Category Archives: Diversity

Passport of Whiteness

“…At present large numbers of the offspring of immigrants, even those born here in Britain, remain integrated in the immigrant community which links them with their homeland overseas. With every passing year this will diminish. Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still. Unless he be one of the small minority – for number, I repeat again and again, is of the essence – he will by the very nature of things have lost one country without gaining another, lost one nationality without acquiring a new one. Time is running against us and them. With the lapse of a generation or so we shall at last have succeeded – to the benefit of nobody…” Enoch Powell, Conservative 1968″

That is an excerpt from Powell’s famous November 16, 1968 speech, several months after his April address in Birmingham titled: “Rivers of Blood”. Powell crafted this piece as a response to what he saw as the shrinking of Merry Ole England and “The Englishman.” He grew up during World War I living through a King’s abdication, World War II, the creation of the National Health Services and the death of Winston Churchill, seeing not so much the British Empire’s stalwartness of its colonial and imperial empire but rather a shrinking loss of identity due to an ever growing immigrant population creating a sense of powerlessness or what some may call xenophobia. Sounds familiar?

Indo-Asians (Indians, Pakistani’s etc.) and Caribbean islands still owned by the Empire (the mother country) Imperialized and Colonized, migrated with the promise of better conditions, earning potential and overall improved quality of life. Education was the hook especially for their children; dreams of becoming a barrister, a nurse or aspirations of becoming a doctor and if that failed manufacturing would get them a better life in the “mother land”.

Authors like my fellow countryman Pinckney descendants of the first immigrants of Powell’s time straddle countries with a firm grasp of living in the gray. Crafting a keen and innate optic for tensions between xenophobia and racism due to growing up under the constant reminder of being a UK citizen by birth but by no stretch of the imagination never an Englishman.

In my experience it’s not impossible to separate Xenophobia from Race. However there are so many shades and hues of people with attributed negative associations of origin, it is easy to succumb to the simplistic reduction of either or both as the intersection is too taxing for some to unpack. More so it means the re-evaluation of their/one’s place in the ever changing social construct, causing the ground beneath them to shake in a manner they have never experienced. Resulting in a form of blind patriotism under the guise of the protection of their “way of life”, a racist code imbedded in language.

All hues of black and brown in America has been met with some form of both xenophobia and race(ism). Pre-9/11 the optics were black and Mexican (outside of urban environments), in major cities, Dominicans, Chileans, Colombians fell under the umbrella of Puerto Rican. Then everyone else were the Blacks, didn’t matter which part of the diaspora one was from it was, “Blacks.”

Even with the global back drop of Iran-Contra, War torn Sierra Leone (the fruits of the British Empire); under a shadow of a cold war where the only real xenophobic threat was the Soviet Union (Ruskies). Within the borders the intersection of race and xenophobia was central to black/brown skin. The fear perpetuated around black bodies derived from a racial classification creating two pillars that have continually feed each other to the demise race relations and increased intolerance of anyone remotely related to being an immigrant. 

Post 9/11 shifted not only the optics but an emotional base central to xenophobia and racism in the form of a major identity crisis. Identification and classification became the lens through which the new social construct of a supposed new enemy was purported and cemented. Under the guise of protectionism, tapping into the xenophobia catalyzed by 9/11 the emergence of racial discrimination took hold to varying groups from Arab nations and the likes. In fact, the global impact, London, France, Germany, initially Europe and allies gave way to behaviors of old. The underbelly is a subtle narrative as an attack on white (male) power, privilege and preservation.

Darryl Pinckney’s, The Passport of Whiteness http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/09/20/the-passport-of-whiteness/, picks apart the tensions between the protectors of whiteness and those seekers of a better future who by default succumb to a normative acculturation process. However, the gatekeepers and standard bearers under the guise of “immigration policy”, “homeland security” and “patriotism” message xenophobia wrapped in racism reminded Arab born, Mexican born, Indian born Americans, they may be citizens by law but they will never be “American”. Pinckney’s point, “we live in the wake of profound population movement” could not be truer. Nationals are no longer determined by pigmentation. One only need to look at football (soccer) matches, Premier League to international competitions like the World Cup or the Olympics and you see various hues of all colors that do not align with stereotypes of old. However, when we drill down or magnify if you will, respective countries carry a stain synonymous with the United States and its history of the cancer of racism. Pinckney lifts this up:

“…Europe doesn’t have a Muslim problem. It has a race problem. One that doesn’t get talked about, a history that doesn’t get connected to what is going on today…It has also been true of American life that one of the ways in which despised white immigrants gained acceptance and a share in national identity was by subscribing to the racial order of segregation…”

His insight while not new is refreshing as he is a new voice for me with a shared experience, optics and an experiential/empirical analysis that confirms I’m not going mad. In addition, this piece confirms much of what I experience is not “inside out” but rather “outside in” which he captures beautifully in closing remarks:

“…Everyone knows we are a nation of immigrants that immigrants are good for the economy, and that freedom seekers are our kin. What is sad is not the subscription on the part of so many to old settler attitudes, but that I had not thought that all those debates that we read about as nineteenth- or early twentieth-century history are back, to take a final stand. We did not think the ideal of liberal democracy, the open society, would have to be fought for all over again…”

In many ways I am reminded by the great late James Baldwin and one of his many profound statements:

“The American ideal of progress is measured by how fast I can become white.” James Baldwin

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Race – “Not some cheesy contest”

Dear blog followers and new readers the following entry is from guest blogger Jim Naremore. Jim is well know to the Indianapolis community. He is Partner and Director at 3rd Sector Consulting and WhitepaperBluesky:  http://whitepaperbluesky.com/

Jim Naremore (dba 3rd Sector Consulting), BA, Indiana University and graduate work in film studies and psychology, offers 25 years experience in public and private social change including the arts, environmental action and community development.

Dominant  American  culture  in  general,  and  the  dominant  Indianapolis  status  quo  in   particular,  seem  to  have  become  especially  enamored  lately  with  the  idea  of   competition.    This  seems  somewhat  counter  to  the  loudly  stated  “anti-­‐bully”  push   we’ve  seen  in  recent  years,  since  the  basal  notion  of  competition  in  the  social  setting   largely  stems  from  school-­‐yard  survival  of  the  fittest;  a  sort  of  adhoc  social   Darwinism  is  taking  place.     This  is  particularly  troubling  when  bully  based,  voyeuristic  competition  begins  to   spill  over  into  the  very  serious  “arena”  (there’s  a  competition  metaphor  illustrating   the  point)  of  social  progress  or  social  change.

We’ve  become  awash  in  “competitions”,  “challenges”,  and  “contests”  here  in   Indianapolis  in  the  last  few  years  when  we  take  up  the  questions  of  how  to  improve   our  community  and  our  society.    The  most  recent  example  is  the  Spirit  And  Place   festival’s  “A  Competition  about  Race”  contest  where  twenty  thousand  dollars  will  be   awarded  to  the  winning  idea  dealing  with  the  issue  of  the  “race  dialog”  and   centering  around  the  large  theme  of  “risk”.    We’ve  seen  it  in  every  aspect  of   community  and  social  efforts:  education,  community  development,  public  art,  etc.,   etc.

Why?

Probably  a  lot  of  reasons.

First  realize  that  the  masters  of  the  competition  (the  Caesar  of  the  gladiatorial   contest)  are  invariably  status  quo  groups:  corporations,  foundations,  government   agencies,  enormous  organizations,  dominant  social  classes,  or  some  combination  or   defacto  creation  of  all  of  the  above.    A  “competition”  loudly  trumpeted  by  these   status  quo  groups  to  deal  with  issues,  problems  or  questions  that  they  themselves   either  created  or  profit  from  allows  them  to  buy  off  a  tremendous  amount  of  guilt   without  a  lot  of  cost  to  themselves.    “We  are  allowing  citizens/neighborhoods/the   people  the  chance  to  come  up  with  their  own  answers  to  these  problems!    Aren’t  we   magnanimous  and  of-­‐the-­‐people?”    In  reality  what  they’re  saying  is  “We  don’t   really  want  to  spend  a  great  deal  of  effort  to  deal  with  this  stuff,  since  we’re  okay   with  it  anyway.    You  do  it  for  us.”    And  when  the  idea  fails  (which  it  usually  does   because  its  inherently  sabotaged  by  the  status  quo)  it  allows  them  to  say:  “Ah,  well,   we  tried!    Gave  it  our  best  effort.    It  won  a  CONTEST  after  all.    You  can’t  blame  us.”    It   essentially  allows  the  powers  that  be  to  check  a  box  on  their  to  do  lists.

The  second  thing  these  competitions  do  is  limit  the  communication.    What  “The  best   and  most  well-­‐conceived  idea  wins!”  really  does  for  the  status  quo  is  solve  this   problem:  “We  really  don’t  have  time  for  all  you  whiners.    There’s  too  many  of  you.     Pick  one  representative  so  we  can  deal  with  them  and  not  waste  our  time.”

Most  importantly,  competitions  ALWAYS  provide  the  safest  and  most  acceptable   idea  or  answer  for  the  status  quo.    Always.    Competitions  are  by  their  nature  tightly controlled  and  organized.    They  have  lots  of  rules.    Rules  created  and  over-­‐seen  by   the  “competition  committee”  which  is  nothing  but  the  status  quo  to  begin  with.    This   prevents  messy  disorganized  out-­‐of-­‐the  box  solutions.    And  most  obviously,  all   competitions  have  to  be  “judged”.    Who  are  the  judges?    Usually  either   representatives  of  the  organizers  (with  a  few  safe  tokens  for  the  community  tossed   in)  or  a  popularity  contest  where  the  person  with  the  most  Facebook  friends  wins,   or,  in  the  rare  cases  where  the  judging  is  actually  done  by  the  people  with  the  most   to  really  gain  from  the  answer  (I  mean  besides  the  status  quo,  who  always  have  the   most  to  gain),  the  rules  are  so  tightly  manipulated  or  created  that  its  impossible  not   to  choose  the  status  quo’s  entry.

At  this  point  someone  usually  says:  “But  resources  are  so  limited.    We  have  to  focus   our  efforts  on  one  or  two  ideas  to  get  the  most  bang  for  our  minimal  bucks,  right?     Competitions  are  the  best  and  fairest  way  to  do  this.”

Putting  aside  the  real  question:  “Why  are  resources  so  limited  if  this  is  really  an   important  issue?”  for  a moment…

No.    Competitions,  challenges  and  contests  are  spectacularly  bad  ways  of  getting   solutions  to  social  issues.    So  much  so  it  should  be  obvious  that  they  are  precisely   the  WRONG  way  of  going  about  it.

The  first  thing  these  contest  do  is  guarantee  only  one  (or  a  minimal  number)  of   “winners”.    With  real  pressing  problems  facing  society  (all  of  us)  we  need  to  have  as   many  potential  ideas  as  possible  working  at  the  same  time.    A  correlation  to  this   problem  is  that  competitions  automatically  brand  all  non-­‐winning  ideas  “losers”.    Its   really  tough  for  a  “losing”  idea  to  gain  traction  anywhere  else  even  if  its  really  a  good   idea  over-­‐looked  by  a  bad  contest  or  bad  judgment  especially  when  potential   funders  or  early  adopters  are  sometimes  wrapped  up  in  the  contest  in  the  first   place.    There  should  be  no  “losers”,  all  ideas  have  great  value  and  we  should  not   jettison  them  or  ignore  them.

They  don’t  always  give  us  the  best  solution,  either.    The  bigger  the  contest  the  more   likely  you  are  to  see  the  winner  being  the  one  with  the  best  marketing  or  packaging   or  frame  (the  one  that  knows  how  to  play  the  “game”  best)  winning.    Often  that  has   little  or  nothing  to  do  with  the  actual  quality  of  the  solution  presented.

Secondly,  contests  play  into  our  cultural  disease  of  minute  attention  span.    A  contest   allows  for  basically  ephemeral  effort.    “We  only  have  to  focus  our  attention  as  a  large   community  until  the  next  contest  comes  along.”    This  creates  the  atmosphere  of   short-­‐term  community  (city-­‐wide)  attention  rather  than  long-­‐term  thinking  and   exploration  and  trial  and  error  experimentation  with  multiple  ideas.

Lastly,  and  most  insidiously,  a  competition  or  challenge  or  contest  absolutely   inherently  cheapens  or  demeans  the  very  issue  it  sets  out  to  address.    Contests  or   competitions  are  basically  entertainment  vehicles.    As  the  leader  of  the  Central Indiana  Community  Foundation  recently  stated  “People  love  winners  and  losers”.     The  idea  comes  from  sports.    Entertainment.    Issues  like  race  or  education  or   poverty  or  hunger  or  community  empowerment  are  not  there  for  entertainment   purposes.    The  dominant  social  class  and  the  monied  status  quo  are  not  really  sitting   around  enjoying  watching  people  with  real  ideas  fight  it  out  over  peanuts  and  then   saying  “That  was  fun.    Is  American  Idol  on  yet?”  are  they?    The  notion  of  an   “entertaining  contest  that  people  will  enjoy  because  we  all  love  winners  and  losers”   in  order  to  promote  social  progress  is  really  disgusting.

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“We Are City” Summit – Are We?

“It is virtually impossible to pass a day in the United States without making use of race. Race is the main characteristic most Americans use to classify each other. It is the first or second thing we notice about a stranger we pass on the street or a new acquaintance approaching to shake our hand. Race determines which church most Americans attend, where they buy a house, the persons they choose to marry, whom they vote for, and the music they listen to. Race is evident in the color of inner-city and suburban schools, prison populations, the U.S. Senate, and Fortune 500 boardrooms…” Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How science, politics and big business re-create race in the twenty-first century, September 2011.

Last month in my two-part blog titled: An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy, one of my central points was inclusion  and parity of under-represented people of color and minorities in the public service sector, economic and community development, nonprofits and philanthropic industries. Working from a premise of “Nothing about us, without us” I attempted to highlight in part, how the lack of diversity in leadership (central and key positions) plays a role in communities of color being and remaining on the margins.

Last month I attended the “We are City” Summit and much like Erika Smith, Metro Columnist for the Indianapolis Star, “I didn’t fully know what to expect when I walked into the Harrison Center for the Arts on Friday (9-21-2012) for the five-hour-long We Are City Summit.” (Indy Star: 9-22-2012). 

We are City – Summit

What I was not hoping for, was an experience and audience similar to the likes of the Urbanized Summit. Held last year at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), the attendance was limited in diversity and was comprised of the usual suspects. “We are City” displayed a focus of “Advancing ideas that make a better city”. However, like the Urbanized Summit, the company was sparse on diversity; so much that I could count the number of people of color in the room (including the several the presenters) on one hand.  Yet this was “We Are City” Summit“.  Not even a quarter of the persons in the room, let alone the majority) looked like me, nor many others like me, engaged and invested in Indianapolis. I proceeded to transcend this reality to focus on the day’s presentations, opportunities to fellowship with colleagues and peers and engage in “real talk”; a main ingredient in advancing neighborhoods, communities and cities.

Scanning the program, I immediately noticed the list of presenters was more diverse than the make-up of the audience. In addition, 50% of them were from other mature city’s such as: Boston, New York City, Cleveland & Pittsburgh. What a contrast, that the presenters at a summit entitled “We are City”, should be more diverse than the audience in the room.  What does this say about the planning process, the event organizers and sponsor perception of “We are City?” Why was there such a sparse representation in the audience of  people color? Was I the only one who noticed this glaring reality of lack of representation? Or is this  audience the true representation of the citizenry “We are City” envision’s for Indianapolis’ growth and development?

None-the-less, the presenters were awesome, diverse and unique in their respective fields and producing ideas impacting and propelling their respective City’s forward. Let me first apologize to the last presenters  Medrick Addison, Brad Beaubien and Michael Huber for missing their presentations. I was obligated to another appointment. I worked with Brad, a fine educator and urban planner, on the Mid-North Quality of Life Plan and Michael and I served on a panel together: The Lasting Legacy, discussing the lasting legacy of the Super Bowl.  http://www.wfyi.org/TheLastingLegacy.asp.  More importantly, Michael is an avid EPL (English Premier League) follower, making for good football talk.

The Summit was divided into three sections, Measure, Interpret and Connect. The work these presenters are engaged in and suggesting is impactful in making Cities inclusive, collective, livable, artistic, practical and a base of learning and critical inquiry, all the while being relevant.

Nigel Jacob (Measure), Senior Advisor for Emerging Technologies to the Mayor of Boston, in part focused on emerging technologies inclusive of citizens; describing specifically designed phone applications allowing citizens to interface with City Hall in real-time. For example, one particular application enables residents to capture and upload photographs of infrastructure needs for their community.  Another application allows a city worker to upload images upon completion of a repair, building or infrastructure project. My favorite was the  app that tracts bumps in the road as one drives; sending real-time information back to the City to determine and report the stress level of that street or thoroughfare. (http://www.cityofboston.gov/mayor)

Oliver “Olly” Blank (Interpret) a composer, born in Manchester,  lived in London and now resides in both New Orleans and Helsinki. His music is the environment; created by his ability to build “sound toys” that can transform city noise into a symphony. His compositions can  be found in various piazza’s in parts of Europe, adding calmness to the hustling, fast paced and sometimes scary places (especially to those getting used to city living). During break, we were able to engage in some “real talk” with Valeria Magilevich. We shared various experiences about living in a city, especially being individuals of color. We talked about Indianapolis and its current phase as a developing city. We compared and contrasted New York City, London and Indianapolis and of course we talked football (soccer). Actually, it was my second question to Oliver, “So Manchester City or Manchester United?” His answer, “United man!” Music to my ears, from there we cracked on. mroliverblank.com/

Oliver Blank

Oliver Blank

Javier Barrera, founding board member of Latino Youth Collective,  shared an insightful presentation as to why increasing Transit Oriented Development (TOD) can be both user-friendly, essential, relative and lucrative. His opening remarks drove home a cultural difference. Drawing  on his experience growing up in Veracruz, Mexico where all youth use public transport to get to and from school; elementary school through college. Unlike the U.S. (Indianapolis included), school busing has become a necessary evil. Busing provides some sense of safety for the children but also decreases their ability to learn, explore and connect to other  parts of the City through experiences. His presentation was simple: turn bus stops and buses into wi-fi hot spots. While waiting for the bus, students of all ages would be able to complete homework, prepare presentations or do coursework from GED to SAT to GRE/GMAT.

In addition, since in most cases students will have at least a one hour trip (given current transit patterns), the buses could be equipped with the same wi-fi, allowing connectivity to continue during the ride.  User-friendly and essential, these options allow students to make use of their waiting time, then carrying their work onto the bus when it arrives. Lucrative, this system would increase ridership for Indygo; supporting the need for increased routes and current discussion around developing a light rail system.  The Latino Collective is a program that provides opportunities for youth to engage in community development through critical pedagogy, grassroots organizing and collective action. http://www.latinoyouthcollective.com/

Valeria Magilevich, Program Director at Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) (Measure), was by far my favorite presenter, sorry Olly! In reviewing the summit with my colleagues, it was determined that she presented material that was most connected to “the work on the ground”; developing a  base of learning and critical inquiry, civic engagement and action. CUP creates projects that demystify the city’s complex system in an effort to increase meaningful civic engagement. Their project-based learning and community engagement works with youth and adults throughout the city, on everything from What happens after one flushes the toilet? to What is affordable housing? And what does it mean for you? Using physical objects as tools of education, learning, decision-making and actions, CUP empowers youth, adults and low-communities on current issues which impact their well-being.  As Valeria said, “We are making policy public” and addressing economic and community development – “nothing about us, without us.” http://welcometocup.org/

“Nothing about us, without us!” captures my earlier point of “We are City Summit” being grounded on a premise “to advance ideas that make a better city” yet lacking important representation from other ethnicity’s and cultural groups. These groups make up the social and economic fabric of Indianapolis. As we know, there is a strong East Indian contingency in this city, an equally strong Caribbean cohort and likewise, a strong African and Latino base, which adds daily to the growth and development of Indianapolis

“Nothing about us, without us!”  Sitting there I wondered why various resident and organizational stakeholders were not present in the audience (or participating as presenters). Anthony Beverly, Executive Director of Stop the Violence, works to decrease gun violence in the city. Working tirelessly with his own resources, offering workshops in working with gangs in an effort to turn in guns. Stop the Violence presents alternatives to youth in communities fallen victim to the science of social deprivation, a place “We are City” has yet to visit. (http://www.stoptheviolenceindy.com/).

Imhotep Adisa, Executive Director of Kheprw Institute participates in the Mid-North Quality of Life Plan. Kheprw’s organization mantra is “Community Empowerment through Self Mastery”. This simply means, the things we ourselves can do and improve upon, can lead to community empowerment. Kheprw Institute includes Ki NuMedia, an entrepreneurial youth engagement medium, providing local website building and printing services. KI’s “Real Talk” focuses on current social issues and Friday night at 317 Cafe: Omni-mic allows young and old  artists to come together and share vision, experiences, pain and dreams through spoken word or whatever medium one chooses. KI places specific focus on documenting and discussing the complexities of  issues facing our time. The Institute has ventured into Aquaponics; connecting education to entrepreneurship.  In addition, KI Community School and The Ki EcoCenter, houses the majority of the Kheprw Institute’s initiatives.(http://kiecocenterorg.ipage.com/kheprwhome/)

Imhotep Adisa

Imhotep Adisa

“Nothing about us, without us!”Brightwood Entertainment, Tyrone Davis editor and publisher of, Twenty4Seven magazine in Martindale-Brightwood. This local entrepreneur, holds a full-time job, hosts a local radio show “The Cut” and manages a hip-hop magazine of local artists and events in his spare time. Tyrone, has a passion for Indianapolis and understands the challenges of developing a big cities uses of creative and safe spaces.  (http://www.brightwoodentertainment.com/). My list could go on as I am sure the list for the sponsors and organizers must have been exhaustive.

“’We Are City’ is an effort to build consensus around a variety of topics, to form a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis,” said Michael Kaufmann, director of special projects and civic investment at Health and Hospital Corporation, one of the co-founders and organizers of the event. “The goal is to propel us forward through both an analysis of our past, an acknowledgment of our present, and a hope for our future.” (IBJ News Release – August 30, 2012)

The “We are City” Summit may have started the process of building consensus around these topics. As for creating  a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis, it will surely have to include a broader, more inclusive and reflective audience in a City that is moving toward a majority minority. If the hope for this City’s future is centered around truly shared values of all stakeholders, cultures and ethnicity’s  propelling Indianapolis forward, “We are City” will require an even more thorough  analysis and acknowledgement of the present, with a willingness to move outside of its traditional relationships and comfort zones.

I think William Sloan Coffin Jr. activist and clergyman, captured the challenge facing Indianapolis’ organizers and sponsors of “We are City” as it advances ideas that make a city better:  

“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without”

 

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