Teachers Report Weaker Relationships with Students of Color, Children of Immigrants

The relationship between teachers and students is a critical factor for academic success. However, a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds that teachers report weaker relationships with children of immigrants and adolescents of color.

“Teachers’ relationships are hugely important for all students, but particularly so for groups that are marginalized. Yet, the students who could most benefit from relationships with their teachers are the ones that have the least access to strong teacher-student relationships,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt and author of the study, published online in the American Journal of Education.

Since 2014, public school classrooms have reflected a demographic shift in the United States, with the overall number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students surpassing the number of White students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students of color now make up the majority of students, but inequities between students of different backgrounds have continued to plague the education system.

Existing research highlights the importance of teacher-student relationships on academic indicators such as test scores, classroom engagement, and interest in learning. Teachers not only play a pivotal role in developing students’ knowledge and skills, but can also serve as role models.

But research also presents a mixed view of student-teacher relationships with students of color and immigrant youth. Though these groups of youth may be especially reliant upon their teachers, many also report discriminatory experiences or few interactions with staff.

In the current study, Cherng studied two aspects of teacher-student relationships: whether teachers form equally strong relationships with students from different backgrounds and whether these relationships shape students’ academic expectations for themselves.

Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, a nationally representative sample of high school students and their teachers, Cherng analyzed teacher surveys for English and math high school teachers. Relationships were measured three ways: how familiar a teacher reported being with a student, whether the teacher perceived a student to be passive or withdrawn, and engagement in conversation with students outside the classroom. These surveys were linked with academic and demographic data for their students.

For the analysis examining teacher-student personal relationships and later academic outcomes, a measure of student academic expectations was used, which gauged whether a student expected to go to and complete college.

Cherng found that not all groups of students enjoy strong teacher-student relationships; patterns of relationships varied by subject taught, race/ethnicity, and whether students were immigrants, children of immigrants, or third-generation and beyond. For instance, English teachers reported weaker relationships with Asian American students and math teachers with their Latino students compared to third-generation White students.

“Different patterns in student-teacher relationships among English and math teachers suggest that distinct stereotypes may shape relationships,” Cherng said.

In contrast to these patterns of disadvantage, English teachers reported stronger relationships with third-generation Black students compared to third-generation White students. This may reflect teachers’ concerted efforts to close the achievement gap between White and Black students.

The study also highlights the important role of strong teacher-student relationships in fostering student academic expectations: early teacher-student relationships impact later student academic expectations. In other words, teacher-student relationships can inspire students to have high academic ambitions.

“This study demonstrates that teacher-student relationships are a valuable source of social capital in that they help shape students’ academic expectations. However, these relationships are not a resource that is equally available to all students,” Cherng said. “In contrast to the idea that racial discrimination is an intentional disparagement, the findings may reflect a subtler form of racial discrimination: teachers may be unfamiliar with the lives of all of their students, and this lack of knowledge may hinder relationships.”

Cherng notes that the study supports the necessity of rigorous teacher training in cultural awareness in order to overcome biases and improve relationships between teachers and students.

Teacher Racial Bias Matters More for Students of Color

English and math teachers underestimate the academic abilities of students of color, which in turn has an impact on students’ grades and academic expectations, finds a new study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The study, published online in the journal Social Science Research, builds on existing evidence of how teacher biases in the classroom affect students and adds a new layer of information about students of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng

“When teachers underestimate their students’ academic abilities by perceiving that their class is too difficult for students, it matters – but it matters differently for different groups of students,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt and author of the study.

Teachers’ belief in their students’ academic capabilities has long been understood to be a vital ingredient for student success and has been linked to students’ own beliefs in how far they will progress in school, their attitudes toward school, and their academic achievement.

“The process begins with a teacher who expects a student to succeed academically – this belief can shape a teacher’s behavior, such as what assignments are given, body language, and the time a teacher spends with a student. Students respond to these high expectations by internalizing them, which may boost their own academic expectations and performance,” said Cherng.

These teacher perceptions may be especially important for students of color, as a small body of research shows that when teachers have confidence in the academic abilities of students of color, they reap even greater benefits than do their White peers.

Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, Cherng analyzed educational, demographic, and survey data from approximately 10,000 high school sophomores and their teachers. He first examined whether teachers have similar perceptions of the academic abilities of students belonging to different racial and ethnic groups after considering factors such as standardized test scores and homework completion.

Cherng then investigated whether teachers underestimating their students’ abilities – the beliefs that students are struggling in class when student test scores are average or higher – is associated with students’ own expectations and GPA. Student expectations were measured by how far high school seniors expected they would go in school – for instance, whether they would graduate from college or earn a graduate degree.

Consistent with stereotypes of race and academic abilities, both math and English teachers were more likely to perceive their class as too difficult for students of color compared to White students, even after controlling for standardized test scores, homework completion, and a host of other factors.

The greatest gap was found for Black students: more than twice the percentage of math (18 percent) and English (13 percent) teachers reported that their class is too difficult, compared to White students (8 percent of math teachers; 6 percent of English teachers). Gaps between Latino and White students were also sizeable (a 6 percent difference). A 4-percent gap between White and Asian American students on English teacher reports aligns with the “Model Minority” stereotype that Asian Americans excel in math but not English.

Teachers underestimating their students’ abilities had an impact on both students’ academic expectations as well as their GPAs.

“Based on my analysis, teachers underestimating their students’ abilities actually causes students to have lower academic expectations of themselves, meaning that they expected they would complete less school. This was particularly harmful among Black students,” Cherng said.

Cherng found a different story when looking at GPAs: while teacher underestimations were linked with lower GPAs, the relationship was weaker for Black students.

“It is possible that Black students anticipate that their teachers think less of them and work harder in class to prove them wrong, hence the less negative effect on their GPAs. Challenging teacher underestimations may be unique to Black students, who have a long history of resisting discrimination within schools,” Cherng said. “Regardless, teacher underestimations are harmful to Black youth.”

Cherng concluded that addressing these biases through better teacher preparation programs or professional development may help eliminate achievement differences and bolster the success of all students.

Innocent African-Americans More Likely to Be Wrongfully Convicted

African-American prisoners who were convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers and spend longer in prison before exoneration, according to a report released today.

“The vast majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered,” said MSU Law’s Barbara O’Brien, the author of a companion report, “Exonerations in 2016,” and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. “There’s no doubt anymore that innocent people get convicted regularly—that’s beyond dispute. Increasingly, police, prosecutors and judges recognize this problem. But will we do enough to actually address it? That remains to be seen.”

“Exonerations in 2016” found a record number of exonerations for the third straight year and a record number of cases with official misconduct.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. The registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 – cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The 2016 data show convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were more likely to involve misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants. On average, black murder exonerees waited three years longer in prison before release than whites.

Judging from exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white person convicted of sexual assault. On average, innocent African-Americans convicted of sexual assault spent almost four-and-a-half years longer in prison before exoneration than innocent whites.

In addition, the report, officially titled, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States,” found innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The overwhelming majority were African-American defendants framed for drug crimes that never occurred.

“Of the many costs the war on drugs inflicts on the black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful,” said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, the author of “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” and senior editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

Last year, there were more exonerations than in any previous year in which government officials committed misconduct; the convictions were based on guilty pleas; no crime actually occurred; and a prosecutorial conviction integrity unit worked on the exoneration.

Zero Tolerance Policies Unfairly Punish Black Girls

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Black girls are disproportionately punished in American schools – an “overlooked crisis” that is populating the school-to-prison pipeline at rising rates, two education scholars argue in a new paper.

Dorinda Carter Andrews, associate professor at Michigan State University, and Dorothy Hines-Datiri, assistant professor at the University of Kansas and former doctoral student at MSU, cite various examples of black girls in elementary school being handcuffed and taken away in police cars for classroom disruptions such as temper tantrums.

These zero tolerance policies unfairly target students of color and should be abolished, Carter Andrews said. But while a wealth of research and public discussion has focused on black male students, little attention has been paid to the mistreatment of black girls in U.S. classrooms, she said.

“Zero tolerance constructs these young girls as criminals,” Carter Andrews said. “It’s a criminalization of their childhood, and it’s a very prison-type mentality for schools to take.”

The paper, which appears online in the journal Urban Education, notes that zero tolerance is defined as a form of school discipline that imposes removal from school for an array of violations, from violence to truancy to dress code violations. Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended than white students and are overrepresented in office referrals, expulsions and corporal punishment, the paper says.

Black female students in the United States receive out-of-school suspensions at higher rates (12 percent) than female students across all other racial and ethnic categories, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Only black boys (20 percent) and American Indian/Alaska native boys (13 percent) have higher suspension rates than black girls.

Black girls are also more likely to receive harsher discipline than their white peers for minor offenses, such as talking back to the teacher, Carter Andrews said.

“The research shows that teachers and other adults may give a pass to certain students for the ways in which they talk back,” she said. “Teachers may view some girls, particularly African-American girls, as attitudinal or aggressive, even though they may be using the same talk-back language as a white female student.”

In addition to the abolishment of zero tolerance policies, the researchers call for the establishment of culturally responsive professional-development training for educators that would raise their awareness of the experiences of girls of color.

“We cannot afford to have more black girls’ identities snuffed out by disciplinary policies and ultimately the educational and criminal justice systems,” the study says.

Hillary Clinton Can Do Better on Race

Clinton-USConferenceOfMayors

Hillary Clinton is currently using a rhetorical device otherwise known as an attempt to be “honest”, and it’s a call for us to be reflective about our own indifference to the racial divide. The problem is, former Secretary of State Clinton reinforces an irrational fear, masked in a logical fallacy, to justify an unsustainable ego defense. She meant well in the context of a larger discussion on race.

But, she could have engaged the same discussion by demonstrating the fear as irrational rather than leveraging the fear to elicit an emotional connection. Let’s apply the Social Work Next perspective to evaluate the rhetorical device. Our central question is one of Politics. How can policy and politics support empathy?

Exploring the Rhetoric
This speech was delivered July 23, 3015 in South Carolina. Some are attempting to use the clip without context to manufacture a Clinton gaffe. Presenting this as a gaffe, it would set up a narrative pitting open-minded Whites against other Whites using Black lives as the key factor in the decision point. Many may fall into that pit, but Social workers cannot.

If you took this position, it argues for Whites to advocate for and acknowledge that Blacks deserve to be treated as equals. Then, the other Whites should join the open-minded Whites and their action in creating a more tolerant United States. What this does is maintain the privilege of Whites as the center of the debate—the decision makers and the one group whose advocacy and opinion matters.

It also limits the debate to an individual level debate, one where each person needs to step up. The danger is to ignore mezzo and macro levels that also need attention. The danger is to miss the opportunity to ask a presidential candidate how he/she will legislate with the empathy necessary to create change. Policy should be the center of this debate leveraged by Justice for all, informed by Appreciation for all.

Clinton states in multiple events over the past month, some version of the following:

“Let’s be honest, for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports that poverty, crime, and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege” (June 20, 2015 speech to US Conference of Mayors).

It’s still an inappropriate line. It could have been better. It serves to justify fear of Black males even while highlighting privilege.

Breaking down the Conceptual Semantics

The Social Work Next approach to this begins with the awareness of multiple systems levels: micro, mezzo, and macro. The individual or micro level is where much of this rhetoric resides. Rather than justifying the fear as a reminder to reflect with empathy and action, let us explore the fear as irrational.

The individual assessment would ask what biopsychosocial-spiritual-meaning experiences support the fear of Blacks. Only by addressing those fears at their origin, can the individual address the fallacy (most often) or the trauma (less likely) that supports the fear. The point at the individual level is that YOU have a choice regardless of the past or fear of the future. The risk in this moment is equal to the risk is all other moments.

At the mezzo level, we deal with institutions. What institutions support the idea that being Black is somehow threatening or precursor to harm? The solution is to move away from prejudice and determine the content of a person’s character no matter their race or clothing. The number of Blacks has no impact on your level of fear during a board meeting even if they all wore hoodies.

Let’s be clear, alley ways are scary no matter who is standing around in them. Anyone walking into a convenience store with a hoodie pulled over their head is going to raise your fear level. Remove the “being Black” offense from the evaluation of safety in context. Let us promote institutions that utilize the best in social engineering to support collaborative outcomes. You do that by moving away from social control and toward social capital. You know what I mean. “Protect and Serve” community policing versus “Stop and Frisk” raids and harassment.

At the macro level, we discuss environmental practice—the home for our discussion of politics. This is where we get into the depth of empathy. Empathy can begin with guilt. The problem here is that the guilt-to-empathy construct works at the individual level. The task is to expand the construct to the macro level, to collectively reflect, then politically act. What Clinton got wrong is that we don’t make this choice because of our guilt about our privilege or our fear of Blacks. We make the choice to create a politic of justice and appreciation because it serves our ends. The first level of empathy is to see ourselves or our children as the potential victim of unjust policy. The second level is to care that any other person would be subjected to such unjust policy without our ability to successfully navigate the system.

Policy-JusticeANDAppreciationPolitics of Change
As citizens, we are counting on our politicians to advance policy solutions. As social workers, we must educate a populous addressing a politic that lacks empathy. Clinton discusses empathy that leads to action, but only after justifying irrational thoughts. Reflection on assumptions and privilege is not enough. Many well-meaning people don’t have the energy and commitment for true empathy–understanding how my history makes my choices reasonable. And, how your insistence on my conformity criminalizes my existence. That is the point of #BlackLivesMatter. Not a redress to your privilege, but the assertion of my right to exist, under my own terms.

Use policy to grant me that right. Structure institutions that promote and bolster that right. Make equitably available the tools to defend myself and navigate the system.

In your speeches, structure your rhetoric to ensure a movement of justice and appreciation leading to empathy. Go beyond the guilt of having more, living outside stop-and-frisk zones, and living within successful school districts. Create, support, and enforce policies that provide equity of opportunity without asking me to become like you or more safe for you. I can’t change my color, but WE can change policy.

Afterward to the Social Worker
If you want to explore rhetoric and semantics further, may I suggest the following article as a starting point.

Complex speeches aren’t better speeches. In fact, they’re worse.

The most memorable lines in modern rhetoric—”Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; —are remembered precisely because they’re simple enough to understand, memorize, and talk about. Practically every modern sage of language—George Orwell, Steven Pinker, William Safire, Strunk & White—advises non-fiction writers to express themselves with simple language. Even if you like purple prose in your long-form narrative non-fiction, you’ll agree that it’s pleasing to hear complex policy points in clear sentences and parallelisms. (It’s hard to rule out that the dense language of the 19th century was pleasing and cogent in its own time.)

Read More

If you would like to explore the implications and the next steps for social work thought, keep reading this site, or you can do both.

What is Identity Anyway?

If you’ve read about Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, or just about any story of social importance lately, you have heard a lot about identity. Caitlyn Jenner identifies and is a transgender woman. Rachel Dolezal identifies as black but as Kimberly McKee, et al, aptly state, one can not simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity.

Everyone has an identity and as discussions of what facets of one identity really means, it is extremely important for social workers to know what identity means as whole for themselves as well as for their clients whose identities are certain to differ from their own, simply because no two people can possibly have the same identity, even if they both fall under one or more of the same cultural sub-groups.

Identity in the dictionary is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

art17035wideaIt includes how you define yourself and to a much more limited extent how others define you. It includes both ascribed traits, which we have no control over, achieved traits which we do, and some that appear might initially at least appear a combination of the two. Identity is a pretty broad concept, with layers of nuance, as one might expect from such an obtuse definition as provided above. For the purposes of defining identity here, we will borrow the ascribed vs. achieved trait/status model developed by sociologist Ralph Linton as a shortcut through flushing out nature vs. nurture, ecological systems, and free will.

Ascribed traits are outside your control and can include who your biological parents are, where you were born, your age/date of birth, what you look like without modification, your biological sex, parts of your health history, and slightly more fluid but nevertheless ascribed characteristics like sexuality, gender, and automatic thoughts and feelings when exposed to certain situations and triggers. It can include the socioeconomic status of your family as you grow up, because bootstraps are not provided until a certain age, what with our child labor laws and all. It can also include statuses related to those traits, such as the institutional racism afforded people of color, or the relative likelihood that a white individual will not be arrested for a similar legal transgression.

Achieved traits are up to you, at least in part, and can include your perception of who you are and others’ perceptions, as they related to things you do. It includes your beliefs and paradigms of how things work and how you interact with them. Sometimes it includes your choice of education, fashion, activities, literally everything you do and your behavior in general, how you vote, where you volunteer, and where you work, if you have the resources and awareness of options to be so picky. It include skills you practice, books you read, and subjects you study in school or elsewhere. An importantly overlooked achieved trait or status is how we specifically express our gender or sexual identity. More on that later.

Your identity includes your environment too. You can not separate your environment from your identity, whether it is chosen, like where you go to work, or not. Even if you are a child, are in prison, or economic factors prevent you from leaving a place you don’t want to be, where you are is part of who you are and may be an ascribed or achieved trait. A quick look at literally any survey based on geographic region (read: all of them, unless one is doing the biggest, single characteristic meta-analysis ever) and differences from locale to locale prove the role that location has an influence on, or is at least correlated with, who we are.

Some identity traits can be a combination of ascribed and achieved, or at least appear to be. In a non-scientific review of potential identity traits, many that initially appear combined may be more accurately separated into separate ascribed traits and achieved traits developed in response or as the result of an ascribed trait. For example, the all too common talking point used when denigrating individuals who are not heterosexual: They choose to act on it [with the assumption that it’s wrong]. To unpack this further, sexuality is an ascribed trait. Who you decide to have sex with, how you decide to sexually express yourself may be an achieved trait, but it’s no more reasonable to herald that as proof that sexuality is not ascribed than it is to expect any heterosexual individual to not find a way to express their sexuality.

To separate sexuality into an ascribed trait with achieved statuses may be technically accurate, but hollow in that the argument is not extended to individuals with heterosexual identities. The idea of sexuality as a choice or achieved status has already been appropriately eviscerated in other forums, with good reason. The fact that how one expresses it is a choice while technically accurate, is similarly hollow. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone to not make choices to express their relationship to such a deeply ascribed trait as sexuality.

Many other characteristics are clearly not chosen even when conventional and later fringe wisdom said they were, such as  gender status, including transgender status, but may have connected, achieved traits or statuses. The argument is frequently made that the ways available to express a transgender identity (surgery or literally any other way anyone else expresses their gender identity such as through pronouns, how one fills out forms that ask your gender, grooming habits, fashion choices, etc.) falsely asserts that the decision to express one’s gender identity is separate from the ascribed trait of gender.

The same as a cisgender people can choose a variety of ways to represent themselves, can decide on a variety of ways to identify or not identify as their gender, transgender people can too. And the same way it’s not okay for you to judge the way a cisgender person interprets their identity as it relates to their gender without directly harming others, it’s not okay to assign expectations and judgements to how a transgender person expresses their transgender identity, whether that be through surgery or any of the other number of ways everyone or no else expresses their gender identity.

Race, is now curiously up for debate as being not wholly ascribed, under the guise of being “just a social construct.” This recently popularized argument tends to ignore that it was and is a social construct connected directly to skin color and other physical characteristics, which are traits ascribed by biology. We made race, but we based it on ascribed traits and even if we had not, the society at large ascribed our races to us. While it is accurate to say we play in a role in the continuing cycle of oppression and our race identities, it is not accurate to suggest they are not ascribed anyway.

The fact that we made it up doesn’t mean it’s not connected to other identity characteristics we can not change at will. To suggest that one can simply decide is to completely negate the experience of individuals of color who did not get to choose, and have dealt with the consequences of racism. And even this is a dramatic oversimplification of race, as it does not take into account individuals of mixed race who do not clearly fit into one phenotype or the other. As noted previously, Kimberly McKee, et al, eloquently state why we can not choose our race in their recent article, “Why Co-opting Transracial in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic.”

Identity in the social context: One of the most challenging thing about identity is that our most true sense of our identity is our own, but the way others perceive our identity still impacts our lives and functioning. We can not arbitrarily decide that the intractable, ascribed pieces do not exist, but we can choose to not focus on them when we think of who we are, or minimize their importance compared to other parts of ourselves.

We can choose to focus on whatever we want to focus on when we describe ourselves or in how we act around others, and that is likely to impact their perception of our identity. It’s not a solid guarantee that this will impact how others’ identify us though, or necessarily should. To say “my identity should be only decided by me”, while appearing to be the most moral and reasonable determination, is not practically achievable because we can not divorce ourselves from all social interactions. All social interactions are reflections of the views of the people interacting in them.

In the cases in the news, it includes what we choose to highlight about all of the above when we represent ourselves to others. Caitlyn Jenner could have had transgender individual as part of her ascribed identity, and to her credit chose to be a transgender individual discussing her experience with her identity publicly. Her transgender status may have been ascribed, but how she expresses it is the part of her identity over which she can and has exercised volition.

The intersection of how identity includes your perceptions as well as those of others can be further illustrated with this example. Perhaps your identity includes being very confident in some situations (crisis intervention situations at work), but very insecure in others (large social gatherings). You prefer to emphasize your confidence, and think of yourself as a confident person. However, some friends of yours primarily interact with you at parties where you communicate that you are insecure through nonverbal communication. Which is your true identity? Can any really be excluded?

So identity is as broad as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is” but with lots of facets:

  • What you have control over and what you do not (ascribed vs. achieved traits and statuses)
  • How you think of yourself and perhaps to a lesser extent, and in very specific ways, how others think of you
  • Where you are, whether you chose to be there or not
  • Your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions
  • Parts are concrete (like your birthdate) but others are more fluid by design (your age) or through your decisions (new job, new hobby, new friends)

Identity is as complex as all of the possible things that can make up what you are.

So who are you? When analyzing the identities of those in the news and those around you, which parts are up to your interpretation, which parts are up to theirs, and which parts just are whether the two of you agree or not?

Freedom Winter: The Failure of Truth to Keep Black Men Breathing

Like much of our nation’s civil rights history, the experiences of freedom summer of 1964 can be and have been used to illuminate all of the progress we have made and direct our gaze away from the stagnation that surrounds us today. Look, it seems to say as it shows us old poll tax cards and Klan uniforms. Look at how far we’ve come since then. By shining a light on the barbarities of our past, we are invited to juxtapose them with our present and marvel at how we ever could have harbored such hatred and oppression.

For White America, these sorts of retrospectives—along with Disneyfied films like The Help and Remember The Titans—have the often unintended consequence of helping us to absolve ourselves of our collective past sins and to treat the Civil Rights Era and all that came before it as a separate chapter in American history. White America compartmentalizes and cordons off the actions of our parents and grandparents, operating under the false assumption that we are less prejudiced and less hateful than they were. That we are somehow above all that.

Words from the children of The Freedom Summer in Mississippi

Because that’s what the job is for.
To keep a little freedom bubble
From rising to the surface
And spreading
Everywhere

Pop
Pop

So the job of a cop
Is to stop

Stop
Stop

Those words are 50 years old. They did not come from poets or civil rights workers, but from children. Children who were born and raised in the suffocating stillness of segregation once attendant to the farthest reaches of the Deep South. These were the children of a gross and unfathomable iniquity. They were the grandchildren of sharecroppers and great-great grandchildren of slaves who had toiled in these Delta fields under the hot Mississippi sun longer than memory could recall.

Their words survive today because they were the fruit of Mississippi’s Freedom Summer—written down on lunch bag colored paper with black and green marker at voluntarily attended Freedom Schools by wide-eyed activists who were only beginning to comprehend the ubiquitous and lethal terror that accompanied their students every moment. Right now those words are encased in glass at the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson as a testament to the bravery and humanity of those children, as well as that of their families and the volunteers who worked with them. But, in another sense, the Freedom Summer exhibit is there to illustrate the differences between then and now.

White America draws a million little lines in the sand between Medgar Evers and Mike Brown—between Alabama’s George Wallace and Missouri’s Jay Nixon—between Birmingham cops with fire hoses and Ferguson cops with armored SWAT vehicles—all in an effort to convince ourselves that there’s nothing to see here. So we can just forget about it all and get on with our lives that were never negatively effected by a society that valued our skin color above all others. Put all of those lines together and you have the explanation for why fewer than 3 in 10 white people thought the shooting of Trayvon Martin raised important questions about race or why 85% of whites thought the protesters in Ferguson went too far. In the words of one Ferguson resident, “I feel for everyone involved, [but] I think the protesters just need to go home.”

But the protesters can’t go home. The black men can’t go home because there’s no telling if they’re ever going to get there without some jackbooted thug of a police officer pulling him over for a seatbelt violation and shooting him for doing what he was told or choking him to death for selling cigarettes on the sidewalk. The loved ones of those black men can’t go home either for fear that one night they get there and their father-brother-son-husband-boyfriend-best friend never makes it back because they were murdered by a cop for the crime of walking around a Walmart with a cell phone in his hand and a toy gun on his shoulder in an open carry state.. And once the deed is done and the black man is dead, no one can go home because they know that justice will never be served unless they can somehow lead the eyes of the world to constantly peer over its shoulder.

The truth is not enough. It never has been and probably never will be. All of the members of the Green County grand jury saw the tape. They saw John Crawford pick up an already unpackaged BB gun. They saw him meandering up and down the aisles by the garden center with the toy gun casually slung over his shoulder and talking on the phone with his girlfriend as customer after customer after customer walked by him without apprehension.

They heard the absurd and erroneous set of circumstances being described by a convicted thief and fraudulently enlisted “ex-marine” to a 911 dispatcher and they saw that these claims bore no resemblance to what they saw on the tape and they watched as Beavercreek’s finest stormed into that Walmart and shot John Crawford twice without even the slightest attempt at deescalation or communication beyond violent shouting. Those grand jury members saw all of that evidence that pointed to the inescapable truth that Officer Sean Williams had killed an innocent man in cold blood and they still declined to indict him.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 2.00.07 AM 1

There is a rage that has begun boil over—it is the rage of people who have been reminded with alarming frequency that their lives mean nothing in the eyes of those who hold power. As I type this, the streets of Ferguson are burbling with a white hot anger that has been compressed and condensed over the past few weeks and which has burst forth once more as word is being spread that another body could be awaiting ceremonial pickup from an ambulance that isn’t bound for a hospital, but for a morgue. 50 years ago we had a Freedom Summer down in Mississippi and now, we must prepare for a Freedom Winter.

All of the idealism and hope of the Civil Rights Era has withered away under a half century teeter-totter of progresses and regresses and the torrent of unjustly slain black men’s bodies that has fallen upon us recently. What is left from those long ago days is little more than a 400 year old frustration that has been left to fester and ferment in our “post-racial” nation. A frost is coming America. Bundle up and pray it thaws fast.

Our Social Responsibility in Combating Oppression

As a Social Worker, I am committed to social justice. However, as I have always been on the frontline doing day-to-day work with individuals and families, I left political intervention and macro social work to others. I have spent too much time thinking and feeling that someone would come along and help improve the state of Black America, but I can not stay silent any longer.

We have spent too much time having the same conversations ending with the same list of demands that will never be achieved; and they won’t be achieved because they are unrealistic. As a 33-year-old woman of color, I have heard these demands, but I am more concerned with creating our system of justice than I am with getting others to amend theirs to suit the needs of my community. The Black community in America should consider the following:

Stop believing anyone owes us anything

screen-shot-2010-02-01-at-16-14-521If this is true for individuals trying to succeed in a chosen career, why isn’t it true of a community? How many oppressed people sit back waiting for their oppressors to correct the system of oppression they created for their own benefit? I am aware that the government promised 40 acres and a mule.

What I am not clear on is why we continue to expect people who don’t even see us as human beings to honor a promise that was quickly repealed? It gave with one hand and took it back with the other. Have these demands for a repealed “promise” prove productive or prosperous for us? No. What it has done is keep us locked into poverty and a slave mentality. It is no longer a valid argument and we do ourselves no justice trying to change a system built to deny. We need to move on and forward.

Stop addressing each other as n***ers or any variation of the word

The argument is that by using it we take the power away from the word. The truth is that argument is a blatant lie. What we’ve done is give others not only permission but license to use that diminutive word without any context to its damaging nature. The truth is, I doubt anyone who uses this word (besides those who aren’t people of color) would feel so confident as to walk away from a Caucasian person using this word. The truth is, if they heard this shouted when they were out on their own in the middle of Mississippi, they wouldn’t bother sticking around for an explanation. As long as the word precedes an attack on my person, either physically or verbally, it is unacceptable. We need to stop using the word and stop accepting it from others. We are better than that.

Establish a national Black Caucus

I know there is a congressional caucus that is looking at the representing the interests of the African-American community. However, I am proposing an expansion or a separate entity. The remit would be calling our prominent figures that are doing things that are counterproductive to change, prosperity and/or progression within the community. We would manage public relations of national community issues – sending representatives to rally locals and improve media portrayal of the community. We would prepare local political candidates to represent the community and create local caucuses to help them address the issues prevalent in their own communities. It would be a coming together of local and national leaders.

Local lobby for fair and appropriate representation in communities where we are the majority

We need to work with our young people to help them understand and get into politics. We need to support our own who want to get into politics. We need to support those with track records of supporting or being involved in initiatives that address local concerns. We need to understand politics and the dynamics of representation on a larger scale.

Get our young people involved

We need to get our economists, political science majors, policy makers involved in local government early. Create local internships and fellowships etc so they are talking, strategizing and creating actions plans to move forward locally.

Take notes from other communities on building and circulating wealth within the community

We continue to need educating on finance. Not only on the use of money, credit and the like, but also on investments, financial planning, equity and other issues. We need to build up the work ethic and sense of community/communal assistance. We need to own more and to be educated on how to do this so that we hold on to it. We need to know more about possible tax breaks, write-offs and rebates for volunteer work, pro-bono work etc.

Take responsibility for our own wealth and prosperity

We need to stop relying on “others” to move our community forward on a local level. There are many national programs looking at the bigger picture but we need to empower the “impoverished” so they learn to help themselves. Stop being so comfortable with “others” buying in our neighborhoods when we own nothing. Stop blaming anyone except ourselves for our lack of progress because in truth we haven’t done all we can do. Start accepting the responsibility to ourselves, to each other and to our communities.

Teach and accept social responsibility

We need to help our children and young people gain work experience within their own neighborhoods first and foremost, encourage volunteerism from a young age as a means of community building, developing social skills and local pride while also developing employable skills. We need to make local investments in restorative justice and reparations to discourage crime and rebuild what has been broken. We need to, as adults, model this behaviour for our children and volunteer to help each other and each other’s children.

Understand that if we want change we have to create it. We can’t depend on our oppressors to help us progress. No one will give us anything we haven’t taken. Discussions are important but only as predecessors to action which will facilitate change.

Mississippi Crumbling: The Inheritance of Inequity in The Magnolia State

“Everybody in the Mississippi Delta was a racist, white or black. Racism was built into our bones. It is a thing we will never recover from having committed, but it also had its side that we always benefitted from…I lived in a society that was filled with horrors, as you look back on it. They were not horrors at the time.” – Shelby Foote

They say that time heals all wounds, but the maxim only applies if the wounds are properly tended to. You can’t just leave a gaping sore open to the influence of the oppressive environment in which it was born and it expect it to get better. No, a wound left untended amongst a sea of malignant influences is sure to bloom with miasmatic glory before long. By the same token, no healing is going to take place if the regeneration of flesh is interrupted by a public that believes the best course of action is to perpetually pick at the wound with their cruddy, unwashed fingertips, waiting until little rivulets of pus and blood begin to run down their arm before they finally stop long enough to let it to scab over again. Time alone is sufficient for the mending of paper cuts and carpet burns, but when it comes to the deep, ravenous gashes that cut down to the bone, it is nothing more than an incubation period. The reality is that time is a neutral agent—something that possesses the ability to help and harm our collective injuries in equal measure. It does not heal. It does not hurt. It merely facilitates.

During his Second Inaugural, President Lincoln spoke of the necessity of “binding up the nation’s wounds” and caring for those who had borne the battle if we were ever to see a prolonged peace. He acknowledged the contradictions of war and spoke to the absurdities that spring from it, asking how it could be that two groups of men who read the same Bible and worshiped the same god could pray for victory over their enemy and expect Him to answer one group’s prayer, but not the other. By the end of his address, Lincoln had framed the Civil War and all of the suffering attendant to it as a sort of divine reckoning that had come and would come to pass over a nation which had harvested the fruits of slavery for 250 years,saying:

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

It has been nearly 150 years since President Lincoln let his countrymen know the debt he believed we owed to our creator and, 150 years later, we have yet to pay it off. Well, to be fair, we’ve already paid one half of the debt off. Or at least I hope we have. Call me an optimist, but I would think that the Civil War itself would be enough to atone for all of the blood that had been drawn by the lash during the course of American slavery. That’s not to say that the country didn’t immediately start accruing more cosmic debt from the moment Reconstruction started, but I’d like to think that more than 700,000 gallons of blood in a 4 year span would satiate whatever bloodlust god had up to the point.(1) It’s that whole accumulation of ill-gotten wealth from 250 years unrequited toil part that we’ve never really made a lot of progress on.

A depiction of Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguration in the US Capitol’s Great Experiment Hall

Earlier in his Second Inaugural, Lincoln made a covert dig at the morality of the Confederate position on slavery when he commented on the strangeness of a people asking, “a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” To a modern reader, it might seem like a strange choice of words, but his audience in 1865 was likely to pick up on the biblical allusion Lincoln was making. In the Book of Genesis, god puts a curse upon the ground after discovering that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, telling Adam that, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”With this as context, it would seem that Lincoln is painting the practice of slavery as a violation of god’s will as it is an economic system designed to absolve one group of people from the curse of god on the land by making another group bear twice the burden. It is not so much a condemnation of the particular institution of slavery as it is the practice of systematically exploiting the labor of your fellow-man for unearned personal gain. Had he lived through Reconstruction, I have little doubt that Lincoln would have been just as disgusted with the practices of sharecropping and convict leasing as he was with slavery and that he would have done everything in his power as President to stifle their spread through the South.

But, Lincoln did not live through Reconstruction. In fact, he didn’t even make it through the second month of his second term, thanks to a deranged Confederate sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth who decided it was incumbent upon himself to avenge Old Dixie by assassinating our 16th President in the middle of a showing of Our American Cousin. Tragically, Booth’s nerve was not shared by one of his co-conspirators, George Atzerodt, who was supposed the kill Vice President Andrew Johnson on that same night, but got cold feet. Thus, we had a situation in which the greatest President our nation had ever known was assassinated, only to be replaced by a man who would prove to be the one of the worst we’ve ever had to endure.

From his quick and largely consequence free reinstatement of former Confederate leaders and endorsement of discriminatory Black Codes in many Southern states, to his vetoing of legislation that proposed civil rights increases and an extension for the Freedman’s Bureau, Johnson played the part of the white supremacist savior, effectively killing off any hope that the civil rights of blacks in this country would go beyond mere emancipation in the near future. The slaves had been nominally given their freedom, but Johnson was determined that they shouldn’t be given anything else. Under his watch, the rights and opportunities available to white men would not be extended to any other race and the ascendency of a new American hatred would begin.

In the span of three years, our country went from a President who urged his fellow Americans to have malice towards none and charity towards all to a President who demonized one section of the population for the benefit of another and unironically warned that if the black race, “obtains the ascendency over the [white race], it will govern with reference only to its own interests for it will recognize no common interest–and create such a tyranny as this continent has never yet witnessed.” In Andrew Johnson’s words you can hear the contempt and revulsion for his fellow-man burbling out in a sea of incoherent hatred. You can see his words spurring on the basest nature of the white southern plebians from which he sprang, settling in them a vicious enmity towards their black brothers and sisters that would cause them to ignore the grave injustices being perpetrated against them by their patrician white fellows. Most of all, you can feel that scar tissue that was built up after Gettysburg and Appomatox and Shiloh begin to slowly crack open, exposing those tender wounds of ours to infection and disease and rot. There would be no healing there.

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Despite the inevitable protestations of some of their neighboring states in the deep south, I think there is no question that the State of Mississippi is the most enduring legacy of the Confederacy. Sure, South Carolina can lay claim to being the first state to secede from the union and Alabama can hold tight to the knowledge that their state legislature still meets in the building that was once the Confederate Capitol, but they can’t quite compare with the sheer scope and volume of Mississippi’s rebel worship. South Carolina wants to offend some folks by continuing to fly the Confederate flag at their state capitol? Well, that just means Mississippi’s going to have to one up them and actually stick the stars and bars in the design of their own state flag. Alabama’s feeling pretty good because it named a community college after Jefferson Davis? Mississippi named an entire county after the son of a bitch. Hell, the nickname for the University of Mississippi’s sports teams is the Rebels and, until 2010, the mascot for the school was an antebellum plantation owner named “Colonel Reb”.

But all of those are just some of the cosmetic heirlooms of Mississippi’s Confederate past. Yes, they are racially and culturally insensitive and, yes, they honor the legacies of some of the most oppressive bigots in our nation’s history, but at the end of the day they’re still largely symbolic. The Magnolia State’s true antebellum inheritance can be seen in the day to day lives of the majority of its nearly 3 million residents, who are still shouldering the burden of a white ruling class that has consistently thumbed their nose at President Lincoln’s words of warning by continuing to pile up tarnished wealth from the bondsman’s unrequited toil, even if the bondsman has been relabeled a sharecropper or a minimum-wage worker.

Poverty
Statistically speaking, Mississippi is the most downtrodden and depressing state in all of America.

No matter which direction you go, the signs and symptoms of this perpetual oppression will make themselves readily apparent to you. Drive yourself southeast from Greenville to Gulfport or northwest from Clinton to Corinth—it doesn’t matter. You can drive in concentric circles around Jackson for all I care, because regardless of where you want to start off from or where you plan on going, the end product will be the same: poverty. With nearly 1 in 4 Mississippians living below the poverty line, the Magnolia State is far and away the most impoverished in America, besting the state with the 2nd largest percentage of impoverished residents by more than 3 percentage points. Mississippi can also lay claim to an unmatched ubiquity of poverty as well, as every one of Mississippi’s 82 counties—save DeSoto, Madison and Rankin Counties—has a poverty rate that is above the national average of 15.9%.

Of course, being the poorest state in the union, it should come as no surprise that Mississippi comes in dead last—or first, depending on how you look at it—in a slew of other unenviable categories, but I have to admit that it is still shocking to see just how much worse off Mississippians are then everyone else in the country. How bad is it? Well, Mississippi ranks last in median household income, per capita personal income, overall health outcomes,diabetes rates, obesity rates, average life expectancy, cardiovascular deaths, infant mortality, infants with low birthweight, teen pregnancy rate and high school graduation rates. Statistically speaking, Mississippi is the most downtrodden and depressing state in all of America. The only consolation they can glean from their collective misfortune is that the rest of the South is, to varying degrees, experiencing the same health, wealth and education disparities as they are. In fact, things are so bad in the South that the region is responsible for 11 of the 12 twelve states with the lowest life expectancies(2) and can point to only one state (Virginia) that has a median household income higher than the national average. I’m not positive on this one, but I’m pretty sure that dropping out of high school, having a baby when you’re 15, getting a meager paycheck and dying early isn’t what folks mean when they talk about preserving “the Southern way of life.”

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(1) For those wondering where the 700,000 gallon number came from and want to nerd out, keep reading. If the average percentage of the human body that is blood is about 7% and the average Civil War soldier weighed 143 lbs, that would mean that the average Civil War soldier had roughly 10 lbs of blood in him. Now, if you know that there are 8.85 lbs in a gallon of blood, then you can figure out that 10 lbs of blood—or one soldier—is about 1.13 gallons Then, all you have to do is multiply those 1.13 gallons by the number of casualties in the Civil War, which was about 620,000, and you have the final figure of 700,600 gallons of blood.

(2) The abberant 12th state here is West Virginia, who is pretty well situated just above Mississippi as the 2nd worst in many of these metrics. West Virginia could be classified as part of a very loosely defined South, but for the most part it’s simply an Appalachian no man’s land, with no definitive association with folks on either side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Tackling Discrimination At Work Comes At A Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redistricting: The Hidden Side of Voter Suppression

by Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director SCSJ

On Monday, January 6, 2014 the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) presented oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court, urging the court to find that the 2011 redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

NC Gerrymander Map
NC Gerrymander Map

During the summer 2013 trial, SCSJ represented several statewide nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, The North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Democracy NC, and the NC NAACP, seeking to overturn racially-packed voting districts in North Carolina in the consolidated cases Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. NC. On July 8, 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in North Carolina state court unanimously rejected all challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate.

SCSJ has argued that redistricting maps were racial gerrymanders, unfairly dividing the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.  In doing so, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited.

SCSJ also argues that the plans violate the North Carolina constitution’s demand for geographically compact districts.  The enacted plans contain districts that are grossly non-compact and split far more precincts than prior or alternative plans.

Post-election analysis conducted by SCSJ and presented at trial showed that the 2011 redistricting plan placed one in four North Carolina voters into “split precincts,” leading to widespread confusion about who would be on the voter’s ballot on Election Day and resulting in the actual disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. These districts also placed a difficult burden on elections officials, who often struggled to assign voters living in split precincts to the correct districts. Across the state, thousands of voters assigned to the wrong district received the wrong ballot on Election Day. Those living in minority communities were disproportionately affected by this error. All of this evidence was presented to the State Supreme Court by SCSJ.

“Racial gerrymandering to create separate ‘white’ and ‘black’ districts is both wrong and unconstitutional. We need to get out of the mindset that black voters will only elect a black candidate and white voters will only elect a white candidate – this just isn’t true anymore. In the end, racially packed voting districts take away the ability of all racial groups to elect candidates of their choice,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of SCSJ client the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Inc.

“More than 2,500 voters in just seven monitored counties lost their right to vote in 2012 because of the unprecedented way district lines zigzagged through precincts and neighborhoods in order to divide voters by race,” said Bob Hall, executive director of SCSJ client Democracy North Carolina. “That kind of disenfranchisement points to the serious problems with what amounts to computerized apartheid – and hopefully the court will say it must stop.”

Relevant court filings are available below:

Plaintiff-Appellants’ Reply Brief

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order

Amicus Brief 1

Amicus Brief 2:

Amicus Brief 3

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