Sans Cilice


White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

On the potential of color talk

“Why you and Ms. Shannon both light-skinned?” asked Alicia (not her real name) last Wednesday. Shannon is one of my employees. I’m white and she’s black. Not only that, I’m about as white as white can be– Irish descent, fair skin that sunburns in minutes, bright blue eyes, dirty blond hair (currently dyed brunette). Shannon has light/medium brown skin and dark brown African American hair. I think some would say she’s light-skinned and others wouldn’t. But, there’s really no need to examine our skin shades further; the point is that while Shannon and I may have any number of things in common, skin color is just not one of them.

—Long post! Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: education, Personal, Philosophy & Theory, Society, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stanford’s Progressive Policies

In addition to having an amazing financial policy which pays 100% tuition for students whose families make less than $100K, Stanford University now has the most progressive student health care plan I’ve ever heard of. The university’s mandatory health plan will now provide coverage for students’ transgender surgery. Wow.

Filed under: Current Events, education, , , , ,

Race and Obesity in Philly

Soda, Candy, Hoagies!

Nia-Malika Henderson of Politico reports on Michelle Obama’s appearance in Philadelphia yesterday to discuss the national obesity epidemic as it is manifested in Philadelphia.

Though I know childhood obesity is a problem for Americans of all races, my localized experiences  have lead me to associate the issues of race and obesity. Whites are not the majority in my city (most estimates as of 2000 say 41% of Philadelphians are white though others say up to 45%) but–not surprisingly–they enjoy better housing, employment, education and health than others. Blacks are approximately 43% (44% if the mixed race population is added) of the city’s population and account for about 40% of the city’s workforce. Despite the essential contributions the black population makes to the city, it experiences twice the unemployment rate of whites and considerably worse health.

Philadelphia has a long history of obesity. Its longstanding position on Top 10 Fattest City lists (#1 in 1999!) is usually explained by excessive consumption of cheese steaks and soft pretzels. These ‘delicacies’ originated in South Philly, originally a melting pot of Irish, Italian and other European immigrants. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Current Events, education, Personal, Philadelphia News, , , , , , , , ,

“People are Children”

I came across this youtube video on Loveisntenough. What intrigued me most was the difference between the younger kids and the older kids. Some of the little ones do seem to have a vague understanding of the concepts but they don’t seem to connect the concepts to their life experiences. The older kids however seem to understand race and racism solely in terms of their life particular experiences. I’m sure this has something to do with the editorial decisions, but I would still like to think more about how and when we begin to internalize the problems of race.

Filed under: education, Society, , ,

Early College for Students at Risk

SandHoke Early College High School admits only students whose parents do not hold college degrees, and provides them with the opportunity to earn their diploma and two years of college credit for free!

So neat! We need more programs like this. Obama has pushed for student loan reform and has already significantly increased the maximum Pell grant. However, attending a sufficiently rigorous school is still a risky financial decision for most low to middle income students because lenders continue their predatory practices. (Kudos to Stanford for eliminating tuition for all students whose families makes under 100K!) The educational options of poorer students are narrowed even further by the fact that more and more private colleges are eliminating their ‘full-need’ financial aid policies which make it possible for any admitted student to attend regardless of their financial needs.

Filed under: activism, News, Society, , , , ,

Portraying Africa

A great paragraph somewhat related to my earlier comments about the dangers of condensing all African countries, from Real Media Ethics.

The problematic element for me was the generic country, which I thought fit too neatly into uncomplicated Western ideas of an unstable African nation. The script’s use of details picked from various African conflicts (ethnic violence, an uprising “in the south,” genocide perpetrated against a once-powerful ethnic minority that sounded an awful lot like “Tutsi,” child soldiers abducted, drugged and forced to commit atrocities, a charismatic and ruthless leader, etc.) and lumping of them into one generic African genocide seemed to play on the audience’s expectations about the Bad Things that happen in Africa. The conflation of conflicts separated by decades and thousands of miles undermined the unique horror of the real conflicts. And it erroneously suggested that those conflicts were interchangeable, apparently bound together by some vague tie of “Africanness.”

I hesitate to draw to neat a comparison between House’s treatment of the continent and the aforementioned project for pre-schoolers; I’m quite sure that neither had malicious intentions. But, while I do think that this episode of House is damaging to our cultural understanding/recognition of Africa, I imagine there is an argument to be made about the possible benefits of small children  approaching the idea of heritage even in a very generalized and unspecific way–I think it’s just not an argument I am interested in making.

Filed under: On TV, , , ,

Age Appropriate Black History Month

I commented on earlier and thought it would be appropriate to repost here in slightly edited and expanded form. Sorry if some of the background info is redundant to readers of this blog!:


I’ve been thinking about the huge variety of opinions regarding what should be involved in Black History Month. I’m not a mom [really only relevant to the fact that this was first written for] – I run an afterschool program at a charter school for 3yr olds to Kindergartners with a 95% black population. On Monday my employees and I started to plan activities for the week and to kick off BHM. I’m white and the three employees are black. Each of us had very divergent thoughts about what the focus of BHM is– probably thoughts you’ve all heard before. What really interested me though was the divergence of opinion on what race issues are appropriate to talk about with 3 yr olds. One person wanted to do a project in which the kids placed pictures/drawings of their families on the continent of Africa to symbolize heritage. I’m very in favor of teaching kids as much African history as we do European history, but I really didn’t like this project for three year olds. Firstly, I’m not confident that they would understand the idea. But secondly, I think it’s problematic to treat the continent of Africa as a unified monolithic landmass from whence all black Americans came, with absolutely no knowledge which countries the families’ have actually come from. [Granted, I imagine that it is quite hard for black Americans to trace their lineage back to Africa because of the discontinuity and trauma caused by slavery.]

One of the other people wanted to do a project focusing on the idea that “difference is beautiful/special.” I totally agree that acceptance and respect for one’s differences should be instilled in all children, but I wasn’t comfortable with planting the idea of black as different in the kids’ heads. They go to an all black school in which I don’t think there’s any reason why they would think of themselves as different. While I’m sure they have an awareness of different skin colors and perhaps vague awareness of cultural differences, I’m not convinced that they already associate racial issues with the tension and discomfort that I think this project idea was ultimately intended to address. I’d love to hear thoughts from parents with young kids!

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

My New Job and My New Blog

As mentioned in the previous post, there was a definite coincidence between the start of this blog and the start of my new job. While each new beginning is reflective of my interests and attitudes, I think the explicitness of the connection between the two is fading. A note before continuing: The student body of the school I work at is, approximately, 95% black and is located in a predominantly black neighborhood of West Philadelphia. I should have mentioned this obviously relevant information in the previous post about my job.

I had brainstormed about starting this blog for a few days before starting my job and actually created it a few days after my job began. Though I never expected that my job would afford starkly revelatory, emotionally gripping and neatly packaged racial anecdotes– the likes of which probably only exist in hackneyed cinematic dramas about tragically well-intentioned white mentors and ‘exceptional’ black students– I did expect that my experiences were bound to yield as much food for thought as my old office job at Philly’s natural science museum. Indeed my experiences do yield food for thought, but it is of a totally different kind. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Personal, , , , , ,

My New Job

Zoe and I caught up the other night over dinner. I had been almost completely out of touch with my friends for the past few weeks because I was between cell phones and because I was adjusting to my new job. It was great to talk about my new job with Zoe because she hadn’t already heard about it and because I value her opinion. She asked me if the start of this blog was directly related to the start of my new job. It is definitely coincidental, but the blog really happened because I had a nice amount of free time between jobs than because I explicitly intend(ed) to blog about my new job. That said, both the start of my job and of my blog are definitely related to my realization that social injustice pre-occupies my thoughts and that I am most compelled to respond to injustice that feels close to home. For me, as a white female citizen of Philadelphia (which as of 2000 was 43% black, 42%white, 5%Asian, 5%other, 3%mixed race) the type of injustice that is most frequently and immediately visible is the centuries old anti-black white-supremacist American racism.

After working at the Academy of Natural Sciences for a few years I became confident that a.) the thing I liked most about work was communicating successfully with a wide variety of people and that b.) I spend more time thinking about race than any other issue I consider important because race issues seem to have a more immediate bearing on my life than any other sort of social issue. Looking to leave the museum career path and hoping to get my foot in the door with a community oriented non-profit in Philly, I applied to an administrative assistant job at a non-profit that runs charter schools in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Personal, , , , , , , ,