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Tagged with " racism"
14 Jan
2019
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, book review by Bev ScottI laughed out loud, cried with sadness and felt the rush of anger as I read the stories Noah Trevor shares of his childhood and youth in South Africa. His very existence was evidence of a criminal act as the child of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother. His mother kept him hidden until the end of apartheid. With humor, Noah tells of his struggles to find himself in a society in which he did not legally exist even after apartheid fell. He was not any of the legal racial categories, white, black or colored. His stories tell with painful honesty, wit and insight how he tried to fit in, cope and adapt to rejection from one group of kids to another.

His mother, an early partner in his adventures, taught him how to cope in a hostile environment. She is the star of his stories. Deeply religious, rebellious and fearless, she was determined to save her son from the poverty, violence and abuse that ultimately overtook her. Noah was mischievous and naughty, but never hateful or vicious, and frequently punished by her for his misadventures.

This book tells us about the vicious racial history in South Africa and offers a window into its cruel impact through Noah’s touching and relatable stories told with honesty, humor and insight. I highly recommend this book.

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26 Nov
2018
Posted in: Diversity
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Diversity – Hope for the Future

Diversity, Hope for the Future, blog by Bev Scott

A Possible Future

I recently returned from Hawaii where I saw the possible future. The Hawaiian population has one of the widest cultural blend of race and ethnicities in the world. The old label of the US population as a “melting pot” is truly represented in Hawaii. The white population of Hawaii is drawn from the Protestant Missionaries who had a profound effect on the native Hawaiian culture. American businessmen who established the plantations to grow sugar, pineapple and coffee became the main drivers of immigration. Because disease decimated the native Hawaiian population, plantation owners sought labor from other sources. Chinese, Japanese, Philippine, Koreans, Puerto Rico and Portuguese joined native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders in the diversity of the labor force. One can attribute cultural diversity and pluralism in Hawaii to its rich history of immigration.

Leadership in the island appears to be drawn from multiple segments of the population. Governors of the State of Hawaii have been drawn from Filipino, Japanese, white and Hawaiian backgrounds and include one woman. From all accounts the multi-ethnic population of Hawaii lives peaceably together without violence, hatred or bigotry. Although I am sure it is not perfect, it is a great role model!

Diversity and Decision Making

My colleague, Kim Barnes, pointed out the research by Erik Larsen which reinforces the importance of diversity in better decision-making.

Diversity, Decision-making

According to the research, teams outperform individual decision makers 66% of the time, and decision making improves as team diversity increases. Compared to individual decision makers, all-male teams make better business decisions 58% of the time, while gender diverse teams do so 73% of the time. Teams that also include a wide range of ages and different geographic locations make better business decisions 87% of the time.[1]

Bringing together men and women who have diverse ages and backgrounds makes for the best decision-making.

From the natural world, we learn about biodiversity. Biodiversity boosts productivity where each species, no matter how small, has an important role to play. A larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms.

The United States, not just the state of Hawaii, is a country formed by immigrants from many other countries in the world. It is, then, no accident then that the U.S. produces successful innovators and is an economic power house. Like the natural world where a mixture of species contributes to biological vigor, the cultural mixture of our population has contributed to vibrant creativity and innovation.

Diversity, biodiversity

Losing the Benefits of Diversity

Today, many of us worry about losing this vibrant creativity, openness and humanity. We have been horrified by mass shootings fueled by hatred and bigotry; most of us reject the use of racial and ethnic stereotypes. Yet no disease in the United States is more in need of curing than racism. It breeds irrational fears that in turn lead to political divisiveness, violence and economic inequality. We decry the dysfunction, division and inaction we see in the Congress and reject the words, actions and immorality of the President.

We voice our support for compassion, equality, democracy and the right to vote. Yet, it is not just the radical right, the Republicans or the white non-voters who have contributed to this state of affairs. It is also people like me, and perhaps you, the reader, that make it unlikely that we will cure racism, stop bigotry and hatred or heal the divisiveness that has torn our country apart. Instead, we may slide into increasing isolation, anger and racist outbursts.

 

We can continue to live in comfort in an economically homogenous neighborhood, socialize with those who are educated and think like us, attend worship services with those who hold common beliefs and work with colleagues in similar professions. I am happy for the success of Democratic candidates and, the diversity of those candidates. I don’t hate those who have different beliefs or political affiliations. I do hope that a “bluer” political environment might mean some change in the direction of my values. But will a “blue” political result in much change?

Diversity, Hope for the Future

We tend to see “the other” as a stranger, even an opponent and we label them criminal, illegal, immoral or savage. Because we lack exposure or experience, we feel threatened by those we don’t know. Fear unexpressed can lead to rage, attack and violence. We don’t have encouragement to seek out strangers, to find ways to overcome our fear, to include those who threaten us.

We lack diversity in our lives and most of us don’t seek it out. It is easier, more comfortable and less threatening to be with people who are mostly like us, who speak a similar language, who represent similar values. In our homogeneous bubbles, we let our fears influence where we live, where we go and who we meet limiting our experience and exposure to those who are different than we are. That limited exposure and experience feeds fear, ignorance and racism.

Valuing Diversity and Difference

Above, I presented the real-world examples of the benefits diversity supported by the research data on advantages of diverse teams. I believe we need to expand the diversity in our lives before we will be willing to change and address racism and the horrors of violence. We must include those who are different from ourselves, seek out perspectives to help us solve the issues that overwhelm us, explore radical options to break down structural barriers and listen with openness to voices demanding change.Diversity, Hope, Love

I don’t have a list of steps to begin this process. But I think we must begin by talking, listening and as Valerie Kaur, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, advocates, loving. She promotes love as a public ethic and the wellspring for social change. We must love ourselves, love others and love our opponents. If we are open to exchange ideas, explore options, value and love each other, we can create alternatives that will honor and respect the diversity of life, and move us toward a possible future of opportunity, creativity, innovation, peace, compassion and equality.


[1] Erik Larsen, “New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision-making at Work.” Forbes Magazine, September 21, 2017

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23 Mar
2018
Posted in: Diversity
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Racism in the “Little House” Books?

Plains Indian, Buffalo Hunt painting John Stanley

Laura Ingalls Wilder is in the book news again.  There are calls to remove her books from children’s libraries!

The American Library Association (ALA) is considering removing her name from their life-time achievement in children’s literature award. The librarians are re-considering the name of the medal based on the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans in the Little House books. Their concern is the conflict of the ALA vision to “respect and honor children’s families’ history” with the values of respect, inclusiveness and integrity with the racism depicted in the books.

Caroline Fraser, author of Wilder’s historical biography, Prairie Fires writes in an article in the March 14 issue of the Washington Post, that “no book, including the Bible, has ever been ‘universally embraced.'” Those who have decried the white supremacy which lies at the heart of so many children’s books, have demanded that the books be removed from school libraries. Some have been motivated by a story Fraser reports of an 8-year old Native American girl came home in tears after hearing the story read in school. Others have admonished publishers to address the racial imbalance in children’s literature by publishing more stories about Native Americans or African Americans.

Indeed, Wilder’s most famous novel, “Little House on the Prairie” (1935) has inspired both disapproval and devotion. Many of us grew up enamored by the sentimental description of family values in the Little House stories, but not all of us are white. Fraser tells about an immigrant girl born in Saigon attracted to the story and how Hmong families from Laos living in Walnut Grove were drawn by one girl’s devotion to the television show. The town features a public mural with a smiling Laura alongside a Hmong woman in traditional dress.

African American family, historic photo c. 1930's, packing car to leave

Publishing more books and stories for children with Native American, Hispanic, African American or other ethnic perspectives is incredibly important to understand today’s diverse world. But, should the name of the medal be changed or the books removed from school libraries because they are racist? Perhaps changing the name of the medal is not wrong. It certainly is not censorship. It might be argued that it is acknowledging the cultural shift that no longer recognizes or rewards books with such blatant racism.

In contrast, removing the books from libraries or refusing to read them to elementary school children is not only censorship but denies all children the opportunity to learn through story the history of homesteading as well as the promotion of white settlement which violently took over Native American lands. I agree with Fraser that the answer to the racism of Wilder’s books is not to ban them but to provide the opportunity to learn that history is interpreted from cultural definitions and perspective. How exciting it would be to have the opportunity to learn about the white cultural perspective current during Wilder’s life. Imagine adding to the conversation, with alternative cultural viewpoints from the Native Americans who were losing their traditional lands or the African Americans who were just freed from slavery.

What is your opinion?

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17 Oct
2017

Learning More About My White Privilege

Eyes and Perception of the Word

I have opposed discrimination and racism beginning when I was in high school at the time of the lunch counter boycotts in the South. I wanted to ask retail and service establishments if they would serve “Negroes” in our very white town in Montana with only three known African American families. I was conducting this survey because I was afraid it might create problems for those families.

Later in my thirties, living in Detroit, I was confronted daily by the impact of racism on the population in this majority black city. I volunteered with an organization that provided anti-racism education workshops to churches, community groups, non-profit organizations and businesses. Through interactive workshops, deep discussions and sometimes painful feedback from black colleagues, I learned about my white privilege, how much prejudice and racism I carried and the many ways our culture has institutionalized racism. I also learned how much I didn’t know about the African American experience in the United States.

I now live in California and find myself learning more and again. Not only is there so much I don’t know about the black experience, I am pretty ignorant about the experience of being brown (Mexican, Hispanic and Latino/a). Although I did have one personal experience…as a high school student when I was asked to leave a restaurant because the staff thought I was Mexican. (I tanned easily and my hair wasn’t gray as it is now.)

I was reminded of that humiliating experience recently when I attended a one-woman show, performed by Irma Herrera, “Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name.”  She taught the audience the correct pronunciation as “Ear-ma.”  Proud of her Mexican and American heritage, Irma recounted experiences from her life requesting nuns, professors and strangers to accept the Spanish pronunciation of her name. Through poignant stories and humor, she told us how pronouncing her own name had often resulted in insults, pain and the denial of her identity. She recounts experiences of rejection and humiliation which brought back the memory of my lone experience of rejection based on an assumption and stereotype. I remember being so embarrassed and mortified in front of my friends. However, I refused to leave and my friends stood up for me. That experience so many years ago certainly increased my sensitivity to discrimination based on color and stereotypes.

I left Irma Herrera’s show with my own emotional tenderness. But most important, I had a clearer understanding of the historical context of the discrimination and racism experienced when growing up brown in this country. With the mirror she offered, I was forced to re-evaluate my thoughts, actions and biases once again.

Latino woman with catrina

Last weekend, I saw the film “Dolores,” a provocative documentary about the civil rights icon and labor leader, Dolores Huerta. The film provides a personal story of Dolores Huerta’s involvement in the founding of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in the context of the economic, social and physical violence experienced by the farm workers in California.

From these two recent experiences, I recognize again how my white privilege contributes to my ignorance of what it is like to be brown or black in the United States (or Native American or Asian American). I am grateful to have financial security, respect and a supportive community. I don’t have to worry about the police response to me because of my color. I grew up with a good education. I have been able to purchase homes without redlining. I have not experienced discrimination based on color in my career.

I continue to learn that my life privileges have protected me from the institutionalization of our country’s racial biases. My experience of gender bias, however, is more direct and personal. But that is a different blog.

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14 Oct
2014
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “The Burning of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Carl Waters

The Burning of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The title Burning of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a metaphorical message of the author’s intent to destroy the negative and stereotypical portrayals of black people in the original Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Carl Waters points out in the Introduction, that although Beecher was less racist than many of her contemporaries in that she believe that black people had souls and that slavery was wrong, she believed in the superiority of white people and the inferiority of black people.  For readers of Stowe today, this view is distorted and damaging.

Waters presents his own take on the original story, expanding the role of a minor character, George Harris, who refuses to accept that he is inferior or that he must remain a slave.   The story is told from the point of view of George and his wife Eliza who are admirable and courageous characters.  They take risks almost unimaginable for the sake of their love for each other and their son.  The cruelty of George’s slave owner, Frank Harris, and viciousness of the slave catchers are vivid in Water’s descriptions bringing the reader in terrifying propinquity to the horror of slavery.

The story quickly drew me in and I journeyed beside both George and Eliza as they attempt to escape to Canada.  At no point did the pace of their story lag nor did I lose interest in supporting their journey.  At times the suspense was so high for me that I needed a break; but then I am considered a soft touch.  At times the naiveté and trust of Eliza seemed unrealistic; however, since it probably comes from her protected and sheltered life as a “house slave”, it is more believable.

Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the first of a four book series.  Waters has met his goal of creating black characters of depth and confidence while exposing the inhumanity of the institution of slavery.  He has also created a book with suspense, a compelling story and descriptions that give the reader a vivid experience of the journey George and Eliza traveled.  In the end, Waters leaves the reader eager for his next book.

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