Category: Grindin’

S**thole

As part of my diversity and inclusion work I am often called upon to share with students my own experiences with racism, xenophobia or bullying. To do so I often channel my experiences growing up as a Haitian-American in New York City in the 80s and early 90s where it was not uncommon to be blamed for the A.I.D.S. epidemic, or my favorite schoolyard yarn, having a classmate come up to me and ask “hey do you have HBO?” Of course, I say yes because I don’t want them to think my family’s too poor to afford cable, only to be undone because they were really just setting me up for the punchline, “you have Haitian Body Odor?” I can no less untangle these experiences from 1980s New York than I can graffiti, peep-shows on 42nd St, or ostentatious businessman Donald Trump.

While I grew up a stone’s throw away Trump’s neighborhood in Queens, age and socioeconomic class kept us from ever crossing paths in the schoolyard. But when I think of 80s New York, his over the top persona is one of the first things that comes to mind. Therefore, when I heard that now President Donald Trump had recently referred to Haiti as a “s**thole” country, and that in June he had allegedly declared “all Haitians have A.I.D.S.” I was surprised—not by the fact that this particular resident of the White House had uttered such a thing—but rather that it had taken so long for him to explicitly name drop Haiti.

You see what I know now, but what it took me some time to learn, are the nuances of how racism works. At seven, ten, thirteen, or even sixteen years old I thought that an appropriate way of dealing with denigrating comments toward Haitians was to either laugh them off, or downplay my Haitian identity in some way. This usually meant giving the impression I was Jamaican or from one of the other Anglophone islands, or by the time all traces of my Haitian accent were gone, simply asserting myself as an American.

However, once I was done laughing it off, or ingratiating myself to some kids at school as something other than Haitian, I would soon learn that not only would the crude jokes about Haitians not cease, but also that either Jamaicans, Ecuadoreans or Puerto Ricans (the other prominent ethnic groups in my neighborhood) would soon bear the brunt of similarly menacing barbs. I eventually learned over time that not only was it important to stand up for myself and my own nationality, but also that I had to be courageous enough to standup and voice my discontent when mine was not the group being denigrated.

This is part of a lesson that I seek to impart to students when recounting the derogatory comments about Haitians that I had to learn to overcome.

Whether the topic is microaggressions, racism, bullying, or the importance of being active bystanders, I share my experience with anti-Haitian bias to illustrate how over time the same person could be a victim, an accomplice, or the person who stands up to help repair the harm.

In terms of President’s Trump’s comments specifically, it should not surprise anyone that the same person who actively discriminated against African-American renters, viciously sought to cast Mexican immigrants as racists, and pursued a ban on Muslims, would likewise not think highly of Haiti. While it may be true that many of us think better of ourselves, and believe that there is far less than racial animus in the United States then there is, we can ill afford to treat the current presidency as a 4-year long Thanksgiving Dinner where an unhinged uncle is holding court dropping one racist, sexist, transphobic barb after another. We also cannot continue pretending that this unhinged uncle is an anomaly that came out of nowhere.

Put differently, for the bulk of President Trump’s adult life, and roughly my entire life, Haiti has been virtually absent from school curricula and pretty much been presented as a “s**thole country” in much of American popular culture. A perfunctory reference to the Haitian revolution and a current events check-in during the Duvalier coup in 1986 were the only mentions of Haiti in my classes that I can recall before entering college. Likewise, when I embarked on a quest to read every book in the children’s section of my local library, the only book I remember finding about Haiti essentially presented it as a once great island that is now…essentially…a “s**thole.” From an early age most of us are taught to think more favorably of certain countries than others and undoing the damage done from this work is an overwhelming task.

For some this may be a turning point moment and your support in countering demeaning characterizations of Haiti such as those uttered by President Trump is welcome. However, for far too many other people like me, this is not a new struggle and one that shall persist long after this media moment has passed.

In closing it is well worth us all remembering that Haiti is no more a “s**thole” than American city streets are paved with gold. And moreover, Americans’ struggle to embrace Haiti’s complex reality is akin to our fight to explicate what binds together, Abilene, Berkeley and Charleston.

Free Speech On College Campuses | WNPR News

I recently appeared on a Connecticut NPR segment about Free Speech on College Campuses

A recent Gallup poll of college students found that a majority of students think that colleges shouldn’t restrict speech on campus just because some political views are controversial or unpopular. But lately, disruptive protests of controversial speakers have again brought the issue of free speech front and center.

Source: Free Speech On College Campuses | WNPR News

Thank you again Adrienne Maree Brown

Last week the brilliant, inspirational soul savior Adrienne Maree Brown asked this question on her feed: “on being intersectional: what are the intersections you are most struggling with right now? how do you hold the complexity?”. My answer was parenting and activism.

I was reminded of this response again this morning while listening to the news. NPR has long been a safer choice than my itunes playlist when driving the kids to school because I never knew when some random “2 Live Crew” song might pop up. But for the last week with one distressing revelation from the new administration after another I find that I can not listen to any news segment for more than five-minutes without getting unnerved.

Anyone knows me knows that I’m far from a sailor when it comes to cursing—but maaan……do I want to drop some f-bombs in the car while listening to the news these days.

I want to be a good parent. I want to raise informed and conscientious kids.

But more than anything these days, I want the freedom to say “give me an effin break” when I hear a radio host (not necessarily an NPR host) says something foolish without having to worry about my 6yo repeating my words on the playground at school that morning.

No Racial Barrier Left to Break (Except All of Them) – The New York Times

It’s true that, in fulfilling the duties of the presidency with great dignity, Mr. Obama represents the highest expression of the goal of assimilation. But for African-Americans, he was also the ultimate lesson in how this antidote alone is insufficient to heal the gaping wounds of racial injustice in America. It’s clear that black leadership, in itself, isn’t enough to transform the country. So we must confront the end of an era and the dawn of a new one.

Source: No Racial Barrier Left to Break (Except All of Them) – The New York Times

Democrats and higher education groups call on Congress to use Pell surplus to expand program

I cannot say enough how much of a difference having adequate financial aid makes to a student’s experience.  I’ve seen countless students take leave and never return to school because of unyielding financial obligations.  And those who do stay are often stressed out by thought that this safety net can be pulled out from under their feet at any moment.  Many students need more than Pell, but few can afford to without what Pell offers and anything that bolster’s Pell funding is welcomed.

College students can receive up to $5,815 annually in Pell funding. Advocates said the grant is vital in making higher education affordable and preventing students from being forced to take out loans to pay for a degree. But the Obama administration reached a bipartisan agreement in 2011 to cut year-round Pell grants in response to funding shortfalls. Now the program has amassed a large surplus, which higher education advocates want to see dedicated to strengthening and expanding it.

Source: Democrats and higher education groups call on Congress to use Pell surplus to expand program

The broader implications of unfairly accusing a Latina student of plagiarism (essay)

It is imperative that our colleagues stop being surprised when students of color are able to thoughtfully articulate themselves in their writing and in class discussions. Such low expectations of students of color who have, at minimum, earned admission to our institutions effectively erases their demonstrated capabilities and ongoing potential to meet subjective academic standards.

Source: The broader implications of unfairly accusing a Latina student of plagiarism (essay)

Micro-Barriers Loom Large for First-Generation Students – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Reading Hillbilly Elegy, I thought about how much time we spend imploring students to seek guidance for obstacles of our own devising. We produce bureaucratic hurdles, then ask students to assume good faith and a willingness to help on the part of professors and administrators who don’t always exhibit such openness.

Source: Micro-Barriers Loom Large for First-Generation Students – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Center for Cultural Engagement

I realize that I may not have updated everyone, but I’m back in Maryland and now working at the Catholic University of America.

We’ve been in operation since July so we are still getting off the ground.  That said, I think we are doing some pretty neat stuff.  Check out the site and check back occasionally for some of our upcoming programs if you’re in the DC area.

Through promoting intercultural education and awareness at the Catholic University of America CCE contributes to the personal and intellectual development of all students. In so doing we strive to help students at The Catholic University of America in their pursuit of developing a sense of self, a sense of place, and a sense of responsibility.

Source: Center for Cultural Engagement

Digging Up the Roots: An Introduction to the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum – The Feminist Wire

Given all of our heightened awareness about documented state sanctioned white supremacist violence against and murders of Black people in the United States, it is definitely a painful struggle to point out that addressing and ending gender-based violence is not a deterrent from the “greater issue” that is plaguing Black communities. It’s devastating that child sexual abuse, adult rape and other forms of gender-based violence aren’t often viewed as “real” issues that are also destroying our communities like racism and white supremacy. The same must also be said about ableism. It wasn’t until I read the Harriet Tubman Collective’s powerful “Disability Solidarity: Completing the Vision for Black Lives” statement that I realized that I had a responsibility to widen my lens that I thought was fairly wide.

Source: Digging Up the Roots: An Introduction to the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum – The Feminist Wire

‘Coddled’ students and their ‘safe spaces’ aren’t the problem, college official says. Bigots are. – The Washington Post

 

To be sure, the real world is full of anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and racism. The question is: Do we prepare students to accept the world as it is, or do we prepare them to change it? Telling students either explicitly or implicitly that they should grin and bear it is the last thing one should do as an educator. Yet that is essentially the gospel that the “wait until the real world” parishioners would have many of us adopt.

Source: ‘Coddled’ students and their ‘safe spaces’ aren’t the problem, college official says. Bigots are. – The Washington Post