Why Political Science Can and Should Lead Diversity Efforts in Higher Education

Diversity is big business in the academy. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson support academic efforts to diversify the professoriate; and colleges and universities across the country are investing significant resources in diversity efforts. Furthermore, the academy has begun hiring chief diversity officers, following corporate sector trends — 60% of Fortune 500 companies have chief diversity officers among their top-executives.

Although the numbers of women in political science have shown modest growth over the last two decades, the number of women of color in the field has largely remained flat. Political science scholarship on minority representation in U.S. legislatures sheds light on this professional conundrum, too. This literature shows how organized women, racial and ethnic minorities, and their allies can promote diversity and inclusive practices to bring about lasting change in political science, other disciplines and higher education more broadly.

An Opportune Moment for Political Science

Research on social movements shows that, when windows of opportunity arise, activists must have the resources to change the status quo and push for policy breakthroughs. I suggest that heightened attention to institutional diversity across academia presents an opportunity that political scientists can and should seize by presenting themselves as credible stakeholders who are well-equipped to: steward institutions’ newly available resources, run innovative pilot programs, and produce returns on institutional diversity investments for both students and faculty.

Student demands will be a key resource in these efforts, but administrators can often “wait students out” — stalling student diversity efforts until a new cohort must begin afresh. Political Science is uniquely positioned to lead institutional change by using research from the discipline to encourage student activists to investigate the issues, formulate long- and short-term goals, determine the scope of their influence, identify allies and opponents, construct informed arguments, and make specific demands with measurable outcomes. This informed activism can help students leverage their status over time as students, alumni, and donors to move towards shared goals for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional change.

Political Science is attracting many undergraduate women majors. Women are faring as well as men on the discipline’s job market. They are approaching pay equity with male colleagues and increasing their presence in the ranks of full professors. In 2010, women of color comprised 13.5% of female political science faculty, more than double their share in 1980. Although this improvement remains relatively modest compared to the nearly 300% increase in women faculty over that span, the progress for women of color is promising and can act as a foundation for future diversity efforts. Nevertheless, many challenges must still be addressed — including burdens of balancing tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount women’s contributions to collaborative work.

Building a Diversity Infrastructure

Sheer numbers are the first requirement for building diversity infrastructure. With sufficient numbers, members of gender and racial caucuses can promote further change and build organizational capacities. Research on the impact of diversity in Congress shows that the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses encourage information and resource sharing, enhanced communication, and collective action on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities. Through caucuses, task forces, and organized voting blocs, minority legislators have kept low-salience civil rights issues on the congressional agenda despite waning public interest. Women’s and racial and ethnic caucuses in national and regional political science associations show that female political scientists can capitalize on their numbers to act as disruptive-insiders to further diversify faculties and challenge discrimination.

Buy-in from political science department heads who name search committees and from faculty making influential recommendations will be indispensable for furthering these efforts. Departmental objectives can be linked to university diversity efforts. Male faculty members should be encouraged to serve on diversity committees and act as change agents.

Thinking beyond individual departments, women’s caucuses and ethnic caucuses in political science associations could share resources and knowledge and coordinate agendas. If increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the discipline is to be achieved, then women’s caucuses will need to work closely with race and ethnic caucuses in the discipline. Although universal sisterhood may be a worthy ideal, faculty women of color cannot be cast as handmaidens rather than full partners in the work of transforming the discipline.

Mentorship is Not Enough

The number of women of color entering political science faculties has stagnated, and many minority faculty members leave political science departments for more hospitable interdisciplinary centers. Recruitment and retention should therefore be top priorities — and that is going to take more than just mentoring programs.

Mentorship is a common answer to the challenge of recruiting, supporting, and retaining minority faculty. Mentoring, however, only teaches people how to survive in institutions. It does not necessarily attract more people to enter institutions, and it does not help them change institutions. Although the very presence of black women on academic faculties and in front of classrooms changes the academy, that is not enough. Despite widely shared good intentions, the discipline cannot rely on mentoring alone to help women of color overcome racism, sexism, and other systematic obstacles to their advancement. At best, mentoring will help women faculty of color expand their social networks, establish important professional relationships, and better navigate minefields. At worst, mentoring will help some individuals survive and advance, while maintaining longstanding power disparities in the discipline. Mentoring obviously cannot ameliorate the impediments that routinely challenge and undermine women of color at all ranks of the professoriate. Political science must lead the way in identifying and deploying all of the strategies that can bring broader progress in universities and disciplines.

Why America Needs More African American Teachers – and How to Recruit and Retain Them

Calls to increase the number of teachers of color, specifically African American teachers, have intensified over the past decade. Educators and their organizations, school administrators, and policymakers increasingly agree that a lack of diversity among teachers hurts U.S. students. But this is not the first time this problem has been highlighted, so we must learn from past mistakes to do a better job of recruiting teachers of color in the future.

America’s Lack of Diverse Educators

Serious appeals to increase the number of African American teachers were first issued back in the 1980s. The shortfall was, ironically, spurred decades earlier by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown vs Board Education that declared the racial segregation of U.S. public schools unconstitutional. After this decision, many all-black schools were closed in southern states (and in border states such as Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia). Because newly desegregated districts did not need as many teachers, they laid off teachers and principals in large numbers. By the late 1960s, when courts and policy makers finally noticed, upwards of 35,000 African American teachers had lost their jobs.

In northern cities where de facto segregation prevailed, the number of African American teachers was always considerably smaller. As the number of black teachers in southern and border states dwindled, courts demanded that northern school districts hire greater numbers of African American teachers. For example, in Boston (where I taught before court-ordered desegregation in 1974) the public school system scrambled to hire African Americans. During this period, however, teacher testing and certification took root – and African American teachers passed the certification tests at lower rates than their white counterparts.

By the 1990s across the United States, the typical teacher candidate was a white, middle class suburban or rural woman, a trend that continues today. Yet in the same era, the public-school population was becoming more diverse. To address the mismatch between teachers and their students, schools and colleges of education modified their curricula – in most cases to address teachers’ beliefs and behavior on matters of diversity. Efforts to recruit, train, and retain teachers of color were, ironically, sidelined. By now, schools and programs that create and train America’s teachers stress “educating” prospective teachers mainly on providing new teachers with information to counter stereotypical thinking, racial and cultural biases, and a sense of white racial privilege. These efforts do not actually diversify educational workforces.

Even more troubling – when small numbers of teachers of color are hired, they are often assigned to the most challenging schools that have the fewest resources and the highest rates of poverty. They are expected to be disciplinarians charged with handling the most intractable students. Stress and burnout lead many to quit teaching.

Why It Matters

Research has shown for some time that African American pupils benefit in a variety of ways when they have African American teachers. Black students with such teachers are less likely to be expelled or suspended, are more likely to graduate, and are more likely to be recommended for participation in “gifted and talented” programs. Black students with black teachers are also less likely to be mistakenly referred to special education programs for those with “behavioral disorders.”

African American students are not the only ones who benefit when classrooms have more black teachers. Students of every background benefit from encountering and interacting with African Americans in the educational system and among authority figures. Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully understand the benefits that accrue to students of all backgrounds when they are taught by a diverse group of educators.

What Can be Done to Create a More Diverse Teaching Force

If policymakers, principals, teacher educators, and state legislators are serious about increasing the number of African American teachers, they need to consider the following steps:

  • Hiring more African American educators for faculty positions at universities – especially in colleges of education.
  • Creating pathways for African Americans to enter teaching – by developing programs with community colleges to recruit and prepare underrepresented teachers, establishing programs that encourage teacher aides to pursue the education required to become certified teachers, and identifying excellent public schools that could serve professional development sites for underrepresented teachers.
  • Modifying the curriculum and teaching tactics. Coursework should build on student and community strengths. Teacher candidates should receive training on how to draw on the resources actually available to specific sets of students’ and their local communities – a tactic that has been shown to create positive learning outcomes students.
  • Developing and funding programs that provide forgivable loans to teachers who work for a specified period in minority or high-poverty schools.
  • Ending the practices that isolate African American teachers and treat them as tokens of diversity. Teachers from underrepresented backgrounds should be encouraged with good assignments and extra resources, not given the most difficult teaching assignments, assigned the least prestigious courses, and sent to the least-resourced classrooms and schools.

Current research offers ample evidence that African American teachers are one critical component of improving the learning outcomes for all of America’s students, including students of color. Given all that scholars and practitioners have learned, we know that the value of recruiting and retaining African American teachers goes beyond the simple idea that such teachers are good role models. Their greater presence offers many advantages to students, schools, and communities. They are vital contributors to effective and democratic schools.

How Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Schools Prepares Young People to Thrive in a Multiracial Society

Debates about the value and meaning of public education are not just about report cards and standardized test scores. The hope is that public education will equip youth with what they need to reach their full potential and flourish as the next generation of citizens. To achieve this goal, most people realize that public schools need to teach students to navigate their social environments, contribute positively to their communities, and live and work cooperatively with others in the increasingly complex and diverse society.

But there is growing evidence that the United States is falling far short of this goal. Segregation and racial isolation mark most U.S. public schools. Nationally, most White students attend schools that are more than 70 percent White; and in some regions, nearly half of Black and Latino students attend schools that are more than 90 percent minority and overwhelmingly poor.

The promise of diverse, integrated schools was asserted in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Since then the social science supporting school integration has only become stronger, revealing the many ways in which contact between young people from different racial and ethnic groups can transform attitudes and prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.

Building Relationships Across Groups Promotes Inclusion & Social Cohesion

Researchers have found many ways to foster inclusive schools:

  • Cross-race friendships are especially powerful because emotional bonds form that transform people’s understandings of social relations and make them more motivated to treat members of their friends’ groups as they would treat people in their own group.
  • Cooperative learning strategies promote both academic success and positive intergroup attitudes. These involve having youth from different groups work together and learn from each other, with support from teachers and school staff.
  • Norms provide youth with important values about cross-group relations. Students often become more willing to engage in contact with other racial groups when they observe others doing so in their classrooms, schools, and communities, as well as in the media.

Why Contact With Other Racial & Ethnic Groups is Important for Youth

Children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences. Once formed, attitudes and beliefs about other groups may become harder to change as youth grow older.

Of course, youth must have opportunities to get to know and interact with members of other racial groups for such meaningful cross-race bonds to develop – and diverse schools offer more of these opportunities. Studies of youth in integrated school environments show that those who learn in such schools report greater interest in living and working in racially and ethnically diverse environments when they become adults, and are more likely actually to do so as adults. By contrast, racially isolated schools may limit opportunities for youth to challenge skewed perceptions and assumptions about people from other racial groups.

Connecting Intergroup Relations to Education Policy

Providing opportunities for interracial contact in integrated schools and classrooms is critical for youth development and efforts to foster a just and vibrant nation. With insights from social science, racially integrated schools and classrooms have important roles to play, if the following principles are followed:

  • Ensure that practices make integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact easier to achieve. Many structures reinforce segregation between communities, schools, and classrooms, limiting both the frequency and quality of intergroup contact students can experience. At the federal, state and district levels, these structures can include school zone and district boundaries, narrow definitions of school quality, and limited interventions to support racial integration. Inside schools, practices like tracking that separate students into different classes based on test performance can lead to racial isolation. Viewing education policies and practices through the lens of maximizing intergroup contact may lead to reforms in how school enrollments and class assignments are designed.
  • Prioritize racially integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact. Clearly, dismantling the effects of segregation cannot be solely the purview of schools. Yet by recognizing the value of racially integrated classrooms as part of the learning environment, schools can support cross-racial contact and engage families and communities as active partners in building inclusive educational environments. Educators, communities, and students can work together to develop a shared vision of racially integrated schools and advocate for the resources and school conditions needed to support that vision.

As the nation faces rapidly shifting demographics amid rising social tensions, public schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring young people together across racial and ethnic lines. Guided by scientific research and civic imperatives, policymakers and other civic leaders can make use the public education system to build bridges and knock down barriers that divide youth from diverse backgrounds in classrooms and schools across the country. By helping children and youth from diverse backgrounds build positive ties with one another, diverse schools can lead the way toward a more successful national future.

What We Could Learn From The Sierra Club’s Self-Reckoning

The Sierra Club did something very difficult: it admitted it had a problem. The long-standing conservation organization released a statement acknowledging the prejudices of its founder and environmental icon, John Muir, along with its problematic beginnings and harmful impacts to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, there has been reenergized conversation around reckoning with the past in order to create a better future. The Sierra Club’s honest acknowledgment of its origins and its commitment to transparent improvement should be a model for how institutions can recognize their past without invalidating the positive work they have done. A problem can only be fixed once it is acknowledged and deemed worthy of action. Our country should take note.

The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the adoption of renewable energy and the protection of clean water, campaigned against the use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It’s co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and assisted in creating the movement that would become the National Park System, earning him the moniker “Father of the National Parks.”

Despite his achievements, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir’s harmful writings and beliefs. It noted his derogatory comments and characterizations of Black and Indigenous people that played on racist stereotypes, saying, “As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color.”

The Sierra Club screened out potential members based on race, limiting the historical environmental engagement of people of color. Beyond the club’s membership, Muir’s views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement’s problems. The very lands that were being protected had been taken by white settlers who drove out its indigenous populations. Muir’s ideal state of conservation seemed to be “the lone white man at one with nature.” This exclusionary view has had lasting effects, including a disproportionately low number of people of color visiting national parks, with 25% of Black and Hispanic people seeing national parks as unsafe.

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but begun on land only considered “free” once its indigenous populations were driven out. An icon whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching positive message, creating a vision he and his generation couldn’t, and frankly didn’t desire to, uphold. A monumental figure who moved the world in a positive direction, while not only excluding but damaging communities of color, creating systemic and generational harm. Sounds familiar.

With its statement, the Sierra Club has already taken a larger step than many in the United States. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59% of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44% believe that it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions – throwing the burden of racism from our largest institution, our country, to a few “bad apples.”

While there is a bit of optimism in this poll that shows 51% supporting the removal of confederate statues, an ABC/Washington Post poll finds that such support was not able to gain the majority. Their polling showed that only 43% of Americans supported removing statues honoring Confederate generals and 42% supported renaming military bases named after Confederate generals. Whichever poll one chooses to believe, the message is still that barely or less than half of Americans believe we should remove statues and names of the military leaders who fought to preserve the ownership and selling of humans.

Admitting a problem is the first step to recovery. It is not saying that we are rotten to the core, have never done good, or are irredeemable, but it is acknowledging that we have done damage to ourselves and to those to whom we have a responsibility. Sometimes it takes an intervention, but it can go no further without self-acceptance. If we are to celebrate the glory of our beginnings, we must also recognize our horrors, and those horrors’ lasting effects. The Sierra Club has begun the work – we should too.

The Impact of Institutional Racism on Capitol Hill

The 116th Congress, the current meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, is the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. Black, Latinx, Asian/ Pacific Islander, or Indigenous members now account for 22% of Congress, a record-breaking trend on Capitol Hill. This represents an 84% increase over the 107th Congress of 2001 to 2003, which had 63 diverse members. Although racial and ethnic diversity among lawmakers has increased over the years, Congress remains disproportionately white when compared to the overall U.S. population.

Social Solutionist Dr. Angela Henderson suggests that the lack of diversity of legislators on Capitol Hill is directly tied to institutional racism. Skilled in research and statistical analysis, Dr. Henderson examined demographic data from the 116th Congress to better understand the relationship between systemic inequities and racial and ethnic disproportionality. Dr. Henderson translates research into action-oriented solutions that will eradicate institutional racism and increase diversity on Capitol Hill.

“The best way to change the future is to understand history.”

                 – Adam Ramer 

The requirement for candidates to raise significant funds for their congressional campaign compounds the homogeneity on Capitol Hill. Due to the effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and unequitable wealth distribution, the lack of monetary inheritance within communities of color present significant barriers. Monetary inheritance within a family provides financial stability for future generations to thrive and take advantage of wealth-building opportunities. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center article, the income of households headed by Black people continues to lag behind households headed by white people. In 2014, the median Black household income was approximately $43,300 while the median white household income was about $71,300. The study also found that household heads with higher levels of formal education tend to have higher household incomes. However, the Black-white-gap in income occurs across all educational levels and indicates a lack of equitable opportunities for communities of color.

Decades of racial discrimination, segregation, and disinvestments in communities of color have left families with fewer resources when under financial pressure. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted The New Deal to combat a housing shortage and to increase housing stock. In reality, this program was a state-sponsored system of segregation that pushed Black and Brown families into urban housing projects. In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration furthered segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages within Black and Brown communities, a practice known as redlining. The Federal Housing Administration justified racial segregation by claiming property values would decrease if people of color bought homes near the suburbs. Although the New Deal was repealed in 1939, it has left behind ongoing stagnant racial inequities and deep wealth gaps between Black and white communities.

Debt negatively impacts all families but is especially burdensome for families of color. Research suggests that while only 15% of white households have been late with debt payments, 27% of Black households have been late with debt payments. Without a social safety net or alternative financial means, more and more Black families may be at risk of taking out additional loans at high interest rates to pay their living expenses. This leaves fewer assets and means for families to support and assist their children with basic life necessities, such as housing, transportation, and/or college tuition.

“There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning.”

          – Reg Revans

According to Dr. Henderson, we can take the following steps to push back against the effects of institutional racism and increase leadership diversity on Capitol Hill:

  1. Community Rites of Passage Investment: We must strategically invest in our youth of color early, particularly investing in youths of color who are on a political track that requires financial means to succeed. Given that it takes a village to raise a child, our community should collectively craft solutions and invest in opportunities for our children to do so.
  2. Mentoring, Internships, and Fellowships: All professions, including political social workers and researchers, should challenge themselves to mentor and provide internships and fellowships to youth, undergraduate, and graduate students. These programs and opportunities, such as Emerge Virginia, will help students get acquainted with working in Congressional or State offices.
  3. Political Training Programs: This learning opportunity will help students develop skills around campaign messaging, fundraising, campaign budgeting, and all tactics pertaining to running for office.
  4. Political Action Committees (PAC): Support PACs, U.S. organizations that raise money privately to influence elections or legislation.
  5. Social Work Political Campaign Courses: Every social work program around the country should offer a course about social workers and political campaigns. This course should provide social work students with a year-long intensive training on politics, etiquette, debating, and different ways to prepare them for work in this realm.

In order to increase leadership diversity on Capitol Hill, we will need to create more opportunities for people of color. Acknowledging the challenges and barriers they often face such as limited professional networks and political clout, we have to be intentional about bringing people of color into these spaces. We have to ensure that we are equipping youth and communities of color with the connections and resources needed to build wealth and maintain sustainability. As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley urges, “we have to be disruptors, innovators, and we have to shake the table.”

Why America’s Women Of Color Have Lost Ground Since The Great Recession

Picture a small office with three employees: Jake, a white man; Anita, a Latina woman whose husband lost his job a year ago; and Crystal, a black single mother. Even though all three have similar duties, Jake takes home $1000 per paycheck, while Crystal gets $700 and Anita earns $600. The office also used to employ Anne, another black woman, but she was laid off during hard times in 2009. Crystal and Anita are fortunate to still have their jobs, but their wages put their yearly earnings below the federally measured “poverty line.” Unable to get by on their wages alone, their families also need help from public benefits.

This scenario is imaginary, but it gets at general trends and truths. The recent Great Recession brought hard times to most Americans, but it was especially devastating for women of color. Today, black women and Latinas face worse job and wage prospects and experience higher poverty rates and greater difficulties in gaining access to health care. Many female-headed households have depleted their “rainy day” savings and depend on a patchwork of low wages and bare-bones supplements like Food Stamps and unemployment insurance to make ends meet. The 2009 recession and slow economic growth since then have derailed many women’s previously modest economic progress. Today, America’s women of color are, overall, significantly worse off than they were before the economic crisis hit.

Eroding Financial Security

Black and Hispanic women suffered big income losses during and after the Great Recession.

  • In 2009 alone, black females holding jobs dropped from 58.8 to 54.6 percent, while Latinas holding employment fell from 51.9 to 50.1 percent. Today, 13.8 percent of black women and 12.3 percent of Latinas are looking for jobs they cannot find (and their rates of unemployment exceed the national average by 6.2 and 4.7 percentage points respectively).
  • Already struggling households headed by black women and Latinas have plunged into poverty. From 2007 to 2011, the percentage of black female-headed households in poverty jumped from 43.9 to 47.3 percent. The numbers are worse for Latina-headed households, for whom the percentage in poverty grew from 46.6 to 49.1 percent.

Household wealth – the value of assets, minus debts owed – also matters. The Great Recession depleted the accumulated wealth of U.S. households across the board, but hit black and Latino households the hardest. Today, the typical white man – the one in the middle of the overall national distribution of all white men – has a net worth of $43,800. But the net worth of the typical single Latina women is a mere $120 and it is only $100 dollars for the typical single black woman. Another way to think of this situation is to realize that nearly half of single women of color have zero or negative net worth, meaning their debts equal or exceed their total assets. Such women had little accumulated wealth before the recession and now have less, a situation sure to have lasting adverse effects on the financial security of these women and their families.

Limited Access to Health Insurance

As black and Hispanic women’s economic fortunes have declined, it has become harder for many to get access to good quality health care. Private health insurance coverage for black women has decreased from 54.1 to 50 percent since 2007, largely because women who lost jobs also lost employer-backed health insurance. For Latina women, the story has been similar, as private health coverage has fallen from 45.2 to 41.6 percent since 2007.

Some emergency provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect in early 2010, offering health coverage to some Americans who lost jobs. Government-provided health insurance increased coverage in 2010 from 36.7 to 40.9 percent for black women and from 31.1 to 36.3 percent for Latinas. But federal help is temporary and many states do not offer Medicaid to people close to the poverty line. Today, close to one in five Latinas and more than one in four black women remain without any health insurance coverage. Research shows that people without insurance often put off needed health checkups and may delay life-saving care until too late.

A Hostile Political Landscape

Why have black and Latina women fallen so far behind, even as the country has begun to recover from the effects of the recession? Part of the explanation lays in state-level political dynamics hurtful to low-income people. Ten million uninsured women earn incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, which would qualify them for Medicaid under the 2014 expansion. Yet four million of these women will continue to live without any form of health insurance or access to Medicaid, because they are unfortunate enough to reside in one of the up to two dozen states whose governments are refusing to participate in the planned expansion of Medicaid. These states include Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, states where women of color have some of the lowest average incomes, even when they work full-time at difficult jobs like home health aide.

Despite the historic presidency of Barack Obama, America’s women of color are also losing political leverage. Since 2009, 11 states have adopted photo ID laws that disproportionately burden otherwise eligible low-income, black, and Latino voters. Many of them cannot afford cars and do not have drivers’ licenses, and states make it difficult to obtain alternative forms of photo identification. Twenty-five percent of blacks eligible to vote and 16 percent of Latinos eligible to vote lack a valid photo ID, compared with only 8 percent of whites.

In addition to facing barriers to voting, black and Latina women rarely appear on the ballot for public offices whose incumbents make crucial decisions about the economy and social benefits. Black and Latina women only fill 23 of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress, and they fill only 322 of the 7,382 state legislative seats. Until more women of color vote and serve in office, policymakers will likely remain uninterested in addressing their extraordinary economic difficulties. Latinas and black women and the families that depend upon them will continue to fall behind, even as the rest of America recovers from the Great Recession.

Girls Who Run the World at London ComicCon 2018

Geek culture has a rocky history with women. But now, women are rocking geek culture. Historically, women have faced invisibility (not the superpowered kind), exclusion, active hostility, violence, and sexualisation.

This is across video games (the communities surrounding video games), films, TV, and comic books – from sci-fi, superhero and fantasy genres. Geek culture does not ‘cause’ gender inequality. However, it does facilitate and shut down particular attitudes.

The stories we tell teach us who is important – and who is not. And now, women are taking charge of their own stories.

MCM London Comic Con

Orange is the New Black stars Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning) and Flaca Gonzalez (Jackie Cruz) spoke about the importance of centering women’s stories, particularly untold stories. The hit Netflix series focuses on a women’s prison, and the actors admitted that they have learned a lot about the conditions faced by incarcerated women during the filming process. There is also space to unpick gendered issues around race and class. “If you don’t see it, create it”, Jackie added, speaking of her extracurricular endeavours with music production.

Then, there were the wrestlers.

EVE  is a self-described “ground-breaking feminist-punk-rock wrestling promotion”: a pro wrestling group for women. ComicCon hosted a debut screening of Empowered, a documentary by Lea Winchcombe showcasing Rhia O’Reilly and Candy Floss. Unashamedly feminist and political, the documentary considers the challenges of being a female wrestler (stereotypes, naysayers and balancing home life), with the buzz of parading around the ring being “glamourous and outrageous”.

On being a role model for her daughter and others, EVE founder Emily Read laughed, “I am the hero, I am the strong one”.  They have opened up wrestling classes for women which build their confidence and self-esteem (irrespective of being novice, casual, professional or old hat). “Women have a place, women have a voice, and women kick ass!” she concluded. The author of this article may very well have shed a tear.

On a less physically exerting note, geek writer/actor/creator Felicia Day happily spoke about her work and creative projects alongside motherhood and her hair. Many members of the audience seemed to share with Felicia the same heartfelt and almost tangible importance of having a female role model within the industry to look up to. Felicia humbly acknowledged the praise and assured us that female representation in geek culture is changing. This was a repeated message at this year’s ComicCon – and a very believable one.

Photo Credit: GoGCast 156: Interview with Patricia Summersett and Victoria Atkin | Girls on Games

Voice actors from Pokemon, South Park (yes, April Stewart confirmed that Wendy is very well received by female fans) and Assassin’s Creed participated in discussions about their gender (of course, only as one element of the colorful spectrum of conversations).

Victoria Atkin and Patricia Summersett of the Assassin’s Creed games spoke about how “challenging” things can be in the industry – particularly to find female characters that aren’t one of the two common tropes of  “sexualised” or “butch”, but “somewhere in the middle”. They discussed wanting to be role models for women in a world where there can be little representation, with a standard gender ratio which appears to “almost compensate for having a female lead”. (Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Justice League, I’m looking at you – the good old ‘one woman in a group of four or five men’ trick).

Victoria and Patricia positively, and somewhat bravely considering how women can be treated for speaking up, critiqued their industry to a somewhat male-heavy press audience. These women want to be, and indeed, they are, changemakers – whilst acknowledging the hopeful message that, already, “It is changing”.

Away from the interview room in Comic Village, there was a whole host of women proudly showcasing their own work. This included everything from personal stories about one’s cat (and other pets), adventure tales, tea and romance, magic, fairies and fantasy, space and Japan. Worth a special mention in this mix was the interweaving of gender, sexuality, and race in the creations. Sexuality we may consider another time.

Olivia Duchess showcased a stall solely dedicated to beautiful, tender artwork of Black girls and women. Having been drawing since 2015, Olivia explained that “When I was growing up, I didn’t anyone who looked like me… I didn’t see a lot of Black characters,” (Susie Carmichael from Rugrats got a special mention). She continued, with a modest shrug, “I’m trying to be the change I want to see”, as though unaware of her brilliance.

The interplay of gender and race was also witnessed in other ways – for example, Letitia Wright (Princess Shuri from Black Panther), discussed the importance of  Black female presence in her film, not least the range of “strong female characters”. She agreed with an audience member, “The women were an amazing entity”, before going on to talk about the value of a “Disney Princess with cornrows”.

There was a woman so overwhelmed with emotion at meeting the badass Black Panther science princess, Letitia Wright, that she was trembling with joy. After a quick photo, she took my hand intently, asking: “Do you understand? Do you understand what this means for Black people?”

Her face was full of magic and the power of visibility. I don’t know how one heart held so much in a moment.

This theme was repeated by IvyDoomKitty in her panel on mental health with Janina Scarlett. She spoke about how she had never thought the representation of women was important in geek culture until she saw it. Before then, she was satisfied with the norm of the male superhero. Then she saw DC’s Wonder Woman: an unfurling, a stirring. A hunger revealed. As Dr. Scarlett said, in her discussion about seeing oneself in these stories, “equality sends a very powerful message that everyone is equal and everyone matters”.

I felt it too, this ComicCon. A sense of … something, resonating, muscular and powerful, yet somehow delicate and bright. The kind of visceral sensation that glows in your belly and makes you grab a stranger’s hand and ask them:

Do you understand?

ComicCon, I think you did understand. You gave women – all kinds of women – space, made us central and elevated our power.

Superwomen are here to stay. See you next year!

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County.

It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administrators, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them.

Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.”

Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have.

Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore.

Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate.

For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions, and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

Six Reasons Why Social Workers Shouldn’t Worry About the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria

Photo Credit: Twitter

Earlier this month, Dr. Beverly Tatum just released a 20th-anniversary version of her ground-breaking and well-informed book Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race. She discusses the phenomenon at Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. This is a topic I think about a lot as the mother of a Black child.

In my son’s small, private, predominantly White school, I noticed that in his grade particularly all the Black students are in one classroom and all the East Indian students are in another classroom which are the two major non-White groups at his school. This got me thinking. School has begun and at public and private schools – elementary through high school – the Black students, the Latino students, the Asian students, etc. are probably sitting together in the cafeteria as I write this. And on that note, so are the band students, the drama students, the athletes, and so on…AND here are some reasons why school social workers, teachers, or administrators should NOT be concerned.

Yes, they are sitting together and it is o.k. We like to sit, play, live, and work with people who make us feel safe and comfortable and the fact is, that is often people who look like us. If I spend all morning and all afternoon in situations that make me feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable or with people who are different than me and I am the minority in numbers, then I want to be able to share a meal (a sacred joyful time in many households) with people who make me safe and comfortable.

Usually, this means being with people with whom I share some values and beliefs based on our identity. We have to remember that students, particularly those in middle and high school, are figuring out their multiple identities and how those identities intersect. Students are navigating a complex world both internally and externally. To help promote student wellness, let the girls sit with the girls and the drama students sit with the drama students and the Black students sit with the Black students…if they want.

Now, this does not mean that you should tolerate purposeful exclusion, discrimination, or mocking, but rather accept that students (like adults) need to create their own safe spaces. AND you and your colleagues should think about how you can systematically and intentionally create spaces for cross-cultural dialogue that may bridge any gaps at lunch tables or on playgrounds.

Forcing students to sit together in some orchestrated inclusion situation will always back-fire. Let it happen organically. You cannot force people to like each other just because it is a rule in a student handbook. Rather, you can teach students to talk to one another and to hear each other’s stories. You can create spaces and facilitate times for dialogues and learning. Cultural competency is a value and a skill that should be integrated into our schools’ academic curriculum and co-curricular activities.

The dialogues about this should be ongoing. Cultural competence should be reflected throughout every aspect of our schools. Students may still choose to sit together by identity group and with ongoing dialogues, but there will be more awareness and understanding of why. Have you paid attention to what the students’ other needs are? The Brookings Institute estimates that 1 in 6 children come from food insecure household. Add to that the fact that at least half of our school-aged children have a mental health need. And these are just two examples of need.

Our students have a multitude of needs and obstacles that need addressing before we can even get them to attend to sitting and playing together. If a student is struggling at home, in their personal life and space, it is even more challenging for them to be ready to discuss and embrace sitting with people different than them. A student may be worried about what others know and think of their situation. Or, a student may be too distressed to attend to their neighbor. Just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – individuals need food, shelter, safety – basic necessities before they can begin to think about and get situated in belongingness and love for others.

The guilt or discomfort we may feel about students sitting together based on identity groups or shared interests has nothing to do with them. No matter how you, myself, or our peers feel about race relations or interacting with groups of different social identities is not how the children of the 21st century feel.

Not a scientific study with proven significance, but still worthy of mention, Good Morning America has done a series called “Black and White,” in which Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts interview children about their thoughts and feelings about race. When Roberts asked them if their different skin color makes them different from each other the children answered in unison “No.”

We should not place our expectations, guilt, hurt, anger, etc. on them. Students have their own emotions to deal with as it relates to equity, inclusion, and social justice. They don’t even always use the same language to describe it. We need to see them and hear them and let them develop their own space and ways of facing race relations in the 21st century.

Inter-racial friendships may be challenging for some kids to form as Nadra Kareem Nittle points out in her article “Why Interracial relationships are Rare Among Children and Adults“. Children, especially young people, are navigating their own identities and navigating someone else’s adds some sort of pressure or complication to their lives. When your school begins to create a cultural competency plan, include the students and the parents.

Diversity work in schools and anywhere is best done when it becomes part of the integrated fabric of the school and is not just an add-on 1 day or 1-semester program. If you want the students to sit together in the cafeteria or anywhere else, then the school needs to have an ongoing, comprehensive, effective, and impactful plan that begins on day 1 and never ends. The National Education Association has great resources that schools can utilize as a starting place.

Teaching for Tolerance is another resource to find culturally competent and relevant educational information. Remember too that cultural competence needs to be shown in who is hired at the school and who holds leadership positions. Diversity and cultural competence need to be seen in photos, posters, and textbooks year-round. And parents and guardians (as extensions of the schools) need to also have the tools to facilitate such conversations at home and with their families.

So, I am okay with the fact that my son is in the same classroom with the other 3 Black students in his grade. I know that he has always played and sat with all the children in his school, and vice-versa. In reconsidering our concerns about all of the Black children sitting together, social workers should help teachers figure out why this is or is not okay for each child, and administrators should think about what will work best for each school’s culture.

The famous Black scholar W.E.B. Du Boise wrote that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” It is now the 21st-century and we should ask ourselves what are we doing if this problem still exists? We also need to think beyond the dichotomy of the Black and White binary and make sure we pay attention to the diversity and intersectionality within our schools and neighborhoods and speak to that specifically, and not just speak to Black and White students.

In the coming decades, the population of our country will continue to become increasingly diverse. Soon, we will need to ask ourselves “Why are the White students sitting together in the cafeteria?” And then we must be prepared to answer that question and do something about it.

Increasing Workplace Diversity: The Glass Escalator Phenomenon in Female Dominated Professions

20 Jobs Dominated by Women – Business Insider

Many assume that most workplaces are meritocracies where effort is rewarded by advancement and success. But as companies in the United States strive to accommodate greater racial and ethnic diversity, this premise has proved questionable for women and non-white men.

Broadly-designed efforts to incorporate black workers into positions where they are underrepresented, particularly in professional or managerial jobs, have been largely unsuccessful. Relatively few black people have attained high-status positions in the medical, legal, and scientific and engineering fields; and racial gaps persist for highly-educated blacks in white collar and professional positions.

To support the advancement of black workers in white-collar occupations, researchers and managers need to understand how implicit behavioral biases can sideline black careers. My research deals with these issues in various kinds of job settings.

Emotional Performance

Various jobs come with unspoken emotional requirements, rarely codified, that hold workers accountable for creating feelings in themselves or others. For instance, customer service workers are expected to make clients feel respected and valued. Flight attendants must remain calm even when interacting with unruly passengers. Such emotional requirements mean additional labor for workers of all races, yet black professionals in predominantly white environments must also deal with racial dynamics that further complicate this work.

Both inside and outside of the workplace, the implicit emotional rules that black professionals must meet – often, they say, at great cost – are quite different from those applied to their white colleagues. Black professionals are expected to express emotions of pleasantness and kindness constantly, even in the face of racial hostility.

Diversity trainings require them to conceal feelings of frustration even when colleagues express racial biases.  Black men in particular report a prohibition on any expression of anger, even in jobs where anger is accepted or encouraged from others.  Black women, in contrast, deploy anger strategically as a means to be taken more seriously at work.

Black Men in Female-Dominated Fields

Such gender differences are not limited to emotional performance and even prevail in occupations where men are in the minority. Research shows that white men working in culturally feminized fields – nursing, social work, and teaching – are privileged by the “glass escalator” phenomenon, in which they are afforded advantages and advancement unavailable to colleagues who are women or non-white males.

For example, white men are generally supported by male authority figures, encouraged to pursue administrative or supervisory positions, and enjoy a positive reception from female colleagues who welcome men into “their” professions.  But the same advantages do not extend to black men in traditionally female jobs. Black men in these fields experience social isolation from those who might support their climb up the career ladder.  Any “glass escalator” that may exist for white men in female-dominated jobs is largely out of service for black men.

Black Men in Male-Dominated Fields

Black men in culturally-masculinized occupations — lawyers, doctors, financial analysts, engineers – are uniquely positioned. In workplaces like this, majority and minority racial and gender statuses inform how black men are expected to present themselves and interact with colleagues. Specifically, black men’s minority status keeps them from fully integrating into their jobs, even as their gender status gives them advantages over their women counterparts.

As the racial minority, black men often empathize with the ways women are treated and use their gendered privileges to advocate for gender-equitable workplace policies. At the same time, black men report wanting closer relationships with other black professional men, but are uncomfortable engaging in the socially stereotyped feminine behaviors that are necessary to achieve this– such as initiating contact, staying in communication, checking up on one another.

Similarly, the black men are reluctant to express or reveal a need for social support, because men are culturally expected to “go it alone.” As a result, black men in white-collar occupations often remain quite isolated at work.

Although black men may be able to bond with white men over “guy things,” they lack access to critical social networks (to elite white friends, neighbors, and acquaintances) that can provide boosts up the corporate ladder. Racial and gendered stereotypes often also force black professionals to develop and maintain alternative types of black masculinity.

Bottom Lines for Employers, Organizations, and Policymakers

Workers of color face numerous challenges in the workplace that differ greatly depending on the field, profession, and specific office setting. The challenges faced by black men and black women are not identical, even in the same work environments. And specific work settings matter, too, because black men in the medical field, for instance, face distinct challenges from those practicing law.

Because one-size-fits-all approaches and generalized diversity policies will not effectively address the specific challenges facing workers of color, organizations, and offices must try to understand how racial and gender dynamics play out in their specific fields and workplaces. Only with such understanding can a workplace succeed at becoming more attractive, accepting, and comfortable for diverse employees.

How to begin? A workplace could start by soliciting buy-in from professional black men, who may have been overlooked in previous efforts to foster equal acceptance. Employers can tie diversity outcomes to concrete rewards for managers and workers. And because black professionals are often required to leave their racial identity at the door – under the dubious rationale that it will reduce race-related stress – perhaps the most important step is to openly acknowledge that racial issues impact workers’ lives.

Find out what the issues are for each workplace and its employees – and then tailor solutions to real-life experiences. Overall, this is important work for employers.  As the U.S. workforce continues to diversify, workplaces must be creating acceptance and support from the ground up in order to remain competitive.

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.

What are the Implications Behind Racial Colorblindness?

People who claim they “don’t see race” when they evaluate others may think they all have similar beliefs about racial justice – but they’re very wrong, according to a new book.

In fact, the belief in “racial colorblindness” unites people who range from liberal to conservative and hardened racists to egalitarians, according to Philip Mazzocco, author of The Psychology of Racial Colorblindness: A Critical Review.

“There’s never been a racial ideology like colorblindness that unites such very different types of people,” said Mazzocco, who is an associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University at Mansfield.

“Their beliefs are often wildly different. The only thing they all have in common is a general distaste for racial categories.”

In his book, Mazzocco outlines a new model of what it means to be racially colorblind in today’s society. He disentangles the different meanings and comes up with four categories of colorblindness: protectionist, egalitarian, antagonistic and visionary.

Mazzocco doesn’t believe that any type of racial colorblindness is good for society, although some of the four types are clearly more offensive than others. His model focuses on whites, but could be used for all races.

The fact that these different varieties have been lumped together helps explain why research findings on the issue have been so contradictory, according to Mazzocco.

“Some studies have found colorblindness is associated with higher levels of prejudice, while others have found lower levels,” he said.

“It has been really hard to figure out. That’s because these different studies were not looking at the same construct. The point is there are four types of colorblindness and not one.”

His new model bases the four types on two variables: levels of prejudice and awareness of racial inequality. Here are the types, and where they fall on those two variables:

  • Protectionist (High prejudice, low awareness): They believe interracial inequality is minimal, or the fault of minority culture. They are likely to say minorities who complain of mistreatment are “playing the race card.”
  • Egalitarian (Low prejudice, low awareness): They want racial justice and think it has been mostly achieved. As a result, they believe discussion about racial issues is no longer necessary.
  • Antagonistic (High prejudice, high awareness): They know there’s a problem with racial justice, but they are fine with it, because they believe it is their privilege as white people to be favored in society. They disingenuously use claims of colorblindness to oppose programs like affirmative action, saying that government policies shouldn’t favor one race.
  • Visionary (low prejudice, high awareness): They agree there is a racial justice problem and believe the way to overcome it is to stop emphasizing racial boundaries and differences and to focus primarily on what people have in common.

Mazzocco conducted a small internet survey of 153 Americans through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to determine how many people may fall into each category. He cautioned that this was a preliminary survey and not necessarily nationally representative. But he said it can give a snapshot of where Americans stand.

As expected, most participants claimed to be racially colorblind – only about 27 percent said they weren’t. The egalitarian group was the largest at 29 percent, followed by protectionist at 20 percent, visionary at 18 percent and antagonistic at 7 percent.

The fact that nearly three-quarters of Americans claim to be colorblind is a problem, Mazzocco said, because claiming you don’t see race is “a conversation ender.”

“One of the implications of racial colorblindness is that we’re not going to have a discussion about the topic. You can have two people who say they’re colorblind, one of the visionary variety and one of the antagonistic variety, with wildly different sets of belief,” he said.

“But they may think they have similar viewpoints and therefore believe that many people share their opinions. If they had a true conversation, they may find out their views aren’t so common and they might need to consider other opinions.”

Mazzocco said colorblindness of any variety is harmful because it does not recognize the myriad problems minorities face in our society.

“There are real struggles and real costs. If you pretend like race doesn’t exist, you put people who are struggling at a real disadvantage.”

One alternative to colorblindness is multiculturalism – the ideal that society tolerates and even embraces differences in culture. Under multiculturalism, people don’t pretend racial differences don’t exist – they celebrate the diversity.

Some white people have bristled at multiculturalism because they believe it means they and their culture aren’t valued, Mazzocco said. But multiculturalism can be all-inclusive in a way that says all people, including whites, are valued.

“When this inclusive form of multiculturalism has been studied, whites have reported a much more positive experience.”

Mazzocco said he hopes his book will inspire more research, now that there is a clearer idea of the different meanings of colorblindness.

“We are at a crossroads regarding our willingness to discuss race explicitly. Social scientists can make a real contribution by helping us to understand what our views are and how to talk about them.”

A Teacher’s Response to Charlottesville for Social Workers in Practice with People with Disabilities

Charlottesville Black Cop
Officer patrols in front of a recent KKK rally in Charlottesville, Va. – Jill Mumie

I am currently teaching a course on social work practice with people with disabilities.  The course uses an intersectional lens, acknowledging the fact that people have many intersecting social identities that can result in varying types of privilege and oppression.  As such, I had to provide some venue for my students to address the Charlottesville violence and hate speech.  The following is a discussion prompt I provided for them to respond to, and I thought other social work educators might be interested in seeing this so that they could use it and/or modify it for their own courses.  Feedback welcome!

Discussion prompt: As we are part of a course on social work practice with people with disabilities in the United States of America, I would be remiss not to address the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. As you have already likely gathered, there are important links between the White nationalist/Nazi actions in Virginia, and the work we do as social workers with people with disabilities – who often have intersecting marginalized social identities.

Many of the perspectives held by members of White nationalist/Nazi groups are clearly identifiable as racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and even Eugenic in nature.  Therefore, as social workers practicing under our particular Code of Ethics, we need to respond. If you need some quick resources to learn more about the dynamics that led to the Charlottesville rally and violence, you can check out the “Charlottesville Syllabus” at this link.

As disability-aware social workers training to view the world through an intersectional lens, we need to acknowledge and act on what has happened in Charlottesville. That means that we need to engage in discussions – often difficult in nature – with our families, our co-workers and with our clients. Let’s start with our work with clients.

One prominent disability civil rights activist, Rebecca Cokley, has noted that when terrorist incidents like this occur, people with disability count the minutes until ableist claims about the ‘crazy’ person who engaged in terrorist acts roll in. That may be an important place for you to start a conversation with a client with a disability in a week like this one. In this essay, Ms. Cokley points out another important link between disability and trauma.  She calls for the disability community (and disability service providers) to reach out to those whose disabilities came about as a result of trauma, such as the people who were injured and impaired by the car driven by the White nationalist/Nazi from Ohio. Her essay is short, easy to read and compelling and you can find it here.

It is also important to remember, however, that our work is not just direct care work. Remember, the NASW Code of Ethics states that we must fight for social justice, as it is a core value in our profession. We need to do more than discuss these difficult topics amongst ourselves, we also need to take a stand on them. I am fond of the idea that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

It is important to move beyond ideas of ourselves as “good” people and work towards actively addressing the webs of oppression that exist in our world, little bit by little bit. Here is an example about how ADAPT, the national disability civil rights organization, has taken a stance on the events in Charlottesville. Where might you be able to stake your claim to your own stance?  Check out these ideas for 10 ways to fight hate from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Finally, I want to leave you with a challenging set of questions. Although there are many facets to the NASW Code of Ethics, let us remember that the mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values, including the idea that there is dignity and worth in every person.  How would you respond to a client with a disability who actively identified as a White nationalist/Nazi if you were to be assigned such a client today? What if she didn’t want to work with you because you were a woman of color?  What if she had been arrested for street fighting during the “Unite the Right” rally and was open about her wish to “hurt Leftists?”  Based on your training thus far in this social work program, how would you approach your work with this client?

How would you respond to a client with a disability who actively identified as a White nationalist/Nazi if you were to be assigned such a client today? What if she didn’t want to work with you because you were a woman of color? What if she had been arrested for street fighting during the “Unite the Right” rally and was open about her wish to “hurt Leftists?”  Based on your training thus far in this social work program, how would you approach your work with this client?

Please leave your comments about this discussion prompt and how it might be improved or expanded upon.  All feedback is welcome.

My Friend is a Superhero – The Story of a Free Children’s Comic Book About Diversity and Disability

Sometimes we need to be the change that we want to see in the world. Philip Patson – Creative and social entrepreneur, writer, comedian, human rights promoter, and award-winning diversity consultant – is the very definition of a changemaker. He is the Managing Director of Diversity New Zealand, an organisation which offers facilitated discussions, consultations, keynotes and workshops about embracing and working with diversity.

Philip, alongside psychologist Barbara Pike, and artist/illustrator Sam Orchard, have created a free children’s book, My Friend is a Superhero!. The story is about Jack, a boy who uses a wheelchair, and the story is told through his friend’s eyes.

Here at Social Work Helper, we’ve had the privilege of an exclusive interview with Philip, Barbara and Sam about their book My Friend is a Superhero!

Firstly, thank you very much for taking part in our interview! To start, could you please tell us about the origins of My Friends is a Superhero? How did the idea come about?

Barbara: The book came about as a result of casual conversations between myself and Philip while I was working as Philip’s EA for Diversity NZ.  I remember we were discussing children’s reactions to seeing a person with a disability compared to that of their parents.  For example, a child might see a person in a wheelchair and rush up to them to ask questions, or be shy and unsure what to say, or ask their parents rather loudly why that person can’t walk!!

Parents mostly seem to be quite embarrassed or not sure how to respond. However Philip’s perspective, as a person who uses a wheelchair himself, was that he would welcome and encourage children’s curiosity and learning.  He mentioned even finding it refreshing, since kids will typically jump right into a conversation about disability with no prior assumptions!

These conversations evolved into the idea for writing a children’s book to explore how their natural curiosity and openness might view the experience of disability.  I’m very nerdy and into superhero movies, comics and related media – and there is also an element in many superhero stories of the ‘hero’ having some kind of disability along with their superpower (Professor X from the X-men being the most well-known example).  So I had the idea of the child in the book viewing his friend, who uses a wheelchair, as being a secret superhero in his spare time – as a way of explaining his ‘special’ (or different) abilities.

Philip: I remember sitting at the lights driving home, talking with Barbara and the idea for the book was formed. I remember thinking how much easier it would be to write a book for kids, rather than adults, because, as Barbara said, there’s no need to “undo” assumptions in order to create a positive lens around function. Barbara’s perspective was so clear as well, given our working relationship, which made her perfect to lead the writing of the book.

The book centres on the idea of diversity. What is “functional diversity”, and why do you think it is important?

Philip: Functional diversity presents a more dynamic and constructive paradigm than the current dominant ones (for example medical or social models), to describe and change the impact of impairment and disability. It proposes different thought patterns, new language and constructive behaviour, reframing the distinction between “normal” and “abnormal” function as “common” and “unique”.

The ideology was inspired by my personal and professional frustration with the existing polarized ideology of human function, which fails to adequately describe the diversity of physiological and psychosocial function amongst people. It aims to provoke and inspire dialogue about our current paradigm of human function in relation to value and capacity.

Can you tell us about the process of creating this book together – what was is like, what were the rewards and challenges?

Barbara: The process of creating the book was remarkably simple and organic (but then, most projects at Diversity NZ are!)  I pitched the general idea to Philip, then we had a ‘planning and writing’ meeting ie: went to a local cafe for coffee and lunch!  We pretty much wrote the entire book at that meeting.  I remember there was a lot of ‘back and forth’ regarding the phrasing of different lines, but in the end we banged out something that we were both happy with.

The next step was illustrating – I’ll leave Sam to talk about the process of that.

Sam: The illustrations is where I came in! Barbara and Philip sent me the words, and I came up with some basic characters. I’d never drawn a wheelchair before, and there was lots of discussion between Philip and I about what type of chair Jack would have – and to make sure it didn’t look clunky or antiquated.

After we had the characters set out we all met up for about half a day, with a big whiteboard, and went through making thumbnails of how we wanted each page to look. That’s where the little pukeko idea came from – we wanted to include some fun moments that went beyond the text, and have a New Zealand flavour to it, so the pukeko was perfect.

Barbara: And the final step was finding the funding to publish.  We used PledgeMe – a NZ version of Kickstarter – and thankfully were able to meet our funding goals.  Philip, do you want to talk a bit about Duffy as well?

Philip: During 2012 I did the Leadership New Zealand programme. I met the Manager of Duffy Books in Homes, who provide free books to over 100,000 New Zealand children, three times a year. Linda loved “My Friend is a Superhero”, so we donated copies and I went to several schools to talk to kids about the book, disability and diversity.

Barbara: In terms of challenges there really weren’t too many.  We initially had another person volunteer to illustrate but it didn’t quite work out as we had different ideas about what we trying to achieve with the book.  Then we discovered Sam, who works professionally as a comic illustrator and whose drawings are incredible and really brought the story to life.  Figuring out how to raise the money to publish was probably the other big challenge.  We initially went down the route of applying for funding grants, but eventually stumbled upon crowdfunding – which was still a relatively new thing at that time, and luckily had great success with it.

Overall, I found writing and publishing this book to be a hugely rewarding process.  It was great that a little idea I had got turned into a reality, and that it was well-liked enough for people to crowdfund the publishing of it.  It  also amazing to know that physical copies went to so many homes and schools.  Again, working with both Philip and Sam is always wonderful and organic and easy.  Philip is someone who would take this idea and say “yep, let’s do it!” which is a great quality to have in a boss.

What factors did you have to consider when designing the character of Jack?

Barbara: We wanted to make Jack’s disability as “true to life” as possible.  That is, not to show him as an amazing kid who is good at everything, or as a kid having a terrible time of it – but to show him as a real kiwi kid, facing the ups and downs of growing up (and who happens to have a disability).  I also remember a lot of conversations about how his wheelchair would look!  We wanted it to be as accurate as possible, as any children (or parents) using a wheelchair would know exactly what we got wrong!

Philip: And while we wanted Jack to be “real”, we also wanted him to be cool, too, We hoped that, after reading the book, kids would be curious about functional diversity and feel freer to engage with kids who live with unique function.

The book shows Jack and his friend in a range of settings and scenarios. How did you pick these scenarios, and why?

Barbara: We picked scenarios that would be typical for school-age kids in NZ and tried to show both the positive and negative aspects of what life might be like for a child who uses a wheelchair.  So when walking home from school being able to power fast up the hill might be an advantage.  But having to leave class for lots of therapy appointments might not be so great.  We also wanted to be as inclusive as possible.  Jack goes to school, is in class, and plays at lunch with his friends, who don’t use wheelchairs.

Philip: A lot of the scenarios were based on my own experiences at school. I was lucky to be outgoing and confident as a kid, so I was pretty well included. I didn’t play on skate ramps and things, but I did have good networks of friends and mostly enjoyed school, at Jack’s age anyway!

In the story, we see Jack supporting others, such as exercising patience and helping his friend to study. What is the significance of showing these aspects of Jack?

Barbara: We didn’t want everything about Jack to be about his disability, so we tried to show other positive qualities you would want to see role-modelled in a kids book, like Jack helping his friend with maths in the classroom.  We wanted Jack to be seen by his friend as more than his disability (even though that was the main focus of the story) and of course for us to find out in the end that in fact Jack sees his friend the same way.

Philip: I think “disability” is portrayed so negatively generally. It was really important to show Jack in a reciprocal relationship with his friend, rather than perpetuate myths that having unique function makes kids needy and helpless.

The front cover of the book is beautiful. Could you tell us more about  how this design came about, and why it was selected?

Barbara: Sam, please take it away : )

Sam: Oh thanks! In terms of style Philip and Barbara pretty much gave me free reign to do what I wanted. As I talked about earlier, getting the type of wheelchair for Jack right was a big one, but everything else just flowed quite easily.

We wanted the colours to be bold, and the style to be simple and child-like so it was easy to absorb. This was the original sketch we did on the whiteboard…

Which became this:

And then this:

As we know, parents will often choose their children’s books or read to their child. What do you think makes My Friend is a Superhero useful for parents as well as for children?

Barbara: Parents (and society as a whole) shape how their children learn about the world, as well as their attitudes and values towards others, as they grow up.  We wanted to encourage more open conversations between parents and their children about disability, as well as challenge some negative stereotypes.  Disability is something with both positive and negative aspects – it’s just another human experience and we will all have a range of physical (and other) function throughout our lives.  We wanted to promote the idea of people in general (not just children) approaching others with curiosity and openness to difference.  We hoped that if parents were reading the book to their children, that it might encourage broader conversations about diversity and perhaps change how parents think too.

Philip: We’ve had tremendously positive feedback from kids and adults alike. I think people, in particular adults/parents, find the book refreshing. There’s something about the story’s simplicity and Sam’s vibrant images that reframes an issue that we really struggle with as a society.

My Friend is a Superhero is available online for free (although a hard copy can be purchased!) – what led to this decision, and what impact are you hoping this will have?

Philip: I read the other day that selling kids’ books, especially a first one, is incredibly difficult. We’ve sold a few but mostly we’ve given them away. As it was crowdfunded so generously it felt right to pass on the generosity. Adding the free download is, hopefully, another way to get the book out there. It’s doing no good unless it’s being read, after all!

The book is intended to promote a child’s “natural curiosity”. How do you think people usually respond to a child’s curiosity, and how could we do things differently?

Philip: Kids are so naturally curious and as they grow, that curiosity is often replaced by adults’ fears of difference, getting things wrong, sense of guilt and shame etc. “My Friend is a Superhero” intentionally shows that it’s ok to be curious and that uniqueness is interesting. As adults we need to be more aware of our fears, work through them and be intentional about not passing them onto our children.

And of course, I must ask – Who are your superheroes, and why?

Barbara: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before!  I work now as a Psychologist, and to be honest, my superheroes these days are the everyday people I work with.  People who are facing (or have faced) overwhelming difficulties in life and work so hard to overcome them…many even going on to start groups and programmes, or volunteer, to help support others who are struggling.  I find anyone who faces huge challenges in life – be it mental health difficulties, disability, abusive relationships, poverty or other unhealthy situations – and battles through to make a better life for themselves, to be an inspiration.

Sam: Oh! Gosh! Yeh, I’m on the same page of Barbara – my kind of superheroes are not necessarily the ones who you would know the names of. I’m always in awe of people who work steadily in the background, and who don’t need a lot of praise (because I love praise and I’m trying not to rely on it too much!) I think people who persevere, are resilient, and are generous are pretty phenomenal too.

Philip: I’m going to be shallow and just say my favourite superhero has always been Spiderman!

Is there anything else you think we should know about My Friend is a Superhero?

Barbara: Not that I can think of!  The book was published a few years ago now, so it’s lovely to remember the creative process behind it and know that it still generates excitement and interest : )

Philip: I agree – it’s been great to reminisce. We keep saying we should do another one. We should stop saying it and do it instead!

9 Life Lessons From Prince For Social Workers

9 Life Lessons From Prince For Social Workers

I’ve been a little obsessive this week. This is apparently how I mourn when one of my favorite musicians of all time dies: I listen to their music. On repeat. Nonstop.

My Four Year Old Daughter: Daddy, is that a Prince song…again?

Me: Yes, sweetie, Daddy needs to listen to “Sometimes It Snows In April” one more time. (Nice tribute D’Angelo.)

Since Prince’s sudden death last week, I’ve thought a lot about his life and career. Then it hit me like a bucket of “Purple Rain”, we could all learn lessons from Prince’s life. Today, I’m going to share nine life lessons social workers can learn from how Prince styled his life.

Lesson 1: Create your own path

Prince style: Prince’s career was known for a lot of things: his music, his attitude, and his eccentric style. He was naturally influenced by musicians and artists who came before him, but he didn’t seek to copy anyone person.

Your style: Talk to other social workers and professionals whose lives and careers you respect. Resist the urge to try to follow exactly in their footsteps. It just doesn’t work. What does work, is taking the best parts from your mentors and influences.

Lesson 2: Develop more than one skill

Prince style: It didn’t matter the instrument: lead guitar, bass, drums, or piano, all were in Prince’s wheelhouse. On his first album For You, Prince played every instrument in each song.

Your style: You may not be a multi-talented musician, but you still need to have a variety of skills at your disposal. Be ready to “play” all of them at once when needed: be an active and empathic listener, a human Wikipedia of community-based resources, and a tireless advocate for your client.

Lesson 3: Advocate for yourself

Prince style: He famously (and legally) changed his name to a symbol a.k.a. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. His reasons for the name change, in part, were to protest Warner Brothers unfair contract withholding the master copies of his music.

Your style: Social workers are charged to advocate for underserved and disenfranchised populations. But don’t forget about yourself. Example: If you think social workers are undervalued, disrespected, or underpaid… Do Something About It.

Lesson 4: Share some of your best stuff

Prince style: One of the most famous songs of the 1990s was Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You”, written by Prince. He didn’t keep that remarkable gem of a song to himself, he shared it and it benefited, even more, people.

Your style: Be as generous with your abilities. Your influence on the world moves beyond your circle of influence when you teach and share your talents. Teach and share with other social work colleagues where you are skilled, so that they may, in turn, help others.

Lesson 5: Find your confidence

Prince style: Prince may have been only 5’2” tall, but he wasn’t short on confidence. His strut was legendary.

Your style: Develop confidence in your skill as a social worker. Your opinion matters. Your perspective matters. Your professional judgment matters. Find your professional “strut” and own it.

Lesson 6: Stay connected

Prince style: Prince traveled the world playing his music, but always returned to his home base. Prince was born and died living in the great state of Minnesota. He was deeply connected with the residents there and the state loved him for it.

Your style: Whether you are living in the same place you grew up or you have moved off, stay connected with the people and community that helped shape who you are today. For example, go back and talk to students from your high school about how to become a rockstar social worker.

Lesson 7: Embrace diversity

Prince style: Prince could command a stage solo like few others. But he was perhaps at his best when collaborating with other musicians. He was intentional about having diverse bands, especially using female musicians. His concerts were no different. Old and young, black and white, gay and straight…people from all backgrounds came together for Prince.

Your style: Don’t be a lone wolf social worker. Find colleagues in other disciplines who share your perspective and passion for helping others. Identify ways to collaborate with those professionals.

Lesson 8: Find your “thing”

Prince style: Be known for something. It’s hard to see a deep purple color and not think of Prince. 

He had his own color . . . who has their own color? He owns purple. – Jimmy Fallon

Your style: You may not be able to call dibs on a color of the rainbow, but you can brand yourself in other ways. For example, Brené Brown is known for her books and research on shame and vulnerability; that’s her thing. Find your “thing”and be known for it.

Lesson 9: Create a will

Prince style: As I’m writing this article, news outlets are reporting Prince neglected to create a will for his estate. (Jaw drops, face meets palm). This is what you would call a teachable moment.

Your Style: You may not have millions of dollars of assets like Prince, but you still need a plan for your stuff when you’re gone. A legal will isn’t about you, but rather the people that are left to sort through your affairs. Do them a favor.

Summary

Whether you are a fan of Prince’s music or not, you have to respect his creativity, boldness, and authenticity. His life and music clearly impacted many people, myself included. We may not make a Prince-sized impact on the world, but we can learn from his example in how we leave our own legacy. So dearly beloved social workers, let’s get through this thing called life together.

Privilege and Power: The Role of Shame and Self-Awareness

quote-Kathleen-Parker-people-in-positions-of-power-and-privilege-97333

If you are a helping professional, chances are you were trained in self-awareness and learned about its importance. In fact, self-awareness is foundational to all areas of helping. In micro intervention, we must be aware of our biases and feelings about a host of presenting problems. If we are not self-aware, we risk placing judgement on our clients and decreasing our credibility and effectiveness as a result.  

Similarly, self-awareness plays an important role at the macro level. Specifically, we must know our place in the hierarchy of the structures and systems that we are charged with ameliorating, and self-awareness must be part of what drives our analyses of structural and systemic inequality.  

The latter, self-awareness and macro structural analyses, is not a popular topic among many elements of North American society. However, without challenging the status quo with analyses such as the one contained herein, the progressive and change-oriented elements of society cannot make progress. We must challenge and be truly progressive in order to help the people we are charged with serving. Vulnerable populations and marginalized groups remain marginalized time and time again if we cannot change damaging conservative elements within our political structures.   

Evidence, a case study

I am a white male, 45 years old.  I am a 5th generation Canadian with European roots dating back to the United Empire Loyalists.  

For the majority of my adult life, I have felt a great deal of shame regarding the history of my country and that of the United States of America in so far as I can claim to know the history of the latter. The shame I have felt and carried and to some extent still carry, stems from our collective white, European history.  

Although I do not easily acknowledge my expertise, I am an ‘expert’ in many areas of social work knowledge, and  I have become ‘expert’ through study and practice experience of 20 years.  These areas include domestic family violence, trauma and posttraumatic stress.  I acknowledge my areas of expertise because they factor into the shame I feel as a person, as a man, and as a social worker who has worked with children and families for 20 years.  

Maybe I am an anomaly, but I feel and identify with shame a great majority of the time. Perhaps, it is because of my privilege as a white male.  I studied male violence toward women and children for many years and worked in the treatment of women and children victims and male perpetrators for many years.  Often, I have identified as feminist and anti oppressive almost exclusively.  

Have you read about or studied intergenerational trauma?  I wonder if this is perhaps some of what causes me historical shame?  Did my ancestors personally participate in wars and acts of oppression?  These are questions I don’t have answers to.  If I did have answers or insight into my ancestors actions in the past, I suspect they would be tainted with some sort of justification for their acts.  

Things I feel shameful for

I feel shame for being a man.  Men, I think it can be argued, are responsible for the majority of gross atrocities carried out against human populations at the individual / family, community, and societal levels.  Although we as a planet have histories of non -white men and groups acting out atrocities against others, it seems to me that the great majority of atrocities are carried out by white men or at least groups that have strong power relationship ties with white men.  In this way, white men are inextricably tied to global suffering. Other men are too but it seems to me that once you start to explore or investigate conflict it leads to the power structures that are predominantly white and male.  

Men abuse women and children. Women do too, but it occurs on a much lesser scale. Men are the face of domestic family violence as well as the atrocities and secrets which exist in patriarchal family systems.

Men stole North America from first nations peoples.  Plain and simple.  I actually can’t believe that I have never read the history of North America in such simple and truthful terms.  That is the truth, we, our ancestors, stole this continent from first nations and we used force to take it. We killed and violated countless first nations people.  How is this not a shameful history?  

Is my shame different?  

Is my shame different than that of other men?  I have no way of knowing this because to the best of my knowledge people do not generally talk about or write about this. How do I feel connected to a history that has nothing to do with me personally?  Is my shame quotient that much bigger than normal because of my own abuse and post-traumatic history?  

Is shame helpful?  I can only answer this for myself.  I know people avoid pain and shame which is a big part of psychological and emotional pain.  It seems to me that shame can destroy people through the likes of addiction and other self-destructive paths.  

But isn’t shame also helpful?  If we connect to shame doesn’t it act as a compass for moving forward?  I know that my connection and relationship with shame is something that makes me who I am. I am incapable of hurting other people unless there is a real threat to my personal safety or that of my family and loved ones.  My shame is part of my life in terms of my goals, beliefs and values.  It is no accident that I am a social worker.  

What is the cost of privilege?  

Privilege gives people power over others.  It allows people in positions of power to dictate the terms of other people’s lives.  A clear example of privilege is government setting the terms of welfare recipients for those living in poverty. Making a person do a drug test in exchange for still living below the poverty line is an abusive use of power and privilege.  Plain and simple. If this was not true, those with power and privilege are exempt from drug testing to receive government subsidies and/or other governmental funding.   

Is privilege and power the same or inextricably linked?  Does privilege corrupt like power often does?  It seems to me it does.  

I’m not naive enough to think that there is an answer to this query.  Sometimes, I’m not even exactly sure what the exact query should be. I often find myself thinking analytically and as a result negatively about the state of our world. Our current lack of global peace is a stain on all of humanity in my mind.  It is easy to remove oneself from responsibility for the current state of affairs, but this is not honest living in my mind.  Living honestly means accepting one’s connection to the past and committing to move forward in new, nonviolent and non-privileged ways. 

4 Things to Consider Before Taking the Job

Screenshot 2016-02-24 at 4.21.17 AM

When we first apply for a job, most of us only think about being hired so we can begin making a living for ourselves. However, as a job-seeker, there is more to take into consideration presides a salary. Often, we think that we are the only one who benefits from being hired, when in fact, the organization benefits as well.

You have been offered a position because they see value in you. Therefore, it is important that the organization show how much they value you as an employee. There are four things that I look for when contemplating whether to take a position or not.

Diverse workforce.

Understanding cultural competency is a major aspect that many organizations and non-profits promotes to its employees so they can effectively serve clients from all walks of life. However, many organization’s employees are not as diverse as it could be. Ask yourself if your potential employer is diverse. Some ways of evaluating its diversity includes race, gender, sexual orientation, body-size diversity, diversity of able-bodyism, etc. A major aspect for me would be cultural expression through hair. For instance, if men of color are expected to only have low-top fades and women of color can only wear their hair straight, then you may want to reevaluate the position.

Daily Tasks. 

Many of us have advanced degrees that has given us specific training to do particular skill sets and work with various populations. Some of which requires us to be licensed to practice. When deciding whether or not to take the job ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this what I have been trained to do?
  2. Does it require an advanced degree?
  3. Does it require a professional license?
  4. Do I like this daily tasks?
  5. Am I good at the daily tasks?

Work Culture. 

According to Forbes, culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization. Think back to your interview and ask yourself whether it was a warm or cold feeling. When you asked about their work culture, what did they say? What is valued: results or relationships. This is also where self expression comes into play. If you are prohibited from having office decor that expresses your culture, nationality, race, etc., then you may want to reevaluate accepting the position.

If you did not feel comfortable, chances are you won’t like or fit in well with the work culture. If the employer is not understanding about you missing days because you are sick or because of a family crisis, then you may want to reevaluate the position. Do you identify with the mission, vision, and goals of the organization? If they do not match with your mission, vision, and goals then you may want to reconsider. One last thing, if the work place values competition and not collaboration and helping one another, or if on the job training is minimal and not ongoing, then you may want to reevaluate the position.

Benefits and Opportunities. 

Employers want employees who are invested in the company, but employees should want employers who are invested in them. Before you say yes to the job evaluate what’s in it for you. Are there opportunities for you to attend conferences and training events to better hone your skills and increase your credibility? Will your employer give you paid time off to attend such events?

Will they support you financially to attend these events? If you need supervision for your advanced license, ask if they have an advanced licensed supervisor so you don’t have to outsource it out of pocket. Also, evaluate the position. Are there any opportunities for promotions and growth or is it a terminal position? If there is no opportunity for growth, you may want to reevaluate saying yes.

There many more things that should come to mind when deciding whether or not to accept a position. The biggest thing is what is your initial feeling when you go to the interview and once you leave. Go with your gut feeling. Your gut instinct is never wrong so trust it. If you felt on edge before and after the interview or you felt uncertain about the fit, then you may want to ask some followup questions addressing your concerns before committing to that position.

Do not settle for anything less but the best. There are many great opportunities waiting for you so hang in there. Accept a position that is going to help you grow as a professional and help you achieve your goals. It’s one thing to get a career and another to get a career that you love.

Foundations for Tomorrow: Helping Huntsville’s Homeless

tiny-home-almost-completejpg-b0fe5fed800b5235

Foundations for Tomorrow is a community initiative that provides a tiny home community where Huntsville’s homeless can reside whilst transitioning back into society. This unique initiative was founded by Nicky Beale after the eviction of Huntsville’s Homeless from tent city in the Spring of 2014.

Foundations for Tomorrow has set its sights on building 30 tiny homes that will populate an acre of land, and allow its inhabitants to develop a community where they will live, eat and work together, according to the group’s fundraising site. Foundations for Tomorrow gained tremendous community support, helping this unique organisation help those who need it most.

SWH: Could you tell us about the mission and vision you have for Foundations for Tomorrow?

Beale: Our mission is to provide a tiny home community in which Huntsville’s homeless can reside while transitioning back into society. We hope to have a village for our homeless to temporarily reside in while they find a job, apply for public housing, and get the services they need to help them contribute to society.

SWH: How did your first tiny homes project come about?

Beale: It all started with my passion for tiny homes. I am a single mom with a five year old so living tiny would be a hard transition for us. But, I had a passion to give back to my community and a passion to change lives, so I decided to start building tiny homes and letting the homeless live in them. I thought it was a genius idea, but when I googled it, Andrew Heben with Opportunity Village has just stood up a village in Eugene Oregon. I connected with him and people in the Huntsville community and it all started to come together in a snowball way. I truly believe that if you start living your purpose, things will align in a divine way. At least with me, it did and still is.

SWH: What types of challenges and barriers have you run into?

Beale: There are a lot of challenges and barriers when trying to implement tiny homes as a viable solution to homelessness. First and foremost are zoning codes. Tiny homes are considered camping and in most cities, you are not allowed to camp within the city limits. These rules are to protect property value so it is hard to get city support to allow tiny homes. Another challenge we face is the lack of education on homelessness. People have stereotypes about the homeless that have to be undone.

City officials here believe that our tiny homes are inhumane because they don’t have running water or electricity. This is understandable coming from a person with a house, but when you spend any time in tent cities you realize that providing a hardened structure for our homeless citizens is the first step to reintegrating them back into the community. It provides them with security, privacy, a dry place to sleep, an address, and most importantly gives them a big dose of hope that living in a tent takes from them.

-06118da0f0f09a2d

SWH: For people who are interested in replicating what you did in their local communities what steps would you advise them to take?

Beale: First and foremost educate yourself by reading Andrew Heben’s book Tent City Urbanism. It walks you through all the important steps of taking a tent city and transitioning the people to a hardened structure. He touches on all the barriers and challenges and how they overcame them. Second, would be to start talking to people in the community that already deal with the homeless on a regular basis to try and build support through other non-profits.

They can be very helpful in addressing who the important stakeholders are in the community. Another step is to familiarize yourself with the homeless in your city. See what challenges they face and what their day consists of so you can be an educated representative for them. After all that preparation and homework you can start to address city leaders.

SWH: What is next for Foundations for Tomorrow, and how can people support your efforts?

Beale: Foundations for Tomorrow is currently finishing our third house. We have an event with a local brewery and pizza place on Valentine’s Day to raise money and awareness. The Foundation is hosting a Tiny Home Build Workshop in April so people can learn how to build a tiny home and give back to the community at the same time. If anyone would like to help in our mission they can donate on our website, foundationsfortomorrowal.com

The Sixth Annual Social Good Summit Will Inspire World Action

SGS

Since 2010, the Social Good Summit has grown substantially aided by the increasing popularity of social media and technology. Mashable in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly decided to bring people together global leaders to discuss how to utilize technology to eradicate poverty. People over the globe are becoming empowered to share their voices in an effort to be heard, and the Social Good Summit has committed to listening to those diverse voices.

The Social Good Summit is a two day conference discussing the impact of technology and media on current social good initiatives. Starting today on September 27th, days after the United Nations ratification of its Global Goals, the goals aim to eradicate poverty, inequality, increase access to education and protect the environment.

It is hoped that these goals will create sustained growth of the bottom 40% of the population to empower and promote their general welfare. These goals will guide policy and funding, and the purpose of the Social Good Summit is discuss the coordination of these goals globally. With now over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24, it is clear why the UN has a youth focus to work towards the eradication of poverty by 2030.

The venue for this year’s Social Good Summit is 92nd Street Y which is a world class cultural and community centre that encourages people to connect through culture, the arts, entertainment and conversation. This year’s speakers include Kathy Calvin and Pete Cashmore, the CEO’s of the United Nations Foundation and Mashable respectively, as well as Sienna Miller, Charlize Theron and Savannah Guthrie. Using the hashtag #2030Now, social media and live streaming will definitely allow everyone to get involved!

In 2014, over 170 countries were connected through video and social media, with 65 countries and counting for 2015 it is thought this year could be even bigger. Jamaica, Turkmenistan and Guatemala have signed up and for the first time ever will be involved in the Social Good Summit. Global meet-ups will play a huge part in the Social Good Summit and allow people around the globe to take part and discuss how communities are using the digital tools to build a brighter future.

Also in 2014, #2030 trended at number one globally, breaking down any language barriers between the 45 different languages involved! The Social Good Summit is surrounded by a week of related events which provide encouragement to take action and identify innovations that can create the world we want. Two days of jam-packed sessions, including ‘The Tipping Point for Human Rights’, ‘Sustainable Cities’ and regular global meet-up check-ins, to keep everyone involved.

The voices of global citizens will be a necessary force for change, and the Social Good Summit has taken on the role of helping to facilitate conversations with UN officials, pop culture icons, activists and entrepreneurs around the world who want to create this change. Be a part of the Social Good Summit in helping to create the kind of world we all want to make a reality. Watch the summit via live stream at https://livestream.com/Mashable.

5 Ways to Avoid Assumptions

ASSUMPTION-FREE-ZONE.001
We all do it. See someone new and, within seconds, our brains start making up stories about them. Or we meet them, exchange a few words and before we know it, we’re filling in the gaps with our imaginations. The result? Assumptions.

I made an assumption recently, ironically right after running a workshop on accessibility and confidence for health staff. My colleagues Kylie and Sam, and I were about to get into the car when an elderly gentleman approached us.

“As always happens in hospitals,” he said, “I’m lost.”

We laughed. “We’re from Auckland,” we said (we were in rural New Zealand), “so we’re technically lost too! But we have a map of the hospital.”

“I’m looking for the rehabilitation centre.” His name, we ascertained later, was Arthur.

“That’s quite a way from here, but we’re heading that way,” said Kylie. “We’ll give you a lift if you’d like.”

Arthur gratefully accepted and, as he and I sat in the car while Kylie and Sam loaded my wheelchair, I quipped to him, “You’ve probably done you rehab for the day, walking around trying to find the place.”

Arthur muttered something but seemed a little bemused. I thought he may not have heard me.

On the way to the hospital’s main entrance, Arthur mentioned that he was there to visit his wife. Suddenly his bemusement made sense.

I had assumed he was there for rehab. Why? He was elderly, used a walking stick, had a limp and had said he was looking for the rehab centre.

In this case, no real harm was done — it was a fleeting encounter and our relationship and interaction weren’t professional in nature. Arthur probably thought I was a bit of a dick. But had things been different — say I was a medical professional — and I had acted on my assumption, poor old Arthur could have been whisked off for rehab.

So what could I have done differently to avoid the misunderstanding? Here are 5 things to limit the risk of making and acting on assumptions.

1. NOTICE

Noticing is linked to observing, but it involves being aware of — and separating — the meaning made by the observation. I observed Arthur’s age, stick, and limp. I went beyond noticing, though, by making meaning of those three observations — that he was receiving rehab — when he mentioned the rehabilitation centre.

Noticing without making meaning is important in avoiding assumptions.

2. DOUBT

What I failed to do was to doubt the meaning I had made. Doubt is a difficult balance — too much doubt renders us incapable of action, while not enough (or none) leaves us too sure and over-confident. Our cultural fear of being wrong can lead us to inaccurately believe we are right (see this TED Talk “On being wrong”).

Healthy doubt allows us to consider we may be wrong and feel ok about that.

3. QUESTION

Had I doubted the meaning I had made of Arthur’s reason for being at the hospital looking for the rehab centre, I could have asked Arthur a number of questions:

Why are you looking for the rehab centre?

Are you here for rehab?

What brings you to the hospital?

Questioning alleviates doubt. It also opens communication and allows you to gain insight into people’s stories.

4. RECOGNISE

The process of questioning allows us to recognise (“re-cognise” or “re-think”) our observations, meaning and insight into the person or situation. When I heard Arthur say he was visiting his wife, I recognised my error and that gave me the opportunity to correct my assumption.

Recognising the accuracy of the information we collect and create from people and situations helps us avoid acting on assumptions.

5. RESPOND

Unfortunately, in the two minutes between Arthur mentioning his wife and dropping him off at the hospital entrance, I didn’t have time to explain the mistaken meaning I had applied to his situation. In different circumstances, I could have said something like, “Oh your wife is in rehab? I’m sorry, I wrongly assumed it was you, which is why I made that dumb joke. My apologies.”

A response like that requires us to admit we were wrong. When we’re wrong, we think we’re right until we realise we’re not. There’s nothing we can do to undo it but we can apologise with humility and grace.

A response that is based on awareness and reflection is far more like to be useful and constructive than a reaction that hasn’t been fully thought through.

These five steps work in any situation where we are interacting with people. It’s especially useful when working in a professional role, providing customer service or working alongside colleagues. It’s also particularly helpful in situations of diversity, when there is something about the person with whom we are interacting that is new or unknown.

The process of noticing, doubting the meaning we’ve made, questioning to clarify our understanding, recognising the accuracy of our assumptions and then responding based on this information — even if it means admitting we’re wrong — is a discipline. It requires awareness, reflection, curiosity, humility and a commitment to relate to each other authentically and respectfully.

It also ensures our interactions are based on fact and shared understanding, not imagination and assumption.

Exit mobile version