Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Privilege at its Finest

Most of you know that I rarely write on my blog, so this must have been a biggie to incite me to write after about eight months of latency. I try my best to respect all people, and their contributions, therefore I am not in any way asserting that this is the behavior of all men. I just thought that this situation is one that should be pointed out, as to raise our consciousness about something that we should have somewhat mastered by the time we enter our adult years – mutual respect.

I was working on a publication for our non-profit agency – a brochure that would advise our potential funders of what we do, and why they should feel compelled to make a contribution. The program that we are promoting is aligned with the Children’s Defense Fund – an agency that serves as a voice for minority, poor, and handicapped children. After presenting several times nationally on the subject of community needs assessment, empowerment for minority and oppressed populations, and even working to implement a model for youth empowerment in Charlotte, NC (about which I hope to publish the results of that work with a team of distinguished professors from all over the United States), I thought that that work would qualify me to be addressed as more than just an errand girl fetching information, and actually be regarded as one with valid points, and opinions.

No such luck. I was told in a tersely, “Bring your work. I’m sure I’ll have to revise it. Know that our third party will have a view, and you’ll have to leave the emotion out of your point of view.” I try not to curse, but my emotion almost came out. There were so many oppressive undertones to this conversation. The sad thing is that I don’t know if I should attribute this blatant insensitivity to sexism or ageism. All too often women and young women are treated as if we need to constantly be evaluated by paternalistic older men who believe that they have to continue to check over our work as if we are completing a grade school homework assignment. It is definitely time that we change our language and come into the 21st century. When we work together, we certainly should not impose authority over one another in a group, especially when the job descriptions do not dictate that we do so.

But, we must also look at the roots of our prejudice. Why is it that women are always assumed to be guided by emotion for emotion’s sake? Even if that were the case, I am the one with the psychological background, and thus my input should definitely be valued and highly regarded. I am the one who has studied what motivates people to participate in philanthropic initiatives, and what motivates them to spend money. Emotion has a lot with whether people give to one charitable cause over another. Understanding emotions, and the motivations for those emotions, is certainly important when done in an intentional manner. Furthermore, what my colleague did not understand, is that there are some who are guided by emotions, and those who are not. The objective is to pinpoint our audience to figure out whether emotions motivate them or not. But, if you ignore or devalue the role emotions play in our decisions, then you assume that all people think the same – which makes you vulnerable to stereotyping others, and thus offending those which you are asking for money.

Despite the overt insult, I kept cool and suggested what I thought to be obvious – have different publications that target different populations with different values, interests, and motivations. Isn’t that one of the major tenets of marketing – to identify and target various segments of the population, without assuming every segment is the same. The person I was speaking to forgot that I have studied both business and psychology, and that one of the major challenges for those who only think in terms of business is that they often forget the consumer, and the diversity of consumers.

This situation in a sense humored me, and in a sense saddened me. It’s funny how I can do so much work on a national level, with colleagues of national status, and my contributions be accepted at face value with no struggle. Then, I come back to my hometown to share that work and I am treated as if I am still about eight years old. Then I remember how Jesus was treated. A person is often without honor in their hometown. Unfortunately, I am not as self-sacrificial as Jesus. I will not be used and then denigrated. I will not lift a finger unless I am at the very least regarded as more than a woman without a brain whose only value is to carry out someone else’s ideas. I have plenty of my own, and the harvest already has too few laborers. There are too many opportunities to carry out the common good, thus I will only pursue opportunities where I am regarded as a peer, a collaborator, and a full partner.

Friday, January 16, 2009

OSF: Television Theme Songs

I always liked the energy of this theme song. And, in dark times, for some, our assurance is that there is a guiding light that comes from a higher power. We should also be reminded that we have the ability to do more than curse the darkness we see. We are more effective when we shine a light on it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Look Up and Live

“The greatest inspiration is often born of desperation.”

Next Tuesday will mark the inauguration of our first African American (who is actually bi-racial) President. I am amazed and ecstatic that this will occur in my lifetime. However, I can’t help but be angry because it is unlikely that he would have had a real chance at winning the presidency had our current economic crisis not occurred.

For those who identify as Christian, we believe that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). So, one might agree that despite all of the corruption going on around us, Americans were inspired to set aside racial prejudices to elect a truly inspirational and capable figure to lead us. And, though something so marvelous, and to many so unexpected has happened right before our eyes, we seem to be preoccupied with all that is wrong in our world.

I am not saying that we should fail to acknowledge injustices as we experience them, but I am presenting the results of cultural oppression according to current literature. Those results can include being controlled by feelings of guilt, doubt, shame, and anger. Additionally, these feelings can lead to preoccupation with pessimism, aggression, and having unrealistic expectations of support systems and the world itself. Again, I am not suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand, but I am suggesting that we do what is necessary to effectively deal with the harsh realities of the world in which we live.

One way we can do so is by emphasizing the personal and cultural strengths that we bring to the world. Though we may be unable to actualize all of the accomplishments set by dominant culture, that does not have to stop us from setting our own standards of achievement in our individual and subcultures. That is one of the strengths that African American churches have contributed in decades past: the ability to affirm its members, and give each member the opportunity to be a stakeholder in the church’s development. Furthermore, African American churches affirmed the esteem of its members, and taught ingenuity in the face of opposition.

There are other support systems as well. The Children's Defense Fund is one of the organizations with which I have personal experience. As the organization advocates locally and nationally, it also emphasizes affirming the personal and community strengths of its participants. As the organization demands change at a national level, a commitment is made by its leaders to “fill in the gaps.” Sometimes we do not recognize that we are capable of meeting many of society’s needs when we work together.

That is why the opening quote is striking to me. Challenges and injustice are a part of life, and will probably always be a part of the human experience. Dwelling on these challenges, as easy as it is to do, can leave us uninspired. We need to assess our strengths more often, and allow positive thoughts to encourage us to move on. I think that may explain the verse in Philippians that instructs us to think on things that are lovely, and pure, and etc… In order to be effective in making this world a better place, we must look above the ashes, and live abundantly, so that others may see us and feel empowered to join us in leaving a positive mark.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Old School Friday: Graduation Song

I thought that this song would be appropriate, as it was released the year I graduated from high school (1997). Since financial difficulties are on many of our minds at present, sometimes it helps to remember that wealth does not always correlate with happiness. All that glitters is not gold.

For those who still "have" keep on doing what you're doing.

For those of us who "have not," it may help to prepare ourselves (psychologically and emotionally) for the time when we do "have."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Practices of Self and Self-Care

In reflecting on the present state of our economic condition (personal and national), as well as the increasing rate of crime and other societal ills, it has grown tempting to focus on all that is wrong with us (personally, socially, nationally, and politically). Focusing on what is wrong, and what we do not have can place us in an emotional, psychological, and physical “rut” if we are not very careful.

I am reminded of Edward P. Wimberly’s book, African American Pastoral Care and Counseling: The Politics of Oppression and Empowerment (2006). Wimberly discusses “practices of self”, which he defines as altering oppressive and self destructive identities and thoughts. I applied this principle to my life by focusing on what I do have as opposed to what I do not have. What I do have is what I need as opposed to all the things I want. I do have the ability to make my modest house a home by the way I treat myself and my housemates. I may not be able to afford all of the luxuries I would like, but I do have the ability to share love, understanding, concern, and time.

Wimberly mentions the need to reshape our lives, and to create new opportunities. Each individual has to apply this principle in a manner that complements their environment. For the person who values individualism, this may be simple. For those like me, who value collectivism, it is imperative that we keep balance on our scales. As we give to others in our environment, we must take as well. And, those who value a linear-hierarchical sub culture must embrace their role within the society (if one decides not to change the environment), and not assume unnecessary responsibilities.

In order to realize these opportunities, we might consider adopting Wimberly’s concept of self-care. That means that we should seek out emotionally, psychologically, and physically safe environments where we can be nurtured. We should avoid negative environments that remind us of what we lack, and replace those negative individuals and situations with others that edify us and challenge us to better ourselves, our families, and our communities.

It is always easier said than done. However, we are more likely to take better care or ourselves and one another if we take a little time to center ourselves and incorporate principles such as self-practices and self-care into our daily lives.