Diverse Representation on TV: Don’t Forget about the Kids

Doc McStuffinsOver the last several years, at least to my knowledge, there has been a big push to see more representation of people of color and immigrants on television. And this is good. As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, there is a need to see faces of television that actually reflect the makeup of the U.S. population. In addition, racial and cultural diversity on television challenges the longstanding and destructive ‘whiteness equals rightness’ frame, instead honoring and valuing the talents of persons of all ethnicities.

With diversity as our vision or proverbial Promised Land, many of us nodded in appreciation when SNL finally added a black female voice to their cast, Sasheer Zamata, and subsequently added two black females writers, LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones. And we’ve heaped unquanitifiable praise on Shonda Rhymes for her role in creating black female leading characters in shows such as Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder as well as well as the contributions of Lee Daniels (Empire) and Kenya Barris (Blackish).

These are only a few examples of shows that have centered and elevated the voice of people of color of recent. While it seems that we have enjoyed a semblance of success here, the reality is that we have a long way to go as Viola Davis so poignantly pointed out in her acceptance speech at the Emmy’s this fall. Said Davis:

In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’

That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity (emphasis mine). You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Davis’ statement rings true in so many ways and not only for adult actors looking to headline the next big sitcom. Racial and cultural diversity is also lacking in shows and movies specifically geared toward children. Of the channels such as Disney, PBS, and Nickelodeon that cater to a young audience, very few of them have shows where the leading characters are people of color. While people of color, if we are lucky, may decorate the background or school hallways in many of these shows, our voice, perspective, and culture are largely missing.

This undoubtedly has a negative impact on children, most notably of color but white ones, too. When children of color can’t see themselves reflected in something as basic as the T.V. screen, it sends a message – whether intentional or not – about who they are and their value to society. When little white girls with long hair and blue eyes are all that little black girls see, they can begin to internalize negative feelings of self worth because they are nothing like the little white girl that they see. And while this notion may seem to be superficial or exaggerated to some, the reality is that children are like sponges and soak up so much knowledge and information around them. At a young age, children have already formed ideas of beauty and intelligence based on what they see and hear around them. Such is the reason why when psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, conducted the Doll Test in the 1940s on a group of children ranging from 3 to 7 years old, they found that black children overwhelmingly chose and preferred the white doll to the black doll. While the test was administered over 60 years ago, children of color still prefer the white doll to the black one. This suggests that children of color are still internalizing negative messages about themselves based on what they continue to see and hear. Television is just one of the spaces that perpetuates those negative messages and it has everything to do with who is seen and who is not seen on the screen.

When white kids only see themselves, they continue to normalize their experience while otherizing the existence of others. This is especially true when the few images of children of color are ones that play to existing, negative stereotypes. In the first several months of Disney’s ‘Girl Meets World,’ the show failed to highlight or include characters of color in meaningful ways. Yet in episode 12 of the show, ‘Girl Meets the Forgotten,’ a black woman is brought to the show who plays the role of a cafeteria worker. And in episode 13, ‘Girl Meets Flaws,’ a young, black boy is brought to the show and portrayed as a bully. In another Disney show that ran for a few years, ‘ANTS,’ the only black boy on the show – Cameron – was often portrayed as dumb, socially awkward, and undesirable similarly to the way that Ernie is on ‘K.C. Undercover.’ These examples prove that when children of color are there, they are sometimes only there to fulfill some racial trope and validate whiteness.

This is not to say that empowering images of children of color do not exist. on T.V. They do – but they are few and far between. There are really only a handful of shows, including cartoons, that prominently feature and value children of color in a sea of programs that consider whiteness the default of the human experience. Diverse images have to be more than Doc McStuffins and Dora the Explorer – by the way, have you noticed that images of white girls are often marketed on toy packages with them instead of girls of color? And actors of color have to consist of more than Zendaya, in spite of how fabulous she is, and the Williams brothers (Everybody Hates Chris and Instant Mom). Indeed, by 2020, children of color are expected to represent more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. Our images on T.V. should at the very least mirror the beautiful reality of diversity in our society.

On Kindergarten and Little Black Girls

diversepreschool-585x296My daughter started kindergarten last week. And it was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was excited to see her transition out of daycare into the formal system of education – a transition that clearly indicated that my precious five year old, the one who I carried for 9 months, nursed for 2 years, and with whom I have spent untold hours reading to, potty training, and you know, general caring for, was growing up. On the other hand, I was a nervous wreck because for the first time in her life she would be under the instruction of a white teacher within a white institution, and I would not be able to be present to protect, love, and guide her through it.

I have heard the stories from parents and educators alike who have witnessed first hand the intrinsic racial bias that is displayed towards students of color. While this bias may not be overt, meaning that it is often not intentional or done from a place of malice, it operates in such a way that targets students of color, limiting their ability to be well and flourish in the same ways that their white classmates do. It does this by drawing on stereotypes about people of color to form conclusions about behavior, culture, and values – conclusions that are inaccurate because the premise from which they were formed assumes that children of color are either always in the wrong or in the perpetual need of white saviors. These negative assumptions are more than simply wrong but absolutely destructive to students whose young minds who are so malleable.

As I mentioned, one of the things that shows that racial bias is evident in the system of education is the high rate of suspensions among black and brown students. In Minneapolis alone, where my daughter is enrolled in school, 400 students from kindergarten and first grade were suspended in the last school year up from 246 in the previous year. And the racial disparity in these suspension is significant. Data from the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership reports that “in 2012, the suspension rates for white males, who make up about 18% of the enrolled student population was at 3.4%. But for African American males who make up about 19% of the enrolled student population, similar to their white male counterparts, the suspension rate was 18.7%.” The disparity between white and black students suggests that there is significant bias when interpreting the behaviors of our youngest scholars. Things that are seen as misdirected but innocent behavior in white students are seen as disruptive and maladaptive behaviors in students of color.

But inappropriate disciplinary action is just one evidence of racial bias in the education system. Racial bias also exists in the macro and micro slights that occur on a daily basis, gradually chipping away at the esteem and confidence of students of color. It’s in whom students are perceived to be before they even walk through the door. Depending on racial or cultural background, some students are treated as if they have a handicap or are in need of some tailored approach to learning simply because they do not possess a ‘traditional’ American name. My daughter and I experienced this last year when we went in to assess her kindergarten readiness. For some reason, the student placement center thought that she was Somali (even though I told them she wasn’t) and issued her an assessment test geared for Somali students. Even after I fought hard for them to change it, they were slow in doing so.

It’s also in the curriculum that is taught and the books that are read and offered to the students. For the most part, black and brown faces are missing from these stories but when they are there, they mostly defer to some racial and/or cultural stereotype about who we are. Such is the case with the books being offered by Reading Horizons, a Utah-based company that specializes in literacy training which Minneapolis Public Schools has a contract with. The books project highly offensive narratives about people of color, immigrants, and women as well (thank you teachers for standing up to that nonsense)!

Lest some misguided reader suggest that the problem lies in Minneapolis’ Public Schools or in public schools in general, let me assert that racial bias in education is vast and widespread. It Racial bias in education rears its ugly head in private, charter, faith-based, and alternative schools across our nation. And yet, America’s system of education is just one tool in the hands of a white supremacist society, perpetually committed to minimizing, silencing and destroying the lives of people of color for profit in order to benefit wealthy white men.

Now, I guess, one can probably understand and perhaps sympathize with my fear in sending my daughter off to school. Over the years, her father and I have gone through great lengths to ensure that she has a healthy understanding of herself: we’ve affirmed that she is beautiful, valuable, intelligent, curious, funny, and so much more. We’ve taught her the beauty that is inherent in her skin color and the curl pattern of her hair which is prone to much shrinkage. We’ve told her that she can achieve anything that she puts her mind to and that she should never say ‘I can’t do it’ but rather ask for help. She is learning that she has a rich cultural history spanning two nations – America and Nigeria and she is thoroughly interested in learning Yoruba, her father’s language. And we’ve told her times without number how much God loves her and how much God delights in her and how much she is fearfully, wonderfully, and beautifully made. This she knows. But I know that she has just entered a system bent on telling her the exact opposite of all that I’ve worked to instill in her.

Perhaps I should take an act of faith. Maybe I should be more trusting and less skeptical. Probably. There are individual schools and teachers who are doing an amazing job and who are intentional about providing the best level of education to all of their students regardless of race, culture, or socioeconomic background. I believe my daughter’s school is one of those schools which is one of the reasons I was intentional in my selection process. These are rare, shining examples which deserve to be praised, uplifted, and modeled. Even so, the system, in spite of the great schools, the outstanding curriculum, and the award-deserving teachers, is flawed, and mostly so for students who look more so like my daughter. The individual stories of success get lost and are even severely impacted by a system bent on destructive – which is highly financed and politicized, further impeding the damage, another story for another day. 

So I don’t trust it. I can’t trust it. Having faith in the school system to do right by my daughter and all of those who look like her is like having faith in white supremacy to do the right thing. It just may not happen (soon). The burden of proof is in all of the students of color who walk through the doors of education and leave broken and wounded. So I am not hinging all of my faith here. That would be lunacy. Instead, I stay informed. I stay vigilant. I re-educate and supplement whatever the teacher is teaching with material of my own, books of my own, knowledge of my own. And I resist, I resist the notion that our kids can’t learn, that they are not up to par, that there is something inherently wrong with them because I know that is not true. And everyday, I make sure my daughter knows the same.

And if all else fails, there is always homeschooling!

Valuing Diversity is an Act of Worship

diversity_art_white

I was a junior in college the first time that I read Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. The Young Adult group out of the church that I attended at the time jumped on the 40 days of purpose bandwagon and committed to changing our twentysomething, chaotic lives (and mine at least, was certainly chaotic). As a group, we often discussed Warren’s short chapters over coffee in the evening, frequenting a nearby cafe which offered a basket of fresh, hot bread for only $2. Absolutely heaven for us struggling college students!

As to be expected, we didn’t make it very far in the book. We had other pressing matters such as school, dating, and other gossip, that dominated our time and eventually distracted us from completing the task at hand. Retiring the book from the group, I picked it up again several months later while I was in Argentina. And this time, unhindered by bread or the opposite sex, I finished it.

Truth be told, I don’t remember much of what it said. Sorry Mr. Warren! But the one idea that has stuck with me all of these years is the notion that I was created to bring pleasure to God. More specifically, I learned that regardless of what I do in life, my chief purpose is to worship God.

For those of us who come from a highly churched background, we probably see the word worship and instantly think about music and singing as we have been conditioned to believe that this is what worship means. The way that we express worship can include music, but in actuality, the essence of worship is about ascribing to God the worth that he is due. In worship, we express to God our sincerest appreciation for who He is and what He has made. Consider the words of King David (worshipper par excellence) in Ps. 8.3 – 8:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas (NASB).

As I read David’s words, I get a sense that he genuinely loved and appreciated God’s creation. David drew pleasure in watching the birds of the air fly across the sky and took great joy in seeing the sun set in that same sky, reflecting beautifully over the Jordan River. But I wonder if he ever expressed to God his appreciation for humanity, and more specifically, the diversity so deeply embedded in it. I also wonder if we ever do the same.

I wonder if we, as believers, ever stop to reflect back to God our awe for diversity. Do we ever stop to wholly appreciate the differences in culture, skin color, language, hair texture, gender, and so much more that are so vast across the human fabric? Do we see beauty and value (aside from commodified value) in each other’s experiences and worldview? Or are we quick to devalue and disregard anyone who is not like us, or who doesn’t support ideas that we are most comfortable with?

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that far too often the latter is the case. In every nation and place across the world, people cherish and value the things that are reflective of their own culture, their own ideas, their own experiences and ‘otherize’ the culture, ideas, and experiences of others. This otherization often leads to acts of violence and oppression, especially when power and resources are factored into the equation. And in the end, we end up destroying this magnificent, intricate human tapestry.

God made the oceans, the rivers, the birds, and the trees. And He also made you and me  – so complex and different from one another and its absolutely beautiful. Valuing this rich diversity is an act of worship. Cherishing our unique differences, instead of exploiting them, shows that we see wisdom in God’s handiwork. Like David, we ought to break out in song expressing the utmost gratitude and reverence over God’s ingenuity. To do anything less is the antithesis of what God has created us to do: worship Him.

The How

Nine months or so, I started a series called The Who, The What, The Why and the How. It is about inviting all persons, regardless of race, nationality, economic status, or religion even, to the communion table of the Lord, or rather into relationship with God. It is a three part series and was all written and ready to go. But then I went into labor, gave birth to our daughter (who is nine months old today), and got side tracked along the way. And so, I am here to finish what I started. I hope that the conclusion to this series will not only be intriguing and informative, but that it will inspire us all to remove the things that divide us and that perpetuate injustice, so that all can come to the table of the Lord. Enjoy!

The How

I realize that in saying that love is what is required that I must further explain myself. This is what I term The How and reflect on how we as believers are supposed to love one another as well as others in the way that Jesus did. I am not talking about the emotional, touchy feely type of love that is based more on how one feels at the moment. This emotional type of love is good and it is necessary, but it will not enable us to effectively love others who are unlike us. This emotional type of love will not cause us to invite people to the communion table of the Lord. In the slight chance that it does, it has more to do with whether or not the person conforms and assimilates to our own ideas and expectations of who they should be rather than who God already says they are. Instead, I am speaking of the sacrificial type of love, the type of love that motivates us to act on behalf of those who are despondent and hurting. This is the type of love that Jesus displayed throughout his ministry and Luke 4.18, 19 illustrates this perfectly saying:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

Jesus realized that it was going to take more than his preaching to bring people into the kingdom of God. He knew that the people that he would minister to had some serious needs and were need of repair. Without him touching those people with his actions, he knew that they would be lost. In my mind, this is why he spent time with those who were social outcasts such as prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and sinners. This is why he ministered to and comforted those who were lepers, those who were blind, and those who could not walk. And this is why he ultimately went to the cross, to undo the profound impact of sin on humankind. In this sacrifice, He truly set free all who were held captive and oppressed!

In my opinion, this passage does not just apply to Jesus but it applies to everyone who names his name in that God has also called us to set the oppressed free. Yet what does this look like in our own time and in our own context? Once again, I turn to the Epistles to see what the Apostle Paul has to say in this regard.

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27, 28, NASB).

“Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity
” (Ephesians 2.12-16, NASB).

As I examine both of these passages, I see that the blood of Christ has done something really profound. Not only has the shedding of his blood reconciled us to God, but it has also provided a means in which we can be reconciled to one another. No longer is there any distinction between Jew or Palestinian, Black or White, Hutu or Tutsi, slave or free, male or female and even Republican or Democrat. This means that God sees us all equally and responds to us in like manner, so that we should also treat one another in the same light. We do this by constantly tearing the walls of division and we do this by declaring to the world that we will no longer idly stand for the ill treatment of any one people group for the benefit of another.

When we do such, we proclaim that the communion table is an open invitation to all. I believe that Christ himself made such possible so that all would come. It is not His desire that anyone would perish on account of their sins but that all would enter into the abundance of eternal life with him. Yet once again, it bears repeating that the only way people can enjoy eternal life is through the blood of Christ. The blood that He shed must be applied to their hearts so that when the angel of death comes, and for every person this angel does come, they will not be swallowed up by the second death.

With this, I believe that it is also important to look at the totality of our actions and how we respond to people in general. In Ephesians 4 and 5, the Apostle Paul challenges the new believers to be careful of how they walk or how they live now that they are in Christ:

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity…let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you…be imitators of God…and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 4.25-27, 31-5.2, NASB).

We do not often realize how much our actions and words affect other people. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the fact that we do not care how others are affected just as long as our needs and wants are placated. Yet, this passage tells us that such a mindset is not only incorrect but gives the devil an opportunity to steal, kill and destroy our lives as well as the lives of those around us. We need to begin to conform our actions and our thoughts to a higher standard who is Christ. We need to desist from defrauding one another and when we are taken advantage ourselves, we have to let go of bitterness and hatred, and instead forgive. We ultimately need to begin to emulate God himself, becoming a people characterized by nothing less than love.

Next time you come to the communion table, I encourage you to remember these things. As you eat of the bread and drink of the cup, remember that this privilege is not for you and you alone but extends to all who are willing to call upon the name of Jesus and be saved. How might your actions be drawing people into the kingdom of God and of His Son Jesus or how might they be hindering people from coming near? Are you tearing down the calls of racism, classism, and sexism or are you building them up as a result of your own prejudice and misunderstanding of all that Christ has accomplished on your behalf? Are you divisive and bitter? Or are you loving and accepting, urging all to come, to eat, to be transformed, to be saved? As you reflect on these questions, it is my prayer that you, that we will begin to live in such a way that unbelievers are no longer discouraged by the misdeeds of the Church and will begin to come one by one, joining in with us as we together remember that it is because of Christ that we all have an opportunity to eat.

To read previous posts –
The Who, The What, The Why and the How
The What and the Why

An Invitation to All

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. “For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.
Luke 22.14- 23 NASB

As I reflect on the passage above, I take note of a few things that are going on. For starters, Jesus is celebrating the Passover with his disciples. In the Old Testament, the Passover was something that the Israelites were supposed to partake in to commemorate God bringing them out of the land of the Egyptians and more specifically delivering them from slavery (Exodus 12.1-13). This was a celebration of sorts that was especially for the Israelites in that God had only done this for them, even though others were invited to participate in the subsequent festival, the feast of weeks or Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16.1-12).

What I also take note of in this passage is that Jesus is instituting a new covenant of sorts. He connects the Passover lamb to himself, saying that his body has been broken and his blood has been spilled on behalf of them. I am sure that at this point the disciples really did not understand his words but within the next 24 hours or so they will understand as Jesus is nailed to the cross and dies on behalf of the sins of the whole world.

The difference between the Passover lamb of the Old Testament and that of the New is the intended audience or receivers. In the Old Testament, the Passover lamb’s intended audience was the Israelites and in the New Testament it is the whole world. Jesus did not just die for a select few but he died for all, bringing all persons to the communion table of the Lord so that all could partake, so that all could benefit, so that all could be saved!

Yet, not all come! This bothers me. It bothers me because as I see it Jesus has made it possible for all to draw near so that when the angel of death came, or the second death, they would not be consumed. Looking at another communion text in I Corinthians 11, I see that people were often prevented from coming to the table because of divisions that existed among the Corinthian Church. Although the situation in Corinth is unique to them, I believe that we could contextualize this to churches over the world and see that people, the lost, are prevented from coming to Christ because of things that are going on in the lives of those who claim to have partaken of this blessing.
Understanding this reality, I remind myself that my salvation is not unto myself. Jesus did not die just to bring me and mine into a relationship with God but he compels me to invite others into that relationship as well! I must constantly check my actions, my attitudes, my thoughts to make sure that they are ones that invite others to the same table from which I have received instead of ones that cause them to refuse it. I remember this during this Lenten season, drawing on the significance of the Last Supper and its implications on how I should subsequently live my life.

Reflections After a Job Interview


So I just got back from an interview with an organization that I have known and loved for quite some time. Periodically I go to their website to see if they have any openings and a few weeks ago, I noticed that they had an open position for an Administrative Assistant. Granted, I have no desire what so ever to be an Administrative Assistant and have actually had several arguments with my husband who thinks that I should apply for anything I have any experience in. However, as my time at my current employer draws to an end because of the economy, I grow more desperate and the desire I have to feed my family overwhelms me. So I apply.

Last week, I was called in for an interview for today at 1p.m. Since the organization is not so far from where I work, I leave 20 minutes or so before my appointment. Even though there is a pretty bad car accident that I encounter on my way there, I still arrive five minutes early. Great! I get to the place, explain to the receptionist that I have an interview and wait for a few minutes for the HR representative to come and get me.

Probably 10 minutes or so after my interview is due to start, the HR rep escorts me into their office. Introductory pleasantries are made and the interview commences. He asks me to tell him a little bit about myself which I do. And then he asks the question to end all other questions, “So why is a person with a Master’s Degree such as yourself applying for an administrative assistant position?” Du Du Dun!

I quickly recalibrate as I was not expecting to be asked this, or at least I hoped that I would not. I briefly ask myself whether or not I should give the right answer or the wrong answer. I opt for the wrong one. “Well you see, Mr. HR Representative. Even though I have a Masters, I have more volunteer experience than I do work experience and many organizations that I have been applying for are really seeking someone with more full-time work experience. And so my hope is that I can start out in an entry-level position such as this and work my way up into a position where I am able to work in the capacity that I desire.” It is not that this answer is a lie, as I am not in the habit of telling lies, it is just that this answer does not get at the heart of what is really going on.

I knew that if I told the right answer that the interview probably would have ended right there. But since it is done, here it goes – “Well, Mr. HR Representative. I know that I am over qualified for a position such as this, given my years of education and work experience. I know that my two internships with churches in the capacity of pastoral care and the like probably causes you to question why I am here. I know that my five years in sales with superior returns makes you wonder what is wrong with me. And I know that the passions, gifts, and talents that I bring to the table makes you think that I will probably leave your organization to work for another in a relatively short period of time. But the reality is that I am not hiring material.”

At this point he would probably ask me to explain myself. I continue – “Well you see, when I look around me at colleagues, friends, classmates, and peers, those who started off in college at the same place as me, at those who took the same risks as me and I see where they are and where I am not I have to conclude that I am not hiring material.

“When I spend hours and hours revising my resume, tweaking it until it is just right, applying for jobs that are beneath my qualifications, that require less education than I have, or even ones that fit just right and I am being turned down left and right, I have to conclude that I am not hiring material.

“When I see people around me get job offers and promotions, and raises, and so many other things for things that they have not worked hard for and I know, I know that I could do their job better than they if I were only given a chance, I have to conclude that I am not hiring material.

“You see, Mr. HR rep, when managers look at the top of my resume they see one thing that disqualifies me automatically regardless of the position that I am applying for. It does not matter if I am applying for a position as a pastor, organizer, administrative assistant, admissions counselor, banker, or whatever else, employers see one thing and one thing only – my name. Which tells them two things – I am an African American female.

“And so, if they have already integrated their workplace enough, hiring their quota of minorities or women, my resume is placed aside. Many times I do not ever hear anything, sometimes I receive letters and emails in the mail saying that they have gone with a different candidate. Yet the result is the same, and the proof is in the pudding, I am not hiring material.”

After my rant is done, the interview would most likely continue but I already know that I did not get the job. He would feel too guilty, too uncomfortable to bring me into his work place and honestly I would not blame him. Who wants to hire the angry black lady with a chip on her shoulders? But the reality is, and for so many others like me, that we are not getting hired. It does not matter what we bring to the table, it just is not happening. It was not happening before the recession, and it certainly is not in the midst of it.

They keep saying that the employment rate is down but I ask them to verify that fact among communities of color and of women. If the rate is down for them too, great, and maybe its just me falling on hard luck. But I am most certain that if we look carefully, the greater percentages of those unemployed today are those who probably look a little bit more like me. And it does not piss me off, actually, it causes me to weep because deep in my heart, I know that God created me for something bigger than this racist, sexist society that I live in whether others can see it or not. Yet, in spite of this what am I to do? Do I sit on my gifts, go hungry and poor, and start to depend on the systems of WIC, SNAP, and unemployment like so many others who are in my predicament. Or do I fight, keep fighting for not only my own justice, but for the justice of others who are most overlooked for the things that they cannot change on the top of their resume.

Stereotypes: Fact or Fiction

How do we distinguish between what is true or characteristic about a people or a culture, and what is a stereotype? This is a question that I ask myself periodically as I catch myself and others labeling an entire people group, nationality, gender or social class on account of a few interactions with people from that group. I find that such labeling comes rather easy for most of us in that as a people we are always looking for a way to associate with people, especially when we do not know much about them and where they are from. I mean, how easy is it for you to perhaps meet a few people from India and begin to see all Indians that way on account of the people that you just met. You may not know their language much less anything about their culture, but at least in your mind you know that they are a particular way based on your interactions with a few.

Yet sometimes, we do this not to associate with others but to distinguish ourselves from them. Collectively as a human race, we are some pretty insecure people and so anyway we can prove our worth, and our value by disproving that of another we will do it. Think of how easy it might be for you to label those who have attained a lower-level of education than you. You might call them lazy, worthless, unsuccessful and so many other things simply to make yourself look better to yourself, even though you yourself barely made it out of undergrad. Or if you are a Christian, how might you stereotype unbelievers who smoke, drink and do whatever else that unbelievers do? Although you might not be the best Christian in the world, at least you are not like those people!

I can recall an instance of such taking place when I worked for TCF Bank in Minnesota. I remember being in my boss’s office trying to figure out a problem that a customer was having with their account. Unfortunately the problem was beyond us and so we needed to call another department within TCF to get further clarification as to what was going on. As my boss made the phone call and spoke to the person on the other end of the phone, I patiently waited because I knew that the call would not last terribly wrong. I suppose, however, that the conversation with the person on the other end was not too pleasant in that immediately as my boss hung up the phone, she asked me a rhetorical question, “Why are all black women so aggressive when they speak?” Although I am sure she probably did not expect me to answer and even though she was my boss, I could not help but to call her out on the carpet for that one as being a black woman myself I took great offense at that. I personally know that this is not the case, in that I am not aggressive and angry sounding when I speak, although I know of several black women who are. But then again, I also know of white women and white men, and Asian women, and African women, and Latino men – all of whom are aggressive speakers. But such has much more to do with who they are as an individual (or perhaps what they had for breakfast) than the culture that they represent.

I also remember several instances where people in speaking of persons of Latin descent referred to such as Mexicans. “Oh, Mexicans live over there and they are noisy,” I heard one boy say. I asked him how he knew that they were Mexicans and he did not know, but was sure that they were. I have also heard others say similar things, saying that the Mexicans did this or said this. Yet how do such persons know that the people that they are referring to are not Guatemalan, Salvadorian, or Brazilian.
I also recall an instance where I found myself reflecting on the ethnicity of two men that I had run across in the past who exhibited interest in me. Both were of the same ethnicity and both I had horrible experiences with. The first one I came across my second year in undergrad and when he came into my life I had recently broken up with someone else. I was still upset about this breakup and so I really was not too interested with getting together with anyone at this point. And yet he was persistent and so we went out a few times and then all of a sudden he stopped calling. As I said, I was not looking for anything with him yet I wondered why the sudden change. I inquired about it and he told me that the reason he stopped calling was because he was upset that I did not call him after our date to make sure that he had gotten home okay. When he told me this, I just about wet my pants with laughter because I could not believe what I was hearing. I have since learned that this is a cultural thing in that it connotes respect, but at the time I thought that he was absolutely crazy. I mean he dropped me back off at my place close to 1AM; what business do I have calling anyone much less a man at that hour of the night?

The second one came along years later and it was clear from the moment that I met him that he was interested in me. Although he did not say anything about that interest at first, it did not take him very long to come out with how he felt and in doing so he asked to go out. I did not see how going out to lunch would do me any harm and so I obliged him. Yet it was a nightmare from hell as he within minutes of our date began to tell me how much he loved me and wanted to marry me, even though I had known the knucklehead all for about a minute. I told him that I was not interested in that type of relationship and kept trying to change the subject in hopes of getting him to talk about something other than his feelings toward me. As much as I tried redirecting him, he too kept trying to pull me back even though I kept emphasizing that I just was not interested in him. (This is perhaps where I flawed; I should not have ever went on that date). Finally the lunch came to a close and he walked me back to my car. After doing so, he leans in for a hug and kisses me right on the cheek after I had already made clear that I had no romantic interest in him whatsoever. I was absolutely disgusted and after calling him to tell him how much I despised his actions, I never spoke with him again.

Years later, for some reason, I found myself thinking about both of these instances and within moments I reasoned that the people from this ethnic group must all be crazy simply because of my less than favorable interactions. I immediately corrected myself, telling myself that if I allowed myself to think that way I would be stereotyping the whole nation that these two unique individuals were from in light of my interactions with them. I thought that this would not be a just act in that I know all too well that two people do not speak for an entire people group.

And yet, this is what we all do when we run into people of a particular background, religion, nationality or color: we allow the actions of a few to dictate to us what the many are like. How many times do we say to ourselves and to others that all Chinese people are like this, or all black men are like this, or all Latinos are like this, or all women, or all Muslims, or all rich people are like this. When we do such not only discount who they are as unique individuals aside from their culture or group, but we also short circuit ourselves, in that we cause ourselves to miss out on immensely valuable relationships with people on account of the stereotypes that we hold against them.

There is something to be said about cultural distinctions, such as language, religion, verbal and nonverbal communication and the like. Of course it is not inappropriate to say that Argentinians speak Spanish or that Nigerians are more collectivist than individualistic or that Japanese practice Buddhism. These are not stereotypes, these are pieces of information that are fact! But even here we must be careful in that even within one culture, there are people who do not fit cultural norms. Again, this emphasizes the need to look at people for who they are as individuals and then judge them on the basis of that, rather than reading into their actions, behaviors and the like on account of where they are from.