Four Books to Raise One’s Awareness

I’ve recently read four books that are at once instructive and painful, hard to put down yet demanding of deep attention and feeling. Two novels address slavery and its long term consequences, and two ethnographic accounts explore poverty, the working class, culture, and race. The four books taken together inform one another in ways I discovered as I read.

underground-railroad

Colin Whitehead’s Underground Railroad follows a slave who escapes her plantation and, helped by “station masters” and “conductors,” strives to remain free.  She is pursued by a determined slave catcher who, like Ahab and the Whale, obsessively seeks to capture his adversary.  At each “station” along the way, new aspects of the struggles, cruelties, and prejudices of past and current times are revealed – as are the courage and dedication of those willing to help a slave and the fierce will of the slave to remain free and become free of the trauma of slavery. Often surreal, as if time has bent in some way, the story makes us aware of the treatment of Black people through hundreds of years in America.

 

“Often surreal, as if time has bent in some way, the story makes us aware of the treatment of Black people through hundreds of years in America.”

homegoingYaa Gyasi’s Homecoming follows two branches of a Ghanian family through seven generations. One branch of the family remains in Ghana, often complicit in the slave trade and embroiled in wars and the struggle for independence as a country. The other branch emerges from slavery on a Georgia plantation and moves through the Civil War and Great Migration toward present day hopes for real freedom in America. The importance of family and community, knowing where one came from, and confronting traumas passed down through three hundred years weave through this book. I found the chapters so rich and moving, I often needed to stop for a while and let all I had taken in settle and inform me at a deep level. The book is beautifully written, often lyrical.

“I found the chapters so rich and moving, I often needed to stop for a while and let all I had taken in settle and inform me at a deep level.” 

I was glad that I read Railroad first, as it is a story that maintains gnawing tension from beginning to end. It is probably not a read for the faint-hearted – but should be. Together, the two novels are powerful instruction about the long lasting effects of the slave trade and the exploitation of people stolen from their homelands and families.

And now for a different, but in some ways related theme.

hillbillyJ.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is a first person account of what it is like to try to escape the traumas of the Appalachian culture and struggle with the demands of a middle class life in a poor rustbelt town. Vance describes the migration of hillbillies from Appalachia to the north and west to seek jobs that would sustain their families. Vance says hillbillies and their ethos and culture have spread everywhere in America  — reminiscent in some ways of the Great Migration of Blacks from the South seeking jobs and a better life. He wants the reader to understand what it feels like for the White working class to struggle with cultural and class issues and what the long term consequences are for individuals and families. Looking critically at both the hillbillies and the “system,” he challenges the reader to think more broadly and deeply about the obstacles and despair experienced by those who want to raise the standard of living for themselves and their children. He points to the vital importance of extended family and formal and informal community support for working class people who are trying to do more than survive. At this time in our country, this is an important read.

“He wants the reader to understand what it feels like for the White working class to struggle with cultural and class issues and what the long term consequences are for individuals and families. ” 

'Evicted' reviewMatthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is at once a moving and disturbing tale of eight Milwaukee families facing evictions and a scholarly discussion of eviction and how eviction is at the root of poverty and inequality. Notes for each chapter detail research and evidence for Desmond’s comments and his recommendations for changes. Desmond takes us inside the lives of Black and White individuals and families that struggle to find and maintain stable residences and lives. We see their courage and grit, their hopes and concerns – come to care about them and grimace at some of their choices.  He introduces us to several landlords and shows us both the compassion and the greed of these people. The stories illustrate the effects of eviction on children and their education, on the ability of people to continue at their workplace while seeking new housing, and on the psychological demands on families. They reveal the interrelatedness of factors contributing to inequity and poverty. To understand the lives of people living at the poverty level, Desmond lived in housing in poor areas and shadowed his subjects as they lived their lives. He supports his observations with data gathered from his extensive research studies of eviction in Milwaukee.

All books are available at Robbins Library/Minuteman Network; however, there are wait lists for them. More information on the Robbins Library Website here.

Blog post by Mary Harrison

Ottoson Inside Out Project: Perspectives of a Middle School Survivor

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Being a senior at Arlington High School, middle school was only 4 years ago for me, and it seems like just yesterday I roamed the halls of Ottoson. There is an expression that “kids are cruel”, and in my years at Ottoson I found this to be immensely true. Not a day passed when someone didn’t cry in the bathrooms or get called to the principal’s office, and horrible things were written on the stall walls.

“Being a senior at Arlington High School, middle school was only 4 years ago for me, and it seems like just yesterday I roamed the halls of Ottoson.”

Being in a big public school by nature can make a 12 year old feel a lack of individuality and give one the overwhelming need to conform. The general mantra in these years was “fit in to survive”. Just act like everyone else for 3 years and then things will get better in high school. Most kids fell into one of three categories; bully, victim, or everyday bystander. In middle school I felt I needed to hide what made me different, and being straight and white I did this with ease, but it wasn’t so easy for other kids. Most of this discrimination happened beneath the radar of the administration, and when it was brought to their attention it was dealt with simply by a call to the office and a ring home to the parents. The larger problem however was never spoken of or even addressed. For me, this made my time at Ottoson a dark stain on my memory, and when I walk by the ominous building, I turn away.

“The general mantra in these years was “fit in to survive.”

Last Sunday, October 22, however, I did not turn away, but instead stared in awe. I was told that the Ottoson would be participating in the Inside Out project in reaction to recent incidents of racism in the school but I had no idea how actually seeing it would effect me. On the side of this bland building I had grown to dread, was plastered dozens of smiling faces of current middle schoolers. It was truly a beautiful work of art and what it represented was even more beautiful to me. The school had noticed the problems within the student body and acted out to address them. What the students and teachers had created together was amazing and in the moment really struck me. The walls of the school itself that to me always symbolized oppression were celebrating students and their differences and it was magnificent. I know something as little as this will not fix all of the problems of racism or discrimination immediately but it is most definitely a step in the right direction.

“The walls of the school itself that to me always symbolized oppression were celebrating students and their differences and it was magnificent”.

Not only does it celebrate diversity but it also shows the students that the school cares and wants every voice to be heard, recognized and valued. Seeing this powerful project taken on by the Ottoson not only made me proud to have attended but also gave me immense hope for the future generations to pass through its’ doors.

Blog post by Sorrel Galantowicz

Sorrel Galantowicz is an intern for the Arlington Diversity Task Group as well as a student at Arlington High School.

The Arlington International Film Festival is On!

2016 Arlington International Film Festival
2016 Arlington International Film Festival

Yesterday evening, it only took me a 10-minute drive to experience world-class cinema. The Arlington International Film Festival (AIFF) premiered last night at the Capitol Theater in East Arlington with the showing of the short movie Stereotypes and the documentary Jiaolin [Coach], which received the AIFF Jury Award for “Best Feature Documentary”.

In all honesty, I didn’t attend the festival in a couple of years even though each edition showcased an impressive selection of international movies. I always found good reasons: too cold, too dark outside, or no babysitter. Last year, Arlington lost its festival when the organizers, April and Alberto Guzman, were invited to host the event at the Kendall Square Theater in Cambridge. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, right? This year, the festival is back in town and I pledged to brave the elements and support this local institution. So I went to the Capitol Theater and joined other adventurers who also ignored the rain and the colder temperatures, premises of our New England winter.

Yesterday evening, it only took me a 10-minute drive to experience world-class cinema.

In this deleterious election season, Stereotypes felt like getting a flu shot: seasonal, must-have for some, and “nah” for others. The movie tells the story behind the art project by photographer Kevin J. Briggs, who Arlington Diversity Task Group invited last March to host his exhibit Stereotypes: A Conscious Look at Race, Faith, Gender and Sexual Orientation at the Arlington Center for Arts. The project is a series of portraits which invites viewers to experience the power of discriminatory words on individuals. Since the beginning of the 2016 Presidential campaign, all sorts of insults were thrown at minority communities based on race, faith, or identity. I can’t wait for this election to end, but I wonder how people will heal and come together afterward. Even though the Stereotypes project started way before the campaign season, it could be a platform to dialog and find a way forward.

In this deleterious election season, Stereotypes felt like getting a flu shot.

The second movie, Jiaolin [Coach], is an eye-opening documentary on basketball in China. Not a basketball fan? Me neither. However, I found myself captivated by the story of Norman Da Silva, an American assistant coach from the Boston area who ended up leading a team of the CBA, the major men’s basketball league in China. This is the magic of the Arlington International Film Festival: it brings original stories to light and invites me to see the world through bigger lenses…here, right in my backyard! The director, Esteban Arguello, and Norman Da Silva himself, who know works for the Philadelphia 76ers were there to answer questions from the public. Is it not neat?

The AIFF brings original stories to light and invites me to see the world through bigger lenses…here, right in my backyard!

The Arlington International Film Festival lasts through Sunday night. It will present more movies from around the world and more stories from people who surprisingly you have more in common than you think. Don’t miss it this year!

For tickets and more information, visit www.aiffest.org

Blog post by Yawa Degboe

Yawa Degboe is co-chair of the Arlington Diversity Task Groups. She lives in Arlington with her husband and her daughter.

 

Something entirely disturbing…

by Jamie Davenport
July 21 at 1:45pm · Cambridge ·
Something entirely disturbing happened last night on my commute to rehearsal. Bear with me. It is a long tale. But one that is necessary to read and digest.
I was sitting in the corner of the Red Line T closest to the conductor when a group of about 8 black kids from the ages of 12-16 entered.
I automatically noticed their presence because of how absolutely loud and rowdy they were being.
Smiling to myself, because of how crazy they were all acting, I turned up the music in my headphones and bounced along with the train.
I noticed the boy sitting across from me. He entered the train with the other kids, and although also black and about their age, he clearly did not know them. From his body language it was obvious he had desperately wished he sat in another section.
At around the South Station stop the conductor’s door swung open and through my oversized headphones I could tell she told the kids to quiet down. The kids mouthed off to her and she called the MBTA security.
At this point my headphones were off and I am listening with full intent. The MBTA guard, a white man, walks on and within ten seconds announces that he is calling the police and that the train will not move until they come. He is greeted with a resounding, “Are you kidding me?” from just about everyone on the train.
I automatically zone out and think about what I was doing from 12-16.
I think about breaking into my old elementary school and stealing ice cream.
I think about joyriding my boyfriend’s lifted, bright green, Chevy blazer without a permit or a license.
I think about getting caught drinking in a friend’s backyard.
I think about trespassing on private property and swimming.
I think about getting pulled over twice in the same month, on the same road, in the same place, by the same officer, in the same car, for the same reason, and waltzing away from the scene with nothing. And I mean nothing, but “a get home safe.”
I think about every single actually illegal thing I have ever done and realized one harrowing fact:
I have never been touched by a police officer.
I have never been handcuffed.
I have never been to jail.
I have never even gotten a ticket.
I have never left an interaction with the cops with anything other than a “have a nice night.”
I wake up from my reverie and we are still parked at South Station. I tune into the conversation around me and hear the kids. Let me emphasize KIDS. Kids making a game plan for what they will do if the police start to shoot them.
I glance up at the boy across from me. He is squirming. He wants off bad. He is texting fiercely. I’m assuming he’s telling someone what we are both observing.
The girl next to me notices my presence and says,
“Sorry for messing up your ride.”
I say,
“Don’t worry about it.”
My voice catches on the last word. My throat starts to sear. She asks,
“Are you upset?”
I respond,
“Yeah, I guess I am. I just don’t understand why they are calling the cops.”
She says,
“Because we are black.”
The 12-year-old turns to the group and quietly says,
“Black lives matter.”
They all murmur in agreement.
The police arrive and everyone remains very calm. Eerily calm. Everyone is walking on eggshells. The cops step on the train and tell the kids if they get off quietly they can get on the next one and go home. The kids accept the offer and begin to clamor off. At long last the boy across from me and I are left alone.
As I begin to put my headphones back on the police reenter the car. They look at the boy and say,
“We said everyone in the group has to get off.”
The boy says,
“I don’t know them.”
The police say,
“It’s an order. Everyone in the group has to get off.”
I collect my bags. The police looks at me and says,
“Not you. You’re not in the group.”
The police places his hand on the boys shoulder and guides him off the train. In a moment of temporary rage blindness I stand up and scream,
“He doesn’t fucking know those kids.”
The police looks at me and says,
“Is that true?”
To which I say,
“Yes, and it was true when he said it too.”
The police release the boy and he sits down across from me again. We share a moment of blankness and then tears well in both of our eyes. He waves me over to the seat next to him. He says,
“That was because I am black. Wasn’t it?”
I nod. He looks down sheepishly at his shirt and says quietly,
“I’m just happy they didn’t hurt me. That would kill my mom. And she is not someone you want to mess with.”
I say the only thing I can think,
“I’m so sorry.”
He says,
“With all that’s going on in the world I am so scared all the time.”
We sit in silence for a moment and I decide to change the subject. I ask him about himself. He tells me he is is entering his junior year of high school and spending the summer working for an organization that aims to help people learn how to have healthy relationships. He says he wants to help stop domestic abuse. He tells me he is passionate about gender equality. He asks me if I know there is a difference between sex and gender. He says he wants to educate the public on that topic.
The train rattles into my station and I shake his hand. He says,
“Thanks.”
I mumble,
“Don’t mention it.”
I exit the train and watch it pull away. And then I weep. I weep in a way I never have before. My breath shortens and I begin to crumble.
I weep for Trayvon Martin.
I weep for Mike Brown.
I weep for Sandra Bland.
I weep for Alton Sterling.
I weep for Eric Garner.
I weep for all of the names I do not know but should.
I weep for their families.
I weep for their friends.
I weep for the innocent blood shed all over this country.
I weep for that boy.
I weep that I cannot remember his name because it is not as familiar to me as James or Tim or Dave.
I weep for those kids.
I weep for all of those kids.
I spend the night replaying the whole scenario over and over again in my head. And realize that three words keep running through my mind. Three words that until I heard a 12-year-old black girl say aloud to her friends as they awaited the police I did not understand. Three words that are so little but mean so much.

Black Lives Matter.

I stop crying. I become resolute. I make a pact with myself to help the world become better for those kids.
I make a pact with myself to spread this story like wildfire.
I make a pact with myself to be an ally to that beautiful boy.
It starts here.
Before you read on make a pact with yourself to join me.
Before you read on commit yourself to this cause.
Before you read on openly admit that racism is alive and thriving in this country.
Before you read on promise yourself you will say the following three words ALOUD:

Black Lives Matter.

Didn’t do it? Here’s another chance:

Black Lives Matter.

Still can’t say it? Ask yourself why?

Black Lives Matter

Here’s another chance:

Black Lives Matter.

Here’s another chance:

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

BLACK. LIVES. MATTER.

I’m Male and White and Straight… And I Can’t Sit Idly By Anymore!

Jul 9, 2016 Rick Broniec

My friends, like the title says, I’m a white straight, middle class man. As such I am deeply, deeply privileged. I am aware of some of my privilege and completely unaware of so many more. Even so, like many of you, I’ve been rocked very strongly by recent events regarding the senseless killings of oppressed people in the US ….and, of course, police. I feel sick deep inside. I suspect many of you do, too. I am the father of three daughters (one of them Latina) and three granddaughters (one of them is 50% Native American). I have huge fear for their safety and for their future. Part of me feels hopeless and powerless to do anything effective to help. Having meaningful conversations about these issues feels increasingly fruitless and futile. People I love and call friends seem to be too polarized, too quick to defend and judge. The political process happening in our country is only deepening divides. Marching in protests feels good (Though suddenly much more dangerous!) and may offer some support to my oppressed Brothers and Sisters, same for manning a table in the local Gay Pride celebration or Black Lives Matter event, but it doesn’t seem to me to be enough….not nearly enough!

Like so very many across this nation, I ache. My heart hurts. My soul is in pain. I am angry and scared. And my mind is confused. Just in the last few weeks we’ve been rocked by Orlando, MN, LA, Dallas- and the list goes on and on. And here’s my solemn truth: I cannot- WILL NOT- sit idly by anymore! But, what to do?? Action seems to be required. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are simply not enough! How can I be effective and helpful? What can one man or woman do?

Should I instigate some project to address oppression in my not-for-profit men’s service organization, called the ManKind Project (mkp.org)? Will that international institution respond? Should it? Can it? Can I bring this to my men’s circle, my meditation group or some other organization? Should I offer a training on multicultural awareness? To whom? Where? Should I join an organization dedicated to ending oppression? Or get more active in the ones I’m already a member of? (I’m a member of the NAACP, the HRC, NOW and Black Lives Matter- all great change agents.) Should I write a blog or another book? Is that enough?? I profess to be a ‘Man of Mission’ and my Mission screams to me, “NO”!

I CANNOT let my many privileges and my unconsciousness stand in the way. I CANNOT wait for all my conditioning about what is right and who is valuable or who is dangerous to be challenged or disappear. I CANNOT wait for ANY organization to respond or show me what to do. I CANNOT allow my overwhelm to push me into passiveness. I CANNOT keep on doing what I’ve been doing. I CANNOT allow my hopelessness to stand in the way. I CANNOT allow that voice that so easily dismisses my actions as useless to take precedence. I CANNOT let my outrage drain my energy- and think that’s enough! I CANNOT. I CANNOT! So, back to my original question: But, what to do??

Here’s a start for me: I CAN do more. I CAN continue to read and learn about oppression and how it corrodes our society to its very core. I CAN continue to reach out to Black and Latino folks, LGBTQ folks, women and other oppressed people. I CAN continue to dive deeply into my own beliefs and unconscious assumptions. I CAN overcome my lethargy, my hopelessness and my helplessness. I CAN stand up. I CAN take the risk to speak out as an ALLY to people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, the homeless, poor people, veterans and, yes, even the police. I CAN activate and LIVE my Mission. I CAN. I CAN! And this brings me back to my original question once again: But, what to do?? What to do??

My Mission of Service is to Create a Passionately Loving and Peaceful Planet by Leading Safe, Sacred, Diverse Healing Circles. I discovered this Mission, my personal Mission in life, from work I’ve done in the ManKind Project, my spiritual practice and my soul’s longing. I believe this is why I am on this planet. This is my primary life’s work. I have attempted to live that Mission in many ways. I lead trainings and safe circles in several different venues and countries- often. I write books, blogs and articles like this one. I speak often on these topics- especially to people of privilege like me. Is that enough? Clearly not!

So, again, I ask myself: But, what to do?? It often feels deeply like “I don’t know! I have nothing to offer.” Perhaps what I’m really feeling is, “Who am I to attempt to help? What does this highly privileged male have to say that’s original or that has any value?” Or maybe, “Who will listen? Who will attack me as being ‘Politically Correct’ or a race, gender or orientation traitor?” Ahhh- that persistent inner voice raises its ugly head again to block me from doing anything!! No more paralysis, dammit! No more!

I believe change takes ACTION, not just words! I believe consistent commitment to change and equality at the personal, institutional and cultural levels is required. What am I waiting for? So here’s what I am going to do today: I am writing this article as an antidote to my helplessness and as an act to living my Mission just a bit more in the world. I will post it in my blogs (www.VibrantRelationshipsGuy.com and www.SevenGenerationsStory.com) and on Facebook and Linked in and Twitter. I will share some of my learning about some small, simple, yet brilliant and affective steps/behaviors I, and you, can do today to start (or continue) acting as an effective ally. It doesn’t require a large, multi-million dollar project or even an institution to support me/you. These options aren’t death defying or expensive. They’re not rocket science! So, please join me. Take action. Let’s just commit to do ONE of these behaviors today. Together. I believe if every one of us just chooses to do one behavior from the lists I share below (Lists that were created by people much smarter than me! My teachers and mentors.), then incremental change CAN occur! I commit to doing at least one of these behaviors each day- every day.

A.Five Healthy Behaviors for Ending Oppression

(>From Dr. Valerie Batts and VISIONS, Inc. www.visions-inc.org)

  1. Make mutual contact with people who are different from you. Reach out.
  2. Notice those differences.
  3. Learn, Ask about and Notice the impact of those differences.
  4. Offer Functional Helping.
  5. Mutually Problem Solve and take Responsibility.

And there’s more!

B. Behaviors of an Effective Ally

(From: “Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook“, by Adam, Griffin and Bell. (modified by Dennis Nicely and Rick Broniec))

  • Have a vision of and celebrate a healthy, vibrant multicultural society. Isn’t that why we’re all doing this work in the first place?
  • Work to change system-wide problems that may be the root causes of inequality and oppression. This might include issues at the institutional or cultural levels, as well as the personal and interpersonal levels.
  • Support the value of separate meetings, events and activities for members of Target groups. Targets need a safe place to do their Internalized Oppressions work, while Non-Targets need a safe place to do their “Isms” work. This makes it safer and cleaner to do our work together!
  • Try not to be self-righteous with others- it only pushes them away from doing their own work. Also, try not to label others as “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “classist”, etc.
  • Interrupt prejudice and take action against oppression even when people from Target groups are not present.
  • Know resources about and for Target groups and utilize them to educate yourself and others. Form coalitions and support circles.
  • Learn about and take pride in your own identities. Work on celebrating your own differences and the qualities you have gained as a result of having that difference.
  • Seek out and enlist others to be allies; be the first to make a move!
  • Acknowledge and take responsibility for his/her own socialization, prejudices and privileges without shame or blame, as we all learned these behaviors from our culture.
  • Listen openly and respectfully to people different from you.
  • Actively pursue a process of self-education to learn about the history and culture of target groups. Read, attend meetings, watch movies and talk to individuals representing target groups.
  • Respectfully ask members of a target group what support would look like for them as an individual. This lessens the chances of a ‘dysfunctional rescue’ from happening.
  • Be willing to examine and relinquish privileges. This requires support and time.
  • Establish friendships with people who represent Target groups you do not identify with. Reach out respectfully and make contact!
  • Take a public stand against discrimination and prejudice. Start small and work into more risky actions as you grow more confident.
  • Risk discomfort- discomfort is guaranteed when doing this work!
  • Gently and respectfully challenge the internalized oppression of people in Target groups.
  • Promote the leadership of people in groups that traditionally are not found in leadership positions due to their Target status(es). (This may mean giving up your own leadership in these organizations.)
  • Develop alliances among groups. This would be a strong institutional level action.
  • Also, look to ways to be an ally within your own cultural groups. (For example, a white man supporting other white men to work on their white and male privileges.)

These behaviors seem pretty simple, right? Not so complicated if we look at the individual behavioral level. I don’t need a PhD. in diversity to effectively try out these behaviors. And just for today, it feels right and powerful and helpful to embrace one or more of these behaviors. It’s an antidote to feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated and angry. Try them on- any one! Join me in saying, “No More!” Please join me in standing up for effective change and a healthier society. Join me as an Ally. Do this for your children and grandchildren. Do this for your family or neighborhood or town or state. There’s not enough of us, but more each day!

Regrets (not) Engaging My Friends in a Conversation about Trump

samantha-bee
Comedian Samantha Bee imitating Donald Trump’s photo on Cinco de Mayo

A couple of months ago, two friends came over for lunch. During this convivial meal, our conversation drifted toward the 2016 Republican race. At that time, many candidates still hoped to secure the Republican nomination, but really, Donald Trump was the meat of the matter.

My husband and I thought the conversation with our guests would mimic any previous dialogs we had with our closest friends over politics: they would be stunned that Donald Trump made it so far in the race and we would be horrified by the insults or amalgams made toward Mexicans, women, Muslims, and people with disabilities to name only a few of the groups Trump discriminated against. Finally, we would commiserate together on the tale of Trump, a reality TV bully who preached inconsistent diatribes, yet whose speeches fueled our fears of the unknown. But, one of our guests hinted he supported Trump.

An Uncomfortable Silence

An uncomfortable silence followed his announcement. My guest did not declare: “I am with Trump”. He only mentioned that the media were not reporting Trump’s message accurately and if we were to go on his website, we could read that in fact…I stopped listening there. I had already gauged how this meal may end up if my husband and I took the bait.

Trump, a reality TV bully who preached inconsistent diatribes, yet whose speeches fueled our fears of the unknown

We are not Trump’s supporters. For full disclosure, we hung a poster of Barack Obama in our entry way, because he made history as the first African- American President of the United States; most heartedly, because as the world’s most famous Kenyan descendant, he makes my Kenyan husband proud. On my part, I soaked in the values of freedom, equality, and fraternity as listed in the national motto of France, where I grew up. This lunch could have gone down the drain. Instead, we said a few words, but did nothing. We listened to our guest, and moved on. Months later, I still regret that we didn’t talk more.

See Something, Say Something

Last week, I reflected on this awkward conversation while I attended the True Story Theater’s workshop “Being an Active Bystander,” co-sponsored by Arlington Diversity Task Group. This event explored situations in which the audience may have witnessed violence or mistreatment. Practical exercises gave attendees tools and techniques to become active and empowered bystanders.

After an introduction by Maureen Scully, Associate Professor of Management at UMass Boston, who researches diversity and inclusion in professional settings, the audience, now divided in small groups, created scenario and elaborate solutions to resolve tense situations. My group role-played family members at Thanksgiving dinner during which a cousin made discriminatory comments about new neighbors on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or economical situations among others biases. Each member of our group alternatively practiced being the silent eater who feel embarrassed but only spoke to rave about the turkey and mash potatoes; the outraged bystander who sometimes compassionately listens to the argumentation, sometimes interjects fallacies; or the outspoken consciously biased family member who singles out the fictional unwelcome neighbors.

Months later, I still regret that we didn’t talk more.

In this eye-opening experience, I learned I needed to practice being an active bystander and spoke out louder when I witness actions or hear comments with which I disagree. If I had practiced more, I may have been more reactive while my guest shared his surprising political opinion a few months ago.

The Day After

Trump, now the presumptive Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election, rallies more political leaders and influential figures behind his escutcheon of bigotry while his ideology move mainstream. Regardless of the results of the general election, I wonder how we will continue to live together in neighborhoods where Trump’s flag flies on properties, in towns like Arlington where 41.32% of the Republicans registrants voted for Trump on Super Tuesday, and in settings where individuals know someone who voted for Trump.

“My parents, who escaped from Germany just in time, urged me to always keep my passport current […] I thought they were paranoid. But I don’t think this anymore.”

In December 2015, Miriam Stein, the daughter of Jewish immigrants who fled Nazi Germany, an advocacy trainer, and one of the former chairs of the Arlington Diversity Task Group, alerted us of Trumpism in an open letter to the Boston Globe. She reframed the political climate with a stabbing historical reminder: “My parents, who escaped from Germany just in time, urged me to always keep my passport current […] I thought they were paranoid. But I don’t think this anymore.”

Some light-hearted initiatives from Maple Match, the dating website vowing to match Americans with Canadians for migration purposes in case of a Trump’s presidency, to the limited Trump-themed expansion pack of the game Card against Humanity offers deus-ex-machina-like exit strategies to a dramatic scenario that becomes more plausible.

The future is uncertain, but as we move closer to the general 2016 presidential election, more tense conversations may occur with your friends or loved ones. With the workshop “Being an Active Bystander,” True Story Theater gave us tools to become an upstander and reinvigorates values that the Arlington Diversity Task Group champions: community, awareness, and action.

Article by Yawa Degboe

Yawa Degboe is co-chair of the Arlington Diversity Task Groups and a Human Rights Commissioner. She lives in Arlington with her husband and her daughter.

Decoding How To Become an Active Upstander

BystandersHave you ever witnessed an individual or a group abusing, stereotyping, or disrespecting another person?
Most of us have – in our families, work places, at school, on public transportation, on the street. Some of us are able to intervene even in a small way, and many of us freeze up and later wish we had
acted.

Fifty participants in the recent “Being an active bystander workshop” offered by Vision 2020 Diversity Task Group and True Story Theater, shared their feelings about intervening in disturbing situations and then practiced interventions in small role play groups. They expressed fear of violence or escalating a situation, fear of making incorrect assumptions about what was happening, anger about the behavior they witnessed but frozen and tongue-tied when they wanted to intervene. Most were not sure what to do when faced with a disturbing incident. If they didn’t intervene, they felt shame for not speaking up, and regret that often stayed with them long after the incident.

Those who did intervene by speaking up felt excited, scared, empowered, and helpful. Facilitator Maureen Scully told the group that learning to be comfortable as an upstander who intervenes even in a small way is like practicing CPR techniques 100 times on a training dummy. Repeated practice develops the ability to respond in actual situations where rapid action in an emotional situation is required.

Being comfortable as an upstander who intervenes even in a small way is like practicing CPR techniques 100 times on a training dummy

Taking a small step to intervene is often better than doing nothing. An upstander might say “ouch!” or similarly signal that the behavior felt painful and was not okay. Moving closer to the hurt individual or saying “I’m here with you” can signal they are not alone, there is support if they wish it. Naming the behavior and its effects can clarify the inappropriateness of specific acts. Enlisting others who have observed the disrespectful behavior can make it easier to speak up and to reinforce that the behavior was inappropriate. In some cases, calling 911 might be necessary.

An upstander might say “ouch!”

After practicing intervention techniques in small role-play groups, participants were asked how they had been affected by the workshop. Many said they no longer feel alone in feeling fearful and uncertain about how to intervene; they learned it is common to feel that way and to freeze up despite good intentions to speak. Many also said that it’s better to do something, even if it is a small act. That can change the situation and can serve as practice for the upstander. Some spoke of the power of asking others to help them intervene. And one participant noted “my comfort zone of acting is smaller than my desire to act…I will work to make both bigger,” an observation that probably applies to a lot of us.

Mary,

Mary Harrison, the author of this blog post, is a member of Arlington’s Vision 2020 Standing Committee and Diversity Task Group.

Growing into Consciousness: 3 Takeaways from Arlington Diversity Task Group’s event on Unconscious Biais

DSC_0019
Christopher Dial

Christopher Dial, Research Associate at Harvard University Implicit Project, presented key results of his research during last month’s event “A look at Unconscious Bias”, hosted by the Arlington Diversity Task Group at Arlington’s Town Hall.

When preparing this event, several members of the diversity task group feared the presentation would be filled with psychological jargon. Instead, Dial put the public at ease by sharing personal experiences on unconscious bias.

We’re all biased

Christopher Dial
Christopher Dial talks on unconscious bias

I like to think that I don’t discriminate or stereotype people. The reality is that we all do. We make decisions that even go against our personal values and have significant impacts in our lives. During the talk, Dial timed how fast the audience associated male names to the career themed words and the female names to family themed words. He also measured how much time the public took to link the reverse semantic: male to family and and female to career. The audience, myself included, was puzzled to discover it took us longer to associate the latter. While I come from a lineage of women who lead ambitious careers and I am also a working mum, I struggled to match women with career words as fast as men. This exposes one of my unconscious biases. Beyond gender bias, Dial presented similar tests to unravel racial bias.

A recent podcast of the NPR show Hidden Brain looks into an experiment that Benjamin Edelman, Michael Luca, and Dan Svirsky, faculty members at Harvard Business School, ran on AirBnB. Titled “#AirbnbWhileBlack: How Hidden Bias Shapes The Sharing Economy”, the podcast explores how discrimination impacts the lives of African- American guests and hosts on AirBnB: Quirtina Crittenden, a young African- American would send room requests on AirBnB only to be denied repeatedly, until she replaced her profile picture with a city landscape and shortened her name to Tina on the online platform at which time her requests were suddenly all accepted. According to NPR, “in a separate study, Luca and his colleagues have found that guests discriminate, too, and black hosts earn less money on their properties on Airbnb.” They believe unconscious bias plays a role in this disparity.

Big and small, on local and global platforms, unconscious biases shape our behavior in surprising and ordinary ways

Big and small, on local and global platforms, unconscious biases shape our behavior in surprising and ordinary ways. The challenge lies in uncovering our unconscious biases.

Spot your unconscious bias

Unconscious Bias - Q&A
Q&A, “A Look at Unconscious Bias”

The Harvard University Implicit Project developed a series of Implicit Association Tests to help individuals reveal their own hidden behavior patterns and biases. While the audience collectively tested its gender bias during the presentation, Dial encouraged others to take the test online to discover more. The participant is invited to associate “concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)” and explore attitudes on weight, age, religion, and other traits.

“One solution is to seek experiences that could reverse or undo the patterns that created the unwanted preference”

Good news, it is possible to get rid of bias you don’t want. “One solution is to seek experiences that could reverse or undo the patterns that created the unwanted preference,” said the researchers on the Implicit Project’s website. Dial presented the results of research in which children were asked to draw pictures of scientists. Most depicted personas similar to Professor Calculus in the Adventures of Tintin, a white male with round glasses, a distinctive hair style, and a long labcoat. When asked the same question after a visit to a scientific site, the children drew more diverse characters, including women in STEM with various skin tones, hair style and fashion acumen.

Continuing the conversation and building a path forward

During the Q&A, an audience member questioned Dial on appropriate answer to the recent racist and anti-semitic graffiti at Ottoson Middle School. While Dial praised the parents in the audience for addressing this incident, he encouraged them to discuss bias and utilize all the resources and literature available to them to foster change.

Many of the upcoming Arlington Diversity Task Group’s events are open to high school or middle school students and free for all.

Stories of Stigma
True Story Theater

The second edition of the True Story Theater workshops, “ Stories of Stigmas” will occur on Tuesday, May 10, from 7 to 8:45 PM at the Robbins Library Community Room. “Stories of Stigmas”, is a reprise of our January offering which was attended by 50 people. Participants are invited to share stories of feeling stigmatized or of stigmatizing others and experience True Story’s playback of their stories.  Middle and high school students welcome.

Our Wednesday,  May 18 “Meet Fannie Barrier Williams” at Robbins Library Community Room, 7 to 8:30 pm, is an engaging evening with a black woman activist who is visiting from the early 20th century. Dressed in late 1800s fashion, she will tell us about her life, using a modern Magic Lantern to show images from her times. While she experienced discrimination, she became a force for improving women’s and blacks’ rights. She’ll answer our questions about her life. High schoolers welcome.

On Wednesday, May 25,  “Being an active bystander  workshop” at Arlington Center for the Arts, 7 to 9 pm offers attendees an opportunity to practice ways to be an active bystander in situations where someone is being mistreated.   Note that we invite those who want to attend Bystander to register.  This does not commit a person to attend; it is a way True Story Theater can gauge how many troupe members to bring to the event as role players. Middle and high school students welcome.

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30% Discount with Arlington’s Book Rack: visit 13 Medford St. or email mbuglio@book-rack.com to order your book

Finally, as a follow-up to the Unconscious Bias presentation, First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington is hosting a book discussion co-sponsored by Arlington Diversity Task Group on “Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People” on Thursday, June 2, from 7:30 to 9:30 PM.  The authors Mahzarin Banaji, who manages Harvard University Implicit Project, and Anthony Greenwald, are both leading psychologists on unconscious bias. The discussion will be moderated by Esther Kingston-Mann, Professor of History and American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston who created and taught courses on Race, Class and Gender, and led a successful student/faculty /staff initiative to establish a university-wide diversity requirement. High school students are encouraged to join.

Get Involved with us in the fall

This last event will close our 2015-2016 season of activities on community, awareness, and action around diversity in Arlington. Thanks to our members, volunteers and our 26 sponsors who made this event possible. Arlington Diversity Task Group’s work is not over, there is still so much to achieve. We hope you will spend the summer digesting and practicing what you have learned in the last few months and get involved with us in the fall.

Article by Yawa Degboe

Yawa Degboe is co-chair of the Arlington Diversity Task Groups and a Human Rights Commissioner. She lives in Arlington with her husband and her daughter.

Arlington Reads “Americanah” Discussion Groups

Americanah_AdichieEvery year, the Robbins Library selects a novel for all interested in Arlington to read and discuss. This year’s selection is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and is the story of a young woman growing up in Nigeria, coming to America, struggling, succeeding, and returning to Nigeria.  Along the way she encounters the discovery that she’s black, and what that means in America, examines self-transformations required to “fit-in” or succeed, in both the black and white communities, confronts economic disparity in both places and speaks frankly through her blog posts of what she finds on her journey.

It is a compelling tale, told more as a narrative than a novel.  It has been criticized as having poor character development, for the main character Ifemelu being “not very likable”.  Some like the way it ends, some don’t.  Some like the characterizations of her boyfriends, relatives, and associates, some find them shallow representations, some say they are reasonable symbols for the narrative.  It is a book that creates a lot of conversations in the groups that have formed to discuss it.

Personally, I found the voice of the narrator strong, but unfriendly, and even considered putting the book down about a quarter of the way through it.I’m glad I didn’t.

Personally, I found the voice of the narrator strong, but unfriendly, and even considered putting the book down about a quarter of the way through it.  I’m glad I didn’t.  Once I became comfortable with the style, I became engrossed and couldn’t put it down.  I attribute my initial discomfort to my personal biases.  That alone was revealing.

Pervasive through the narrative is personal contrast between Ifemelu and her surroundings, and between the secondary characters and the choices they make in their situations.  There is an abiding question of identity throughout – who am I in relation to [this person, this group, this community]? Who do I want to be?  These questions have sparked similar questions in readers about culture, race, gender, class, and personal will.

A deep dive into unfamiliar territory for most of the readers

Discussions in the groups have generally included gratitude for the information – the deep dive into unfamiliar territory for most of the readers, and how that deep dive contrasted with their previous perceptions, or reinforced concepts that they had heard mentioned but never really appreciated their impact.  The scenes in the hair salon have been the subject of many discussions, with expressions of wonder and concern at the effort (and pain) involved.

The ending of the book has also produced contrasting discussions, ranging from appreciation, to confusion, to disappointment.  Proof, I think, of the depth of involvement with the characters.

The library, together with the Vision2020 Diversity Task Group, is holding a discussion on “Identity”, based on  passages in the book, with an interesting panel willing to talk about their personal experiences.  Information on this panel discussion can be found here:  https://www.robbinslibrary.org/events/details/3460

Brooks Harrelson.

Brooks Harrelson  is a member of the Arlington Vision2020 Diversity Task Group, and was a member of the selection committee for Arlington Reads Together 2016.

From 1970 to 2016, What Has Changed for Persons with Disabilities?

The Perspectives of an Arlington Human Rights Commissioner

Disabilities
Picture by Miguel Mndoza – creative commons

As a former teacher of special needs children, I am especially conscious of the barriers that prevented my students from full participation in the life of their communities. Some of those barriers were physical, but many were rooted in the misconceptions of the general public, their uneasiness with other-abled people, or their simple lack of awareness as to the needs of that particular population.

I was made shockingly aware of these psychological barriers when one of my students – a lovely, kind 5th grader with a moderate case of cerebral palsy – told me about something that had happened to her while she was out shopping with her mother. While the mothers were occupied with making their purchases, another child came over to play with her. Seeing her child with my student, the mother called to him, “Get away from her. She’s contaminated!” My student told me this story with a mixture of hurt and incredulity. I was infuriated that a grownup who should have known better could have been so cruel and ignorant.

“Get away from her. She’s contaminated!”

I believe that in the past several decades since that incident occurred the general public has become more aware of the needs of people like my student, primarily through implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. As cities such as Boston have improved accessibility to public transportation, government buildings, and public places in general, other-able people are more visible in those public places as well as in offices, schools, and entertainment venues. Visibility has raised awareness, as have educational efforts in schools and in some children’s programs such as Sesame Street. I believe that children like my student are far less likely today to experience the insults that she was subjected to in 1970, although the need for education and, at times, legal redress continues.

Much more needs to be done to make our country

more just and inclusive.

As news reports frequently point out, racism, sexism, anti-gay and lesbian incidents, ageism, the criminalization of homelessness, and other insulting or bullying acts against minority communities are still common occurrences in our society at large. Much more needs to be done to make our country more just and inclusive. In contrast, there is much support for diversity and equal treatment for all in Arlington. I feel privileged, as an Arlington Human Rights Commissioner, to participate in work that maintains and expands that support so that no one in our community will be denied his or her God-given human rights because of gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, religion, age, or physical limitations.

 

Ghanda Di Figlia

 

GhandaDiFigliaGhanda Di Figlia is the former Department Administrator in the Philosophy Department at Harvard University.  Prior to that, she worked for church-based non-profits and as a teacher of special needs children.  She moved to Arlington in 2011 and has been an Arlington Human Rights Commissioner for nearly 3 years.

The mission of the Arlington Human Rights Commission is to make our town an even more welcoming and safe place for people of color, LGBT people, and members of other minorities by educating about human rights issues and supporting legal measures aimed at protecting and extending those rights for all in Arlington. For more information about current openings at the Arlington Human Right Commission, visit the AHRC’s page on the Town website.