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These articles informed a recent talk on the topic of whiteness for sign language interpreters.

white-fog

A continuum of character development from white fragility through white fog toward appropriate whiteness.

“White people [must move] from an individual understanding of racism—i.e. only some people are racist and those people are bad—to a structural understanding [of white privilege].”

~ Dr Robin DiAngelo ~

White People: Stop Microvalidating Each Other, Stephanie Jo Kent

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to White people about racism, Robin DiAngelo

Fighting White Supremacy and White Privilege to Build a Human Rights Movement, Loretta Ross

Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of ­­­Holding Each Other Accountable, Ngoc Loan Tran

It’s time for white people to reckon with racism, Eve Ensler

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors, Jona Olsson

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence, Ta-Nahisi Coates

Dear White Parents of my Black Child’s Friends: I Need Your Help, Maralee Bradley

White America Couldn’t Handle What Black America Deals with Every Day, Henry Rollins

This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter, Sally Kohn

Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Finding Originality, Racial Politics (and Why Trump Should See His Show), Lin-Maneul Miranda & Frank DiGiacomo

10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read, Crystal Paul

What it’s like to be Black in Napierville, America, Brian Crooks

Police shootings won’t stop unless we address this problem no one is talking about, Jack Hitt

Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no. Wesley Lowery

Could all this racial violence bring two sides together? Faye Higbee

Branches of Mentoring, Michael Meade

end white silence

#KRKTR is an open game for everyone interested in developing individual character and social resilience.

Points are earned for promoting and continuing communication, especially across different topics and among different groups. The idea is that both character and resilience are built at the intersections.

Rules

This ReTweet is worth 700 points: 100 (tweet itself) + 100 (it's a RT) + 500 (First Response).

This ReTweet is worth 700 points: 100 (tweet itself) + 100 (it’s a RT) + 500 (First Response).

  1. Every Tweet must include the hashtag #KRKTR
  2. Conference-based players should also include the conference hashtag, e.g., #NCORE2014
  3. All players, including non-conference players, may include other relevant hashtags
  4. Official play has distinct start and end times, announced by @KRKTR_HUB (all players are encouraged to follow @KRKTR_HUB but this is not a requirement).
  5. Unofficial play is continuous.
  6. This is a good faith game.
  7. Stimulating laughter is welcome; exercise good taste!
  8. Playing #KRKTR is an assertion of shine, all players are Bright Allies.
This ReTweet is worth 700 points.

This ReTweet is worth 700 points.

Points

  • 100 points per Tweet (remember it has to conform to the Rules above)
    • Plus 200 points if your Tweet is a Reply to another’s Tweet (be sure to include the #KRKTR hashtag!)
    • Plus 100 points if your Tweet is a ReTweet (don’t lose the #KRKTR hashtag!)
    • Plus 500 points if your Tweet is the First Response (as determined by the timelines at twitter.com/KRKTR_HUB and twubs.com/KRKTR)
    • Plus 250 points if your Tweet is the Second Response 
    • Plus 100 points if your Tweet is the Third Response or later; all additional responses earn +100 points
    • The Last Response in each thread earns all the points accumulated in that thread: 500 + 250 + 100 x (nbr of additional Tweets) NOTE: The Last Response is determined by the end of official game play as announced by @KRKTR_HUB.
1500 Points for SJEchat (800 + 700)...will elhistoryprof continue the conversation?

If this was official game play: 1500 points for SJEchat (800 + 700)…will elhistoryprof continue the conversation?

Threads

A thread is created whenever Replies and/or ReTweets are made to any original Tweet that includes the #KRKTR hashtag.

  • Previous Tweets from the #KRKTR archive can be ReTweeted or Replied to in order to earn points during official game play.
  • Threads can originate from any #KRKTR player.
  • Threads originated by @KRKTR_HUB may become privileged. (Haven’t figured this part out yet.)
  • Serious #KRKTR players are encouraged not to respond to “bad will” Tweets. Let them die alone and quickly.
Connecting issues across populations using hashtags. NOTE: The #KRKTR hashtag is missing = no points during official game play.

Connecting issues across populations using hashtags. NOTE: The #KRKTR hashtag is missing = no points during official game play.

Hashtags

Advanced play involves careful and strategic use of hashtags to make connections whenever an intersection appears.

Cultivation of a connection across two different discourses (as organized by the hashtag) requires repetition and persistence.

Rather than hashtagging every word, be focused and deliberate about the connection you’re trying to forge.

Prizes

Prizes will be announced as sponsors come forth with them.  (Negotiations are underway. Contact Steph with offers for this and future rounds of play.)

 

Whoa-thinknotnotice_BLACKEDOUT

Click here for a related vlog (in American Sign Language)

The second day after Mandela’s Memorial we were greeted the news that the so-called fake interpreter Thamsanqa Dyantyi/Jyantie is schizophrenic. (His claim and apology is being met with a mixture of belief and doubt.) Whatever sympathy he gleans should be suitable to his illness. This does not excuse the government for hiring him. It has apparently fallen to the Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities to take the heat. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu explains that Mr Dyantyi “is Xhosa speaking. The English was a bit too much for him.”

That same day, the Deaf community continued to respond to the swell of disappointment and outrage over the lack of real communication access for Deaf people to participate in the Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela. The thoughtfulness of the Deaf world’s formal responses are worthy of careful attention.


‘People of the Eye’ respond with a full range of emotions

  • An elegant news feature from H3TV presents a biography of Nelson Mandela. Presented in international sign language, I learned Mandela’s name sign and a powerful sign for apartheid.
  • South African poet Modiegi Moime renders a beautiful tribute in South African Sign Language.
  • After watching a clip with a CNN anchor, Deaf actress Marlee Matlin explains,

“I can tell he’s thinking to himself,
‘Oh no, how should I do this,
well let’s see what I just did, I’ll do it again!’”

Deaf people have practice tolerating inadequate interpretation. Hearing people often disregard the quality of the interpreter, and many lose patience with this special process of intercultural communication. While “It’s probably safe to say that South Africa’s relationship with its deaf community is historically complex — much more complex than the “fake interpreter!” headlines would make it appear,” as Caitlin Dewey writes, it would be false to assume the problem with providing qualified sign language interpreter only occurs there.

A Certified Deaf Interpreter from the western United States (Utah), Jeff Pollock, makes a compelling argument that Hearing people should also be upset.

“The interpreter does not just work for Deaf people. They work for hearing people as well, [who] want to make sure that their messages are heard by the Deaf community.”

Mr Pollock briefly explains the sign language interpreter certification process in the United States and advocates that these processes of professionalization be taken more seriously.

Don’t move on too quickly…

The first gesture of Mandela-like reconciliation came, interestingly, from the same Deaf South African Parliamentarian who first alerted people to the incompetence of the ‘interpreter’ being televised from the stage.

Yesterday Wilma Neuhoudt tweeted, “Tata Madiba would have understood” while asserting her support for People with Disabilities (PWD).  Her early Tweets correctly used punctuation too, in contrast with every news story I’ve seen to date.Madiba would undestand

Journalists and their editors have been responsible, it seems, in putting ‘fake’ in quotation marks, shifting the focus from the single person—”this male so called interpreter” as Ms. Neuhoudt pinpointed the problem—to highlighting the challenge of people not fluent in a sign language to be able to distinguish quality just by looking.

It is hard to know, from the perspective of the whitewashed west, if there are different cultural values at work, such as factors of relationship or an ethos of inclusion focused on someone(s) other than the audience watching the broadcast. It does, however, seem that Ms. Neuhoudt suggests gender as an issue along with the essential absence of effective communication.

A strong signal for “Hearing” people

Interpreters began monitoring and sharing news reports all over the UK and US.

Interpreters began monitoring and sharing news reports all over the UK and US.

This is more than a “flap over ‘hand flapping’” as it is being sensationalized by an LA Times headline. It is true that Deaf people are embarrassed and even describe feeling “humiliated.” Upon arrival at an interpreting assignment in the US yesterday, a young Deaf consumer barely said hello to me before launching into a detailed description of how upset he feels. Allies of Deaf people and Deaf culture, many of them professional sign language interpreters are also furious.

Confusion about whether the white woman shown signing was part of the service or part of a journalism team at a news station.

Confusion about whether the white woman shown signing was part of the service or part of a journalism team at a news station.

This is the opposite phenomenon to the sensationalized dehumanizing of Lydia Callis’ emergency interpreting during Hurricane Sandy. Then it was all about hearing people’s exposure to the language Deaf people use to communicate, and now it’s all about the show Hearing people will put on while still avoiding real communication.

But the Deaf community has a lot more allies now! Friends who don’t know sign language checked in and shared articles. makesense Exposure to Deaf people and interpreters increases as Hearing people realize there are Deaf people living their lives alongside ours. They are letting us know, loud and clear, that they are watching, and they see.

Deaf people see what “the Hearing” do and fail to do

Sign languages are as complicated as spoken languages. (Braille is a code for written language, not quite the same thing.)

Sign languages are as complicated as spoken languages. (Braille is a code for written language, not quite the same thing.)

Of course Deaf people noticed the failure of communication.  They always do. However they don’t always have the means to let us know they’re watching. In this instance, the failure is so large and so meaningful that—for a few moments, they have us by the ear. Interpreting is not a show. Interpreters do not perform for the sake of a show. Interpreters interpret to enable communication between people who would otherwise not be able to understand each other.

 

 

I danced in Trafalgar Square the day Nelson Mandela was released from Robbens Island.

After twenty seven years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement, Nelson Mandela was released.  The whole world rejoiced, and watched.

In prison, Mandela was a symbol of resistance to tyranny.  His life was a statement of willingness to sacrifice everything, personal freedom along with access to open air and sky, to state to the world how precious he thought freedom, and how deep was his desire to obtain it for himself and his people.

In freedom, Mandela became ‘The Madiba’.  His name, Mandela, became synonymous with “one who fights for liberation”, not only ‘one who resists oppression’.  He became a living mandate for freedom and for peace, for himself, and for the whole world which had become his people.  After twenty-seven years of unjust, sometimes inhumane confinement, he called for truth and reconciliation.  He called for humans, in South Africa and every where else, to reclaim their inherent love, care and connection. He became a living embodiment of humanity’s hopes and aspirations for a more just, peaceful world.

I was proud to proclaim my love for Mandela every chance I got.  It gave me a chance to reach toward the spirit and essence of who he was, and to see what parts of my own soul could try to be like him.

Mandela is dead.

The Madiba lives.

Forever, The Madiba Lives.

 

Use google to search for #demx and use Twitter to participate in spreading information about the professionalization of a new subfield in emergency management interpreting.

Introduction to the Incident Command System and Interpreter Strike Teams

FireTracker2 RT Pope quote

Discussion during this introductory module demonstrated the importance of interpreters taking four of the FEMA courses offered free online before attending ASL Interpreter Strike Team training, including NIMS 100.B, Introduction to the Incident Command System, and NIMS 700.a, National Incident Management System. Two additional NIMS courses are also recommended as the minimal requirement for preparing to become an emergency management interpreter – IS 800.B, Introduction to the National Response Framework and IS 7, A Citizen’s Guide To Disaster Assistance. Additional recommended coursework is listed at the Florida Interpreter Strike Team’s webpage.

 

Self-Care and Trauma Mitigation

toys and self-care EMI trainingIdentifying the behaviors that indicate depression or other responses to trauma are crucial to maintaining emotional and cognitive balance before, during, and after interpreting in emergency management contexts.

This transcript is offered instead of captions for a 14 minute videotaped conversation in American Sign Language with Deaf elders Winchell and Ruth Moore.

View the ASL vlog at  http://vimeo.com/loosevariable/holdingtime Read the rest of this entry »

How do I login to Dark Ally Redesign?

I have a lot to write today: a brief description of the MEDIEM/UMass Dashboard tool for online social deliberation, some notes on accommodation concerns, and a public report on the findings of the action learning research that I did in a workshop at RID Region II. The conversation threads with each associated interlocutor-group are simultaneous-they are happening in concurrent real time.

2:37 pm
Two long text messages were just sent, by me, to one of my longtime interpreter supporters. Because she texted me a “BTW” message while I was typing the preceding list of things to do. In the duree. That’s what we’d call it if we were talking in terms of historical time, instead of at this microscale of time presently passing. (If she responds to my request to use the screenshot of that “BTW” message with an affirmative informed consent – ( as opposed to the more conservative negative informed consent) – let’s just call ‘em IC-A and IC-B. Informed CONSENT Type A (Affirmative) or Informed Consent Type B (Negatory on that good buddy.)

2:44 pm
Mediem/UMass Online Social Deliberation Project: There’s a quote I want to find, either from a blogentry or a Transmittal with Readiness Consulting Services, which described the duality at the core of the delay in the requisition and guaranteed provision of emergency management sign language interpreting for communicating with Deaf Americans. I mean, if there’s actually a crisis – you know, an emergency stemming from a natural or man-made disaster – and you don’t already have some sense about how to talk with a deaf person, then you’re both gonna wind up in each other’s way.

2:51 pm

Searching for that quote related to Serve DC… five blog entries popped up.

(I keep getting distracted.)

Just heard some of the neighborhood kids getting off the schoolbus. It’s been a chilly rainy day, since whenever it started . . . sometime last night.

2:54

Accommodation concerns for the MA IRAA Project, e.g., the action learning research study of constructing mutual understanding on the top three things a first responder needs to be thinking when interacting with a person needing help in a way that they are unfamiliar with (this is the collaboration piece with UMass’ Center for Knowledge Communication).

2:58

Region II Report (action learning from www.reflexivity.us). Hopefully this is going to get published on the CIT Weblog:

  1. What is the purpose of dialogue?
  2. Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told and untold) that fill us up
  3. Engaging Youth’s Multicultural Reality
  4. The Key
  5. Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions
  6. The Light

In his remarks opening the 6th international Dialogue Under Occupation conference, founder Larry Berlin posed the question:

“What is the purpose of dialogue?”

Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.

Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.

It is a question that the people attending and presenting at the DUO VI conferences did not figure out. Perhaps part of the reason for the absence of an answer is in the framing of the question. We are mostly academics, which means we usually talk abstractly about things we study rather than doing them with each other.

There is less confusion (it seems) about the other key term in the title of our conference: occupation. I did not think of “occupation” as a synonym for “career” during Sophia Mihic’s keynote presentation on the near history of neoliberalism. Now, afterwards, this strikes me as odd, since her argument about the term “human capital” relies on the difference between “labor” and “work.” I suspect this is an instance of collective repression – a de-selection of one possible meaning in favor of another, and then forgetting having made thechoice. Sophia’s thoughtful presentation and critical engagement throughout the conference helps me wonder: are DUO conference participants in the process of producing a work of critical art? Or are these conferences solely labor – the repetition of rituals that must be performed in order to satisfy and maintain professional credentials? Could we somehow manage to do both?

Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told & untold) that fill us up

In a similarly linguistic vein, Cris Toffolo asked us to consider the difference between “post-occupation” and “post-conflict” as labels describing countries like Lebanon. The main distinction between the two terms involve the presence and extent of violence as well as its duration. DUO VI conference participants were undecided whether the use of these labels matter. Instead, we talked about the actions taken “post” – specifically whether the politicians, media, and populace (all of its diverse publics) engage an open communication process designed to promote healing, or choose some other coping strategy as the means to simply and quickly move on. I was particularly struck by the critique she found of Lebanon’s political leadership (Assi Collective Memory – Lebanon, by Elsa Abou Assi) which describes the decision to absolve insiders by blaming outsiders. There had already been a couple of strong statements issued during some of the Question-and-Answer periods about (for instance), there being no one to forgive but oneself for allowing the outsiders to come in and wreck havoc. There is so much to unpack in Lebanese discourse about war and conflict, so many stories that have been told (adult-to-adult) and passed from adults (especially parents) to children who are now grown up and coping in their varied ways with the underlying, unresolved tensions: of necessity finding courage in the face of fear.

Engaging youth’s multicultural reality

View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.

View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.

The DUO VI conference attracted few of the young people at Lebanon American University, let alone activists from the broader Beirut community. Most youth were more likely to partake in cultural performance events, such as a screening of Rabat. I was lucky to meet Director Jim Taihuttu; we talked about audience reactions to the film. The cast and crew put serious effort into capturing the way youth in Holland actually talk, codeswitching among languages (e.g., Dutch, Moroccan, Surinamese) and borrowing terms back and forth in an unpredictable, dynamic flux. The dialogue is so representative and “natural” that audience members of their peer group feel as if they’re “in the car” with the protagonists. In a generous gesture of inclusion, Rabat is captioned in Dutch as well as English and Arabic so that older generations and foreigners can understand the linguistic mixing. “I disagree with people who talk about multiculturalism as something that you are either for or against, “Jim said. “It is what we are living, a multicultural reality.”

The Key

Barbara Birch’s DUO conference presentation included some guidelines that apply to teaching in general. Countering the linguistic imperialism of English, Barbara proposes the use of the English language as a source of social action that can enable transitions from current injustice to preferable futures. The critical question for teachers involves identifying the moment when you can move students from a wide focus (learning how to say things in general situations) to a narrow one: how to say things in very specific situations. This move, from the general topic to the specific sociocultural transaction, allows the exploration of different norms in the immediate moment of communication. Turning that key opens a door to learning how to navigate the emotions and colliding (complementing and contradicting) narratives involving questions of history and justice. As skills increase, students and teachers learning together can take on increasingly tricky challenges, creating new rituals of being with “Others” and living a new world into being.

Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions

Ending violence: domestic, national, religious

Ending violence: domestic, national, religious

I do not know how the color symbolism came about, but I noticed the label of a “Green Line” is the same for both Beirut and Israel/Palestine. In terms of traffic lights, green means “go” – maybe this is a weird way to think of it, but it seems the very label has a subtext encouraging battle. The implication struck me when Ilham Nasser presented her findings on public acts of forgiveness in Arab culture. She discovered a “red line” beyond which people would not forgive others – it could be an insult, a misunderstanding, a failure to respect religious beliefs, etc. Again, it is the symbolism that seems significant: forgiveness is RED (don’t go there!) while war is GREEN (storm ahead, boys!)

The Light

Cris’ roundtable was about the limits and possibilities of talking about human rights as a way to leverage public healing processes. In political science, there is a lot of evidence that broad political-journalistic efforts of reconciliation are functional and productive (South Africa, Ireland, and Guatemala were named as examples). The information Cris shared complemented Professor Makram Ouaiss’ opening keynote address, in which he emphasized asymmetry as the way to shift conflicts from on-going cycles of violence to non-violent methods for ending occupation and establishing civil societies. Dr Ouaiss’ point is that non-violence is understudied, proven effective, and morally legitimate.

Given the right structure and support, I hypothesize that there are enough young people in Beirut willing and capable of having this difficult conversation. Despite the horrors they’ve been through, I witnessed some amazing displays of conviction concerning the things that really matter: including peace with Palestinians and sharing joy within one’s family. As Dr Ouaiss explained, persuading people of the logic and effectiveness of non-violence takes time and repeated efforts.

Written half in Beirut, half in Amherst MA.
Link to the NYTimes Art Review:
Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language

Zuccotti Park is now complete.

Democracy and Public Policy

“The more a source thinks like you, acts like you and looks like you, the more trusting you are, the more willing you are to accept the story you’re told.”

~ Jones (2010)

Kimmie, involved in making the acclaimed film <em>Precious</em>, came to OWS the first chance she could.

Like me, Kimmie - who was involved in making the acclaimed film Precious - came to OWS the first chance she could.

Michael R Jones is studying public policy narratives. He and his colleagues are not documenting discrimination or prejudice; they are validating common features of human behavior using quantitative scientific methods. As I think about why the Occupy movement is happening now and whether it will be able to sustain itself long enough to have effects on economic policy, one of the background, subjective elements has to involve addressing whiteness.

Saturday, I laughed with a few people I met who also found it amusing but undaunting that our first visit to Zuccotti Park coincided with snowtober. I was impressed by the gritty people (of varied ethnicities but mostly white) who gutted through the freezing wet slush of “the snowpocalypse” – thereby crossing an important hurdle for the movement overall.

That’s whiteness, not being white!

The distinctions between being a white American and the institutional structures of whiteness are important. First, the structures of whiteness are ‘in’ Americans of all ethnicities to some degree, even if only by necessity in order to survive (let alone do well) in today’s hyperdrive commercial/consumer-based society. Second: to understand the difference between the genetic-social fact of being white and the institutional structures of whiteness is to realize that the issues raised by the Occupy movement are not about white Americans trying to get over or above anybody else. Instead, this could be the historical moment when middle-class white Americans begin to demonstrate a widespread cultural awareness that whiteness  - both the personal sense of superiority, and as institutionalized in ‘the rules’ – is not fair to anyone.

Economics and History

"The sign refers to the fact that the banks, underwriters, mortgage salespeople at every point in the chain of origination knew that the deals they were doing we're likely to fail....there may not be a very sophisticated understanding of that but people know who fucked em." ~ a friend

"The sign refers to the fact that the banks, underwriters, mortgage salespeople at every point in the chain of origination knew that the deals they were doing were likely to fail....there may not be a very sophisticated understanding of that but people know who f*cked em." ~ a friend on US/domestic macroeconomics

“The guts to lose a lot of money
carries its own aura.”

~ Derman

Emanual Derman wrote about working at Goldman Sachs from 1985 into the late ’90s. “The capacity to wreak havoc with your [financial] models provides the ultimate respectability” (2004, p. 13).  Derman was simply describing the attitude of the biggest gamblers, but it could just as well have been a prediction.

Jay Smooth talks about the ringers who are now trying to justify authoritarian repression of the movement, describing their desperate attempts to distract attention. His analysis came a week before Dahlia Lithwick made similar points about “the endless loop of media bafflement … and … walloping amount of willful cluelessness.” Among Lithwick’s points:

Revolution: American Style

FACT: The Top 1% "Growth in Real After-Tax Income from 1979 to 2007" is hundreds of times more than everyone else. Chart from the Congressional Budget Office Director's Report

FACT: The Top 1% "Growth in Real After-Tax Income from 1979 to 2007" is hundreds of times more than everyone else. Chart from the Congressional Budget Office Director's Report (October 25th, 2011). NOTE: From WWII to the late seventies, people in each and every quintile moved ahead at roughly the same rate!

  1. Regulation of corporate interests is government’s most basic job.
  2. Progressive taxation is a necessary social good.
  3. Civil rights must translate into economic prosperity for everyone.

In A Letter to the Occupy Together Movement, Harsha Walia writes “we cannot under-estimate the difficult terrain ahead.”  The evidence is already plain. Caitlin Curran, photographed (above) with the sign explaining the financial sector’s bad faith, was fired from her job. NYC’s confiscation of generators occurred a day in advance of the snow storm, a selective application of law ostensibly for public safety. “Enough is enough,” the former mayor [Rudolph Giulani] said. “We can’t allow this to go on forever and ever. It sets a bad precedent … [and] diverts police resources from public safety.” Speaking of bad precedents, “Police fired pepper spray and used pepper-ball guns against demonstrators in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday.”

Jay Smooth, in his video about the ringers, talks about how the movement is both specific enough to express people’s concerns, and vague enough to allow many people to come together under a broad umbrella. Walia expands on this point:

“…Maybe this is how movements need to maintain themselves, by recognizing that political change is also fundamentally about everyday life and that everyday life needs to encompass all of this. There needs to be a space for a talent show across from anti-patriarchy meetings. There needs to be a food table, medics, and a library. Everyone needs to stop for a second and look around for someone’s phone. And that within all this we will keep talking about Troy Davis and how everyone is affected by a broken, racist, oppressive system. Maybe, maybe this is the way?”

Journalist Razvan Sibii, reporting for a Romanian national newspaper.

Journalist Razvan Sibii, reporting for a Romanian national newspaper, "Adevarul" (adevarul.ro).

The everyday must include learning in a very fundamental way. The percentage of young Americans completing college these days continues to drop, for reasons as serious as our economy is flawed. There are so many things that people just do not know, which both supports and complicates the many things that people do know – whether they have completed a college degree or not. Walia again:

“..this is what Occupy Wall Street is right now: less of a movement and more of a space. It is a space in which people who feel a similar frustration with the world as it is and as it has been are coming together and thinking about ways to recreate it. For some people this is the first time they have thought about how the world needs to be recreated. But some of us have been thinking about this for a while now. Does this mean that those of us who have been thinking about it for a while now should discredit this movement? No. It just means that there is a lot of learning going on down there.”

Scaling The Learning Curve

My favorite scene in Eight Mile is when Cheddar Bob seems to slip up before Rabbit’s rap battle against his main rival by asking isn’t Rabbit afraid of the awful things Papa Doc is going to say? Although Cheddar Bob is shushed by the rest of his friends, Rabbit takes inspiration and turns the apparent faux paux to winning strategy, saying every bad thing about himself to leave Papa Doc with an empty mouth.

Craig Schneider writes, “A movement born of anger over the gulf between the rich and the rest is only gradually attracting the very groups who have felt the brunt of economic inequality, both historically and as a result of the Great Recession.” I find it encouraging that such strong voices as Jay Smooth and Harsha Walia are doing their best to teach and guide, admonish and nourish, criticize and refuse to compromise. Regardless of what I think I know, I have to admit also how naive I still am.

For instance, how could I not have known, while growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the scope of brutal violence?  The recently released Swedish film, The Black Power Mixtape, reconfigured memories of my childhood. How could I have thought all that ugly stuff ended after King and the Kennedy brothers were killed?  Details of family life, my father’s job, and drifting undirected through elementary school composed the extent of my exposure to the larger world. It was the moment of desegregating the public schools in Denver, and I heard other kids’ awful rumors that the black kids who would soon be bussed in would be “coming with knives” – obviously something not okay was going on! But the threat remained in the realm of words other people said; I made friends across the color line and, while puzzled, never gave the ugly talk much thought.

Now, looking back, I recognize the mental and emotional cushioning as another lesson in white privilege. Admitting the scope of my ignorance is not pleasant, but it is necessary.

Resisting Reduction: Whiteness remains only one facet among many

Traditional policy analysis, rooted in market models and instrumental reason, fails to accurately capture the subjective nature of political reality (Deborah Stone, 2002, cited in Michael R Jones and Mark K McBeth’s 2010 public policy research introduced at the beginning of this entry). This subjective nature – differences of knowledge, experience, history, outlook, and viewpoint – is Occupy Wall Street. Confused media ringers are sidestepping and obscuring the simple narrative structure: a clear villain, a singular hero, and a victim who inspires empathy. The villain is clear:  government’s failure to regulate. What we are witnessing and participating in is a great democratic experiment: what happens when the hero and the victim are one and the same? The American people are rising together to confront and correct great wrongs done to the American people.

Springfield youth were asked to come up with ONE WORD to describe everyone in their randomly assigned group.

Springfield youth were asked to come up with ONE WORD to describe everyone in their randomly assigned group.

A Taste of College:
Youth Leadership Development Retreat

Amherst MA

Whenever I work in teams, I always mention the significance of following. It is rare, however, to be able to carry that conversation forward. I hope this time is different. Following is something all good leaders do: they understand when to follow someone else’s idea – in other words, effective leaders are highly attuned to time/timing as well as to the content or substance of conversation and group dynamics.

The “Taste of College” Retreat is over, but the dynamics it set in motion are barely begun. Will the emotions raised during those three days become a ripple that soon fades or a wave that builds to a powerful crest? Will all of those emotions simply add to past history, reinforcing understandings and relationships as they are already established within the larger structure of our society? If the emotions grow and build, what shore will the wave crash into and wipe clean?

Filling the Void of “Silence”

Silence (when you're used to constant stimulation - talking, activity, music, etc) can be uncomfortable!  <em>(Image borrowed from a tutorial on making a Prezi)</em>

Silence (when you're used to constant stimulation - talking, activity, music, etc) can be uncomfortable! (Image borrowed from a tutorial on making a Prezi)

One of the young people who attended the Retreat noticed how hard it is to facilitate when “no one is talking.” Being comfortable with silence, waiting for someone else to think of something to say, is one of the hardest aspects of leadership. Within the planning team for the event, I didn’t always do the best with this myself.

The manager in me was hyper-conscious of timelines for decision-making, as well as how much participation, input and feedback is necessary to create a quality program. In the end, on the surface, we had a successful event. The youth all got along with each other, named something significant that they learned, and many expressed the desire to come back again next year. The “Public Service Announcements” regarding their visions for the future of Springfield are creative and compelling.

Behind the scenes, however, a few things happened that did not – and still don’t – feel good. The wave – or the ripple – from the Retreat will be influenced more by how the background issues get handled than by the visible surface of shiny videos and memories of fun times.

Diversity: Tensions and Loyalties

Youth brainstorm traits, skills, and examples of leaders & leadership.

Youth brainstorm traits, skills, and examples of leaders & leadership.

Everyone always has their own perceptions of their unique experience (what I called “biography” in the opening presentation). At the same time, people share perceptions of experiences that feel common (the “social identities” part of the opening presentation). These commonalities usually fall along

  • the lines of the body (how one feels about the way they are treated by others depending upon how they look) and
  • the lines of the mind (how one thinks about the usual ways of talking and making sense of things that happen).

History (things that have happened in the past) is a kind of container for biography. “We all carry our racial identities on our shoulders,” as a friend of mine put it. Or, “Acting white in Springfield will get you killed,” as a youth in the Retreat said during the “fishbowl” activity on code-switching. “What does it mean to act white?” another youth asked in response. As I recall, there was no specific answer provided at the time. Talking about whiteness is a challenge many of the adult staff have been trying to meet for a long time.

Acting White

Since I was in a leadership position before and during the Retreat, most everyone probably noticed some of the things I said or did. In general, it is fair to say that I “acted white” most of the time, during planning (in advance of the event) and during delivery (the three days of the workshop). Let’s break it down from the outside (what could be observed by others) and from the inside (my self-perceptions and conscious reasons).

Distribution of 'agreement' and 'disagreement' activity: Do Leaders follow or challenge norms?

Distribution of 'agreement' and 'disagreement' activity: Do Leaders follow or challenge norms? (Unasked: Whose norms establish the point of reference?)

First, by virtue of my body (now, as an older white woman) and the socioeconomic class that I grew up in (new middle-class), I am in a position to be a link to the resources of a university. As an activist in a white body, I have assumed personal safety and low risk for most of the social justice causes I have endorsed. Throughout my life, I have exercised the privilege to go wherever I wanted to go, pretty much whenever I wanted to go there. This includes not going to places where I didn’t want to be – both physically (as in, certain neighborhoods) or mentally and emotionally (as in, exposing myself to the suffering of others not as lucky as me).

In counterpoint, I’ve labored hard for some twenty years to un-do the entrained attitudes of privilege and counter the desire to stay safe within the psychological space of what is familiar. Nonetheless, I am still embodied and enculturated as a white American. I tend to prefer structure, order, and predictability – even if only to push against or work around! Leave me in a vacuum long enough, and I’m going to do something! In retrospect, maybe I could have waited longer and/or done less, in order to enable others to step into the empty space and do more.

Structure: Change or the Status Quo

Here’s the thing. Structure pretty much rules. We are all caught up in a system that has roots going back centuries. The way governments, money, the military, science & technology and the arts work today is institutionalized in layers upon layers of law and custom. In practical terms, everything a person does as an individual gets swallowed up by the system. Lots of individuals doing the same kinds of “individual” things (such as, everyone trying to be a leader) is what savvy marketers and politicians exploit: they hook us around selfish needs and desires, things that make me feel good about me.

Lyrics to a rap by youth for the Future of Springfield

Lyrics to a rap by youth for the Future of Springfield

The only excuse I have for the design of the Retreat is knowledge. “I’ve been to a lot of retreats,” someone said, betraying (from my perspective) low expectations. I heard through the grapevine about someone else whose expectations were (perhaps!) set too high: that the Retreat would be “a life-transforming experience.”  My ambition was more in line with the latter. There was no reason for this not to be life-changing for everyone involved, except for the absence of adequate planning time before the Retreat, in order to forge more fundamental trust in the agreements we made with each other.

This means the knowledge I applied was riddled with things I did not know. Some of what I didn’t know I could have learned from co-organizers and facilitators in advance. Some of what I didn’t yet know was told to me both before and during the event, but I was not able to understand what it meant until after the fact. There are many more things that I do not know: either I have not yet realized the lesson or have not been exposed to enough variations to recognize the pattern. I still want to learn, so I can follow better and thus improve my own ability to inspire by recognizing when to follow and choosing to follow when following matters most to accomplishing effective leadership.

Acting into the Future – On Purpose

Between these two extremes of expectations that are “too high” or “too low” is the hard (sometimes even boring) work of co-creating new relationships based on the belief (one could call it faith) that humans can break free of the patterns of the past and become better at getting along and sharing the good things of life with each other.  If only it was so easy! I have not yet met anyone who was able to leap into the future without

  • regurgitating a bunch of past experiences  (such as, making assumptions about others on the basis of stereotypes,
    Harder than it seems: Treating others with Respect & Learning each other's Languages.

    Harder than it seems: Treating others with Respect & Learning each other's Languages.

    projecting a resemblance from someone else who wasn’t nice, etc.), &/or

  • learning that what I know as polite and respectful is not necessarily understood that way by others.

Revisiting the “commonsense” guidelines shared by youth at the beginning of the Retreat, the example foremost in my mind is about the early curfew on Saturday. I sensed widespread exhaustion in the room, and had observable evidence to support it.  I did what I would want someone to do for me: set a limit so people could get more sleep. Turns out it was the adults who were so tired, not the kids! The “evidence” I observed from them had another cause. Unfortunately, I was not able to interpret their language quickly enough, and even when I became aware of a misjudgment I could not generate a remedy as fast as would have been ideal.

Sure wish I was better at adapting instantly to the need to change me! Finding myself caught up in patterns of behavior that look like the same old white ways truly sucks! I definitely missed a couple of special chances during the Retreat when I could have broken the mold, but they were not within my awareness at the time. Hints and wisps of feedback filtered into mind, but they all required the reinforcement of repetition before they could break through to realization.

It isn’t that learning is hard – our brains are wired for this. What is hard is letting go of what we already think!

The kids kept right on, though, putting what they need and understand into terms designed to show us grown-ups that the path toward a brighter future doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it out to be:

This equation was designed by a group of youth working exclusively in Spanish.

This equation was designed by a group of youth working exclusively in Spanish.

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