that I do: to facilitate conversations intended to bring people together across their differences of opinion, to remind people that we all have a responsibility to advance inclusion, that we all have a great deal to lose if we isolate from others, that we all have SO much to gain when we are part of a diverse group of people – people from all parts of the globe, of all faiths, of all races, of all tribes. Diversity does not result in any type of –cide!  Inclusive diversity results in creativity, intellectual growth, innovation, and better health. Lewis Mumford referred to cities as utopias because of their diversity which encourages curiosity! “Urban life in Greece began as an animated conversation and degenerated into a crude agon or physical struggle.” (1961)

So, let’s talk. Let’s talk about fears of the other. Let’s talk about anger resulting from conflicting views and opinions.  Let’s talk about fear of change. Let’s have an animated conversation about our diversity. When we stop talking we resort to our primal or lizard-brained selves. When we stop talking, we lose our sense of connection and belonging to a tribe. We all belong to one tribe – the human tribe. There are hundreds of sub-sets; how can we decide which is better or worse?  All that we can hope to do is learn and grow as a result of our connections. The concept of divide and rule (or conquer) goes back to the Roman invasion of Macedonia. We are not the masters of ourselves if we give in to hate. Hate does not participate or converse or receive or learn – hate blocks information about ‘the other’. Enemies are regularly de-humanized to enable their haters to kill, maim and attack them. Hatred cannot coexist with appreciation of another person’s beauty, brilliance, talent, or generosity. Hatred can only scream “NO”!

To me, you – my fellow human beings – are beautiful and complicated and brilliant and diverse, and that makes life, not death, possible and wonderful.

Onward!

~ Wendy

P.S. If you are in the greater NYC area, let’s meet for a conversation. If not, let’s Skype or talk on the telephone, or at least email.

P.P.S. Next week I will share some other positive steps that we can take to protect human rights and each other from hate.