Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference, Part 2

The Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference always raises more questions than it answers, but for me, it asks the only questions worth answering.  It leaves me wanting more; more information, more opportunities to gain skills, more community, and more stories to listen to.

Microaggression
I started the second day of this short conference in a session called “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Recognizing and Responding to Microaggression”.  I first had an interest in microaggression when I read Claude Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi, which presented research about how stereotype threat, conveyed through microaggression, can prevent students from succeeding academically in college. This session not only expanded my vocabulary about microaggression, but also gave me a better way to respond to these verbal or behavioral indignities.

One of the comments we talked a lot about in the discussion was, “Everyone can succeed if they try hard enough.” This comment makes me angry. It makes me angry because when you say this, you are invalidating someone’s struggles to achieve success. You are limiting their definition of success to the American Dream and negating the set of circumstances that may prevent them from reaching that dream. You are assuming that if they are not succeeding in your definition, it must be because they are lazy and are not trying hard enough. Because America is the land of opportunity, right? Because we all have the same chance to get a good education, job and pursue happiness, right? I believe that’s a lie that we tell ourselves so we can sleep well at night. How can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you do not have bootstraps? The truth is that you can work hard all your life and never make it over the poverty line. Not because you’re not intelligent and capable, but because you started at a disadvantage in a system that is designed to uplift some and leave the rest behind.

I want to learn more about microagression because it’s something I encounter on a daily basis on my college campus. Every time someone asks me where I’m from, I don’t know whether I should say “Charlotte” or “My Mom is from India”, because I don’t know if they are asking me where I was raised or why I’m brown, as if being brown was something I needed to provide an excuse for. Every time someone comes up to me and speaks Spanish and they assume I’m Hispanic, because I’m biracial and don’t fit into the neat categories of race that America has constructed. Every time someone’s face turns up at me when I tell them I went to a public high school instead of a private high school. It’s frustrating and I want to understand it more so I can educate others about it as well.

Resources:
35 Dumb Things Well-Intentioned People Say, a book
A Place at the Table, a documentary
Resilience: A Lesson from Sochi, an article
The Microaggressions Project, a collection of stories

Leading through Relationships
I enjoyed all the sessions I attended, but the other I will mention here was called, “Does the Shoe Fit? Understanding Equity and Equality with the Relational Leadership Model.” I am a leader. I’m not sure when I came to this realization, but I am confident in my identity as a leader now, and it’s a skill that I seek to refine through experience. I am a relationship builder. I lead best by creating positive relationships with and among those I lead, and between my organization and other organizations. This is why the Relational Leadership Model really appeals to me. It combines purpose and process with ethics, inclusiveness, and empowerment of followers. This model illustrates to me that the best leaders are also the best listeners. They are willing to listen to all ideas and suggestions, able to hear needs that are not expressed, and provide encouragement and resources to meet those needs effectively. These leaders create other leaders by helping their followers achieve their potential. That’s the kind of leader I would like to be. This session helped me realize that.

At the end, we were shown this spoken word video that I am obsessed with already. : )

Resources:
Spark, a book
Exploring Leadership, a book

mandela

Define American
The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it. – James Baldwin

Our key note speaker today was Jose Vargas, an extremely talented writer and speaker who documented his undocumented life in the US. His goal is to change the culture surrounding immigration and undocumented Americans. He believes that politics is culture, and if you can change the culture, you can change policy. I agree with this, and believe he is creating change through speaking authentically about his experience and revealing the stories of those who are advocating and fighting for their right to be here. He certainly opened my eyes to the struggles of undocumented Americans. His presentation made me care about them as if they were my own family. You may call me a sucker, but like Jose said, “You don’t have to be undocumented to care about undocumented Americans”; just like you don’t have to be Black or LGBTQIA to care about their rights and issues.

We live in an “age of intersectionality” and “positive disruption”. Fear of the other is what we are sold in this country, but we have the potential to “push past our fear” and perhaps even more importantly, our apathy, to create cultural change that leads to policy change. But you “can’t solve a problem if you don’t face it” and I think we’re doing a good job of distracting ourselves from the real issues to cover a gaping wound with a bandage.

I’m so grateful that my Mom didn’t have trouble emigrating here from India because she married my Dad, but I know that we are the exception and not the rule. I remember the night my friend told me she and her family were undocumented Americans. She told us about how she walked across the desert with her mom at the age of nine into a new country and home. She cried and begged us not to tell anyone because she was afraid her family would be deported. At the time, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of her situation, but I think I have a better idea now. She later moved to Mexico for college because she was unable to go to school in the US. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for her to leave her family.

Immigration is stories. There is no one in this country that I would not take the time to listen to, because we are all deserving of dignity. As I come down off this conference “high” (and off my soap box), there are some things I will take away into future conversations and circumstances:

First, listen. Shhh. Be quiet. Listen. What is being said? What is really being said? What is left unsaid and what does that tell you about someone’s story?

Second, learn. Read, research, repeat. Read, research, repeat. Come to the table with a humble attitude and as you listen and ask questions, you will grow into a better leader and follower.

Third, reflect. Critically reflect. About yourself, your identities, your biases, your assumptions and how they impact those around you.

Last, advocate. Turn your knowledge into action. Don’t die with your greatness buried inside you. Pursue your passion. Make your passion the well-being of your neighbor. Turn off your apathy and turn on your voice, because with knowledge comes power and with power, responsibility, social responsibility. What we said and what we did during this conference is just the beginning of an exponentially expanding web of influence and awareness that has the potential to positively disrupt the status quo of our community and country.

#4all
Beck

Other Resources:
Courageous Follower, a book
Followership, a book
How the Irish Became White, a book
My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant, an article by Jose Vargas
Time Magazine
Documented, a film by Jose Vargas

My Nerd is Showing

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but I’m a HUGE Lord of the Rings and Tolkien nerd. I’m too big of a Lord of the Rings/Tolkien fan to not write about The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, even if it’s a bit late. I saw the premiere and…I didn’t like it very much. Sad, I know. Here’s my beef with PJ’s adaption of the story.

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The scene at the beginning of the film with Gandalf and Thorin was unnecessary as it did not tell us anything we didn’t know before except how all this started, which hardly matters in my opinion.*

Oh my Tolkien-gods. Azog and his orcs are one of the most annoying things about this movie. Their sole purpose is to move the company from one place to another as quickly as possible. They basically replace the ring wraiths from FOTR. KMN.

I did like Beorn and I wish we could have seen more of him. I liked the way Gandalf had the dwarves meet Beorn in the book better (two at a time, every five minutes) because it showed us how careful and smart Gandalf was. Oh well. I understand that the movie can’t be the book, but that doesn’t keep me from being disappointed.

Mirkwood was really cool. I like the way the dwarves get disoriented and loose the path. It was cool how it happened in the book too though with them following the lights of the elves, etc. I kind of missed the sleeping river bit with Bombur. I think that could have been really funny to see on screen.

I like that Bilbo could understand the spiders when he put his ring on. This was done really well. The only thing I sort of have a problem with is when Bilbo lost the ring and kills a baby spider to get it back. Although it was interesting to see this part of him and I think it was done well, I feel that his relationship with the ring is developing too fast. In the book, the ring is used when needed but Bilbo doesn’t feel such strong attachment to it, not to the point when he would kill for it. He’s already killing for it and he’s only had it for a few weeks at most. It takes Frodo at least a few months before he gets to that point in LOTR.

Wood elves provide a lot of opportunity for spiffy action fighting sequences. I’m not opposed to this. The scene between Thorin and Thranduil is also interesting, although I’m wondering what the deal was with Thranduil’s face. I hope that is explained more in the third film. What can I say about the barrels out of bond escape sequence? It was different from the book, obviously, and I can’t say I liked it more. The orcs are as relentless as they are pointless. I’m so tired of them showing up everywhere.  Also, there is another video game scene with Bombur knocking over orcs in his barrel. It was funny but, SMH, PJ.

The whole Legolas-Taurial-Kili love triangle is a cheap way to bring romance into the films and is completely unnecessary. This plot element is what made my initial reaction to the film a bad one. (Also, eww to Evangeline Lily’s acting.) If I wanted a love story, I wouldn’t watch an LOTR film. First of all, Tauriel and Kili “fall in love” after two scenes together, which is very unrealistic to me because dwarves and elves HATE each other. Legolas doesn’t need a new reason (i.e. Tauriel and Kili together) to hate dwarves, he already does. Second, making a dwarf-elf pair undermines the significance of the Legolas and Gimli friendship in LOTR. Legolas and Gimili are the two that are supposed to bring the races together and give hope for reconciliation. Third, I’m not opposed to Legolas having a love interest, but it is a bit pointless considering we all know he sails to the Undying Lands with Gimli after the war of the ring. Overall, anytime there is anything remotely romantic happening in the film, I have to fight the urge to vomit and/or slit my wrists.

I like Bard. (He looks exactly like Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean!) His family is super annoying though, especially his daughters, who are only good for screaming. If you’re going to add this many new unnecessary characters, at least make me care about them. The family may as well be made of cardboard. Also, why is Esgaroth and everyone in it so dirty/poor? Is there no sanitation department? I couldn’t live there with that mess. Speaking of Esgaroth, it didn’t quite feel like Middle Earth. It felt very much like a part of our world, just from an earlier period. Perhaps this was on purpose, but it was distracting. I didn’t like Lake Town very much. I was expecting it to feel more Bree-like because it’s mostly a human dwelling. Did anyone else notice that Alfrid, the Master’s henchman, is basically Wormtongue?

Did anyone catch the two black people strategically placed in the background of Lake Town?!?  I guess PJ and co. got tired of hearing the criticism about not hiring minorities in LOTR. Haha

Hobbit-Crowd-1

The scene of Gandalf in Dol Guldur and the subsequent fight between Gandalf and the Necromance/Sauron was one of the most amazing scenes in the film. Gandalf was in full cool wizard mode and Sauron was super scary. Even though the Tolkien purist in me was screaming in frustration, I really like this addition to the story. (It kills me to admit it.) How is Gandalf going to get out of prison? I’m excited to find out.

Am I the only one who thinks the dwarves give up WAY too easily after they apparently fail to find the key hole? They came all that way, spent five hours of film getting there, and are ready to give up and go home after two minutes of searching? That’s unrealistic to me. Of course, it gives Bilbo a great opportunity to show his quality. By the way, I think he does steal the Arkenstone, although the movie doesn’t make that point clear. It’s necessary for the third film, although who knows what PJ is doing to the rest of the original story line.

I absolutely love Smaug. He was beautiful and Benedict Cumberbatch does an excellent job. I also think Martin Freeman did a fantastic job, although I wish Bilbo had waited longer before taking off his ring. He seemed a bit too frightened. The Bilbo in the book was wittier and more confident I think. Smaug also was extremely perceptive when it came to the one ring and guessing that a “darkness” was coming, etc. How would he know about that if he had been sleeping for so long?

Although I appreciate that the dwarves tried to fight/trap Smaug, there was no way using molten gold was going to work. Gold is too soft a metal to really trap him and dragons are impervious to fire, so the temperature wasn’t going to do anything either. It looked cool, but that’s about it. One of the numerous pointless things PJ added to the film/story.

I liked the movie more the second time, but I’m not ready to say it was awesome. I never thought I would be neutral about a LOTR film, but so it is. Overall, I think it borrows way too many plot elements/lines from LOTR. (“We’re part of this world.”) I really can’t wait for the fan cut where they take all the Taurial mess out.

Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” is a great song. I love it.

*All of this is my opinion and hardly matters, so don’t get up in arms about what I have to say. This is my blog!