Emotions and Politics: Our Role to Undo Damage of Hateful Politics

Photo Credit: Common Sense Media

When I first read the news about four Congresswomen being told by the President of this nation to go back to the countries they came from, my heart sunk and I had a huge knot in my stomach. The image of every kid I have ever worked with and still work with and children I know, immediately with came to my mind—US born kids of color, kids who are immigrants —who could internalize the President’s comments as not belonging or deserving to be in this country. Those whose self-esteem, self-worth and sense of self could be damaged as well as the kids and adults who could replicate the President’s behavior and become bullies at school, work or their communities, something we have seen since he took center stage during the 2016 election cycle.

The night I heard a group of people at one of Trump’s rally chant “send her back,” referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, I thought of a group of kids between 6 and 12 years old who were part of a mental health psychoeducation group I co-led, who during the 2016 election cycle had displayed symptoms of anxiety and depression over what they were hearing the new President could do to their families.

I vividly remembered the fear they expressed after President Trump had been elected, of their parents being sent home. I wondered what these children would think and feel if they heard those comments to the Congresswomen by the President and by the chanters. I wanted them to know they belong, they are loved, they matter, our diversity matters and there are many more people who love them and welcome them than others who may not.

For many of us who have been told to “go back to your country or where you belong,” there has been incredible pain we have had to overcome over feelings of not belonging, feelings of confusion, frustration, isolation, and insecurity, among others.

Twenty-four years ago, while in high school and after migrating from Honduras, I was told this phrase over and over again. Back then, I didn’t quite understand the charged meaning of that phrase but the manner, and anger the person displayed when she told me to go back said it all and it evoked a feeling of not being welcomed. It didn’t feel good, it felt threatening and I was terrified to go to school.

Luckily, I had a supportive family to go back to, other friends who looked and sounded like me and many others who expressed welcoming feelings, care and kindness. I rose above those comments, made it through high school and by the end of high school the person who had bullied me wrote a kind message on my yearbook noting that she was glad she had gotten to know me. When I was finally able to understand why someone would say something so hurtful, I came to realize that my former classmate had learned that behavior.

To hear this same racist rhetoric, two decades later by no other than the President, a figure who should symbolize a positive role model and exemplify the American values of unity, acceptance, tolerance, collaboration, inclusiveness, was astonishing, disappointing and infuriating.

The President’s Tweets reminded me of the long work we still have ahead to educate communities on topics like our right to protest as an American freedom, our right to advocate and elevate our voices when we disagree on policies, our rights as women to stand up from the sidelines and be a part of political discourse.

We have our work cut out to gain our democracy back, a democracy where we can both love our country and being an American but still denounce policies we disagree with. This election cycle let our fear and anger fuel our fire to fight for a new and inclusive leader, one that welcomes difference of opinion without attacking, bullying, minimizing and threatening those who oppose him, a leader who is not a threat to our democracy and the values we are teaching our children, a leader who we proudly want our kids to emulate.

Now, part of our role is undoing the emotional damage the Presidents politics of hate has created, particularly with our kids who are shaping their views and behaviors based on what they learn at home, school, their environments, and media. Our role is going back to the essential dinner conversations at home to understand what kids are saying, thinking about and how they may be internalizing and interpreting the information they hear in the news. Kids and adolescents depend on us to make sense and meaning out of information. As long as we are having conversations and checking in, we can create opportunities to debunk myths and misinformation.

For the rest of us, it is more important than ever before to be in community; to take to the streets, to advocate and organize when necessary while taking care of our own emotional wellbeing and seeking support from a professional when the politics of hate and division impact our mental health.

Call to Action

This petition is a collaboration between Social Workers United for Immigration and Social Workers Unraveling Racism with contributions by Hope Center for Wellness, Gardner Associates, and the support of Social Work Helper, Latin American Youth Center, American Federation of Teachers, Undocublack Network,  and CASA. The petition was part of a week long campaign of mandated reporters denouncing government child abuse and demanding action.

Please sign and/or share our petition located at http://chng.it/dc2HnCQNT5. Please, take this small step to help us make a difference.

A Practical Guide on How to Confront Hate

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

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

Know your human rights

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

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

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

Speak up in the face of injustice

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

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

Be aware of your own biases

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

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

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

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

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

Call your representatives

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

Educate others

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

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

Donate

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

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

Take care of yourself

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

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

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