Archive for July, 2009

James Walker: Diversity in Social Media & PR

As a Black woman in social media I too have noticed the lack of women and people of color in conferences, panels, and top 50 lists. This is something I’ve referred to when I attended the WAM Conference in March. I recently moderated a panel at Campus Progress about how Social Media is changing the way we break news, but it was then I began to reflect again on how rare it is that you have a woman of color moderating a panel of that nature, let alone participating on one.  My colleague and fellow GW Alum James Walker talks about diversity in social media and communications — or lack thereof–in this piece originally posted at his blog, Gen Y PR Prescriptions.

If I had to assign the last week one overarching theme, there’s no question that it would be diversity.

It started with Sunday afternoon thoughts about one social media heavyweight who just does not seem to get the credit she deserves, Corvida Raven. I could try to describe her, but I think she does a better job in her twitter profile:

  • – Oprah of the web
  • – @MrTweet blog editor
  • – New Media Specialist
  • – Awesomesauce

She was on USTREAM not too long ago talking about issues she had with the social media tweetups and other events being held in the Atlanta area. Her main concern seemed to be that the events were all being held in places convenient to a certain circle of people. This normally meant that events were held in a section of Atlanta that was:

  1. Close to that circle of people (work and/or home)
  2. In places (bars/restaurants/meeting spaces) that they and their group frequented
  3. Not *reasonably metro accessible (long travel time or just inaccessible by normal standards)

She noted that she makes an effort to go whenever possible but can’t always go mainly because of number 3. One thing that is apparent when she does go is that she sees the same faces all the time. My guess is that those are faces unlike hers. There are several questions that come to mind, but they are tied to my next “diversity week” event, Women Who Tech.

Every month, DC Tech Titan Jill Foster holds great sessions at NPR as a part of her DC Media Makers series. The July meetup included a presentation from fellow Tech Titan Allyson Kapin, founder of Women Who Tech. Without mincing words, women are underrepresented in the tech industry and often are nowhere to be found when you look at speaker panels at major conferences.  Women Who Tech was created to “to break down the barriers and showcase the brilliant talents of women who tech out” and also to “create a database of women technology experts to be used as a resource for the media and tech conference organizers.”

I agreed with everything that Allyson had to say until she said that  she’s begun to boycott sessions that aren’t representative of women in the industry in terms of panels and attendance. I didn’t agree with that because I thought that she was contributing to the problem by not participating, but event attendee D.C. Hughes hit her with one better. He said, “I look around and see five black males [in a room of about 40]. If I were to apply that here, I’d boycott this event.”

I couldn’t help but laugh because of the way he said it, but he was right. The entire time I sat there listening to Allyson’s issues and the steps she was taking to address them, I was wondering if there was a way to transfer that and if someone should take up the charge to work towards equal (or at least more equal) representation for people of color in the Tech, PR and Social Media sectors.  The clear answer is yes.

However, addressing the diversity issue will not be as easy and clear cut as the picture I included above. There are several questions that will need to be answered in order to get to the roots of the *problems* helping diversity remain an issue.

Now that I’ve had my say, I’d like to do my part, but I can only do that with your help.

Here’s what I need from you.

  1. If you’re even remotely interested in this issue, email me at james.walker@prprescriptions.com.
  2. If you’re not interested but think this might be of value, please tweet this, forward the link out to your networks, send smoke signals, messenger pigeons…you get the idea!
  3. If you know people I should be reaching out to, feel free to email or include their info in a comment below.

The Sotomayor Hearings and White Male Condescension

Picture Courtesy of the New York Times

Picture Courtesy of the New York Times

By the way: For those of you who missed the hearings or just want to see a good rundown of who’s who in all of this: Check out Adam Serwer’s post over at the American Prospect.

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I really did watch all 4 days of the Sotomayor hearings.  I didn’t watch so much to hear what the Republicans were going to say. I was pretty sure that they were going to harp on her speeches and the “wise latina” comment in particular, and do some failed race-baiting. I really did it to hear Sonia Sotomayor speak, and to watch her play hardball in the face of all of that racist and sexist adversity.

But what I wasn’t counting on was how offensive the tone of Republican’s questioning was going to be. I was more offended by the condescending and bullying tone peole like Tom Coburn used than the words themselves. They spoke to Sotomayor for 4 days as if she was a 12 year old on the street. Jessica Faye Carter talks more about this in her column at True Slant:

There’s another way to describe how certain Committee members have spoken to Judge Sotomayor: microaggressively.

The term “racial microaggressions” was originally coined in 1970 by Dr. Chester Pierce, a psychiatrist, to describe the (sometimes unconscious) mistreatment and humiliation of Blacks by Whites. But the definition has evolved over time to include behavior exhibited towards women and all people of color.  According to Dr. Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University, microaggresions are subtle behaviors that communicate slights, hostility, insults, or disrespect toward a specific person or group. In other words, they are put-downs that don’t really seem like put-downs—making them all the more challenging to identify and address.

Microaggressions generally fall into three categories: microassaults, an overtly racist act or communication, microinsults, which are demeaning or insensitive behaviors, and microinvalidations, or the negation and invalidation of a person’s life experiences.  The more subtle microaggressions were not only present in Judge Sotomayor’s hearing, but seem to have gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media.

Still don’t believe me or Jessica? Look at this example:

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed unconvinced that Judge Sotomayor, a sitting appellate judge, understood specific legal doctrines. So he questioned her on them, praising her when she answered correctly—as if he were her instructor—and consistently interrupting her as she attempted to respond:

SEN. GRAHAM: When Judge Rehnquist says he was a strict constructionist, did you know what eh (sic/he) was talking about?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: I think I understood what he was referencing, but his use is not how I go about looking at –

SEN. GRAHAM: What does strict constructionism mean to you?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Well, it means that you look at the Constitution as its written or statutes as they are written and you apply them exactly by the words.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. Would you be an originalist?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Again, I don’t use labels. And — because –

SEN. GRAHAM: What is an originalist?

via Transcript – Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings, Day 2 – Text – NYTimes.com.

It is wholly appropriate for Mr. Graham to ask Judge Sotomayor what a specific legal term means to her, or whether she considers herself to fit into a certain legal category. But the questions testing her legal knowledge are a microinsult.

This is just another example of sexist and racist overtones to the treatment of Sotomayor at the hearings and in the press.  Moreover, they went back to Sotomayor’s background, saying that it would influence decisions she’d make as a Supreme Court Justice.  Right, as if their white male backgrounds wouldn’t. Perhaps if I got the feeling that the Republicans not supporting Sotomayor held themselves to the same standard, I wouldn’t be so bothered by this particular concern, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they do not.

Let’s face it, most of the white people–mostly males–who are coming forward as being so strongly against Sotomayor’s confirmation are doing so because they are deathly afraid of  smart woman of color who has truly gotten to where she is on her own merit and ability. They are afraid of the idea that she may very well do a better job than a white male and could quite possibly be smarter than them.

With that said, I am so very proud of Sonia Sotomayor and the intelligence, grace, and humility she showed during the course of this 4-day hearing. She makes me so proud to be a woman of color at this particular moment in our nation’s history. That wise Latina really knows how to shake them haters off.

Follow Up: Steve Harvey, dating and the Quarterlife

A few months back I wrote this post about the Steve Harvey relationship book, Act like a Lady, Think like a Man. I got a lot of comments, a lot of my friends talking about Black women and men and relationships, and a lot of retweets on Twitter.  I also got some pretty interesting comments:

from Anthony C:

One of the hugest disconnects between men/women these days is that we’ve gone away from the fundamentals of properly dating someone and “vetting” them for a potentially serious relationship. Harvey utilizes a lot of common sense approaches that really are a hallmark of the over 40 club, but you know what? That stuff really works.

from Wise/d.l. chandler:

I’m glad you were able to gleam something from what I found to be pretty rudimentary writing. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. Harvey’s intellect (and humor, if one can call it that) is pedestrian at best. I think the blunt and ham handed approach of advise this man is schilling to the public is both deplorable and laughable. In fact, I dare say it’s going to cause more damage than add on to the wealth of the world.

I’m sure there lies good intention in his work, but having read a good portion of it, common sense and age should lead one to these so-called “insider” revelations far easier.

from Sweet Potato Brown:

I understand that Steve Harvey’s book is for the strategist, but people should be more reflective about why they think they want to marry. Otherwise, marriage will not bring them what they wanted, and they will hurt lots and lots of people, including themselves, for lack of self-awareness.

From Faith:

And yet you bought the book. And that’s all Steve Harvey married 3 times, cheating on his wife jerk trying to tell a woman how to act wanted. [editor’s note: LOLz]

Finally, from Elizabeth:

Thanks for calling out Mr. Harvey for suggesting, if not fully recommending, that women should be something other than who they genuinely are in order to ‘get’ a man!

You are fully self responsible – keep loving yourself first. And yes, pacing at any stage of a relationship is enjoyable.


Here’s the deal y’all:

Yes, I bought the book and read it because I don’t believe in making a judgment about things like this until I research it myself. One of the reasons I read the book is so that I could review it and let my readers know what I thought–a lot of people seemed to want to know and it only made sense that I gave the people what they want, right?

…I wouldn’t have paid full price for it though. Borders Reward card FTW!

But I digress.

A lot of people on the blog and on Twitter had wanted to praise my initial review. “Hell yeah! Who wrote this crap anyway?” But here’s the thing: I don’t think all of it was crap.

Yeah, you heard me right. I don’t think most of Steve Harvey’s points were total BS. I think it’s important that women and men have standards for the way they are treated and an handle on how to treat the people they date and have relationships with.

I think my biggest issue was the fact that it was decent message with a less than stellar messenger. Steve Harvey is a yellow suit wearin comedian who has been married 2 (or 3?) times with a mediocre morning show. Not sure how I feel about his positioning himself as a “relationship expert” when most of what is written in the book I’ve heard from my aunt, my moms, my sorors, and even my Dad. Aren’t those the people who can guide you in a better direction (hopefully) after all?

There was absolutely nothing new said in the book. Outside of the fact that the author(s) were Black and not white, it was really no different from He’s Just Not That Into You, a collection of things women “should know” about the way men act.

Which brings me to my final point:

Women are clueless about dating–and men are just as clueless, especially when they are quarterlifers. So why are only women given rules on how to act or think?

I’ve been single for 6 months and kind of back in the dating scene for 3, and I have to say that I sometimes feel as though I have no idea what it is  I’m supposed to do or am doing when it comes to dating. I only know that eventually I want to settled down get married and raise a family. I can’t always tell if a guy is “into me” or if he wants to date me, and even if he does I have no idea if he is thinking long term or one night. There’s never a clear way to tell what men actually want (beyond the bedroom–but I think everyone wants that at some level). No matter how many relationship books I may or may not read, this will pretty much be the case. All I know is that I deserve to be with someone who really wants to be with me, who makes me laugh, and who I can build a deep and meaningful relationship with. And I know I have the capacity to give someone else that in return.

On the flipside though, most men don’t know what to do or how to date or treat their partners either. Especially not in their 20s. So why is it that they aren’t told how they should act or what they should think or say? Why is the onus on women all the time? Also, with all the rules:

Is dating just strategy? Are we just playing this big game of chess until one of us wins the game and, apparently, the wedding ring? If so–then what the hell happened to dating being fun?

I agree wholeheartedly with the Sweet Potato Brown in the comments above, that Steve Harvey’s book apepars to be for strategists, for women who are approaching dating like a game of chess. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a husband or a life partner at all, but I think sometimes we try so hard to be a man’s wife that we take the fun out of learning about both ourselves and about the people we date. Yes we should have standards and be aware when things are awry and how to handle it, but we should also remember that things happen when they are meant to happen and not after achieving a certain number of chess moves in the  “game.”

In any case, I wanted to clear the air and bit and let everyone know that I really didn’t think the book was a whole bunch of crap. There was some good stuff in there. Too bad I learned it from my momma first instead of Steve Harvey. He doesn’t get he distinction of  “pioneer black relationship guru” in my book.




What to do about failing schools

The New York Times had some pretty solid advice for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan–make schools with the highest dropout rates a priority:

Mr. Duncan has said from the start that he wants the states to transform about 5,000 of the lowest-performing schools, not in a piecemeal fashion but with bold policies that have an impact right away. The argument in favor of a tightly focused effort aimed at these schools is compelling. We now know, for example, that about 12 percent of the nation’s high schools account for half the country’s dropouts generally — and almost three-quarters of minority dropouts. A plan that fixed these schools, raising high school graduation and college-going rates, would pay enormous dividends for the country as a whole.

Mr. Duncan can use his burgeoning discretionary budget to reward states that take the initiative in this area. But Congress could push the reform effort further and faster by granting the education department’s request for two changes in federal education law. The first would be to come up with new federal school improvement money and require the states to focus 40 percent of it on the lowest-performing middle and high schools. The second change would allow the secretary to directly finance charter-school operators that have already produced high-quality schools.

….

The secretary should focus intently on the dropout factories, the relatively small number of schools that produce so many of the nation’s dropouts. Efforts at especially difficult schools will need to include social service and community outreach programs, modeled on those already in place in the Harlem Children’s Zone in Upper Manhattan.

I certainly think that this could be a great start to improving education and also closing the achievement gap. Too often the poorest-performing schools are the ones whose population are largely Black and Latino.

More importantly, though, is the emphasis on the role of community organizations and social services. I believe it takes more than good schools to provide better opportunities and futures for our youth. We have to create safe spaces for youth as well, and a lot of social services that the last administration neglected would be one way to address that.

I can only hope that education remains a policy priority overall during the Obama administration. With so much talk about health care and green jobs, I am wondering how much attention can and will be given to education this year or even this term. When  you think about it, all three of these issues are very much connected to one another. Let’s see if this administration connects the dots successfully.

Farewell to the King of Pop

OFF THE WALL

Michael Jackson’s memorial service takes place in my hometown of Los Angeles at the Staples Center. For those of you who want to tune in on the internet, check out the live stream at Hulu.

At The Root, Rebecca Walker gives her memories of Michael Jackson’s music and meeting him as a teenager:

Why Michael approached me in a room full of superstars after the show I will never know. Perhaps because I was the youngest in the room, and at 14 didn’t have a big name, a big career or a powerful company. I was a kid, easy, with few expectations. I was not old enough to demand, even silently, that he live up to anything. Perhaps he felt that with me he could be, in a sense, free.

I remember his body language. He moved slowly, like a very cool cat, hesitant, but smooth. And then, in the softest of voices, he asked how I was able to do the impromptu bit of comical business. He could never do something like that on the spot, he said. He’d be too nervous. I remember laughing and chiding him. You’d be great, Michael! I said. He shook his head and out crept a smile so open and vulnerable that I wanted to hug him, and probably would have, if he weren’t Michael Jackson.

But he was, and I had no way to reach across the boundary of celebrity that put us on opposite sides of an invisible fence. Michael was, as he described himself in a song years later, untouchable. I believe that is what killed him. A human being can only live so long without the touch of another and can only breathe manufactured air for so many minutes.

We are left with music, memories and the shame of our own narcissistic voyeurism. As it was for so many of us, Michael’s music was a running soundtrack for my life, a powerful influence that helped shape my identity. As a young girl, I kissed a boy furtively as Michael’s song, “Rock with You,” played on my cassette player. My first real boyfriend stood for hours in front of a full-length mirror in my bedroom practicing his Michael Jackson dance moves. In quieter moments, we lay on my bed listening to “She’s Out of My Life” on the record player, both of us close to tears and full of reverence for Michael’s heartfelt emotion.

Later, when I was old enough to go out dancing with my friends, we’d all scream when we heard the rumblings of his sultry dance groove, “Don’t Stop Till You get Enough” and head to the dance floor for some serious getting down.

It’s not so much the music that got to me when I first heard about Michael Jackson’s death. It was the memories associated with it. My family and I listened to Off the Wall when we drove cross country from Los Angeles to DC one winter. I remember being 8 years old and singing the chorus along with my mom and dad, and sitting in front of the TV in anticipation of the Remember The Time video; it was all we talked about on the school yard the next morning.

There were parts of Michael that were strange and controversial, and we’ll never know all of Michael Jackson’s story. But we will alll certainly remember him as a musician with unmatched talent, and, as a friend of mine said, a softspoken genius.

Byron Hurt: An Open Letter to BET.

A lot of the outrage about the BET Awards sprang from Michael Jackson’s death, but its not really about MJ….it’s about BET’s failure to create program that portrays the Black experience in a positive light. It’s part of an ongoing problem, though Byron Hurt’s open letter to Debra Lee is a excellent start. Feel free to send your own letter to them as a sign of support.

Dear BET

I wrote this letter and sent it to contactus@bet.com, bobbette.gillette@bet.net,loretha.jones@bet.net, and stephen.hill@bet.net.Feel free to copy, paste, and customize this letter to adequately express your thoughts. If anyone has better ideas on where this letter should be sent, i.e. executives at Viacom (BET’s owner), please let me know. I am open to ideas and suggestions.

Be fearless, feel empowered, and raise your voice.

___________

June 29, 2009

Dear Debra Lee,

Sunday night’s BET Awards show was a disgrace. It’s sad and unfortunate that your network, owned by Viacom, continues to crank out mediocrity and perpetuate negative stereotypes of black men, women, and children. Although you likely received high ratings for the awards show, there is no honor in reinforcing the status quo’s opinion of black people. Your tribute to Michael Jackson and the overall show had its great moments, however, BET failed to deliver a solid, quality show. Rather than “raising the bar” and presenting African-Americans as a creative, proud, dignified people, BET lowered the bar for the entire world to see. The BET Awards drew a huge audience to watch a tribute to Michael Jackson, but left millions of viewers feeling disappointed, embarrassed, and reduced to classic stereotypes.

During the most blatantly sexist performances of the night, the executives at BET failed to act and display intelligence, courage, and leadership. Show executives watched, approved, and applauded as artists Lil’ Wayne, Drake, and Cash Money brought young, under-aged girls onto the stage to dance and serve as window dressing while they performed “Every Girl,” a song that reduces girls and women to sex objects. In a culture where one out of four girls and women are either raped or sexually assaulted – and where manipulative men routinely traffic vulnerable women into the sex industry – it is not okay that BET allowed this to happen. BET owes its entire audience – particularly girls and women around the world – an apology for its failure to intervene. BET should also take immediate steps to ensure that this kind of sexist performance does not happen again. Sunday night’s show epitomizes why so many black people worldwide are fed up with BET and feel strongly that your network inaccurately represents black men and women.

Please take my letter and criticism as one that represents millions.

Sincerely,

Byron Hurt

The Audacity of Spirit: Lessons from a New Modern Woman

June 20th marked World Refugee Day. Here in Washington there have been events throughout the month to bring awareness to the issues that refugees face here and abroad.  Ihotu Ali, a Center for Progressive Leadership New Leaders Fellow, talks about the images of refugee women here in America. I had the pleasure of meeting Ihotu at a Message Development training a few months ago and of course,  she is yet a another smart, fabulous black girl blogger.

After a college degree and several months of working in the political capitol of the Western world, I know a bit about power. Daily, I experience the power of crisp black suits, sleek cars, and boldly colored heels clicking their own new rhythms into the echo of marble halls.

However, Washingtonians may encounter an affront to this idea of power, through the advertisements of CARE, a nongovernmental refugee organization. In its trademark public campaign, CARE portrays a refugee woman, very young or very old, dressed in the tradition of her country and looking deep into the camera’s eye. The universal caption: “I Am Powerful.” In the midst of Washington, D.C., this may seem more a wistful ideal than reality. Reality teaches that even the most educated and top-earning women only make 72 cents on a man’s dollar, and that women around the world are most vulnerable to illiteracy, poverty, domestic abuse, and a lack of access to the handbag of characteristics which we call “power.” Yet these women stare out evenly from photographs and billboards to silently declare that they, even in a displaced state, are powerful.

A refugee woman may actually be the most powerful being you will ever meet. Whether she walked in tatters or designers, reality tells that she likely walked past dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people whom she left behind. People who didn’t make it out, and yet people exactly like her. She may recall their stunted journeys with every step. And yet she continues to walk. You might be unaware of the expression on her face. She may not disclose how many different lives she led, from fear to hope to indifference to ferocity. Reality provoked her to emotions of such nuance and contradiction that one would think humanity had not discovered them, before inhuman circumstances broadened the capacity of her human face. What you may see is blind faith, or a steeled persistence. You may have never seen what power it took to keep eyes so willing to remain open to new sights, a mouth so willing to continue to speak and engage and a face turned toward a new, possibly terrifying reality.

You may not see all this. Or you may equally see it in the faces of fellow American women who struggled for their power. But take a moment to look deeply into the power of these women. They may not have the traditional trappings of wealth or fame. And they may not vie to be recognized among the masses, nor do they wield their strength like a sword to bring others beneath them as they rise. Instead, consider their power as a catalyst, with which we all regard one another and ourselves with more clarity and humanity. This is a power of faith, hope, and resilience despite the most dire of circumstances. These women are not unbreakable, but they never allow brokenness to be a permanent state. They teach others the power to learn, to forgive, to accept and adapt.

As a friend and family member to such women, I often visualize their faces when I want to embody that power. What we all in Washington could learn from these women is not just the power to win the war or survive the battle. We already know this. They teach us the power to thrive, with an audacity of spirit, in the face of reality.