What an all-white roster of astronaut hopefuls says about our schools: Andray Domise

In Domise’s efforts to make valid points regarding Black Canadians and the school system, he misses the bigger picture: no visible minority candidates made it to the final 17, even from groups that whose university graduation numbers are better than non-visible minorities.

That being said, I would hesitate to compare astronaut selection to other selection processes given the nature of the requirements.

In the earlier stages of the selection process, there were five visible minorities out of 72 according to my rough count (no Black Canadians among them):

While parents do bear responsibility in raising bright, ambitious youth, their work can easily be undone by teachers and school administrators who hang their preconceptions around those children’s shoulders. Rachel Décoste, a software engineer and public speaker, told me a story about her sister, who sought the help of a high school guidance counsellor in planning a career as a doctor. “The guidance counsellor said, ‘Your grades are not good enough for even considering medical school. You should look at becoming a personal support worker, through community college.’ ” Décoste’s parents, furious at the counsellor’s obstruction, contacted the school principal and demanded another counsellor provide the information that was asked for. Décoste’s sister is now an anaesthesiologist.

For youth of colour—especially Black and Indigenous youth who are stigmatized by tropes on their intelligence and ambition—the soft bigotry of low expectations can have devastating effects on those young minds. A similar sentiment came up when I spoke with Kike Ojo, an organizational change consultant whose work includes addressing the alarming rates at which the Children’s Aid Society takes custody of Black and Indigenous youth. We discussed the matter of TDSB streaming, and the tendency of guidance counsellors to push certain students towards applied courses, even though a transcript filled with applied courses could disqualify those students from university acceptance. “It really is no wonder that we see this outcome over and over,” Ojo says. “[Parents] actually have to be aggressively involved. We want to believe that success is directly linked to effort and merit, but where race is a factor, it can override even class differences.”

On the bright side, there are examples where institutions have not only acknowledged, but undertaken the work to resolve this problem. Shareef Jackson, a data analyst in the U.S. and founder of the MathLooksGood tutoring program, explained that where public schools fall short, some outside help may be needed. “A lot of students don’t have the motivation to enter the programs, or even stay in the programs, because it doesn’t seem like a realistic goal.”

Jackson attributes his own educational success to an organization called New Jersey SEEDS, a nonprofit which works with bright students from low-income neighbourhoods in order to provide access to private schools and colleges where their aptitudes may be better encouraged. Jackson also mentioned the importance of NASA’s strategic diversity and inclusion plan, which received widespread exposure last year with the release of the film Hidden Figures.

According to Jackson, positive representation and teaching the history of people of colour in the STEM fields can create a positive feedback loop, one where careers in science, medicine, and even space travel occurs to young people of colour as not only a daydream, but a real, possible outcome of hard work. The logic makes sense; if Mae Jemison, the first Black woman astronaut, was inspired to her field by Nichelle Nichols’s portrayal of Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek, then who knows how many future Katherine Johnsons might be made by NASA’s joint marketing efforts with Hidden Figures?

North of the border, the message seems to be getting through at the university level. Encouraging diversity in STEM fields has recently become a higher priority for institutions like Waterloo, Ryerson, and the University of British Columbia. At the University of Toronto, where Black enrolment in the medical program has historically been thin or nonexistent, only one Black student exists among the current first year medical cohort. In response, U of T launched the Black Student Application program, which aims to promote medicine as a career option among Black students, as well as increase the pool of candidates by boosting applications. All of this is encouraging, but the difference still needs to be made within the seedlot for future prodigies: our public schools.

With the first pair of Canadian astronauts set to be announced later this year, making it the first cohort since 2009, there is much to be excited about. After Cmdr. Chris Hadfield’s stellar performance and social media popularity, sending more Canadians into space will be an awesome feat, no matter their background. And while the Canadian Space Agency continues the winnowing process, hopefully our educators and counsellors across the country will take heed to the fact that science is not only cool again—it’s in drastic need of new faces.

Time to start looking for those future astronauts in your classrooms.

Source: What an all-white roster of astronaut hopefuls says about our schools – Macleans.ca

How to be Black at work: Andray Domise

Interesting series of anecdotes:

Last week, I spoke to a meeting of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, a professional association for Black people working in the financial sector. During the talk, I discussed the importance of representation in the workplace—an all-too familiar conversation for those of us in corporate environments. But I also spoke to my experience as a former financial planner and manager at a time when Black people losing their lives to police violence was becoming the stuff of weekly headlines. After the talk was over, I was approached by several Black business professionals, some of them in senior management and C-level positions, who traded stories about Blackness in the workplace at a time of resistance. The consensus was, despite the money and resources that many companies pour into diversity training, the corporate world doesn’t appear ready for this conversation.

I reached out to other Black professionals to share their stories, and the result, while unsurprising, was disheartening. “It’s very subtle, a lot of it is unspoken stuff,” said David, a sales manager. “In a team huddle environment, you normally talk about current events, just to break the ice. But in one huddle, the subject of police brutality came up, and some members of my team were so uncomfortable with that conversation, they put their heads down.”

 He said he felt isolated. “What I got from it was that people in the room felt uncomfortable, because they didn’t feel the way I did about it. There’s nobody to talk to about it, and there’s definitely no one on my level bringing it up.” Normally, he told me, going to work the day after reading about another Black person executed by police is manageable. But when he saw the video of Philando Castile dying in the passenger seat of his vehicle in Minnesota, it took him a week to regain his focus in the workplace. “You have to protect yourself, and know who really stands with you,” he said. “So I was also trying to gauge how other people felt about it, and whether I’d be able to look at them the same way after that.”

Another woman, Melanie, talked about treading carefully around discussions of Black lives in the workplace, even as other causes are openly embraced. “We need to not feel that we’re making a career-limiting move by talking about these things that affect us. We have Breastober and Movember, but we can’t talk about bias and racism in the workplace, or in our daily lives.” It was an interesting point, given the renewed attention the psychology community is paying to the toll that racism and micro-aggressions have on the psychological health of Black people. She explained that, in a previous position, a superior heard about her Jamaican background. To break the ice, he asked her if she could score weed for him. “We have such a long way to go,” she said. “But there’s no one to talk to about it. A white, male executive might see how his daughter, or his gay son could impacted by discrimination, and say, ‘I don’t want them to go through this,’ and make some changes. But unless some benevolent actor sees how Black people are affected in the workplace, nothing will happen.”

Sometimes, the challenge in the workplace doesn’t come from superiors, but from peers, company partners, and those lower on the pay scale. When I spoke with Vivian, a white-collar manager working with mostly blue-collar employees, she told me colleagues and subordinates would often bring up the protests by the Black Lives Matter Toronto—but only to heap scorn. “There’s just no understanding of why we give a s–t,” she told me. “I’d hear it all around the workplace. ‘Why are these Black Lives Matter people demonstrating here? All of this stuff that’s happening is in the States.’ ” As the only Black woman manager in a building with over 1,400 employees, she told me that she felt walled-off in a workplace where the conversation around Black lives barely registered. “You listen to people’s stories about their cats, and their cottages. And I’m thinking, ‘Yeah? Because I spent the weekend writing articles and speaking on panels about people f–king dying. Tell me more about your cat.’”

Vivian likened the experience in the workplace to her experience as a sex abuse survivor. “For many years, I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t disclose. But every day that I had it in me and couldn’t talk about it, or get it out, it felt like another traumatic day.” Vivian explained that, for a long time, the trauma of the incident left her vulnerable to being triggered by seeing or hearing things that reminded her of the abuse, but she couldn’t express to her friends or family what the problem was, for fear of having to defend herself, and relive the trauma. “That’s how it feels, going to work as a Black person in this climate right now,” she said.

Though Black people working in the corporate world are not usually the ones on the front lines of protest, all of us are dealing with the movement in our own way. Some of us donate to Black Lives Matter, some attend community consultations with police and local government, and some offer mentorship and support to our youth. But the dual nature of the workplace environment, where Black people face pressures from the community to create pathways, and from the white-dominated corporate world to maintain the status quo or face career-limiting consequences, leaves many of us without a way to make meaningful change. Perhaps that’s why the central conceit of #Missing24 was so flawed. In the workplace, where we’ve had to outshine our peers in order to simply be included, we can’t afford to go missing. The only way to make our presence felt is by having more of us show up.

Source: How to be Black at work – Macleans.ca

How to talk about cultural appropriation: Andray Domise

While the focus of Domise is with respect to transgender, the issues apply more broadly:

At Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards, Jeffrey Tamborpicked up his second win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. On the Amazon series Transparent, Tambor plays Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman whose transition forces her shallow, upper-class wife and adult children to grapple with their own shortcomings. Jeffrey Tambor is a cisgender man—which means someone who identifies with their sex at birth, or anyone who isn’t transgender—and when he accepted the award, he made an open plea to Hollywood to make him an anomaly. “Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story . . . I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a transgender character on television.” With his acceptance speech, Tambor was the first high-profile name in weeks to address the issue of cultural appropriation with any degree of tact. Up to that point, the mainstream response to claims of appropriation have been pleading childlike ignorance at best, and downright hostility at worst. It’s long past time for the conversation to evolve.

Because there seems to be a bit of confusion over the term “cultural appropriation,” let’s be clear on what it isn’t. White rappers aren’t appropriating culture by dint of their whiteness. There’s a reason that accusations of cultural appropriation don’t stick to Eminem, for example, but leave a rancid cloud trailing in Iggy Azalea’s wake. A white author writing Indian characters into the story is not prima facie cultural appropriation. Neither is a white chef specializing in Vietnamese cuisine. Whenever the conversation on cultural appropriation resurfaces, it always begins with unnecessary theatrics over the definition of the term, and drifts into hurt feelings when appropriators feel they’ve been compared to racists. After these exercises are complete, the conversation goes unresolved anyway.

Some refer to cultural appropriation as “borrowing” from other cultures, which is about the same as your least favourite houseguest “borrowing” your silverware. In the creative industries, where touching off trends among receptive audiences can bring multimillion dollar rewards, cultural appropriation is theft. It is plunder. It is lifting cultural aspects from underrepresented groups of people, and not only offering nothing in return, but expecting their gratitude for the promotion. It is trying other people’s identities on as costumes, while people who live within their skin, hair, culture, and gender identity struggle for acceptance. Navneet Alang, a writer for Hazlittwrote a piece last year on the appropriation of South Asian culture and offered a most succinct explanation of the phrase:

“[For] a certain kind of person, the whole world is waiting to be mined, packaged, and sold, regardless of what the things in question mean to people, or whom such selling benefits.”

Cultural appropriation is when Marc Jacobs affixes ludicrous neon dreadlocks to the hair of white models during New York Fashion Week, while the fashion industry has fewer high-profile black designers and models now than it did in the 1970s. It’s Jacobs’s claim “I don’t see colour,” in response to criticism, while putting his name on a makeup line whose colour scheme runs from “bone china” to “paper lunch bag,” and then claiming that Black women straightening their hair is also cultural appropriation. Never mind that many Black women’s hair is naturally straight, and that many curly-haired white women also straighten theirs. At a time when Black children are being disciplined by schools for wearing their hair in natural afros, when a biracial Zara employee in Toronto was reprimanded by management for her box braids, and when a Black employee at a Toronto Jack Astor’s was sent home for wearing her hair in a bun, this should not be a talking point.

I spoke with April Reign, managing editor of Broadway Black, and the creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that shook up Hollywood in the lead-up to last year’s Academy Awards. “In movies,” Reign said, “they hire cops as consultants in films. So why wouldn’t you respect someone else’s culture in an area where you’re getting paid? If you’re going to make money off my culture through your book, your fashion line, your movie, or your TV show, but you’re not being considerate of it, that’s where I really have a problem.” I joked that an answer might be, for example, to hire “Blackness consultants.” But Reign said the idea wasn’t so far-fetched, because in order to properly respect a culture, entertainment creators need to engage with people who were born into and live within the culture. These exchanges need to be meaningful and mutually beneficial.

Put another way, cultural appropriation is what keeps scores of trans actors underemployed, while cisgender men like Jared Leto and Eddie Redmayne are hailed for their bravery in playing trans women on screen. It’s Matt Bomer, another cisgender man, refusing to answer to trans women who questioned his decision to accept the role of a trans woman in the upcoming film Anything. It’s his castmate Mark Ruffalo pleading for compassion and understanding because the film’s already been shot, rather than showing compassion and understanding to trans women fed up with seeing their identities simplified to men in drag by the film industry.

Yet, with less than 30 seconds of speaking, Jeffrey Tambor showed how easy the dialogue on cultural appropriation can be. If he can use his platform to do this so effortlessly, then his creative peers are out of excuses.