BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Racism in Academic Admissions

Image result for gi billTaking race into account for academic admission is a heated topic. But objectors rarely examine the challenges that minority students face in accessing higher education. Rarely is there ever a recognition of the history of advantages that white students have that put them ahead from the get-go. It's true that a given white student might have disadvantages to overcome, but white folks have a long history of attending college, and that success begets itself:

If your grandparents served in WWII, they could take advantage of the GI bill and go to college (unless they were black and most colleges wouldn't accept them). They could build economic security by buying a home though that same GI bill, maybe with a little help with the down payment from their parents (unless they are just staying afloat themselves). They could become part of the growing middle class of the 1950s and 60s (unless they got redlined into a declining neighborhood).

These same white ancestors could also earn better wages through union negotiations (unless the union wouldn't accept them because of race, or they couldn't get a job at all because of biased hiring practices). Then they could make sure their kids went to a good high school (unless the redlined houses didn't have high enough property values to produce
the tax revenue needed for successful public schools). And since they had been to college, they could encourage their children to attend as well (and perhaps benefit from legacy-based admission policies),  provide their children with guidance through the admissions process, and perhaps financial support to fund their higher education. Then their children could graduate from college, get a higher paying job, in a good neighborhood, with successful schools, and start the cycle over again with lucky little you!

Contrast this history with the oppression faced by other groups for generations: [Video] Slavery By Another Name.

Kaplan charges up to $3,600 for SAT prep
Folks will sometimes cite low Black and Hispanic graduation rates to suggest that these policies are actually not good for anybody. They may imply that universities are lowering their standards to admit minority students that never had what it takes to do well in college anyway. But, the truth is that many highly qualified POC never get the opportunity to even think about applying to college and those that make it face all sorts of barriers and prejudices that members of the majority never have to worry about as they go through their studies.

Opponents love to mention disparities in standardized test scores, but again rarely discuss from where those disparities come. First of all, tests like the SATs say very little about a person's intelligence, but are simply a measure of one's ability to perform on said test. So if you come from a school that coaches test taking, or if you have the time and financial resources to take multiple practice tests, buy College Board books, and take Kaplan classes, you are likely to do pretty well. 

If we were truly living in a meritocracy, a race-blind system of admissions would work pretty well (see post: Saved from Meritocracy). But we live a country that routinely and systematically stacks the odds against people of color. From early on, children of color can expect less nurturing attention from the teacher, more frequent and severe disciplinary action, and lower expectations for their long term academic performance. How well would anyone fair in these conditions? 

In addition, if one happens to be poor or has a disrupted home life, the challenges can become insurmountable. Who can keep a high GPA, have all the necessary extracurricular involvement, and hold a part-time job that helps put food on the table

On a final note, diversity in admissions needs to be accomplished, as much for the benefit of the majority population, as for students of color. In the same way that diversity in church is essential for spiritual development, diversity in schools is crucial for academic development. If I were trying to learn perspectives I already know, I could stay at home and save the $20 grand/year! It is the university's responsibility to provide its students with the environment of broad and deep education that they are paying for!

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Repost: UMC Black History Month

Diane brought an article from the UMC website to my attention the other day: Black History Month urges welcome for all by Rev. Hilly Hicks.

I wonder how often our black sisters and brothers in Christ choose to drive away from white churches to go somewhere that might be more welcoming? There are deep consequences to our history and corporate racial sin. Rev. Hicks had the courage to go back to Antioch UMC, but we are not always so fortunate. See the links below to learn more about Christianity's role in racial reconciliation and why we would should be doing more.

See also:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reposts from Resist Racism and Racialicious

Earlier this month, there were two posts on prominent blogs about race that I think are salient here:
Confessions from a Christian and Power for Good.  Check them out!

Pay attention to the tension that enters the conversation with the topics of religion and race come up. Notice some of the pain in the comments. We can do better, Church. But these post also offer hope that there are some great allies of faith out there.

Also, a friend and dear mentor of mine recently shared some good thoughts for you to check out on her own blog. Her's is one of several guiding voices that helped in my early racial education. Her's is also the blog that got me on the idea of blogging because I had enjoyed hers so much.

Racialicious: "is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture."
Resist Racism: is about...well....resisting racism!

See Also:
Racialicious: Interracial Relationships and the Church
Stuff Church People Do
Why it is Important

Sunday, February 20, 2011

White History Month

"Why isn't there a white history month?! 
           That's reverse racism!"
Because we already have white history year (decade, centuries...)!

In the United States, white history is the default, assumed perspective. It's what's taught in the classrooms, portrayed in the media, and informs policy making. We don't need a special month to teach it. It is taught ALL the time.

Unfortunately, some people think Black History Month is just for black folk. The truth is, we are all missing large chunks of historical knowledge, which hinders us as we move forward today.

History textbook cover:
Columbus, but no Native Americans,
 Kitty Hawk, but no Tuskegee Airmen,
the transcontinental railway,
 but no Chinese immigrant workgangs.
 Just a group of anonymous slaves. 
A lot of the issues begin early in our education system: textbooks that don't give the full picture, teachers glossing over hard truths. To read my 10th grade history textbook, you'd think black folks didn't exist in the United States until they suddenly become emancipated from slavery, then they disappeared for a while until angry mobs took to the streets demanding civil rights.

There were maybe two famous African-Americans that were ever taught, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass, but they were portrayed as 'exceptional Negroes' that stood above the rest. My high school textbook had a small sectioned acknowledging "white resistance to civil rights," followed shortly thereafter by a section on the Civil Rights Acts entitled "The Great Society and the Triumph of Liberalism." Good thing we had a group of white liberal saviors take care of injustice once and for all!

The same principles apply to many aspects of our history: Native American achievements and contributions, the USA's paternalist relationship with the Philippines, Japanese internment camps, on and on (see Howard Zinn and James Loewen for more). Some of it is mentioned in schools, but too often it's as a footnote or an afterthought.

How do we hope for reconciliation if we know so terribly little about those to whom we wish to be reunited?How incredibly disingenuous to say "I stand with you" and then have to ask basic questions about the history of our divide.

White folks' ignorance is the basis for a lot of pain and misunderstanding in the reconciliation process. Without a foundational knowledge of Al Jolson and minstrel shows, it might be hard to understand why blackface at a party is never ok. If we learned about our history of appropriation and objectification, we'd better understand why human being shouldn't be sports mascots. White folks are often surprised when marginalized folks get angry over supposedly 'trivial things,' but if we understood our history a bit better, we would probably get angry too. 

It's important to make a concerted effort to rectify our educational short comings, and setting aside a devoted month to do so can help. Unfortunately, cordoning off four weeks to put MLK's picture up everywhere isn't going to cut it. It is a hollow act of token recognition that just allows us to pat ourselves on the backs for our inclusiveness and then move on with our lives for the rest of the year. 

Put better by Renee at Womanist Musings:
"By presenting this as a celebration of 'look how far we have come', we fail to focus on the ways in which race still continues to play a pivotal role in who has access to power in this society. White women are still clutching their purses in the presence of black men, we are still largely portrayed as prostitutes and criminals in the media..."

Ah, yes....the media. Another main culprit, alongside our education system. For one month out of the year, advertisers and big companies use February as an excuse to market to black folks (often very awkwardly), then go back to their true colors on March 1. 

So in the name of educating ourselves a bit, let's begin with the history of Black History Month itself:

Carter G. Woodson initiated Negro History Week in 1926 in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The idea was to bring black history to the attention of the broader American public. Then, in 1976 the black history was given an entire month--albeit the shortest month of the year.

Continuing our history lesson, how about some identification tasks:
Can you name the 14 people pictured here?
I'll get you started: MLK, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman...

Name five black figures of
historical significance....not so hard.
Now name ten more...

Do you know who Cathay Williams is? Marian AndersonCrispus Attucks?  Matthew Henson? Ida B. WellsRichard Wright? Marcus Garvey? Who are some significant white allies during the civil rights movement? These shouldn't be obscure names to us, but too often they are.

Can you name the inventor of the light bulb? No problem. What about the carbon filament essential to it? Or the traffic light? hmmm. Telephone? Easy. The blood bank? Not so much. Eyeglasses? yep. Person to patent laser cataract removal? First brain surgeon to perform a hemispherectomy and the first to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head!?!?! Many of us would have starved as children without peanut butter, but have no idea who to thank for it.

This isn't simply black history, it's women's history, it's LGBT history, it's military history, it's literary history, it's science history, it's religious history. It's American history.

Asian-American, Native American, and Latino-American histories are also constantly marginalized and ignored (and now they're even criminalized). If these narratives were given as much weight as white history in the classroom, they wouldn't need their own time set aside.

Today, I remain profoundly embarrassed that the names of major figures in history are still often unknown to me. I find myself having scramble to catch up, to make up for lost time--cramming names and events that should have been taught to me years ago.  It might not be my fault that my high school let me graduate without this knowledge, but now it's on me to rectify it. I need a black history month...I just need to celebrate it year 'round to begin to catch up.

If you don't know some of these most famous of examples I cite here (and I really just graze the surface), do yourself a favor and spend the next 30 minutes looking at the links and educating yourself.  Thirty minutes is a small amount of time to a devote to a subject so neglected--but it's a start. You owe it to yourself. 

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Appropriation vs. Appreciation

This Saturday is C4AP's  Black History Month Celebration, which will be themed 'Back to Africa.' To me, I feel like that might be an awkward theme (kinda hearkens 'go back to Africa' epithets,  plus not all black folk in the USA are from Africa, not all black folk identify as African, not all black folk can even trace their roots more than a couple generations in the US, let alone to a different continent....UPDATE: see Sherie's important comment below), but people smarter than I chose it and so I'll roll with it.

I direct the church's gospel choir and we were asked so sing 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' and a song of our (read: director's) choice: Ahuna ya Tswanang Le Yesu. It was always a favorite at worship in college, so I am pumped to bring it to C4AP. It is in Sotho, a Bantu language most prominent in South Africa. This is the choir's first time singing in a language other than English and they have mastered it with grace and style (yeah, I know we had doubters...what now?!).

A lot of folk are saying they will wear African garb to the event. I am not really sure what that means. It's a really big continent, with lots of different styles. I have a lovely outfit given to me by my close friend, who brought it back from a trip visiting her family in Ghana. I thought I might wear it Saturday for the event, but I am always wary of awkwardly appropriating other cultures. Too often white folk are guilty of picking and choosing when they 'appreciate' others people's cultures, which can result in caricature, disrespectful behavior, and hurt feelings.  A lot of it depends on my motivations and attitude--but a stranger across the room isn't going to know either. Plus the song we are singing is South African, which is totally different from Ghana.

Thoughts readers? Appropriate or appropriation?

UPDATE (02/19/11):
1) see Sherie's comment below--good points to remember
2) the choir was AWESOME
3) Wore the outfit

See Also:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More on the Superbowl Commercials

There has been a lot of talk about a couple of controversial issues with the commercials this year. I suspect some of you have already read all of the tongue wagging, while others didn't even notice their questionable nature (and may accuse me of being hypersensitive).

I meant to post about the Superbowl last week, but as usual things got busy. This year, I was in it for the commercials, as I usually am being from Cincinnati, home of the 'Bungles' (though I grin inside to see the Steelers loose). So I was really glad that City Athena had such good things to say.

I just wanted to direct your attention to some of the other posts that have been circulating. They vary in intensity and perspective and talk about the crazy Groupon Tibet commercial as well.

How Important are Portrayals of Us in Ads? 
Nobody's Smiling about Pepsi
Abagond: Pepsi Max
Groupon Exploits Tibet
Epic Fails of Super Sunday

See Also:
Pepsi Max

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pepsi Max Superbowl commercial: Love Hurts

Goodness knows, I am still pretty ignorant and young in my understanding of both God and raceI'd like to start incorporating some guest contributors to BTSF so we can get a range of perspectives and opinions. This week we have a guest post from Miss. Maxine:

One of the most talked about commercials after the Superbowl was a Pepsi Max commercial, “Love Hurts,” featuring a wife violently monitoring her husband’s eating habits:

A quick summary: The wife violently intervenes when her husband tries to eat unhealthily – kicks him when ordering fries for dinner, sticks soap in his mouth when she catches him trying to eat a burger in the shower, slams his face in a pie, etc.  We then cut to a park bench where the man starts to drink a Pepsi Max. His wife finds him and he winces, but she smiles and starts to drink one too, noting that there are zero calories. A blonde woman in a sports bra and shorts sits near the husband in a part and smiles at him. He smiles back, says hi, and his wife gets mad and throws the Pepsi can at him. He ducks, the can beams the blonde in the head and the couple holds hands and runs, with the wife apologizing as they go. 

The reactions to this ad – which features a black couple and a white woman – have spanned from “racist” to “funniest ad of the night”. 

When watching the ad, initially I felt uncomfortable, but didn’t think the ad itself needed to be taken off the air or was intending to use race in an offensive way. The following ad is one that I’d call offensive on its own for blatantly using racial stereotypes: 

This ad bothers me much more than the “Love Hurts” ad because the joke rests on the stereotypes of the Black woman w/ attitude, Black men as thugs, Black women as video hos. The Pepsi Max ad, on its own, could be read as an overprotective wife using extraordinary measures to make sure her husband eats healthy, and one who also violently reacts to her husband’s wandering eye. In the Pepsi Max ad, you could switch the races of the characters and the ad would still make sense. You could use all black people or all white people in the ad and it would still make sense. (in fact, if the ‘jogger’ at the end of the actual Pepsi Ad was black, I doubt there would be any commentary about the ad being offensive at all) The joke of the ad does not rely on stereotypes.  Why then did I still feel uncomfortable watching it? 

The reality is, none of us watched that ad “on its own”. None of us consume media in a vacuum.  We watched it and processed it within the context of a western/American media landscape. This ad was one of many we see on a weekly basis, all adding to what our perception of what people (in particular people of color) are like.  Just looking at the context of Superbowl ads, it was the only one with a black woman as the “main character.” Looking at the context of television in general, the ad repeats many of the racial messages and stereotypes we see in the media again and again. 

Let’s list them:
Black women have attitudes/are intimidating // Black people are violent // Black men are cowed by black women // Black men are especially attracted to white women // Black women aren’t as attractive as white women

I don’t know if the creator of the ad – (a 28 year old white guy from Kansas) was aware of the racial tropes he was using, or purposely inserted them to amp up the laughs.
“You know what would be even funnier? If they were black! Cause sassy black women are funny! And them getting mad cause their man is looking at hot blonde is even funnier! Amirite?”

In any case it’s important to keep in mind that the creators of the media we consume, and also we ourselves, are not blank slates when watching movies, TV, and the news but come to pop culture with our own preconceptions.  The races of the individuals are not the sole reason of the objection to the ad – it’s the stereotypes of black men and women that are used. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional does not matter. It’s the fact that while there may be hundreds of depictions of white women on TV on a particular night, there will likely be only a few depictions of black women. Since there are fewer images of black women in the media, each of these images hold a lot of power.  Having those few images be of angry women, women with “attitude”, or of women depicted as not as beautiful as other women gets tiring. For some, the Pepsi Max ad was hilarious, and perhaps silently reinforcing ideas about black men and women. For others, this was a reminder and sustainer of the stereotypes that they have to deal in real life every day. 

If you rarely see or interact with black people and other rarely represented groups in real life, your perception of them often comes from what you see in the media. Even the Bible talks about being careful about what you see and consume because it has an effect on how you think.  Little wonder that those of us in these groups are a lot more sensitive about depictions of our race that are produced and distributed out in the world. 

The solution isn’t to eliminate images of people of color out of the media. On the contrary, it’s to increase and diversify the images that are produced of people of color. Maybe then, ads like “Love Hurts” won’t be as offensive. 

See Also:
More on the Super Bowl Commercials
City Athena's blog: Side Hustle Stories
I Don't Know

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Modern racism is sometimes more subtle than it used to be.  Although we don't sit in different parts of the movie theater anymore, we constantly breathe in a smog of racism in our environment. The foolish will get confused about the difference and think that racism doesn't exist anymore.

To be clear, flagrant racist hate crimes still happen all the time. But today, they allow the rest of us to be comfortable with our own levels of prejudice. "I'm not a racist! I'm not like those crazy guys!" "I am not a racist--my best friend is black" "I am not a racist--I don't even see a person's color!"

But we are never actually blind to people's color. We are instead a product of a racialized society steeped in biases that have given members of the majority power and privilege for hundreds of years. This system still exists and so do its consequences.

One of the characteristics of the post-jim crow era is that our 21st-century racism is subtle, insidious, and therefore terribly difficult to combat.  It is no longer about public shows of discrimination or of individual violent anomalies that have now (for the most part) become socially unacceptable. More pervasive now is the constant bombardment of exhausting microaggressions 
Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group.
         (see Table 1 of that link for some examples)

It can be difficult for white folks to appreciate the magnitude, impact, and burden of the accumulated daily prejudices over a person's lifetime. How much extra energy do have in your life to deal with the sales clerk that follows you around the store as you shop for clothes, the taxi that passes you by for someone with lighter skin, the professor that assumes you came from a bad high school? Or the folks that use a description of  you as an insult to others, or the people that can't be bothered to remember how to pronounce your name, or the colleagues that deny that your own experiences were the products of racism? Furthermore, it is from the accumulation of microaggressions that larger cultural and systemic racism arises (wage disparity, housing discrimination, judicial prejudice. See post: I Am George Zimmerman). 

If you get a chance, check out, a blog that compiles users' submissions of real-life microaggressions of all kinds. They say of themselves:
This project is a response to “it’s not a big deal” - “it” is a big deal. ”it” is in the everyday. ”it” is shoved in your face when you are least expecting it. "it” happens when you expect it the most. ”it” is a reminder of your difference. ”it” enforces difference. ”it” can be painful. ”it” can be laughed off. ”it” can slide unnoticed by either the speaker, listener or both. ”it” can silence people. ”it” reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed. ”it” matters because these relate to a bigger “it”: a society where social difference has systematic consequences for the “others.” But “it” can create or force moments of dialogue.
They continue...
...[microaggressions'] slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult. Social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.
White folks have the privilege of not having to deal with daily racial microaggressions. Let's use that extra energy, then, to ease the burdens of those that do have to encounter such things.
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