How White Consumers Helped Drive Discrimination by Businesses

A new study provides the best evidence to date that prove the preferences of white consumers helped drive private businesses to discriminate against Black customers before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The results suggest that racially discriminatory practices – such as motels and restaurants not serving Black travelers – would not have ended without federal legislation.

“While others have proposed that white consumers played a major part in limiting the expansion of nondiscriminatory businesses, our study is one of the first to have the data to provide evidence of that,” said Trevon Logan, co-author of the study and professor of economics at The Ohio State University.

Click to View Green-Book – Victor Hugo Green – Scan of cover (New York Public Library copy)

The study, published recently in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, was co-authored by Lisa Cook of Michigan State University, Maggie Jones of Emory University, and David Rose of Wilfrid Laurier University.

The data that allowed the researchers to show white consumers’ influence on business practices came from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for African American motorists published from 1936 to 1966. The Green Books listed hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that were friendly toward Black consumers.

The researchers spent several years geolocating the businesses in the Green Books, pinpointing exactly in which county of every state each business was located.

One important finding was that the majority of Green Book listings were outside the South.  Even in the Northeastern states, where some anti-discrimination laws were in place, there were thousands of Green Book listings.

“It is clear that Black consumers did not take equal service as a given, even outside of the South,” Logan said.

Results showed that counties with more Confederate monuments, residential segregation, and lynchings had fewer Green Book businesses – likely because of the discrimination and hostility that Black people felt in those counties, he said.

On the other hand, the number of Green Book businesses per Black resident in a county rose with Black and white educational attainment, higher wages, and more political organization by Black residents.

But perhaps the most significant finding, Logan said, was the role of white consumers in perpetuating discrimination by businesses.

“There may be a restaurant that has no desire to be racially discriminatory, but they’re afraid they’re going to lose the business of white customers to the restaurant across the street, which is still discriminatory,” Logan said.

“So the result is that nearly all the restaurants in town remain discriminatory.”

One way this could be reversed – at least partially – would be if the number of white people fell in a county relative to Black people so that white consumers would have less power.

The researchers tested this idea in a novel way. More than 400,000 Americans lost their lives in World War II, which meant that some counties lost a significant portion of their population due to the war.

If counties lost enough white residents relative to Black residents, researchers theorized, that should mean that businesses would have fewer potential white customers – and thus may be more likely to want or need Black consumers.

And that’s what Logan and colleagues found. Across the United States, a 10% increase in white World War II deaths in a county led to a 0.65% increase in Green Book establishments in that county.

To further test this, the researchers also analyzed migration of Black residents to northern states after World War II to look for jobs.

In this case, a 10% increase in the Black population in a county was related to an average 2.2% increase in the share of nondiscriminatory hotels, a 0.6% increase in the share of nondiscriminatory restaurants and a 0.2% increase in the share of nondiscriminatory gas stations in that county.

Logan said the results showed that motels, restaurants, and other businesses did respond to market conditions and were less discriminatory against Black consumers when it could help their financial bottom line.

But he emphasized that changes found in this study were quite small, and market conditions alone would have never given African Americans full equal access to services.

“Our results show that African Americans would have never achieved equality without the legal intervention of the Civil Rights Act,” Logan said.

“Access to public accommodations is not only reflective of market forces and profit.  It is also related to politics and citizenship. African Americans only achieved equal access through federal legislation.”

Portions of this research were supported by the National Science Foundation.

Study Casts Doubt on Theory That Women Aren’t as Competitive as Men

As researchers investigate reasons for America’s persistent gender wage gap, one possible explanation that has emerged in roughly the last decade is that women may be less competitive than men, and are therefore passed over for higher-ranking roles with larger salaries.

But a new study suggests that it’s likely not that simple. Researchers found that women enter competitions at the same rate as men – when they have the option to share their winnings with the losers.

The study, conducted by Mary L. Rigdon, associate director of the UArizona Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, and Alessandra Cassar, professor of economics at the University of San Francisco, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rigdon’s research involves studying how market structure, information and incentives impact behavior. Her work over the last 20 years has explored questions about trust, reciprocity, competition, altruism, cheating and more, with a particular focus on gender differences, especially the gender wage gap.

“If we’re finally going to close the gender pay gap, then we have to understand the sources of it – and also solutions and remedies for it,” said Rigdon, who is also a faculty affiliate in the Department of Political Economy and Moral Science in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

In 2021, women will earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, Rigdon said, meaning women work nearly three months extra to receive the same amount of pay. This statistic does not account for certain characteristics, such as an employee’s age, experience or level of education.

But even when considering those characteristics, women are still paid about 98 cents for every dollar earned by men, Rigdon said. In other words, a woman is paid 2% less than a man with the same qualifications.

Economists have considered a few possible explanations for this, Rigdon said. One theory, known as the “human capital explanation,” suggests that there are gender differences in certain skills, leading women to careers that pay less. Another theory – perhaps the most widely considered – is patent discrimination.

Rigdon and Cassar zeroed in on the relatively new theory that women are less competitive and less willing to take risks than men.

But if women were more reluctant to compete, then they would occupy fewer high-ranking positions at the tops of major companies, and that’s not the trend that’s taken shape over the last several years, Rigdon said. Women make up about 8% of the CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. While that number is low overall, it’s a record high.

“We thought it must be the case that women are as competitive as men, but they just exhibit it differently, so we wanted to try to get at that story and demonstrate that that is the case,” Rigdon said. “Because that’s then a very different story about the gender wage gap.”

Rigdon and Cassar randomly assigned 238 participants – split nearly evenly by gender – to two different groups for the study. Participants in each of those two groups were then randomly assigned to four-person subgroups.

For all participants, the first round of the study was the same: Each was asked to look at tables of 12 three-digit numbers with two decimal places and find the two numbers that add to 10. Participants were asked to solve as many tables as possible – up to 20 – in two minutes. Each participant was paid $2 for every table they solved in the first round.

In round two, participants were asked to do the same task, but the two groups were incentivized differently. In the first group, the two participants in each four-person team who solved the most tables earned $4 per table solved, while their other two team members were given nothing. In the other group, the top two performers of each four-person team also earned $4 per table, but they had the right to decide how much of the prize money to share with one of the lower performing participants.

In the third round, all participants were allowed to choose which payment scheme they preferred from the two previous rounds. For half the study participants, this meant a choice between a guaranteed $2 per correct table, or potentially $4 per correct table if they became one of the top-two performers in their four-person subgroup. For the other half of the participants, the choice was $2 per correct table, or $4 per correct table for the top-two performers with the option to share the winnings with one of the losing participants.

The number of women who chose the competitive option nearly doubled when given the option to share their winnings; about 60% chose to compete under that option, while only about 35% chose to compete in the winner-take-all version of the tournament.

About 51% of men in the study chose the winner-take-all option, and 52.5% chose the format that allowed for sharing with the losers.

Rigdon said she and Cassar have a few theories about why women are more inclined to compete when they can share the winnings. One suggests female participants are simply interested in controlling the way the winnings are divvied up among the other participants.

Another theory that has emerged among evolutionary psychologists, Rigdon said, suggests that female participants may be inclined to smooth over bad feelings with losers of the competition.

“We really have to ask what it is about this social incentive that drives women to compete. We think it’s recognizing the different costs and benefits that come from your different biological and cultural constraints,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I think we still have this question.”

Rigdon and Cassar are now developing an experiment that gets to the heart of that question, Rigdon said.

The researchers are careful to not propose policies for corporate America based on a line of research that still has many questions. But, Rigdon said, the latest finding suggests that corporations might do well to engage in more socially responsible activity.

“Maybe you’ll attract a different set of applicants to your CEO positions or your board of director positions,” she said. “Women might be more attracted to positions where there is this social component that isn’t there in more traditional, incentive-based firms where it’s all about CEO bonuses.”

The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

What Are We Voting For?

Groups like Rock the Vote and VotER have worked hard to rekindle America’s passion for democracy, but there’s a clear and persistent gap between those who believe their vote will matter and those who do not. On September 17, Alberto Cifuentes Jr, LMSW facilitated a Virtual Anti-Racism Summit panel where he invited two University of Connecticut social work students to share their journeys from apathy to activism.

These panelists’ stories mirrored those of many Americans – young, POC, disabled, poor, or those with other marginalized identities – who doubt the impact of casting a ballot. The session was an opportunity to explore both sides of the issue, to unpack the complicated subject of American democracy and the stigma that is applied to those who lack faith in it. Yes, democracy only works if enough of us show up, but each individual faces a very different journey to get here.

Those in favor of voting usually frame it as a matter of exercising one’s civil rights. To vote means to place your trust in an elected official who you believe will best represent the causes and protect the rights you hold most dear. Participating in elections, especially local and state ones, has an impact on education, healthcare, housing, mental health services, immigration, emergency services, policing, and human rights as a whole. This is not idealism; when democracy is working at its very best, power can be used to protect and empower our people.

Aside from the obvious benefits of voting, there is the flip side – not voting can have huge consequences. Voter burn-out and indifference give strength to the opposing party or contested policy and create division among people who have similar ideals and politics but varying levels of trust or mistrust in the system. This is why die-hard politicos criticize write-in voters, who cast their ballot for an official not formally in the running (such as someone who dropped out earlier in the race). The rationale is often something like, “not voting for Candidate A equals a vote for Candidate B.” Though the efficacy of write-in voting has been debated, it is a valid option in many states and it presents a way for disenchanted voters to make their voices heard even if they don’t want to support the nominees on the ballot.

That active voters are overwhelmingly White, moderate- to upper-income, highly educated, and stably employed tells us a lot about who benefits from our current political system. Despite having multiple options for voters, including mail-in and absentee ballots, early voting, and election day voting, none of these choices are without pitfalls. Mail-in ballots create access for voters with mobility issues or who are medically at-risk and can’t show up to crowded spaces in person, but officials have been struggling for decades to deal with widespread ballot rejection and misplacement. This is a huge concern for swing states in particular.

Early voting helps those who can vote in person but aren’t sure they’ll be able to get to the polls on election day. However, if one casts their ballot early in a primary election for a candidate who then withdraws (the Democratic primaries this summer had 15) after they vote, they don’t get a second chance. Absentee ballots are also a useful tool for younger voters who are away at college – a population that tends to swing liberal – but postmark rules are strict and many voters won’t receive a ballot by election day. Unless a voter is affluent, healthy, has childcare, transportation, and/or a consistent work schedule, a lot could come between them and the ballot box. And, at the end of the day, the electoral college still serves to steamroll the popular vote, a policy we have yet to get rid of.

Flaws aside, the importance of voting in our current political situation is undeniable, but the U.S. voting system also disregards the hundreds of years of subjugation and disenfranchisement that have become embedded in many Americans’ lives, heightened by judgment and stigma. Pro-voting advocates argue that democracy is what sets us apart from less civilized societies. This is the type of paternalistic, “us versus them” thinking that leads to victim-blaming.

Experiencing voting as an act of empowerment is a privilege not all of us will enjoy. After hitting one barrier after another, from the terrorism of the Jim Crow south to today’s covert racist and classist policies, we should be able to understand when those who’ve faced suppression begin to shut down and turn away from the democratic process. This is so common that it has actually earned its own name: psychological voter suppression. Practices like roll purging, felony voting laws, ID requirements, misinformation, reducing poll locations, manipulated district lines, and harassment are all responsible for the downtick in voter morale and participation. Before we attack eligible voters for not turning out to the polls, let’s reflect on the reasons for their ambivalence and attend to those root causes. If a person votes for their chosen party their entire adult life and never sees the kinds of meaningful change that will assure their and their community’s safety and future, what are they really voting for?

So what can be done to increase voter turnout and reduce barriers? A few things:

Vote. If you’re able to vote without sacrificing your physical, financial, or emotional safety, do it! Register before your state’s deadline (usually 10 days prior to the election) – vote.org offers a state by state list of deadlines. You can check your voter registration status, look up early voting dates, and register for a mail-in or absentee ballot here through your state’s election office.

Assist. If you’re registered to vote in your state and want to go in person, coordinate your election day travel plans with other voters in your household and neighborhood. Round up others like you with privilege and access and encourage them to do the same. Companies like Lyft and Uber are offering discounted rides to the polls; community-based groups like RideShare2Vote are booming; and your local AARP office, doctor’s office, place of worship, or City Hall can help too. 

Empathize. Practice humility, and accept that your lived experience is not the same as others. Don’t make assumptions about who is able to vote. Don’t shame or blame people from marginalized communities who can vote and choose not to. Trust that they’re doing what they need to survive in an oppressive world, and that healing has to come first. Cast your ballot for officials (especially in local and state elections) whose policies will advance the good of the whole, not the few. 

Organize. Canvassing and joining phone banks are a couple of ways to spread the word about candidates you believe in. Hone in on efforts like prison abolition, refugee rights, or labor protections for non-traditional workers. Felony disenfranchisement laws, for example, mean that in 2016, over six million Americans (the vast majority Black) could not vote because of their legal status. Understand that anti-oppression work improves democracy. Be willing to relinquish a little of your privilege so that others can possess more agency in their own lives. 

Finally, if you have ever felt reluctant to turn out for an election because you lack faith in the outcome or don’t see your identities represented in the candidates, run for office and bring the changes you know are needed. The system is working exactly as designed – it’s up to the people to change it. 

Dark-Skinned Whites Arrested More Than Those with Lighter Skin

A Cornell University study found that black men, no matter how dark or light their skin, get arrested at the same rate, but darker-skinned white men are more likely to be arrested than those with lighter skin.

The study draws on a persistent stereotyping phenomenon – which social psychologists have known for more than a century: People perceive more physical variation in individuals who belong to their own social groups than they do in people who belong to other social groups. It’s the idea that “They all look alike, but we don’t.”

The phenomenon kicks in especially during brief interactions where there’s not much opportunity to learn about another person – potentially including when a police officer is making an arrest.

The finding aligns with larger concerns that white police officers may perceive black individuals as more physically homogenous, says Amelia Branigan, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center.

“We rely on police officers to consider information about a potential arrestee that may be available only by looking at that person’s body, such as age or body size,” said Branigan, who is currently a visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If police officers are less able to accurately read physical differences among people of a different race when making an arrest decision, that would constitute a critical information gap.”

Branigan’s co-authors include Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell.

Branigan and Wilderman emphasize other research has overwhelmingly established that, overall, African-American men are arrested at a far higher rate than white men – even white men with darker skin.

The study breaks new ground for the field of sociology, the authors said. Historically the field has assumed that differences in skin color between whites are not socially meaningful, said Wildeman. “What we show is interesting, in large part, because it suggests physical features, including skin color, matter not just for underrepresented minority groups, which is where most of the emphasis has been, but also for non-Hispanic white males.”

Considering both whites and minorities in studies of skin color is important because certain patterns of bias may only be clear by comparison, the authors said.

“Finding no relationship between skin color and arrests among black men is a good thing on one hand. But when that finding holds only among black men, it fits with popular concern that white police may perceive black men as ‘all looking the same’ during split-second arrest decisions,” Branigan said. “Discrimination by skin color is inequitable for anyone, of any race, but we do want police officers to use accurate visual cues to make decisions about the people they encounter on the job.”

The researchers analyzed data from 888 white men and 703 black men who participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study in the late 1980s. The data included a measurement of the reflectivity of the study participants’ skin – the darker the skin, the less light it reflects – and the participants’ arrest records. Three-fourths of the participants lived in cities – Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago, Illinois; and Minneapolis, Minnesota – where more than 95 percent of the police force was white. The other quarter lived in Oakland, California, where 75 percent of the police force was white.

One way to chip away at the disparities found in the study could be policies that change how close police feel to the people they are policing. These could include requiring officers live in the communities where they work, the researchers said.

In many racially diverse communities where police are disproportionately white, most officers live outside the town or city in which they’re employed, Branigan said. “These white officers may be most frequently encountering minorities in the context of crimes committed, which just reaffirms the sense that someone who is nonwhite is inherently ‘someone not like me.’”

In contrast, requiring police officers to live in the communities where they’re employed could redefine their sense of belonging, Branigan said.

“It may provide officers with a basis on which to affiliate with community members of another race, because they are neighbors, instead of viewing them strictly as ‘other.’”

The study “Complicating Colorism: Race, Skin Color, and the Likelihood of Arrest” was published August 29 in the journal Socius.

How Discrimination Hurts Health and Personal Wellbeing

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States has used the force of nationwide laws to prohibit discriminatory treatment in the job and housing markets, in government and educational institutions, and at stores and facilities serving the general public. Many legally proscribed forms of exclusion and ill treatment are directed against people because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age, and disability status. To this day, efforts continue to extend protections to additional groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Core American values of fairness and equality inspire nondiscrimination measures, but there is also an important health rationale. Research has repeatedly confirmed what common sense suggests: when people are subjected to discriminatory acts ranging from subtle put downs to outright harassment or exclusion from opportunities, their personal wellbeing suffers. Discrimination contributes to health inequalities – and fighting bias can reduce them.

The Harmful Effects of Discrimination

Discrimination typically refers to the unfair treatment of people on the basis of social identities defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion. Many Americans report facing discrimination that constrains their livelihood – for example, when they are unfairly fired or denied a job or promotion, when they are denied a bank loan or medical treatment, or when they are discouraged by a teacher from pursuing further education. Banned by law, such blatant forms of discrimination also affect victims’ health by depriving them of jobs, medical treatments, and other benefits and opportunities that keep them out of poverty and open doors of opportunity.

In addition, discrimination harms health by causing personal distress. Being unfairly fired from a job, for example, hurts a person’s sense of fairness and wellbeing as well as his or her economic fortunes. Beyond harm from currently unlawful actions, the wellbeing of those who suffer bias is undermined by everyday ill treatment – for example, when they are called names or insulted, disparaged as not very smart, or treated as if they are threatening or dishonest despite doing nothing wrong. Like other strains and traumas, day-to-day experiences of discrimination can wear victims down, placing them at increased risk for mental and physical illness.

Why is that? Researchers have found that victims of discrimination often have heightened physiological responses, including elevated blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, ongoing struggles to cope with discrimination lead to lower self-esteem or a reduced sense of personal efficacy.

Victims may turn to unhealthy means of coping such as drug and alcohol abuse, and they may stop regularly taking medications or keeping medical appointments. Further, because discrimination is not experienced evenly across the population, researchers find that it contributes to the persistence of disparities in mental and physical health along societal fault lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, or even physical statuses such weight or appearance.

Double Discrimination Can Heighten the Health Burdens

What about the experiences and wellbeing of Americans who are members of more than one disadvantaged group? Since the 1980s, black feminist scholars have argued that research solely looking at blacks, or at women, fails to adequately capture life at the intersection of these two identities that put people at risk for discrimination. Neither the health nor experiences of bias are adequately captured when one such identity group is studied as if it were separate from others.

In my research, I have asked whether multiple disadvantaged youth and adults face extra discrimination and, as a result, greater risk for poor mental and physical health. The answer turns out to be yes. When characterized by more than one disadvantaged status, young people and adults (age 25 to74) are more likely to face multiple forms of discrimination than people not defined by any disadvantaged status or people with just one disadvantaged status.

Because doubly disadvantaged people have extra exposure to bias, they are also more likely to suffer from mental and physical health problems. They simply experience unfair treatment more frequently. For example, black women report racial slights in social situations where women predominate, and they also experience sexist discrimination in their own racial communities.

What Can be Done?

Banning discrimination by law is an important basic step. Anti-discrimination laws must be maintained for currently covered social categories and expanded to protect vulnerable people in statuses still not included – such as sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and weight. In addition, laws and legal practice should acknowledge the unique experiences of multiply disadvantaged individuals. Their discrimination cases are often not successful in court, perhaps because the complexity of multiple forms of discrimination is not well understood.

Laws are not enough, however, unless widely understood and actively carried through. People who work at organizations with an equal employment opportunity office and formal training about diversity are more likely to file discrimination claims when necessary. Knowledge and organizational resources empower people to seek remedies.

Diversity training for managers also helps to reduce the number of discrimination claims.

When legal violations are found, remedies are most effective when they move beyond compensation to individual victims to establish reformed organizational practices. Finally, it is crucial to recognize that the current legal model places the burden of proof on victims, even though it is often very difficult to prove intentional discrimination by an individual, institution, or employer.

Moreover, because Americans today tend to view discrimination as a thing of the past, victims often face social skepticism and self-doubt. The extra mental labor involved in replaying personal experiences and deciding what, if anything, to do can exacerbate stress and health problems. All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.

All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.

A Practical Guide on How to Confront Hate

Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights Photo Credit: UAB

In the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tina Kempin Reuter, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Institute for Human Rights offers some practical tips on how to confront hate.

Know your human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the key document guiding human rights advocacy. It is based on the universality, inalienability, and indivisibility of human rights and is founded on the core values of equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.

“Knowing one’s human rights is an important step that often gets forgotten,” Reuter said. “Learning the content and extent of basic human rights will give people the tools and language needed to address certain issues. Discrimination, suppression, racism, marginalization, and violence against individuals or groups are human rights violations that must be confronted.”

Reuter urges reporting human rights violations to the authorities such as the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice or other entities such as the American Civil Liberties Union. If an incident occurs in the workplace, inform your human resources representative or a diversity officer. At UAB, students, faculty, and staff can contact the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. You can learn more about international human rights by visiting the United Nations Human Rights website and by reading the UAB Institute for Human Rights blog, where faculty and students write about international human rights issues.

Speak up in the face of injustice

Once you know what human rights and human rights violations are, Reuter encourages everyone to pay attention and speak up in the face of injustice. Pay attention to what happens in your everyday life. Document, record and monitor what is going on around you, and if you see injustice, say something.

“The goal is to make everyday suppression of a specific group based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability status just as unacceptable as the violence and hatred that has occurred in Charlottesville,” Reuter said. “It’s these normal, hidden human rights violations that are particularly dangerous to our society and that we have to confront together.”

Be aware of your own biases

One of the ways to overcome biases and stereotypes is to engage with those who are different. Research shows that interpersonal contact is one of the best ways to reduce prejudice. This theory is called contact hypothesis. The theory suggests that under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority groups.

“It is incredibly important to be aware of your own biases,” Reuter said. “We all have them. Realize if you cross the street when a person of a different race walks toward you. Notice if you assume that someone is less competent because she is a woman, a person of color or Muslim. Think about systemic racism and structural violence in your own environment, and find ways to confront them. Actively learn about how our society has grown to marginalize some to the benefit of others. I encourage people to reach out and make new friends outside of their race, religion and gender.”

Join a movement or a cause that fits your passions and interests

Join a movement, and talk with others who feel the same. Look for a rally in your community. Organize a vigil. Participate in a discussion. Engage with others. Get together formally or informally. Look for opportunities to talk. The UAB Institute for Human Rights is a part of the StandAsOne Coalition. If you are a UAB student, you can join the Students for Human Rights club.

“Not all of us are born to be activists or community organizers,” Reuter said. “We cannot all become Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Leymah Gboweee; but we all can contribute by supporting the movement. Think about what you are good at and how your skills and talent can be used to move a cause forward.”

Call your representatives

One of the most effective ways to achieve policy change is to call local and state representatives. Reuter says calling is much more impactful than writing an email, Facebook message or letter. She advises anyone contacting their local representative to be polite to the staff, which is who you will most likely get on the line. Their staff members do not have influence on the decision-making process, but they will record your call and do not mind taking opposing views as long as the conversation is civil.

Educate others

This step does not have to be formal. You can educate others by leading by example, or by bringing a friend along to a conversation you are having. It can happen person to person, on social media or on any other platform you use to connect with others. Creating art, poems and performances are incredible ways to get your point across to people who might find that formal ways of education do not resonate with them.

“It is such a privilege to be an educator,” Reuter said. “It is one of my favorite parts of my job to talk to students about issues that affect the world and to encourage them to learn more about these topics. It’s something that everyone can do. Teach your children and young relatives about kindness, human rights, and peace building. Teach them also about systemic suppression, racism and the way our society has oppressed minorities. Talk to them about what bothers you and what you would like to achieve. You don’t have to be a professor or teacher to educate others.”

Donate

One of the fastest and easiest opportunities to make an impact is to donate to an organization that fights for human rights or civil rights.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to ensuring the preservation of individual rights and liberties, one of which is the UAB Institute for Human Rights. You can learn more about the Institute here.

Take care of yourself

Confronting issues such as hatred, violence, and suppression can take a mental and physical toll on anyone. Reuter says it is important to know what you can and cannot do, what you are willing to do, and what your priorities are.

“Focus on the local level. Start in your own community,” Reuter said. “That world is changed person by person, but don’t forget to take care of your needs. When you start to feel overwhelmed, shut down Facebook, Twitter, cable news and other forms of media. Enjoy time with your friends and family. Be kind to yourself, and realize that real progress takes patience.”

Co-opting Fear to Influence Policy Making and Political Discourse

White_only_-_Detroit_1943

The challenge in American race relations is both historically complex and steeped in a flawed rhetoric. However, there is also another element–a segment of the population called White Nationalists asserting they are the victims of reverse discrimination and racism. Many Americans may share or empathize with their concerns for the “real America” and the intentions of the founding fathers being dismantled and threatened.

This co-opting of fear changes white supremacy to white nationalism, and it negates the typical responses to prejudice and discrimination. It no longer works to identify the “racist” and silence them rather than solicit empathy on their behalf. Denying a voice to anyone is proving the point that they are being censored no matter the danger of their rhetoric. Intervening requires that we educate ourselves on basic definitions of prejudices, racism, religious persecution and fear-based reactions in order combat the white nationalist assertion of the mythical reverse discrimination.

I first heard about Evan Osnos’ article in the New Yorker from his appearance on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The article reminded me of my years teaching a course entitled Christian Perspectives on Ethics and Diversity. In the course, I decided to challenge and inform the student’s understanding of the deeper motivations behind prejudice. Along the way, I learned that prejudices are not one, but they are plural. What struck me as I went back to read Young-Bruehl again in the context of #BlackLivesMatter, Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the Osnos article is that we must fundamentally change in our approach to addressing prejudices. I knew it back when I was teaching the course, but I didn’t have the social events with which to explain the change.

Beyond Discrimination, Defining Ethnocentricism & Orecticism
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, in her 1996 work Anatomy of Prejudices, presents a number of findings that inform our discussion of discrimination. First, prejudices is not “prejudice” but “prejudices” in the plural. They are characteristic mechanisms of defense–attempts by individuals to protect themselves from “the other” and the unknown.  Second, four main prejudices exist: sexism, racism, anti-semitism, and homophobia. Third, these prejudices are motivated by a constructed character trait either hysterical, narcissistic, or obsessional.

Ethnocentrism is a term used to describe how people may view others only through their own lens and experiences. Every event is viewed in relation to its impact on the ethnocentrist or his/her group. Every achievement is judged in relation to the achievements of the ethnocentrist. Every statistic is evaluated with the ethnocentrist group as the reference point, the baseline, and/or the norm. What better way to maintain self-concept and personal safety than to consider yourself the standard by which others are judged?

Orecticism is another term you may or may not have heard before. According to Young-Bruehl, orecticism is the projection of set of characteristics a person believes he/she “sees” exhibited by a person or group. It doesn’t matter whether people are observed exhibiting characteristics that contradict the orecticist view, the orecticist still “sees” what he/she desires to see. To view people in this way maintains the self-concept and personal safety of the orecticist. They maintain safety by compartmentalizing individuals and groups into behaviors the orecticist believe individuals or groups will display.

Analysis
An orecticist-homophobe maybe different from an ethnocentric-homophobe which may require a different approach when dealing with each. You care about the difference because, as a social worker, you don’t have the luxury of summarily dismissing uninformed views. You have the professional skill, informed by your ethics, to intentionally address the lack of knowledge and identify the roots of the issues to assist with behavior modification. Consider also for the orecticist, you are assessing for the reason behind the fearfulness. Identifying the fear is your key to promoting new choice behavior.

The orecticist-homophobe would view homosexuals as sexual deviants that are an abomination. He/she would want to separate society from these deviants. He/she would probably express physical sickness or emphatic disgust when the topic of homosexuality is introduced. This reaction is based on an unreasonable fear, but it is founded on a reasoned approach to self-protection. It is an attempt to be safe.

The ethnocentric-homophobe would view homosexuals as having some difference in their makeup than normal heterosexuals. He/she would probably agree that more research needs to be done to determine if there are any brain abnormalities in homosexuals or is it the way they were raised. He/she would probably say that he/she can be unbiased when evaluating a homosexual for a job. However, they are unaware their own bias rests in their view of themselves as the standard as opposed to creating an objective standard.

If you were to ask both whether they agree with adoption by homosexual couples, they both would say NO. If your intention was to work to convince them that adoption by homosexual couples is a community good, you would have to persuade them each in a different way. You would need to address the mechanism that is operant within their logic. You would need to see their behavior choice as reasonable.

The Requirements of an Intervention 

In order to counteract prejudices as characteristic mechanisms of defense, you would need to map the mechanisms similar to the analysis above. However, once the mechanism is mapped, we have another challenge. The ethnocentric person may be able to see that he or she is not the center of the universe. Social interaction, family relations, or critical events may shake the individual out of their isolated experience. With enough evidence the ethnocentrist, even though using him or herself as the standard, may allow for the failings of others because “we are all human” and “nobody’s perfect.”

The orecticist does not have as simple a path to inclusiveness. The orecticist is fearful, and unreasonable so, that the “other” is attempting to subvert, supersede, or otherwise diminish him or her by any means necessary. The other, in the mind of the orecticist, will resort to trickery, lies, and all manner of deceit in order to reach his sinister goals. Evidence provided to the orecticist only confirms his/her views. Those attempting to convince them are part of the problem, confused, brainwashed, or complicit in the deception. The orecticist will never see groups of others or institutions as safe. They can only connect with close individuals, even those who represent the group, because they have proven safe, “different from others,” or “for a [other], you are okay.”

Now, add these dynamics to the co-opting of fear. The co-opting of fear is the by-product of fear-based rhetoric that motivates people to do things because they fear some negatively reinforcing outcome. For example, we lock our doors fearing that someone may come into our houses uninvited. Though no one came in the time we left our keys in the door, we are convinced of “better safe than sorry,” and lock our doors as a precaution. Now, it seems perfectly reasonable to lock your doors. Some have applied this same logic to a number of social issues such as immigration. Orecticism co-opting of fear explains why Donald Trump can call Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, yet lead in most national polls. Calling him “racist” or other names will not change his support base thereby nurturing an environment where it is reasonable to fear immigrants.

The solution will have to be local and include person-to-person engagement in order to challenge personal ideology and beliefs. However, for some, any institutionally-based intervention will only be seen as a subversive attempt at deception.

To combat this, Social activist must organize more individual-based interactions such as story sharing and project-based civic work to help with personalizing vulnerable individuals and groups to change behaviors and increase compassion. Even then, understand that orecticist co-opted fear will only say, “Okay, Ahmed is okay. But, I’m still worried about those Muslims.” The orecticist will always fear groups, government, institutions, religious organizations, etc. We must be careful in not isolating and dismissing these types instead of identifying way to engage their point-of-view.  However, this should be one strategy in a multi-faceted approach to combat oppression and discrimination of vulnerable individuals and groups.

3 Things to Know When Working With LGBT Clients

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that all couples, regardless of gender, have a constitutional right to marry the person they love. After the ruling was announced, states across the nation were forced to drop their bans on same-sex marriage allowing loving gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender couples the right to marry.

The ruling marks a significant advancement for the rights of LGBT individuals, who have faced a long history of discrimination and oppression. While the ruling is a monumental victory for the rights of LGBT Americans, our LGBT brothers and sisters face challenges that extend far beyond the right to marriage.

lgbtqhomeless1_400_393_90When working with individuals in the LGBT community, we must acknowledge the ways in which societal and social influence, oppression, and discrimination impact these clients as well as the communities we serve. As social workers, we have an obligation to be culturally competent and sensitive to the unique needs of our clients.

To do so effectively, we must first understand some of the significant psychosocial stressors that may impact members of the LGBT community.

Discriminatory Policy

While LGBT individuals now have the right to marry the person they love, only 22 states in the nation protect the LGBT community from employment discrimination. This means that in over half of our nation’s states, a person could be denied employment or fired from their job for identifying as LGBT. For LGBT individuals working in these states, such policies can prevent individuals from feeling comfortable in the workplace for fear of being fired. Uncertain job stability coupled with the stress of hiding one’s identity in the workplace can lead to a variety of negative effects, such as low job satisfaction or even depression and anxiety.

Knowing the policies of your state and how these policies impact the LGBT community can help you better assess the role discrimination may be playing in the lives of your LGBT client(s). Having a good understanding of these policies also allows you to engage in meaningful conversation with clients, the community, and other stakeholders about how to best facilitate change to such policies.

Violence

Individuals within the LGBT community are at a significantly higher risk for violence. Though individuals identifying as LGBT account for only 3.8% of the U.S. population, they are the victims in 21% of reported hate crimes. Sexual violence is also a very real threat to those in the LGBT community. According to a startling report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46.4% of lesbian women, 74.9% of bisexual women, 40.2% of gay men, and 47.4% of bisexual men report being victims of sexual violence.

As social workers, it’s not uncommon for clients to seek our help in working through issues related to sexual or physical violence and intimate partner violence. Because of the high rates of these occurrences within the LGBT community, assessing clients for a history of sexual and physical violence as well as domestic violence are critical components of a thorough assessment. Using treatment approaches that take into account the experiences of the LGBT community will enhance the therapeutic milieu for your clients and help foster healing.

Mental Health

Individuals identifying with the LGBT community have significantly higher rates of mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and suicide attempts. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , LGBT men and women have a 2.5 times higher rate of mental illness or substance abuse than the heterosexual population. The types of mental health conditions impacting this population also differ. Gay and bisexual men are more likely to experience major depression and panic disorder than heterosexual men. Lesbian and bisexual women are more than 3 times as likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder.

In addition, the CDC reports that LGBT youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, with as many as 25% of transgendered youth attempting suicide. This is often due, in part, to the higher rates of bullying, physical and sexual violence, and social isolation experienced within this population.

Social workers need to be aware of the disparities in mental health and substance use disorders among the LGBT population so that proper assessment and intervention can take place. Ongoing screening for suicidal ideation or behavior is also of significance, especially for LGBT youth.

As the largest providers of mental health services in the nation, social workers frequently work with individuals across the various spectrums of diversity. This requires us to be skilled in understanding how discrimination, oppression, and public policy all play roles in the lives of our clients. While this may not always be easy, by tapping into your inherent skills as a social worker you can be a champion for your LGBT clients. If you feel overwhelmed by these complexities or find it difficult to understand issues surrounding the LGBT population, start by being a genuine, accepting presence for all your clients. After all, it’s all about love, isn’t it?

HUD Charges University with Housing Discrimination of College Student with Support Dog

A new school year means that disabled college students are adjusting to their new environments, and are making accommodation requests to their school’s disability services department that will allow a smoother transition.  Accommodations can range from needing note-taking assistance, placement in a quieter environment to take tests, and/or being able to use service/support animals on campus.  Such accommodations are protected under several federal mandates, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other pieces of legislation that outlaws discriminatory practices based on disability status(es).

Support Dog 1In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a statement that it had charged Kent State University, one of the largest universities in Ohio, with discrimination.  The University, along with four of its employees, allegedly refused the accommodations request a disabled student made to allow her emotional support animal to live with her in the university-owned and operated housing unit she resided in.

Details of the Alleged Discriminatory Practice Conducted:  

According to HUD, the student filed a complaint stating the details of the claimed misgivings she and her husband experienced from the university regarding this matter.  The student and her spouse resided in housing designated for families and upperclassmen attending the University.  The student was receiving services from an on-campus helping professional, and the professional stated in documentation that the appropriate means for the student to cope with the disabilities she faced was by having an emotional support animal.

The student, acting on the helping professional’s recommendation about her care, sought and retained the services of an emotional support animal, and filed a reasonable accommodation request to the university about housing the animal.  The housing unit the student resided in had a “no pets” rule, and the student was hoping that the university would waive this policy, given that her support animal would be providing her assistance surrounding her disabilities.

The student claimed that the university did not respect her support animal housing accommodation request; though they did honor the requests she made regarding the academic accommodations she needed.  Her inability to obtain the housing waiver for her support animal caused her and her spouse to move and search for housing off-campus.  When the alternative housing arrangements were made, the student and her spouse contacted Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA), Inc. about this incident.

What the Fair Housing Act States about Housing Accommodations:  

In this case, refusing to accommodate a student with an emotional support animal violates the Fair Housing Act.  The Fair Housing Act (FHA), passed in 1968, prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability status, and family status.  In regards to disability, the Fair Housing Act states the following about reasonable accommodations and housing providers’ responsibilities:

Your landlord may not:

• Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)

• Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Example: A building with a no pets policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.

(Excerpted from Fair Housing – It’s Your Rights.)

In this case, the Fair Housing Act prohibits the refusal the student claimed to have experienced – housing providers like Kent State University cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to waivers regarding “no pets” policies, especially when the accommodation is needed for the disabled person to live an independent life.  Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, made the following statement about housing providers honoring a service/support animal accommodation requests:

Many people with disabilities rely on therapy animals to enhance their quality of life. .. The Fair Housing Act protects their right to a service animal and HUD is committed to taking action whenever the nation’s fair housing laws are violated.

Why Other Colleges & Universities Should Keep a Close Eye on this Case:  

Until a ruling is handed down in this case (if it is seen in court), Kent State University and its employees are innocent of any wrongdoing and discriminatory practices.  However, this case should be on the radar of the colleges and universities in this country.  As I say time and time again, being ignorant of the law IS NOT an excuse to hindering someone’s rights.  As a former disabled college student, I remember several students of various disabilities with their service and support animals in the classrooms, cafeterias, and dormitories.  These animals serve a purpose – they are NOT toys or pets; students deserve, and have the rights, to utilize the incredibly freedoms these animals bestow upon those who need them.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Working Service Dog.)

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation

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As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Police: Serving and Protecting the White Middle-Class and Mentally Well

A violent threat, a criminal, a gangster, a drug-dealer, a menace, it seems these are all the things the police see you as in the United States of America if you are a black male. If the current media coverage of the shootings of Mike Brown and more recently Kajieme Powell have taught us anything, it is that to be a young black man in America is to know, despite much progress, you will still be treated as a second-class citizen.

Police fire tear gas in Ferguson Missouri
Police fire tear gas in Ferguson Missouri

The first thing to note is that the cases of Mike Brown and Kajieme Powell have brought media coverage that is long over-due. These killings are in no way unique. Kimani Gray (aged 16), Kendrec McDade (aged 19), Timothy Stansbury Jr. (aged 19), Sean Bell (aged 23), Aaron Campbell (aged 25), Wendell Allen (aged 20), Ramarley Graham (aged 20),  Oscar Grant (aged 22). The list goes on.

All these young men were unarmed and all of them were killed by police officers. Just because these incidents have not made international headlines, does not mean that similar cases are not happening all across America on a frequent basis.

Many of these shootings are the result of deep-rooted racial stereotypes of African-American men. The racism is subtle and implicit. However, on other occasions the racism has been overtly hateful, such as in the case of Orlando Barlow.

In 2003, Barlow (aged 28) was surrendering on his knees in front of four Las Vegas police officers when Officer Brian Hartman shot him dead. During the investigation into the shooting it was revealed that Hartman and other officers had printed T-shirts labeled “BDRT,” which stood for “Baby Daddy Removal Team”.

Serious questions need to be asked about when firearms can be used by Law Enforcement Officers. Even if Kajieme Powell did steal from a convenience store, that does not warrant lethal consequences. As someone who disagrees strongly with the death penalty, I do not believe that the state should have the authority to kill its citizens. Even the death penalty, when implemented after years of careful consideration by a Court, still can and does get things wrong (the case of George Stinney being particularly heart-breaking).

How we expect police officers, responding to high-stress, high-speed situations with minimal information, to demonstrate clear judgement in the use of lethal force, is an impossibility. Police should of course have the right to defend themselves but this should be in the form of skilled de-escalation and disarmamant techniques. We know that it can be done.

Every 28 hours in the United States of America, someone dies at the hand of the state. This is an alarmingly high figure, especially as the state has proven, time and time again, that it cannot be trusted. Police statements from Mike Brown and Kajieme Powell’s shootings have not matched up to later released videos. In another recently highlighted case, police were shown to be lying about the arrest of Marcus Jeter. If the dash-cam video had not surfaced, proving the police had tampered with and concealed evidence, Jeter would just be one more African American male in prison victim to an unfair and unjust system.

The shooting of Kajieme Powell also raises alarm bells with regards to the police’s approach to people with mental health problems. Whilst I am not suggesting that Kajieme was mentally unwell, it is clear from the police report that they were aware, prior to arrival on the scene, that Kajieme was acting erratically and talking to himself. When they arrived, Kajieme shouted at the officers to shoot him, which of course, they did. Anyone currently feeling angry or depressed, who watched the video footage, will know now that the easiest way to commit suicide in America is to provoke the police. The police have to be trained  on how to deal with vulnerable and mentally unwell people without killing them, otherwise there will continue to be tragic consequences. Ronald Maddison was a forty year old man with severe learning disabilities who, on hearing police gunshots, ran away and was subsequently shot and killed by police officers.

Equally important, however, is the fact that the highly publicized killing of Mike Brown has rightly caused extreme anger across America and the rest of the world. Kajieme Powell did not have to be mentally unwell to act the way he did. Mike Brown’s killing sent a clear message across America that the system is racist, corrupt and murderous. It is entirely possible that Kajieme Powell was trying to further prove the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, that have for a long time reverberated around black communities: “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”

It is all too easy for the Political Class to become complacent over the issue of race. Since the election of Barrack Obama, there have been cries that racial equality has been achieved and that the Civil Rights Movement has come to a complete and happy conclusion with America’s first black President.

This could not be further from reality. Obama’s success story is the exception, not the rule. One out of nine African American men will be incarcerated between the ages of 20 and 34, and this is the rule. The fact that there are more black males in prison than enrolled in university should not be the rule. Malcolm X sums it up best when he said: “No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I’m concerned, as long as it is not shown to every one of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.”

We cannot underestimate what is happening here. Police officers are killing innocent citizens and lying about doing it. We must get over our disbelief and stop looking for other explanations as to why these atrocities have occurred and realize, what many communities in America knew already, that the police do not protect everyone equally. It is time to stand together regardless of race or religion and say enough is enough. We will take no more!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Oe9zK6SJr0[/youtube]

Tackling Discrimination At Work Comes At A Price

In July of last year, the British Government introduced Employment Tribunal Fees for any employees seeking to challenge discrimination at work. Employees who have been intimidated, harassed or fired as a result of their gender, race or disability now have to pay up to £1,200 for their claim to be heard at an employment tribunal.

DiscriminationAccording to Government guidance, fees for challenging unpaid wages or for challenging your employer refusing to give you time off to go to antenatal classes are lower than fees for more ‘complicated issues’ such as discrimination complaints, unfair dismissal or whistleblowing. For these complex issues, sending a claim to the tribunal costs £250, which must be paid upfront, which is then to be followed by a Hearing Fee of £950. The Guidance clearly states: ‘If you don’t pay the fee when it is due your claim will be delayed and could be struck out (dismissed).’

Since the introduction of these fees, there has been a marked decrease in the number of claims made. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that in 2013, between January and March, 6,017 sex discrimination claims were taken out by women. In the same period this year, the number of claims had dropped by nearly 80 per cent to 1,222 claims. Similarly, claims regarding race discrimination have fallen by 60 per cent and disability claims have fallen by 46 per cent.

Introducing fees is just another hurdle for those facing discrimination at work; even without the financial burden, standing up for yourself is an already costly move in many workplaces. Like approximately 50 per cent of British women, I too have experienced discrimination at work on an implicit and explicit level. Throughout my career as a Social Worker I have always worked in what is considered to be a “male realm”. I have become accustomed to the look of surprise on people’s faces when they realize I can, in fact, “keep up with the boys” and work successfully with dangerous and prolific offenders.

In one job, however, the discrimination was much more explicit and as such led me to not only feel undermined and embarrassed, but also anxious to go to work. I was having drinks after work one evening when a colleague showed me a group text conversation that had been sent around on the first day that I had started my new job. Male and female members of the team, including a Deputy Manager, had taken photos of me from across the office and had begun placing bets on who would be the first to have sex with me. Every time a man came over to speak to me, another photo was stealthily taken.

My colleague had shown me the messages in the expectation that I would find this conversation humourous. She quickly began back-tracking when she realized just how angry and embarrassed I was. I took the issue to my Manager but felt unable to pursue it as everyone else in the team classed it as “a harmless joke.” As I was only a few months in to my new job, I was worried that pursuing some form of action would isolate me at work. As a result, no action was ever taken. Those who took the pictures were not even informed that what they had done had upset and degraded me. Even without a financial barrier, the lack of support was enough to stop me making a case.

Whilst there should always be a push to stop vexatious claims, justice and equality should never only be available to those who can afford it. Introducing a fee to tackle discrimination is an affront to our civil liberties and human worth.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary for the Trades Union Congress commented:

“Employment tribunal fees have been a huge victory for Britain’s worst bosses. By charging up-front fees for harassment and abuse claims the government has made it easier for bad employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour. Tribunal fees are part of a wider campaign to get rid of workers’ basic rights. The consequence has been to price low-paid and vulnerable people out of justice.”

The simple fact is that these fees disadvantage the already disadvantaged.

A Monster At The Heart Of British Policing

I have postponed writing this piece for several months now. However as more stories emerge on an almost daily basis, it has become clear that there is something rotten at the core of British Policing. This will, unfortunately, come as no surprise to the Black and Minority Ethnic Communities living in England who have been victims of institutional racism, intimidation and victimization for many decades. However, the stench of police corruption has now reached the nose of the political class.

scotland yardIn February of this year, several police officers were dismissed for criminal conduct after attempting to smear the reputation of Conservative Politician Andrew Mitchell. Whilst this of course is no more important than the daily injustices of Stop and Search, perversely it does mean that we now have national recognition of the problem and finally stand a chance of tackling it.

The police are an essential aspect of any civilized society and a core component in the battle between liberty and security. It is a job that I do not envy but one that I admire. Whilst people continue to harm others, we need people who are willing to stand up and be the ‘good guys’. Unfortunately, the line between good guys and bad guys is being irreparably blurred in the UK.

Last month, the final report of an internal investigation in to the work of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad was presented to the public and the findings are highly alarming. It was revealed that from the mid 1980s to 2005, undercover police officers were secretly gathering intelligence on 18 families who were fighting to get justice from the police after their relatives had been murdered or had died in police custody. The report highlighted the fact that the information gathered by the police should only have been stored if it could have prevented crime or disorder and concluded that ultimately the information “should not have been retained and certainly not for the period it has been.”

What is particularly worrying about this and other cases is that it was not a one-off individual- a lone ranger- it was an organized group of people all willing to ignore and reject government guidelines, best-practice and human decency. This cannot be something that is simply swept under the carpet. It is terrifying to know that those we pay to protect us will put more energy in to protecting their own reputation. The notion of ‘police before public’ reeks of gang mentality.

As further stories emerge about police misconduct, I have been shocked to discover the true level and scale of police malpractice in Britain. I feel embarrassed that so little has been done to iron out the injustices that the BME community has struggled with for so long. Whilst it would be unfair to say that there are no honest and decent police officers, you only need to scratch the surface to realize that there is something significantly and dangerously wrong with the structure and ethos of the British Police Service.

In June of this year, a Court found that Firearms Officer Carol Howard had been subjected to discriminatory treatment by the Met Police due to the fact that she was black and female. The Court case revealed that the deletion of records of sex and race discrimination was common practice within the Met and was used as a means of ensuring that there are no findings of discrimination against them.

There are countless other examples that I could list. So many, in fact, that the Home Secretary Tereasa May was forced to do the previously unthinkable in May of this year. At this years Police Federation, she abandoned the usual deferential treatment given to the police force and rather read out a long list of recent police scandals. The Home Secretary made it explicitly clear that unless the police take heed of the recommendations of the Normington Report for police reform, the Government would have to impose reform upon them.

Courageously, Tereasa May directly addressed the Federation to say:

I want the police to be the best it can be. I want you – the representatives of the thousands of decent, dedicated, honest police officers – to show the public that you get it, that you want to take responsibility for the future of policing and you want to work with me to change policing for the better.

I hope that this speech was not mere rhetoric but genuinely marks the beginning of a determined effort to reform our police service. We cannot claim to live in a democracy if we do not prioritize accountability of those in positions of power.

There is a dark monster within the heart of the British police force and it is growing ever larger. We must act immediately. It is our duty to fight this monster. We owe it to the grieving families who have been spied on; we owe it to those women and men who join the police force to genuinely protect and serve their communities and we owe it to ourselves, because whilst this problem may not affect you directly today, if the monster is allowed to continue to grow, it won’t be a matter of if it will affect you but rather when it will affect you. And by then it will be impossible to defeat.

This is a serious problem and we can ignore it no longer. As Cornel West states: “The country is in deep trouble…We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice.” We need as many voices as possible to speak out in order to create change and we need to speak out now.

Wal-Mart Responds to Article about Being Sued for Disability Discrimination by the EEOC

Wal-Mart Logo on Buggy 1

On Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014, I published an article titled, Wal-Mart Being Sued for Disability Discrimination by the EEOC in Chicago, here on Social Work Helper.  My article summarized the press release the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) posted about it taking legal action against the gigantic corporation Wal-Mart for allegedly rescinding work accommodations for an employee with an intellectual disability, and later disciplining and terminating him from his position.

On Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014, I was contacted via email by Betsy Harden, who is a part of Wal-Mart’s Media Relations department.  Ms. Harden requested that I update my article with Wal-Mart’s response to the lawsuit, in order to give Wal-Mart’s side of the story.

Below was the said email from Ms. Harden, with Wal-Mart’s statement about the lawsuit in bold:

Hi Vilissa,

I am writing regarding your story, “Wal-Mart Being Sued For Disability Discrimination By The EEOC In Chicago.” Did you reach out to anyone on our team for a comment? We always appreciate the opportunity to respond to stories that include us. I’ve included our response below – could you please update your story to include this?

“We strongly disagree with the allegations raised in the complaint. Walmart does not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind, and our company has thousands of associates who regularly perform their jobs with reasonable accommodations which we have provided. Our review of the facts in this case show that at no time did Mr. Clark ever request a workplace accommodation, nor did he ever indicate that a disability interfered with him performing his job. We ended Mr. Clark’s employment for repeated safety violations.”

Please don’t hesitate to call or email with any questions.

Thank you!

My first reactions to receiving her correspondence was shock, then enthusiasm.  Both responses stemmed from the fact that a mega supermarket chain like Wal-Mart caught wind of my story, a story that got on my radar from a posting on the Disability.gov’s newsletter the week prior.  I decided to inform Deona Hooper, the Founder and Editor of Social Work Helper, about Ms. Harden’s email, and she and I agreed that a response to the email was needed, and the request for an article publishing Wal-Mart’s statement would be granted.

Here was the response I sent to Ms. Harden about her request:

Good afternoon Ms. Harden,

Thank you for providing a statement from Wal-Mart about the pending legal situation filed by the EEOC branch in Chicago.  I do plan to write a follow-up article with Wal-Mart’s statement in full regarding this matter.

According to the EEOC’s press release, Mr. William Clark’s prior accommodation was rescinded, then he begin receiving disciplinary actions, which supposedly led to his termination. When Mr. Clark began his 18 years career at Wal-Mart, had he received a written accommodation(s), specifying what his need(s) were so that he could complete his job tasks and requirements to the best of his ability?

As a writer, I do my best to ensure to provide both sides of the story, in this case Wal-Mart’s and the EEOC’s, to my readers and the public.  Ms. Harden, if there is additional information or statements you would like to provide on behalf of Wal-Mart for the follow-up article, that would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

At the time this article was published, I have yet to receive a response from Ms. Harden about my question regarding if Mr. Clark had received written accommodation(s) for his particular need(s).

As I noted in my reply to the Wal-Mart representative, I aim as a responsible writer, and avid disabled advocate, to ensure that both parties are able to provide accurate information and statements to issues that affect the inclusion and equality of disabled Americans.  It is only fair that I reach out to the EEOC about the statement Wal-Mart sent me about this legal matter.  I was able to make contact with an EEOC employee at the national headquarters, and received the contact information of a paralegal who would be able to shed more light about this case.  I did contact the paralegal via email, sharing the email exchanges between the Wal-Mart representative and myself, and requesting if the EEOC would like to submit a statement/response to Wal-Mart’s stance about the lawsuit.  At the time this article was published, I have yet to hear from the EEOC paralegal.

The fact that Wal-Mart responded so quickly shows that the Corporation does care about its image, as far as being perceived as a fair and accommodating employer.  Until a ruling is handed down in court, Wal-Mart is innocent of any wrongdoing in this case.

This is the first legal case that I have been drawn into by one of the parties, and I plan to keep the SWH readers updated on any future responses I may receive from either Wal-Mart or the EEOC about this case, and the verdict of the lawsuit.

SWH readers, what are your thoughts about Wal-Mart’s statement, and the possible outcome of this case?  Share your thoughts with me below.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of CNBC.)

Wal-Mart Being Sued for Disability Discrimination by the EEOC in Chicago

Earlier this month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took action by filing a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for allegations that the supermarket chain unjustly fired an employee with an intellectual disability who worked at the Rochford Walmart store in Illinois.  The grounds of the lawsuit pertains to the claim that the store revoked the employee’s workplace accommodations, and as a result, made it difficult for him to complete his job tasks, was unfairly disciplined, and ultimately fired from his position.

Wal-Mart Lawsuit 1John Rowe, the Chicago EEOC district director, stated the following about the investigation the EEOC conducted on the discrimination allegation:

What our investigation indicated is that Wal-Mart rescinded a long-standing practice of giving written job assignments to the employee, William Clark. That accommodation had been the key to permitting Clark to successfully perform his job during an 18 year career at Wal-Mart and to his meeting the company’s performance expectations. We determined that shortly after rescinding the accommodation, Wal-Mart began disciplining Mr. Clark for supposed performance issues, and that ultimately lead to his termination.

(Quote from the EEOC’s press release about Wal-Mart lawsuit.)

The EEOC did not pursue a lawsuit at first with this case; it tried unsuccessfully to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The EEOC filed its case on July 1st, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division.  The EEOC filed the suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits workplace discrimination under Title I.  Title I outlines the responsibilities of places of employment to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.

John Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, stated the following as to why the EEOC took the stance it did in suing Wal-Mart for disability discrimination:

The EEOC’s position in this case is that Wal-Mart just took away — with no good reason — an effective workplace accommodation of an intellectually disabled employee. That reversal fatally compromised the employee’s ability to continue doing a job he had done so well for many, many years, and ended up with him being fired.

It’s hard to fathom what drove Wal-Mart to this course of action, but the EEOC response will definitely not be a mystery. We intend to show that the company’s action was a particularly senseless violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act — an especially hurtful injustice — that Mr. Clark is entitled to full make whole relief and to punitive damages, and that the public interest requires strong injunctive measures to correct Wal-Mart’s practices.

(Quotes from the EEOC’s press release about Wal-Mart lawsuit.)

This is not the first lawsuit the EEOC brought against Wal-Mart this year.  In March, Wal-Mart was ordered to pay a $363,419 settlement for an EEOC sexual harassment and retaliation case.  In that case, Wal-Mart was found to be in violation of federal laws by permitting a co-worker to sexually harass an employee with an intellectual disability working at a Wal-Mart store in Ohio.

Wal-Mart promotes itself as being a supermarket store that cares about its customers and employees, but it seems that the giant chain has a peculiar way of accommodating and protecting the rights of its disabled employees.  As customers of goods, we have a responsibility, regardless of our abilities, to inspect the conduct of such businesses, and possibly reconsider where we spend our hard earned money if they are found guilty of discriminating against certain groups.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of CNYCentral.)

Do People with Disabilities Have the Right to Marry and Cohabit?

The right to marriage and cohabitation as persons with disabilities are not always granted or respected in society.  I learned about a case in New York where a newlywed couple filed a discrimination claim against a group home that refused to allow them to live together.  Paul Forziano and Hava Samuels are both in their 30s with intellectual disabilities.  They wed April 2013 and made the request to live together as a married couple to the group home.

Wedding Ring & Band 1The group home denied their request, stating that the arrangement would be “impossible” and “fraught with difficulties.”  The couple and their parents ardently believed that not allowing them to live together violated their rights, and they filed a lawsuit regarding their claim.  Last month, a federal judge struck down their lawsuit, on the grounds that the couple did not prove that they were discriminated against by the group home because of their disability statuses.  Forziano and Samuels plan to appeal their case.

The notion of people with disabilities wanting companionship, intimacy, and to be married has been considered “ridiculous” and “disgusting” throughout the history of society.  The driving force behind such erroneous, and dangerous, thoughts is that people with disabilities do not desire love, sex, or long-term committed relationships.  Nor are those across the disability spectrum able to “understand” the concept of marriage, or able to give consent as to who they decide to spend their lives with and/or share a residence with.

To stymie such rights to happiness based on incorrect stereotypes about those with disabilities is in fact discriminatory and dehumanizing; it IS a CIVIL rights violation.  The Forziano and Samuels case is not uncommon; people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, face incredible stumbling blocks to gain access to something that the rest of society takes for granted.  Let’s not forget about our disabled LBGTQA brethren who, depending on which state they live in, would not even be afforded the opportunity to marry.

To deny someone the right to marry or cohabit because they are disabled is archaic; when will the policies and institutions that exist to assist people with disabilities catch up with the times?  What would be your reaction if a judge or a facility made the decision to not recognize your union/marriage, based solely on the fact that you and/or your significant other had a disability?  Have you experienced such discrimination?  If so, what action(s) did you undertake – filed a lawsuit, moved to another group home/facility that recognized your union/marriage, etc.?  Incidents like this shows that society has a long ways to go in accepting and respecting the humanness of those with disabilities.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Cilento-Wedding-Planner.)

Ageism In The Workplace

If we are not welcome in the workplace and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially?

Can you imagine a workforce made up of 3 generations?  I am 68, my children are in their forties, and my oldest grandchild is 17. I am one of the fortunate aging boomers who is still part of the American workforce. I have no problem envisioning a workplace where my granddaughter, my son, and I will all be participating in the growth of our nation’s economy. Yet, there is one major obstacle to achieving this goal. It is the oldest, most entrenched form of discrimination in this country. Ageism!

agediscriminationintheworkplace02Nowhere is it easier to identify ageism than in the workplace. As older workers are staying longer and younger workers enter the field, more often than not they will find themselves part of a multigenerational workforce. By the middle of the next decade, the United States will be an aging society, with more Americans over age 60 than under age 15.

What this means for an evolving job market is that there will not be enough young workers to fill entry level jobs. We will then have two choices. We can import young workers from other countries, or we can prepare ahead by accommodating older workers and encouraging them to remain or re-enter the workplace. This would be a welcoming departure from the cold shoulder that older workers receive when applying for jobs today.

Our country’s leaders are always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to planning ahead. For years and years people have been writing about the “graying of the American workforce” and the “aging tsunami”. The boomers are not coming; we have arrived!

We are healthier than previous generations, and we are living longer–in many cases, as much as 20 years longer. Yet, when we leave our career jobs, whether by choice or not by choice, we step into a void. We discover that there is no role for us in society. We become invisible. The invisible man today is not a bandaged wrapped non-body. He is an invisible somebody.

Here’s the dilemma: If we are not welcome in the workplace, and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially? We have the intelligence, skills and wisdom to become one of society’s greatest assets.  Yet, without the opportunity to earn our own way, we will certainly become society’s burden. Most salient is our position as repositories of historical and cultural history and our ability to solve long term problems that younger people do not have the time for.

One excuse I hear for not keeping or hiring older workers is the fear that it will be too expensive. “They will be sick too often and, therefore, be less productive.” Not true. Older workers come with an innate work ethic. We take less sick days than our younger co-workers. We also come with our own health insurance, namely, Medicare. And, older workers are often willing to work for lower salaries as a supplement to our Social Security.

Mainly, we want to be valued and be seen as contributors to a better society, not as a drain. I wonder if those who would shut older adults out of the workforce are ageists who drank the youth-obsessed Kool-Aide that the media hands out. They probably do not even recognize their own internalized ageism. Have they thought about why they do not want a workplace filled with grey haired people? Could it possibly be the threat of having a workforce who reflect the true life process of aging that they would rather deny?

Ageism does not only affect the old. It affects our entire society. It deprives one generation the opportunity to pass on knowledge to the next, while depriving the younger generation the opportunity to learn and build on that knowledge.  It deprives an older generation the opportunity to keep growing and learning new skills for which the young are our best teachers.

The stereotypes of older people that we all own do not match up with the reality of today.  They are out of date.  It’s time for an upgrade.

 

Who Has Rights When It Comes to Racial Discrimination

Black Like Me by John Howard Giriffin via Woordup
Black Like Me by John Howard Giriffin

Australian Attorney-General, George Brandis has created controversy by proposing changes to Sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act relating to race, colour or national or ethnic origins. Brandis wants to remove the words “offend, insult and humiliate”, define “intimidate” as only fear of physical harm, “vilify” as inciting a third person to hatred, and change “good faith” to “reasonable likely”, to allow the right to free speech. He proclaimed everyone has a right to be a bigot. According to media reports, this move stems from a promise made by the government to conservative commentator, Andrew Bolt, who ended up in court after writing about his views on Aboriginal people.

Debates have pitted a right to free speech against the right of people to be free of discrimination and racial hatred. In my view, no one has right to harm another person physically, psychologically or socially and we do have a responsibility (as opposed to a right) to be respectful to others even if we don’t understand their experiences. I do agree that the law does not hold all the answers and education and social expectations hold the key but two key points are missing in the debate. The first is white privilege and the second is the social construction of community norms.

White privilege, understood through Critical Race Theory and Whiteness Studies, explains how discrimination towards others and one’s own privileged position are difficult to see by those who have it. Understanding the position of others is beyond the daily experience of the privileged, and as a child I read the book Black like me. I have not read the book again, and I do understand it has attracted criticism in a contemporary context. Despite this, the profound effect this book had on me is important. What I do remember from this reading is a very clear understanding of how badly people treat other people based on difference and its legacy has probably contributed to the perspectives I hold important today. The book does show that sometimes people have to experience something themselves before they can gain just a glimpse into the experience of others.

Social attitudes are constructed. If we accept the vilification of others or assume that mere words do no harm, we are establishing and building a particular kind of society, contributing to the acceptance and promotion of division and hatred, and giving voice to the worst in society. There needs to be some sort of minimum standards about what society deems acceptable after all we do this for most other things. When one right is pitted against another, the most privileged always wins. Australia has an appalling human rights record. We don’t need to make it worse.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-qbme14MO4[/youtube]

Recognizing April 2014 as Fair Housing Month

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Woman in Wheelchair In the Kitchen 1

The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declares April as Fair Housing Month.  Fair Housing Month is HUD’s way of commemorating the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which was enacted shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, and family status.  More recent protections were added to prevent housing discrimination based on one’s source of income.

In addition to the legal protection of the aforementioned identifiers, twenty states, the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, have expanded the Fair Housing Act to forbid discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families.  HUD established regulations to ensure that the Department’s core housing programs are available to all eligible recipients, regardless of their sexual orientation, in 2012.

The following quote from HUD’s Acting FHEO Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene explains why celebrating Fair Housing Month is so important:

Fair Housing Month is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on just how far we’ve come to make our housing more equitable and how far we still have to go to end housing discrimination.  Fair housing is about giving people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and whenever this opportunity is denied, not only do families lose, our entire nation loses.

When it comes to disability, HUD developed the Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing Initiative.  Below are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

(Excerpted from HUD’s Disability Rights in Housing webpage.)

This year’s theme is “Fair Housing Is Your Right:  Use It!”  HUD aims to raise awareness about your housing rights, and discuss the overt and covert forms of housing discrimination that still persists today.  I have read and written stories about housing discrimination, and am aware that key legislation like the Fair Housing Act are steps toward the right direction in creating equality and justice; however, more has to be done to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their disability status and other identifiers, are afforded the same opportunities to obtain housing that fits their needs.

During Fair Housing Month, how do you plan to ramp your voice about the housing discriminatory practices that exist to prevent people with disabilities, LGBT members, minorities, and other groups from accessing housing?  If you have experienced such discrimination in your quest in obtaining housing, are you willing to share your story?  What actions can be taken within your community to bridge the gaps in creating available housing options for those with disabilities, minorities, LGBT members, and other groups?  Share your stories, thoughts, and ideas with me to commemorate this observance.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of the New York Times.)

Hospital to pay $75,000 for Discrimination against Child Care Worker with Cerebral Palsy

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

In late February 2014, a hospital was ordered to pay $75,000 for violating the federal anti-discrimination laws when it refused to hire a volunteer who had a disability.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Chicago District Office was responsible for processing the charges of discrimination that the volunteer alleged to have taken place.

Disabled Worker 5The Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, a day care center operated by the Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley Iowa, was accused of failing to hire a volunteer employee into a paid position due to her having cerebral palsy.  The volunteer was fully qualified for the position, and in fact, had a job where she drove a school bus.  When the EEOC conducted its investigation on the volunteer’s claims, the agency found evidence that the hospital purposefully refused to hire her, in fear that her disability would cause her to not be able to fully tend to the children that would be under her care.

The discrimination the EEOC discovered was in direct violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Title I under the ADA focuses on employment, and here is a summary of what Title I says about employing people with disabilities:

Employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate against qualified people with disabilities in hiring, promotion, compensation, or any other aspect of employment.

A “qualified person” is an individual with a disability who is able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations.

(Excerpted from McGuire Associates’ Americans with Disabilities Act Fact Sheet)

(Reasonable accommodations could include providing adaptive equipment such as an adjustable work desk, modifying the employee’s work schedule, etc.; basically any changes that would not prove to be a hardship for the employer.)

Title I also covers inquiring about a prospective employee’s disability status, and when medical and psychological tests can be conducted:

An employer may not inquire about the medical conditions or disability of a job applicant prior to making a qualified job offer.

Similarly, medical and psychological tests can be given only after a job offer, and only if such tests are directly related to the job.

(Excerpted from McGuire Associates’ Americans with Disabilities Act Fact Sheet)

A quote from EEOC Chicago District Regional Attorney John Hendrickson in the article about the hospital discrimination case resonated with me, and I wanted to share it because it is something that ALL organizations should remember:

“Sometimes it looks like organizations engaged in the health care field or in the performance of other ‘good works’ consider it impossible for them to have discriminated — or to be challenged for having discriminated — particularly when it comes to the ADA.”

“But our experience has been that all organizations, whatever their line of business and however they are organized, are vulnerable to falling into patterns or acts of discrimination if they do not consciously make compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws a priority.”

(Excerpted from the EEOC Newsroom Release.)

Being ignorant of the law is no excuse to not abide by it, or violate the rights of others.  With the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities being at 19.1% in February 2014, in comparison to those without disabilities being at 68.5%, discriminating against those with disabilities is hindering our efforts to seek and obtain living wages to improve our quality of life.  Just as I reiterated the importance for private business owners who serve the public to be familiar with the law when it comes to service animals, it it just as imperative for hiring personnel, organizations, and corporations to be aware of and abide by what is outlined under Title I of the ADA when it comes to employing those with disabilities.

If you are a person with a disability who believes that you have experienced employment-related discrimination under the ADA, do file your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC has 15 District Offices across the nation that are capable of investigating your case.  If you are in the Palmetto State (South Carolina), your District Office is located in Charlotte, NC, and the Local Office is located in Greenville, SC.

Reporting such violations will decrease the occurrence of this practice.  In order to effect change and equality, you have to ramp your voice so that justice and respect for the law will prevail.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Woman.TheNest.)

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