People Like Me and Racism

I went to the Ash Wednesday service at John XXIII which is the Catholic Center on campus. It was relatively full and it was interesting to look around and see people that I recognized, but whom I didn’t know shared my faith. Likewise, I heard a student say with some surprise, “Isn’t she the Associate Dean?” There is something that feels good about knowing there are people around you that share a cultural identity. It is suddenly a more familiar and safe environment. It is that familiarity and safety that I would hope we could make more available.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life living in diverse cities and in diverse neighborhoods. Thirteen years in the DC metro area where I was happy to live on a street that boasted at least four languages, three years in Tucson, one year in San Antonio, and four years in St. Louis though while diverse was the 6th most segregated city in the country and once I got to my neighborhood you wouldn’t have known the city wasn’t 100% white and mostly Catholic.

When I came back to Tennessee my husband ask if I was sure. I’m Catholic and I have belonged to a Zen Center for years. Tennessee is the least Catholic state in the country and the nearest Zen Center is either in Nashville or Ashville. When I went looking for “community” I did it with greater intent than I did in St. Louis. I wanted a diverse community and a diverse church. I thought the university parish would be the most diverse and the most socially active, but I was wrong. I found that Holy Ghost was the most diverse parish in the city and relatively socially active so I ended up splitting my time between the two because I want to be part of the university community but also wanted diversity. I have found that I’m no longer that comfortable when everyone is like me and I never again want to live in a segregated community.

The racism, sexism, and homophobia was part of why I wanted to leave Tennessee in the early 1990s. The racist comments on the rock, the lack of acceptance of persons who are LGBTQ, and the recent blackface incident were shocking, but what I remembered. The difference between then and now is the response from the administration. In short order after each incident, the administration had responded with disapproval. That disapproval is being followed up with action. I am pleased that they are leading by example. They have held campus discussions and now are going to require cultural competency, inclusion, and bias training for all faculty, staff, and administrators beginning with the executive administration and it is to be developed and implemented immediately. While the administration and faculty didn’t paint the rock or record themselves wearing blackface they are saying change begins with me.

How has Tennessee changed since I left in 1991? People like me have looked at ourselves and said, where did these young people learn this behavior? And the answer may not be what I did, but what I didn’t do. I have had a fair amount of cultural competency and bias training and even included it in grants and program development, but I still notice my own bias. In St. Louis our program recognized a lack of diversity and in two years we went from 7% underrepresented minorities to 29% in our doctorate program. We didn’t change a single admission criterion, but we did recognize our own bias in the selection and ranking process. It was a painful two years for some of the faculty. They felt called out, but in reality, the change wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t recognize and own the bias and then act to implement change.

There will always be those that ask why they have to go to training when they aren’t racist, didn’t paint the rock, and have never taken part in offensive behavior. My answer is because our job isn’t just to teach or do research. It is to set the example of what it means to be a professional, a good citizen, and a person that can acknowledge their own bias and work to fix it. It is because they are young and they will identify with us. Whether we know it or not they see us.

Cultural competency training is needed and it needs to be ongoing at all universities. Many, if not most, nursing programs now have cultural competency and bias training is woven throughout the curriculum because we know the impact on health outcomes. The inclusion of cultural competency training for students beginning at orientation and global citizenship as part of our new curriculum will be beneficial for the community, the individual student, and for the patients for whom our students will provide care.

I don’t know what it feels like to always be in the minority or to have been the victim of racism. I’m all too familiar with sexism, but it frequently lacks the same level of hatred and hostility associated with racism, homophobia, and Islamaphobia though is likely equally harmful. The more people like me own our part in a culture that has allowed racism to exist the sooner all will feel welcome, safe, and respected.

I’m dedicated to a more diverse and welcoming campus. I’m also old enough to know that when we are silent about the evil that is racism, sexism, homophobia, or Islamaphobia we are complicit with that evil.

Abortion is not Racism

Protests are an American tradition reflecting the passions of people seeking justice. Unfortunately, with protests come counter protests that all too frequently prove true the original protesters’ claims. Unlike the 60s one does not have to march in the street to carry a sign. One can protest through social media and a virtual campaign. It is that kind of campaign that is occurring against people who seek justice. Unfortunately, some are using the serious issue of abortion as a racist attack.

While pointing out statistics in itself is not racism, when one post a photo that only addresses abortions in African Americans and Hispanics it is not a question of whether it will be followed by racist rants, attacks on black male leaders, attacks on liberals, and women being called “sluts,” but how vehement the attacks will be. If one knows this and then allows the posting of such comments that is inciting racism and thus in itself is racist by intentionally demeaning or promoting the antagonistic statements toward a race of people.

Rather than promoting racism in prolife posts it would be better to explore what part white privilege has played in both the abortion rates and the disproportionate placement of Planned Parenthood clinics in minority communities. In general, Planned Parenthood places clinics in close proximity to the greatest need and where they can get affordable space. The greatest demand for Planned Parenthood services is not solely based on abortion, but the need for health care for men and women. In addition to contraceptive services and abortion, they also provide treatment for STDs, anemia testing, cholesterol screening, diabetes screening, physical exams, including for employment and sports, flu vaccines, smoking cessation, high blood pressure screening, tetanus vaccines, and thyroid screening. It is certainly true that Margaret Sanger supported eugenics and was a controversial figure. However, that is not the case with the people at Planned Parenthood today. They sincerely believe that by providing women with options they are helping them to make rational reproductive choice. There aim is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and not to diminish a race. Clearly, this does not justify abortion, but it clarifies the motives of Planned Parenthood. This leads me to the conclusion that bad policy and white privilege is adding to the abortion rates and the success of Planned Parenthood.

Among the leading reason given for having an abortion are the feeling of being unable to afford a child (73%) and not wanting anyone to know she had sex and got pregnant (25%). We should examine why minority communities remain in generational poverty and the policies that are at least partially at fault, such as: zoning that disadvantages minority communities, unequal pay, unequal access to public transportation, and shameful differences in schools to name a few. Look at the differences in public and private funding spent in white and middle class communities and then acknowledge that that inequality is privilege that actually does harm minorities, keep them in poverty, and lead to feeling an abortion is necessary. And then we call them “sluts” for getting pregnant. I wonder, if you knew you were going to be called a slut, would it encourage you to have the baby?

If we really value life then we should show respect for people. Rather than standing in front of Planned Parenthood, we should build healthcare clinics and hospitals in underserved communities. Rather than voting for anyone that opposes new taxes, willing pay them to build community infrastructures that work. Rather than paying an African American less, try paying them the same and ensuring it is a living wage. Rather than saying abortion clinics are racist try working with the city council to change the policies that advantage white communities and disadvantage minority communities.

If you claim to be Pro-Life and you pay women, minorities, or any disadvantaged person less because you can, then you are not Pro-Life. You are Pro-Self. If you think it is acceptable to have substandard schools in minority communities, or inadequate infrastructure then you are not Pro-Life because the policies you accept continue generational poverty and thus encourage abortion. If you call a woman that gets pregnant outside of marriage a slut you are not Pro-Life, but you are encouraging abortion by your actions.

Abortion is not racism. Using the serious issue of abortion as a club to beat up on minority communities and those that actually serve them is.

Lent Approaches: Should we cast out the unclean or bath them in compassion

Lent is a few days away and the readings on this cold and snowy Sunday were about leprosy. The once dreaded disease is now treatable and there is no longer a need to shun people with leprosy, put them in isolated communities, or have them shout “unclean, unclean.” We like to imagine that times have changed and we would never be so uncaring or inhumane, but are we and should we be?

Racism and bigotry are diseases able to infect the young and the old alike. The virus enters trough the brain and infects the soul. It multiplies until where once existed love there is only hate. I often wonder if it is better to isolate the one that is infected to avoid unintentionally spreading the disease through social media contact or if it is better to engage and see if love and compassion will slow the infection or even cure the illness.

Racism and bigotry are far more dangerous than any disease of the body. It is a disease that kills the soul of the infected and takes away the human dignity of all it touches. We have much work to do to cure this plague on our communities, our country, and even our world.

Lent is a good time to pray, sacrifice, and offer our time to change the policies that support racism and bigotry and to join in solidarity with those that stand for justice.

Reading 1LV 13:1-2, 44-46

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,
“If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch
which appears to be the sore of leprosy,
he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest,
or to one of the priests among his descendants.
If the man is leprous and unclean,
the priest shall declare him unclean
by reason of the sore on his head.

“The one who bears the sore of leprosy
shall keep his garments rent and his head bare,
and shall muffle his beard;
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,
since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”