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Everyday People*

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The New York City Police Department has a melting pot guide for its officers. This guide offers tips for understanding the ingredients that make up our multicultural stew. At first blush it would seem a little quaint in the 21st century to need such a guide (in New York City). Unless the police recruits are coming from a small town (in the 1950s!) it’s a pretty sure bet that they’ve met or seen people of other backgrounds. But more than a cursory familiarity is needed on the front lines.

What is striking about this 21st century guide is the assumptions it makes. The reports of its content would suggest that it is written for the white, Christian, heterosexual police officer. Unfortunately there’s nothing unique about this approach. “Diversity” manuals are almost always written from that perspective (and without irony!) Social worker guidelines, medical manuals, public and private sector human resource documents are almost always written from the perspective of the white Christian heterosexual. Anyone doubting this need only flip through the tomes in pursuit of the chapter: Understanding White Christian Heterosexuals. Good luck with that.

Beside the obvious bias that this perspective has, there is a larger efficacy issue at hand. Police officers, social workers, et al. who are not white, Christian and heterosexual experience a gap in their training. A social worker, let’s say from an observant Jewish urban background, working in a rural white Christian area is not well served by this type of training. It is assumed that she will know the customs and culture of white rural Christians. The assumption that NYPD officers are white, Christian and heterosexual is (mercifully) outdated. A first-generation Chinese-American police officer may be well versed in the customs of Chinese-Americans but not know the customs and culture of white Christians. It is true that people who are outside of the power-base of a society know some of the ways of that power group. It is an integral key to survival to know of the holidays and some customs of Christians, whites and heterosexuals if you are not of that background. But the more subtle cultural cues (the type which are always addressed in these manuals and training) need to be spelled out clearly for all people of all backgrounds. Creating diversity manuals, which only have the potential of being 100% effective for white Christian heterosexuals transcends irony.

By not viewing whites, Christians and heterosexual people as a “group” we are asserting that these people are the norm and everyone else is a minority or special interest. This perspective is not helpful and is on the verge of being utterly false. If nothing else it is woefully old-fashioned. When it comes to the topic of cultural awareness we must be ahead of the curve not behind it.

*I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do – Sly Stone (1968)

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Integrating Sports

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Organized sports have been in the news an awful lot lately, and not in a bowl/pennant/series kind of way. It’s been all about sex. Sexual orientation, sexual (mis)behavior, and gender orientation in team sports has been popping up like kernels in a Jiffy Pop. The accumulated effect of these pops is to force us to look at sports with fresh eyes. Why are teams gender-specific? Well, because (we sputter), because…men are biologically larger. Sometimes they are, and that is an ancient argument that we used to keep women out of the police force, the firehouse and the military.

If a standard of physical skill and strength is set for a team, why does it matter the gender of the player? Organized sports have never been so popular amongst children. Free-range play for every age of child has been replaced by team sports. During the K-12 years, boys and girls are often the same size, and in some cases the girls are bigger. There are unisex teams for children, but usually they only lasts until middle school. Most sports do not legally allow full body tackles. So if a girl/woman has an equal skill to that of a boy/man what is the issue exactly? Why are we hanging onto this gender specific paradigm? We let go of most gender specific curriculum years ago (show of hands for those who remember being tracked into sewing/cooking or mechanical drawing/shop.) The “Boys” and “Girls” engravings on old school doors while quaint are ignored. Title IX opened up an entire world of athletics to girls. And that was good. But it has been almost two generations since the initiation of that progress. Team sports have become as routine an endeavor for girls as ballet once was. So why aren’t boys and girls playing on the same team? Well, (ahem) what of the locker rooms, you ask?

Why in the world do we design locker rooms in which there is no privacy, particularly in schools? Is there ever a life stage more rife with body image issues?! Why do we subject any person to such a thing? Heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, transgender; everyone deserves a little privacy. That aside, the short answer to the locker room question is; build locker rooms with private showers equipped with a small vestibules (with hooks and shelves.) Lockers can be in a communal setting and dressing/undressing can be done privately.

Any organization, which by definition is for only one segment of the population, cultivates a potentially unhealthy camaraderie. The less diverse a group the more myopic their orientation. A group can easily influence even the most open-minded individual, particularly when they’re coached that there is no “I” in team. It is in closed societies that we often find misdeeds towards others. Opening up the teams to any person with the skills/talents to play the sport will create a better environment for all.

As more young people openly identify as transgender and/or L(esbian),G(ay),B(isexual) we will be faced with privacy and equity issues. And this is good. When we change the way school athletics is handled we will (eventually) see the effect on professional sports. It took years of Title IX to get us to the WNBA, and we certainly have a ways to go in other sports. But it is progress, and that is good.

 
 

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Will Someone Care?

There is a beautiful piece in today’s paper about, amongst other things. isolated geriatric gay men.   The generation that is now elderly, came of age in the late 1930s and 1940s.  Historically, not the best of times to be “out.”  It stands to reason that when one must keep their personal life in the dark, their personal life may not grow and thrive.  Certainly there are heart warming stories about men and women who defied convention during these times.  (Juxtaposed to the very sad piece about gay men dying alone was the grin inducing piece about a gay couple who met in 1944 and lived together for 60 years.)

I don’t think these two stories being about men is a coincidence.  I will venture that fewer gay women live a life of solitude, or if in partnership; notice.  An upside to our society’s gender bias is (remarkably) fewer gender lifestyle restrictions for women.  Women have lived together for centuries.  Boston Marriage, anyone?  Two women setting up housekeeping is not only not a “threat” to their community, but considered quaint.  Women who cross-dress (think: Annie Hall) are seen as creative or fashion forward.  I’m not so sure anyone would think that of a man in a dress (of course, they’ve probably never seen Eddie Izzard.)  Adding to society’s gender inequity is plain old biology.  Love it or hate it, there is a difference between girls and boys.  Chromosomal testing results aside, I am the first to say it is difficult to discern what is biological and what is sociological.  Let’s just decide not to be entirely definitive on the origin, but agree that women experience the world more socially than men.  GENERALLY.  Very very generally.  Women tend to have more friends and intimates and stronger social networks.  Women tend to process the world through relationships.  Again, generally.

The duality of a) the community accepting women cohabiting and b) women tending to have strong social supports contribute to gay women presumably being at less of a risk of aging/dying alone.  The author of the geriatric piece, Dr. Eskildsen, urges us to not to assume heterosexuality when working with patients.  I happen to think “not assuming heterosexuality” is just a good rule to live by, period.  However, I might shy away from sexual orientation emphasis when it comes to issues of isolation.

Aside from the obvious gender chasm (versus sexual orientation chasm) that I’ve described above.  Many people either choose, or through happenstance, live a very solitary life.  Some people even flat out prefer to be alone.  It would seem to me that the goal should be to avoid projecting our own desires onto someone else.  Tending to a person (geriatric patient or otherwise) according to what the individual craves is the most humane.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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