Maya Angelou clip sparks courtesy debate
By LEANNE ITALIE
Wednesday, March 20
NEW YORK (AP) — Put a handle on it.
If you don’t know what that means, you might not call elders by “Mr.,” ”Miss” or “Mrs.,” insist that your children do the same or demand it for yourself. If you’ve heard the term, you’re likely familiar with the history of the politics of respectability and what that means to some African-Americans, pro and con.
Are you from the North or the South? A small town or big city native? From a religious, school or immigrant community that uses elder honorifics? Perhaps you’re Professor, Doctor or Judge.
All of the above were widely debated on social media last week, focused on an old talk-show clip of the late Maya Angelou sharply chiding a young woman for addressing her as Maya rather than Miss Angelou before asking the poet and memoirist for her views on interracial marriage.
“I’m not ‘Maya.’ I’m 62 years old. I have lived so long and tried so hard that a young woman like you, or any other, you have no license to come up to me and call me by my first name. That’s first,” she said to claps from the audience. “Also, because at the same time, I am your mother, I am your auntie, I’m your teacher, I’m your professor. You see?”
Angelou, who was black, apologized later in the show to her questioner, also black.
Pierre Phipps, who tweeted the snippet, has heard from all sides since then and said opinions are varied and plentiful. After his March 14 tweet sent Angelou’s name trending on Twitter, Phipps said the Kim in the clip reached out.
Turns out she’s Kim Watts, 49, an educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Watts told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday that she doesn’t have a Twitter account but friends and family alerted her to the hub-bub. She said she was a 20-year-old college student in 1989 when she went on a class trip to San Francisco to sit in the audience for a taping with Angelou of the talk show “People are Talking.”
“Her response threw me off. It was a little awkward for me, but at the same time it was like, oh my God this is Maya Angelou,” Watts said. “I remember feeling like, oh my gosh I insulted one of my icons, a person I look up to.”
Watts said she got a kick out of people new the clip thinking she was still a teen.
The 29-year-old Phipps, whose Twitter handle is PrinceCharmingP, can’t remember where he found the vintage exchange when he tweeted it out with: “I can’t wait to turn 30 so I can read one of yall for calling me by my first name like this:”
He told the AP in an interview that he was surprised at the attention the tweet has received, especially among young people who disagreed with Angelou. She died in 2014 at age 86, and also favored the title Dr. in light of her numerous honorary doctorates.
“They think Miss Angelou’s response was very elitist. They were really, really (upset) about it,” said Phipps, who lives in Los Angeles and writes for television. “We’re living in progressive times and a lot of people said once they turn 18, they feel like they have an even platform no matter how old you are. History is no longer playing a part in how we go about our everyday lives. History is becoming history.”
Phipps grew up in Chicago, but he has plenty of older female relatives from the South, including Mississippi and Alabama.
“It’s an unwritten rule on respect for elders in which a lot of us were born and raised to ‘put a handle on it,’” he said. “Me personally, coming from a strong black Southern family, I didn’t see anything wrong with her response. Everyone is raised differently.”
Watts, who was adopted as a child by white parents, said she was not raised with the courtesy title tradition or practice for elders in her life.
“I wasn’t thinking about that in the moment,” she said of her encounter with Angelou. “I like that this conversation, though, is focused on respect. Given my age now, I can see both sides of it.”
Carrie Salow is a 55-year-old mother of two girls in Phoenix, where she moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan, when she was 15.
“I absolutely expect my teen daughters to call their friends’ parents Mr. and Mrs., and I expect the same,” said Salow, who is white. “The kids who live across the street from us are now young adults, in and out of college. They still call me Mrs. Salow and I feel it is appropriate.”
Valencia Bey, 49, was born and raised in Chicago and now lives in nearby Oak Park, Illinois. She spent most of her summers in Shelby, Mississippi, with her maternal grandparents and extended family.
“You just did NOT call elders by their first name,” said Bey, who is black. “I was taught by folks who felt the way Ms. Angelou did. Addressing someone as Mr. or Miss was a sign of respect, especially those who came from the Jim Crow South, where calling a grown black person by their first name was a sign of disrespect. White people would purposely not call them Mr. or Mrs. or Miss to reinforce that they were considered inferior.”
Against the backdrop of African-American history, such honorifics are heavy indeed.
“Like Angelou, our elders have lived lives some of us can only imagine, especially if they grew up in a society that was founded on white supremacy,” wrote Britni Danielle, in a piece about the tweet at Essence online.
“Often times, they weren’t given the respect they were due by the outside world, which regularly sought to humiliate and dehumanize them at every turn. Those who did dare speak up and demand their propers did so knowing the price could be steep,” she wrote.
The 55-year-old Lucy O’Donnell, with a nearly 18-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son in Los Angeles, was raised in Arlington, Virginia.
“Two of my daughter’s friends initially addressed me as Mrs., and I have to say I hadn’t even given it a thought until then. I told them that they were welcome to call me by my first name but that if it was important in their households to address adults more formally that was fine, too,” said O’Donnell, who is white. “Both switched to Lucy pretty quickly. The only tradition I can’t abide is Mrs. and a husband’s first and last name.”
Danielle acknowledged young blacks responding to Phipps’ tweet who thought Angelou was out of line, writing:
“We live in a time where some people don’t really value the things and people who came before them. That’s how we get shirts declaring, ‘I’m not my ancestors,’ or people looking to cancel dead Black writers like Angelou because they do not like an answer they’d given decades ago without understanding the context of the times.”
GENDER X — POINT-COUNTERPOINT
Point: State Doesn’t Need to Know My Gender — and Neither Does My Landlord
By Robin Carver
I’ll never forget the day my new driver’s license came with a shiny “F” in the gender field. I opened it, crying with joy, and danced around the bedroom of my tiny basement apartment. I was so sweaty from my bike ride home in the Virginia heat that I got the papers wet as I tore them out of the envelope. It was the first time I’d held an official document that reflected my transition.
But I’ll also never forget the next time I tried to buy a bottle of rum.
The attendant insisted that the “F” gender marker on my license was evidence that my ID was fake. Even after I tried explaining the deeply personal details of my medical history — I was a trans woman at the beginning of my transition — he refused to sell me alcohol.
Nobody doubted I was of age. So I can’t help but wonder: Why did the gender marker need to be there at all? What business does the government have with my gender or my sex?
A handful of states and the District of Columbia have made life a lot easier for some trans and gender-nonconforming people by allowing them to change their gender and/or sex markers on official documents at will. And some of these institutions allow people to select an “X” option in lieu of an “M” or “F.”
On the face of it, this is pretty good. Trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming (or GNC) people do, in fact, exist. Policies that recognize their cultural, historic and scientific realities — and make our documents more accurate — often keep us safer.
With laws like this, a trans woman like me doesn’t need to explain away an “M” marker to a prospective employer, renter or bartender. This is a big deal, because trans people can still be legally denied employment, housing and access to spaces of public accommodation in more than half of U.S. states. Make no mistake, these laws are definitely good when they protect the agency, privacy and safety of trans and GNC people.
But they can also put a target on our backs. In addition to my trouble buying rum, I’ve had officers of the law and bartenders alike use the marker on my IDs to belittle me in public and question the legal authenticity of my name. Those who choose an X marker could face similar humiliation and discrimination from those who refuse to understand non-binary identities.
These painful interactions are completely unnecessary. Our photos, names and dates of birth all serve to confirm or deny our identity more than sufficiently.
My doctor sometimes needs to be informed about my medical history and the ways it intersects with my gender, but does my employer? Does my landlord? What about the bartender or the police officer? When was the last time someone asked you about the gender on your driver’s license instead of just looking at you?
I celebrated getting the gender marker changed on my driver’s license, birth certificate, passport and Social Security card. It’s nice to have the state validate my identity. But it also hasn’t changed anything about the way I move through the world. It hasn’t made going through TSA, or doing anything else as a trans person, any easier.
The government doesn’t use this information for much, so why do they need it to begin with? Doctors can assess necessary details around a person’s sex and medical history by talking to their patients and examining them as appropriate, and most law enforcement doesn’t actually pay attention to ID documents in assigning people to gendered facilities.
Just about the only party who does seem to care about what marker is on a driver’s license is auto insurance companies, who use the information to overcharge young men and older women for auto insurance.
In the end, an “X” option can be both relieving and safer for some trans and GNC people. It can make them feel seen and recognized, reduce administrative confusion and even keep people out of harm’s way. But making a tri-nary out of a binary is hardly a solution. The government doesn’t need to know my gender, and neither does my bartender or landlord.
If we want a real solution that makes everyone safer, let’s cut the paperwork and just get rid of the thing.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Robin Carver is a development associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and a writer of short fiction. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Counterpoint: With ‘Gender X,’ New York Wages War on Reality in Birth Certificates
By Peter Sprigg
Does New York City allow residents to have “gender-neutral” birth certificates?
The idea seems so absurd that the question was posed to Snopes — the website best known for debunking various urban legends.
In this case, however, the claim — that “New Yorkers can select a gender-neutral option on their birth certificates” — received a rating of “True.”
According to the city’s Board of Health, the city first allowed those who identify as transgender to alter their birth certificates in 1971 — but only if the individual “both obtained a court order changing his or her name and … underwent ‘convertive’ surgery.” The latter clause was generally interpreted as requiring genital surgery.
In 2014, the Health Code was amended to eliminate the surgery requirement. Instead, all that was needed was an affirmation from a physician or mental health practitioner declaring that the requested change “more accurately reflects the applicant’s sex or gender identity.”
Though praised as a model in a 2017 article in the journal LGBT Health, this policy apparently wasn’t enough for transgender activists. After the previous policy had stood for 43 years, the new one lasted only four before the New York Board of Health and the City Council worked together to liberalize the process for amending birth certificates even more.
The justification for the change was somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, they worried that requiring a doctor’s note was “a potential barrier” to obtaining a revised certificate. On the other hand, they acknowledged, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that practitioners simply comply with their patients’ requests when asked to affirm or attest to a patient’s request for a change of gender.”
The new policy — signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio on October 9 and effective on January 1, 2019 — requires only “a signed and notarized statement from the applicant” requesting a change “to female, male, or X in order to conform to the applicant’s gender identity.” The new “X” designation is “used to indicate a sex that is not exclusively male or female.”
Carrie Davis, chair of the city’s “Advisory Board on Gender Marker Change Requirements,” told the media when the legislation was signed that it was “neither … radical nor unique.”
Perhaps it was not unique — the mayor’s press release said that Oregon, California, Washington and New Jersey already had the “third ‘X’ gender option” for birth certificates. Recent news reports indicate that even some more conservative states, such as Indiana and Utah, have begun offering the option for driver’s licenses and state ID’s.
But the idea certainly is radical — as recently attested by Jamie Shupe, who gained fame in 2017 as the first person in the nation legally identified as “non-binary” in gender. He has now returned to identifying with his birth sex as a male.
The Associated Press reported that the bill “will also allow parents to choose the ‘X’ designation for their newborns,” but that appears to be inaccurate. However, if someone under the age of 18 wishes to adopt a gender identity different from his or her birth sex, parents can submit on the child’s behalf a “request to change the gender marker … to reflect the true gender identity of the registrant.”
The problem with this — as with the entire policy — is simple. There is no “gender marker” on New York City birth certificates. What birth certificates identify is the registrant’s “sex.” “Sex” is not the same as “gender identity.” The American Psychiatric Association defines “sex” as, “Biological indication of male and female (understood in the context of reproductive capacity).” “Gender identity,” on the other hand is a “category of social identity.”
Does the existence of “intersex” people — those whose indicators of biological sex are not consistently male or female — justify the “X” designation? No — certificates at the time of birth can already be designated “male, female, unknown and undetermined.” But as the Board of Health notes, “These are ‘sex’ categories and not gender categories.”
The effect of a policy like New York City’s is not to make birth certificates “accurately reflect” who people are, but to do the opposite — to conceal the objective biological reality of sex, identifiable at birth, and replace it with the nebulous and entirely subjective concept of “gender identity.”
This is not progress — it is a war against reality.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Peter Sprigg is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
We need more teachers of color, so why do we use tests that keep them out of the classroom?
March 21, 2019
Teacher license exams often fail to predict which teachers will be the best, research shows.
Author: Emery Petchauer, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
Disclosure statement: Emery Petchauer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Michigan State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Students of color seldom see teachers who look like them. This is because many aspiring teachers of color are pushed out of the profession before they have a chance to start. It’s not poor performance in college courses or teaching internships that take the biggest toll. It is the standardized tests aspiring teachers must pass to earn a teaching license.
Critics say these exams cover too narrow a slice of professional knowledge. They may also function as a culturally biased gatekeeper to the profession.
A recent report estimates that each year, the exam screens out approximately 8,600 of 16,900 aspiring teachers of color. This rate of exclusion surpasses that of white aspiring teachers by 27.5 percent. It’s not a new phenomenon, either. The trend goes back to the 1960s when states began to adopt these exams to improve the quality of teachers.
In researching my book, “Navigating Teacher Licensure Exams,” I found that aspiring teachers of color who failed their licensure exam multiple times eventually passed once they learned certain time-saving test-taking strategies, such as estimating answers instead of working out problems. They also passed by taking the exam in settings where they felt less stressed, cutting themselves off from negative messages about the exam, and concentrating on narrow slices of material that they did not know well. But I’d argue that what they did to pass the exam has little to do with what makes an effective teacher, raising questions about how useful the exams are in the first place.
What exams reveal
Defenders of teacher licensure exams argue that they measure skills important to teaching and are “not simply a bureaucratic hurdle.” But except in the case of math teachers, teacher licensure exams have been shown to be a murky indicator of how effective an aspiring teacher will be, research has shown. This is particularly true when it comes to figuring out how good a teacher will be at teaching children how to read.
More troubling, research has shown that requiring higher scores would keep out substantial numbers of people who would otherwise be effective, but only screen out only a fraction of a percent of those who would be ineffective.
Teacher license exams disproportionately screen out aspiring teachers of color, research shows. Rob Marmion from www.shutterstock.com
There are also problems with the exams when it comes to racial diversity. First, the accuracy of these exams can change depending on the race and gender of the test-taker and the kinds of questions asked. For example, on some exams, multiple choice questions seem to be better predictors of teacher quality for white women teachers. Conversely, essay questions appear better for African-American teachers.
Second, other factors can easily make up for a weakness that a licensure exam picks up on. For instance, racial match matters for students of color. Research has shown that for students of color, having a black teacher – despite that teacher’s poor performance on a licensure exam – can make an equivalent impact on reading and math scores as having a white teacher who performed well on the exam.
Breaking the test addiction
Why do state systems of education lean so confidently on these exams? A deep and abiding addiction to them.
When modern standardized tests developed in the 1920s, they were a brand new technology with much allure. They promised to sort large groups of people into neat categories so the military, immigration system and schools could make easy decisions. They gave the broader public a false sense of security, that somehow everyone has an equal chance to demonstrate intelligence. The origin of these exams, however, goes directly through the eugenics movement, a racist pseudoscience that sorts humans into crude subgroups.
Just as a growing number of colleges no longer require college entrance exams for students to be admitted, states could similarly rethink the ways they admit teachers to the profession. For instance, states could consider a range of alternatives, such as teaching demonstrations and community-based evaluations.
Dumbing down the profession?
Critics may say that moving away from these exams would dumb down the profession. But the research suggests that if less emphasis were placed on teacher license exams, more teachers of color could enter America’s classrooms and still do an effective job – regardless of what the exam might suggest.
Joe Dirk: Do you have any examples of questions that ‘white’ people can answer better than others? You state multiple times that the tests are biased, yet give no examples.
Can you provide solid evidence that ‘African Americans’ are more effective at teaching other ‘African Americans’ even if they cannot pass the teachers certification program?
Forgive me, but all I see here are more ways to divide the population. There is a term for this behavior, and it is called racism.