Hate Sites Using the Wider Abortion Argument to Spread Racism and Extremism

By Anthony Crider; cropped by Beyond My Ken (talk) 20:37, 9 April 2018 (UTC) – Charlottesville “Unite the Right” Rally, CC BY 2.0,

White supremacists are using the debate around women’s reproductive rights to promote racist and extremist agendas, finds a new study released today – following news on Friday that millions of women in the US will lose the constitutional right to abortion.

US white nationalists are heading on to a Neo-Nazi website, ‘Stormfront’, in order to recruit more people to their way of thinking. Whilst online they describe abortions by white women, as ‘murder’ and look to “weaponize” the procedure. However, the extremists reason abortion by non-white women as ‘acceptable’ or even ‘desirable’ because, they argue, the procedure could solve threats to white dominance – including the “urgent need to limit third world populations”.

The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Information, Communication & Society, come following a detailed computer-aided analysis of more than 30,000 posts, spanning over two decades on the site.

The study authors warn that their evidence highlights how white extremists “weaponize” abortion arguments to attract recruits, using the political debate as a gateway argument that invites them to dive deeper into white male supremacy ideology.

“Our study shows that science, medicine, and conspiracy theories meet on the dark corners of the internet,” says lead researcher Dr. Yotam Ophir at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, USA.

“The result is the creation and spread of dangerous racist and misogynistic ideas. These are often born in extremists’ platforms, but have spilled over into mainstream politics and discourse.”

Abortion rights are a fiercely contested issue in the US. On Friday, the Supreme Court overturned its 50-year-old Roe v Wade decision, in a judgment that therefore entitles individual states to ban the procedure.

Specifically, in this research, Dr. Ophir and his team wanted to better understand how white nationalists not only use abortion debates online to further their cause, but also apply different moral standards to whites and non-whites.

By analyzing posts made between 2001 and 2017 on Stormfront – a discussion board founded by former Ku Klax Klansman, Don Black – the authors found a marked difference in the way far-right extremists conceptualized abortions for whites versus non-whites.

Abortions among white women were described as ‘murder’. Using an entire topic labeled ‘avoid abortions’, Stormfront users accused white women considering terminations as being “deeply unethical” and even “treasonous” to the white race and their gender role. For example, talking about abortions among white women, a user stated that “abortion is the worst thing of all, it is killing a child. Killing a child is worse than bringing him/her up without a father. Adoption is always an option”.

Whereas with non-white women, posts often excused abortion: in order to limit non-white populations.

The authors say that such discourse could be used to recruit members and to “normalize extreme, racist ideologies”.

To protect the public, Dr. Ophir says people, including children, need better tools to navigate the “misleading information environment that is the 21st century”.

Additional themes identified on Stormfront included “The Great Replacement conspiracy theory” – a supposed plot to replace white people with non-white immigrants that is said to have inspired the Buffalo grocery store killings suspect.

Something, which Dr. Ophir and colleagues argue needs more attention from the mainstream press, as they are concerned there is a spread of the ‘great replacement conspiracy’.

“Potential solutions should not end with social media and the internet. We also need to pay more attention to the rise of such conspiratorial thinking among television channels like Fox News and prominent political figures,” he says.

Stormfront posts analyzed by the team were supplied to the researchers by the Southern Poverty Law Center and by other academics.

The site is focused on propagating white nationalism, antisemitism, and islamophobia, as well as anti-Hinduism, anti-feminism, homophobia, transphobia, Holocaust denial, anti-Catholicism, and white supremacy. As of 2015, the Stormfront website was estimated to have more than 300,000 registered members.

Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America

Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health and social problems as a function of income inequality. In a newly published article, Bettina Beech, clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine and chief population health officer at UH, examines poverty and racism as factors influencing health.

“A common narrative for the relatively high prevalence of poverty among marginalized minority communities is predicated on racist notions of racial inferiority and frequent denial of the structural forms of racism and classism that have contributed to public health crises in the United States and across the globe,” Beech reports in Frontiers in Public Health. “Racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that diminishes prospects for population health improvement among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, but despite its collective wealth, the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.” The goal of population health is to achieve health equity, so that every person can reach their full potential.

Though overall wealth has risen in recent years, growth in economic and financial resources has not been equally distributed. Black families in the U.S. have about one-twentieth the wealth of their white peers on average. For every dollar of wealth in white families, the corresponding wealth in Black households is five cents.

“Wealth inequality is not a function of work ethic or work hour difference between groups. Rather, the widening gap between the affluent and the poor can be linked to unjust policies and practices that favor the wealthy,” said Beech. “The impact of this form of inequality on health has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as the economically disadvantaged were more likely to get infected with SARS CoV-2 and die.”

A Very Old Problem 

In the mid-1800’s, Dr. James McCune Smith wrote one of the earliest descriptions of racism as the cause of health inequities and ultimately health disparities in America. He explained the health of a person “was not primarily a consequence of their innate constitution, but instead reflected their intrinsic membership in groups created by a race structured society.”

Over 100 years later, the Heckler Report, the first government-sanctioned assessment of racial health disparities, was published. It noted mortality inequity was linked to six leading causes of preventable excess deaths for the Black compared to the white population (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, chemical dependency and homicide/unintentional injury).

It and other reports led to a more robust focus on population health over the last few decades that has included a renewed interest in the impact of racism and social factors, such as poverty, on clinical outcomes.

The Myth of Meritocracy

Beech contends that structural racism harms marginalized populations at the expense of affording greater resources, opportunities and other privileges to the dominant white society.

“Public discourse has been largely shaped by a narrative of meritocracy which is laced with ideals of opportunity without any consideration of the realities of racism and race-based inequities in structures and systems that have locked individuals, families and communities into poverty-stricken lives for generations,” she said. “Coupled with a lack of a national health program this condemns oppressed populations such as Black and Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and disproportionately non-English speaking immigrants and refugees to remain in poverty and suffer from suboptimal health.”

Keys to Improvement

The World Health Organization identified three keys to improving health at a global level that each reinforces the impact of socioeconomic factors: (1) improve the conditions of daily life; (2) tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and (3) develop a workforce trained in and public awareness of the social determinants of health.

The report’s findings highlight the need to implement health policies to increase access to care for lower-income individuals and highlight the need to ensure such policies and associated programs are reaching those in need.

“Health care providers can directly address many of the factors crucial for closing the health disparities gap by recognizing and trying to mitigate the race-based implicit biases many physicians carry, as well as leveraging their privilege to address the elements of institutionalized racism entrenched within the fabric of our society, starting with social injustice and human indifference,” said Beech.

Getting It Wrong, Making It Right: A Call to White Helping Professionals

Audre Lorde famously wrote that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and in 2020, few passages ring truer. According to the National Association of Social Workers, the profession is meant to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people.” We want to help clients and organizations identify tools for survival, healing, and growth, but what we say we’re about and what we’re actually doing don’t always line up. The SWHelper-run Anti-Racism Virtual Summit on September 16 and 17 in 2020 offered a space for social workers and other helping professions to reflect on and rebuild our toolboxes. Speakers Crystal Hayes and Dr. Jennifer Jewell used their workshop, Dismantling White Supremacy in Social Work, to explore the field’s racist history and to offer steps that providers can take to transform our work. (You can learn more about this year’s Anti-Racism Virtual Summit here, taking place October 26th and the 27th.)

In last year’s event, Hayes, MSW, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut, and Jewell, Ph.D., the Director of Social Work at Salisbury University, depicted a steep uphill battle from complicity to transformation, initiated by progressive leaders but in need of more support. Hayes, a Black feminist reproductive justice advocate, opened the workshop with a powerful reflection on colonialism and the cultural genocide of Indigenous and First Nations people, whose sacred land we occupy. In truth, many of our struggles (colonialism, police brutality, and the climate crisis, to name a few) share the same root problem: white supremacy. Critical race theorist Frances Lee Ansley characterized white supremacy as the systematic hoarding of power and resources by White people paired with widespread views of Whites as dominant and non-Whites as subordinate. This is the foundation on which the social work profession was built and the fire from which many “helping” tools were forged. 

Deep-Roots

Hayes’ call for an intersectional, decolonized approach to social work requires us to take off our rose-colored glasses and take a hard look at our origin story. Jane Addams, often lauded as the mother of social work and a leader for suffrage (a movement imbued with racism), was no saint. Addams, the 1931 recipient of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize and a celebrated figure even today, was also an example of segregation, paternalism, and gatekeeping in action. It is not enough to quickly admit these flaws and move on; we need to sit with the full weight of the damage inflicted, to understand how deep our racist roots reach. There is no quick fix for the discomfort we feel, but we can learn and grow from it. Less than 100 years later, the field is still dominated by White women, beneficiaries of white supremacy just as Addams was.

From segregated settlement houses to the sanctioned kidnapping of Indigenous children and disparate rates of removal of Black children from their families, to eugenics and the forced sterilization of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, our field has been using tools of oppression, not liberation. All signs point back to white supremacy: these disparities happen in settings where social workers hold power and control decision-making. We see ourselves as progressive saviors, but we have also done deep harm, not just healing. These legacies are not a relic of our past, either. They have lived on through redlining, internment camps, prisons, and the ICE detention centers where women today still endure needless hysterectomies under the supervision of doctors who were spoon-fed covert racism in their training. Health and economic outcomes from COVID-19 show plainly that racism still touches all the spaces where social workers practice. 

Evolving the Social Work Profession

The “ah-ha” moment of Hayes’ and Jewell’s presentation emerged when Jewell gets at the difference between non-racist and anti-racist. Ibram Kendi teaches that anti-racism is a verb, and non-racism does not exist at all. As Jewell put it, “kind does not equal anti-racist.” Kindness and decency are not liberation tools, but anti-racism – actively working to take down oppressive systems – is. Social work did not begin as an anti-oppression movement, but it can become one. Research consistently shows that the whole profession needs an overhaul. Not sure where to start? Here are a few places to focus your attention:

  1. Education access and integrity. We can look upstream to the racialized K-12 opportunity gaps and school to prison pipeline that create barriers for future change-makers. Academic institutions must make schooling affordable; pursuing an MSW requires wealth or strong credit, but wealth is directly connected to race because of white supremacy, perpetuating the cycle. Student unions can demand anti-oppression commitments from field placement sites and protest the exploitative norm of unpaid internships
  2. Policy reform. Social workers need to be explicitly anti-racist and reflect on how our identities and biases help or hinder our effectiveness in clinical and macro roles alike. There is a time and place for us to surrender our privilege as much as there is a time to leverage it for change and reform in law enforcement, child welfare, and the many other settings where we operate. 
  3. Decentering whiteness. In schools, we can decolonize curricula to showcase the contributions of BIPOC providers in social work theory, research, and practice. In our agencies, we should prioritize the recruitment, retention, and promotion of people from the communities directly impacted by racial oppression. We can look to community-led revolutions like Black settlement houses, the Black Panther Party, and BLM for best practices on equity and healing. 
  4. Accompliceship and accountability. Being accomplices against white supremacy means reconsidering how we share the air – are we whitesplaining oppression to BIPOC clients and colleagues but staying silent when oppression occurs, expecting them to call it out? Racism going under our radar is not an excuse – it is a symptom of the problem. Most of all, when we get it wrong (as we all do), we must be accountable and commit to doing better.

Like most revolutions, the charge is being led by young people: doctoral and graduate students in the field, community organizers, and clients who experienced harm at the hands of oppressive systems. Not only White social workers but all White “helping” professionals have an ethical responsibility to unpack our toolboxes and to get rid of what’s broken. After all, liberation work is about impact, not intent. Some people would call a hammer a tool, and others would call it a weapon; who holds it and how they swing it is what makes the difference.

NASW Apologizes for Past Racist Practices in American Social Work

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the nation looks at its long, cruel history of systemic racism, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) acknowledges that our profession and this association have not always lived up to our mission of pursuing social justice for all. NASW apologizes for supporting policies and activities that have harmed people of color.

“The murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in the early months of the pandemic spurred our country and NASW to directly address the effects of racism in our social institutions and among social workers,” said NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “While NASW continues to offer anti-racist training in communities, publicly denounces violence and advocates tirelessly for anti-racist policy changes, we must also acknowledge the role the social work profession has played in supporting discriminatory systems and programs for decades.”

For instance:

  • Progressive Era social workers built and ran segregated settlement houses
  • Social worker suffragists blocked African Americans from gaining the right to vote
  • Prominent social workers supported eugenics theories and programs
  • Social workers helped recruit Black men into the infamous Tuskegee Experiment
  • Social workers participated in the removal of Native American children from their families and placement in boarding schools
  • Social workers also took part in intake teams at Japanese internment camps during World War II
  • And since the founding of the profession, bias among some social workers has limited delivery of health care, mental health treatment, and social services to people of color.

These and other examples are uncomfortable truths. But they also reinforce our commitment to ending racism in the social work field and working with strong coalition partners to dismantle oppressive and racist policies, systems, and practices across our country.  Social workers are called by our Code of Ethics to fight injustice in all its forms and to honor the dignity and worth of all people. While we at times have fallen short of this ideal, our profession has recently reinvigorated and expanded its racial equity mandate.  Details of this work are included in the newly released report, Undoing Racism through Social Work: NASW Report to the Profession on Racial Justice Priorities and Action.

“NASW, the social work profession, and our society have made much progress on achieving racial equity in the last few generations, but there is still a long, challenging road ahead,” NASW President Mildred “Mit” Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW, said. “Be assured that NASW will not tire in our quest to help our nation eliminate racism and achieve justice and liberation for all Americans.”

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

Remember the First Presidential Debate – Where Our Presidential Candidates Stand

The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place on September 29, 2020. The 90-minute debate featured a series of bitter exchanges and name-calling as Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox struggled to facilitate the conversation. Wallace repeatedly admonished the president for disregarding debate rules and interrupting Biden’s speaking time. A “will you shut up, man…It’s hard to get any word in with this clown” from Biden serves as a recap of how the night went and resonates with many of the American people.

Among the six debate topics, the issue of race and violence in our cities was prompted followed by a question to gauge each candidate’s ability to combat race issues. In response, Trump claimed that he was better suited than Biden to eliminate these issues and is “doing better than any Republican has done in a long time” – an opinion that is unpopular among Black and Brown voters. The President also referenced the 1994 Crime Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that reinforced punitive responses to deter crime and incentivized states to build more prisons. In an effort to weaken Biden’s arguments, Trump accused Biden of referring to Black people as superpredators. Biden refuted Trump’s accusations with the statement “I did not say that. I’ve never said that.”

Fact- Check: Did Biden Call Black People Superpredators?

According to NBC News, Trump’s accusation was “mostly false.” In fact, it was Hillary Clinton, the former United States Secretary of State, who used the term in support of the 1994 Crime Bill. However, Biden, a co-author of the law, did warn of “predators” in a 1993 floor speech he delivered in support of the bill. According to Biden’s speech in 1993, predators were “beyond the pale” and must be sanctioned away from the rest of society because the criminal legal system does not know how to rehabilitate them. Since then, Biden has publicly apologized for his past stance on criminal legal issues and admitted that the decisions made in that era “trapped an entire generation.”

The term “superpredator” was coined in 1996 by John Dilulio, a Princeton professor who predicted that a wave of ruthless, violent young offenders was on the horizon. According to Dilulio’s theory, these young people were so impulsive that they could engage in violent crimes without hesitation or remorse. A 1997 report published by the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice found that juvenile courts in the United States processed more than 1.7 million delinquency cases in 1995, a 7-percent increase over the 1994 caseload and a 45-percent increase over the number of caseloads handled in 1986. Compounding an influx of juvenile proceedings was significant research suggesting a strong relationship between childhood adversity and involvement with the juvenile or adult criminal systems. Eventually, public officials supported Dilulio’s theory, which resulted in tough-on-crime policies for young and adult offenders across the country. 

While it is true that incarceration rates were already high by 1994, the passage of the federal crime bill disproportionately impacted communities of color. The bill exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities in state prisons by deploying more police into neighborhoods of color. Considered “one of the cornerstone statutes that accelerated mass incarceration,” a combination of more prisons, racial profiling, and mandatory minimum sentencing funneled a generation of Black and Brown people into the juvenile and criminal legal system. Today, The United States and federal prison population has increased since 1994 and widened racial disparities. According to a 2020 data analysis, more than 60% of people in prison today are people of color and Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, with Hispanic men being 2.7 times as likely. Consistent with both candidates’ remarks, the Black and Brown community continues to bear the harshest brunt of discriminatory policies and practices. 

Fight the Fake: The Importance of Fact-Checking and How to Recognize A False Claim

In a world with unlimited access to social media and the internet, fact-checking is conducive to making informed voting decisions. Making informed voting decisions means that an individual is knowledgeable about the topics and positions of candidates who are running for office. Additionally, it means that an individual is able to make their own decisions without influence from outside factors, including misinformation found online. Acknowledging that fact-checking is not always an easy task, especially with constant, savvy efforts against it and persuasive content, here are five ways to combat misinformation and cast informed votes:

  • Detect whether the statement is a claim of fact.
    • When a statement that you heard jumps out to you, ask yourself if it is a claim of fact. It’s important to note that opinion, rhetoric, and satire have a place in public debate. Although you can not fact-check opinion, fact-checkable claims can be easily spotted. Sometimes, these claims feature tangible nouns (housing or insurance), numbers, and comparisons (“the economy is doing better under my administration”), and they also contain statements about what a candidate has achieved.
  • Think about the context of the claim.
    • It may be helpful to ask yourself what the claim leaves out. When a candidate claims to have influenced massive economic growth, for example, it’s important to look into the status of the economy before the candidate was elected into office.
  • Find reliable sources to test the validity of the claim.
    • Depending on the claim you are fact-checking, the best sources may be government-run websites and records, peer-reviewed articles with large sample sizes, or well-known organizations with credibility such as The Commission on Presidential Debates.
  • Is the candidate claiming credit that is not due?
    • Another misleading trick is to claim credit for something that was the result of another elected official’s agenda. If an elected official claims that they combated systemic issues while in office, it’s worthwhile to dig deeper to see who was responsible for the specific changes they are referring to. 
  • Accept that you’ll have critics.
    • Lastly, it’s important to recognize that you will have critics. As you know, everyone is entitled to their opinion even if it is different than your own. However, that does not mean you have to conform- you have the autonomy to make decisions based on your lived experiences. 

All in all, ignore the Twitter and Facebook trolls and make informed decisions for you and your loved ones. Despite how advanced and easily accessible information is on TV, social media, and the internet, it is ultimately up to you to remain vigilant and seek the truth.

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.”

Discussing White Supremacy: Having Difficult Conversations Are Required and Not Optional

By Authors: Hoge, Hayes, Hostetter, Fisher, Watson, Yearwood, Plummer, Barbera, & Washington

“The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?”Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

In the Winter 2020 edition of The New Social Worker, three founders of #MacroSW published an article entitled “Calling In Call-Out Culture: Social Workers Having Difficult Conversations Ethically on Social Media.” Being an organization that primarily exists on Twitter, they expressed a “keen awareness” for the importance of interacting respectfully in digital spaces, describing themselves as an online “safe space” where social work students, professionals, and academics can lean into difficult conversations about macro practice. They offered as a sign of their success the victory of having avoided most negative confrontations online. This, they believe, had allowed the social work community to engage in productive conversations, even those that have involved provocative topics.

What ensued after the publication of the article was backlash from activists who had been advocating that #MacroSW be more intentional in its conversations about white supremacy. Prior to the publication of the article, two activists had reached out to the organization to ask that a chat take place focusing specifically on white supremacy in social work education, and that the topic of white supremacy be folded into already scheduled chats. These activists are members of an organization called SWCAREs, a newly founded coalition of social workers whose primary mission is dismantling white supremacy in social work education.

Many readers here bore witness to the fallout that ensued after this article was published, which included both activists speaking out about what they believed were mischaracterizations of their work, one of the authors then removing her name from the article to avoid pointed confrontation, another issuing a thoughtful self-reflective public apology, the #MacroSW organization itself issuing its own public apology, and finally, The New Social Worker retracting the article altogether.

In an effort to learn from this experience, SWCAREs thought it would be productive to explicitly detail the manner in which white supremacy manifested in the events leading up to the publication of #MacroSW’s article, and how it is reflective of the wider social work community as a whole. We believe that it is time for our field to take a long and difficult self-inventory and identify some of the ways we have partnered with white supremacy in our education, practice, and implementation of social justice.

Stating the Problem – White Supremacy Culture

Those of us engaged in social work are well-versed in the discomfort of emotionally charged conversations, whether they be online or in person. What begins as a minor disagreement can often devolve into a personal attack in what seems like an instant. At the same time, we know that emotionally charged conversations can also be a catalyst for change.

We want to be clear that we believe that #MacroSW is doing the very hard work of reflecting on their organizational culture and taking steps to challenge racism both inside and outside of their organization. This article is not meant to throw any shade in their direction. In fact, it is to commend them for their reflection and to use what happened as a tool for learning. The best opportunities for learning arise from not getting it right in the first place.  

In her article “White Supremacy Culture,” Tema Okun identifies the “norms and standards” that uphold white supremacy culture within organizations. These characteristics are rarely spoken about explicitly, but instead are upheld through the attitudes in favor of and/or against the behavior of comprised members. “These attitudes and behaviors can show up in any group or organization,” says Okun, “whether it is white-led or predominantly white or people of color-led or predominantly people of color.”

Below we will outline some of the characteristics that Okun identifies, and how they manifested in recent events, as well as how they emerge within social work organizations specifically. We hope to use the retraction of the “Calling In Calling Out Culture” article as an example of how white supremacy was effectively challenged in the culture at #MacroSW and how it was so easily missed prior to the article being published.

  1. 1. Perfectionism: For social work academics and students, perfectionism can feel like a self-driven curse, an internally generated standard of proficiency that defines our worth in the field. For those of us who teach, we have seen the toll that grade insecurity can take on our students. In social work academia, perfectionism can look like a professor creating rigid attendance policies and/or unreachable grading standards. It can also look like a student’s internalization of the inability to meet these requirements, assuming themselves to be incapable or a failure. The effect of perfectionism is that a person becomes a sum of their mistakes, as opposed to an imperfect human worthy of value and expected to fall short sometimes.

In the since retracted article, #MacroSW defended against having a specific conversation about white supremacy because they were concerned about their inability to find an appropriate facilitator: “We want someone who is experienced with addressing White supremacy, with facilitating Twitter chats, and who can continually re-focus the chat on the topic, with respect, tact, and perhaps even humor.”

We want to be clear that while we do believe that there are facilitators who would embody all of these characteristics (whether we believe they are all necessary or even productive is another conversation), their inability to find a perfect match for this conversation led to zero conversation happening at all. Ironically, it is in the failure to have any discussion at all that white supremacy reared its head, perpetuating the silence that is often complicit in maintaining a culture where racism thrives.

Insight: Perfectionism – Oftentimes, social work organizations will avoid the difficult work of self-reflection as it relates to its complicity with white supremacy. We do so out of fear of making mistakes. After all, if a person is indeed a sum of their mistakes, perfectionism can quickly transform an act of racial ignorance into a person internalizing themselves as racist. Instead of demanding perfection of ourselves, we must work toward a culture of appreciation for challenging conversations, specifically the discomfort that comes with embracing accountability. Essentially, doing what is right does not always mean saying everything perfectly. It means being willing to make mistakes, humbly apologize, and then commit to the hard work of moving forward.

We’d like to point out that the issued apologies from #MacroSW and Patricia Shelly speak to this final point, as they pointed out a commitment to self-reflection and organizational change. As uncomfortable as these apologies might have been to write, we believe that they led to successful growth for all parties involved, even though they would likely have been perceived as a failure if viewed through the lens of perfectionism.

  1. 2. Defensiveness and Power Hoarding: As social workers, many of us know the defensive posture that an institution will take when confronted with its complicity in perpetuating white supremacy. Institutions who have a vested interest in the values of equity and open mindedness can be even more defensive. Social work organizations are expected to effectively serve oppressed communities, and so many of us are reluctant to reflect on how our own efforts have continued to oppress those we believe we are helping.

Prior to the article being written, there were efforts to create conversation around the topic of how white supremacy manifests in social work academia, (i.e., tone policing, gatekeeping, whitewashing of history, etc.). While this is often a critique of academia in general, we feel it is especially urgent for social work education programs to prioritize requests such as these. Unfortunately, it is infinitely more difficult for social workers to reflect on the manner in which they might be allied with oppression. Who are we if our “help” is hurting? What does it say about us if our “service” is causing harm?

In an effort to avoid the sinking reality that our actions may be out of line with our values, many social work organizations will attempt to avoid self-reflection altogether, instead mounting a defense against those who are aggrieved. This was the misstep that the authors took in publishing “Calling In Call-Out Culture.” By centering on the comfort of individuals in power over the valid reactions of the ignored and aggrieved, #MacroSW positioned themselves as a group worthy of support and those harmed deserving of silence and scrutiny. The result of this defensive posture is that power is hoarded and maintained, and the original request for a conversation about white supremacy becomes irrelevant.

Insight: Defensiveness and Power Hoarding. It is especially threatening for social workers to think of themselves as oppressive. Many of us tether our inherent value as people to qualities of compassion, kindness, and a shared commitment to serve vulnerable communities. However, without committing to improving our racial literacy, we conversely run the risk of becoming an ally to the oppressor as opposed to those who are oppressed.

Without challenging white supremacy culture in social work education, we will end up prioritizing universities over students. Without challenging disparities that exist in health care facilities, we will ultimately protect a system that disenfranchises instead of empowering the patients in need of care. Without dismantling the power that exists in nonprofit social work organizations, we run the risk of exploiting the needs of a community for personal gain as opposed to dismantling the power that created that need in the first place.

  1. 3. Fear of Open Conflict / Right to Comfort: To many of us who live and work in activist spaces, the idea that we need a “safe space” to speak on issues of race can be frustrating. As social workers, we certainly want to ensure that our interventions embrace autonomy and agency for all participants. However, this demand for “safety” is more often an unjustifiable demand for comfort.

In her book, “White Fragility,” Robin DiAngelo explicitly speaks to this when she points out that this insistence by white people that they experience racial comfort will ultimately shut down the necessary conversations to dismantle racism. She goes on to say that “this insistence also functions to punish those who break white codes of comfort.” We see this taking place in our work through the weaponization of terms like “civility,” “politeness,” and in the case of the retracted article, a call for “professionalism” and “ethics.” 

When reflecting on the publication and then retraction of “Calling In, Call-Out Culture,” we can see how this fear of open conflict not only shut down an important conversation about race, but then sublimated this discomfort into punitive actions towards those who spoke out, embodying the punishment DiAngelo illuminates. We cannot think of a more disturbing accusation than to challenge the ethics of social workers who speak out against racism, simply because it made White social workers (in positions of power) uncomfortable.

Insight: White people often conflate feeling uncomfortable with feeling unsafe. Not only does this shut down necessary conversations about racism, but as DiAngelo spells out, it also “trivializes our history of brutality towards people of color and perverts the reality that is history.” 

We must expect for white supremacy culture to redefine and weaponize terms like “comfort,” “professionalism”, “civility,” “kindness,” “politeness,” “empathy,” and even “love” in an effort to maintain power. Anti-racism demands that we instead radicalize these terms and lean into the discomfort that is a professional conversation about race, a radical empathy and love that centers on the demand for equity and justice over the complacency of comfort. We must embrace the unfortunate reality that racism exists in all of us. The fact that our field is comprised of approximately 68% white people makes this infinitely more urgent.  

Processing

In her plenary interview at the 2020 Society for Social Work and Research, Feminista Jones called on our field to reflect on its complicity in oppressing marginalized populations. “Social work has destroyed generations of communities’ self-determination in the name of white benevolence” she said. This call to action is one that could not be more timely, as we see social workers engaging in a child welfare system that disproportionately separates Black and Brown families; social workers partnering with the judicial system in their “treatment” of individuals (disproportionately Black and Brown) arrested for drug and alcohol offenses; and ultimately, social workers profiting from community needs without involving themselves in efforts to dismantle the power that created those needs in the first place. 

We must summon the courage to have productive conversations about racism in our field. White workers especially need to reflect on the defensiveness we feel when we are confronted with white supremacy culture, and how we benefit from the existence of it in our institutions and our interpersonal conversations. We must create a discipline around self-reflection, increase our stamina for holding discomfort, and continually ask ourselves where we are centering our engagement – is it on the needs of the oppressed or the comfort of those who fear change?

We sincerely hope that the fallout from the article “Calling in Call-Out Culture” will serve as an education for our entire field. We trust that all parties will continue to focus on our shared code of ethics, one that prioritizes social justice and equity. We also ask that readers reflect on what it means to be ethical and professional in social justice movements. This work is not easy and it is rarely comfortable. It is almost never perfect. That said, we believe that our profession is up to the challenge, and we look forward to continuing to organize with one another, roll up our sleeves, and get the job done.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Racial disproportionality and disparity in child welfare. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

DiAngelo, R. (2019). White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. London: Allen Lane.

Okun, T. (2001). White Supremacy Culture. In Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change. Retrieved from http://www.dismantlingracism.org/white-supremacy-culture.html.

Zgoda, K, Shelly, P., and West, R. (2020, January 8). Calling In Call-Out Culture. The New Social Worker Magazine. Volume 27, Number 1., 26-28. (Retraction published January 13, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/calling-in-call-out-culture-social-workers-having-difficult-conversations-social-media/).

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.

Examining White Privilege: What’s the Fear?

Dickinson student Leda Fisher asks the question “Should White Boys Still be Allowed to Talk?” in her opinion piece in the college’s daily news publication, The Dickinsonian.  Reportedly, Ms. Fisher indicates that she has received overwhelming support in response to her piece.  However, the backlash and negative comments have been swift and brutal, including calls for her expulsion.  The opinion piece has gone viral, which presents the opportunity to explore why her comments have pushed so many buttons.  Specifically, examining the role of higher education, exploring constructs related to power, and the impact of cumulative rage are issues for further consideration.

The Role of Higher Education

We expect colleges and universities to value freedom of speech, to support the development and expression of thought, and to expose students to new ideas.  However, these priorities come with challenges, including the challenge to listen while feeling uncomfortable. The evidence about white male dominance in the classroom and other life settings is clear.  Being silenced, mansplained, and not having room for diverse views are routine characteristics of school and work environments for women and people of color. It is unclear why Dickinson students would not be glad for the insight that Fisher provides about her experience, and appreciative for her courage in putting such a perspective out there. Further, as a woman of color at a majority white school, why would her vulnerability not be supported? Supporting vulnerability is also the role of students in higher education.

Power

Feminism, since its inception, has been acknowledging and understanding power.  Contemporary feminist theory speaks about the definition of power as “the capacity to produce change “ (Jean Baker Miller, 1991), and notes that power itself is not bad/wrong/evil.  In fact, there is an understanding that power is what helps us make decisions about our lives and move us forward. The distinction is made of the difference between “power over” which speaks to how one uses their power to impact themselves and others;  and the “power with” approach, where we can share in the capacity to produce individual, organizational, and collective change. “Power with” does not necessarily mean that you lose anything; it means that you gain the perspective and respect of others. As this understanding deepens, it promotes mutual benefit.

The question to those of us who are white is, can you sit quietly and really listen to the experience of someone else?  Can you share power? Just as being heard and having a voice is critical to healthy psychological development, the experience of not having a voice is also a critical experience in one’s life.  Suppressing your voice for a moment so that you can listen to another does not make you weak. It makes you vulnerable in the best possible way. It helps you to grow in your understanding of another person’s experience, and it gives you knowledge which will undoubtedly help you in future interactions with those similar and different from you.

Some of the response to the op-ed seem to focus on a perspective that Fisher is “being racist” for making generalizations about white boys, and that such generalizations are “just as bad” as the racism experienced by people of color. She has subsequently responded to this accusation with the prevailing definition of racism which speaks to systematic efforts to marginalize others based on race.

Yes, Ms. Fisher makes generalizations and it is understood that the generalizations do not apply to 100% of the white male population.  But she is naming a prevalent and universal experience a Why is it so difficult to see the position of power and privilege that white boys occupy?  I speak for myself, and not for Ms. Fisher, but it is understood that it is not your fault that you have such privilege.

It is understood that you did not ask for it, and you may not even be fully aware of it.  But you experience your privilege in most life situations. You may not even realize that there is another way to behave in the classroom that does not involve your constant contributions. Rather than defending yourself, why not take a moment for reflection and observation?  If you have privilege, you have a responsibility to understand that you have it and use it to ensure all voices are heard. This is your real power.

Rage

I suspect that part of the negative reaction may be related to the clearly articulated rage Ms. Fisher expresses in the opinion piece.  Women, and especially women of color, are not supposed to express anger, let alone rage. Again, what is the issue with listening? Awareness means knowing that the issue of women experiencing rage is occurring throughout the United States right now. There is a growing body of literature about it (ie “Good and Mad” by Rebecca Traister). The style and flavor of anger will unfold as it chooses. We may not like the way it sounds and the way it makes us feel. But we must listen.

Welcoming the contributions of students like Leda Fisher make all of us more aware, more attentive, and more self-reflective.  The journey of self-reflection is life-long, and being open to the sometimes painful but inevitable growth that comes with engaging in another person’s experience is one of the ultimate goals of higher education and beyond.

Study Highlights Racism, Sexual Assault as Contributors to College Mental Health Challenges

A text mining analysis of academic and news articles related to mental health issues in higher education finds that racism, violence and sexual assault are key contributors to mental health challenges for students. The research also highlights the need for mental health services, and outlines some ways that mobile technologies may be able to help address these needs.

“We had found in our previous work that students are concerned about mental health issues, and we wanted to better define the scope of mental health challenges for students and what factors contribute to those challenges,” says Fay Cobb Payton, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of information systems/technology and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University.

To address these questions, the researchers used text mining techniques to analyze 165 articles published between 2010 and 2015. The researchers drew on both peer-reviewed research literature and articles published in higher-education news outlets.

“We included news outlets because that allowed us to capture timely information that reflected conditions across campuses nationally,” Payton says.

The most common theme that cropped up in the articles was an increased need for student mental health services, an idea that appeared in 68 percent of the analyzed material. Among factors that contribute to mental health concerns, the most common was racism and bias against ethnic groups, found in 18 percent of the articles. The researchers also pointed to violence and sexual assault – mentioned in 5 percent of the articles – as a significant contributing factor.

The researchers note that colleges and universities are taking steps to both provide mental health services and offer targeted outreach to students of color. But, the researchers say, many students are simply not taking advantage of the services that are available.

“More needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help in the aftermath of violence or sexual assault, and more needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health challenges,” says Lynette Kvasny Yarger, co-author of the paper and an associate professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University.

“Students who are facing the trauma of sexual assault are dealing with the dual stigma of seeking help for both the assault and the ensuing mental health challenges,” Payton says.

The researchers also note that mobile technologies may help to meet some of these mental health needs.

“Mobile apps may be valuable for sharing information and resources with students, as well as providing students with improved access to treatment or to connect with communities that could offer peer support,” Payton says. “Apps could also be used to create opportunities for peer training or for storytelling that could address issues related to stigma.”

However, the researchers note, such mobile app interventions should be driven by evidence-based approaches – and the field of mobile interventions is still in its relatively early stages.

“Our study highlights salient mental health issues for researchers seeking to develop impactful mobile interventions,” Payton says. “Additional evidence-based research is needed in this domain.”

The paper, “Text Mining Mental Health Reports for Issues Impacting Today’s College Students: Qualitative Study,” is published in the journal JMIR Mental Health. The paper was co-authored by Anthony Pinter of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Colin Kaepernick’s Eternal Vigilance

Aldous Huxley said, “The price of liberty, and even common humanity, is eternal vigilance.” Huxley was letting us know that democracy isn’t easy. Democracy doesn’t just happen. Rather, it’s a constant struggle to maintain a society in which all citizens, regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, have equal rights under the law.

From time to time we are fortunate enough to have an individual who reminds us of this, even though we may not want to hear it. Colin Kaepernick has assumed this role in American society and Nike has given him a stage to act it out.

Nike’s new commercial ends with Kaepernick saying, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It was criticized almost instantly. “Sacrificing everything,” they say, should mean sacrificing one’s life, whether it be during war or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The underlying argument is Kaepernick and Nike are insulting those who died for our country.

https://twitter.com/LaLiberalVetera/status/1037371278796181504

There is no doubt the War on Terror has taken the lives of too many US soldiers. Since 2001, roughly 2,300 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt that losing one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice.

It doesn’t make the war in Afghanistan any less tragic, but in 2016 and 2017 Chicago saw almost 1,500 murders. Around 76% of the murder victims were black. When you add in all the murders that occurred since 2001 the number is well over 5,000. This is just one of the types of tragedies Kaepernick wanted to draw attention to.

It’s almost a cliché at this point to make the comparison, but Muhammad Ali was met with similar criticism when he refused to fight in Vietnam. Ali was called everything from a nigger to a traitor. He lost three years of his prime as a fighter, and he had to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court to get his conviction overturned.

Ironically, President Trump has repeatedly criticized Kaepernick, while earlier this year he sought to pardon Ali. And even more ironically, President Trump did everything he could to avoid going to Vietnam.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1038018199449567232

https://twitter.com/EdKrassen/status/1038018543516897280

In 1963, when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting racial inequality, he penned a lengthy response to an article written a group of moderate white church leaders, criticizing the way Rev. King went about protesting. Rhetorically, Rev. King asked the clergymen, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, and marches and so forth?” His answer, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Kaepernick is criticized for confronting America about its racial inequality at the wrong time.  The clergymen also questioned Rev. King’s timing. He responded, “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.”

It’s true that Kaepernick hasn’t had to deal with police armed with fire hoses and attack dogs. His house wasn’t bombed, and obviously he hasn’t lost his life like those courageous members of the armed forces who selflessly went to war to protect the United States.

Kaepernick also didn’t lose his life like Rev. King fighting inequality. Does that make his point any less relevant? If Rev. King was to say, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” would you tell him, “You can’t say that because you didn’t die in war”? Probably not.

What Americans Think about Poverty and How to Reduce It

The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty attracted little attention in 2015, and the 20th anniversary of welfare reform was barely noticed the following year. Although poverty tends to be overlooked by elected officials, policy experts, and the media, it remains a large and chronic social problem. According to the U.S, Census Bureau, 43 million Americans are officially poor, and millions more live just above the poverty line. Poverty has a big impact on health care, education, criminal justice, and other social realms and policy domains.

Given the relative silence at the elite level, I worked with three undergraduate students to review a variety of U.S. national opinion polls concerning poverty. We wanted to know what ordinary Americans think about poverty and efforts to ameliorate it – and whether their views had changed much over the last two decades. Our research was recently published in the Public Opinion Quarterly and includes suggestions for better questions researchers should ask in the future.

Current Public Opinion

The American public is generally sympathetic to the poor and supportive of greater government efforts to fight poverty. On the standard feeling thermometer questions – where people are asked to indicate degrees of warmth about various groups – scores for the poor are unusually high. Americans say they feel more warmly toward the poor than toward liberals, conservatives, the Tea Party, big business, or unions. When it comes to explaining poverty, Americans are more likely to blame it on forces beyond people’s control than on lack of effort. They recognize that many of the poor work but earn too little to escape poverty.

What should be done about poverty?

  • Most Americans agree that government should “take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” That responsibility includes guaranteeing every citizen “enough to eat and a place to sleep.”
  • In 2016, over half of respondents to a Pew poll said that dealing with the problems of the poor should be a top priority for the President and Congress; an additional one-third said it should be an important priority. Poverty was a higher priority than climate change, tax reform, or criminal justice, but ranked somewhat lower than education or jobs.
  • Most Americans think the country is spending too little on assistance to the poor. Only a small fraction, 10 to 12 percent, thinks too much is spent, while almost half believe that the poor lead hard lives in part because government benefits are inadequate.
  • On the other hand, public support drops when questions refer to “welfare” or “people on welfare” – and the gap is especially large when spending is at issue. Few Americans think we should spend more on welfare.

An important additional point: Although our project was designed to describe public opinion more than explain it, we did see evidence that racial attitudes and welfare attitudes could be linked. Many whites feel that blacks on welfare could get along without it if they tried and that blacks as a group are not as hard-working as whites.

Most Americans are frustrated with past efforts to reduce poverty. A 2016 Gallup survey, for example, found dissatisfaction among 81 percent of respondents with how the federal government handles poverty. Similar results were found when questions were worded more broadly – to encompass efforts by the entire nation and not just government.

What Has Changed and What Has Not

Over the last two decades, Americans seem to have become more aware of the working poor, and more willing to believe that those living in poverty are having a difficult time even with government assistance. Also, blacks are somewhat less likely to be viewed as lazy.

But for most poll questions that have been asked repeatedly, the answers have been fairly consistent. It still matters, a lot, whether questions refer to welfare or to poverty. In that sense, the historic 1996 reforms – with their caps on spending for public welfare assistance, greater work requirements, tougher sanctions, limited eligibility for legal immigrants, and time limits – do not appear to have changed the public’s mind very much. “Welfare” and “welfare recipients” still have negative connotations.

Implications for the Future

Overall, Americans continue to have mixed views about poverty, and policymakers can use polls to justify either more efforts by government to ameliorate poverty or fewer efforts.  Policymakers and citizens who want to do more will need to focus on the poor overall, not just welfare recipients. And it might also help to highlight success stories – where government efforts have helped people climb out of poverty – to counter the public’s pessimism.

As we reviewed the survey data, we were struck by the need for polling organizations to ask new and better questions. “Welfare” and “assistance to the poor” could refer to many things, and it would help to know much more about how the public feels about specific programs. In addition, asking questions about blacks and whites but no other important social groups seems outdated.

Finally, pollsters and researchers should try to learn much more about the public’s dissatisfaction with efforts to fight poverty. Do people consider all anti-poverty programs to be equally ineffective? Do they believe the national government has been less successful than state governments, charities, and churches in fighting poverty? Answers to these kinds of questions could help policymakers decide how best to help millions of poor Americans who remain vulnerable and need assistance. Americans sympathize, our data show, but remain conflicted about what can and should be done.

Offhand Comments Can Expose Underlying Racism, UW Study Finds

Blatant racism is easy to identify — a shouted racial slur, a white supremacist rally, or the open discrimination, segregation and violence of the pre-civil rights era.

But more subtle forms of bias, called microaggressions, emerge in the everyday exchanges among friends and strangers alike and can offend racial and ethnic minorities.

Such statements, uttered intentionally or inadvertently, draw upon stereotypes and are linked with racism and prejudice, according to a University of Washington-led study. The research is believed to be the first of its kind to explore microaggressions from the perspective of those who commit them, and suggests that whites who are more likely to deliver microaggressions are also more likely to harbor some degree of negative feeling toward blacks, whether they know it or not.

The concept of microaggressions has garnered greater attention in today’s political environment, explained lead author Jonathan Kanter, a UW research associate professor of psychology.

“Our study results offer validation to people of color when they experience microaggressions. Their reactions can’t simply be dismissed as crazy, unreasonable or too sensitive,” Kanter said. “According to our data, the reaction of a person of color — being confused, upset or offended in some way — makes sense, because they have experienced what our data show: that people who are more likely to make these comments also are more racist in other ways.”

The study appears online in the journal Race and Social Problems.

For this study, the team, with the help of focus groups of students of color from three universities, devised the Cultural Cognitions and Actions Survey (CCAS) and administered it to a small group of students — 33 black, 118 white — at a large public university in the Midwest. The 56-item questionnaire asks the white respondent to imagine him- or herself in five different everyday scenarios involving interactions with black people, such as talking about current events, attending a diversity workshop, or listening to music. The respondent then considers how likely he or she is to think or say specific statements. For black respondents, the wording of the scenarios and questions was revised slightly to assess whether they would experience racism. Each of the statements included in the survey was deemed at least somewhat, if not significantly, offensive by black students.

In the “current events” scenario — the one that yielded the highest percentage of “likely” responses from whites — respondents were to imagine talking about topics in the news, such as police brutality and unemployment. More than half of white respondents said they would think or say, “All lives matter, not just black lives,” while 30 percent said they might say, “I don’t think of black people as black,” and 26 percent said they were likely to think or say, “The police have a tough job. It is not their fault if they occasionally make a mistake.” More than half of black respondents identified each of those statements as racist.

Responses on the CCAS were then related to several validated measures of racism and prejudice, to determine if one’s likelihood of making microaggressive statements was related to these other measures. An additional scale controlled for social desirability — the idea that respondents might answer in ways that put themselves in the best possible light.

Results indicated that white students who said they were more likely to make microaggressive statements were also significantly more likely to score higher on all the other measures of racism and prejudice, and results were not affected by social desirability.

The statement that yielded the highest statistical relation to other measures of racism among white respondents came from the “diversity workshop” scenario, in which a class discusses white privilege. Though only about 14 percent of white respondents said they were likely to think or say, “A lot of minorities are too sensitive,” the statement had the highest correlation with negative feelings toward blacks. Nearly 94 percent of black respondents said the statement was racist.

The correlations between statements and attitudes are averages from the study sample, Kanter said, and so the results do not address the intentions or feelings of any one person.

“It doesn’t mean that on a case-by-case basis, if you or I engaged in microaggressions, that we have cold or racist feelings toward blacks,” he said. “But the study says that regardless of the intention behind a microaggression or the feelings of the specific person who uttered it, it’s reasonable for a black person to be offended. On average, if you engage in a microaggression, it’s more likely that you have cooler feelings toward black people, and that whether you intended it or not, you’ve participated in an experience of racism for a black person.”

In many ways, overt racism has declined gradually since the civil rights movement, Kanter said, and white people often assume that because they do not utter racial slurs, or perhaps are well-versed in and value social justice, that they do not have to worry about engaging in racist behavior themselves.

“It can come as a bit of a shock to a lot of white people that their behavior and attitudes are under scrutiny,” said Kanter, who pointed out that as a white male, he has had to confront realizations about his own behavior over time. “The nature of how we’re looking at racism is changing. We’re now able to look at and root out more subtle forms of bias that weren’t focused on before because explicit racism was taking a lot of the attention.”

Taken in isolation, the size and location of the study sample limit the generalizations that can be made, Kanter said. But the idea behind the CCAS is to use it elsewhere and adapt it to focus on other racial and ethnic minorities so as to better understand racism and develop educational tools to combat it. The survey has since been used at the University of Washington, he added, where early results are very similar to those reported in the published article.

Kanter said he’s heard from critics who say the study has a liberal bias, or that the research should examine offenses against white people. But he says the point is to address racism targeted at oppressed and stigmatized groups.

“We’re interested in developing interventions to help people interact with each other better, to develop trusting, nonoffensive, interracial relationships among people. If we want to decrease racism, then we need to try to decrease microaggressions,” he said.

Other authors of the study were UW graduate students Adam Kuczynski and Katherine Manbeck; Monnica Williams of the University of Connecticut, Marlena Debreaux of the University of Kentucky; and Daniel Rosen of Bastyr University.

I Don’t Think I Am Racist

Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign

I can’t be a racist.

Some of my best friends are African American. I work with African Americans every day. As a social worker, I fight for social justice, and that includes racial justice, so I’m not a racist.

I certainly don’t want you to think I’m a racist. My family never owned slaves—they were coal miners, which was practically slavery. I believe in diversity, inclusivity, cultural humility, and cultural proficiency and whatever PC term-of-the-week we use for this stuff.

I want to prove to you I’m not a racist. I attend rallies and carry signs.  I was there when they voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. I don’t vote for racist candidates and express my horror at racist comments, especially from our leaders.

I thought I wasn’t a racist. The truth is, I view the world through blue eyes. The world interacts with me as a person with very pale skin. I may not want to be privileged (maybe I do) but damned if I’m not. I’m often treated differently than people of color. If police pull me over, I don’t fear for my life, I fear for points on my license. If I walk down the street in a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, people say good morning and comment on the cold weather. They don’t look at me like I’m about to rob them.

When I see rage on the faces of African Americans, I sometimes think—quietly, of course—they may be overreacting. After all, we need to love each other and put the past behind us. We are a rich tapestry of different people and that’s what makes our nation great. This is 2017—time to move forward!

And then Charlottesville happened.

And then I heard the President defend the Nazis and racist, alt-right rally participants.

And then I saw this video and watched white supremacists spew hatred against blacks and Jews while someone was doing CPR on a victim hit by the car.

And I saw this man:

And I saw how his pain, his rage, his desperation reached depths that I have never experienced. He is emotionally bleeding for us all to see, because he has tried EVERYTHING and he is standing in the middle of a frickin’ race war. (I don’t want to say frickin’).

And I heard that right after Charlottesville, a FAMILY MEMBER who teaches about the Holocaust, had received a death threat from someone because they thought he was Jewish.

And then my writing sister who is black, said of her white colleagues, “don’t come to me with your fake tears and your prayers and your hugs. I can’t do it this week. This sh*t is not new. Charlottesville … is all of us. It’s killing us.”

She’s right. She’s right, and we don’t want to see it.

I remember feeling so proud when the Confederate flag came down, and one of my social work mentors (African-American) said, “I don’t care where they flag that ole rag. Taking it down don’t change nothing.”

Yeah, maybe I’m starting to get that now.

After the slaughter of the Emmanuel nine in Charleston, I participated in a workshop about combatting hate. I hoped it would help some of us heal. But when a HBCU professor projected a photograph of a Klan rally, it offended me. “We’re not all like that,” I wanted to scream, but that wasn’t her message. We’re not all like that, but the specter of those white pointed hats is there, is always there, and, like my wise friend said, it’s killing us.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, America has 276 armed militia groups, extremists like the gun-wielding pretend-soldiers in Charlottesville. 276. Let that number sink in.

I don’t want to be a racist, but I can never truly understand the black experience, no matter how hard I try to be an ally. And if I don’t want to be a part of the problem—via action or inaction—then I must confront and accept the ways I have been complicit in this mess. I don’t get to close my eyes to the ugliness that is around me.  I can vote for different leaders, march in rallies, carry signs, write blogs, and be a great social worker but none of that puts a dent in the crap storm we keep denying.

I’d love to end this with some hopeful message, something that makes you feel good about our potential (and about me).

But I got naddah.

So I’ll end with this. My eyes are open. I will fight to keep them open, even if what I see disturbs the hell out of me. And if you see me closing them, get in my face a remind me.

This is ALL OF US.

And we have to fix it.

What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach Us About Working With Young Black Men

A young Black man sitting on a couch, talking to a TV show host
We need to look to the history of Black men in the United States in order to understand the seriousness of what happened to DeMario Jackson.

This season, the “Bachelor” franchise has taken on the topic of race relations in a fairly head-on fashion for mainstream television. For years, the series has been (aptly) criticized for featuring primarily White contestants.

After a season in which a Black woman was cast for the first time as the “Bachelorette,” the franchise’s summer follow-up series, “Bachelor in Paradise,” included several Black men and women in search of love. But let’s hone in on the story one man in particular, Demario Jackson.

Mr. Jackson, a Black man, joined the Mexico-based “Bachelor in Paradise” cast in hopes of finding a partner. As the television show is known for its sexual antics and hookup culture, it was no surprise when Mr. Jackson quickly became involved with Corinne Olympios, a White woman. The two met, flirted and over the course of a day of drinking, became sexually intimate.

All of this took place in public, with cameras rolling and with cast-mates walking by from time to time. The day after this incident, producers stopped the show as a third party had filed a complaint about Mr. Jackson’s behavior with Ms. Olympios vis-à-vis alcohol consumption and consent to sexual activities.

Ms. Olympios claimed that she did not remember any of the night due to her heavy drinking, but later, for a time, claimed that she was a victim of sexual assault (and had to endure the pain of “slut shaming” as well). Of the event, Mr. Jackson has stated “It was 100-percent consensual. She hopped in my arms, she pulled me into the pool…I think people wanted it to be something different. They wanted the angry Black guy and this little, innocent White girl. But it wasn’t.”

In the end, an external investigation (paid for by Warner Brothers) determined that no wrongdoing took place, and Mr. Jackson’s name was cleared. Unfortunately, this did not occur before the press reported on the incident in some very racially charged and unfair ways – but ways that are not unfamiliar to the Black community. So egregious was the coverage, that at least two of the White female contestants from “Bachelor in Paradise” decided to step up and defend Mr. Jackson’s honor, a refreshing change.

One of the silver linings of Mr. Jackson’s suffering is that our society has the opportunity to revisit longstanding stereotypes about the aggressiveness and/or sexuality of young Black men, especially as it relates to White women.

Helping professionals need to know that our country has a long and shameful history of portraying young Black men as sexual predators and/or perpetrators. Starting in the late 1900s, our country saw a rise racial tension that correlated with the number of lynchings of Black men.

In fact, between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 reported lynchings, 72.7 percent of which involved Black men. It is widely understood that these race-based lynchings were instigated by White people who felt the need to protect White women from Black men. This presumption has followed us to the present day, where many people believe that Black men rape White women more than White men do, something that has been shown to be false.

We must remember that the young Black men that we work with as social workers live with the spectre of history, and are often warned about interacting with White women during “the talk” with their parents. That is, the talk about what it is to live as a young Black man in the United States in an age where racism is alive and well.

Perhaps a father would tell the tale of Florida’s Rosewood massacre, in which many Black men died as a result of a White woman claiming that a Black man had assaulted her. Or perhaps a Black father may tell his son the story of 14 year-old Emmett Till, a young Black man accused of whistling at and making physical advances to a White woman in a candy store. Mr. Till was murdered as a result of his alleged actions – even though decades later, his accuser has admitted to making up the most damning part of her court testimony. The media treatment of DeMario Jackson felt no different to me than what Emmett Till faced.

So, how can we act on this as helping professionals working with young Black men? We are tasked with seeking social justice, but in the case of young Black men, we must also look inside ourselves for ways to promote racial justice. We must challenge ourselves to be aware of damaging stereotypes that may be held about young Black clients.

As helping professionals, we must be committed to reflective practice and be on the lookout for these stereotypes within ourselves as well as among others involved with the clients we work with. We must work to prevent such stereotypes from impacting the lives of the young Black men in schools, universities, community organizations and both the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

We need to do this anti-racism work as the social work profession has been accused of failing Black men many times before. For example, Dr. Waldo Johnson, Jr. addresses this failure in his book Social work with African American males: Health, mental health and social policy. In this text,

Dr. Johnson talks about how Black men suffer from being stereotyped as reckless (at best) and characterized as having a lifelong disregard for or commitment to society in general. While most Black men do not fit into this stereotype, it persists nonetheless, often as a result of media images.

In the post-Charlottesville era, it is vital for social workers – especially White social workers – to take a stand against the stereotyping of young Black men. This is especially important work to engage in given what we know about how White social workers may hold negative racial biases as a result of living in a society defined by White supremacy. It is time to stand up for racial justice in all of the settings we work in, let’s let DeMario Jackson’s ordeal make a difference for young Black men in the United States.

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 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.”

Social Work Professor’s Research Shows Implicit Bias by Institutions

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Dr. Susan McCarter, Associate Professor of Social Work, UNC Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Susan McCarter has spent the last 20 years researching and talking about disproportionate minority contacts (DMC), or the over-representation of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

She readily acknowledges that even the official name for her work tends to make people defensive. “The word ‘disproportionality’ has taken on a bad connotation, but it only means that things are out of whack mathematically,” explained McCarter. “It simply means when a phenomenon doesn’t reflect the population at the time.”

She uses the example of baking chocolate chip cookies to make the concept more palatable. If the baker puts in more of an ingredient than the recipe calls for, the cookies will be out-of-balance. However, when she’s referring to disparate treatment and outcomes as it relates to race and ethnicity, many people find the topic simply too difficult to discuss.

The recent deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte at the hands of white police officers have made McCarter the go-to person on the issue and put her leadership role with Race Matters for Juvenile Justice (RMJJ) in the spotlight.

RMJJ is a consortium of community and systems experts who use institutional organizing and workplace development to reduce disproportionality and disparate outcomes for children and families of color. Working closely with the group since its infancy, she leads workshops, speaks at conferences and uses her research to make the case for its necessity. McCarter also advises the Children’s Alliance, Council for Children’s Rights and Teen Health Connection.

Through trial and error, McCarter has learned the right and wrong way to reel in and keep an audience with her. “You don’t walk in the door and ask questions about race,” she said. “You give them the findings and the numbers because people can talk about numbers without being defensive. When you ask ‘does this jibe with your experience?’, they will speak at length about their experiences.”

McCarter’s academic work expanded from social work to social justice almost by happenstance. She was pursuing her doctorate at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond while working as a social worker and probation officer.

Using data from the state of Virginia, McCarter set out to determine how different groups move within the justice system. For example, who is stopped by police? Is that person detained? Once in the criminal justice system, was he/she given incarceration or diversion?

McCarter looked at the role two legal variables (crime severity and prior records) and five extralegal variables (socioeconomic status, education, where one lives, race and family structure) played in determining who would be incarcerated. Race and education (whether the offender had repeated a grade) were the top two extralegal predictors, respectively.

In the nearly 20 years since McCarter conducted the Virginia study, many others have replicated her findings and, she notes, little if anything has changed.

To make change, McCarter believes that individuals must begin by dispelling the many misconceptions surrounding race itself. “When I lecture on this topic, I continue to be struck by how many people suggest there’s a DNA connection to race or that you can test someone and identify them racially,” she said.

While she notes that race is not scientific, but simply a social construct that changes over time and throughout history, she insists that measuring its impact is critical. “As long as people’s outcomes vary based on this construct, then we need to continue to disaggregate data based on race and ethnicity.”

RMJJ uses the two-day “Dismantling Racism” workshop as the starting point to help people understand the history of racism, how racial inequities affect communities and ways to begin eliminating disproportionality and disparities in society.

The Conversation You Need to Have With Your Children Right Now

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ABC’s Hit Show Blackish Tackles Police Brutality

Today our screens overflow with chaos and hate. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Now more than ever, we need to teach our children about love, unity, compassion, connection, and peace. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of cultivating social connection in children through altruism. We know that we are born into relationship and belonging to a group and forming relationships is as important to our survival as the need for food, shelter and safety. We need each other to survive as a species.

My father is from Iran. He moved to America as a young adult and changed his name from Reza to Matt. Although it was never discussed, I was very aware of the Islamophobia my father faced. My mother was a Louisiana Creole/African American (this is the description her sisters use), although on her birth certificate it read ‘Negro’. She passed away in October 1980 when I was just a six-month-old infant.

My mother was killed in a car accident on her way home from the supermarket by an eighteen-year-old white male, who was driving under the influence of alcohol. This man went to trial with an all white jury and walked away with no jail time. None. My mother’s sisters tell me that at the scene of her accident, a white male drove past my grandfather and yelled out of his window, “Get out of the road, Nigger!” My uncle Curtis Graves served for six years as the first African-American Representative in the Texas State Legislature since the 1870’s. He was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Most people who know me probably don’t know about this. The reason is because I’ve always been afraid to speak up on racism issues. Afraid I would offend African-Americans because I am not dark skinned and therefore, who am I to talk about these issues? Afraid I would offend the Muslim community because I’m not Muslim. My mother was a devout Roman Catholic, therefore my father converted, which was unheard of at that time, so I was raised catholic. Who am I to talk about Islamophobia if I am not a Muslim myself? But today I’ve decided I won’t let fear hold me back. As Amiyrah Martin says, ‘Your silence is killing us.’

We need to teach children to see humanity as one and not of separation. If we want things to be different for the next generation we need to start having these difficult discussions in our homes with our children. And it’s not going to be a one of conversation. It’s going to require ongoing effort.

As I’m currently living in London, I’ve had to recently explain to my children about Brexit. There’s been a rise in acts of hate and racism in the UK from the result of the EU Referendum and I thought it was important not to shield my children from what was happening.

Most of the issues we are seeing in the world right now stem from one thing: separation. We are living in a society based on the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ and here in lies the problem. Parents, let’s take the time and sit down with our children to teach them about who we are. Don’t tell them not to ‘see’ people’s colour or differences. We don’t need to erase our diversity. Instead, teach them to value and appreciate our differences. There’s a story behind every culture, every religion, every human being. Teach them to honour and respect these stories. And most importantly, teach them that who we truly are is what’s inside of us. What’s inside of us is the same. We are all connected.

As Albert Einstein says, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Until we start seeing each other for what we truly are, nothing is going to change. There has been deep trauma in our history. We are all involved. In order to free ourselves from the pain and suffering of separation we have to get close. We have to involve our families. We have to teach children to love themselves and each other so we can open our eyes and our hearts to make a better world.

White Nationalism and The Co-Opting of Fear

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It used to be easy. The label of racist, sexist, or homophobic was a silencer on the weapon of the tongue. When a person stated views that were out of the politically correct spectrum, they paid a price professionally and publicly. However, with the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, there no longer appears to be a price for publicly embracing racist language and ideals.

Many have suggested the real problem, White Supremacy–that overt hatred for any non-white people–was institutionalized and invisible. White supremacy was lumped into the institutional mix with discrimination, prejudice, and inequality. Our policies, beginning with the civil rights act of 1964, set a precedent for addressing the institutional barriers to minorities. By 1988, the United States was addressing the individual white supremacist with censorship. But, silencing a sentiment has only resulted in the search for a new voice.

It has long been the recruitment tactic of white supremacist groups to focus on fears spawned by whatever “other” was present in a certain region. On the frontier west, the other was the Native American. In the cities, the other was the Blacks. In the southern-western border, the other was the Mexicans. But, something happened on a Tuesday night in November 2008, the worst fear came into the homes of many who had previously been silenced. It was no longer just a generalized fear of the other. It was the removal of an iconic White institution handed to a non-white. The fear moved from being offensive (in both ways) to being defensive, even despairing. Recruitment was no longer to mobilize. It was to defend against the further collapse of the Real America. Fear of the other became fear for the loss of a (White) way of life.

Empathy & Choice Architecture
The co-opting of fear changes the White Supremacist into the White Nationalist. The White Nationalist is not an institutionally-supported purveyor of hatred toward another race or creed. The white nationalist is a genuinely concerned individual who desires the best for his children and his people. Even if you are shouting for rights against the establishment, you are now the only one shouting. The rhetorical technique of the white nationalist is to claim victimization. And guess what, empathy demands that we listen.

This could be one reason for the inadequacy of our categorizations these days. The simple determination of whether a person is racist, sexist, or homophobic was never adequate as a basis for tolerance and appreciation of diversity. But, it worked in an institutional context to describe policies that systematically discriminated against specific groups based on some ethnocentric ideal.

As the unit of analysis moves to the level of the individual, categorizations will not be useful. Each individual is unique which comes with a unique set of concerns. Having children or not, levels of education, life goals, family connectedness, and a host of other characteristics form the profile of each person. Their choice architecture is built from this individualized profile, in the context of their immediate and social environment, impacted by the interactive effects that form their perception of self and the reality in which they live.

The good news is that we can mathematically map this complexity in operational research. Those may be two words that you are not comfortable applying to social science issues or social activism, but math and research are critical to interventions that promote dignity and worth of each person. It is more evident now that labeling the oppressor and demonizing the group runs counter to progress. What we have missed is that the need has shifted from the institutional level to individual level in the co-opting of fear.

The Empathy Standard
Let us first begin with a clear understanding of empathy. Empathy is defined as an ability to feel as the other feels. It is often distinguished from sympathy, which is to feel for a person. Empathy is more holistically to be distinguished from prejudices. Prejudices are characteristic means of self-protection or self-defense. More holistically, empathy is the ability to see the choices of the other as reasonable.

This definition allows social workers to work with clients whose behaviors have proven reprehensible while valuing the dignity and worth of each person. Even more importantly, this definition of empathy enables social workers to track the mechanism employed in the choice behavior. Once the mechanism is understood, the decision points can be disrupted with new information, intervention, influence, or insight. The disruption offers an expanded choice set and may result in new behaviors.

Without empathy-inspired dialogue on a topic, prejudices turn to anger and an insistence on being heard. Without empathy expect violence, disrespect, and self-promotion over others as less-than.

The Co-Opting of Fear
Which is more powerful, hatred or fear? Hatred can motivate many intentional destruction of things that are disliked. But, fear creates more things to rail against from imagined visions of even unreasonable things that may be. Supremacy groups have long used fear as a way to recruit new members. This was more of an institutional approach that reached out to individuals. It provided a target for the generalized sense of despair and hopelessness felt by the impoverished. It galvanized and educated that generalized sense into a frenzy of hate. That was the utilization of fear.

Utilization of fear was defined by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1960:
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” LYNDON B. JOHNSON, 1960, remark to Bill Moyers, “What a Real President Was Like,” Washington Post, 13 November 1988

We see the results in a speech by Hillary Clinton. It typically takes some version of the following form:

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).

The problem is that we, as social activists or individual citizens, have not fully understood the fallacy of that “twinge of fear.” This lack of understanding is what Jeb Bush is saying he wants to work against, “I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives,” He said on the debut of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “We have to restore a degree of civility.” Bush should have stopped there.

The co-opting of fear means that you are no longer dealing with institutional “other sides” of any argument or system failings. The interactions are now personal. Many in the Colbert audience noted the shift. Immediately after Jeb Bush uttered “I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives,” a few in the audience began applause. Bush continued before the applause took hold finishing with, “I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues.” The applause stifled. Bush turned what sounded like a conciliatory, constructive tone into a personal attack almost immediately. He could have talked about “his policies,” or better “I disagree with the Affordable Care Act,” or even better, “The Affordable Care Act has 12 provisions that limit patient choice.” In a policy discussion, the policy should reasonably be central, not the individual discussants.

Over years of political correctness, hidden resentment, and what Elisabeth Young-Bruehl calls psychologizing-sociology rhetoric has moved to individual characterization. Fear generalized at the institutional level has moved and morphed into fear personified at the individual level. The co-opting of fear has reduced policy failures to personal failures. Governance has been reduced from a sociological construct to the “liking” of one personality over another. Speaking your mind and refusing the politically-correct response is heralded as honesty and courage however ignorant and erroneous. A quick example can be shown in polls. According to a CNN poll back in 2013, 46% of people asked were against Obamacare. Only 37% were opposed to the Affordable Care Act. Same law. But, reducing policy to a “do you like this person” question creates different choice behavior.

This causes a fundamental shift in the way we work to support tolerance and move toward the celebration of difference. No longer are people simply misinformed and their generalized sense manipulated by the institution. Many are now genuinely, and individually fearful for their livelihoods, their children’s opportunity, and their freedom. Imagined or not, this new reality does not respond to institutional changes. In fact, the institutional actions to level the playing field and erase the majority advantage are seen as further disenfranchising the individual.

The Empathetic Solution

Now, that reality is individual rather than institutional, the only solution is empathy. It is to see the complaints of each individual as valid and worthy of our attention. The empathy solution ensures that each individual is heard. It maps their process of reason, and compares their experience to what our policies intended. Without this empathetic analysis, by denying the voice of those who perceive themselves to be eventual minorities, we others become oppressors. People who feel silenced and who fear extinction will revolt in discontent.

They will rally behind someone successful who speaks the fear, gloom, and despair that they feel. And, others will support this movement. Their support is not because they know the origins of supremacy and ethnocentrism that birth the movement. They support because they are empathetic to–they see as reasonable–the cries of people who have been silenced and hushed because their views were not politically correct. They support because they are tired of having to clean up their language to express overreaches and erroneous implementations of laws meant to create equality. Empathy, my fellow social workers, is not based on our agreement with the other. It is our ability to see their reason and continue the often uncomfortable conversation toward a comfortable resolution.

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