A Joyful Struggle

We ended our final SW 505 class by discussing the experience of our “joyful struggle”.  I think this is a great term.  It speaks to the experience of social workers who deal in the messy, infuriating, depressing, uphill, unfair, unjust spaces in our communities.  When people are sitting at home watching the news thinking, “who will do something about this?”  The answer can reliably be: social workers.

We take on the messy parts of society to improve them.  But inevitably fatigue sets in, the negative thought-loops in our heads become stronger, louder, and faster, and our resolve is challenged.  We question our motives, our methods, and our impact.  We wonder if it’s worth it.

So how do we maintain joy in this struggle?  How do we continue to fight our good fights in the face of our own adversity as well as the adversity of our causes?

We must find ways to remind ourselves why joined the fight.  We must find strength in communities that also embrace the mess.  This work is difficult and it is easy to get lost in the storm of overwhelming criticism, systemic barriers, frustrating clients, prohibitive policies, and massive societal structures that seem expertly designed to defeat us and too big too overcome.  In those moments, let us be the David to their Goliath.  Let us press on like so many noble fighters before us.  Let us stand on the shoulders of giants and remember that no effort for justice is ever wasted.  Not every day will be our best day.  But each day that we have the opportunity to make our world more just is a gift.  Let us find gratitude in moments of success and failure, and let us remember that we are never alone.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ― Calvin Coolidge

“If I have seen further it was by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.  And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you walk through a storm hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on with a hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never, ever walk alone

Walk on, walk on with a hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never, ever walk alone – Rodgers and Hammerstein

The Great Mascot Debate

A couple of weeks ago in class we discussed the issue of using ethno-centric symbols to represent sports franchise mascots.  This lead to a discussion on the propriety of using ethno-centric images for any kind of financial gain.

I entered the conversation believing that if some percentage of the demographic in question is offended then it is not worth continuing to use the logo.  The more we marginalize and make people feel “other” the farther away we are from making progress as one human race.
I left the conversation open to the idea that, whether anyone is offended or not is not the issue.  The issue is the principle that if the logo can be perceived negatively then it should not be used. I remain open to this idea, but as I thought further it seems to have sparked more questions than answers.
Are these shirts offensive or inappropriate?

Ali T-shirt: https://www.jackthreads.com/the/tees–tanks/tee/underwater-hitter-tee/products/136707

Using a figure from a marginalized demographic for any financial gain – is it all bad?  If so, how bad?  Does it matter who is profiting?  If the money was going to the NAACP or ACLU would it be better?
Does the level to which someone takes offense matter at all – or is it strictly the principle that makes it inappropriate?
Most discussions on this topic will lead to a discussion on the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish”.  Someone in our class suggested that this was not an adequate comparison because people of Irish descent have not been marginalized in the U.S.  Here are some articles that would suggest otherwise.

This lead me to the question: Is it only inappropriate to use ethno-centric images when the demographic in question currently experiences systemic disadvantage in the U.S.?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that, like so many other social justice issues, this one calls for the allowance of some gray area.  In a perfect world we might avoid these discussions completely as there are many other choices for mascots that would accomplish the goals of building a following and subsequently making money.  In our current world I believe we must take steps to eliminate oppression wherever possible.  If there are segments of Americans that feel oppressed or attacked by an ethno-centric mascot or that it’s use perpetuates negative stereotypes, then the right thing to do is change the mascot.

Transexual momentum

The trans world is not one in which I’m particularly well versed.  I had a friend in college who identified as transexual.  He educated me on the issues surrounding public restroom usage and I’ve been more sensitive to those and related issues ever since.  I find the language used in trans communities important and fascinating as it directly relates to one’s identity and personal development.

While I have not seen any episodes of “Orange is the new Black” I found it heartening to read articles about Laverne Cox’s work on the show.  She has been an effective spokeperson and advocate on trans issues as evidenced here in her interview with Time magazine: http://time.com/132769/transgender-orange-is-the-new-black-laverne-cox-interview/

Given my relatively new awareness to social justice issues in the trans community I was particularly struck by this article: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2274130-michael-phelps-reported-girlfriend-reveals-she-was-born-intersex?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=programming-UK

At the end of the day it discloses personal information about the nature of an intimate relationship.  This is really not the type of information from which I like to draw professional development lessons.  However I continued to monitor this story as I hoped it would raise the discourse around trans issues in our popular culture and news media.  I had trouble finding any articles that would lead me to believe this had happened.  That being said, the article has been read over 150,000 times.  It is not academically substantial, nor is it presented as an advocacy piece.  However, I hope more people became aware, and more sensitive and receptive, to people in the trans community as a result of this story.

Flags

I’ve always like the idea of being part of a group.  Maybe it’s a primal instinct to enjoy the safety or camaraderie of a pack, but ever since I can remember I’ve been an avid sports fan of my regional teams.  I even looked up to the older kids in my school district.  I’d watch them play football on Friday nights, all decked out in my Bulldog blue and gold and dream of the time when it would be my turn to represent our team in that uniform.

Six days each week I fly an American flag outside of our house.  I love looking at it when I leave and return home each day.  It is a quick reminder to be thankful for the lives we enjoy as Americans and what it has taken to create those lives.  We are not a perfect culture or country.  We have and still do conduct ourselves in ways that are abhorrently wrong and unjust.  We are also a beautiful country full of graceful decent people who honor each other the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

On Saturdays I fly our Ohio State University flag.  It is an homage to mine and my wife’s alma mater.  We love rooting for the football team and revel in the memories of our undergraduate days.  There are things I don’t like about the history of The Ohio State University.  But there is so much more that I am proud of.  It is a land-grant institution that afforded me the opportunity to grow and prepare myself for a career and a graduate program.  I consider it an honor to be affiliated with this institution of higher learning.

As I jog around my neighborhood I see other flags – almost exclusively representing professional athletic teams.  It is interesting to me that of all the ways these families could public identify their allegiances they choose professional athletics.  As I drive on the roads between Morrisville and Raleigh I notice that confederate flag bumper stickers outnumber any other type of flags.  I explain away the ignorance of those who present the confederate flag.  Maybe they are remembering a time where southern solidarity meant something to them or their families.  Maybe they are wildly oblivious to the emotions of pain, discrimination, and death that are conjured by that image.  Or may they’re truly racist bigots.

I have a tougher time rationalizing the lack of American flags.  It almost as though pride in our country has taken on negative connotations.  America is the birthplace of my grandparents, parents, wife, and children.  It is our country and it represents our values.  It is not perfect, but there are enough great things about it that I am proud to fly our flag.