Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Elizabeth Warren: I believe you

I've been following the Elizabeth Warren brouhaha and now that I've finally collected my thoughts, it's time to blog about it.

Long controversy short: Warren is a biracial and phenotypically White woman who is running for the Senate. She is also a tenured Harvard Law professor who became famous in recent years for her role as a kickass consumer rights advocate with the Obama Administration. In the 90s, she once elected to self-identify as an American Indian while applying for a faculty job at HLS. Based upon her family oral history while growing up in Oklahoma, she self-identifies as 1/32nd Cherokee Indian, which incidentally happens to be the same blood quantum as that of Bill John Baker, the current head of the Cherokee Nation.

Now that she's in Politics, the Identity Police are gunning for her because she apparently looks too White to be a "real" Indian. Folks in respectable publications are saying she has "claimed in error to be a member of a minority group." People are accusing Warren of having benefited from being a minority on paper without having to suffer any of the burdens in her real life - an argument I understand but absolutely do not agree with.

Here are my thoughts: Elizabeth, I believe you.

1. This debate would be non-existent if Warren did not look White, but instead "looked Indian" or at least "looked like a minority" (apart from having high cheekbones) according to our larger society (i.e. more like the Cleveland Indians' racist mascot?)

2. I see nothing wrong with Elizabeth Warren saying she's an American Indian. Or not. Or with her choice to self-identify differently in different contexts. One need not be an enrolled member of a federally-recognized tribe, nor meet the supposed "Indian" looks criteria of Central Casting to be able to legitimately identify as a "real" American Indian. There are plenty of "real" Indians who have been kicked out of their tribes, not to mention the sad history of forced assimilations. And yes, folks can pass for White and still be Indians. Period. End of story.

3. It may be there are folks out there who "check the box" for whom active racial discrimination is not their lived reality. This does not mean that affirmative action serves no purpose, or is not working, it merely means it is imperfect tool. But so far no one has a better, more cost-effective tool for dismantling White supremacy (short of ending Legacy preferences in higher ed admissions, but I digress).

4. We all get to choose how we racially self-identify. If we throw Warren under the bus, we'll have to ask ourselves: Are we prepared to start telling people when they may or may not identify as a member of a racial group? Do we really want to go back to the One Drop Rule?

5. The suggestion that Warren was either lying or unethical when she self-identified as American Indian because she supposedly has not suffered the prejudice common to the group suggests an exercise in Identity Policing I am not at all comfortable with.

6. What's next - make everyone submit to genealogical DNA testing a la Henry Louis Gates's delightful TV program? My own test results would be a mix of Caucasian, Asian, and American Indian. I look like a less attractive Mariah Carey - Whites generally think I'm Caucasian, sometimes Asians see me as Asian. My kids can claim membership in all those racial groups plus Latino. I don't want anyone but them choosing how they themselves get to self-identify.

That's all.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Infant Adoption on Short Notice

Wow. My BFF2, who recently underwent successful cancer treatment on top of an unsuccessful, 5-year-long fertility struggle, just found out yesterday that her and her DH's dream is about to come true. They are going to be able to adopt a healthy, 4-month-old little boy via a private adoption. Happy Mother's Day indeed!

Little dude will be there in one week. Hallelujah, but also OMG. This is the shortest notice of an adoption I've ever heard of (obviously, the legal aspects will officially take much longer, not to mention the risk of the teen biomom changing her mind...). But they're optimistic, and have to proceed as though it's happening.

BFF2's DH emailed everyone with kids asking what to buy? How to prepare? Holy cow, HELP?!

What have you got, readers? (I made a short list, I'll post mine after hearing some of yours.)

Happy Mother's Day!!!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Communication Breakdown, non-profit edition

Went to a very uncomfortable local non-profit board meeting last night, and am thanking my lucky stars that my term on this board is up at the end of the month. While the connections I've made there have been helpful to my own business (hurrah), I'm so glad to be done with it. Long story short, among other community projects, this board oversees a preschool, and the discussion last night was whether and how to find a new teacher for this preschool because the current one showed her ass recently.

Actually, come to think of it, this is an exemplar of Podunkville culture, so I should give some more details.

I've met this preschool teacher a few times and am not a fan. She has a passive aggressive style, and is a horrendously poor communicator. She also lacks some of the basic certifications that other local preschool teachers have, and is therefore not someone I personally would have hired, but I digress.

At last month's board meeting, the teacher came to the board and epically "kitchen sinked" the room - screaming and crying for nearly an hour about how she has been unhappy for the last 2 years but until that night she had never once said anything about it and she had been asked countless times. She isn't sure she wants to continue teaching all 4 classes anymore, and she went on about how her mom came to one of the classes with her and told her "these families are taking advantage of you" and she suddenly left, in tears, before the board could finish responding. With only 6 weeks left in the school year, she sent a rude mass email to the school community ordering families not to arrive even a minute early, and that once class was over everyone needs to leave the school immediately so she could prepare for the next class arriving 2 hours later - nevermind if a mother needs to sit down and finish nursing her baby - they can "go to the coffeeshop down the street" (in direct violation of the awesome state law protecting the rights of nursing mothers in places of public accommodation.) Naturally, the preschool community feels really alienated by the shitty way she chose to air these concerns that have clearly been bothering her for so long. My conclusion is she is someone who just doesn't get it. Compounding this, she is in her 30's and this is her first full-time paying job after college. I get the sense that she lacks the personal and work experience that would allow her to distinguish between mountains and molehills. Privately, I was left wondering if she could benefit from a psych consult - she seemed unhinged and I felt sad for her.

Why does this person still have a job? One of the positive and negative things about Podunkville culture is that people in authority are afraid to be assholes, and firings of "nice" people - even those who break the law - happen in only the most extreme cases, and after a lot of rumination. It's a culture that makes change hard. Maybe it is also like this elsewhere, but having lived only in larger cities before, this is the first place I've encountered it.

Anyway, I feel awful for the families who are now wondering if it will be ok to leave their kids with her.

Gah. This is why I want to teach my kids effective communication skills - so they can learn how to speak their truth and to constructively problem solve in a way that doesn't poison relationships.

Anyone ever been there, done that?