Category Archives: Society

Why We Must Pursue Diverse Books

We Need Diverse BooksI believe diversity matters. We’re better when we hear from a diverse range of voices. But if we’re not intentional about embracing diversity, it doesn’t happen.

I got my We Need Diverse Books swag in the mail today, my reward for supporting their highly successful Indiegogo project.

I read a lot of books last year (203, not that I’m bragging), and I was curious how diverse my selections were. I made an effort to read more diverse books in 2014 (in part thanks to We Need Diverse Books), but I was also curious about previous years as well.

So here’s a chart of the diversity of my reading going back to 2001:

My total books vs. diverse books Continue reading Why We Must Pursue Diverse Books

Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter Protests

It’s been a busy week. Two weeks ago my family joined the Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Minneapolis. Last Saturday they protested at Mall of America (we did not attend) and police turned out in riot gear and shut down the mall for a peaceful protest.

On the same day two New York police officers were shot and killed by a mentally unstable man who had killed his girlfriend earlier in the day, killed himself after the incident, and has spouted revenge rhetoric, implying his actions were in response to recent police killings of black people.

Some of the response to that tragedy has blamed the protestors. Not just mild finger pointing, but incendiary language about “blood on your hands.” (Here’s perhaps the best response I’ve seen.)

So here I sit on Christmas Eve writing about it. The whole situation is pretty intense (especially as yet another case is breaking news).

Continue reading Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter Protests

Black Lives Matter Rally in Minneapolis

Today my family went to the Million Artist Movement rally/protest in downtown Minneapolis. It’s part of #BlackLivesMatter response to the continuing racial injustice in cases like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others.

It’s interesting. I’ve never really protested before. I’ve been to a few peace protests, mostly in response to 9/11 and the continuing war in Iraq, but I was more there as a journalist/observer than a participant.

Today I was here first and foremost as a dad. Secondly as a protestor myself.

It’s been kind of a bizarre week talking about these cases with our kids.

How do you explain all of this to your kids?

How do you explain what a “die in” is?

How do you explain to your brown-skinned son that police are killing brown-skinned people?

How do you explain that police are still heroes? That while this injustice happens and it’s bad and we want to stop it, not all police officers are bad?

None of it is easy, I can tell you that.

When we told Milo that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were black, he broke down in tears.

His reaction broke my heart. But it also seems like the only appropriate way to respond.

The civil rights movement may have been 50 years ago and we did elect a black president, but that doesn’t mean injustice is over. It’s still all around us, it’s still causing pain, and it’s our time to stop it.

At the rally they led us in a song. I shot a quick video of part of it:

Oh the day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal
And my brother can’t breathe
Hand in hand with my family we will fill these streets.

I can’t help but think of the day that will come when we don’t have to march or cry or fight or despair no more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It’s a kingdom hope, but it doesn’t have to be an unattainable hope.

This whole thing is hard and complicated and painful and difficult. If you’re feeling those things, I feel them with you. Please listen.

At the end of the rally they had ribbons and asked us to write something on the ribbons. Here’s what we wrote:

Black Lives Matter A Lot Black Lives Matter!My Boy Shouldn't Cry No More!

Black Lives Matter: Listen & Finding Solutions

News broke this evening of no indictment in the death of Eric Garner. I wasn’t following this news very closely, but it serves as just one more incident of unnecessary death.

In the span of a few weeks 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police, within seconds of police arriving on the scene; there was no indictment in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo.; and now there’s no indictment in the Eric Garner case.

Where the Michael Brown case might seem murky (no video, conflicting stories, charging the officer), the Eric Garner case seems much more direct. There’s video of the confrontation and while Garner is subdued on the ground an officer has him in a choke hold and doesn’t let up, even though the NYPD doesn’t authorize that kind of force.

Their are now protests around the country. My Twitter feed is lit up with outrage.

I don’t want to debate the ins and outs of any of this. I’m tired of that. But there are two things bothering me: Continue reading Black Lives Matter: Listen & Finding Solutions

Be a Human

Have you seen the story about the Green Bay alderman quizzing a Muslim about terrorism before answering her question? Crazy.

Here’s the full blown exchange and the USA Today story, but basically the woman, Heba Mohammad, emailed Green Bay Alderman Chris Wery asking about free public transportation on election day. An innocent question, especially considering Green Bay offers free bus service on Packer game days, and not a bad idea. But beside the point.

Instead of answering, Wery asks Mohammad about her background with a local Muslim student group:

I just want to be assured that your group in no way promotes or defends militant Islamic ideology or Sharia law. Do you and the MSA condemn both of those as well as terrorist groups such as HAMAS?

What?!

Wery has quickly apologized, brushing it off as being busy with too many things at once. He realizes he was too blunt and phrased it poorly.

I’ll say. Give the guy the benefit of the doubt, sure, even Mohammad was impressed he called to apologize.

But let’s treat each other like people, OK? You don’t grill someone about stereotypical associations before being willing to talk to them. Especially when you’re an elected official.

Nobody asks me if I condemn the KKK before taking my questions.

College or Jail?

Facts like this make white privilege real for me:

African American males have a higher chance of being incarcerated than they do of earning a college degree. (TakePart)

Talking about privilege is difficult. People get defensive. When you talk about inherent advantages it implies to some people that their hard work doesn’t matter. See? Difficult.

But that doesn’t change the fact that privilege is real. Lots of ways to get your head around it. If you’re not there yet, keep trying.

But don’t tell me that race is not still a problem in this world, or worse, that racism against whites is a bigger problem.

That’s right: White people believe they’re being discriminated against more than black people. (How’s that for playing the victim, which I believe is what this mindset likes to accuse black people of doing.)

Reverse discrimination is such a hardship for us whites. Meanwhile black men are more likely to go to jail than earn a college degree.

Let’s open our eyes.

Help Close the Achivement Gap

I’ve been talking about Ferguson for the past week or so, and it’s left me feeling raw and frustrated and powerless. That’s a good time to take action.

This isn’t directly related to Ferguson, but I think it is a good way you can help the general problem of racial disparity we see at work in Ferguson.

The Achievement Gap

Minnesota is one of the top states in the country for education. We’re also one of the worst states in the nation for the achievement gap. What’s that mean? It means the performance gap between white students and students of color in Minnesota is among the worst in the nation.

So to put it bluntly—Minnesota has a great education system, but only if you’re white. If you’re a student of color, you’re not going to do as well.

Here are some reading scores from St. Paul Public Schools: 2014_08achievegap

(see the full PDF report)

Now those are older numbers (2004-2006) and the state is making a concerted effort to improve. But a recent report noted that both Minneapolis and St. Paul are only hitting state goals for white students.

The achievement gap is a very real problem. It can go on to impact all sorts of other things: graduation rates, college, income levels, etc.

If we want to break the racial disparity in the United States, we must address the achievement gap.

What’s it Look Like Locally?

The West Side neighborhood has had a problem with under-performing schools. Here’s some data comparing three schools in St. Paul’s West Side and the city of West St. Paul (which are two different school districts):

2014_08schoolscomp

(You can get this data for any school from the Minnesota Report Card.)

Cherokee Heights is the elementary school for the West Side. Nearly all of their scores are below 50%. Only 27% of their students are “on track” for success. Students have not made a year’s progress (AYP) in reading for the last five years (2009-2013). The racial breakdown for Cherokee Heights is also incredibly diverse: 88% people of color.

By comparison, Garlough and Somerset are both schools in the nearby West St. Paul district. Garlough’s scores are in the 50-75% range and Somerset is in the 75-100% range. Garlough has 68% of their students “on track” for success and has made AYP for all but two of the last five years in reading. Somerset has 71% of their students “on track,” and has hit AYP all five years. Demographics wise it should be no surprise: Garlough is 60% people of color; Somerset is 20%.

One Way to Fix the Achievement Gap

I don’t say any of this to throw Cherokee Heights under the bus. They’ve got hard working teachers doing their best. But they’ve got a long way to go.

Now I’m also not an expert on the achievement gap. But my wife is a kindergarten teacher. She knows this stuff. She works at a new charter school in the West Side neighborhood of St. Paul called West Side Summit. Charter schools are public schools with a specific focus, and are effectively their own district.

West Side Summit’s goal is to close the achievement gap.

They’re working with the same population as Cherokee Heights (West Side’s population breakdown is slanted more Hispanic and less black and Asian, but it’s very similar: 84% people of color). They’re using a new blended learning model—the only elementary school in Minnesota doing it—where the kids work on computers for large chunks of the day, using programs that adapt to what each kid needs to learn. They also have an extended school day and an extended school year—more time in the classroom.

And they’re doing it. In the school’s first year the entire school averaged a year and a quarter’s progress in reading (West Side doesn’t have data in the Minnesota Report Card site yet; my data comes directly from the school). That may not sound like much, but most schools aren’t hitting AYP at all, let alone going above and beyond. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts as a whole haven’t hit AYP at all for the last five years in reading. Even the West St. Paul district (with the highly achieving Somerset school above) has only hit it in 2013.

Get to the Point!: How You Can Help

So aside from depressing you about the state of our schools (remember: Minnesota is among the best in the nation), what’s the point?

Giving kids access to books has been hugely important. A previous Donor’s Choose project put a ton of audio books in my wife’s classroom. Last year her class had a year and a half’s progress in reading. That’s amazing!

Right now my wife is doing a Donor’s Choose project to put iPods in her classroom. The iPods will be a big improvement over CD players—no more scratched discs, no more dying batteries, plus kids can record and listen to themselves reading. It’s an innovative way to get kids into books, boost their reading and close that achievement gap.

The project total is nearly $1,500. That’s a lot of money. However, the Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation is offering a 50% match if the project can be completed before Sunday, August 24. That’s tomorrow. So we need your help now!

As I’m writing this, we only need $450 more to hit the goal and get the matching grant. Will you help? Please donate now.

I realize this is only one tiny way to help close the achievement gap. It’s a giant problem with far-reaching consequences and there are probably a million things we could be doing.

But that’s overwhelming. This is one way you can help right now.

Thanks for your support.

Update: The project was fully funded on Sunday, August 24. We did it before the deadline and got the fully matching grant. A big thank you to those who donated.

Do I Teach My Son That Police Are Heroes or How Not to Get Shot?

In the aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting and the chaos in Ferguson, Mo., there are so many questions and frustrations rolling around in my head.

I managed to write about it (in brief) on Church Marketing Sucks yesterday, simply encouraging churches to address the many pains and hurts in this world and asking, “How long must we sing this song? How long, Oh Lord?”

Don’t Get Shot

One of the painful and difficult questions I’m struggling with is that Ferguson happened this week. A black teen was walking down the street and ended up shot to death by a police officer. Another reminder that parents of black children simply must teach their children how to deal with racial profiling and harassment:

“As a father, I should not have to teach my kids how to be arrested. I should not have to teach my son to do everything possible to make sure that you are not killed out here in these streets when a police officer pulls you over.” (NPR)

I need to teach my son how not to get shot by the police.

Police Are Heroes

But two weeks ago a police officer was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop not two blocks from my house. The work police officers do is dangerous. They put their lives on the line to protect our communities.

The out-pouring of support for Officer Scott Patrick and his family was incredible to behold. As it should be.

The night before the funeral procession we had the Night to Unite block party. Police, firefighters, EMTs and city officials were making the rounds, handing out glow sticks, tattoos and stickers. They were welcomed, encouraged, thanked.

I need to teach my son that police officers are heroes to be trusted and respected.

How Do I Reconcile the Two?

I don’t know how to reconcile those two. There are some petitions advocating for new federal laws and cameras. That’s something. The militarization of police is especially troubling in this case and makes it all the murkier.

I don’t want police officers to get killed, but is it necessary to send six squad cars to arrest a black woman for jaywalking? I don’t want anyone to get killed, but these are the disturbing realities we need to face.

The World Is Not What We Think

China is poised to become the “most Christian nation” in the world:

Prof Fenggang Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

Muslim women get more dignity in Middle Eastern mosques than U.S. mosques:

As someone who has had the privilege of exploring mosques in many different places, I have to say that North American mosques are—with a few notable exceptions—among the worst I have seen in terms of the access and dignity afforded to women. The best? Iranian mosques. By a long mile. The world is never as black and white as it seems.

(That comment by G. Willow Wilson was also repeated at the Festival of Faith and Writing, where she gave an interesting rationale:  the difference in how a religion acts when it’s in the minority vs. in the majority.)

Diversity Is Not Enough

“We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism.” (“Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing”)

In many ways it comes down to white privilege (that phrase can be difficult to digest—this is the best explanation of white privilege I’ve found). The white establishment (i.e., people like me) doesn’t understand what people of color face.

People like me are blind to all the small things that are stacked up against people of color. Each one on its own seems small, but together it creates institutional racism. The result is things like the Noah movie using an all white cast as “stand-ins for all people” because “race doesn’t matter.”

If you don’t see anything wrong with that, that’s white privilege.

If you watched the Noah movie and didn’t think it odd that everyone was white, that’s white privilege.

Or any movie.

As G. Willow Wilson commented, “Where are all the black people in Middle Earth? The answer is ‘In Laketown,’ apparently.” Extras in the Laketown scenes in the second Hobbit movie were the first non-white human characters in the Lord of the Rings movies.

If you think it’s political correct garbage to want racial diversity in a fantasy movie, that’s white privilege.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

It reminds me of the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas where the 9-year-old Bruno is oblivious to the German Holocaust, even though he lives outside the gates of Auschwitz. He befriends a Jewish boy, Shmuel, but is completely unaware of the ostracism and hatred his friend endures.

Bruno is not antisemitic. He’s not even aware of the German propaganda about Jews, and when he hears it he doesn’t believe it. But he’s blind to all the barriers Shmuel faces as a Jew in 1940s Germany.

It’s not an ideal comparison. But it feels familiar. When people don’t understand the need for diversity or insist that we’re beyond racism, it reminds me of Bruno.