Archive for March, 2009

The Story of Multiculturalism

March 17, 2009

In response to a hate incident (one week prior to the schools “famous” Multicultural Celebration) at my son’s middle school, I created the following presentation (and wrote “A Letter From A Mother,”) and displayed it at the school’s multicultural fair. I was actually nervous about bringing it in, but knew I needed to – even at risk of being thrown out. I know people are afraid of talking about race – if they only knew it isn’t real – but I believe we human beings absolutely have to talk about it. We have to be brave enough to go there; to learn what it is (or should I say, isn’t) and the harm that its spawn, racism, has inflicted on all humanity.

You will be happy to know I wasn’t run off the premises. In fact, I had some wonderfully in-depth conversations with parents, staff and administrators. However, it was interesting, and I will confess, not surprising, to see people enter the library all smiles, obviously attracted to the display, read a little, visibly recoil, and almost run away.

I really do understand the trepidation, but it is simply fear and the best way to overcome fear – to heal – is to face it. You might ask, “How does one face the fear of “race” and racism, it’s too big, it’s too deep, it’s too dangerous?” Well, I believe the only way is with the truth. I also believe it is my responsibility, to myself, to my sons, and to humanity, to do what little I can to help heal our world. So, here is a simple gift from me to you – a little (hopefully) healing truth.
 

What is multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism is Public policy for managing cultural diversity in a multi-ethnic society, officially stressing mutual respect and tolerance for cultural differences within a country’s borders. 

Multiculturalism was born from the Civil Rights Movement, which was born out of the Freedom Movement. At its root, it was created to counter institutional injustice, inequality and the Institutional Racism within the institutions that form the foundation of society – Education, Media, Finance, Justice, Religion and Marriage.

It was developed in an attempt to repair the damage wreaked by the products of institutionalized racism, i.e. Slavery, Jim Crow, and Apartheid, which resulted in the impedance to advance for specific groups of people, (people of color,) and privilege for the dominant culture (white people,) by setting guidelines and establishing procedures for the respect of, and tolerance for, people of different cultures and colors. 
 

The Language of Multiculturalism

What is Race?

 A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time.

The classification of Race was created for reasons of hierarchy, control and power. According to the National Association of Anthropology, there is absolutely no scientific evidence supporting the social construct of “race.” There are far greater differences between a man and a woman, than there are between the so called, “Races.” Also, there are greater differences within a group than there are between groups.
 

What is Racism?

A system of beliefs, held consciously and unconsciously, alleging the inferiority of people of color (a supposedly biologically different group) to those of members of the Dominant Culture, or, white people. 

Racism focuses on the perceived “natural” differences between groups. It is grounded in the assumption that the differences associated with, or even determine, behavior, culture, intellect or social achievement.
 

What is Institutional Racism?

Institutional Racism is “Prejudice + Privilege + Power”

Institutional Racism is an imbalance of institutional power that systematically oppresses people of color and benefits white people.
 

What is Prejudice?

 Generalized attitudes about a whole group of people; the belief that a person whom we believe (because of skin color, language, or culture) belongs to a particular group will have certain characteristics. 

Enthnocentrism, which judges others on the basis of one’s own group standards; and racism which is rooted in the notion of the biological inferiority of other groups, are all related to prejudice and often entwined with it.
 

What is Privilege?

A right that is granted to some, but not all people – even if it is perceived or stated that all people have access to it. In terms of institutional oppression it is a right based solely on a persons membership in a particular social group.


What is Institutional Power?

The power that institutions such as the media, the educational system, the government, social services, criminal justice, business, financial, health care, religion, the military, have in our society.
 

What is a Right?

 A resource or state of being that everyone has access to regardless of social group membership. For example, Human Rights.
 

What is Discrimination?

Acts taken against a person based on prejudice. Unequal treatment based on prejudice.
 

What is Harassment?

Inappropriate unwanted behavior which disturbs someone, including verbal insults and touching someone without permission. Harassment is often motivated by, or a way of acting out, prejudice, and it is a form of discrimination.
 

What is Institutional Oppression?

Systemic discrimination. It is a pattern or system of inequality, which gives power and privileges to members of one group of people at the expense of another. Oppression continues because of institutional power, widespread prejudice, repeated discrimination and built-in privilege – unless it is protested and against and changed.

 
Oppression = prejudice + institutional power + privilege
 

What is Internalized Oppression?

The process by which people who are the targets of oppression begin to believe the prejudices used against them. As a result of believing negative messages about us, we may think badly of ourselves and/or other members of the group being targeted along with us. Often the behavior linked with internalized oppression is encouraged and enforced by the privileged group to frighten individual resisters, to divide an oppressed group against itself, and to keep people from joining with other members of their group to protest.

Internalizing oppression can have survival value for individuals, but is destructive to individuals, the oppressed group, and the cause of justice in the long run.
 

What is an Agent of Oppression? 

Individuals who belong to a social group that has access to institutional power and privilege who, may or may not, actively be oppressive or use privilege against a targeted person.
 

What is Bystanding?

Watching someone being discriminated against, bullied, attached, insulted or picked on, but standing by and doing nothing to try to stop it.
 

What is a Target?

Individuals who belong to a social group that does not have access to institutional power and privilege.
 

What is being an Ally?

Standing up for someone who is a target of oppression. To become better allies, we need to understand and act to change conditions of oppression to help create justice for all.
 

Who are People of Color?

Any body deemed not white, for example, African-Americans/Africans/Blacks, Asian/Asiam-Americans, Indigenous people, Latino/as, Middle-Eastern people, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
 

Who are White People? 

Members of the Dominant Culture. Anybody deemed not of color.
 

What is the Dominant Culture? 

The ideas, values and perceptions of the dominant group within a society, vested with the power to impose its goals on the general populace.
 

What is Culture?

A society’s shared and socially transmitted ideas, values and perceptions – which are used to make sense of experience and generate behavior and ultimately reflected in behavior. Cultures are learned not biologically inherited.
 

What is the difference between Individual and Institutional Racism?

Racism is overt and covert. It takes two closely related forms; Individuals acting against individual people of color, and acts by total white society against people of color communities.

The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury and destruction of property. The second type is less overt: it originates in the operation of established and respected forces in our society – the exact same thing “Multiculturalism” was created to combat.

Referring to a person of color with a racial epithet is considered an act of individual racism, as is spray painting racial epithets on signs and property. 

Institutional racism results in higher numbers of people of color not graduating High School thereby maintaining the achievement gap. An article in The Oregon newspaper reported on the disparity in forms of discipline between black and white students. “If an African American child looks a teacher in the eye, it was said that it would likely be considered insubordination as opposed to if a white student did the same, where it would simply be considered, assertiveness, resulting in widely differing responses. 

African Americans make up 80% of the prison population, when they are only 12% of the total population, due to institutionalized racism within the justice and educational system. Black, Latino and Native American youth (people of color in general) are subjected to far greater surveillance than whites, resulting in higher rates of incarceration.

In American it said that the path to wealth, security and success is through home ownership and education. Throughout history, here in Portland, Oregon and throughout America, people of color, have been denied, the right to buy property, own land; access to free and equal education, and even the ability to advocate for oneself.


What is White Privilege?

Rights granted to members of the White race by way of institutional racism.

Privilege grants the cultural authority (the dominant culture) to make judgments about others and to have those judgments taken as truth. 

White people have received tremendous benefit from the legacy of slavery, segregations and the continuing racism.

In the United States a person is considered a member of the lowest status group from which they have any heritage. This means that if you come from several ethnic groups, the one that lowers your status is the one you’re most likely to be tagged with, as in “She’s part Jewish,” or “He’s part Vietnames,” but rarely, “She’s part white.” In fact, having any black ancestry is still enough to be classified as entirely black in society’s eyes (in accordance with the “one drop rule” that has been a striking feature of race relations in the United States for several centuries). People are tagged with other labels that point to the lowest-status group they belong to, as in woman doctor” or “black President,” but never “white lawyer” or “male senator.”

Any category that lowers our status relative to others’ can be used to mark us; to be privileged is to go through life with the relative ease of being unmarked.

Privilege is something bestowed.

To be born, white, male and wealthy, affords one the greatest privileges.

By virtue of the institutional system Whites as a social category oppress people of color as a social category. This is a social fact. It doesn’t however, tell us how a particular white person thinks or feels about particular people of color or behaves toward them.
 

What is a Stereotype?

A generalization about what people are like; an exaggerated image of their characteristics, without regard to individual attributes, determined by the Dominant Culture and perpetuated through Institutionalized channels.
 

What is an Ethnic Group?

Any category of people within a larger society who possess distinctive social or cultural traits, shared history and sense of commonness, regardless of group size, power, perception of certain common biographical traits.
 

What is a Perjorative Word?

A disrespectful word relating to religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and ethnicity (or a combination of these.) Perjorative words have been, and continue to be, used against people of all ethnicities and colors and ethnicities for the purpose of  belittling or disparaging them – putting them in their place.
 

What is Discrimination?

Behavior that denies equal treatment to people because of their membership in some group – parallels the beliefs, feelings, fantasies and motivations of prejudice. Stereotypes, or generalizing beliefs about others.
 

What is Diversity?

A reference to the varied national, ethnic and racial backgrounds of the United States population, but also to categories of class, gender and sexual orientation.

Diversity has come to mean a number of things in our “multicultural” society and has taken on new significance with the rise of the politics and economics of diversity, resulting in its meanings and uses depending on the social, economic or political view of the user.
 

Hate Crime

Hate crimes are defined under specific penal code sections as an act or an attempted act by any person against the person or property of another individual or group which in any way constitutes an expression of hostility toward the victim because of his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, gender, or ethnicity. This includes but is not limited to threatening phone calls, hate mail, physical assaults, vandalism, cross burnings, destruction of religious symbols, and fire bombings.

Elements of crime statutes and protected classifications vary state to state.
 

What is a Hate Incident?

An incident which constitutes an expression of hostility against the person or property of another because of the victim’s race, religion, disability, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Hate-motivated incidents include those actions that are motivated by bias, but do not meet the necessary elements required to prove a crime. They may include such behavior as non-threatening name calling, using racial slurs or disseminating racist leaflets.
 

What is the meaning of the word Black? 

The absence of color due to the complete absorption of light.
 

What is the meaning of the White?

The absence of color due to the reflection of light.
 

What is the etymological meaning of Black?

The absence of color.
 

What is the etymological meaning of White?

The absence of color.
 

What is a Human Being?

Homo Sapiens. A member of the one race, the human race.
 

Thank you for receiving my simple gift of a little (hopefully) healing truth.

If you are interested in learning more this PBS website is a fabulous place to start – “Race – The Power Of Illusion.”

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Sing A Song Of Healing

March 11, 2009

Since the beginning of time humans have communicated through music and song. Song has been healer, uniter, redeemer, sage, connector and liberator. Remember how freeing it is to sing, out loud, even off-key, to a favorite, or just plain annoying melody that won’t let you go? Take a moment to feel how it feels. Do you feel open, expanded, light as air – liberated? I know I do.

In our modern technology addled world, research has caught up with the natives, the primitive people, and proven the power of music and song. Children (and we are all children at heart) learn effortlessly when lessons are camouflaged in music and lyrics. It is my belief that we must hang on to our inner child, for when we do we are more apt to let life lead us everywhere, and to sing out loud and proud, even off-key!

Musical pitches have different healing frequencies which affect areas in which there is dis-ease, or disharmony, returning them to harmony, wholeness. The true meaning of the word “heal” is to make whole. It is our right and need, as humans, to live in harmony, be whole, first with ourselves and then, with everyone else.

I offer my song “What Color Are You?” as a tool for us all in our walk toward wholeness and healing for the world. (I wrote this song – among other reasons – as an accompaniment to my children’s picture book “Max and Me.”)

Sing it loud! Sing it proud! Please do sing it, even off-key!

A Letter From A Mother

March 11, 2009

As my gift to humanity, and in response to a racially motivated verbal assault on my seventh grade son exactly one week before the “famous” Robert Gray Middle School Multicultural Fair, I created a presentation entitled “The Story of Multiculturalism” and “The Language of Multiculturalism.” I also wrote the following letter to all attendants at said Fair, the evening of Tuesday, March 3, 2009:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Letter from a mother

Last week my son was verbally assaulted with a racial epithet considered to be the most disparaging. The response from the boys when called on it, was the standard, “We didn’t know.” I cannot accept that. I will not accept that. I ask that you not accept it that excuse either. It is a cop out. When you know a stone lobbed, if it connects with your target, will hurt, could wound, then you know what it is that you do.

Americans stand proud today reveling in the fact they, the American people, voted a man of color, a black man, into the White House and in this revelry many of us delude ourselves that we now live in, as the media writes, a “post racial” society.

This is a lie. When a child can stand and tell another child that his “race” is superior to another’s, it is evident that we do not, (never have done, and never will, unless we are brave, particularly those of the dominant, white, culture,) live in a “post racial” society.

We all must have the courage to see the lie for what it is – a cop out.

Wonderful though it is, if we truly lived in a “post racial” time, there would be no need for this “Multicultural Fair.” There would no longer be a need for “Multiculturalism” or “Multicultural Education” to counter, or clean up, the mess left behind from the social construct of race and it’s partner in crime, Institutional Racism; a mess which we have all, mostly unbeknownst, been smeared.

The myth of “race” and its resultant hierarchy is perpetuated in stereotypes which many times were first introduced into our beings, via songs and nursery rhymes; in our prayers and then in our lessons in school; in the things we are shown and more importantly, the things left out. It’s fed to us, bit by bit, line by line, in the stories and history we are told; the news we read and listen to; the pictures we see. And then there’s the music?

Oftentimes, we dance to the lies, we sing along to the melodies, deluding ourselves that “it’s just music, words; it’s such a great beat.

All the while we are being reminded that, in people, different is dangerous. Flowers are different from each other coming in different colors, shapes, sizes, but they are ultimately still flowers. Why is the same thinking not applied to humans? Why, when having different colored skin, are humans rendered less human, less eligible, less competent, less capable, or dependent on the shade, superior, deserving, prime. The pernicious social construct of “race.”

In the Government mandated quest to “accept and tolerate” difference, we negate the fact and existence of the truth of why we even need to mandate such a thing. After all, if left to our natural defenses (and having not been taught otherwise,) difference inspires curiosity within us. We are innately drawn to what’s different; it excites us, engages us. It opens us to possibility and growth.

I am asking you, as a mother, as a woman, as a fellow member of the one race – the human race, to understand that the social construct of “race” is all a fabrication to keep humanity apart and in fear. Fear of discovering the truth that some of us have been afforded privileges based on our color, or lack thereof, and many of us have been denied those same privileges for the same reasons.

The truth is that many people’s wealth, success and “superiority” has been built on the foundation of inhumanity, inequality, oppression and racism. This knowledge is scary to contemplate, for if one should realize the truth, “Then where does that leave me? Come to think of it, who am I then? No, no, better to leave that dog sleeping.”

However, until we, each and every one of us, confront our prejudices, our privileges, our fears and our truths, none of us can ever be free from the suffocating matrix of institutional oppression. None of us can ever be truly free.

We must expose oppression and the systems that support it. It is not enough for us to “eat Mexican food,” “watch Indian dancers” or learn “African drumming.” We must have the courage to face the truth of the American system and identify where we fit within it; understand and own our privilege and have the courage to use that privilege, spend that privilege, share that privilege, to work towards dismantling an unjust system and creating a more equitable and just society.

Nobody is saying that you created the system; I am not blaming you, but as long as you refuse to see the truth of the situation, you help to maintain the status quo. I am asking you to simply consider finding the courage to face yourself in the mirror of truth and own your privilege; own and accept the fact that you stand, through no fault of your own, on top, or at least nearer the top, by virtue of the fact that your melanin is not evident on the exterior; on your skin.

I am asking you to claim the knowledge that, contrary to popular belief it is not that the darker among us cannot progress or succeed, but that they have been hindered, through the vestige of institutional racism, and while your ancestors were harvesting freely from the tree of “future wealth and resources,” the ancestors of people of color were denied, denied, and denied again.

Can you really continue to shine, with pride, the medal you won for “winning the race” when your opponent’s ankles were tied? Do you really want to?

In this era of multiculturalism, we sometimes forget that people, no matter their color, or culture, are inherently the same – human, with the same needs, entitled to the same equal rights.

Please work with me, by making a commitment with yourself, and your children, to understand the whole truth of prejudice, privilege and power in this United States of America, and if you don’t like what you learn, have the courage to speak up, stand up, for humanity.

Sincerely,

Sharon Martini