Why We All Just Can’t Get Along!

While we have known for quite some time that an all white jury convicts black defendants significantly more often than when the defendant is white (Anwar et al, 2012), we know little about the nature of the bias. For example, why would white Americans be given more lenient sentencing for very similar crimes?

Consider the HR director who is making a hiring or promotion decision. Could they fall into the same trap of bias and discrimination as jurors when deciding on the fate of candidates across racial groups?

Consider this study of perception of black boys versus white boys when police officers suspect them of a crime.

black_kids_white_kids_crime

This video below offers some insights into what really goes on between the ears of the decision makers.

 

 References

Anwar,S., Bayer, P. & Hjalmarsson, R. (2012). The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials, The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2012)doi: 10.1093/qje/qjs014First published online: April 17, 2012.

 

Teachable Moments: Tea Party Outrage, Campus Racial Tension, & Creating Learning Communities

teaparty_male_speaker
The Problem with American Racial Politics

Imagine teaching a cultural diversity course and a young European American woman feels safe enough to share her beliefs about the unfairness of affirmative action. Everyone listens attentively. When she’s finished, an African American male angrily calls her a racist. A European American male chimes in by saying that it is unfair that “black” people call “whites” racist whenever they speak honestly about racial matters. Everyone starts talking at the same time to offer her or his opinion at this point. Emotions are clearly escalating. How would you handle this as the facilitator?

I wrote a published article nearly two decades ago about how to manage emotional responses to discussions about race in university classrooms (Vaughn, 1993). Many colleges and universities were implementing cultural diversity course requirements in the general education curricular and I was teaching these courses at a large state university. Conservative scholars, such as Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, unsuccessfully argued against changing the academic canon to include cultural diversity. Their argument was that the recommended changes would undermine teaching all students the philosophical foundations of American society.  Reading between the lines of their arguments, I concluded that they felt the changes in the core curricular were tantamount to threatening the American constitution. During this period rioting in response to the videotape recording of police officers beating and taser gunning Rodney King, an African American, took place in Los Angeles. It was also a period of historic numbers of civil rights lawsuits against companies, which led to staggering financial settlements. Bari-Ellen Roberts’ book, Roberts vs. Texaco, is filled with her account of the daily dignities she endured as an African American executive, which fueled the rage behind her successful lawsuit (Roberts, 1999).

Things have not changed that much in terms of visceral reactions to cultural diversity, even after the election of the first American president of “African” descent. The slow progress is not surprising from this diversity expert’s perspective. The increased outrage and backlash in reaction to societal inclusion of cultural differences due to demographic shifts were predictable. Why? There is a huge gap between the cultural competence that exists in our society and what Americans need to navigate the reality of the demographic changes.  We know a lot about what it takes to create inclusive organizations, but we lack the leadership cultural competence, political will, and big picture mentality to make progress.

One of the hottest classroom topics in my university classroom was affirmative action. While discussions about same-gender marriage and undocumented workers share the stage in generating emotionally-charged discussions, affirmative action remains as potent today. The impact on higher education in California with the passage of Proposition 209 has created outrage on one side and a sense of game-changing social politics on the other side. After the recent passage of its own anti-affirmative action legislation, Michigan will likely witness staggering decreases in African American students we have seen in the state of California’s higher education system. Those who applaud the changes feel emboldened to express their feelings openly. Like, I said, things have not changed that much in twenty plus years. The same factors underlying the heated discussions about affirmative action and race that I was trying to manage in the university classroom two decades ago are the sources of current cultural diversity tension.

Barack Obama is arguably the most culturally competent president we have ever had. No other president, for example, has been exposed to as many cross-cultural experiences at an early age. More importantly, he is bi-racial. The fact that most of us collude in labeling him as black or African American and only parenthetically acknowledge his European heritage is a symptom of the country’s cultural competence deficit that I am describing. I doubt, however, that even he will find facilitating a heated debate about affirmative action within his scope of expertise.

How Lack of Cultural Competence Costs Us

Why do we need cultural competence? African American House of Representatives Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) was called a “nigger” last weekend after the passage of the healthcare bill. The news reports suggest that the culprit was a Tea Party reveler. [Yes, I used the "n" word. That's another thing we have to get over if we are to increase our competence in a free speech society.] Openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a “faggot” on the same day. A few weeks earlier, on the other side of the country, an off campus “white fraternity” party with a “racial” theme created weeks of conflict resolution efforts that spanned from the San Diego, California African American community to the university governing board in the San Francisco bay area. It became apparent to me that managing the emotional discharge was over the heads of everyone in charge.

Cleavages within society due to intercultural conflict create long-term tension that can easily—at any critical point in time—lead to social unrest, physical attacks, and a deep sense of unfairness about and resentment towards cultural diversity. The problem with continued lack of cultural competence among leaders is that it colludes in maintaining intercultural conflict over time, rather than support long-term solutions.

While litigation is obviously expensive, intercultural conflict often leads to additional costs, such as loss of talent, innovation and even a competitive edge.

One of the things you want to avoid to the extent possible as a leader is the appearance of taking sides in a conflict. Yet, far too many leaders do so in an effort to cope with their own and others’ emotional reactions to intercultural conflict. Any conflict resolution expert will tell you that long-term solutions to disagreements require negotiations that result in both sides feeling that it has gained something precious and lost something precious. The mediator cannot accomplish this by taking sides or poorly managing the emotional discharge on all sides. It is not the leaders’ fault that their outcomes are too often unsatisfactory. After all, how could we expect them to do what their predecessors have failed to do and where would they have learned to manage these kinds of conflicts anyways?

Teachable Moments to the Rescue

I propose that leaders view intercultural conflict through different lenses. What many leaders fail to realize due to their lack of cultural competence is that the very conflict that they so desperately try to squelch as quickly as possible to calm people down is ripe with diversity education material. There are several assumptions behind this view:

  • Each American inherently wants to have meaningful connections with other people—even with those they vehemently disagree with.
  • Americans rarely have a safe place to talk about differences with expert guidance.
  • Most Americans are open to and tolerant of cultural differences, they simply do not know how to do the “intercultural thing”.
  • Helping Americans learn from their encounters with cultural conflict as close to the moment it occurs as possible is the key to achieving societal and organizational inclusion.

Let us take the incident involving the off campus party described above as an example. What I have learned after nearly twenty-five years of teaching cultural diversity is that there is not a wrong or right point of view in intercultural conflict—just different ones. The conservative and general newspapers on campus made matters worse by taking the sides with the European Americans holding the “racial theme” party. Then the student government got into the fray by freezing funds to the newspapers. A “teach in” put together by the administration went astray when a large number of students participated in the Black Student Union orchestrated walk out shortly after the meeting started. When conservative students say that it is unfair that an off campus party with a theme that makes fun of an ethnic group in a satirical fashion is not racist, do everything possible to empathize with their worldview—whether or not you agree with them. When the African American students and their local community say that the behavior at the party was insulting, empathize with them as well. The problem is not their different perspectives, but their lack of opportunity to fully connect with each other in discussing the incident. The leader has to put personal opinions aside to understand each party’s point of view in order to determine how best to bring all sides together in making the conflict a teachable moment.

I doubt if you would find one student on any side who believes she or he is prejudice and intolerant. In fact, research supports the view that they probably are correct, but this does not protect them from acting prejudice unless they have developed cultural competence (Devine et al., 1991). Since few of us have had the opportunity to develop such competence, most of us step on multicultural toes without realizing it.

Even for those who may measure relatively high on a prejudice scale, it does absolutely no good to call them racist or confront their prejudice. I pointed out systematically in several published papers the futility of confrontational approaches in trying to get people to change and argue in favor of the more effective self confrontational methods designed to help participants reduce resistance and increase learning (see for example, Vaughn, 2003).

Leaders must avoid taking sides while embracing differences and finding common ground to create safety when facilitating discussions about differences. Nothing sets the stage for feeling safe more effectively than an set of ground rules. Civil debate is such an integral part of campus life and expectations that it amazes me each time these conduct codes fall by the wayside when cultural collisions occur.

Specifically, leaders need (a) awareness and acceptance of personal cultural diversity shortcomings (which we all have), (b) insights into how beliefs and values about diversity tend to make trouble for them in trying to connect across cultures, (c) an understanding of culture differences, and (d) cross-cultural skills. Let me take managing emotional reactions to the conflict as an example (Martin & Vaughn, 2007). The leader who understands her cultural diversity shortcomings has insights into personal values and beliefs that make it difficult to avoid emotional responses to diversity related comments. If she believes that any behavior that signals intolerance of racial differences is inappropriate, she will have a difficult time accepting comments expressing such views even if she knows that it is important to listen to all sides in an argument. Or, he may harbor conservative views that consider anyone “playing the race card” and becoming emotional as playing unfair in a grievance, which will make it very difficult for him to have compassion for them.

A leader can be very open and tolerant, as well as insightful, about her or his diversity-related shortcomings, but lack knowledge of cultural differences. This is often the case. Ironically, these individuals tend to be perceived as prejudice even after their best efforts to appear otherwise. Behaving as though you know what you do not know about cultural differences can be more disabling than acknowledging that you do not know much about other cultures. Assuming that the diversity education goes beyond book knowledge, classroom learning and seminars we may increase our awareness and perhaps even change our attitude, but there is seldom sufficient practice to hone what you have learned. Even the campus’ most acclaimed cultural diversity professor is likely to be ineffective in facilitating real life intercultural conflict. Being the best researcher and classroom teacher for diversity on campus cannot offset practical cultural competence training without facilitation skills.

Summary & Conclusion

How would you handle the affirmative action discussion as the facilitator? The culturally competent facilitator always starts with ground rules to promote a learning community. When participants talk at the same time, they are reminded of the rule they agreed to about the importance of fully listening. Helping participants understand the emotions behind what people share helps them connect with each other. Brief lectures that teach participants about the assumptions underlying each party’s point of view grounds the dialog in a meaningful framework that helps the audience learn about differences. The anti-affirmative action stance is often based on the meritocracy assumption and the pro-affirmative action stance may be based on a social justice assumption. What each side has in common is the need for fairness—they just have different views about how to achieve it.

The complicated part of negotiation is getting beyond an all-or-none, zero-sum game stance to help the parties connect with each other. Getting different sides to shift away from its stance is the effective leader’s role. Discussions of hot topics, such as “White” privilege, the use of parody and satire to make fun of different cultural groups, meritocracy versus social justice, and the like can take place in the context of a learning community. First, establish the ground rules to create the context. Keep the focus on learning, which is what people have in common. It is pretty obvious on a college campus that learning is the common denominator, but continuous learning is also necessary for adjusting in the ever-changing, fast-moving environments of other modern organizations.

The facilitator models civic behavior, orchestrates it in the group dialog, and keeps the focus on the common goal of learning about differences. This does not mean that emotions are swept under the rug. Allowing people to show their emotions is part of learning as long as you help participants avoid shaming, blaming and complaining to the extent possible. You do this by keeping the focus on identifying the real problems that needs to be solved. Helping the fraternity group, for example, understand that the real problem is that there is lack of agreement on campus about the extent that ethnic party themes are acceptable—especially given that the campus champions inclusion.

The next step is to help both sides see the results of their actions. The theme party had an impact on the ethnic group that was the target of the satire, the campus as a whole, and on those participating in the event. How the insulted parties handled their reactions also needs to be shared for better or worse so that everyone has an opportunity to learn from the experience. As each side shares thoughts and feelings, emotions are likely to shift from anger and hurt to critical thinking. This is the “soft on people and hard on the problem” approach found in negotiation literature.

As a classroom teacher, I have the luxury of helping members of the class look at their attitudes apart from real world experience. Organizational leaders are trying to solve problems that in ways that keep people productive. In the end, the leader is the final decision maker for the organization. Let the two sides hammer out an agreement to the extent possible, and take the best information available to make a decision that serves the organization as a whole.

I do not see Americans making considerable headway in managing its diversity and inclusion in the near future. The catalyst for changing these circumstances is educating and training culturally competent leaders. A good sign of progress among leaders is their increased ability to manage emotionally charged discussions about cultural diversity in ways that capitalizes on the teachable moments when cultural collisions occur. The first place to start is in the classroom as early as possible and reinforced in higher education as well as the workplace.

References


[i] Vaughn, B. E. (1993) Teaching cultural diversity courses from a balanced perspective. In Creative Teaching, 5 (4), Newsletter of the California State University System Institute for Teaching and Learning.


[ii] Roberts, Bari-Ellen (1999). Roberts vs. Texaco: a True Story of Race and Corporate America. Avon Books.


[iii] Devine, P. G., Monteith, M., Zuwerink, J. R., & Elliot, A. J. (1991). Prejudice with and without compunction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 817-830.


[iv] Vaughn, B.E. (2003). Intercultural interactions as contexts for mindful communication. In Smith & Richards (Eds.), Practicing Multiculturalism. Allyn & Bacon: Boston.


[v] Mercedes Martin, MA, & Vaughn, B.E. (2007). Cultural competence: The nuts & bolts of diversity & inclusion. In Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management magazine, Billy Vaughn, PhD (Ed.), pp. 31-38, San Francisco: Diversity Training University International Publications Division.

Post Election Racial Tensions Challenge HR & Diversity Professionals

Human resource and diversity professionals have been contacting DTUI.com in an effort to figure out how to manage volatile discussions about Barack Obama being elected as the next U.S. president.Seminar Advertisement

The presidential race has been especially tense since the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision to declare George W. Bush the winner in 2000. It did not help matters after the final tally weeks later showed that Al Gore won the popular vote. George Bush won a second term in 2004, which further infuriated his opponents. One bumper sticker states how some felt about him as their leader—“Somewhere in Texas a Village Is Missing Its Idiot.” So, it may not be surprising that people have some pretty harsh things to say about our new president, Barack Obama. Imagine the things opponents are saying about the first president of color.

Check out these news reports:
Baylor University (11/05/2008)
• One guy taunted Obama supporters by saying “You’re in Texas and y’alls vote didn’t count because Texas still voted McCain.”
• One African American woman says she overheard some white males talking about how they were going to beat up the next black person that walked by.
• The Lariat, Baylor’s student newspaper, posted video of the burning of Obama and Biden campaign signs on their Web site.
“Those expressions of disagreement or that ‘my candidate didn’t win’ can take on a racial overtone, either on purpose or indirectly,” Baylor sociology professor Kevin Dougherty said in response.

The Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes, said there have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual.
• There have been cross burnings.
• Schoolchildren have chanted “Assassinate Obama.”
• Black figures have been hung from nooses.
• Racial epithets were scrawled on homes and cars.
While most of the reported incidents were in southern states, they certainly have not been limited to the south.
The major problem is that people have to take sides in these incidents which most often than not reproduces racial divisiveness. Consider the following reported incident:

University of Texas backup center Buck Burnette was kicked off the team by Coach Mack Brown after he posted the following message on his Facebook page:

. . . “all the hunters gather up, we have a #$%&er in the whitehouse”

Before he took his Facebook page down, Burnette offered the following as an apology:

“Clearly I have made a mistake and apologized for it and will pay for it. I received it as a text message from an acquaintance and immaturely put it up on facebook in the light of the election. Im not racist and apologize for offending you. I grew up on a ranch in a small town where that was a real thing and I need to grow up. I sincerely am sorry for being ignorant in thinking that it would be ok to write that publicly and apologize to you in particular. I have to be more mature than to put the reputation of my team at stake and to spread that kind of hate which I dont even believe in. Once again, I sincerely apologize.”

One reader’s comment about his remarks stated:

“I am glad he was kicked off. He supposedly is a “Christian” and spoke to youth groups at his home town as a role model. What a terrible example of christianity he is. I am embarrassed to say he is from Wimberley [Texas]. Those comments don’t just accidentally get posted. Buck’s true colors are showing.”

Someone else felt compelled to stick up for him by stating the following:
“What he said was stupid and inexcusable. That being said he is still just a 20 year old kid. He deserves a second chance as much as anyone. Who among us didn’t say or do something you later regretted when you were 20?”

You can imagine this discussion in a diversity course. People will take sides, disagree, and the discussion may heat up to the point that the facilitator will need to intervene.

Now consider the potential impact of post presidential election discussions in creating tension among workplace colleagues. This real life case from Canada drives the point home.

“When his boss labelled him a “terrorist” and referred to him as Bin Laden, car painter Sashram Dastghib struck back with a discrimination complaint. Dastghib, who emmigrated from Iran in search of a better life, often worked 14 hours a day at Richmond Auto Body in North Vancouver and rose through the ranks to become its highest paid painter.”

Although he claimed to love his job, Dastghib alleged co-workers Joel Franske and Peter De Santis made him the butt of racist jokes. This included addressing him over the loudspeaker as Bin Laden, and [posted] a “Wanted — Dead or Alive” poster, portraying him as a terrorist. The poster claimed he dressed in drag, had been indicted for bombing, was arrested for prostitution and was involved in bestiality and pornography.”
“Dastghib was fired after a workplace altercation with coworkers and laid a complaint of discrimination before the B.C. [British Columbia] Human Rights Tribunal. The managers admitted to the poster but denied repeated racist name calling. They claimed the human rights application was trumped up as retaliation for his being fired.”

“Everyone in the shop had a nickname based on some personal characteristic, they said. The employer maintained Dastghib never protested and furthermore participated in the workplace banter. Dastghib allegedly joked in one lunchroom exchange that he was entitled to a $1-million reward from the wanted poster because he really was a terrorist.”

“Many of the company’s claims may seem sensible — the workplace was collegial, and Dastghib socialized with the very people named in his complaint. The Tribunal heard that Franske, for example, had invited Dastghib into his home to hold his newborn child. The group even took scuba diving lessons together.”

“The tribunal disallowed the employer’s defence of ‘consent,’ saying the poster was a ‘particularly venal” diatribe. ‘It would be bad enough for this poster to come from a co-worker but it is much worse when it comes from a manager,’ the tribunal said, in concluding ‘the company created a poisoned environment’.”
“It also rejected the company’s claim the human rights complaint emerged only when Dastghib was fired for cause after the altercation. It found the discriminatory actions by the managers, including the poster, contributed to Dastghib’s anger, and was a factor in the outburst that lead to his being fired.”

In other words, Dastghib had to endure a hostile workplace that led to his anger and the altercation—and management was a perpetrator instead of protector.

It may appear that our right to vote for our candidate of choice translates into openly showing our disdain for the opponent even in the workplace, but doing so can create a hostile environment. Human resource and diversity professionals must be prepared to manage workplace hostility to guard against legal action and lower production.

What is the best way to handle workplace conflict due to heated presidential elections discussions? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Get the top leader(s) of your company to make an organization wide statement about the need for post-election civility and that inappropriate conduct will not be tolerated.
2. Use expert facilitators to hold a town hall meeting to discuss the election focusing on the racial, gender, and ageism tones that characterized the campaigns and how they can creep into the workplace. A diverse team of facilitators is a must.
3. Establish ground rules for talking about the town hall topic and sharing opinions.
4. Use an Ice Breaker that will help participants feel more comfortable with each other.
5. Discuss the costs and benefits of sharing personal views with workplace colleagues.
6. Teach participants how to use the Powerful Questions technique as a method of inquiry in sharing and learning about other groups.
7. Break participants into ethnic or racial groups to share their views safely and have them return to the larger group to share what they learned in the dialog. You may want to use an incident like the one involving Buck Burnett to discuss the pros and cons of kicking him off the team or helping him learn a lesson from the incident.
8. Have the groups reflect on what they learned from the summaries the groups shared, especially focusing on seeking clarity and understanding each other’s perspectives.
9. Break participants into randomly assigned small groups to discuss what they had learned and to learn from each other. Have each person write down what she or he learned from the town hall meeting.
10. Have an open discussion in the general group about what was learned.

Of course, you need excellent facilitation skills to create a safe environment, maintain civility while allowing people to get emotionally involved, and to identify teachable moments that you use to increase learning.

About the Author: Billy Vaughn, PhD CDP is a certified diversity professional with DTUI.com. He is a master certification trainer, cultural competence coach, sought after consultant, professional speaker, accomplished author, and cultural diversity thought leader. He can be reach at billy at dtui.com.

Are White People Albinos?: A Provocative Video

A friend of mine called me today about his son’s soccer team being called “Albinos” by a rival team. My pal didn’t know what the word meant, but knew it had something to do with being white. Frankly, he was the first to inform me about it. When I found out that the opposing team was primarily children of color, my first comment was that his son is experiencing the shift to children of color outnumbering white Americans in California public schools. At the same time, I was surfing the internet to find out more. That is when I came across this very provocative video.

Two white males explore what they believe is the origins of the white race and the term albino is used repeatedly. I am against the use of any derogatory words about racial and cultural groups. My studies lead me to believe that they are divisive and maintain the perception of racial hierarchies. This is also true when African Americans use the word nigger to label each other.

This provocative piece is so interesting I am still trying to get my head around it which will require more research and discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think.

About the Author
Billy Vaughn, PhD CDP is an award winning multicultural educator, consultant, training, and coach. The views in this diversityblog are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of DTUI.com. He can be reached via the Contact Us area of this site.

Misreading the Presidential Primary Polls: Because Barack Isn’t Black or White, Stupid!

Barack Obama is the product of a black African father and a white American mother. But, you would not know it from media coverage, university lectures, polling data, religious sermons, and your neighbors’ voting behavior. Americans love to simplify their world so mixed race people are difficult to categorize given our black-white mentality. But racial identity is no longer a simple matter. The ways in which Americans collude in ignoring Barack Obama’s race demonstrate that while the demographics of our society have changed, our ability to think inclusively remains under-evolved. It is very difficult to talk about race in American society as a result.
Interracial marriages have tripled in the United States since 1970, which constitutes about 400,000 marriages per year today, according to the Richmond Free Press. This represents a dramatic increase in the number of Americans with more than one racial identity. Their off springs are challenging racial categories. For instance, in at least 10 states, the percentage of multiracial Americans between ages 5 and 17 is at least 25%, according to 2000 census data, which is greater than the overall 19% for this age range. It is old news that America is demographically changing, yet we fail to recognize that we need new language to talk about our differences. Instead, we will continue to play the “race card” in talk about our differences.
Consider Hillary Clinton’s recent controversial comment about race in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on. The Associated Press found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There’s a pattern emerging here”.

At least one African American politician characterized her comments as divisive. Conservative political news commentator Patrick Buchanan came to Hillary’s defense. He says that there is a double standard when it comes to talk about race. Basically, Buchanan argues that when white Americans talk about black people, their words are scrutinized more than when a black person make statements about white people. He believes that when someone describes “facts” about racial differences, such as reported racial differences in poll results, it is absurd to claim racial animus. He is correct. There is an absurd double standard. The culprit, however, is our out-dated thinking about race, identity, and what it means to be American. Politicians need to understand that ignoring that Obama is bi-racial can lead to accusations of race baiting and racial animus.
Consider Indiana and North Carolina voting patterns in the primaries across racial groups as examples. Indiana is 88% white American, 9% African America, and 5% Hispanic. In North Carolina, African Americans, white Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans constitute 21.7%, 74%, 6.7%, and 2% respectfully. Clinton won by 2% of the vote in Indiana. Indiana exit polls showed that Clinton got the majority of votes from white Americans, as she had in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama received more than 90 percent of the African-American vote and about 40 percent of white votes in North Carolina. The question becomes how much impact does Obama’s bi-racial identity have on the results. We will never know the answer to the question until pollsters ask it.

Pollsters want to know if race plays a role in voting, but they collude in racial politics by not asking if Obama’s mixed race has any impact on voting outcomes. If Barack is half white, then a considerable number of white Americans should be comfortable voting for that part of him they identify with. Using the same logic, many blacks should vote for him as well. The point is that mixed race candidates pose special challenges in making sense out of poll data. Coverage that ignores the fact that Obama is both black and white undermines the democratic process. West Virginia is 94.9% populated by white Americans. Hillary Clinton will likely win that state by a large percent, but she will not receive 100% of the vote. We deserve to know how the white Americans voting for Obama view him along racial lines.

Research supports this view. It turns out that when an African American shares many traits stereotypical of white people (e.g., “intelligent”, successful, “articulate”, and bi-racial), white Americans have a difficult time categorizing the person along racial lines. They tend to create a special category for the individual so as to maintain the integrity of their black-white racial distinctions. This is referred to as subtyping. So even if white Americans ignore Obama’s bi-racial background, they will sub-type him because he does not fit their stereotypes of black people. In my experience, African Americans also make faulty assumptions about Barack. Their experience in American society leads to over-emphasis on his skin color. He is African American whether he likes it or not from their point of view. A common justification is that he has been forced to identify as black in American society because it is so race conscious.  The result is that Barack’s bi-racial identity is both an asset and a stigma for him at the same time.

American beliefs about race remain out-dated in the face of a multi-cultural, multi-racial reality. How do we get out of it? We need to recognize, embrace, and celebrate our achievements in blurring the racial boundaries. This is the way we help Americans get out of the crazy, unproductive identity politics.

LOU DOBBS IS MOVING NEXT DOOR: THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD

As a cultural psychologist and diversity expert, I am in both heaven and hell in this historical period of American politics. In fact, I am in the midst of writing the book, The Cream Always Rises to the Top: Leading a Culturally Diverse Nation in the Twenty First Century, as fast as I can to beat the start of the political party conventions. Yet, I felt compelled to stop for a moment to write this article after hearing Lou Dobbs’ interview with Shelby Steele about Barack Obama’s speech on race relations. Lou is threatening to have a race relations dialog on his CNN show. Any media coverage of race he does will likely be so inept that the country will be torn apart at least temporarily. So, I must write this blog to impart some wisdom before getting back to a more substantive analysis and interpretation of cultural identity in America’s current political atmosphere.

Why am I concerned about media coverage of race relations? I have two reasons. One is that media tends to create more problems than solutions when covering race relations. Journalists must take a stand as Dobbs demonstrates in interviewing Shelby Steele independent of a panel of experts with different viewpoints. A study I conducted a few years ago shows how the media gets it wrong in covering race relations (http://www.dtui.com/bio_billy.html). I analyzed three southern California newspaper coverage of the trial of Sagon Penn, a young African American male who shot and killed one San Diego police officer and wounded the backup officer. While his acquittal after two trials is a race relations story of its own, my focus was on the prominent messages the two year media coverage conveyed about the story. Previous research in European countries indicated that the media tends to reproduce negative stereotypes about “ethnic minorities” in covering stories about them. I wanted to find out if a similar coverage occurs in the U.S. media.

Since most people read the headline more often than the body of the story, I sorted the headlines in thematic categories across the three papers over the two year period. Not surprisingly, the media primarily used negative stereotypes about young black males in characterizing the Sagon Penn incident. This was true over the two-year period even after the evidence became overwhelmingly clear that it was a case of “Driving While Black” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_While_Black) that motivated the police to stop the young man’s vehicle.

The second problem with media coverage of race relations is that it takes the focus off the real issues. Racial tension in America is a symptom of larger identity group politics that play out in group competition within a culture of hierarchical intergroup relations. Lou interviewed Shelby Steele alone because doing so allows him to impress his views about race on the audience. Using a fellow conservative to discuss race relations offers the appearance of different points of view because Steele looks a black American. To his network’s credit, Lou did interview another African American the next day or so. He told his guest that he would be given the last word and proceeded to cut him off shortly afterwards to disagree with a statement that was being made.

In contrast to falling into a neat racial category, Obama’s bi-racial identity makes it easier for him to take different racial perspectives. We know from social science research that it is easier to take the viewpoint of those with whom we share group membership. The “you are either black or white”racial point of view shared by Lou and even liberal journalists will likely lead to discussions about race with little substance apart from getting people to take an emotional stand. Their need to prove that their point of view is more superior will reproduce the race relations dilemma that limits thoughtful discussion. It is unimportant that Shelby Steele is also bi-racial from Dobbs’. What matters is that he is a conservative and looks black.

I am an expert in getting a diverse group of people to work through difficult discussions about race. Believe me the skill did not come easy, so you can anticipate that 99% of journalists will get caught up in their own emotional baggage rather than lead a balanced and insightful discussion needed to get the country to the next level.

For the remainder of this blog, I will argue that Americans are currently in an identity crisis, which is more important to understand than the poor race relations symptom. Then I will give Lou and other journalists a few tips for facilitating race relations dialog because I know that they can’t help but go with a juicy story than a more meaningful one. It is a dangerous thing to give a list of suggestions because naive readers will no doubt think they “get it” from my sound bites. The result is that they will likely create even more problems. But, I am in the business of training executive level diversity management skills and I feel obligated as an American to offer my expertise whenever possible. In fact, this is a great example of the utility of diversity training contrary to popular media coverage (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/01/19/ST2008011901990.html).

The racial stuff in the presidential campaign started with the brief gender versus race controversy sparked by media coverage of Geraldine Ferraro and some feminists who raised the question of whether Obama was being coddled by the media because he is African American (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqL_sm0J8jc). Their concerns are legitimate, but their assertions suggest that a high stakes competitive race between a woman and man is not the time to make nice and that playing the race card is fair game even for presumed liberals in intergroup competition. After all, only one of the two candidates can win the party’s nomination, and getting either of them in the White House will make history. It is truly a historic moment just having a white female and African American male as serious contenders, but we just might take our country politically backwards in terms of race relations without competent leadership in the oval office.

Governor Bill Richardson stated that among the reasons he endorses Barack Obama for the presidency is that they both are products of a foreign parent and lived abroad during childhood. Obama is able to get young Americans to vote in record numbers because American youth can identify with him more than Hillary and John McCain. We favor people who share our view of the world more than how much we share racially. Richardson and Obama share a unique perspective as American leaders. They can take a multi-racial and multi-national view of American leadership. No longer can we afford cowboy or southern liberal leadership. It simply will not suffice in our changing world.

An example that stresses my point further is taken from Studs Terkel’s two sets of interviews twenty years apart with Americans on the topic of race (The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream 1998, http://www.studsterkel.org/). The example I love to give is about the change in attitude a white male with a history of allegiance to the Ku Klux Klan and an African American female anti-Klan community activist had towards each other in the second interview twenty years later. The change in attitudes took place after the two were encouraged to work together on a race relations team to combat intolerance in their community. The working class Klan member’s incentive was getting paid for his involvement and the African American woman was happy to receive the money and feel part of solving the community’s race relations problems. During their close contact they learned how much they had in common and discovered that the local leadership was using pitting lower class whites and the black community against each other to take attention off their race relations leadership incompetence. In other words, the two individuals discovered their common identity.

I must confess that I think identity politics is also a symptom of a larger problem. We are a society that has not had to come together as Americans. The result is that what it means to be an American varies across class, race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and a host of other ways in which we have decided to identify ourselves distinctively in the world. But, I think that focusing on identity politics will get us much further than naive discussions of race relations.

“Black” conservatives are finally getting back into the spotlight with Obama on the hot seat about race. They are also a good example of identity politics. Do African American conservatives identify more with their race or conservative Republicans? I predict that the poll will show that many African Americans and white conservative Republicans will both state that political identity is the defining category for this group. I further predict that the African Americans will base their response on not sharing conservative political views with the much smaller group of black conservatives. White Republicans will focus on the conservative ideology they share. If you tease the results out by class differences, gender,and sexual orientation, I predict that identity will account for how people respond.

I am not the first to emphasize identity politics. Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson stated that the politics of identity has turned inward as Democrats struggle with navigating the unfamiliar terrain of choosing between nominating a white female or an African American male to represent their party—given that both are equally capable (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/02/democrats_and_the_politics_of.html). Our white female-African American presidential candidate predicament offers just the right conditions for identity politics to take center stage. The problem is that most of us are like Lou Dobbs. We want to concentrate on race relations, which is a symptom of the problem, because it is a juicy story and we can get emotionally self righteous. That’s the American dilemma and I am afraid it will get very messy before too long if Lou Dobbs gets into the mix.

The American people deserve and sorely need high level discussions about race relations. If you must move into the diversity experts’ territory, Lou, then at least mind your manners by considering the following. My nearly 30 years of teaching and training cultural diversity suggest that the audience benefits from a facilitator that practices the following:

  • Avoid taking sides—be the facilitator, rather than the messenger. The journalist who is too wrapped up in her or his ego to work on behalf of public good is doing a disservice and more public harm than good.
  • Always have a panel of at least three “experts” with a range of viewpoints about race relations. All too often the Democrat versus Republican dichotomy gets center stage.
  • Avoid sound bites. At least stick with one topic or idea, rather than have a “free for all” that gets people wound up without a safety valve. But, maybe getting people so angry that they start hating each other is so newsworthy that you don’t mind irresponsibly contributing to maintaining America’s poor race relations.
  • Be aware of your own biases about race BEFORE facilitating the dialog. I know most of us think we are liberal and tolerant, but the research evidence is clear—we tend to hold liberal values, while our intercultural skills are barbaric (http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/07-103.pdf).
  • Try your best to empathize with viewpoints that oppose your own. This is the key to critical thinking yet most of us fail at miserably. If you want to be an out of the box journalist, try empathetic and compassionate interviewing and dialoging. It is a transformative experience that will turn your journalistic insight upside down for the better.

I have a list of other suggestions, but I think this is more than enough to deal with as a start. My experience indicates that Americans are desperate to talk about their differences and their identity is the most important thing they want others to understand. Race relations will progress in this country with or without the help of the media. Look at how far we have progressed given the limited media competence in making it happen. Journalists can both do their job well and be responsible citizens in healing long standing animosity and deep wounds across identity groups with good facilitation skills based on compassion.

Billy E. Vaughn, PhD is a certified diversity professional who trains and coaches executives. His clients include organizations across sectors, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, Qualcomm Inc., Costco, Goodwill Industries, and the European Central Bank. Learn more about him at http://www.dtui.com.

Become a Certified Diversity Professional by May 12, 2008. Learn more at http://www.dtui.com/conferences.html

Why is Barack Obama Denying His Mother?

In this Issue

  • Letter from the Editor
  • Diversity Lesson: Why is Barack Obama Denying His Mother?
  • Diversity Professional Resources
  • Diversity News
  • Diversity Events
  • SUBSCRIPTION CHANGES

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

If you have not contributed to the DTUI.com presidential poll on the site’s index page, please do so. We will be presenting the results in the next couple of newsletters.

When you have a candidate who feels forced to identify as black or white, a woman who feels pressured to wear pants to campaign, and a former governor who is trying to distance himself from signing a history making same gender civil unions law, the race for the 2008 presidential candidate gets juicy. The hype about this being a historic moment in American presidential politics is being overshadowed lately by America’s obsession with race.

I doubt if the next American president will do anything that remarkably changes the status quo. Even Bill Clinton, the so-called “First Black” president, could not pull it off. This campaign is great reality TV and soap opera with Americans feeling good about showing the world a rainbow presidential race while worried if voting for a black man will tip the scales.

America needs to get over its obsession with race. I just don’t see it in the cards given that identity politics are intimately interwoven into the fabric of our society. The two party system is a problem as I see it. The fact that we do not seriously deal with gender, race, religious, and other identity differences as a society is the other problem.

A candidate that is serious about promoting better racial and ethnic relations will do what governments of other western societies have done—create a cabinet level position for diversity and inclusion. Give the diversity and inclusion office a billion dollar budget each year to promote an American society in which we are a society that “different in cultural practices, yet one in mind.” This is not about a series of town hall meetings to discuss what it means to be an American. The Chief Diversity Officer will focus on developing a strategy that will lead to a society in which each individual feels she or he can be their cultural selves in making a contribution to society. Promoting a society that adds value in the lives of individuals in the service of them living productively is common sense to me. The return on investment is increased innovation, significant decrease in civil rights lawsuits, integrated churches on Sunday mornings, and valuing cultural differences.

This is not an easy task. That is why an expert is needed. The person needs the power and authority to fully invest in the project. But, that is why it will not happen. We currently have an unprecedented proportion of people of color and women in high level government positions—under a Republican presidency. However, they feel so pressured to think red that I don’t see the diversity of thought needed to create more innovative solutions. The blues do the same thing.

It simply takes more than waiting for America to mature beyond racial and ethnic politics. We need to put experts in charge to make it happen. On the bright side is witnessing my twenty-three old son and his generation teach me new things about cultural identity.

Why is Barack Obama Denying His Mother?
I conducted a study of bi-racial children about ten years ago with Rosanna Jones, PhD, who subsequently used the data for her award-winning psychology dissertation. I learned a great deal about multi-racial people. This presidential election is disturbing to me because we are missing an opportunity for all Americans to raise their consciousness about a growing group of citizens—multi-racial people.

It is unfortunate that Barack Obama chooses to refer to himself as a “black” candidate. His mother, who has passed away, may have understood, but I feel bad about his denying her as part of who he is by taking sides. I also understand the enormous pressure on him to identify publically as black. Barack must contend with America’s desire to hang on to out-dated ways of socially dividing up our society.

The ease at which we seem to divide society into black and white certainly serves important socio-political-economic functions. We know immediately who is most likely to succeed and who enjoys more privileges in society. Although this short cut thinking does not always work, we don’t seem to worry much about it. Social science research suggests that when a person like Barack Obama comes along, we need to fit him into a box. If he has enough stereotypic black features, then we easily put him into that category. He doesn’t look white enough, so we don’t have to worry about that category. But, he doesn’t neatly fit into the black category because we know he has white genes, he is “articulate”, and even darn smart. Most white America outside of the south will consider voting for him because he is in part one of them—even though they have a hard time acknowledging it.

The research indicates we subtype people like Barack. We create a unique category for him. Doing so enables us to maintain the integrity of our black-white dichotomous view of the world, while making sense out of Barack being an anomaly. This does not mean we have shades of grey in our thinking about race. After all, we have merely created another box instead of blending the black and white ones.

It appears that African Americans and southern whites are going off the deep end over Barack’s race more than other Americans. African Americans tend to be so steeped in Clintonian politics and uncertain about how to categorize a multi-racial person with “real” African roots that the presidential race bringing up all kinds of feelings. They had no problem voting for against Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton, but now that there is a serious contender of their race, they must question their loyalty.

My major point is that accepting that Barack is a multi-racial candidate has more promise for creating an inclusive society. Each of us can own the fact that we are multi-racial ourselves. We can see that there is a male and female that is vying for the presidency on the Democratic side rather than two “minorities.” Perhaps we can even get to the point the gender distinction loses significance.

I want to vote for a president who understands that identity politics is not a card you play to get the upper hand. It is serious business because people are harmed by stereotypes and the intentional exploitation of them. Join me in scrutinizing the 2008 presidential candidates’ plans for creating a more inclusive society.

Please offer comments at the bottom of this newsletter.

DIVERSITY PROFESSIONAL RESOURCES

Want Continuous Access to Diversity Training & Consulting Opportunities?

Diversity Trainer Network is for you. More and more decision makers are discovering that the Diversity Trainer Network is the place to advertise their projects. You can be among the first to know about what they have to offer.

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  • Belong to a diversity professional community!
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Go to http://diversitynetwork.dtui.com now.

Diversitypedia is Coming Soon

Heard of Wikipedia? Well Diversitypedia offers Wikipedia style access to an encyclopedia of diversity words and extended articles about what they mean. The diversity professional has a resource for generating training materials. Students can quickly learn about cultural diversity. Healthcare workers can better understand their patient’s cultural backgrounds. These are just a few practical uses Diversitypedia offers. More interestingly—Anyone can contribute to the website’s contents. It grows each time a user makes a contribution. We will send an email about where and when to access it.

DIVERSITY NEWS

Verdict of woman spanked at work overturned

Lawyers: No discrimination because spankings given to men and women

Associated Press updated 9:12 a.m. PT, Thurs., Jan. 17, 2008

FRESNO, Calif. – An appeals court overturned a $1.5 million verdict awarded to a woman who was spanked in front of co-workers in what her employer called a camaraderie-building exercise.

A jury in 2006 had ruled that Janet Orlando had suffered sexual harassment and sexual battery when she was paddled at home security company Alarm One Inc. The jury punished the company with a $1 million punitive damage award.

But on Monday, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal overturned that verdict, ruling that the jury had been given improper instructions. In particular, the jury wasn’t instructed that one vital element of proving that sexual harassment occurred is showing the action was directed at a woman because of her gender.

Lawyers for Alarm One, an Anaheim-based, 300-employee company, said that the spankings were not discriminatory because they were given to both male and female workers and that Orlando and others willingly took part.

Orlando’s attorney, Nicholas “Butch” Wagner, vowed to take the case to trial again.

“We may get more this time,” Wagner said.

But K. Poncho Baker, the attorney who defended the company at trial in 2006, said that because the company has since gone into bankruptcy and its insurance was exhausted battling Orlando’s claim and settling with three other co-workers, there may be little left to recover.

“Good luck retrying this one,” Baker said.

Orlando quit the company in 2004, less than a year after she was hired at the Fresno office, saying she was humiliated during the company’s team-building practices.

Employees were paddled with rival companies’ yard signs as part of a contest that pitted sales teams against one another. The winners poked fun at the losers, throwing pies at them, feeding them baby food, making them wear diapers and swatting their buttocks.

The company has since abandoned the practice.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

DIVERSITY EVENTS

January 21, 2008Martin Luther King Day Celebration

Diversity Professional Certification Seminars—Spring 2008

Get an edge on the competition with credentials. You can complete the DTUI.com Diversity Professional Certification program no later than the end of Spring 2008 by taking advantage of the following opportunities:

  • March 5-7, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia (Level Two)
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Sign up today to take advantage of the early bird special. You will save $500.00 if you register before February 5, 2008.

National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE) May 27-May 31, 2008 in Orlando, Florida. (www.ncore.ou.edu) 7:12 PM 1/20/2008.

How Duane “Dog” Chapman the Bounty Hunter Can Get His Image Back

There was Trent Lott, Don Imus, and now “Dog the Bounty Hunter”. We can have discussions about whether or not the growing list of white male social foibles is indicative of rampant racism, but that will not solve the problem.

The problem is that society no longer tolerates racist remarks, especially when people in the limelight are caught making them. Yet, we allow people to be as racist as they want in the privacy of their lives. Overhearing your neighbor using the N word in his or her backyard may be uncomfortable, but you can’t kick them out of the neighborhood for it. It is when the person’s livelihood depends on her or hsi public image that getting caught for making a derogatory ethnic slur can be devastating.

It is what happens to media figures like Lott, Imus, and Chapman that is the real problem. We take their coveted positions away—at least for a little while. They are asked to apologize whether they mean it or not. The apology tends to cause more problems. In addition, we have so called experts takes sides on the issue in the news. The public is left scratching its head until things go back to “normal” for a short period of time. But, there is something that we as a society can demand from elite figures that can support better race relations.

Imus, Chapman, and Lott think that they are not prejudice or bigoted. They can point to charitable causes, or in Chapman’s case, attending a church with a black minister as evidence of their openness and tolerance. I doubt that either or them will accept the fact that they are prejudice without a lot of soul searching, which is not demanded of them by the people holding their money strings. I have prejudice and so does every other American. We breathe the smog of prejudice and bigotry in everyday conversation, in the television shows we watch, in the newspaper, at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and deciding which church to attend. Refusing to believe that you are somehow able to defend yourself against this onslaught of prejudice and racism only makes you part of the problem.

The first step in getting his image back requires Chapman to admit that he harbors considerable prejudice and racial animosity towards black people. Apologizing to himself, his family, and his audience is the first step. The most important step is to get expert help in overcoming his prejudice and racism. This is the real work. He will not likely do it on his own. Only the risk of losing his livelihood in a big way will encourage him to commit to expert guidance.

The payoff can be tremendous as I have noticed in nearly a decade of coaching executives who have had their image and status suffer as a result of a similar social foible. Chapman will learn about the impact of his behavior on himself and others, the professional risks involved in continuing the behavior, and more socially acceptable ways to manage cultural and racial differences in the future. If Duane takes on the challenge wholeheartedly, he will not only get his livelihood back, but he will become an ambassador for racial harmony. We can certainly use more of these figures in the media.

billysunny

Billy Vaughn, PhD is a certified diversity professional and chief learning officer for Diversity Training University International, a free-standing corporate university located in San Francisco, California. He can be reached at 415-692-0121 or billy at dtui.com. Learn more about his work at http://www.dtui.com/mediakit.html or http://www.dtui.com/diversityblog.

Republican Presidential Candidates Dance with the Race Issue

It is unfortunate that we have not matured to the point that race does not matter in our society. Leadership is the key to moving society towards its higher ideals. That’s what makes Tavis Smiley’s efforts to upstage race in the 2008 presidential election so important. The absence of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson at the September 27 debate that aired on PBS was not a surprise.

My diversity expertise leads me to believe that the views expressed by the lesser known Republican candidates’ about racial issues are not that different from their absent colleagues. After all, race is something few people have learned to address competently. Alan Keyes focused on black crime, single parent homes, and low academic achievement in the black community. However, I did not hear a single word of praise for black people. Ron Paul of Texas, Rom Tancredo of Colorado, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Duncan Hunter of California appeared very uneasy with talking about race. 

  One candidate mentioned that race is less important than individual rights. Another used the same new reports we have read to claim that Michael Bell of the Jena 6 deserves jail time for kicking his white classmate after he was unconscious. He may be correct—if the facts hold up, but that is not the point.


 Racial politics is about balance. You don’t have to bend over backwards to placate African Americans. We want politicians to be honest AND thoughtful. Talk about crime and welfare mothers, but also take time to learn about the black people who are hard working poor, profiled by the police, and taken advantage of by car dealership salespeople.  The black community is more diverse than most of the candidates seem to realize or think is relevant. The candidate who came closest to this understanding during the PBS debate was Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. 

 
The Democrats do a similar dance with race. Barack Obama really gets it among this group. Being bi-racial puts him ahead of the entire crowd. However, he is still a politician. Glimpses of his deeper understanding of the issues surface on occasion, but he is mostly bogged down with political correctness when we need him to use his platform to teach society. Of course, that would be political suicide.


 No, Hillary does not get it. Don’t get me wrong. She and Bill are liberal-minded—to a point. Would they warmly accept Chelsea marrying an African American? Isn’t that the litmus test for us all? My bet is that Bill Richardson will be just behind Obama in getting that one right. I’ll let you chime on the rest of the Democrat hopeful.


 After all of the song and dance is over, we will have a new president and still be left with a racially divided country after her or his term ends. That’s the shameful part of it.

 Thanks Tavis for your effort in either case. It took poor race relations leadership to get the country where it is today. It will take super leadership to get us beyond rhetoric and fear of the “N” word.
 Good luck to each of the presidential hopefuls. I request is for that the winner creates a Secretary of American Diversity who has the credentials, expertise, compassion, and authority to start moving us forward as the great nation we are. Representative Ron Paul from Texas courageously said that the Iraq war is breaking our country financially. My challenge to him and the others is to put effort into harnessing our diversity for the sake of driving innovation needed to get us out of the crisis.

The Jena 6 & Social Responsibility

Do we have a social responsibility as Americans to seek out and change social injustice in all of its shapes and forms? If not, what will be the social and economic consequences? If so, why don’t we start right now by learning more about a case in Jena, Louisiana?

Jena, Louisiana has made international news. Not for suffering a natural disaster, but as a result of criminal justice practices that appear to reflect a modern Jim Crow system. A set of pictures of the city taken by photoblogger Michael David Murphy takes us along Jena’s Jim Crow Road ).[i] The street name reflects the 1950s race relations consciousness in Jena. The Jena 6 refers to a group of African American male high school adolescents who are facing no less than 20 years in prison for a fight with a fellow white student.

The first report of the Jena 6 was in July 10, 2007 on You Tube by Collateral News (http://www.youtube.com/watch?V=YuoiZnr4jLY). Since then Jena has made news around the world.

What makes the Jena 6 incident so important? In a nutshell, a small town filled with stories about unfair treatment towards its 12% black population becomes unglued when an African American male student decides to sit under a tree “designated” for white students only. The next day nooses were hung over the tree presumably to intimidate the black students. To make matters worse, the district attorney shows up on campus and threatens the black students with a comment about how he can make their lives difficult with the stroke of a pen. Things get really out of hand when white students are reprimanded for beating up a black student, but a subsequent fight in which the white student is harmed results in criminal charges against the Jena 6—even though the white student was treated for minor injuries and well enough to hang out with his buddies the same day.

You can learn more about the case by following the links above. After sorting through the news stories and blogs to get a better sense of what happened, I see nothing refuting the news media accounts. In addition, Syracuse University Professor Dr. Boyce Watkins and Marc Lamont Hill of Temple University have combined forces to seek disbarment proceedings against the district attorney in the Jena 6 case (http://www.blackstarnews.com/?C=135&a=3681).  To top things off, the more severe charges against the defendants have been dropped as pressure for justice in the case increases. Marches to the town, national and international journalists’ presence, and what many view as “weak evidence” (e.g., calling the boys’ tennis shoes a weapon) continue to haunt the people of Jena.

The very social fabric of our society continues to fray after the civil rights movement that took place more than 40 years ago. Americans vowed to create a more equitable, civil, and just society. We have clearly been successful. The problem is that we rely too much on the government and others to make changes without making any personal sacrifices.


Most of us see ourselves as liberal-minded and sympathetic towards people who are discriminated against. However, too many of us allow Uncle Joe or Aunt Jennie to tell derogatory jokes and say insulting things about other groups without challenging them. We say to ourselves and our children that we do not agree with these relatives, but they are too old or ignorant to change. This is merely self protection and collusion in social injustice. The result is that we indirect perpetuate injustive for the sake of avoiding conflict.
 We also notice that things are not equal at work. As the people of color increase in number, we notice that they are the ones that are passed over for promotion. We justify they’re not getting promoted or equal pay in order to avoid conflict. We also notice that we live in a neighborhood where most of the neighbors look like us and have similar views. We justify living in a monocultural neighborhood in order to avoid the discomfort of daily contact with people who are different. The result is Sunday morning church services where most of the congregation looks like the minister.
 

We must realize that any case of injustice, no matter how small, is a national outcry that requires Americans to stand together in demanding that the national, state, and local governments contribute to creating a more inclusive society. The Department of Justice needs to be in Jena overseeing the case, Americans need to march to Jena, and journalists need to keep the Jena 6 in the spotlight.
 

So, find out more about the Jena 6 by either following the above links, or searching Google. I also encourage you to pick up a pencil and paper and write your local Senator and Congress person (http://www.house.Gov/writerep/ & to request that they look into the Jena 6 case. That is the least that you can do since moving to a multicultural community, attending a multicultural church, and learning how to manage diversity may be too much of a sacrifice.




  

[i] Go to Diversitypedia.com to learn more about Jim Crow to learn more.
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