While researching my first article on the Middleton Elementary School costume kerfuffle, I came upon this tweet from retired astronaut José Hernández.
I think I will call the Middleton School District & offer to tell my story of reaching the American dream. Only requirement is that those teachers sit in the front row! What do you say Superintendant Dr. Josh Middleton? It’s free sensitivity training! I will pay my way!! pic.twitter.com/T97FK7Qjc3
— Jose Hernandez (@Astro_Jose) November 5, 2018
First a bit of background on Mr. Hernández. He was born in California of Mexican parents. As a child he worked with his parents harvesting crops in California and then moving back to Mexico for the winter. From his Foundations page:
After graduating high school, Hernandez enrolled at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering and was awarded a full scholarship to the graduate program at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where he continued his engineering studies. In 1987, he accepted a full-time job with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he had worked as a co-op in college.
While at Lawrence Livermore, Hernandez worked on signal and image processing applications in radar imaging, computed tomography, and acoustic imaging. Later in his career, Hernandez worked on developing quantitative x-ray film imaging analysis techniques for the x-ray laser program. Hernandez applied these techniques in the medical physics arena and co-developed the first full-field digital mammography imaging system. This system has proven useful for detecting breast cancer at an earlier stage than present film/screen mammography techniques. Hernandez has won recognition awards for his work on this project. He has also worked in the international arena where he represented Lawrence Livermore and the U.S. Department of Energy on Russian nuclear non-proliferation issues.
His autobiography is titled Reaching for the Stars.
Mr. Hernández and I are both electrical engineers (although his accomplishments far outweigh mine!) and tend to believe that what we see is what it is. That’s what engineers do.
We had this Twitter exchange last night:
Mark, I wholeheartedly believe it was done without a malicious intent. Teachers are MY HEROES. However, in my humble opinion, the school district and it’s teachers are in dire need of sensitivity training. I am serious about going on this goodwill mission to Idaho. https://t.co/IFRC1A0ExS
— Jose Hernandez (@Astro_Jose) November 5, 2018
I must say I’m troubled by the notion that, based on a photograph, Mr. Hernández is convinced that these teachers are insensitive and corrective action needs to be taken.
But let’s say they are insensitive as Mr. Hernández states. I find myself more and more asking “is there some possibility someone will see something I say or do as insensitive?” The truth of it is that I don’t have a clue what Mr. Hernández would find “insensitive” and I would assume there are people of Mexican origin that would find something that Mr. Hernández might say as insensitive and visa versa. And maybe Mr. Hernández would say something that’s insensitive to Vietnamese or Russians (always need to work the Russians in). How could he possibly know?
And maybe there are people of Mexican origin who might think the photo is fine or at least give the teachers the benefit of the doubt .
Have I been insensitive for saying Mr. Hernández is of Mexican and not Hispanic origin? Who am I to ask to find out? Fortunately, my job here at the Sparta Report requires that I have to be somewhat insensitive — although some would say I need insensitivity training!
I used to have a strategy that when I was in a social setting, I’d look for someone who might have different cultural experiences to talk with. After all, who wants to talk with another old white guy? I don’t do that anymore. It is too risky to speak with someone of another culture lest I accidentally say something that might be judged offensive or insensitive. For instance, I’m actually surprised that dressing up as stereotypical Mexicans is insensitive or racist as some on Twitter have suggested.
Mr. Hernández, feel free to dress as a stereotypical engineer anytime you want! I won’t be offended.
In my world there are “good manners” and “apologies.” Good manners, along with our laws, were adequate for keeping a civil society. If someone didn’t like something I said or did, they could mention it and then someone would apologize. This was all of part of “building relationships” and “getting to know someone.”
I did want to add there is certainly an element of common sense to be applied. I can’t use the N-word unless I want to fight someone. It’s also wise to avoid anything political in a work setting if you’re a conservative — if you want to keep your job. I also don’t want to get to a place where conservatives believe that sensitivity training should happen for those who don’t support the President or want to place limits on free speech.
I apologize, Mr. Hernández, if something I’ve said is insensitive. And I got through this entire article without a José Jiménez joke. Oops. That was probably insensitive but I must admit I love this scene from The Right Stuff: