Mindful Musings

  • A Pathway To Being Better, Doing Better (Part 1 of 4)

    Lately I have noticed a bit of a trend that I sincerely hope becomes more of a norm in education than the many learning fads I constantly see come and go. More and more educators are looking at reading books that serve a number of professional learning interests, but these books are also more for their own personal growth beyond being an educator. In many of the workshops and lectures I give regarding race, equity, culture, and diversity I often share one of my personal goals, that I have done a decent job sticking to, is to read a book a week. It may seem like a lot but it really isn't if you look for books that are going to serve a professional growth or personal interest purpose. 

    Recently I've had a number of Educators ask me for book recommendations based upon conversations I have had with them in person or via social media. The cool thing is many have finished one recommendation only to ask for another. So I thought it would be helpful if I were able to collect a series of recommendations into one convenient place and give some contextual analysis around the books themselves and what thematic purpose they may serve. In one of the many, but not enough, conversations I had with my close friend Dee Lanier we looked at creating a thematic focus for series of books so educators would understand the underlying meaning of them together. Dee is also working on an expansion pack for his Smashboard Edu card decks that will provide educators with a framework on how to engage in more meaningful and deeper conversations on the topics of race, culture, and equity. I will share a link in a future post once the project is ready for launch. Until then, the overarching themes are as follows:

    In this post we will take a closer (no pun intended) look at the theme of the telescopes. These are books that bring a closer more condensed perspective on history and the life experience. In some cases they also provide a better "view" on things in the past that we have either not seen, were hidden from us, or have been purposely overlooked. Among the many books in this thematic category the listing Dee and I have found personally beneficial and have suggested to read are:

    White Rage, by Carol Anderson

    Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    The Color of Water, by James McBride

    Stamped from the Beginning, by  Ibram X. Kendi

    The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

    A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis

    Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen

    Drink Cultura: Chicanismo by José Antonio Burciaga

    Burro Genius: A Memoir by Victor Villaseñor  

  • Understanding Cultural Appreciation v. Cultural Appropriation


    Image obtained from New York Post


    There is a funny story I remember hearing some years ago by the late David Foster Wallace in a commencement address like this.


    There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”


    I thought of this joke again after having a conversation about cultural appropriation in a recent podcast I had the pleasure of being a guest. The podcast is Partial Credit and is run by my three close friends Jeff Heil, Jesse Lubinsky, and Donnie Piercey. In the episode, House of Horrors, which can be found here, we talked about Halloween among other things. More specifically, we talked about costumes and cultural appropriation. Note: this was prior to the Megyn Kelly incident regarding blackface.


    As a byproduct of that conversation I wanted to share a few ideas and thoughts around cultural appropriation as well as cultural appreciation. I will be posting a few follow ups to this since it is such a complex topic that deserves more than one blog posting. Essentially Cultural Appropriation can be defined as the taking of culture from one group for the benefit, entertainment, profit, and even humor of another. This is usually defined more clearly by the dominant culture doing this at the expense of other cultures. The other cultures usually represent marginalized people, those who have been denied a voice, and in many cases those that are not provided with a platform to speak for themselves. I remember a recent conversation in which I was told that in some schools there are teachers that post signs saying my culture is not a halloween costume. Or schools even posting signs like these around campus.

    Appropriation is usually obvious when it comes to costume wearing, but manifests itself in countless other forms. Many have seen it in music, food, clothing, art, and to a slightly lesser degree the vernacular used (these areas will be examined in future posts). It is important for me to share a personal definition of cultural appreciation as well since it is far more complex than a simple definition. I would characterize it as having a genuine or authentic interest in a culture; in learning about the history (the good and bad), the food, the music, the art, the language, the people and its perspectives. Also, taking the genuine time and interest to build relationships with members of that culture on the basis of that understanding. If you have an appreciation for a culture then it makes it much more difficult to appropriate it, because you are more likely able to recognize whether your actions will be taken as disrespectful or embraced/acknowledged positively by the people of that culture. The main thing that I want to do here is identify a clear difference between appropriation and appreciation.


    The following is a list of questions or conditions to consider when thinking about the differences:

    It is important for me to share that cultural exchange is very different than appropriation as well. An exchange requires the following conditions: each culture is on equal footing i.e. there isn’t a power structure involved. There are many examples in which an exchange has been beneficial to all cultures involved such as pasta, tea, and coffee to name a few. A definitive line can be drawn as well between exchange and assimilation. Assimilation requires a non-dominant or even oppressed culture to adapt/adopt the characteristics of the dominant culture to ensure acceptance and even survival.


    There are lots of examples I can share and here are a few that provide further information.

    Why blackface is wrong?

    Orange is the New Black(face)

    An appreciation for Malcolm X not appropriation.

    If there are elements of this post that bother you or make you uncomfortable please consider why you feel that way and imagine how it feels to the recipients of cultural appropriation where the feelings/damage are more deeply rooted; where the marginalization is more deeply affective; where the death is by a thousands cuts. This ties in to the story mentioned at the start, if you are part of the dominant culture sometimes things can be so normalized for you that you don’t even notice them. Water is so normalized for the fish, they don’t even notice its existence.

    I hope to foster more meaningful conversations around this as well as outline further details in upcoming posts, especially in the area of school/team mascots. Please give a listen to the podcast previously mentioned where we discuss Moana and I share a personal story of appreciation for the Maori culture.