“And he concluded his rant with a hearty, ‘#AllLivesMatter.'”

By now, you’ve seen the SNL video where a group wades through the dissonance of a few ultra-conservative (and racist) family members at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Every 3-4 bias statements are followed by a young girl leaving the table to play Adele’s, “Hello,” which stops the family in their tracks for a lip-sync extravaganza.

Adele: soliciting emotions since, “Chasing Pavements.”

‘Tis the week of Thanksgiving.

While I personally have a lot to be thankful for, I know this is certainly not the case across the country (and world). Many are headed “home” to see family, and for many, “home,” is actually quite scary and overwhelming.

For the past few years, Thanksgiving and winter break(ing) has provoked me to tweet and post to all those who experience some type of dissonance around the(se) holidays. Furthermore, Thanksgiving and winter break have inspired me to care deeper for those who know that going “home” isn’t actually all that ruby slippers might ensure.

“Home” is not always, “where the heart is.”

I first learned of this reality when I worked at a boarding school several years ago. One of the students who I was really close to approached me one night before heading home for Thanksgiving break, and shared with me some of the struggles he had going on at home. Initially, our conversation was centered around the disconnect between his coming out as gay, and his fears of church and family angst. Later, he shared with me that his family was also severely racist, and he didn’t quite know how to find his voice among some of his older and more controlling family members (he was 15). He came back to campus about as broken as he had left.

Educators, one of the best things you can do for your *students is affirm them, and love them. There are some scary realities waiting for many individuals when they get “home” for the holidays, and your conversations before and after those experiences have the potential to be life-changing.
*if not an educator, insert “friends, community, etc.” in place of “students”

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about all that is happening at Mizzou and Yale (and countless other institutions for higher education), and in that conversation, my friend shared a story of an individual from “home,” who posted on his timeline a rant about how frustrated he was with students and, “their protests.”

Unsurprising, the individual ended their rant with, #AllLivesMatter. As if, saying something oppressive is instantly not oppressive because you used, “#AllLivesMatter.”

Seriously, please stop saying, “#AllLivesMatter.”

While there is a lot happening in the world (hearts remain heavy), the #AllLivesMatter person may very well be at your Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving or holiday trip dinner table. And most always, we know who this person is. We predict their every move, their next step. We tip toe around egg shells; or, we barrel-roll right through them.

“Keep the refugees out!”

“Guns for our children!”

“Obama created ‘global warming!'”

“I can’t believe Rue was Black in the Hunger Games movies!”

The idea that going “home” for the holidays is a joyous occasion is not always the case, and  again for many, this time can be a seriously scary and toxic and terrifying experience. The best thing you can do for your friends and loved ones is show and tell them that you support them. Affirm them.

Remind them that, if anything, they have you.

Dear friends who are about to challenge a racist or oppressive family member or tradition: thank you for using your voice, and thank you for spotting injustice, even among the ones you love most.

Dear friends who are about to share a big life change with your family and friends: you have the keys to your own “car” – whether people join you on this ride is up to them – do not let their decisions or misunderstandings stop you from driving. Drive on!

Dear friends who are about to come out (in some form) to your family and friends: you are loved, you are valued, and you are exactly who you are supposed to be – know and believe this truth.

Dear friends who are enduring religious dissonance among your family and friends: this is your journey alone – think, feel, believe, challenge, seek – your timing is also yours alone. Take the time.

Dear friends who feel obligated: you do not have to go home for the holidays. And if you do, you certainly do not have to stay. Create boundaries and non-negotiables for yourself – when these are crossed, get out, and don’t look back.

And, if all else fails, just play, “Hello,” really loud until all is quiet.

Understanding, “home,”

Michael

Black Lives Matter

 

The Social Justice Scroll

If you know anything about me, you know that I take activism very serious. And, virtually every single day, I get an email or Facebook message from someone who has an issue with my voice or my belief or my outspoken desire to make the world a more inclusive and equitable place. For example, last week Ireland passed marriage equality.

I cried. And I retweeted about 100 tweets regarding this momentous occasion. This is the first country in the world to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote!

Of course, this is just one of many huge experiences related to social justice that is happening in the world (and, including however you frame, “social justice,” in your sphere). Throughout the year, and as issues continue to plague our own country, people take to twitter, Facebook, and various blogs (I guess, this one, included), and air their disagreements and grievances, one way or another. If you’re in any way connected to social justice or equity/inclusion work, you will agree that, when these big things do happen in the world, the internet trolling is on a new level. And thus, all those committed to making the world a more equal place, are on full alert.

We enact, “The Social Justice Scroll.”

Quite simply, The Social Justice Scroll is a mere quick-read through the major articles and stories and statuses posted on any given topic (including the most-posted pieces and remarks with a large amount of comments or likes).

For example, I discovered this while scrolling through my timeline(s) last night:

“Not necessarily saying Jenner is a freak show, but come on people. I didn’t want to post about this but think about what we could accomplish if we spent all of this energy on things that truly matter.”

To pause, when you tee something up as, “I’m not saying…, but…,” you are probably actually saying just that. And, especially when your post is accompanied by a giant photo, reading, “Like if you think we should be worrying about serious things, not this national freak show,” and later noting, “But what got the most attention? A 65 year-old man playing dress up.”

“What you permit, you promote,” and all of that. And, what you post, you probably stand behind. I have a belief that nothing good comes from dodging your true feelings with the mask of, “I wasn’t going to speak up here, but…,” or, “I guess I’ll put in my two cents…” This is the modern day, “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but…” No, no, please do share those two cents of yours, and while doing so, allow me to move along quietly with gaining frustration.

Of course, it’s not long before the next piece pops up, and the next, and then one about Mike Huckabee’s opinion on Caitlyn, and then one about the next big issue, and so on, and so forth (of course, while not dismissing any issue as one being bigger than the next). And this happens a lot, people start comparing issues. Don’t even get me started on the hero-comparing that is happening right now (soldiers versus Caitlyn Jenner, Barak Obama versus Harvey Milk, and the list goes on). Can we please stop doing this? Can we please just pause and let a moment happen? You don’t have to honor that moment just because everyone else is, but you do have to respect that it’s happening.

I have a friend who often asks me, “Why don’t you just defriend all the homophobes and racists and sexist fools on your timeline? Or at least, why don’t you hide them?” And, to be honest, it has been this past few weeks when I realized the reason I do not get rid of those voices in my life is because I kind of thrive on the dissonance. It get a push from these perspectives, and it is far more impacting on me than reading a random article with no personal connection to the voice.

These are real people.

Let’s pause here for a moment. There are real people in the world who actually think a woman’s place is in the kitchen and not in an office or leadership role. There are real people in the world who have committed to a life of white supremacy. There are real people in this world who think all gay people should go to hell. There are real people in this world who like Peeps. I digress.

I keep these people around because I feel like if I have access to them, they have access to me – and with that shared accessibility, perhaps they’ll learn something. And, perhaps, I might learn something, too. I should add, Oklahoma is not the cause of this dissonance. For so long, and when I moved to Los Angeles after college, I cited my upbringing as the reason I have so many swaying voices in my life. The truth is, these people exist all over the world. And these people will continue to say hateful and small-minded things in order to make meaning of their own beliefs.

I know many would advise against this, however, I always read the “Comments” section. People will usually show you who they really are in any given comment section. It’s painful, but it’s very real. And, as is the social justice educator guilt. This, too, is painful. There are times where you (we) literally will not have the mental capacity or emotional understanding to make a post or write a comment or challenge a bigot. And you should know, you don’t have to. Because this is exhausting. Challenging people all day, every day, is exhausting. And many live this life within the mere makeup of who they are. Please feel the validation that it is okay to be exhausted of this.

And to preemptively address any individuals now annoyed and stewing over this post, I leave you with my favorite line from, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” by Cheryl Strayed (previously the advice column, “Dear Sugar“):

“We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people.” –Cheryl Strayed

How can you create some dissonance today with those around you? Will you challenge the coworker using, “retarded,” as a derogatory term? Will you address the racial tension in your community? Will you engage with the family member calling Caitlyn Jenner a, “he-she it?” Will you challenge transphobic and homophobic political and religious leadership in your life or community?

Many are trying. And for every hate-filled post, there is one full of curiosity and questions (and not to mention the thousands that exist in opposition of the hate). Curiosity and questions are healthy. Please, remain curious. And be comfortable questioning so you have a better understanding of whatever it is in which you are inquiring. No one should fault you for this. And, further, no one should fault you for speaking up when you know something isn’t right or just.

YMCA of Boulder Valley CEO, Chris Coker, displayed courage recently. Will you?

Exhausted,

Michael

What world do you see

*Photo above taken from somewhere in the internet – thank you to the creative soul who designed this! 

What kind of world do you want?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

I believe it was Malcom X who coined this provocative and relevant thought (and if my citation is inaccurate, I’m sure Malcom X said this at some point, while living this philosophy as his truth). And it’s so accurate, right?

I am obsessed with great content, and especially when that content assists in creating real and raw perspective. For example, when Kerry Washington accepted the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Pause and listen to her speech. This speech is incredibly valuable, and something which should be replayed over and over – there is a lot more we can be doing, and a lot more inclusion we should be observing. I’m curious to see how Kerry continues the dialogue.

Outside of this speech, and, of course, the previous posts I have used to articulate my thoughts on activism or the current reality in my home state of Oklahoma, I want to pause and show some appreciation for my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. This past week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO launched a campaign, advertising The Tunnel of Oppression, which is a phenomenal simulation to help students better understand privilege and oppression, and how these concepts impact everyone. Check out the posters below:

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Asians..

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Black Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Disability...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Muslims...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Gay Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Native Americans...

First, I want to thank these brave students for “coming out” in these posters. Whereas many people of color are already “out” as noted by race (being, “color blind,” is not a thing, and all of that), sitting with these search items is a heavy and intense moment – a reality faced by any oppressed or marginalized individual. Next, I want to highlight that these, “Societal assertions,” are very real and are played out for people every single day. And this should not be a surprise. In fact, if you gasped at the items listed in the search bars above, I challenge you to think about your surroundings a bit more critically. This is certainly the case following the OU SAE incident, and has been a theme in a lot of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues now two weeks after the release of the video. We must challenge a little harder, and push a little deeper.

And this starts with inclusion. How are you integrating inclusion into your conversations and into your personal and professional engagements? As Luke Visconti argues, and I tend to agree, it is so much more than simply asking (expecting) baristas to talk about race in the 20 seconds they have with a customer at Starbucks. If we want inclusion, diversity, equity, multicultural understanding, etc. to be something that is espoused and enacted, it must be something that is integrated through every fiber of an operation. As Visconti points out, it must start from the top (and in the most, see-someone-to-be-someone, kind of way).

One year ago, I was a cluster facilitator at LeaderShape, a leadership retreat for college students. The university where I was working did a campaign to advertise this opportunity, and passed around various flyers reading, “I see a world where ______.” Individuals could write in what kind of world they see. For example, “people have clean water,” “cancer is fully treatable,” “we find peace,” and, “everyone has a puppy,” were a few of my favorites. When I filled out my own flyer to be hung on my office door, I thought long and hard. What kind of world did (do) I want to see?

And, today, I ask you this same question, among others:

How do you see the world? What kind of world do you want? What kind of contribution can you and will you be willing to make? Do you dare?

Engaging,

Michael

*I see a world with liberty and justice for all.

Request: “Can we talk about race?” Most People: “Can we not?”

I read a book in graduate school, one which probably should have been consumed sooner, called, “Can We Talk about Race?” If you’re in higher education or student affairs, you have probably read this book (which is usually accompanied by, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”), and it was more than likely part of your, “diversity class curriculum.” I hope this is resonating with some of you. For those who have read these books, re-read them – keep learning. For those who have not read or heard of these books, please borrow or order them today – you can benefit from this knowledge. They are so much more than curriculum for diversity class…they are essential in truly understanding the landscape of education, and how it impacts all students and all communities.

Addressing race relations and related issues in the American education system, Dr. Beverly Tatum’s book is a must-read for any person even remotely invested in education (or, simply, anyone who merely gives a damn). I read this specific book around the same time I was having the, color-blind-is-actually-not-a-thing-regarding-race, “ah-ha” moment. And the sentiments within still sit with me today, and especially anytime someone asks, “Can we talk about race?” As a result of social media’s sponsorship of creating dialogue for various groups and individuals, this question appears verbatim, as well as without specifically asking, “Can we talk about race?” Let’s pause here for a moment.

As I have previously shared, my job search is complete. Thankfully, I have found a phenomenal position which will require doing equity and justice work for a non-profit education association (and, of course, the thoughts and feelings in my blog and social media presence are all my own, and not a representative of my future employer). A few weeks back and during an interview for this particular position, I was asked, “Can you share with us your opinion on the current reality of race in the United Staes,” or something along these lines. I knew a question similar to this would be addressed, and I had somewhat prepared for what my answer would be when asked to disclose (of course, while remaining cautious about the fact that I can often come off as a bit too raw – interview etiquette, and all of that).

“Can you share with us your opinion on the current reality of race in the US?”

As soon as I opened up my mouth to answer the question, I started word-vomiting my thoughts on race, race relations, parenting, the perceived experience of young Black men, online micro-aggressions, neighborhood segregation, and the list went on and on. Oops, I thought, after I spent several minutes spewing my scattered thoughts and opinions all over the interview panel. Their response was coy, and they quickly moved on with more questions. Interviews, if done right, can be one big professional development opportunity for those who apply and for those who engage. In fact, during my first interview with this same job prospect, I had the opportunity to dig deep with the hiring manager, who blew my mind about the idea of allies identifying as, “color blind,” in reference to racial viewpoints. Specifically, she noted, “It seems, ‘color blind,’ is the one disability everyone wants to possess.” Now, imagine my reaction.

Yes, if you held your hands up to your head and did an explosion motion, you correctly guessed how I responded. It was brilliant, and I was inspired then and now by the real and raw approach this organization took in interviewing me. After all, if we want real and raw, we have to give raw and real. And learning was (is) occurring either way.

But I want to go back to this idea of “being color blind.” It’s happening a lot right now. Especially as it relates to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon moment at the University of Oklahoma, the, “I’m color blind,” moment is alive and well (in addition to, “My chapter has a Black member,” “I don’t see race,” “We’re not all racist,” “This is making every [historically white] Greek organization look bad,” and, “We do all sorts of other really great things for the community”). I get it.

But a door has been opened (…again, and again…), and if we (you) so choose, we (& you) have unique opportunity to acknowledge our privilege and engage thoughtfully and consciously. To move forward, I’m white. And, if you’ve subscribed to the reality that no one is actually color-blind when it comes to race, you already knew that. This fall, I published the piece on my blog, referencing the diversity of my high school, as well as the need to continue making Black students and Black student experiences matter. Shortly after, I had a piece published in Perspectives, a magazine for Fraternity and Sorority professionals through the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, called, “Because Race Matters.” Of course, both of these highlights came with a lot of questions, and even a few people asking me to stop dialoging about race (assumably because I am white). Specifically after the post about my high school, I received hundreds of messages, emails, and comments, all with stories and examples of how an individual agreed or disagreed with my sentiments. Dissonance for both myself and the readers. Dissonance which still exists today.

For the most part, people were pretty supportive of the piece, however there were a few individuals who took time to send (some, pretty lengthy) emails and messages filled with anger or hate. Seriously, some people were mad. Of course, I spent more time dwelling on these messages than celebrating the positive notes, however it did remind me that not every person in my social circle (or social media network, for that matter) was willing and open to the/a conversation about race. And many still are not. Sure, some do get it (despite my struggle with the term, “it,” and exactly what it is they are getting), however overall, the hope for dialogue still remains an area where, when asked, “Can we talk about race,” people respond with, “Can we not?” And this is why #BlackLivesMatter. And this is why #OUMatters. In these moments of high profile (and the truth is, this SAE-like incident occurs all the time, mostly when cameras are not around), people throw their opinions in – just as I am doing now – all in hopes that people will, “get ‘it.'”

I brought this up in that same interview a few weeks back,  the idea of, “it.” This happens a lot in education, our hope for individuals to get, “it.” In regard to race, or understanding related to any oppressed group for that matter, “it,” is a hard outcome to measure. And still, we do this a lot. We take our own version of, “it,” and then we project this, “it,” upon others as a standard to live up to. The idea of, “it,” and whatever the hell, “it,” actually means in the context of diversity and programming, is scarily subjective – we should pause more, reflect more, dialogue more, challenge more. More. People will take to social media. People will protest. People will march for some resolve – people will challenge. And this is all okay.

The title of this post alone reveals a pretty common rebuttal between friends and colleagues. More people are more comfortable not talking about race. Hell, I certainly had my own pause before answering the question in my interview. And this sucks. The dialogue has to happen. There are only so many times one can flip a channel or scroll through social media to avoid a message or instance regarding race. Race matters (this, not to be confused with or overshadowing, “#BlackLivesMatter”). And at the core, we need more people talking about race, and why and how it matters. We need more pausing, more dialoging, reflecting. Hell, we need more, “it.” And we can’t sit quietly. I was in my friend’s office the other day, and one of the students she supervises posed the question, “Why do we have a Miss Black,” in reference to a pageant on campus. My friend slid around her desk with quickness, and instantly engaged a conversation with the student. Why? Because, we have to keep engaging the conversation. We have to keep sliding around our desks with quickness, even if it feels tired, directionless, and frustrating. The conversation must continue. The learning must continue.

Eyes will roll. Assertions will be made. People will reveal ignorance. Videos will be made of racist students, only to provoke countless stories of similar hate and bias (which was more than likely not “caught” on camera). The difference between, “why would some idiot film this,” over, “why this is hate and threatening and so horrific,” is a real and accurate description between the conversations occurring in the days following the SAE incident. Keep talking.

I am lucky enough to work in education, and I will continue to advocate for more of this dialogue. People have to feel comfortable, valued, and welcomed in regard to race and culture. Just as we need more than just women fighting for women, more than gay people fighting for gay stuff, and specifically relevant to this post: those who are fighting for racial equality cannot solely be those persons of color who see ignorance and hate right in front of them (often directed at them). The list goes on and on, of course, including groups I am further oppressing by not including them in an example – needless to say, you get the point I am trying to make here.

We all have a part to play in hope to achieving progress. Stand up, make no assumptions, and engage the dialogue. Be uncomfortable. And while digging and diving, teaching and learning, challenge people to be and do better. Just because you assume something does not affect you does not mean it won’t impact you. And just because you have a circle of inclusion around you does not mean bias and hate are not still dripping in other aspects of your community. Trust me, most things that are, “not your problem,” are more your problem than you think.

Perhaps, you might actually be the problem. Are you reflecting, processing, dialoging? Are you allowing others to do the same?

Fighting,

Michael

PS – For some other relevant readings/opinions/perspectives, related to the SAE incident, please see the links below:

Facebook Status from Michelle Guobadia: “OK!!! FINE!!!!”

There Will Never Be Another Black S-A-E

Keith Garcia: “SAE at OU: My Response

Lindsay Ritenbaugh: “Hoping for Change: Sooner than Later”

Najah Hylton: “SAE Just Showed Us Why There’s Not Enough Love For All Of Us”

My previous post about my issues with Oklahoma: “Oklahoma (needs and up)Rising

My high school was, “pretty black.”

My junior year of high school, I went on a leadership retreat with a group of students from my high school and also from another school in the district. This particular school was considered the “high class” option in our school district, and mostly consisted of the more privileged kids in the area. This has potentially changed over the years, but at this specific point in time, it always felt like, when compared to this school, I attended a school for urban-peasants. Back to said-retreat. This particular experience involved community members from the city and also in-depth conversations about leadership and ethics, as well as a series of other, meet-the-right-people-because-you’re-awesome-teens, opportunities. All the guys were staying at a local dentist’s house (this was their attempt to give a city leader some “charity points,” it seemed), and the peers from my high school were sleeping in one room while the others were in a downstairs lounge area. Ultimately, good, wholesome learning/fun, right?

The interesting thing about our two schools is that the student leaders were all somewhat aware of each other. We had an understanding of the “other school” on both ends, and we were all mostly aware of the community’s view on my beloved alma mater. The second of two nights wrapped late and we all retreated to the dentist’s house/sleeping quarters to head to bed. Sometime after everyone had fallen asleep, myself and a few others in my room were jolted awake by the sound of giggling and scurrying, which lead to me jumping up to turn on the light. As our eyes adjusted, we looked around to find that a few students from the other school had sprayed shaving cream on us, and covered one specific guy in what looked like, an entire cans-worth. I was pissed. Being a confrontational adolescent, and general do-good’er, I marched down the stairs, and was greeted by a few laughing douchebags from the other school.

I started with a calm approach, and while wiping the shaving-cream off my arms, asked, “Did you guys do this?”

“Yeah, probably,” replied the douchiest of the bunch.

“Why? I don’t recall doing anything to you guys,” I challenged.

“Who cares, dude. Don’t take it so serious, it’s just a joke.”

“A joke? We don’t find it funny.”

By this point, I was shaking. I had been joined by two others from my school, one of which grabbed my arm to go back upstairs, while eventually yelling down, “Fuck you guys, and fuck your ‘joke,’” or something of that regard. I was pissed. In that specific moment, we knew this wasn’t about silly high school antics, nor was this actually a fun-intended prank. These guys were picking on us because they could, and probably even planned to do so before even showing up. These guys were use to having a consistent upper-hand, and from my experience, this ‘practical joke’ was actually about power. By the mere makeup of their school, most of these students came from some type of privilege, while my peers and I were viewed countless times as, “the charity perspective.” Now, this was not a direct quote (nor is this a, woe-is-me, passage), but anyone from Midwest City High School circa 2002-2004 (and probably surrounding years, as well) will tell you that when it came to Carl Albert High School, none could compare. It was jarring, and an ongoing frustration with our school district.

Again, back to said-retreat. We helped our most-covered classmate clean up a bit, and then spent fifteen or so minutes wiping the shaving cream out of our sleeping bags and pillows. We were all pretty upset, and just as we started to devise a plan to go back downstairs for another confrontation, the dude who was most covered came out of the bathroom, looked at each of us, and noted something along the lines of, “If we would have done this to them, we would have been sent home and in so much trouble.” We all agreed with great disappointment, and the differences between Midwest City and Carl Albert were again highlighted and affirmed. Before we could process this aloud, the same, overly-creamed individual just started laughing…uncontrollably. I remember politely joining him with a few curtsey chuckles, only to all finally look at each other and erupt into real, authentic, frustrated laughter. We eventually fell asleep, amidst the mocking of the douchebag from downstairs and planning a way to address our concerns tomorrow.

When we woke up the next morning, there was an awkward tension in the air. We agreed that the shenanigans from the previous night would would be addressed that day, and it was our hope that the guys from the other high school would greet us with apologies (if anything, an apology for the dude who had been covered most). We arrived at the first location for the last day of our weekend retreat, and before we could even get comfortable, several of the women from the other school were staring and giggling at us. I don’t remember many of the details, but in that moment, I do remember feeling so embarrassed and ashamed, and over something this group of peers considered, “just a joke.” This ‘joke-mentality’ was confirmed as the session opened with the program coordinator even making a snide remark about, “boys just being boys last night.” This moment has stuck with me for quite some time, and it was triggered this week after posting a video to my Facebook.

Let’s pause here for a moment.

The video I posted featured students from my high school, Midwest City High School, and a huge community-wide effort to help develop more funding for the high school’s Special Olympics Team. Very cool stuff. I was particularly inspired by the amount of students who were involved in the production, and specifically elated to see the continued support for students with physical and emotional disabilities. This was always one area I felt my alma mater was getting right – the amount of support and resources for students with disabilities was a focus and a shared-community value. Check out the MCHS Lip Dub below:

 *The video is quite long, feel free to skip, “skim,” or just jump to 12:20 for the final message.

Whether you watch(ed) the video or not, just after posting the link, I received two messages that read as follows:

Message 1 (from Facebook): Damn your school was pretty black

Message 2 (via text): You weren’t kidding… you really did go to a diverse high school.

Yes, my high school was pretty diverse. And yes, there were a lot of black people who attended my high school. But there were also Asian kids, white kids, American Indians, and military kids of every different makeup. I am a proud product of Midwest City High School, but for years after graduating, was somewhat fearful of what exactly this pride implied. When I went off to college, a lot of the responses I received from new friends and peers were similar to the very messages I received yesterday. The diversity was always shocking, and more so, as was how this big ol’ white kid was able to survive in such a diverse setting. This flawed perspective of many seems to imply that a bunch of black kids all at one high school must immediately mean thuggery and/or poverty (I’ve even had people ask me if my experience was like Sister Act II, pre-Sister Mary Clarence). Their ignorance was always a setback for me.

Was shaving cream at a lock-in-type overnight actually a huge deal? Probably not. But the upper-hand which was involved was a big deal to me, and to all of us. There’s a big chance the prank was not racially motivated, and I can rest with that belief. However, the friend who was creamed most was right, if it had been any of the guys who were attending from my school, a huge issue would have been made out of this ordeal. Perhaps, even ‘thuggery’ would have been assumed. Furthermore, when administrators or professionals use terms like, “Boys will be boys,” we inherently disadvantage our young boys by viewing them as game-players and unable to respect others. This, too, is a flawed perspective. And this is all ultimately why I was particularly elated to see the video from my high school.

Aside from the pure race dynamics that existed at my alma mater, there also always seemed to be a permission that you could be of any shape, size, or background, and still have some sense of human or social capital. Hell, I was a total closet-case in high school (pun intended), and aside from some of the bullying I endured, I still felt like I received a huge amount of love from all types of people of all types of backgrounds. My high school reunion would later affirm many of those relationships, some of which also provided closure from the aforementioned bullying. Whereas the, your-black-high-school, messages I received via Facebook and text were both done with good intentions, they also provided for a deep-reflection as to why I continue to support and believe in all things Bomber magic (this is what we call, “spirit”).

The beautifully diverse video above is why I care about this school, and why I continue to support an environment where these young learners can work together and create something meaningful and impacting. Furthermore, I am also provoked by the limited opportunities provided at my high school, which typically happen to be caused by (or as a result of) other’s privilege. Privilege is real, and race plays a huge role in that dynamic. Literature and anecdote will both affirm this assertion. And this is why I care about Midwest City High School, a school with, among many others, upper-middle class black kids, extremely poor white kids, wealthy American Indians, middle-class Mexican kids, and military children of all shades (as one really good friend puts it).

So, aside from raising money for the MCHS Special Olympics Team, why does this video matter?

This video matters because Midwest City High School matters (and all the ‘Midwest City High School’ equivalents out there). This video matters because many of these students may never again get an opportunity to be silly and creativity and artistic, and many of them will continually be stifled by the sub-communities in which they belong. This video matters because those two individuals who contacted me should be more excited about the student engagement from that video rather than conjuring up any assumptions as to how this big ol’ white guy “survived” at a high school like “that” (direct quotes, there). This video matters because race matters, and this video matters because these students matter.

With eagerness, heart, and hope, here’s to Midwest City High School.

#WeAreBombers,

Michael

*Let it be important to note that my experience as a white kid from Oklahoma City is incomparable to that of some of my peers in Midwest City. This post is an appreciation for the culture supported in that video, and also a tool for reflecting on some of the injustices and inequities I have witnessed over the past ten years around and about my alma mater.

IMG_7657

No surprise here: Street-harassment still feels like shit.

FullSizeRender-2

Today I celebrate my one-month anniversary in China. It’s an exciting feeling, and I am slowly but surely learning how to navigate my way around the rural town I am living in for the next several weeks. This specific area is a beach town, and filled with many locals who are most often surprised or intrigued to see me walking down the street. The toddler-response is the best: confusion, intrigue, excitement.

Over the past week or so, I have started to focus on what this attention means and how it actually plays out in the bigger context of human interaction. In an interesting twist of fate, I have gone from a confident traveler to a self-conscious visitor in just a matter of days. Don’t get me wrong, I was prepared for this reality. Before taking flight, many warned me that being a foreigner in China would attract bewildered stares and unprovoked attention (add being 6’2” to that equation and you have me, a bearded white man, trolling through the town). But this past week, I experienced several incidents where I would pass someone, and following stoic eye-contact, be aggressively examined up and down. Was it my shoes? My large torso? My receding hairline? What was attracting the negative attention? Even my experience with cab drivers has been a bit unsettling. In America, it takes an act of God (or Uber) to hail a cab, however here, cabbies will honk at me, roll up to me on the street, and often yell something out the window to catch my attention. I’m rarely looking for a ride, however in their minds, it seems that being foreign also means I am in constant need of a lift somewhere. This happens over and over again. Rinse, wash, repeat, each time I venture into the city. Bearded. White guy. Let’s pause here for a moment.

Aside from being a huge, bearded white guy in Asia, I could also probably share a few dozen North-American stories of being called, “FAGGOT,” by passersby, or having truck loads of dudes (yes, 99.9% of the time it is another guy) yell something really homophobic or heteronormative at me. To save you hours of reading, the experience which resonates most with me is a time when I was working an event with a few colleagues while in graduate school. Said-colleagues and I were standing on the corner of a busy campus intersection, and our task was to greet busloads of students as they were dropped off and headed to another event on campus. Easy task, and this was my second year in this same post, so I was basically a professional bus-greeter. Before we knew it, an SUV-load of ass holes drove by and, “FAGGOTS,” was yelled from the window. I share more of this story in a previous post inspired by street-harassment, however the end-moment here is that one of my friends was horrified, while a lesbian-friend and I just shrugged it off with an, it-happens-all-the-time, resolution. With each reference of this story, I am reminded of the harm words can do in action and also in reflection. And though not as aggressive as someone slinging hate speech out of a window, the constant attention I have received from being white in China has certainly been something to pause on.

I consider myself a strong yet sensitive person, and since arriving in China, I am easily reminded of the reality of feeling different and constantly self-aware. As I continue to reflect on this revisited reality, I am also strikingly more conscious of the same discomfort that continues to resonate for many of my peers back in the States. This type of frustration is not solely reserved for large, bearded white guys in Asia – in fact, this frustration is also nothing new. We can all probably agree this is a constant struggle for many populations (race demographics, LGB individuals, transgendered individuals, religious misunderstandings around paraphernalia, etc., and of course, women), and at times even turns quite ugly in its resolve. I recently came across a powerful piece of writing, which highlighted some of the very feelings I have related to street harassment (and also street crime, hate crimes, hate speech, etc.). This piece was written by Zachary Wilcha, and the following sentiments best capture some of my feelings as they relate to the incident which recently occurred in Pennsylvania:

“While people are shocked by the white gang of hooligans simply for being the color they are, you’re not shocked. You know something they don’t. You know that the last group of people you’d want to run into at the end of the night is a group of drunk, straight, white men full of equal parts insecurity and liquid confidence.”

“You’ll continue to look over your shoulder because you have to. Sometimes you’ll see people walking toward you and wonder if today is your day… You push all these thoughts away as you try to fall asleep. You have to. You’re exhausted.”

I feel in complete solidarity with these ideas, and if not verbatim, have said some variation of these statements multiple times to myself over the past several years. Wilcha’s writing takes me back to some dark places, and I encourage all those to read his piece with an open mind and an open heart. These are real experiences. Real life experiences. People’s lives. And, although the stares and whistles I get on the street are not ideal, they certainly do not compare to the unjust treatment we are seeing played out with various other identity groups.

In this new month, can we please commit to creating a safer space for people to walk freely without objectification? In this new month, can we please commit to confronting our communities on their bias? In this new month, can we please lose the buzzy lingo and fun campaigns and just get real and honest about some of the unjust treatment existing in the world today? Finally, can we please remember that even though new issues and hot topics arise, they are not a scapegoat to forget about previous and still-grieving injustices (Philadelphia, Ferguson, ISIS, etc., and any other group I am marginalizing by using, “etc.”)?

Sure, I started off talking about my experience as a white guy in China, and to be honest, I’m barely shaken by these moments. But the reality I am seeing back home is oddly parallel to my experience being a foreigner in another country (please put that thought together, if you get what I’m saying). Difference is continually approached with hostility, negativity, and unjust action. Let’s find peace, let’s find conversation, let’s find resolve.

Freely-walking,

Michael

*More than my own experience, it is probably most important to confirm that I will never understand what it feels like to be a woman, nor will I truly understand what it feels like to be harassed because of my gender or gender identity. Though I do know what it feels like to be harassed because I’m different, this piece is not intended to be a comparison of which identity has it harder (oppression competition, if you will). This piece is an attempt at processing my own racial identity development while in another country, and also while grappling with the incidents occurring back home.