racism

Curriculum Disputes, Reading Lists, and More Books by White Guys

Last Monday, a committee in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho recommended Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck be removed from the ninth grade general reading list to the small-group reading list.

The four committee members who feel the book should be removed from required reading shared their reasons with the Spokesman-Review:

  • Profanity: use of words like “bastard” and “God damn.” One committee member counted the profanities–102 profanities in its 110 pages.
  • Negativity and darkness: committee members found the story too “negative.” This next bit I’ll just quote directly from the article:

The book is of high literary quality, committee member Eugene Marano said, and he’s not so bothered by the coarse language. But the gloomy tone gives him pause, especially the bleak ending.

“I thought it was too dark for ninth-graders,” said Marano, a retired Kootenai County magistrate judge. “It needs to be in a small group to explain away the dark part of it.”

The Boise Weekly did a little digging and found the approved books for large and small group instruction for ninth grade in the Coeur d’Alene school district:

Current approved titles on the ninth grade whole group reading list are “Romeo & Juliet,” Animal Farm, Great Expectations and The House on Mango Street. Titles on the small group reading list include Go Ask Alice, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Odyssey.

Here’s what I have gleaned from this reporting, the above books that have not been challenged, and my knowledge of those texts: The Great Depression is too bleak, but teen suicide (as told by Shakespeare) and teen drug use and suicide (as told by an LDS Idaho writer in the form of a cautionary tale) are not. While small group novels have more challenging or intense content, the committee appears to be under the assumption that this pedagogical strategy is used to “explain away” the bleakness, negativity, or challenging nature of the text, rather than to dig into, discuss, analyze, synthesize, or reflect upon it. The ad hoc committee and school board need to have this point clarified. Immediately.

That covers my response to the coverage thus far. Now I get to the heart of the matter.

While I appreciate the articles by both the Spokesman-Review and the Boise-Weekly, I am not satisfied by the depth of their research. In thirty minutes of searching, I downloaded Coeur d’Alene School District’s Approved Novels list for grades 6 through 9. The district website says the document was last updated December 2014; the document itself states September 2013. I went through each title for each grade; as an educator, a member of the greater Idaho community, and a part of the growing consciousness of how a “safe” canon has diminished our ability to engage in critical thought, I am very troubled by what I find, both in terms of the content itself, and how our framing of it limits students.

Banning and challenging books is anachronistic and counter-productive. Last year, the Meridian, Idaho, school district banned the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The American Library Association named it the most-challenged book of 2014. The ALA “condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information,” and “promotes the freedom to read.” Banning books does not protect students from ideas. Choosing to challenge a novel, when students have access to the the entire world of information in their pockets, demonstrates an archaic understanding of the purpose of education and the sharing of information. Finally, after the ban of the Alexie novel, interest in the book increased, and instead of it simply appearing on a supplemental reading list, every student was provided a copy of the novel. For free.

The committee does not understand ninth grade students. Fourteen-year-old students, even in conservative northern Idaho, have heard the words “bastard” and “damn.” They have heard the Lord’s name taken in vain. They have used those words, and worse. Reading them, in a piece of literature meant to reflect the experiences of migrant workers during the Great Depression, will not scandalize them. Furthermore, if eighth-grade students can handle the required text of The Diary of Anne Frank, which also has a bleak ending, they can handle Of Mice and Men, provided they have a competent teacher who guides them through the process–which they do. It was the Great Depression; it did not have a happy ending for the nation’s poor, and hiding that is insulting to the history and to the students. Committee: trust your teachers, trust your students.

In 2015, the book list is populated with predominantly white male authors. This begs the question: why are we arguing about a book written by a dead white guy? Of the approved titles on the Whole Group Reading List (and I am including the required titles and choice lists), almost 70% are written by white men. Several of them are repeats of the same author; there are two (TWO!) other novels by Steinbeck on the approved novels list. I’m going to break this down some more, because this is the most problematic piece of the issue.

  • In grade 9, a teacher may elect for the class to read The Miracle Worker, which is based on Helen Keller’s autobiography, but is not the autobiography itself. As an educator of the Deaf, I cannot tell you how many times I have encountered individuals whose entire concept of deafness is based not on Keller’s words, but on someone else’s adaptation of them. This is part of a pattern of books that address the topic of disability that are written by able-bodied authors: Freak the Mighty (grade 7), and two books from the grade 9 Small Group list, Stoner and Spaz, and Stuck in Neutral.
  • The Grade 11 list has left me irate. In the entire canon of American Literature, out of the 11 titles selected for the approved novel list, there is one novel written by a woman. ONE. Where are women like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Harriet Beacher Stowe, Willa Cather, or Louisa May Alcott?
  • Again, Grade 11: Eleven novels, two Authors of Color. Frederick Douglass’ autobiography is on the list, as well as Thousand Pieces of Gold, by Ruthanne Lum McCunn. The selection of two biographies on a list that also features classic works of fiction is an easy way to make sure the list pays lip service to diversity without tackling broader systems of inequality. This is unacceptable. On the entire 6th-12th grade list of 73 titles, there are only seven titles written by People of Color: 3 African-American, 1 African, 1 Latina, 1 Chinese-American, 1 Japanese-American. There are other novels that address topics of racism, segregation, and diversity, but these are written by white authors who do not represent the Black (or Latino, or Native) literary community. As I was working on this blog post, a video surfaced of the principal of TNT Academy in Georgia making racially charged remarks at graduation. A Twitter conversation turned toward colorblind pedagogy, and everything clicked about this entire book challenge (tweet embedded with permission):

This is what a legacy of systemic silencing and supremacy looks like. This is where it starts: narrowing our students’ access to books based on our archaic definitions of whether a novel is “a quality story [or] a page turner.” Arguing about the word “bastard” and whether the Great Depression is too depressing, instead of challenging our state’s entrenched biases. The person who successfully challenged Alexie’s novel last spring claimed a semi-autobiographical novel written by a Native American that described his experiences of racism when he left the reservation was, by definition, a racist novel. We are seeing the damage wrought by decades of failing to engage students with literary voices outside the approved canon.

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A Tale of Two Idahos… actually, it’s the same Idaho

Content note: gun violence, police violence, police-involved shooting, intersection of race and disability, accidental shooting, human death, animal death

Idaho has made a lot of headlines in the last few years.

During the 2014 legislative session, Idaho lawmakers made us the 7th state to approve conceal carry on college campuses, despite vocal opposition from nearly every stakeholder, and the failure of the same bill in 2011.

In September 2014 the first month of the first semester the law was in effect, a professor shot himself in the foot while teaching on one of our university campuses.

In December, a two-year-old child accidentally shot and killed his mother with a concealed handgun while rummaging in her purse.

I’m starting to see a pattern here.


On Friday, The Guardian ran a lengthy piece on two officer-involved shootings in northern Idaho. From the article:

The first victim was Jeanetta Riley, a troubled 35-year-old pregnant woman, shot dead by police as she brandished a knife outside a hospital in the town of Sandpoint. Her death barely ruffled the tight-knit rural community, which mostly backed the officers, who were cleared of wrongdoing before the case was closed.

The second shooting, in nearby Coeur d’Alene, sparked uproar. There were rallies, protests, sinister threats against the officer responsible, and a viral campaign that spread well beyond the town and drew an apology from the mayor. The killing was ruled unjustified, and the police chief introduced new training for his officers.

The victim of the second shooting: a dog named Arfee.

I live in southern Idaho, a nine-hour drive from Coeur d’Alene. Just 10 minutes away in the town of Filer, an officer shot a dog last year. There was outrage then, too. When the officer was returned to duty, outraged citizens started a petition to get the mayor recalled. Nothing came of the petitions, but they added an eight-hour training course for dealing with dogs.

In the comments surrounding the stories I linked above, a pattern emerges: It was the professor’s fault he got shot–he must have been carrying his gun unsafely. It was the mother’s fault she got shot; her gun was stored in her purse unsafely. Jeanetta Riley deserved to get shot–she was on drugs and she didn’t comply with police directives.

In other responses, to the other stories, a second pattern, another Idaho, emerges: OH MY GOD WHO WOULD SHOOT A DOG?!

These are the comments and messages and conversations I’ve heard over the past seven years: If you respect guns, you’ll be fine. If you raise your kids around guns, they will have a healthy respect of guns. And, likewise, if you listen to the police, you’ll be fine. Everything boils down to this: Just follow the rules, and you won’t get hurt. It follows that if you get hurt (or killed) then you did not follow the rules, the blame falls squarely on you, and you can expect little sympathy. The fact that dogs elicit more sympathy, empathy, and outrage than human lives should tell us that something is wrong with that lens. The fact that Arfee’s owner got an $80,000 settlement, while Jeanetta Riley’s family have not even received an apology, should tell us something is wrong with our system.

The incidents with the dog in Coeur d’Alene and the dog in Filer each prompted targeted training for officers handling potentially aggressive dogs. That is reasonable training to have. The officers also need training in recognizing and deescalating a crisis situation with a person with a mental illness or psychiatric disability. Their department provides it, but neither officer had taken it. That is necessary training to have.

I would like to submit another story for your consideration: In December, police in Twin Falls, Idaho, arrested Randy Scott Hill after a 25-hour standoff, during which time Hill brandished a knife, yelled at police, exited and reentered his home, threw the negotiation phone back at the police, waved a hammer around. No one was injured or killed.

Hill, a white male, survived his encounter with police after they put in 25 hours of patient attempts. Riley, a Native American female, died as a result of her encounter with police after only 15 seconds. Both reportedly have a history of disability and violent behavior; for Riley, the intersection of race with psychiatric disability, as has been well-documented by others, proved fatal.

This is the Cult of Compliance. And here, in Idaho, all of that is wrapped up in the added layer of gun saturation.

Last month, two local schools (a mile from my house) were placed on a three-hour lockdown because a man was walking down the street with two firearms. Police inquiry revealed he was simply doing just that: walking down the street with two firearms. He was within his legal rights to do so. A commenter on the newspaper’s website wrote, I support open carry and I support this kind of response from our educational and law enforcement leaders. This is why Idaho is great. 

The day after the Veronica Rutledge was killed by her 2-year-old in Wal-Mart, the Washington Post wrote a piece of Idaho conceal carry apologetics to indicate that this was so much about guns that it wasn’t about guns:

“In Idaho, we don’t have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that,” [Sandow] said. “And to see someone with a gun isn’t bizarre. [Veronica] wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns. This was just a horrible accident.”

This is the Cult of Compliance: the energy and logical acrobatics required to maintain status quo.

(More) Hair

My hair looks awesome today. So do my pants. So do the revisions on my paper I sent to my advisor this morning. The patriarchal hegemony is not holding me back from wearing kelly green capris and quasi-pixie-bob buzz-swoop ‘do!

In more easy-to-understand-terms, I have more pictures to show more drastically the before and after of this hair journey (for the longer word-based journey, check out Monday’s blog post)…

Before:

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit.

Danielle, 2003. Senior year of high school. I never wore my hair like this but still felt the need to spend three hours getting my massive amounts of hair curled and styled for my senior pictures. I also never wore makeup, except for my senior photos. So basically this is a photo of someone I never met. I think my internalized patriarchy might be showing a bit. 

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Later (not really “After,” since my hair is an ongoing project):

Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2014. The Swoop, as it is sometimes known, is exactly what my hair wants to do, and I let it.
Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! While sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about genderless restrooms and Idaho politics. I don't think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, 2015. It took me longer to put on my three shirts than it did to do my hair. Short hair = ME! That night, sporting this ensemble while in line for the restroom, I got into a conversation about non-gender-labeled restrooms and Idaho politics. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Danielle, St. Patrick's Day 2015. You know you're an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick's Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to "fix" my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, "No need. It's exactly how it needs to be!"

Danielle, St. Patrick’s Day 2015. You know you’re an elementary teacher when the highlight of the week is getting to wear the kelly green capri pants you bought in 2004, with a pair of knee-high St. Patrick’s Day socks, and you look totally awesome. A fellow teacher tried to “fix” my hair as we were walking in the building. I said, “No need. It’s exactly how it needs to be!”

Hair

The first time I had a panicked birthday was my 22nd. I was a senior in college, about six weeks away from graduating. I looked around at my friends and classmates, remembering how at 18 I had looked up at the seniors and seen them as a world beyond me. They were so adult, so learned, so together. I felt none of those things, and it terrified me. Also, 22 looked like a fat number. That second two looked a lot wider than 21.

I did not freak out at 25. I had just purchased a house and life was awesome. I did, however, freak out when my baby sister turned 25 two years later. But, for the most part, my family are not birthday freaker-outers. My mom did not flip at 40, 50, or 60. My grandmother is 93 and as far as I know she handles each milestone birthday with a positive attitude and a sizable helping of angel food cake.

I turn 30 in less than three weeks.

I am totally losing my shit.

I don’t think 30 is old. I am not grieving the end of my 20s, as far as I can tell. I just feel like I haven’t really made much progress on this whole “adult” thing since I turned 22. And I’m certainly not where I thought I’d be. I’m divorced, I have no children, and I’m broke. I haven’t had a raise, really, in seven years.

In the midst of my weekend freakout, a friend shared some encouragement with me: May you have at least as many lives and adventures as I have had….and am still having. May you be able to reinvent yourself as often as your cells regenerate. When I saw her later that evening, we had a conversation along that topic, regarding hair. If hair represents my regenerations, I am currently in my Tenth Doctor tousled phase. All I’m lacking is a personal hair tousler.

Dream Job: David Tennant's personal hair tousler

Dream Job: David Tennant’s personal hair tousler

That said, my hair has been fairly representative of my life since moving to Idaho, and I am grateful for the conversation this weekend. During most of my life, I kept my hair long  enough for a ponytail, even if it was a short “sumo” ponytail. I am perpetually low-maintenance. I haven’t even used shampoo in seven years, let alone any hair product. To say I have thick hair would be a gross understatement. My hair is grotesquely thick, monstrously thick, thick-beyond-words thick. Whenever I have started with a new stylist, their shock the first time they have hefted my vast coif is worth capturing on film. I have a lot of hair. My current stylist books an extra-long block for me now, simply because we spend so much time thinning, and that’s even after he buzzes out the bottom third of my hair.

Anyway, I put as little effort into managing this mane as possible, which for the vast majority of the first 24 years of my life meant ponytails. Then, I chopped off a ten-inch braid, and my hair has been getting progressively shorter ever since.

During the same time frame that my hair has become strikingly short, I’ve taken control of a lot of areas of my life. I started going to counseling again, I started a 12-step program, played roller derby, took control of my health (sorta), embraced my feminism, appeared in two challenging productions with provocative, award-winning scripts (How I Learned to Drive and The Vagina Monologues), and started graduate school.

Correlation is not causation, but the correlation between my ever-shortening hair and my bolder approach to life is no coincidence.

I am loud and awkward and passionate, and I spent a lot of time apologizing for my elbows and my voice and my opinions. My parents were always shushing me. I no longer apologize for taking up space. I used to try to blend in and shrink back and hide the parts of my body and my personality that were deemed unfit or flawed. I spent too many years hiding in ponytails, oversized jeans, and hoodies. Now I wear what I want and I embrace my hips and my breasts and my tears and my fists when I’m fighting for the underdog.

Every time I’ve cut my hair, I’ve shed a layer of myself. Like a sassy snake. My hair was ridiculously fluffy last Wednesday, and the sensory integration therapist met me in the hallway and said, Your hair is so… awesome today. I replied, genuinely, Thanks! I used to fight with my hair, but I always lost. Now I just let my hair do what it does. Who wants to start every morning losing? One of my students thought that was really funny, in part because she has a mane of curly hair that has at least an 80% correlation to her mood. She’s like Japanese animation. She retold that story three times on Wednesday. The next day, after a good-morning hug, she told me we both won with our hair that morning.

Last semester in Feminist Theory, we regularly returned to the theme the personal is political. Hair is one of those personal-political feminist issues. Any time a Hollywood actress shaves her head for a role, she gets major headlines. When Jennifer Lawrence cut her hair in a pixie style (was that in 2013?) just because she damn well wanted to cut it that way, I’m pretty sure the internet broke. The fact that cutting one’s hair is considered so newsworthy makes it pretty clear how much a woman’s hair means in our culture. And when we add race to the equation–because I love me some intersectional feminism–the implications and consequences of short hair are magnified. In 2012, Rhonda Lee, a small-market meteorologist in Louisiana, was fired after defending (in a Facebook comment) her choice to keep her black, ethnic hair short and natural. It seems to me, at least in certain contexts, short hair is where the personal becomes political.

Women with short hair get noticed. I am okay with that now; I don’t have to hide. I may not be where I thought I’d be, but I am certainly not where I was.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2009. The long hair, past the shoulders, not quite to the elbows. About 10 minutes later, I chopped off a 10-inch braid and never looked back.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. I get shit done.

Danielle, 2015. The hair is short, sassy, and in your face. The underside is totally buzzed. I get shit done.

American Snippet

Content warning: contains racist slurs, swears, and expressions of hate

American Sniper is a movie based on a book that includes proven lies. Under typical circumstances, I would not waste my breath, my keystrokes, or my brain cells on it.

These are not typical circumstances.

In the last six weeks, I have been unfriended by no fewer than a dozen people on Facebook for engaging in “anti-military rhetoric” on my timeline. Whoop-de-doo. I lose friends all the time, usually acquaintances who are shocked when I speak up about something with which they disagree. While it’s no secret to most of my friends that I am non-violent and regularly engage in conversation regarding alternatives to war and violence, I guess people were surprised that I was vocal about my disgust with the hero worship of Chris Kyle and his self-aggrandizing book-turned-movie. And I was surprised that my criticism for a movie garnered sexist, racist vitriol, militaristic one-liners, misunderstandings of the word slander, and suggestions to stand in front of a spray of bullets.

Actually, I wasn’t surprised.

Last things first: I don’t generally use the word pacifist because most people misinterpret it as a passive choice. I am a non-violent activist. It may become my job to stand in the way of violence, between the oppressor and the oppressed. So when someone says, If you don’t stand behind the military, feel free to stand in front of them, chances are there may be a time I may be faced with such an option (I mean, this is one of my favorite books…). Saying this to me doesn’t make me rethink my position, but it makes the person saying it look simplistic and cruel.

I focus a lot of my blog posts on intersectional feminism in K-12 education. That’s the setting in which I work. It’s the focus of my masters program. It’s where I see myself working for the foreseeable future. So how does American Sniper fit in? It fits because of Benvolio.

Benvolio is not Benvolio’s real name. But there is a student whose family moved here from Iraq in 2008, and he is my Benvolio in Romeo & Juliet this year. He is, quite possibly, the brightest student I have ever had the pleasure to teach. He is the main reason I wish we were not using an adapted script: he came to our first rehearsal with his entire part memorized. So we gave him an additional part. He comes to me each week with ideas for his character, for staging, for mood. His instincts are good, which is notable because he can’t see the entire stage. He wears argyle sweater vests. He’s a pretty typical high school kid, he just happens to have a cane and read Braille.

He is also Muslim.

During my undergrad coursework, I heard over and over again that school needs to be a safe, inclusive, accessible environment for every student. Many of my professors iterated the guideline that celebrating holidays in school marginalizes students of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds and students who live in poverty. I have an ongoing dilemma trying to reconcile that with the Deaf school norm of celebrating every mainstream holiday because for some students, it is the only access to the background and explanations they have.

I have seen awful posts on Facebook about American Sniper. I have seen disgusting tweets. In short, the film offers a simplistic view of a war that is all grey, and does not inspire the best responses in much of the target audience. It is this response I will address, just to keep my notes as brief as possible.

This is the kind of thing Benvolio can read online. It’s also the kind of thing his friends and classmates can read online. With the number of students in our schools who are Muslim, or who come from predominantly Muslim countries, or who just happen to be brown and encounter people who don’t know anything about world religions and/or geography, American Sniper inspires a hatred and a brand of fevered nationalism that is dangerous to their emotional well-being, their concept of self, and their safety in school.

I’m posting a few examples; the rest can be found from even a cursory search or from this Storify.

Usually I stay out of Facebook comment conversations, especially those that are political. My acquaintances save me the trouble of unfriending them by deleting me first, but I wish they would view the world through a different lens. A lens that sees the damage this film can inflict, the hatred spewed by its most ardent of fans, and the attitudes expressed by even some of the more reasonable of fans. It’s a problem for students like Benvolio, for his family, for his community. When we paint the world as black-and-white, the white people generally write the narrative. And it isn’t the kind of narrative in which the hero thinks critically about his actions, sees the Other as a whole human person, or considers the nuance of the story into which he’s written. And when we consume the narrative as uncritically as it was written, we legitimize it.

#KalerUPromised

Today I wish I still lived in Minnesota.

Yesterday, a group of student and alumni activists staged a sit-in in the University of Minnesota president’s office. Thirteen of the peaceful protesters were arrested. The student group leading the sit-in live-tweeted the whole thing and they are posting continuing support and updates:

http://twitter.com/hashtag/KalerUPromised

(I’m really frustrated-I’ve tried everything Twitter and WordPress told me to do, and the feed won’t embed. I’m sorry, mom and my other eight readers, you’ll actually have to click through)

Today, I wish I still lived in Minnesota. Not so I could join in. So I can listen. Right now I have Twitter feeds and articles and blog posts. But I want to listen with both ears and both eyes with my mouth quiet and my hands at my side.

The -ism that isn’t

In addition to teaching, I work at a radio station. It stands to reason I listen to a lot of radio. I do, but I only listen to the station that employs me in the morning, during the time I work (which is 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.). The rest of the time, I listen to NPR. There are two NPR signals I can get in Twin Falls, and when I go to Boise I switch over to the Boise signal. There is a stretch of no-mans-land between Twin and Boise where I get no signals–not for NPR, not for my phone, not for the station where I work. I drive in the silence with my thoughts. Sometimes I like the radio better than my thoughts.

I’ve been driving quite a bit lately. I have my weekend graduate courses in Boise, which means 260 miles of driving over the weekend. This Saturday’s post-class NPR playlist  included the end of Invisibilia, a break for food, The Splendid Table, and then a phone call with my mother.

I want to like Invisibilia, in the same part of me that wants to like This American Life. I like the idea of both shows. I generally like the style of the shows, and the content always seems promising. But, as I wrote last month, This American Life has a bad history of handling disability content. It leaves me to wonder if the episodes I really enjoyed were as problematic as the episodes with ableist language, but I didn’t notice because it wasn’t my realm of experience or expertise.

Batman,” the TAL episode featuring a blind man who uses echolocation as an orientation strategy, was rife with abelist language. Invisibilia hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel did all the leg work on that episode, so I went into this episode of Invisibilia with trepidation. I find it unfortunate yet unsurprising to say that Spiegel and Miller got another -ism wrong: racism.

In the second segment of this weekend’s episode titled “The Power of Categories,” Spiegel and Miller shared the story of Iggy, an Indian immigrant who built a retirement community in Florida called ShantiNiketan, a gated community for other aging Indians like him. Despite launching his project at the beginning of the housing crisis in 2008, he quickly sold all of the units. He attributed his success to the innate human desire to be around one’s own kind. The residents of the community echoed these sentiments, saying it felt comfortable to be in a place that felt like their former home.

I followed so far. Marginalized groups often carve out safe spaces as a refuge from the challenges of a non-inclusive society. It’s a relief to be in a place where you are not seen as the Other. What I didn’t follow were the next mental leaps the program asked me to make: First, the comparison between Iggy Ignatius’ ShantiNiketan community and the Augusta National Golf Club. Then, three consecutive uses of the words racism or racist that stood unquestioned.

The program was addressing how we place ourselves into categories. I get that. Drawing a comparison between a retirement community of minority senior citizens and a golf club of affluent white men who banned people of color and women (until very recently!) is quite a leap. And Iggy told them such a comparison was unfair. But airing a five-word rebuttal from Iggy did not undo the fact that Invisibilia had just lent NPR-credibility to the non-concept of reverse-racism. 

Let me provide a quick summary of terminology and directionality: an individual may have bias based on race (or sex, gender identity, disability, etc.). An individual may stereotype based on race. An individual may even discriminate based on race. And bias, stereotype, and discrimination can be omni-directional. But racism and other forms of oppression are different. Racism is systemic. It perpetuates hierarchy, disempowering those at the bottom to ensure the continued dominance of those at the top. It is impossible for reverse racism to exist, as it is impossible for the oppressed to oppress the oppressor. 

The ShantiNiketan retirement community attracts its residents because it is a safe space, a refuge from a society in which Indians are seen as the Other. It does so by replicating the familiar environment of home. The Augusta National Golf Club was (is?) a racist organization because its white membership had official policies that barred specific types of marginalized groups from joining. That is a pretty big difference. And not only did Miller and Spiegel neglect to clarify or retract the comparison, they doubled-down and cheerily invoked the concept of racism two more times before the end of the segment.

And when the psychologist chimed in, explaining how as we near death, we desire to be around people like us, he affirmed* that it might be a little racist. But it isn’t. That’s not what racism is. But listening to NPR this weekend, you wouldn’t have known that, as the newest NPR program/podcast subtly perpetuated this fundamental misunderstanding of marginalization and oppression.

We still have a long way to go.

*This affirmation of sorts appeared in the episode of Invisibilia as it aired on Saturday, but not in the All Things Considered text linked above.