On Not Being Defensive

In an Open Letter to the Evangelical Church, Asian American evangelicals say that racism must stop. They lay out some examples in recent years of particularly offensive and publicized racial stereotyping of Asian cultures, and add 

“Although it is beyond unfortunate that these incidents happened at all, in many cases the reactions from the parties responsible towards the Asian Americans who have challenged them have been even worse than the initial stereotyping and ignorance.”

And so, after being explicitly told that the reactions toward those who challenge racism have been more damaging than the original racism, what response did these leaders receive? Anne Joh, one of the signers, describes at NYTimes.com’s Room For Debate, that 

In yet another sign of callousness, Asian-Americans were initially told, in effect, to “get over it.” Instead, it is U.S. white Christians who must “get over” their whiteness and their failure to see the already changed face of Christian faith.

I am no stranger to defensiveness; I am a white, male, straight, cisgendered, educated, middle-class liberal, after all. But those who receive privilege must learn to receive criticism without immediately going into self-protection mode. When someone calls us out on something racist or otherwise oppressive, the first thing we must do is listen, assuming for a moment that the person is right. Even if we really don’t think so, we can at least engage it as a thought experiment. Clearly, someone else has been hurt; whether or not we are personally to blame is way less important than the other person’s injury. What would you call someone who, after being involved in a traffic accident where another person was injured, stands around describing all the reasons he is not to blame and explaining that the injured party really isn’t hurt all that bad? This term applies to us, every time we respond defensively when someone has the grace to trust us enough to say that we have hurt them.

Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex

Here’s an analysis of Western media coverage of the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the face for speaking out in favor of girls’ education. Is the West’s interest in Ms. Yousafzai (who is definitely an incredible young woman) largely because she is a “helpless,” young, brown girl whom Western governments can “save” from the “evil,” brown, native men of her country? Notice: intersectional analysis of race and gender required!

Dispelling Myths About Columbus

Dispelling Myths About Columbus

Here’s a nice run through of the atrocities committed by colonial terrorist Christopher Columbus. Not totally on-board with the author’s renaming Columbus Day after Bartoleme de las Casas (who is a model of redemption), when others have already chosen “Indigenous People’s Day.” From http://theoatmeal.com/comics/columbus_day

Kids Know Gender Stereotypes – and Can Make Change

A couple things making the rounds of the Interweb these days have to do with gender stereotypes in children’s books marketed for boys and girls separately. Such as:


(see Constance Cooper, who includes a list of the revealing table of contents of each) and


(see @CratesNRibbons).

There’s nothing new about this. There are dozens of pink Bibles for girls and blue or sports- or adventure-themed Bibles for boys, not to mention non-Sciptural offerings. Anyone who has been to a store that sells toys, knows that there are pink aisles and blue aisles. (Smithsonian.com has a good article on the history of pink and blue as gendered colors.)

As Constance Cooper pointed out to her daughter when she found the above “survival” books in their favorite bookstore, these stereotypes hurt both boys and girls – who will, eventually, be men or women or genderqueer. This is gender essentialism: the belief that there are certain traits that the essence of being masculine or feminine. Girls/women don’t enjoy camping and do like to bake tiny cakes to share with others. Boys are exactly the opposite. That’s what makes them boys. If they dislike sports or think pink is a cool color, they are not “real” boys.

I have two sons, and gender essentialism hurts them every day, and as they approach junior high, I expect it will only get worse. They even live in a house where we regularly deconstruct gender and point out stereotypes. But that’s not enough to keep the social and capitalist forces that benefit from gender essentialism and the strict binary construction of gender from influencing their identities.

What also influences their identities is how their parents/caregivers help them respond to these stereotypes. Cooper and her daughter confronted the bookstore staff, who removed the books to a less prominent location. Children have a lot of power to make change. Not in the future. Now. Tell a child today.