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Posts Tagged ‘social’

So, if you want to piss me off, tell me what I can’t do.   I may not even want to do it, but if you tell me that I can’t, I will have no choice but to not only do it, but do it well.  This characteristic is both a blessing and a curse. 

I not only think I can, but I know I can.

On one hand, it has inspired me to excel in a number of things, especially academics.  For example, although I did not grow up in the civil rights era, I still had to contend with teachers that automatically assumed that I could not possibly be as smart as my white or Asian counterparts.

In middle school, we had a special day with our teachers to discuss future classes in high school.   I had a teacher tell me that I shouldn’t take AP (advanced placement) classes because it would be too difficult for me.  I took AP history and calculus in high school, and did well in both.  As a matter of fact, I was given a C in AP history, despite the fact that according to my records I should have had an A.  I talked to the teacher about it, showed him my records, showed him his grade policy and made it clear to him that my grade should not be a C, but an A.  The teacher changed the grade.  After he changed the grade, it pissed me off.  How could a teacher make an error in judgment that allows him to change a grade from a C to an A?  I have been a teacher now for approximately 15 years, and I have NEVER made an error that big.  As you can tell, this event that happened to me almost 25 years ago still bothers me.  It was clear that I was treated differently than my other classmates.  Another example occurred in high school, when for one semester, I was demoted to remedial English.  Granted, English was not my strongest subject, but remedial?  Even the teacher of the remedial English class did not understand why I was enrolled in her class.

I could easily turn this blog into a social commentary on how racism is alive and well and has held many students back simply based on the color of their skin.  I graduated from high school with a 3.9, I am in my high school’s hall of fame for track & field, and I graduated from UC Berkeley, and I still have multiple stories of people telling me that I was not smart enough to do things.  What about the black students that were B students, or C students, or even D students?  If as an A student I still faced obstacles, I can’t imagine what other students faced.  But this is not a blog about race, or not just about race, but about the obsession people have with what can’t be done.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do.  I can do anything, and just because you have chosen to limit yourself, don’t dare put that small thinking on me.  But, why are so many people concerned with other people’s opinions on what they can and can’t do?  And why am I not?  The easiest answer would be my parents, as I believe strongly that they instilled in me my “don’t give up” and the “don’t you dare tell me what to do” attitude.  But I want to go a little bit deeper.  In many ways it reminds me of ‘cultural legacy’ as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’.  I actually blogged about this book in My First Book Review.  In other words, do I have this attitude because of my culture?

In his book, ‘Outliers’ Gladwell describes a famous psychological experiment by Nisbett and Cohen.  They monitored reactions of people to being insulted.  Students were asked to answer a number of questions and then walk down a long, narrow hallway where unbeknownst to them, another person who was also part of the experiment would whisper the word “asshole” as they walked passed.  The researchers found that it did not matter if you were black, or white, rich or poor, a nerd or a jock, you responded to the insult the same, except for one surprising variable.  If you were from the South, regardless of your background, you reacted strongly to the comment, but students from the North actively calmed themselves when they heard the comment.  The author suggested that the “Culture of Honor” was passed down through generations of Southerners irrespective of almost any other environmental or genetic factor.

I think about the history of African-Americans in this country and wonder if I am the recipient of a “Culture of Rebellion”.  I think about the long list adversities that black people have suffered in this country, but yet have been inspired to create music, poetry, innovation, and various forms of success in spite of the obstacles placed in the way.  Although I would never compare my obstacles to slavery, lynch mobs, nor laws of discrimination, but the fact remains, I have a strong visceral response to people trying to prevent me from doing things.  Can culture be inherited?  If you have a cultural history in which the ‘sky was the limit’ or your ancestors had many options, maybe limitations would not be such a bad thing.  But if your ancestors were oppressed and limited by the dominant culture, self-imposed limitations would be counter-intuitive and very maladaptive to an oppressive environment.  As a matter of fact, under oppressive conditions, a spirit of rebellion would be necessary for upward mobility.  Quite frankly, if you examine history, some of the greatest innovations and social movements have come out of great adversity.   Maybe it is from my parents, maybe it is genetic, or maybe I have inherited a “Culture of Rebellion”, but I am glad I have it and I hope my kids will have it too, because no one should limit their potential by telling them what they can and cannot do.

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A couple of months ago Taco Bell was sued.  The lawsuit claimed that Taco Bell was wrong for calling their beef burritos, well, beef burritos because the burritos only contained 35% beef.  Taco Bell responded to the lawsuit by stating that their beef burritos contained 88% beef.  Soon after the news of the lawsuit became public and Taco Bell’s response, Taco Bell put their burritos on sale for 88 cents.  Don’t think this new price was lost on me, what about you?  Nonetheless, I have accepted the fact that their burritos are 88% beef.  It also makes me better appreciate McDonald’s for stating that their burgers are 100% beef.  Especially since I used to think that this was as stupid advertisement.  I often thought why would they tell me that their burgers were 100% beef? 

Remember this commercial?

What else would it be?  Turns out there are other options.  But here is my problem:  I actually don’t mind that Taco Bell beef burritos are not 100% beef.  But why won’t Taco Bell tell us what is in the remaining 12%? I haven’t eaten there since.  I’m just sayin …

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