Racial Reconciliation- Hopeful Beginnings

I am very hopeful about 2015 being the year that we start the collective process of healing and racial reconciliation. How wonderful to be so inspired after the dismal year of race relations in 2014 and what continues in 2015.

A Bright Spot

What has inspired me after the Dakota Women’s Commemorative March back in November 2014–of which I wrote–could be the beginnings of a grass roots effort. Two weeks ago, I attended an event hosted by Jean Maierhofer, Hennepin Technical College (HTC) Diversity Officer, in Eden Prairie. HTC is hosting the Why Treaties Matter exhibit and kicked off the event with a showing of Dakota 38 followed up with a panel led by Darlene St. Clair, St. Cloud University professor of American Indian Studies, and two Dakota high school students. These are my observations.

What started off as a typical Q and A soon led into beginnings of what I thought of as racial reconciliation. I must admit as I was sitting in the audience I was humbled to consider that we have so much to learn and practice about it.  What is racial reconciliation anyway? My first thoughts are that it is a process of bringing the oppressed and the oppressors together in dialogue to acknowledge the hurts and oppression through truth telling and figure out how to have justice in order to live a full healthy life together. Truth and justice are intertwined and are the foundation of racial reconciliation.

Jim Miller, the creator of the Dakota 38, is an inspiring example of someone banished from his own land, having the courage to start a healing process for himself through re-tracing the journey his ancestors made on their journey to be hanged in Mankato, Minnesota. The film itself is a tour de force that documents his experience of going through the white towns and meeting descendants of the very same people his ancestors encountered. His demeanor of love and forgiveness towards the white people in the film is unbelievable and is an example for us all. The film should be required viewing for every United States citizen.

So back to the event- the comments from the interracial audience I think are illustrious of how racial reconciliation thinking has evolved over time in Minnesota. Other parts of the country may have similar or different thoughts. One white woman said that she appreciated the film but wanted everyone to know, especially Darlene, that she did not commit any crimes against the Dakota nor did anyone else in the room. Why do we still bring all of this stuff up when we can’t do anything about it? She didn’t believe she was racist. Darlene replied that that is not the point. The point is that every Minnesotan needs to be willing to take a full accounting of what happened in the past and the long standing impacts of these actions. Dakota people need to do the same. She elaborated that the film, inadvertently conveys that racial reconciliation is a one-time event rather than the long process that it needs to be.

As Darlene was responding to the woman, she seemed to agree with Darlene by nodding her head and was comfortable with Darlene’s perspective on the situation. Darlene appreciated her comment because it probably took a lot of courage for to speak up and share her experience.

Another comment from a white man was that he was very moved by the film and apologized through his tears, for what the white people did to the Dakota people. He earnestly offered to be a part of other activities. His comment led to another from an Ojibwe man who said that movies like the Dakota 38 and comments by Darlene have an agenda of producing guilt. He explained that Indians did bad things to white people and that white people did bad things to Indians. Making people feel guilty doesn’t get us anywhere. He believes we need to move on. No need for racial healing or reconciliation. His comments were countered by a white man who shared his personal experiences of seeing that up to 20 years ago American Indians were not welcome to eat in cafes and restaurant in South Dakota. He believes that American Indians are the last racial group in America to be racist against. He mentioned the American Indian sports mascots as a current example.

So how did Darlene wrap up this discussion? I haven’t mentioned that Darlene is Dakota and is a direct descendent of one of the men hanged, Tihdonica, as well as Dakota people who protected whites. She has a vested interest in how these discussions turn out. She could be angry, resentful or bitter but instead chose a wise, courageous and very truthful answer. Darlene said that talking about the injustices is not about producing guilt in people or to make people sad. Instead, we all need to acknowledge that we are the beneficiaries of the taking of Native lands and resources whether we participated in these events or not.

Jean Maierhofer was touched by the events that evening. She said:

 “The Dakota 38 film had a profound impact on me.  In fact, I haven’t stopped thinking about the film and the Dakota people since the screening on March 23.  The film reminded me once again how much of American history is untold and waiting to be discovered by those that are willing to look and listen with an open mind and heart.

 The part of the film that continues to linger with me was at the end, when we find out the fate of one of the young Dakota men that shared their journey in the film.  It was truly heartbreaking.  As I learn, or relearn, the history that took place in Minnesota, I do not want to forget the psychological scars that get passed down from generation to generation because of traumatic events that took place in the past.  Working with young people, I recognize how important it is for them to feel proud about their culture, their history, and their identity.  I also recognize that working in higher education I can help open people’s minds and hearts so that the history of what happened to the Dakota people can be told.  And, that we can all start healing together as a community who live in this beautiful place we all call home – Minnesota.”

We left the meeting hopeful for continued opportunities to come together in Eden Prairie. Let’s galvanize together and share what you are doing in your communities. This will inspire us to get started or continue what we have started. What are we learning, what can we share? Please post here.

Three Men, a War, and Race: Honoring Our Veterans on Memorial Day

Lewis and Charles Graves ArmyEdward C Gleed Plane001


In honor of Memorial Day I want to share a family story. I have always wondered how common it might be. Just after WWII broke out in 1941, two brothers and their brother-in-law decided to enlist in the army. One chose the navy and two wanted to fly planes and chose the air force. There was a little problem for them: Jim Crow segregation laws that permeated the US Army. At that time, your skin color determined your future. It soon became clear that the two brothers of African American descent and their brother-in-law of African American descent as well, would not be able to enter the army of their choice. At that time black men were relegated to janitor or cook positions. It is no wonder that someone might want to pass if they could.

No one knows what, when and how they discussed circumventing the race rules but we do know the outcome. My father and his brother convinced their mother to go to the Topeka, Kansas Department of Vital Statistics to change their birth certificates from Negro to white. She mentioned to the clerk that the hospital had made a mistake. My grandmother’s request was a success because two new certificates were mailed with the desired white race classification. My father was admitted into the Navy and my uncle into the Air Force.

Their brother-in-law enlisted in the army and was assigned to the 9th Calvary. Later he was accepted into the army’s experimental pilot training program for Negroes which became the famed the Tuskegee Airmen. He was also assigned to military intelligence. In a few short years, my uncle flew to fame as the pilot of the iconic Lucifer Jr. P-51 fighter airplane and became the commanding officer of the 302nd Fighter Squadron. He retired with honors as a colonel and flew three air-to-air combat victories. He later was interviewed by filmmaker George Lucas and his story was used in the Red Tails film.

My father had not yet changed his name in 1941 but had created a new racial identity that he shared with his white peers. He became someone of French ancestry who was “descended” from a line of French barbers. He later was dismissed due to a foot ailment and did not see action. After the war, my father created a new name with a French flair and a white identity that he chose to live with for rest of his short life. He died at the age of 55.

My uncle, of the changed birth certificate, became a distinguished pilot and retired with honors. He also created a new racial identity of white, albeit with his birth name, and never shared this with his military colleagues or his children. To my knowledge no one (except his white wife) ever knew he had a dual life.

I always wondered what happened to people who were admitted into the army and were later caught with false certificates regarding racial status. Did this happen? Was this a common practice? I googled the topic and was unable to find examples.

I often reflect who is the real hero here. My Uncle Cres, my father or my other uncle? How could it be my father or my other uncle? Why did my father and Uncle Charles go to such depth and risks to separate themselves from their African American and Cherokee heritage? Living with a secret must have taken a psychological toll on both of them. I may never understand my family’s decisions or what decisions I would make in trying to live within the confines of Jim Crow but I accept the choices that they made.

In spite of the strict restrictions on all three men, they made their decision to serve their country no matter the odds and to accomplish their goals. I am proud of them all! As we honor all veterans this Memorial Day, let’s give thanks to all who have served no matter the color of their skin, gender or sexual orientation. I believe they all are heroes and heroines!

Wisdom From the Freedom Riders: Interview with Bettie Mae Fikes and Claire O’Connor


Bettie Mae Fikes
Bettie Mae Fikes

Claire O'Connor







What would you do if you were fifteen years old and an unknown speaker came to town to ask you to join a movement?  To join a struggle for civil rights?  What if you were eighteen and invited to a college meeting and at the meeting a man asked you to join a movement to fill the jails in Mississippi? Would you join? I spent time with living legends who said yes. Their lives changed forever and they never looked back. In fact, they are quite humble and matter of fact about their role in challenging segregation!

The Freedom Riders were young people recruited during the early 1960’s to push for change that would allow southern African Americans full voting rights as guaranteed in the US Constitution.  The practices and de facto laws of Jim Crow denied such voting rights. Ms. Bettie Mae Fikes became a Freedom Rider and later became a member of the Students for Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma. She also became a leading voice of Freedom Songs. Ms. Claire O’Connor also arose as a Freedom Rider in Jackson, Mississippi and later went back to serve in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi for several years.

We are here today with many benefits because Ms. Fikes and Ms. O’Connor fought to make our world a better place so that everyone has the right to vote and are able to sit and eat in any restaurant of our choice no matter the color of our skin. It is not every day that one gets to talk to a legend!

So I asked myself, what would I ask them? Would I ask them about the sufferings they experienced in the struggle? What about their accomplishments? I could be nosy and ask what Dr. MLK like and Malcom X were really like? These are all great questions but not the ones I wanted to ask.  We still struggle today to fully achieve the dreams of racial integration and the oneness of humanity with the ultimate goal of eliminating racism, so I thought it best to focus on what they have learned and what advice would they give us working in the fields of social justice, equity and diversity.

Interview with Ms. Fikes

Ms. Fikes we are so blessed that you are taking the time to answer my questions. You have been busy with the 50th anniversary commemorations across the country.

What did you learn as a young woman supporting the Freedom Riders and being in the Civil Rights Movement?

Nanette, you are very welcome! At first I wanted an opportunity to avoid church and school and it wasn’t until my friend was hurt that I realized that I needed to stand up. What if I had just listened to Dr. King and done nothing? I wanted to be a part of something.

I have learned that there has been a lot of change but some things remain the same. We have come to a place now that nothing is the same as it used to be. A lot of our history has been forgotten. We can never forget! If you don’t know your history how can you move forward? The time will come when you have to stand up and will face a struggle. Which side are you on?

I believe will all have to tell a story. Are we equipped to tell it? We can’t imagine what our ancestors suffered  but we can validate and honor what they did for us today. The history is still raw but many of our children don’t know our history. Somebody had to die, somebody had to cry for us. I find that a lot of people don’t understand this work because they haven’t been in a struggle.  If you have not been in a struggle, you don’t know what to do. If yes, then you know what to do when the time comes.

When the time comes, what will you do, what will you say? Get on the freedom bus. This work is not over. Justice for one is justice for all. Get ready!

Another thing I learned is that education is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you.

What guidance can you give us to fully realize the dream?

Education, spirituality and love are the three key things in life. How can you fight something you can’t see? If you can’t see, you will be left behind. Let’s put love back in the game. Let’s love and help each other. If we don’t know how to love, we don’t know how to give.

Will we all have to die for freedom? My guideline to you- forge for something that you believe. Most importantly keep your eyes on the prize. This is spiritual warfare. Dream big! Sing loud from your heart. Don’t be a nervous Nellie and be too scared to fight for what you believe in.

I have to fight for social justice today because someone did it for me. We still have to get on the bus today because the fight isn’t over. You must keep your eyes on the prize and hold on.  We have the education today but have left out spirituality and love for each other. Nowadays we spend less time reaching out to each across communities for whatever reason. I believe we are here as servants to help coach each other. I think we should take the time to go meet people from many different communities, connect with them and to learn about their struggles. Once we learn them we can ask what can we do to help.

I woke up every day with the song of freedom in my heart. Do we do that today? I summon you today to read about this history and choose life.

Interview with Ms. O’Connor

Thank you as well for spending time with me. You are getting ready for the 50 year Freedom Summer Reunion in Jackson. How exciting!

Thank you Nanette. I am looking forward to our reunion this summer!

What did you learn as a young woman being a Freedom Rider and later being in the Civil Rights Movement?

The power and joy in being involved in change and protest was very motivating for me.  There is a sense of joy to be a part of a movement. It was also thrilling to be a woman to be a part of something so important when women were not typically called to action.  I learned an absolute that change never comes from the top and in fact it always comes from the bottom. History usually buries this fact. Another thing is that change comes in little steps. So often we are waiting for the flood of change to happen but really it is uncountable steps of change. Floods are made of many tiny drops. Nowadays, I think people are forgetting about the small steps. They remember the 1960s and the fiction from the movement is that all the change for civil rights happened overnight. In fact, there were tiny steps that started in the 1930s. Many years later, there was the flood of going to jail. SNCC started because of the efforts of one woman, Ella Baker. Truly great leaders like Ella are typically lost to history and don’t get the credit.

What guidance can you give us to fully realize the dream?

We need to act. This is the time to push for change. We all have a responsibility to do make social justice and equality happen now.

The lesson that Ella taught us is forgotten. We need to organize at the community level in order to make real positive and enduring change. I can only talk about my community not about other communities. I cannot presume to know what they need. People need to express their own dream. Our job is to [learn] how to listen. You can’t tell people what their dreams are. We can ask what do you want me to do and how do we want me to work. Typically we give clothes to the goodwill for example and believe we are helping others. It is not charity that we need but social change and justice. Doing good for others is our daily responsibility but what we are talking about is much bigger than that. Our job is to build a society of justice that we all deserve. We need to be critical thinkers and ask why something is the way that it is when we see inequality or something doesn’t feel right. Then think about possible solutions. It is not social service but social change that I am talking about.

Where is the anger, where is the outrage today?

Concluding Remarks

Let’s not do what others have done and have Ms. Fikes and Ms. O’Connor’s stories be lost to history. The message of these women is still needed today. Let’s find inspiration in their words and actions and apply them at work, at home and in our communities.

The power of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Imagine that!

Indians Meet Indians: What Happens When Two Groups of People Have the Same Name? Interview with Dr. Anton Treuer.


Anton Treuer

Every child in America knows the story of Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue and “discovering” America and its peoples. He named the indigenous inhabitants Indians because he thought he was in India. People from India were already called Indians by the Europeans. The name stuck in both places. Since 1492, the English speaking world has had two groups of people called Indians. What do we do today when two people have the same name in English? It is an interesting by-product of globalization that many cultures called Indian from India and America get a chance to interact in the United States. What an opportunity! It makes me wonder if this has happened anywhere else on the planet.

The use of Indian as a native identifier is what is commonly used in Indian country today and has been for hundreds of years.  This post will not discuss the issues around the word but for the record, many American Indian people prefer to be called by their tribal nation. For current context read Everything You Wanted To Know About Indians but Were Afraid To Ask and a new video by the National Congress of American Indians.  In the United States 2010 census there were 3.2 million Asian Indians and they are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country.  In Minnesota, Indians from India are the fastest growing ethnic group and doubled their numbers from 16,887 in 2000 to 33,031 in 2010. In 2010, Eden Prairie, Minnesota Asian Indians were 4.2% of the city residents compared to the native Indians at .2%. This population growth has even influenced the local AMC Theater chain to dedicate screen time to Bollywood movies.

The Indian demonym, (the term for the identifier) has become confusing as more people from India have immigrated or are working in America and mixing with all groups of Americans. Several identifiers are commonly used. For example, the US Census uses Asian.  I grew up hearing East Indians to distinguish from American Indians and currently I read and hear just Indian.  Sometimes I hear or read Asian Indian. Some of my friends from Indian have told me that those words are offensive to them. They prefer Indian.

Another point of confusion is the federal and state censuses. For starters, as students and families register in public schools, they have to identify themselves by race. The typical census forms show several categories from which to choose but the two that are available to both groups is American Indian/Alaskan native or Asian/Pacific Islander. If one is new to this country, American Indian could be a choice to make. This choice becomes an issue when schools need accurate reporting data for No Child Left Behind reporting and accuracy for the American Indian Education programs. As a result, Indians from India show up on the American Indian data reports. It is important for public institutions, for example, to have accurate data because they receive state and federal funding based on what should be accurate representations of their populations.

I reached out to Dr. Anton Treuer, celebrated author of Everything You always Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask and professor of American Indian history at Bemidji State University, to weigh in on this discussion.

Interview with Dr. Treuer

Thank you Tony for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Also, congratulations on the publication of your new book, The Atlas of Indian Nations!

Thank you! It is being previewed now and will be sale in September or October.

Tony, what are thoughts about this phenomenon of two groups of people living in America with the same name?

First of all, it is important for all people to be validated and respected. It is easy to see how the term being used for two different people would cause confusion. And that confusion may fuel or trigger misunderstandings, hurt feelings or misassociations. So navigating a path forward, it would be useful to have a mutually agreed upon terminology that makes everyone happy. I think the discussion gets bogged down because Native Americans do not have a universal mind on terminology. That doesn’t mean though that people don’t care although sometimes it can get read that way.

Who owns the name? Is that even possible?

That’s a tough one to answer. Names should be owned and originated by the people they reference. Unfortunately that’s not how they have originally evolved. Going forward it would be good to empower Native Americans and people from India to choose the labels that make most sense to them for self-reference and for other’s reference.  Some confusions need to be clarified from context rather than calling people feathers or dots; or green vs. red.

Thank you Tony for sharing insights and ways we can address this reality! What I hear you saying is that we should look to the people themselves to share how they would like to be called rather than making up a name for them.

We cannot undo the past but it important what we do today. First, it is critical that data which affects groups in regards to achievement, voting areas and state/federal funds for example, needs to be accurate. Second, everyone has the right to identify themselves with a name and nation as stated in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document.  The many diverse cultures called Indian from the United States, like the Dakota, Ojibwe, Mesquakie, for example, and India such as Hindi, Punjabi, and Bihari, for example, present us with a unique opportunity to celebrate our new diversity!

Never Giving Up On the Dream! Four Virtues to Make it Happen.

Dr. King’s dream of a world of children being judged by the content of their character rather the color of their skin is one that still rings true 50 years after he said it at the March on Washington. It should be repeated again and again until the dream is fulfilled. The concern is that for some of us it is a dream that we have forgotten, resisted or given up on altogether.

Whatever the reasons, we should remind ourselves that we can still make this dream come true. I believe practicing virtues are a way for us to fulfill the dream. A virtue is a behavior that is positive, moral and ethical and is a way of being that leads us as individuals to a better place. The Virtues Project is a great place to learn more about virtues and get specific definitions. What are the virtues needed for us to fulfill Dr. King’s dream? There are four foundational virtues that come to mind for me: Love, persistence, freedom from prejudice and forgiveness.

Love is what we need to show and practice to everyone, no matter their skin color, every single day. The Virtues Project defines love as treating people with care and kindness because they mean so much to us. We should love all children, ourselves and everyone who comes across our path.

Persistence is that virtue of never giving up on something despite difficult odds. It is such an important self-discipline that underscores the foundation of fulfilling Dr. King’s dream. The Habits of Mind is a resource that offers much about this virtue. In practicing these virtues to fulfil Dr. King’s dream we should identify the ones we need to work on the most and persist in making them a part of our routine.

Forgiveness is a virtue that implies that we must give up grudges that we have held towards others. Learning to give others and oneself another chance after having done something wrong is immense. This virtue is one of the hardest to do because forgiving oneself is tough. Go the Virtues Project for more.

Freedom from Prejudice is simply taking the time to reflect on the personal prejudice one may have towards judging people by the color of their skin. Taking action to self-correct that prejudice is the next requirement.

Let’s give the dream and fulfilment some perspective.  It took 371 years for slavery to end, 188 years for everyone in the United States to get to exercise their right to vote, 202 years for everyone to finally be able to lawfully worship their religion without penalization. Dr. King expressed his dream in 1964. It has been a short 50 years with many accomplishments much but I believe we are in the next phase of fulfilment.

As we reflect on Dr. King’s dream, on his day of commemoration today, let’s remember the words of the great Nelson Mandela: “It is impossible until it is done”. Let’s make it so together. No matter who you are: student, retiree, office worker, ceo, average person, etc.; we all have a part to play!


Three Lessons My Mother Taught Me on Race

This summer has been a whirlwind of events touched by many things but the biggest event for me was the passing of my mother on July 14th. I have been reflecting on the lessons Mumsey taught me especially the ones related to race. My mother’s life serves as an example of what everyday people can do to improve race relations and interrupt the racism that occurs every day in America.  My mother was not in the limelight of American race relations or famous as a civil rights worker on race and racism. These, however, are three lessons she left.

Lesson 1: We are one family made of many skin colors. My mother’s mantra for as long as I can remember is that we belong to one human family even though there are people who want to separate us into different racial categories. Mumsey always said that separating us by race was old fashioned thinking and we needed to think and act towards the future of oneness. She was not colorblind however. A favorite quote that is branded in my brain is that “we are the flowers of one garden”. She always talked about the beauty of the various skin tones, hair types and facial shapes. I am sure she wanted me to feel good about how I looked.

Lesson 2: Make real friendships across the color line. My mother was so amazing with making friends from many different races and cultures! Our house was always full of people having rich conversations about solving the world’s problems and she would be sure to keep them in good food and desserts. Since part of this time was during Jim Crow and after, with many Americans living in racially segregated neighborhoods, my mother’s integrated social gatherings were not popular with the friends she grew up with and they dropped her. Losing these friendships caused her pain but she never looked back. By the time it was the mid- 1960’s she had new friendships that she loved and valued.

Lesson 3: Be courageous. If anything, Mumsey was fearless. She quietly went about her business of ending racism within her sphere of influence. She invited her friends black, native and others into establishments that were known to be white only. She purposely walked into “colored only” restrooms while traveling in the south. She made a stand many times to stop racism and discrimination from happening when it crossed her path and affected her family and friends. Just recently, Upworthy.com. posted a practical lesson that white people can do to make the world a better place shared by Dr. Joy Degruy. It is a worthy lesson we all can learn from and do.

Of course, Mumsey had the privilege as a white woman not to do this work but she had the will and courage to choose a path that many of her white contemporaries did not do. The path she chose influenced me such that my world is tempered through a lens of racial oneness. A oneness that includes an acceptance and celebration of the integration of all the racial and cultural diversity that makes us who we are as human beings.  No one skin color is better than another and we need to continue to work hard to dismantle the structures and white privilege that exist to keep racism alive and well. If Mumsey were alive today, she would keep pressing forward and give us the encouragement to never give up. She would always quote her old friend Agnes Brawley, from Milwaukee, “The problem with race relations today is that we don’t have enough relations”! This was true back in 1950 and still is today. Thank you Mumsey for never giving up! This is your legacy.

What’s in a Name? Everything!

BebaBean1 BebaBean2

As I travel this great country I am amazed at some of the names of cities, towns, landmarks and commercial products that come from another time and space. Am I in a time warp, alternate universe or the twilight zone? It certainly could not be 2013. My first example comes from a Sacramento, California children’s clothing store. I was shopping for clothes and noticed a product  for parents to use to cover unexpected baby boy urine accidents called Pee-pee Teepee. It is shaped into the tipi form. Great concept but wrong name. This is an example of cultural misappropriation of Dakota and Lakota people. See my previous post on this subject.

Why should we care? Tipi is a Dakota word meaning dwelling. Ramona Kitto Stately, Dakota educator, says, “As a Dakota Art and Culture major and an indigenous woman, the Home (tipi) is the heart of the people.  It is the place where we live, where we nurtured and grew families.  The home never left us as we traveled in seasonal cycles, it came with us.  It was so sacred to the people and so necessary for shelter that it was owned by the women.  There is a specific protocol to putting it up, the door facing the east to greet the dawn.  The morning is the most sacred time of the day, we come out and pray and give thanks for the present, the gift of a new day”.

Ms. Stately goes on to say that “Sometimes the tipi symbolism show up in some our oldest designs which proves that the lodge was the very important part of our world.  It is on the Jeffers Petroglyphs which is over 5,000 years old. Taking a sacred object and associating it with a diaper is so incredibly disrespectful. It is proof that the master narrative and white privilege is alive and well in America”.

Please contact Beba Bean and let them know why they need to change the name. Beba Bean not only trademarked the name but wants us to know that it is a perfect shower gift!

Minnesota, the land of 10,000 and more lakes, has its own controversy with the word squaw. The s-word is a pejorative word for female genitalia, specifically American Indian. It is sometimes known as the s-word because indigenous women no longer want to say it and they believe it is equal to the n-word in its offensiveness. Why in the world would we continue to use such a word once we know it is offensive?  Since 1994, activists have been trying to remove the word from the state. Angela Losh and Dawn Litzau, then teenagers, led a successful movement to have Minnesota legislators pass a law to ban the s-word on 19 geographic features. They were successful and eventually the s-lake name was renamed Nature’s Lake. An issue remains because the town remains s-Lake.  In protest, Minnesota Ojibwe residents of the Leech Lake Reservation simply refer to the town as s-lake. Minnesota could learn from its neighbor South Dakota (and other states) who is making efforts to remove the words “negro” and the s-word from 18 sites.  Squaw Valley, California continues with the name and has its own website http://www.squaw.com. We need to work harder to remove all offensive names from American towns and cities.

Dr. Anton Treuer learned about s-word bread from the Old Town Baking Company. He complained to the company and wrote a great counter story to the name on Facebook. His post was later removed. There is now a Facebook page called S-word Bread Needs a New Name. Indian Country Today reports that the company will rename the bread. Kudos to Dr. Treuer for his advocacy and leadership that is making a positive change!


Just Google the s-word bread and several recipes turn up. Milton’s Bread Company is another example. Indian Country has another post about it. Many people have complained and now the bread has been removed from its website. Let’s hope the bread is gone for good. When we see examples of the s-word on products, place names and the like please contact the company and legislators to let them know your disgust. Without our actions, change will not occur. A couple of great resources to assist us in learning about indigenous people of America are Everything you Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask and Do All Indians Live in Tipis? by the National Museum of the American Indian.

So what’s in a name and why should we care? We should care that linking the traditional home of the Dakota and Lakota nations to a personal hygiene product is racist and culturally insensitive. It is an example of a majority culture taking advantage of a minority culture. When the names are taken for personal or professional gain we are marginalizing and mythologizing native people  but not inviting them to the table of friendship, decision making and the board room.

K-12 Leadership: The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent

The recent actions of two superintendents caused me to take pause. Why, because they are polar opposite examples of effective leadership. Their actions are two examples of what K-12 superintendents are doing to lead or not to lead their school districts into the 21st century. First, let’s take a look at a “good” superintendent. Recently, Albany Public Schools made headline news because a teacher required her students to write a report from a Nazi perspective as to why ”Jews are evil”. It was called “Pretend You are a Nazi”. Several students refused to participate and protested the assignment. The protest reached the ear of the superintendent Dr. Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard. She immediately began what would seem is a routine investigation as any superintendent would do. Prior to the investigation was recognition that she understood the intent of the lesson, the connection and understanding that as an assignment, students do need to address issues that are uncomfortable and use writing to learning how to argue from both perspectives. However, the distinction is that the exploration of multiple perspectives just for the sake of gaining diverse perspectives should never be undertaken at the expense of others who were victimized.

What distinguishes Dr. Vanden Wyngaard is how she chose to address the situation. She listened and responded to a perspective that is not typically acknowledged: the students. What makes her “good” is that she responded and not reacted. Dr. Vanden Wyngaard, as quoted in CNN, called the assignment “completely unacceptable.” “It displayed a level of insensitivity that we absolutely will not tolerate in our school community,” Wyngaard said, “I am deeply apologetic to all of our students, all of our families and the entire community.” Through the investigative process she invited the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to provide trainings to her staff and students. Wow! From what I read from the copy is that she was not threatened by a different perspective and decided to make much needed systemic changes in the curriculum and instruction. We can learn a lot from her example.


The second superintendent example comes from Georgia. The story continues to be in the news because of the wonderment that a high school in 2013, Wilcox High School was finally having an integrated prom. Steve Smith is an example of a “bad” superintendent. Mr. Smith stressed, according to a CNN report, “the segregated proms aren’t organized by the schools”. He later wrote that  “he and the county’s board of Education “not only applaud their (the student’s idea), but we also passed a resolution advocating that all activities involving our students be inclusive and nondiscriminatory. I fully support these ladies, and I consider it an embarrassment to our schools and community that these events have portrayed us as bigoted in any way”.  Mr. Smith also was quoted as saying his high school will consider hosting an integrated prom in 2014. Consider!  How’s that for leadership savvy? At first, I thought that the superintendent was responsible for finally making changes to the prom policy but found the contrary to be true. The prom was actually organized by an interracial group of students who decided enough was enough. A segregated whites only prom was still held in the county.

What makes Mr. Smith a “bad” leader? It is the fact that he is not taking the opportunity to lead his students and families into 21st century multiracial America. He did not stand up to the parents and the school board by supporting his students with an integrated prom. By allowing the district to not host any prom as a strategy to not host an integrated prom sends a terrible message to his students. The message he sent to them is that white and black students should not mix and be friends. This is unacceptable. Proms are an example of a school related activity that should be hosted by district officials with the help of volunteers not parents who want to keep white students away from black students.

Who makes the lists of “indifferent” superintendents? They are the leaders who accept educational racial disparities and gaps in their programming and achievement and do nothing about them. They allow mediocre teachers to continue to teach poorly to the very students who need access to the best educators and they allow principals to improperly lead their schools by perpetuating inequitable conditions of learning and achievement.  Children under the care of these “indifferent” superintendents do not reach their potential. Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond recently summed up what indifference looks like today and what America needs to do for the better. Superintendents can learn from her research and expertise. She was interviewed by Dr. Eric Cooper on NCEBC (National Council on Educating Black children) blog radio and shared her views called: Educational Inequality and America’s Future: What Must Be Done? Her key points:

  • We should treat our children as our most precious resource.
  • We need to advocate for an equitable school system.
  • Provide equitable funding, resources and opportunities to all students not just the students who come from affluent families.
  • We should pay attention and provide equitable education to English language learners, low income students and students of color. Provide the supports needed for success. This is an investment.
  • Provide high quality teachers to students and high quality programming as well.
  • Provide job embedded professional learning opportunities for teachers.
  • Invest in high quality teachers and principals.
  • Take care of our children by providing health care, housing, high quality pre-school, access to learning opportunities and meals.
  • Provide enriched curriculum for all children not just basic skills.
  • Analyze what is needed for children and then provide the necessary supports.

We must keep our school districts and superintendents accountable to provide equitable education for our students. It is critical for us to work together and advocate for changes or our nation will continue to decline in educational outcomes. What will we tell our grandchildren and future generations? That they were not worth the investment? As Dr. Darling- Hammond eloquently states: “We should treat our children as our most precious resource”.

Race, Satan and Our Need To Change

Social media has been atwitter with commentary on the casting of Satan in the History Channel’s miniseries: The Bible. Did the producers purposely cast an actor who looked like President Obama? I will not address this question but instead focus on what I think is the root of the commentary and offer solutions. Does racial prejudice continue to operate in America in regards to accepting a person of color, especially a black person, to be in a position of authority?

History Channel

This is old news, and you may be asking yourself why would someone write another blog about another instance of racism? I get that. The permanence of racism is alive and well. Just yesterday the New Times reported that a licensed psychologist had testified that race plays a part in predicting future violent behavior!

A quick scan on our nation’s hiring data confirms that, while great inroads have been made for people of color in positions of authority, we still have a long way to go. We continue to have a serious issue with coconscious and unconscious racial bias towards people of color. The data across all areas tell a similar story:

  • 4.2% people of color hired for CEO positions
  • 18.5% people of color for 5 of 20 Silicon Valley companies reporting
  • 2 % African American and 2% Latino for superintendents
  • 22% people of color for the current Supreme Court Justices
  • 16% people of color for members of Congress
  • A lack of American Indians across the board

There are a few ways to think about this data:

  1. There are no qualified people of color to fill these positions. Therefore racism does not exist. America elected a black president so there is no more racism.
  2. Hiring managers talk behind closed doors and decide that only 1, 2 or a handful of people of color should be in authority. This would be a reverse affirmative action policy.
  3. There is racial bias in hiring.
  4. Deficit thinking is at play. Hiring managers believe that black people, Latinos and American Indians are not as smart as whites and Asians. It starts in grade school when students are identified for special education and gifted and talented services. K-12 tracking fuels the practice of segregating white students in enriched classes with little or no students of color except for Asians. Black, American Indians and Latino students are relegated to special education. It is no wonder that students believe that black, Latino and American Indian students are not smart. Because they are not present, a deficit belief starts to take root.

What can we do to change our beliefs so that our behaviors reduce and eliminate our racial bias and prejudices?   A few studies illustrate that with effort racial bias can be reduced. One study (Perceptual Other-Race Training Reduces Implicit Racial Bias) found that racial bias behaviors are malleable and can be changed with effective training. Another study (Can Racial Bias Be Changed?) concluded that a person’s attitudes about racial bias can positively or negatively affect outcomes.  Another compelling study (Racial Bias Can Be Changed by Teaching People to Differentiate Facial Features Better in Individuals of a Different Race) focused on helping people differentiate faces of people from other races which reduced their racial bias.

My key point is that we have the ability to eliminate racism by working on ourselves. Here are a few suggestions:

  • First, we need to make genuine interracial friendships. My mother’s dear friend Agnes Brawley, living in segregated Milwaukee, used to say: “The problem with race relations is that there are not enough relations”. We need to build friendships across races and cultures. This will help reduce prejudice and racial bias.
  • Second, we need to acknowledge that we have unconscious and conscious racial beliefs and act on them every day.  It will take effort and training, day by day, for us to make positive changes.
  • Third, we need to start having courageous conversations on race. Talking about race and addressing issues should not be a fear anymore. We have to believe in ourselves that we will not be afraid of offending someone or being called a racist.  Glenn Singleton of Pacific Educational Group offers a practical framework for action called Courageous Conversations on Race.
  • Fourth, Tod Ewing offers up a spiritual solution in his book. He states that a powerful step for racial healing is taking a step to see heaven in the face of black men.
  • Fifth, researchers have found it is possible to eliminate our racial biases but we must be internally driven or otherwise motivated to suppress them.

Deciding to take action is a first step to help us change our beliefs about different races. The rest involves hard work, internal motivation and practice to see positivity instead of deficits in people of color.

Commentary on the Five Myths of Talking About Race With Your Child

I recently read Jaime- Jin Lewis’s article called Five Myths of Talking about Race with Your Child in the RIISE blog. Ms. Lewis is spot on! Every parent and educator of children should read it and practice her tips of addressing the myths. I would like to add two more myths to the list. Perhaps there are others as well. Please send them in to the comment section.

Myth 6: Having Same Race Friendships Are Enough

In working with K-12 educators over the past few years, I have heard parents tell me that they are worried that their children only hang out with friends from their racial group. The children have no interest in building friendships across the color line. These parents recognize that their children are in danger of developing bias that left unchecked will grow into unhealthy beliefs about people of color. See Ms. Lewis’s Myths #1 and #3. The question to ask parents is what interracial friendships do they have? Parents are a model of social interaction for their children. One of the best ways to interrupt same race self- selection that children do is for parents to show them the way through their own multiracial friendships. It simply is not enough to talk about race or the benefits of diversity. Children should experience interracial relationships regularly, the earlier the better.

Myth 7: Sending Children on Mission/Service Projects is Enough

Sending children of any race on cross-cultural/racial mission or service trips can confuse them and may send them on a path of superiority. Over the years, parents would tell me that they were so proud of their children going to an Indian reservation or a country of color because they were learning about diversity and embracing it. Parents knew that valuing diversity is a key step to help reduce prejudice and is an important part of living in 21st century America. The major issue with this strategy is that it can promote privilege, specifically white privilege. The privilege that comes from a young person thinking they are doing good helping human kind but perhaps perpetuating a “missionary” attitude. A missionary attitude can be defined as someone trying to help others from a position of a “do gooder” or place of racial, cultural or religious superiority. The term became cemented into the American lexicon during the mission period of the last century with Christians forcibly Christianizing American Indians. The belief was that the spiritual beliefs of indigenous people were inferior.

Parents can’t count on the religious or service organizations providing a race conscious or culturally competent orientation.  It is recommended that parents sit down with their children and have a heart to heart talk about the purpose of their trip and address race and cultural issues.

Ideally, service should be two way and co-created without any hint that one race, culture or belief system is better than another.

Talking about race to anyone can be challenging but it is critical to start the conversation with our children. Ms. Jin-Lewis’s article is a great place to start. What other myths exist that need to be surfaced and discussed? Please share in the comment section.

What is Culture, Race and Ethnicity?

What is culture anyway? Is it race, religion, food or a way to dress? Do some people have culture and some don’t? That is what I want to discuss in this week’s post. The classic anthropological definition of culture is that it is a way of life that includes belief, traditions, food, rituals, behavior, language, facial expressions and music. This is not an all-inclusive list. Dr. Yvette Jackson, from the National Urban Alliance says that culture is “whatever is meaningful and relevant to a person”.

Culture is what we pass down to our children every single day through our speech, dress and actions. Every country has a dominant culture that houses its language, governance, education, belief and family structures to name a few. In the United States, the dominant culture is English-American, sometimes referred to as WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant), that originates from English Puritan roots from 1609. Let’s unpack this: We speak English, we dress in English style clothes and have Christian style of beliefs rooted in Puritanism. That is not to say that America was not influenced by the Iroquois, Africans, the Spanish or the French. We were but, have you noticed, we are not speaking Algonquian, French, Swahili or Spanish as the national language? Language is THE carrier of culture. It means that the English colonists created the USA and spread their cultural hegemony from sea to shining sea.  My observation is that in the national context culture is labeled as entertainment, art and having high status and excellent manners a la “being cultured”.

Words that have become synonymous with culture are race, nationality and ethnicity. In case you are wondering, the USA is not a culture although we will encounter people who believe it to be true. The USA is a nationality that is designated on a passport. Adding to the fray is the word ethnicity. This is another word that gets mixed up with culture as well. It stems from the Greek word for nation and really stands for a social group who share a geographic region, language and culture. Over time though, the national media continues to confuse us as does the US Census Bureau. Take a look at any survey and I guarantee that you will be asked to supply your ethnicity when you know full well you are being asked to disclose your race.  The US Census Bureau categories are another story that needs its own discussion.

Culture is not a race though we will commonly hear people make references to the white culture, the black culture and the Indian culture. What gives? Race is a social construct invented by the Swedish taxonomist, Carolus Linneaus, back in 1758. We can thank him for the lovely terminology of negroid, Caucasoid and mongoloid. His invention has been disastrous for the world and we have inherited a false belief of people based on skin color. Even though we know there is only one race, we continue to give it importance by perpetuating that there are five races. American society is obsessed with race.

So are there white and black cultures? I think not. If we decide to go down the white culture and black culture path we run risk of racially stereotyping people e.g. “all white people eat watermelon and all black people have no rhythm. However, within each of these racial groups, many sub-cultures exist trying to survive. For example, if all the white people of the world were put in a line, one would find cultural distinctions of Russian, Dutch, English, Portuguese and Euro-American to name a few. Ditto for black people. What about whiteness and blackness? Those terms have become popular as well in the American lexicon. What do they mean? I prefer to label them cultural behaviors associated with each race. Despite the fact that the Human Genome Project and American anthropological Association have all proven beyond a doubt that there is only one race Homo Sapiens Sapiens, we hold onto the false belief that skin color is the prime determinant of intelligence and behavior.  There you have it. I have contributed to perpetuating race in the guise of unpacking what it means to be us in the early 21st century while trying to be helpful!

The major reason we must be clear about definitions is that we need to bring culture back into culture and not be cavalier about it when so many cultures are in danger of becoming extinct and their languages no longer spoken. This just happened in Scotland, is a huge issue in Indian country and across the globe. Home work for this week:

  1. Identify your culture, nationality and your ethnic heritage.
  2. Share this information with a friend and post.

Don’t wait to find this information out when you travel and you are “outed” by others. That is cheating!