The National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) New York City, May 26-30, 2020. https://www.ncore.ou.edu/en/
National Conference on Diversity, Race & Learning. The Ohio State University May 4-5, 2020. https://odi.osu.edu/about/conferences/national-conference-on-diversity-race-and-Learning, Fawcett Event Center, Columbus, USA.
Websites to Explore
W.K. Kellogg Foundatons: http://www.racialequityresourceguide.org/about/glossary
Frequently Used Assessment Tools
The current emphasis on measuring intercultural competence has inspired a large number of new assessment instruments. These instruments address a variety of needs for outcomes measurement, program evaluation, and personnel selection, as well as providing useful tools for coaching and training. This is a list of some of the most frequently used assessments, contact information, and a brief description of the major aspects of each of them. Please follow the link: Frequently Used Assessment Tools
PBS Series Race the Power of an Illusion:
Episode 1: The Difference Between Us https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8MS6zubIaQ 5:14
Episode 2: The Story We Tell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UZS8Wb4S5k 6:11
Episode 3: The House We Live In https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mW764dXEI_8 6:04
There are several resources from this author which can be found at https://www.geert-hofstede.com/.
Cultural Detective. https://www.culturaldetective.com/
Diversity Assessment Tools (Personality, Communication, Thinking)
By Kathy Lechman, Leader of Diversity Development, Ohio State University Extension
Diversity has become a very talked about issue and for some it may be considered a politically correct “buzzword”, reality is that diversity is among us on a constant basis and a well-prepared leader understands this and uses the diversity of staff as an advantage and as a way to further the goals of the organization. Ohio State University (OSU) Extension uses the following definition of diversity: “Differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practices, and other human differences (OSU Extension Strategic Plan for Diversity)”. As this definition demonstrates, there is more to diversity than racial, ethnic, or cultural characteristics. These aspects of diversity are important but when looking at the workforce there are many other dimensions to consider. We cannot deny that our race, ethnicity, gender, or religion influences our personality but consideration should be given to the possibility that other factors also contribute to our personalities. With the increasing diversity of the workforce, leaders in organizations must work with people who are not only racially, ethnically and culturally different but who also bring with them diversity in communication styles, conflict management styles, and personality types. “Diversity is about leadership’s capacity to influence people to WILLINGLY work toward company objectives…It is valuing differences no matter how big or small they may seem (Burrs, Linda. 2002. Diversity – It’s More than Just a Notion. www.step-up-tosuccess.org)”. Examining aspects of diversity that move away from focusing on the observable and or physical differences provides an opportunity to highlight the subtle and often hidden aspects of diversity that exist among people. A variety of assessment instruments exist, including: Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, Jung’s communication styles Assessment, Spectrum Color personality types, Coachman’s conflict management styles, the Enneagram, and many others.
Benefits of Celebrating Hidden Diversity
All of these assessments provide useful information on how people prefer to operate and relate. These assessments also offer additional dimensions of diversity that should be considered by supervisors, and managers when establishing work groups, task forces, and or committees. A variety of personality styles, communication, and thinking styles enrich any group and can actually increase productivity and creativity. Knowing styles and preferences of co-workers is important but it is also important to know our own preferred style. As leaders, we need to be able to tap into the strengths of our employees as well as our own. “When people are encouraged to work in their areas of strength, they are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay with the company or organization (Burrs, Linda. 2002. Diversity-It’s More than Just a Notion. www.step-up-tosuccess.org)”. Demonstrating appreciation for these dimensions of diversity is also setting the tone for a healthy and accepting work environment where people can excel. As mentioned earlier, culture, race, ethnicity, and religion along with a myriad of other factors are important aspects of diversity and just like we need to be wary of racial and ethnic stereotypes, we need to be cautious not to stereotype or pigeon hole personality types. For example, a person who is an Extrovert, Sensing, Feeling, Judging (ESFJ) on the Myers/Briggs will not always be the leader of a group or be the first to speak at meetings. Just like an Introvert, Intuitor, Feeling, Perceiver (INFP) is perfectly capable of leading and taking charge of a large group and making decisions quickly.
AgDiscovery Program, Purdue University https://ag.purdue.edu/omp/Pages/Summer-Programs.aspx
AgDiscovery Program, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/civilrights/agdiscovery/ct_agdiscovery_program
Summer Apprenticeship Program, Tennessee State University http://www.tnstate.edu/agriculture/apprenticeship.aspx
Summer Program, Pennsylvania School for Excellence in the Agricultural Sciences (PSEAS) https://agsci.psu.edu/school-for-excellence
Summer Internship Program, Kentucky Department of Agriculture https://www.kyagr.com/marketing/internship-program.html
By Beverly Hobbs, 4-H Youth Development Specialist, OSU Extension Service
Oregon 4-H is becoming more diverse as it engages an increasing number of first and second generation Latino youth and families. Since 1997, the program has made the involvement of Latino youth a program priority, and steps taken to increase Latino membership have met with success.
Today, one third of Oregon County 4-H programs have identified outreach efforts underway with over 2500 Latino youth and 169 Latino adult volunteers involved in out-of-school programming. This represents a gain of 400% from the base year of 1995-1996.
The success of outreach efforts reflects the increased capacity of Oregon 4-H to appropriately respond to the Latino culture. 4-H has changed the way it meets and invites Latino families to participate and has added new program content and new program delivery formats to meet the needs and interests of Latino youth. Most importantly it has increased the diversity of Extension staff.
A review of Oregon’s 4-H outreach experience over the last seven years reveals some key elements of effective practice. Among them are the following.
Make a firm commitment. Outreach to new and diverse audiences is demanding work. It challenges a person’s outlook on life and sense of competency. It is a personal as much as a professional journey.
Employ bilingual/bicultural outreach staff. The presence of outreach staff who have a deep understanding of the Latino culture and who are fluent in the Spanish language greatly facilitates the process of building relationships and establishing trust with Latino community members.
Emphasize relationships over tasks. Recognize and reflect the importance of personal relationships when working with Latinos.
Create a welcoming Extension office.
Involve youth and families in the design of programs. Do not try to fit new audiences into existing programs designed for traditional Extension audiences.
Create programs that reflect the Latino culture and create a comfortable learning environment.
Offer separate volunteer training as needed. Most Latinos do not have an understanding of Extension as an organization or its programs. They also may have limited literacy in English and in Spanish.
Proceed slowly, thoughtfully, and incrementally. Don’t attempt too much at one time.
Work with community partners. Partnerships promote the sustainability of programs. Partnerships are also critical to helping Latino youth and families access resources Extension cannot provide.
Support outreach staff. A culturally diverse staff requires that attention be paid to developing effective working relationships. Cultural differences impact work styles, preferred styles of communication, and expectations.
Provide state level Extension support and leadership. Working with the Latino audience represents risk-taking for many Extension agents. It puts them in an unfamiliar environment and challenges their feelings of competence.
Provide staff training. Building cultural competence takes both training and experience.
Develop supporting resources. Outreach will prompt requests for new resources, especially ones to help current staff understand diverse cultures and to help diverse audiences understand Extension.
The Oregon Outreach 4-H experience has been extremely positive. The interest and involvement of Latino families, the personal and professional growth of staff, and the positive impact on our traditional audiences and other community organizations reinforce our commitment to reaching and engaging Oregon’s diverse communities.
The Language of “Blink:” A Hot New Diversity Tool
By Judith Aftergut, Executive Director, the Honoring Institute, Portland, Oregon
The Quality movement in business and organization has occurred in three major phases. It began with the idea of the production line in the 1920’s at Ford Motor Company, and with the idea that each item produced is the same as every other item. In the 1970’s, the concept of continuous improvement took the quality movement to a next step. Current ideas about quality have moved to the idea that what is required in a fast changing world is the capacity to respond to change. It is not simply continuous improvement that is required, but rather breakthroughs in how people think and solve problems. That is the link to the usefulness of “snap judgments” or intuition—skills that (when used well) build people’s capacities to make the best choices in the midst of changing circumstances.
By Harvey L. Lineberry, II, Assistant Dean for Personnel, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University
Prayer in a public institution and workplace can be a one-way road to dissension and divisiveness, or it can find itself as the “chalice” or “conveyer” of constructive education and meaningful dialogue. The outcome of this issue is most often driven by many factors within an organization and most notably as a function of leadership, both formal and informal, as a means of effective organizational movement. Additionally, for public entities this issue is interlaced with legal
At first glance, the easy road to choose is to ignore this matter all together and just allow each situation to deal with this issue in its own way and to manage the fall-out of that strategy. It takes enormous leadership leaps of integrity to address this in a direct, honest, professional and caring way that serves to build the organizational skill tool-kit that helps not only the immediate organization, but hopefully the community, state and nation. We must ask ourselves the difficult questions: What is it that innately drives us to label negatively those whom we perceive as “less than” in order to make ourselves feel more powerful or more deserving? What role and responsibility do we have in understanding this dynamic and changing it for our children and the multi-faceted society that we know is on its way in the years and decades to come? Based on this knowledge, it is incumbent on our institutions and organizations to help us with this education and to challenge us. Growth is not always painless, but neither is it something that can be delayed to any great extent without consequences.
It is important to note that during these past few months we have reached the full gamut of viewpoints on this issue. There have been individuals within our organization indicating that the “University” would not “allow” prayers to be said, which raised concern by many within and outside of our organization. We have also experienced our employees attending a meeting (not sponsored by the College) where a person was invited to “stand outside” when they expressed their concern over a traditional prayer being spoken at a public meeting. It is clear, there are heightened emotions at both ends of this issue and our goal is to find a place of respect and common ground where we can deal responsibly with each person in our organization, community and clients. Again, the easy road is to complain and talk about all the reasons why the “glass is half-empty,” rather than invest the energy and time to educate ourselves about how that glass could be portrayed as “half-full,” and the reasons why we should look at it so.
As educators and public servants connected not only with the State of North Carolina, but the federal government as well, we must be aware of the foundation or basis of the concern over prayer in a public environment. We are bound by law, legal precedent and the First Amendment of the Constitution, which mandates separation of church and state in the sense of any and all religion. The information which is available regarding the various specific legal cases serve as the true foundation of “WHY” this is fact, but in no way frames the “HOW” part of the discussion.
Within the context of our responsibility as a public institution we can better explain a different approach to the “why” and to help you with the “how.” Former U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren spoke to these issues in great detail in his memoirs. You might know that as Governor of California he was part of the decision making team which chose to inter Japanese Americans during War World II and was seated as Chief Justice when the landmark civil rights and desegregation decisions were made in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The following is an excerpt from his memoirs:
Part of this premise is to understand that our society is majority Christian. This majority position can often lead us to make assumptions and/or to proceed without thoughtful planning as to our impact on others. These majority assumptions play out in every facet of our lives and every day of our lives – and in playing out, be it through “omission” or “commission” the reality is that it can be extremely hurtful and reflects a lack of respect for those who are “discounted.” In addressing the issues of “majority,” Chief Justice Warren notes “… it is human nature for the dominant group in a nation to keep pressing for further domination, and unless the Court has the fiber to accord justice to the weakest member of the society, regardless of the pressure brought upon it, we never can achieve our goal of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ for everyone.” (“The Memoirs of Chief Justice Earl Warren,” page 335.)
We, within the requirements of the law, have a responsibility to honor and respect all who are present in our programs, meetings, classrooms, and in our offices. We have a responsibility to our colleagues to be aware and informed on these issues and to exercise professional sensitivity in all situations over which we have control or are planning. When asked to give a public “prayer” or remarks as a meeting begins or ends, or at a meal time, it is important that these remarks, delivered in a secular setting, should serve to bind your group together in a common concern that is identifiable to every person and not dependant on any particular faith. Again, either by omission or commission, words directed and built with Christian phraseology can become unintentionally divisive because they exclude persons of other faiths, or those not expressing a position of faith. Individuals who lead the general community in prayer have the responsibility to be clear about the public nature of the occasion and respectful of the composition of the audience. Words spoken on behalf of an entire community, University, or College, should be easily shared by any listener, regardless of their beliefs and is both a privilege and a marked responsibility.
Some make the comment that this approach to the issue does not “honor” their particular belief system. Everyone has a right to his or her own religion and that is in essence the point of this entire issue – EVERYONE HAS A RIGHT TO THEIR OWN RELIGION and no one should feel infringed upon. Our challenge is to offer words that are reflective of this understanding and respectful of all. If you are uncomfortable in planning and delivering secular and inclusive remarks, then you should feel free to decline any invitation to offer one. It is a matter of inclusiveness, both for you and for the audience and we want to be clear about our intent to be sensitive to that fact. As educators, we can very quietly and effectively step up to the plate and help all our partners across the state to see how we accomplish this inclusive language through example rather than presenting this as “we are not allowed to pray.” Again, it is so important to look at what holds us together in common ground rather than to seek out that which divides us from one another – do our words and actions seek to build rather than tear down or do harm?
It is logical to see the United States as one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world. Some accounts show that non-Christians number in excess of 20% in the U.S. and that this number is growing each year. Suffice it to say, diversity, or pluralism, is a fact of life and one that any dynamic organization must recognize and address in a proactive and forward thinking manner. However, it is extremely important to understand that religious diversity means only that different religions (including non-religious beliefs) coexist and in no way implies that individuals accept these religions or positions as valid. Therefore, our challenge is to determine how we express respect for each person at the place they find themselves in their religious journey and still be true to an organization founded on the principle of advancing the purpose of education through the “extension” of research to our clients statewide. Most people in the U.S. and the rest of the world probably take an exclusivist, or “dominate” position: they believe that their religion, and only theirs, is completely true. Most believe that their God communicated universal truths by special revelation given to their spiritual ancestors or patriarchs. This knowledge has been passed on to present-day humanity, often in the form of religious texts. Many people hold tenaciously to their particular faith, believing it to be God’s revealed wish for all humanity. Some may even view other faith groups, those without a “faith community” or denominations within their own religion to be false. This type of exclusivity can sometimes develop easily into hatred, or intolerance, of any “other” interpretation of position. Religious exclusivity is often a major cause of much of the world’s civil unrest, civil wars, mass crimes against humanity and genocide. Yet, in balance to many places in the world, the U. S. has enjoyed a high level of religious freedom and a relative absence of religiously motivated conflict — even though exclusivism is probably predominant here.
Over time, the American public has developed a heightened regard for human rights, including religious freedom. Thus, they are willing to tolerate other religious beliefs, even though they consider them to be inconsistent with their own. Too many times this “toleration” is only given as long as it doesn’t impact them in any way, or ask them to modify their own sense of conduct or expression, even in public settings. If this is true, then it would appear that the best way to reduce religiously based friction throughout the world is for governments and religious institutions to promote human rights generally, religious freedom in particular, and respect for all globally.
It is to this end that I ask that we, each in our own way, seek to understand a different point of view on this issue – not in a way that seeks to change any belief systems, but to the extent that they allow us to reach a place of compassion and respect for our colleagues, friends and neighbors who may have different beliefs than we. Regardless, there is room for each of us at the table of respect and understanding for our brothers and sisters in this freedom. I would ask each person within the College, on and off campus, to join me in this effort. Speak to others in your office, or members of the Diversity Catalyst Team about what it means to honor each person within our organization and what steps might we undertake to do just that. Seek out ways to offer ecumenical and inclusive words of thanks and remember that leading in this way is both a privilege and a responsibility.
It is evident that there are many places along a continuum that we might find ourselves on this issue. We recognize this as the reality of our existence in the present nation and world and our need to understand and respect those around us. It is in being a diligent steward of our colleagues and clients that lead us to a higher place of functioning, if not understanding. This place that we find ourselves is one that honors and supports our various points of view and allows for secure footing along the continuum as we conduct our daily work. To this end, I would encourage you to find a place of humility and understanding for all of our colleagues and to look past our own “reality” to a place of inclusion and tolerance – to a place of the future. In closing, I would leave you with only a few examples of inclusive reflections.
Appropriate examples for use as a meal is served (these can be easily modified to begin or conclude a meeting):
LET US PAUSE:
LET US PAUSE:
TO BE USED IN ANY SETTING:
I would like to share with you some thoughtful quotes that I think reflect the diversity of this issue and in fact, address this point from a variety of perspectives. (I should note for the record, I do not endorse any person or overall positions of those whose statements are included below, they simply serve as points of thought along a continuum.)
“I ask you to uphold the values of America and remember why so many have come here. We’re in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”
George W. Bush, President. Address to a joint session of Congress, 2001-SEP-20.
“It is very important to understand that pluralism is part of our system. We don’t all think the same thing and part of our strength is that we come from different perspectives. We have to respect one another even when we disagree with each other. There has to be a spirit of tolerance for the views of others, while also being deeply committed to the positions we hold. If we do that, I think we can coexist and learn to love each other better.”
James Dobson, founder and president of “Focus on the Family” interviewed by Tony Snow of Fox News Channel, 2001-SEP-20
“The wiser you are, the more you believe in equality, because the difference between what the most and the least learned people know is inexpressibly trivial in relation to all that is unknown.”
“The millions of Christians in this country reflect just about every conceivable political point of view. For one highly conservative group to proclaim itself ‘the Christian Coalition’ strikes me as decidedly un-Christian arrogance…. We reflect countless races, religions and lifestyles, and we often differ on questions of morality and behavior. The only way so diverse a nation can survive is by all of us practicing a high degree of tolerance. But tolerance is not the way of the Christian right. Its leaders want to impose their one-size-fits-all morality on everyone. It won’t work. When any group tries to impose its values on everyone else, the result will inevitably be resentment, hatred and violence.”
Senator Warren Rudman
“When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference. The reward will go to those who dared to step outside the safety of their privacy in order to expose and rout the prevailing prejudices.”
John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
Blaise Paschal: Often attributed to Sam J. Ervin, Jr., in “Protecting the Constitution” (1984).
“It was Christians, you know, not Pagans, who were responsible for the Holocaust. It was Christians, not Pagans, who lynched people here in the South, who burned people at the stake, frequently in the name of this Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church, to participants in the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches in 2000-JAN. (In the same speech, he reminded his audience that the racist apartheid policy in his native South Africa was also created by Christians, not Pagans.)
With Ellen Summerfield
Cross-Cultural Skill #1: Empathy
This section on The Long Walk Home is used with permission of Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME, and adapted from Seeing the Big Picture: Exploring American Cultures on Film, by Ellen Summerfield and Sandra Lee, 2001.
|Who’s Who in the Film|
Odessa Cotter (“Dessie”)
Mary Catherine “Boo Boo”
The Long Walk Home gives us the chance to focus on one of the most important cross-cultural skills: empathy.
The ability to empathize requires imagination, knowledge, and compassion. To empathize with another person, I must recognize and remember that other people are different from myself, and I need to have some knowledge of what these differences are. My knowledge can help me try to imagine what another person is feeling in a given situation, which is not necessarily what I would be feeling in the same situation.
So an adult who sees a child lost in a grocery store can feel sympathy knowing that anyone who is lost is likely to feel confused and upset, but empathy only if the adult is able to imagine in particular what a lost child might be feeling.
An outgoing social butterfly can empathize with a shy woman sitting by herself at a party if the outgoing person can imagine what it might feel like to be shy.
Thus empathy requires that you try to look through the other’s eyes rather than through your own.
In cross-cultural terms, this means that a Chinese person, for example, can never really know what it feels like to be Mexican, but if the Chinese person studies Spanish, travels to Mexico, and has Mexican friends, she can begin to imagine a situation from the “Mexican” point of view.
As you view or think back on the film The Long Walk Home, think of a scene in which a character demonstrates empathy.
The 1955-56 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, which is the subject of The Long Walk Home, was described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “one of the greatest [movements] in the history of the nation.” This boycott can be seen as both a beginning and an end. What was coming to an end was almost a century of struggle by African Americans to overthrow rigid legal and extralegal segregation. In a country founded on the principles of democracy and equality, this segregation kept blacks apart and subjugated, denied them the basic opportunities of American society, and persecuted them in the most violent ways.
Multicultural golden rule for empathizing
Treat others as you think they would like to be treated.
When the South lost the Civil War (1861-65) and two centuries of slavery came to an end, an estimated four million blacks dared to believe that a new life was possible for them. Indeed, the situation for African Americans quickly began to improve, and impressive initial strides were made. But the progress during the so-called Reconstruction period was brief. A backlash of momentous proportions on the part of primarily Southern whites, accompanied by massacres, lynchings, mutilations, rapes, and whippings, acted to replace slavery not with long-awaited equality and freedom, but with a new form of oppression—“Jim Crow” segregation.
Who was Jim Crow? Some believe he was a slave, or a soldier, and others say the label came from the saying “black as a crow.” Whatever the case, the name was first heard by the public in 1832 when a white performer danced on the stage in a comic imitation of blacks to a tune about “Jim Crow.” Soon a common character in minstrel shows, Jim Crow evolved into a synonym for the Negro, and his “comic” way of life, and by the turn of the century into a term referring to the near total separation of blacks and whites in the country.
While this system of apartheid was more open and virulent in the South, border and northern states also participated to varying degrees. Hundreds of laws, decrees, and customs kept the races apart by requiring separate restrooms, restaurants, hotels, parks, theaters, drinking fountains, railroad cars, and schools. Blacks were to be born in Negro hospitals and buried in Negro cemeteries. In South Carolina, black and white cotton-mill workers were not allowed to look out the same window; in Oklahoma there were separate telephone booths; and in Birmingham, Alabama, blacks and whites were forbidden to play chess together. In 1896, the Jim Crow doctrine was given the blessing of the Supreme Court in the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court decided that the states’ “separate but equal” laws did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, despite the wording of this amendment that
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Throughout the years of Jim Crow, opposition was ongoing, strong, and creative. Distinguished black leaders—W. E. B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, William Monroe Trotter, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marcus Moziah Garvey, Asa Philip Randolph, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Ralph J. Bunche, Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy, Charles H. Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and numerous others—devised strategies to keep the dream of equality alive against fierce opposition and the constant threat of violence by members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white militants. Moreover, countless unknown individuals stood up for their rights and worked for the cause, knowingly risking, and often sacrificing, their lives. Blacks worked through the courts, through the media, through labor unions, through national organizations, and in the military to gain a proper place in American life.
By the time of the boycott in Montgomery, a tradition of protest was well-established in black America. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a little-known twenty-six-year-old pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, led workers, common people, professionals, students, and children in a masterfully orchestrated plan of great daring that inspired a national movement for civil rights.
It began when Rosa Parks, a 42 year-old seamstress and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) member, was arrested for refusing to yield her seat on a bus to a white man. At that time, although black patrons accounted for more than three-fourths of all riders in Montgomery, black riders were forced to sit in the back of the buses—the front rows were reserved for whites—and to give up a seat to any white person who would otherwise have to stand. What was first planned as a one-day boycott of the buses in Montgomery in protest of Rosa Parks’ arrest became a massive action that lasted over a year, from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956. As seen in The Long Walk Home, organized carpools were critical to the success of the boycott; the sponsors of the boycott provided up to twenty thousand rides daily. The Long Walk Home focuses primarily on the first stage of the boycott.
;People of color’
Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story
The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-65
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1986)
Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)
Mississippi Burning (1988)
Separate But Equal (1991)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Check your local library, commercial video store, or online catalogs to order a copy.
As you view or reflect on The Long Walk Home, think of a scene in which a character demonstrates empathy.
With Ellen Summerfield
About the Film
Smoke Signals is the first full-length feature film to be written, produced, directed, and acted (in all major roles) entirely by Native Americans. Based loosely on the 1994 short novel by Sherman Alexie entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, it won two awards when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. By all measures, it is a landmark film.
Alexie himself wanted the film to break with tradition. In an interview with the Oregonian (July 7, 1998), he says that Smoke Signals “challenges the cinematic history of Indians.” His Indian characters are virtually new to the big screen, posing a contrast to the stereotypes of Indians as “stoic and alcoholic,” as “depressed poor people.” According to Alexie, “Indians are the most joyous people in the world.” He says, “The two funniest groups of people I’ve been around have been Indians and Jews. So I guess there’s something to be said about the inherent humor of genocide.”
About the Author
One of six siblings, Sherman Alexie grew up in poverty on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State. His mother is part Spokane and a Protestant, and his father is full-blood Coeur d’Alene and a Catholic. Both of his parents were alcoholics, but his mother was able to break her addiction when her son was seven years old, and she subsequently became a tribal drug and alcohol abuse counselor.
A frail and sickly child, Alexie realized early that humor was an effective way to stave off bullies. “People like to laugh, and when you make them laugh they listen to you. That’s how I get people to listen to me now…. I’m saying things people don’t like for me to say. I’m saying very aggressive, controversial things, I suppose, about race and gender and sexuality. I’m way left [in my viewpoints], but if you say it funny, people listen. If you don’t make ‘em laugh, they’ll walk away.” (Biblio Magazine, March 1999).
Also partly to avoid getting beat up, Alexie spent a lot of time in the reservation school library. His father, who often stayed home while his mother worked, read to him and gave him books. Alexie attended junior high and high school off the reservation, in the nearby mostly white town of Reardon. Successful as a basketball player, honor society member, class president, and debater, he received a scholarship to Gonzaga University, a Jesuit College in Spokane.
But he began to drink heavily and dropped out of Gonzaga. Later he enrolled at Washington State University in Pullman. He credits Alex Kuo, his professor in a poetry-writing class, with helping him to discover his talent and profession as a writer. Several poems written in Kuo’s class ended up in his first book, The Business of Fancydancing (1992). While still living in Pullman, Alexie sobered up and became a popular figure at local poetry readings.
Since 1992, Alexie’s literary career has been remarkable. Though he considers himself primarily a poet and has published eight volumes of poetry, his widespread popularity has come from his fiction and screenplays. His works include:
Poetry, trade editions
The Business of Fancydancing
First Indian on the Moon
Old Shirts & New Skins
The Summer of Black Widows
Poetry, limited editions
I Would Steal Horses
Seven Mourning Songs for the Cedar Flute I Have Yet to Learn to Play
Water Flowing Home
The Man Who Loves Salmon
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
The Toughest Indian in the World
Ten Little Indians
One Little Indian Boy
White Men Can’t Drum
Alexie currently lives in Seattle with his wife, Diane, of Hidatsa/Winnebago/Potawatomie descent, and his two sons. His frequent readings and literary presentations around the country are well-attended and hugely successful. He has a large and loyal following among Indians and non-Indians alike.
The Native Americans: An Illustrated History
Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians
Prison Writings: My Life Is the Sun Dance
Incident at Oglala (1992)
Powwow Highway (1989)
The West (1996)
Where the Spirit Lives (1989)
Check your local or university library, commercial video store, or online sources to order a copy.
Find clips in the movie where Sherman Alexie has the characters play with the typical stereotypes of Indians. Join in the discussion with Faye and Ellen to talk about these stereotypes.
Note: To help make Popcorn and a Movie more interesting and interactive, Ellen Summerfield, creator of Popcorn and a Movie for this site, asked a colleague and Klamath tribal member, Fay Hurtado, to serve as our consultant and “cultural insider” for the film Smoke Signals. During the month of June, they e-mailed back and forth from Ellen’s home in McMinnville, Oregon, to Fay’s home on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon.
Before we begin our discussion of Smoke Signals, could you tell me a little about your Indian heritage?
I am an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribe located in Southern Oregon. Although I was born in Klamath Falls, shortly after the Klamath Tribe was terminated we moved to Warm Springs. My grandmother and my great grandfather are from the Warm Springs Tribe, and I married and built my home here in Warm Springs. Although I am a member of the Klamath Tribe a lot of my values and beliefs have come thru the teaching of the Warm Springs people. (Hope that sounds okay! I had to look up the meaning of heritage, in Indian Country we say “where you from?”) So may I ask you where you from?
Sure. I’m from the East Coast. My great-grandparents were Eastern European Jews who immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland, where both of my parents were born. I was also born in Maryland. I’ve moved around a lot, and my husband and I finally landed here in Oregon twenty years ago. Just last year, my mother moved here from the East Coast to join us.
OK, now to the film. My first question to you resulted from a wonderful evening I spent in Portland, Oregon, last week, listening to a reading by Sherman Alexie, who, as you know, write the screenplay for the film. Alexie was in town to promote his latest book, Ten Little Indians.
In the question and answer session of his presentation, Alexie was asked about how Indians liked Smoke Signals, and he said, “My tribe loves the hell out of that movie.” He also told us that “Indians who hate my books love that movie.” So I was wondering if you loved the movie (I seem to remember you said you did) and, if so, why?
Glad to hear you had a good time listening to Sherman.
I enjoyed the movie because it was the first time I saw things in a movie that I might see at home. Some of the things that people saw as comedy are actually things we see and live with on a daily basis. Remember the girls with the car that only drove backwards? Their transmission was out. Those are things we see here and think nothing about because our laws are such that we have young people driving without licenses and people driving with no windshields in their cars, or no forward gears in their car. Those are the Rez cars. The car never leaves the Rez but it allows people to get around within our small community. I guess that is the reason that I liked this movie.
That’s interesting to me to hear about the Rez cars and the fact that young people drive without licenses because of different laws on the reservation.
A different question I had is about the humor in the film. On the vhs cover, humor is mentioned at least four times. We’re told to “celebrate the comedy that had audiences and critics cheering.” The film is called a “rare and entertaining comic treat” and is quoted as being a “bittersweet comedy…funny and stylish” (LA Times). It’s also quoted as being “very funny!” (Good Morning America).
This seems to me to miss the point of the film. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s not a “comedy” to me, and that’s not what should be emphasized. What do you think?
Some of the things that Sherman showed the world about Indian country he chose to do through comedy. Or that’s how it comes out! When we see things happen that are not the norm or something that we consider unusual, it’s considered funny before anything else. Think about how the dominant society would react to things that happen in the movie? Would they laugh at the situation or become angry for the person being stupid, or just what would they do? And even saying it is a comedy in Indian country is okay. Comedy to us is not belittling it, or saying it is not as good as a documentary. Was that what you felt it was doing to say it was a comedy?
Waiting to hear from you!
I’ve been thinking about what you said about comedy. To me, the film is much more than a comedy. Yes, it’s very funny, but it’s also very serious. There’s a great deal of pain that is dealt with through humor. But the pain is the overriding emotion for me. I think of Victor and his suffering as a little boy when his father leaves. To me the film is about Victor’s journey to make peace with his father, which of course is very powerful. I also think of his father’s pain at knowing what he did and having to live with it. And of Victor’s mother, who had to lose her husband to save her son.
All of this gives me a picture of Indian country in which life brings sadness and grief, but where people show incredible resilience and humanity. So I guess I would call the film a “drama,” even though the word itself isn’t that important. It’s just that I don’t want the film to be advertised on the cover in a way that might be misinterpreted as something light, even silly or superficial.
But, out of what you said, is Indian? I see things in there that you cannot see. What you explain about a suffering little boy could be about any culture, so what makes this movie different? Are you relating the suffering to Indian? If you took what you wrote about Victor and placed it somewhere by itself, would your reader know that it was about an Indian boy? If not, then I don’t think you are getting the right picture of Indian country. That’s what I enjoyed about the movie. Sure the story line is very familiar, it could be Orphan Annie or some other film of that nature. But what makes it Indian, that’s what I enjoyed. That is why Sherman said his tribe loved the hell out of it.
Does that make any sense?
Good morning Fay,
I think you caught me. Your question is right on. What is “Indian” about the drama I described? Well, I have to admit that probably it’s my stereotypes. This is embarrassing. I’m sorry but I have to tell you the truth if Popcorn is going to be worth anything, so please bear with me. I think it’s the poverty and alcoholism. All the negative stuff.
But, like you wrote, there’s poverty and alcoholism elsewhere, and non-Indian fathers leave families. So are you saying that what makes this film Indian is the slant on life, the way of dealing with things that is more accepting and humorous (humorous in an “Indian” way) rather than getting mad and trying to change everything like non-Indians might do? Please help, I don’t know if I’m getting what you are explaining. Is this particular attitude toward life part of what you said you see that I don’t see?
I think I need to watch the film again!
Sorry to make things so confusing for you! Sometimes I can see and feel the confusion and that makes it very hard for me to stay in the Indian and not just do what I have been trained to do (give you the easy out and just agree with whatever is bringing the confusion). But I have come to realize that there is not growth for the other person when I do that. Sometimes I want to do that also because I get lazy too and don’t want to put the work into it that it takes (just letting you know so that if it does happen, maybe you will see it in my writing, that you can hold me accountable to the commitment that I have made with you).
Sorry, because my intent was not to embarrass you. Most people either put us in a place of feeling sorry for us, or hate what they do not understand. The idea of “the slant of life” makes sense to me. What people usually want to see is the negative stuff or the magical mystical stuff. Those seem to be the only two categories that the dominant society puts the Native American. Do you see anything different in the movie when you take out the poverty and alcoholism? What about the characters? Do they all seem normal to you? If not, who are the normal ones, or are they all not average or normal? Do they interact with each other as the dominant society does? Those are the things to me that make this movie good or why Indian people like the movie. Like I said before, the story line is somewhat familiar, the thing that separates it for me is the details of the story line. They are very subtle and if you do not know any Indians or have never been around them, you might not even catch them or be aware of them. That’s what I meant about things I see that maybe you do not. Because our beliefs and values are different I would not even call it an attitude. Attitude to me is something that is very much on the surface, things I can change by what company I am in. What I mean about the slant on life goes deeper than that. It is a way of being that we are or are not aware of.
Hang in there! Fay
Looking forward to hearing from you again.
What you wrote yesterday is very helpful. Thank you. I will try to understand better the “way of being” you referred to. I plan to watch the film again this weekend to try to see it in a different light.
Another question I’d like to ask you is which scene or scenes in Smokes Signals stand out for you? I suspect that we will choose different scenes, so it should be interesting to compare.
I am having trouble with this… Trying to decide on a scene is a little harder than I thought. What the Indians liked about the movie was the similarities to our way of life. The slang language “enit”, “aye” and such are very common to the Rez. That is the way we talk and make fun. The main point Sherman is trying to make is at the end of the movie, which I am sure that we all understood, but in trying to pick something that is Indian, you could actually pick any scene and go from there.
One thing off the top of my head, why is it so important to be able to make the best fry bread? That is common throughout the movie. There are comments throughout the movie like that that we understand. The comment about going to a foreign country when leaving the reservation, that is common. Anyway, let me know what you think and maybe we can go from there. Hope you have a great 4th!
This weekend I’m thinking about July 4th in terms of the film. It’s important, I think, that Sherman chose that day. I’m wondering if it has a particular meaning for you. Do you and your family and friends on the reservation celebrate it? If you do, is it more in an ironic way rather than a real holiday?
I’d love to know more about the slang you mentioned. I don’t even know what enit and aye mean. How do you use them to make fun?
Also, could you please explain why it’s so important to make the best fry bread? I thought that was sort of like me saying that “my mom makes the best apple pies,” but I wasn’t sure if that’s the meaning.
Hope you’re enjoying at least a long weekend and look forward to hearing from you,
The 4th is kind of celebrated, because we like fireworks, but as for the meaning no we do not celebrate it as an Independence Day. (It’s really only White People’s Independence Day.) For us it is a paid holiday (day off with pay) and I guess ironic rather than a real holiday. That is the same with Columbus Day, Thanksgiving Day, Washington’s Birthday & Labor Day—we all joke about celebrating it. They don’t have any real meaning to us other than bad news for our people.
This one I might have to think a little about, off the top of my head, enit is used kind of as a question that is made after a statement you make. Rather than saying “that dog is pretty, don’t you think?” you might say, “that dog is pretty, enit.” That’s how the word is used in language structure, but we are never looking for an answer to the question. There never has to be a response and usually never is. There are other ways the word is used but they are difficult to put into terms that would easily be understood.
“Aye” is more or less an expression of something joking. When you are teasing someone, you might make a teasing statement and then say “aye” at the end of it laughingly. It is funny but for the most part all reservation Indians are aware of the use no matter what Rez you are from.
In terms of Smoke Signals I guess “the best fry bread” would be the same as apple pie. From a country that has been oppressed for so long and has lived in poverty for so long, what you can “do” and who you “be” tends to have greater significance than what you drive and what you own or the career you have. Our political structure is based traditionally by what family you come from and what you “do” and “be” for the people rather than for yourself.
Well, I hope some of this makes sense and you get something out of it. Sometimes I wonder if any of this makes any sense because it is not something that you can really use for any purpose but maybe for your own knowledge. Just remember once you seem to get a handle on it and kind of understand it some other Indian is going to come along and say “no that’s not how it is for us.” Just as you have experienced even in the dominant culture, some don’t know the definition of culture and might answer you differently.
Hope you had a great 4th of July. What does that mean to you anyway? Do you celebrate it with any particular meaning or is it just a day of leisure for you too?
I sure enjoy the emails, they make me think! (Maybe you will see some of the way we talk written into our emails, I have been trying to respond the way I would at home and not make it sound like the way I am supposed to write.)
About the 4th. I’m not sure how much meaning it really has for white people or other non-Indians. It’s a paid holiday, like you said, and people usually get together with family and friends for a picnic or barbeque. And they set off fireworks or go to town to see them. I guess for a lot of people there’s some patriotism involved, but I’m not patriotic myself when it comes to things like holidays.
More later, Ellen