Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

This blog will expand the reach of these community conversations to the online audience. Add your posts and comments to keep the conversation going! Commit to action by clicking HERE to stay up to date on Salon and social justice news.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Confront Prejudice: Build Community

Workshop Facilitated by Dr. William A. Howe

What makes us distrust differences and separate “Us” from “Them”?  Fear of what we don’t understand? Deep-rooted biases?

Dr. William A. Howe is the program manager for culturally responsive education, multicultural education, bullying & harassment, gender equity and civil rights at the Connecticut State Department of Education.  He is the founder of the New England Conference on Multicultural Education (NECME) and Past President of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME).

Dr. Howe has been an educator for more than 35 years and has given more than 400 workshops, lectures and keynotes on diversity, multicultural education and organizational development. He is a regular presenter at state and national conferences and has appeared on both radio and television to discuss diversity issues.

Opening Q & A with the Audience

How many of you remember the day JFK was assassinated?
When did the Vietnam War end?
How many of you were born after the Vietnam War?

Often we don’t know our history. If we don’t know our history of where we came from we repeat our mistakes. There are so many opportunities for us to learn our history and this is why we can’t underestimate the importance of keeping places like the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center open.

Racism can be very subtle. We have to be watching for it.

Time for a history lesson: 

  • Columbus did not discover America. How do you discover a country that had 10 to 100 million people living there? How do we explain this to a young child? Here’s a scenario: What if someone walked into your house during dinner, put a flag in the middle of your dining room and claimed it for their own? What would you do? How do you explain that?  
  • Up to 11-12 million people were captured in Africa, brought to the United States and enslaved. One out of 8 did not make it. 
  • During the Civil War, many African Americans signed up to fight for the Union. Many were killed in battle, sent to the front lines to blanket the white soldiers. 
  • During the era of Reconstruction there was the promise of 40 acres and a mule. The object was to “make things right”. 
  • During the 19th and 20th century, women fought and died to obtain equality in this country. We didn’t “give” women the right to vote, they fought for it. 
  • Era of Jim Crow. Young people today have not experienced what many in this country today have. Some signs showing segregation can still be seen in the South although not enforced, they are just there. These laws were not just targeting African Americans; they targeted Hispanics and Mexicans too.
  • The Great Migration was the largest movement of people in history. 
  • 1924 Indian Citizenship Act grants Native Americans citizenship, interesting that Native Americans were here before those who created this law, granting them citizenship. 
  • During the Great Depression, African Americans (often first fired, never hired) were some who suffered the most. 
  • During World War II, African American soldiers liberated many of the concentration camps. Following the war, President Truman desegregates the troops
  • Also during World War II, this country experienced Japanese-American internment, said to be for “safety”. Even orphanages were gathered for camps.
  • Brown vs. Board of Ed, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Sit-ins, the Little Rock Nine. The faces in the famous photo of the Little Rock Nine are similar to those we can even see today. 
  • We finally have the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
  • Assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • The Stonewall Riots took place when cops went too far at a gay bar in Greenwich Village and riots break out. This is one of the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement. Stonewall Speakers are here in CT.
  • This year is the 40th anniversary of Title IX. There was a day when girls could only be cheerleaders, when only male teachers got tenure. 
  • Lau vs. Nichols: laws on Chinese American education. 
  • Death of Vincent Chen in 1982, at the height of Japanese imports. He was out for his bachelor party in Detroit. Autoworkers started harassing him about being Japanese (even though he was Chinese). He did not fight back. The autoworkers beat him to death. Two men never spent a day in jail; they were fined $3,780. This was the beginning of the Asian civil rights. 
  • We jump to the Inauguration of President Barack Obama and we are hearing people say that we live in a “post racial society”. 
  • The first act that President Obama signed was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Prior to this you could only be convicted of a hate crime if you were trying to prevent someone from using a public accommodation. Now you can be convicted for more reasons. 
  • What does the future hold for us? We have to teach each other and our children. We have to keep those images you saw in the exhibit  THEM: Images of Separation alive. 

Activity 1: 
Who wrote the Preamble to the US Constitution?
All white, wealthy, men, of a certain age, many slave owners, politicians, lawyers, and Protestant. Who wasn’t in that room? Women, non-whites, young people…

Part 1:
Along the wall, a scale of 1-100% was created. Participants grouped themselves along the wall to show how far they think the United States has come in holding true to the Preamble.
A majority believed that we have come 50% of the way; though some chose 75% and even 0%.
Your prospective is your prospective. It is important to think about where our views come from.

  • Why 0%? When you use “we the people” you should be representing “Everyone” when you look at immigration, education, economy; there is no “we the people”. 
  • Why 25%? How can we be past 25% when the 1% hold so much power. We are all indentured and slaves to a system that makes us afraid of each other. It is designed that way. 
  • Why 50%? During Civil Rights Movement it was 75%. Since then we have fallen back. Thinking about Muslim friends, drones, lack of transparency. During the Civil Rights Movement, we thought there would be equal rights for all. Poverty is so prominent in this area, we haven’t gotten there. We are only as successful as our brothers and sisters. We have so much technology and we use it for Angry Birds. In Egypt, they used technology for a revolution.
  • Why 75%? I looked at this as a process. I think that there are more people today that are included in making the choices. If we don’t think we are moving forward then where are we going? We have not made all the progress we should have. Since 1964, I think that only Aunt Jemima was on TV, now we have a black President. We have made a lot of progress, be honest. 

I grew up as a Southerner reciting the Preamble. The 60s presented a hopeful time. What it feels like to go from a period of hopefulness to a time when we don’t trust our neighbors. We send an e-mail and don’t know who might be able to read it. We have our Simon Legrees here, just with different names, that are stifling the promises of liberty. There is a sense of loss.

There is distrust. There is a system. When I was growing up I used the term “Jap” rather than Japanese. There are laws that are made; things change; times change; people change. The Constitution sets a path that will ensure certain ideas. It has more to do with the input of everyone.

The Constitution was created by people who were imperfect. When the Constitution was written it was based on other documents. The right to life, liberty and personal property was in the original draft. The problem is that the system we are in perpetuates itself. This is why we are here now. The system keeps us from understanding.

Part 2:
Where would male, African American, Hartford High School students put themselves along the same scale?
There was a huge shift of people who moved to the lower percentage.
Why? Bullying happens, not enough money, being followed in stores, negative propaganda.

Part 3:
This is a big election year; imagine you are a member of Congress. Where would members of Congress stand along this same scale?
There was a large 75% ratio.
Those closest to 100% said thought that Congress thinks life is pretty good.
If they do wrong they are not necessarily accountable.
Those in the middle of the scale said that members of Congress know who controls the funds and who puts them in office. There are a lot of people that represent us that are as frustrated as people in this room. They could not imagine a Congressman would say we have come 100% of the way. They can’t get done what they want to as well. What we need to understand is that we do have the power to control Congress. WE are the government.

Perspectives can change when you live in someone else’s shoes for a while.

Part of our problem is that we don’t listen to each other; we talk over each other. Dr. Howe stated that he is so thankful to the Stowe Center for opening everyone up to these types of discussions. A quote lead the group into a discussion and activity: “This is how great changes begin, when people begin talking to each other about their experiences, hopes, and fears.” – by Margaret Wheatley in Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future.

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Most adults listen actively for 17 seconds. 75% of the words that we hear are ignored.
Active listening is used to help someone else formulate his or her thoughts. We might follow up with a question when we are listening to someone.
In Constructivist listening, one person talks and the other listens without thinking about what they are going to say next.

Activity 2: 
Find a partner that you don’t know, someone who is your opposite, someone that you don’t know. One talks first while the other listens. When you listen do not think about your own stories, do not interrupt. Scenarios of intolerance were presented to the group. Each partner would respond to the prompt at the end of the scenario.

It was a very active group, with great conversation. A few pairs had difficulty not engaging in active listening, nodding their heads, agreeing with their partner, or even replying. Others made direct eye contact and stood or sat still. After 60 seconds the talker and the listener switched roles.

Afterwards, many stated that they had the same views or similar views, but all saw the value in giving the other person a chance to share their point of view without the fear or thought that someone else would take over the conversation, whether their views were the same or different.

Dr. Howe’s closing message came from his wife. His wife, a psychotherapist shared with him that most patients are afflicted with negative people in their lives. Her advice, and his alike, get rid of those friends, they are not your friends. Life is tough, it is too easy to dwell in the negative. We can only make change if we think positively. 10 people will talk to you tomorrow, 9 will be positive, 1 of them will be negative and you will lose sleep over what that one person said. Surround yourself with positivity.