Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Confronting Bias category.

Why I am a Critic of Bigoted Behavior (artistic though it may be): Wrapping up the tiny saga of correspondence with “Juliette and the Licks.”

Indeed, I aspire to the cool, even-handed kind of response that commenter leslie has demonstrated here. Thanks, leslie, for raising the bar, and not expressing any vitriol toward me in your responses. You’re right, I probably will continue to be a critic.

Moving forward…

I am well aware that children have been dressing up as “indians” for generations, as well as dressing up as the cowboys that would shoot them. I am aware of the cartoon characters, and the sports team mascots, and the way that Americans toss around their interpretation of the image of “the indian” for their own entertainment without so much as a “Sorry about annihilating and devastating your cultures, families and ways of living!” I find that offensive. I find it upsetting that more people don’t find it offensive, or don’t speak up when they do. I know speaking up is incredibly hard for a lot of us (and I say us intentionally), so I feel good about doing it when I can.

For more on stereotyping of Native Americans, here’s a link to some information. It’s a resource designed for teachers.

There are a lot of behaviors that piss me off. Not every day, but often. You’ll find that most people of color (and women, and people of size, and people with disabilities and a host of other people who experience oppression) actually have plenty of legitimate opportunities to be pissed-off everyday, multiple times a day. Not because we’re oversensitive, or because we need to make some change in ourselves. But because this country treats us like crap. We are treated like crap for entertainment. We are treated like crap as a matter of public policy. We are treated like crap simply out of habit, because that’s how people learn to relate to these groups. As though they were less worthy. It’s woven into the fundamental fabric of our everyday lives, to treat these groups of people like crap – has been for generations. That’s why when people make sexist or size-ist or homophobic or racist jokes, it’s seldom that anyone actually says, “That’s not cool – I don’t want to hear that kind of stuff.” That’s why people will argue for hours that it’s been scientifically proven that black people are less intelligent that whites and we should just learn to be okay with that (Wired magazine online, in the wake of that Nobel prizewinner’s asshat comments).

For more on confronting bias and prejudice in everyday situations at work, home and school, check out ‘Responding to Everyday Bigotry’ on the Teaching Tolerance website.

I feel that as a person of faith, who believes very strongly in bringing my personal convictions into action, I am betraying myself spiritually, and neglecting my duties as a citizen if I don’t challenge things that I find to be morally and/or socially problematic. I have a right and a responsibility to respond to injustice and oppression in ways that match my convictions.

The whole purpose of this blog is reflection on bias, especially for the purpose of improving my own practices. This experience reminds me what strong and often intensely aversive reactions people have to this work, and more specifically, the ways that I may do this work that I feel is so clearly important. I struggle with finding a balance between representing myself honestly in my confrontations (which are often enacted on the fuel of emotion – often anger), and being gentle enough in my approach that people will listen and not write me off out of anger or defensiveness. I definitely need to improve in this area. I tried to do so in my original letter to Juliette and the Licks. I was very careful to address Juliette’s behavior, and not Juliette as a person. I was working to maintain a tone that was not insulting or preachy – I edited for a while… I’m not convinced from leslie’s analysis (as in-depth as it was) that I sounded that bad. I’m open to other comments, though. I’ll keep working on achieving that balance.

Peace, everyone.

– Atena

PS – This alternative critique of Ms. Lewis’ fashion decisions is awesome!  I’m not good at this – using humor to get my point across.  I really admire people who can do it. Love, -a-


Further correspondence with “Juliette and the Licks.”

Date: Oct 27, 2007 2:53 PM Flag as Spam or Report Abuse [ ? ]
Subject: RE: What people are saying…
Body: this is not Juliette but I personally get what you’re saying but the symbols eventually lend themselves to pop culture and the art, hence the crucifix etc. Juliette just used the symbol as a Warrior, an army unto herself, a symbol of purpose and unwavering intention. Now to go out and speak on behalf of the indian people or speak at all about the history or heritage of the indian race and the symbol she has adopted, you think what she’s doing now is borderline offensive? well then that would take the cake and she would be lambasted and slandered for all time if she were to act as spokes person for something she is not connected to at all. Talk about offensive. If one wheres the cross, it is not an insult to catholocism, its just the way thing filter through the ages and become reduced to fashion, or you could say keeps the aesthetic and history familiar and open to interpretation.

So, they responded rather promptly – I appreciate that. This was my reply:

—————- Original Message —————–
From: Mama Blossom
Date: Oct 28, 2007 6:43 AMThanks for responding – I appreciate it.So, I realized that the url I pasted in doesn’t work. Please just look up the blog for Surgeon Mama on MySpace – the entry is titled, ‘Juliette Lewis Sucks’ – it’s the most recent entry. It’ll take about 5 minutes of your time.Like I said before, the point is argued more effectively there and actually addresses the point you have made (someone actually said almost the exact same thing as you did), and explains why such an argument is insufficient to excuse (or extol) careless misappropriation in the face of genocide. I really hope you’ll take a look at it, and hear what people are getting at.Thanks again,


And then, their subsequent response was this:

Date: Oct 28, 2007 10:40 AM Flag as Spam or Report Abuse [ ? ]
Subject: RE: What people are saying…
Body: yawn

Alas. I tried, right?

If she’s a warrior, why isn’t she wearing a helmet or a bullet-proof vest, or at least carrying some kind of weapon? Oh – wait, careless, oblivious ignorance is her weapon. And privilege is her bullet-proof vest. Right? Is that it? I don’t know…

More to come.

Letters: to Juliette Lewis

(Sent to the myspace account of Juliette and the Licks, in response to Ms. Lewis’ feathered-headdress-as-rock-and-roll-image.)

Hi Juliette (or if not Juliette, Hi Whomever Is Reading This Message),

Someone recently called to my attention how you use a feathered headdress as a part of your “Rock and roll warrior” image. I checked out your website and myspace – it seems like you’ve been using it pretty extensively, and how other people are imitating it at your concerts.

Heads up – the way that you are using of this symbol, which is a clear (and from the gist of what I read of your comments, intentional) reference to “native americans,” is careless and really pretty disrespectful.

I’m not writing this message to jump on your ass, or pretend like I’m some superior person. I have nothing to gain from that. And this has nothing to do with whether or not I like your work (from what I’ve heard, it sounds reasonably cool – kudos for following a different path).

I’m putting this out there because I can’t complain about anything anyone does if I’m not willing to back it up with some action that seeks to change things. And you should have a chance to learn about what people are saying, and change the behavior and (more importantly) the system that supports it, if you are so inclined.

You’re in a position to be heard by a lot of people, and the image you’re putting out there takes advantage of the painful history of native americans in this country without paying any respect to it. This is problematic in the extreme. (And I say ‘native americans’ specifically because your feathers refer to an idea and not any real tribe or nation, from what I can tell.)

Please check this out this myspace conversation on my friend’s blog for a much more elegant and passionate articulation about why:


Thanks for listening, and Peace

— Atena

Continue reading this entry »

Inspired to endure less bullshit…

I had a great conversation with A. yesterday, talking about the assumptions that people make about children’s gender and race. I’m so inspired by how she doesn’t tolerate it. Not that I believe that less tolerance is necessarily the solution to our problems, but I have to admit that I wish I could draw the line the way she does about certain things.

I’ll back up a bit, give some context: A is my friend who provides excellent care for my daughter 3 days/week. She’s an outstanding care provider and a supercool ladygirl. So while I’m downtown shaping curricula and hanging out with other people’s children, A. is at my place, or in my neighborhood, guiding Babygirl through all kinds of journeys and adventures.

Stella is one of the sweetest-faced children you’ll ever live to meet, and leaving the house with her means hearing a lot of comments about said sweetness. Really, it’s like being with a celebrity sometimes. Of course, due to the rampantly huge-to-the-point-of-invisibility racism in this country, coupled with people’s natural curiosity, many comments that are essentially about her sweetness are mixed in with comments about her complexion, her hair texture and (if she’s with anyone but her father), tentative questions about her parentage (Babygirl’s skin is a nice honey brown, just like her Papa, whereas my skin is darker, like brownies and our nanny is white. I’m not sure what food to compare her to). She is also mistaken for a boy on a regular basis. This is mostly because we make no effort to put clear gender ID tags on her (e.g. barrettes, pink clothes, frilly whatnot). We seldom style her hair – it’s too short to bother, and I’m more concerned with it being clean than anything else. Though there have been times where she was wearing a pink dress and still was mistaken for a boy. I think it was lack of hair accessories.

I’ve long been decidedly against this society’s fetishistic gendering of small children through apparel. It’s not that I won’t dress Stella in pink, or put barrettes in her hair, etc. It’s more that I refuse to behave as though my daughter’s identity and well being are based on whether I adorn her with sexualized garments and accessories. I refuse to base her identity on something as changeable as colors and clothes. And I absolutely reject the idea that there’s something wrong with me as a parent for maintaining these ideals.

So yeah, back to the conversation with A: She described to me an incident where she encountered all of these issues at once in a woman who first complimented what a handsome boy Stella is, and then went on to bumble her way through comments on her possible biracial parentage. And A. had the wherewithall to just tell the woman to stop.

Now, I can’t say that I would choose to confront a well-meaning-but-clearly-inappropriate stranger in this way, but I do think that A. is pretty courageous in this. I’m more likely to either raise my eyebrows, smile stiffly and try to get away asap, then feel bad later for not giving the lady a verbal smack, OR I’ll posit a few gentle statements to challenge and discourage her assumptions and generalizations and offer a gentle lesson about race and gender. God – I hate being so gentle all the damn time!

But it’s the age-old question – Do you offer the lesson and possibly teach someone something they didn’t know (adding another brick to your tower of racism/whateverism-induced exhaustion), or do you react and leave them as ignorant as you found them (and possibly less open to learning due to embarrassment or anger)? Do you seize the teachable moment, or do you just go on with your day?

Many people of color take the stance that it’s not their job to teach ignorant people about race. My position is that whenever you are tired of ignorance, it becomes your job to do something about it. If you have knowledge, you have power and the associated responsibility.

I also believe that people of color (and any people who have knowledge that others do not have) are not “on-call teachers” as it were, meaning don’t think you’re entitled to a lesson on race, culture, whatever in the middle of the grocery store just ’cause you realized it’s time for you to learn something. That’s where the problem lies, I think – we have to be able to control when and how we respond to ignorance. Otherwise, it becomes another form of oppression. And we can only respond in the context of our own reality, i.e., it won’t be a universally applicable lesson.

This has got me to thinking that I need to be more in control of when and how I offer knowledge about my child and my self and my circumstances. Maybe that lets me off the hook for being so gentle all the time – it can be frustrating. I guess we’ll see. I’ve never been the kind of person to say “That’s none of your business.” Maybe I’ll try it – I don’t know. But A. has inspired me to consider that I don’t have to endure people making asses of themselves about my child’s race and gender every single time it happens. That’s kind of exciting.

Speaking Up Is Hard to Do…

Today, while I was at work, one of the teachers made a comment about wanting to choose a doctor who had gone to school in the United States. Then, she said “I’m sure that’s biased…” to me in a half-joking kind of way, since I’m the resident anti-bias lady, and I immediately responded, “Oh, that’s okay.” also in a half-joking kind of way.

But then, walking to the train station on my way home, I wondered should I have said something more? Did I miss a teachable moment? What if a student had heard her inadvertantly? How would a child from another country feel about such a statement? Would training in a European country be better than training in an Asian or African country? This brings up lots of questions.

In the moment, I immediately thought about my mother, and how she feels similarly. I started to share that, then decided not to. I think I’m kind of ashamed that my mom feels that way, though she states that her primary issue is whether or not she can understand the doctor’s speech if they have an accent. And I agree that it is important to be able to understand one’s medical care provider. Honestly, I think in my mom’s case it has more to do with having been frustrated about not being able to choose her medical provider due to HMO issues.

In the case of this teacher, I see her being overwhelmed at the long list of providers to choose from, looking for some way to narrow it down. But it does seem problematic to make such a judgment. But what really confounds me is this: when do I decide to speak up about something, and when do I let it go? When is it appropriate? Anti-bias work requires that you generally make an effort to confront bias more often than a person typically would. Now I’m wondering if I should mention it to her sometime.

I’ve spent my life attempting to cultivate some credit as a badass straight-talker who tells it like it is and calls ’em like I see ’em. Really though, I’m kind of a wuss when it comes to confrontation. I’ll do it, but first I’ll procrastinate and ignore the problem and avoid it and start to address it and chicken out and dance around it and see if I can get out of it somehow. Then, when I can’t avoid it anymore, when avoiding it will lead to clear and certain disaster, then I’ll deal with it. And of course, after that I’m totally relieved, wishing I’d done it sooner. Life’s funny that way.

But there will always be an excuse as to why I can’t confront bias. There will always be a reason why it seems like the wrong moment. Why it seems like it’s not such a big deal. Anti-bias only works if we stop making so many excuses, bite the bullet, and act. So I think I will say something to her about it. I’m not gonna pick a fight or anything, but I’ll just mention it, find some way to relate it to the classroom setting. This is the hard work, and if I’m not willing to do the hard work, then I have no right to ask anyone else to.

I’ll report back on what happens. Until then…