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June 20, 2016 Off

Name-Calling on the Campaign Trail and in the Schoolyard

Boy being bullied in schoolThis is not the first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion where can­di­dates have engaged in name-calling and put-downs. Through­out his­tory,
name-calling has been used on the cam­paign trail to label, define and con­trol the public’s per­cep­tion of rivals.

How­ever, this year’s cam­paign is widely regarded as unpar­al­leled in the degree and reg­u­lar­ity of the put-downs. From “Low Energy Jeb” to “Crooked Hillary,” “Crazy Bernie,” “Inse­cure Money Grub­ber,” and “Goofy Eliz­a­beth War­ren” and “Pocahontas”—mocking her Native Amer­i­can background—we are see­ing politi­cians invoke name-calling and nasty teas­ing on a grand scale—in tweets, speeches, inter­views and even on the debate stage.  These so-called nick­names are repeated over and over again until the label is cemented in people’s minds. Fur­ther, these names are often hurled at each other in place of actual polit­i­cal dis­course and pol­icy posi­tions so that the pub­lic is just left with the names and lit­tle else.

Name-calling, which is the use of lan­guage to defame, demean or degrade indi­vid­u­als or groups—has a detri­men­tal two-pronged impact: to the tar­get of the name call­ing and to the peo­ple around that per­son.  In elec­tion cam­paigns, name-calling is intended to intim­i­date the per­son to whom the insult is directed, mak­ing them feel unset­tled, dis­tressed, on the defen­sive and pow­er­less.  You can’t debate a “nick­name” or a put-down.

The impact on the bystanders (the gen­eral public—in the case of the elec­tion) is to label the tar­get and chip away at what peo­ple think about them, for­ti­fy­ing in people’s minds the name itself: that Jeb Bush is lack­adaisi­cal and slow, that Bernie Sanders is a “fringe” can­di­date or men­tally ill and can’t be taken seri­ously or that Hillary Clin­ton is not some­one peo­ple can trust. There may be a seed of truth in the label or it may be based on a per­cep­tion of that per­son that already exists, but it is exag­ger­ated and repeated over and over again in the same way that bul­ly­ing uses repeated actions in order to have a last­ing impact.

There are par­al­lels to the name-calling we see in schools.

We know that the name-calling that takes place among young peo­ple can be both a pre­cur­sor to bul­ly­ing as well as an ele­ment of bul­ly­ing. Very young chil­dren some­times engage in name-calling before they actu­ally begin using bul­ly­ing behav­ior.  Older chil­dren and teens, when engag­ing in name-calling, teas­ing and bullying—often hone in on an aspect of their target’s iden­tity (or their per­ceived iden­tity) such as their reli­gion, race, appear­ance gen­der iden­tity or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or a per­son­al­ity trait they want to exploit, and then they belit­tle and demean the per­son based on that label. Identity-based bul­ly­ing can dam­age and erode tar­gets’ self esteem because it goes to who they are in a fun­da­men­tal way. Sim­i­lar to polit­i­cal name-calling, in schools aggres­sors define their target’s iden­tity by attempt­ing to con­trol how oth­ers see them. This name-calling is often done in front of oth­ers and is meant to con­vince oth­ers to view the per­son in a par­tic­u­lar way. When the name-calling is repeated, others—including the target—begin to see the per­son that way and then the label becomes part of who that per­son is. Fur­ther, name-calling can con­tribute to an envi­ron­ment where bias is accept­able and can lead to more destruc­tive, hate­ful and poten­tially vio­lent behavior.

Young peo­ple are aware of the name-calling and neg­a­tive polit­i­cal dis­course that is tak­ing place in this cur­rent elec­tion cycle. Instead of shy­ing away from it, edu­ca­tors can use it as a teach­able moment to think crit­i­cally about the elec­tion. It is also an oppor­tu­nity to help stu­dents decon­struct name-calling in gen­eral and ana­lyze bias in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by explor­ing the intent and impact of the name-calling.  Edu­ca­tors can build empa­thy by hav­ing stu­dents reflect upon how the tar­get feels and how they per­ceive name-calling, both in the elec­tion and in in their own daily lives.

For the teach­ers and other adults in stu­dents’ lives, when name-calling, bias or bul­ly­ing takes place, it should be iden­ti­fied and stopped right away, send­ing a mes­sage that it is unac­cept­able.  But inter­rupt­ing is not enough and we should not stop there. We need to teach stu­dents about bias, name-calling and bul­ly­ing and cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where stu­dents feel empow­ered to be allies  in the face of bias and bullying.

For edu­ca­tors, it is crit­i­cal to estab­lish a learn­ing envi­ron­ment and school cli­mate where diver­sity is explored and cel­e­brated, dif­fer­ences are acknowl­edged and respected, bias and identity-based bul­ly­ing are con­fronted and empa­thy is pro­moted in small and large ways. If stu­dents feel part of this safe, respect­ful and inclu­sive learn­ing envi­ron­ment, they will not use name-calling as a way to exert power and con­trol and put oth­ers down.

We under­stand the pro­found impact that name-calling has on schools and soci­ety. If we stand up to it together, we will emerge stronger and bet­ter for it.








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June 14, 2016 4

We Are Not Powerless When Faced with Hate, Bias, Propaganda and Extremism

No Place For Hate spokesperson Lady Gaga talks about the importance of being an ally at the Los Angeles rally for the Orlando attack victims

Los Ange­les rally for the Orlando attack victims

The unspeak­able tragedy that took place at the Pulse Club in Orlando, FL in the early morn­ing of June 12 brings with it a wide range of emo­tions for peo­ple across the coun­try and world. Those feel­ings include anger, sor­row, loss, hope­less­ness, hor­ror, fear, rage and also—a sense of pow­er­less­ness. It is easy to feel pow­er­less when you think there is noth­ing you can do: noth­ing you can do about the hate, the gun vio­lence, the ter­ror­ism and the extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda that takes place in the lonely crevices of the internet.

But we are not pow­er­less. We know that just as bias and hate are learned, they can also be unlearned. We know that there is poten­tial leg­is­la­tion for lim­it­ing gun vio­lence and auto­matic weapon acces­si­bil­ity. We know that the pro­pa­ganda used to recruit young peo­ple for ter­ror­ism can be addressed by help­ing them decon­struct this pro­pa­ganda, address­ing vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents’ feel­ings of mar­gin­al­iza­tion, stigma, and iso­la­tion and cre­at­ing school com­mu­ni­ties where all stu­dents feel safe and respected.  We know that the esca­la­tion of hate —if addressed on more sub­tle lev­els which include bias, belit­tling and stereotyping—can be stopped in its tracks before it makes its way up to the pyra­mid to bias-motivated violence.

Specif­i­cally, we need to guide and teach young people:

  • To explore their own iden­tity, learn about other kinds of peo­ple and reflect on how to play, work, learn and live with peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent than they are. This is eas­ier said than done and takes active and inten­tional work at home, in schools and among the adults in young people’s lives who also need to self-reflect and be good role mod­els. While we don’t know for sure if the shooter tar­geted the club because it was an LGBT estab­lish­ment or because it was “Latin Night,” we know that accept­ing one­self and oth­ers is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent to liv­ing in a plu­ral­is­tic society.
  • To treat oth­ers with respect and not fall prey to judg­ment and stereo­typ­ing when peo­ple are dif­fer­ent. For exam­ple, the anti-Muslim big­otry, bias and rhetoric that has been a per­ma­nent fix­ture since 9/11 and is exac­er­bated after an attack like the recent one, only feeds into the ter­ror­ism dan­ger and increased recruit­ment and rad­i­cal­iza­tion poten­tial. Often times, the very peo­ple who are most at risk for extrem­ist behav­ior find them­selves in that sit­u­a­tion because ter­ror­ist groups tell Mus­lims that the U.S. is at war with them and their reli­gion, there­fore rein­forc­ing the ter­ror­ists’ pro­pa­ganda. This Islam­o­pho­bia  actu­ally makes us more vul­ner­a­ble rather than less so.
  • To under­stand what bias is, the dif­fer­ent forms it takes (e.g. racism, homo­pho­bia, reli­gious big­otry, sex­ism, etc.) and how—over the course of history—injustice has been over­come by peo­ple address­ing it in large and small ways—both per­sonal and insti­tu­tional.  We need to teach young peo­ple how to be an ally and the ways in which activism makes a difference.
  • To be crit­i­cal and ana­lyt­i­cal thinkers and specif­i­cally, to be judi­cious read­ers of online pro­pa­ganda and cyber­hate  as a weapon to coun­ter­act the power of it. If stu­dents are able to decon­struct the sub­tle mes­sages in pro­pa­ganda and under­stand how its cre­ators use it to manip­u­late young peo­ple, that decreases their oppor­tu­nity to take advan­tage of vul­ner­a­ble youth.
  • To work with oth­ers to do some­thing about the bias, vio­lence and hate they see in the world. As the news made its way into people’s homes on Sun­day morn­ing, there was an imme­di­ate and over­whelm­ing response to the need for donat­ing blood, so much that they had to ask peo­ple to stop com­ing. Across the coun­try and world, vig­ils are tak­ing place to mourn, con­vene with oth­ers and show the world that intol­er­ance and hate are unac­cept­able. In addi­tion to these imme­di­ate expres­sions of sup­port, there is long term activism that can take place around bias, injus­tice, gun laws and hate crimes leg­is­la­tion.

In U.S. schools, fears of extrem­ism, rad­i­cal­iza­tion and mass vio­lence have become all too famil­iar.  It is impor­tant that schools, too, feel a sense of power that there is some­thing they can do about those fears and real­i­ties. Among other things, they can under­stand and reflect on the pre­cur­sors to vio­lent activ­ity, iden­tify warn­ing signs and refer young peo­ple to spe­cific and appro­pri­ate sup­port, cre­ate safe com­mu­ni­ties of learn­ing that includes anti-bias pro­grams and pro­vide resources for stu­dents who are tar­gets of bias and bullying.

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June 1, 2016 1

Why the ‘Roots’ Remake Matters

rootsBegin­ning on Memo­r­ial Day and for four con­sec­u­tive evenings this week, the His­tory Chan­nel will air its 2016 ver­sion of ‘Roots,’ a remake of the 1977 tele­vi­sion minis­eries based on Alex Haley’s clas­sic novel Roots: The Saga of An Amer­i­can Fam­ily.  The book is an his­tor­i­cal por­trait of Amer­i­can slav­ery based on Haley’s her­itage dat­ing back to 1750 in the West African vil­lage of Juf­fure and how his family’s saga unfolded over seven gen­er­a­tions. Dur­ing the orig­i­nal air­ing of the minis­eries, 130 mil­lion view­ers watched, rep­re­sent­ing 85% of U.S. house­holds. The orig­i­nal ver­sion received 36 Emmy nom­i­na­tions with 9 wins.

Exec­u­tive Pro­ducer Mark Wolper, son of the orig­i­nal ‘Roots’ exec­u­tive pro­ducer David Wolper, explained that he cre­ated the new ver­sion because ‘Roots’ needed a reboot for the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple. In attempt­ing to show the orig­i­nal ver­sion to his chil­dren, he real­ized that while they under­stood its impor­tance, they thought it was dated, didn’t have much rel­e­vance to them and found it bor­ing and luke­warm.  He thought to him­self, “Wow! Per­haps we need to remake it with a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­ity and with a dif­fer­ent set of actors.”

The His­tory Channel’s ‘Roots’ explores the lives of enslaved indi­vid­u­als and spans mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions; the lin­eage begins with young Kunta Kinte, who is cap­tured in his home­land of The Gam­bia and trans­ported in bru­tal con­di­tions to colo­nial Amer­ica where he’s sold into slav­ery.  The minis­eries con­tains some very graphic and intense scenes depict­ing the phys­i­cal and sex­ual vio­lence endured by enslaved peo­ple. It is rated TV-14 and is not rec­om­mended for chil­dren under 14.

Slav­ery is an impor­tant topic to teach and at the same time, it can be chal­leng­ing and over­whelm­ing, espe­cially for young peo­ple. The facts are com­plex and there are many lay­ers to teach­ing it com­pre­hen­sively. In addi­tion, emo­tions can run very high in class­room dis­cus­sions. As a result, many teach­ers shy away from the topic at a great loss to young people’s edu­ca­tion. When teach­ers do have the oppor­tu­nity to teach about slav­ery, there are a wide vari­ety of top­ics to focus on includ­ing: the roots and his­tory of transat­lantic slav­ery; the rich, com­plex and var­ied his­tory and cul­ture of African coun­tries and peo­ple prior to slav­ery; chal­leng­ing stereo­types of peo­ple of African her­itage; the root causes of slav­ery includ­ing white supremacy and its impact on soci­ety; the enslave­ment expe­ri­ence in the U.S.; resis­tance and rebel­lion of enslaved peo­ple, abo­li­tion­ism; the Civil War; the Recon­struc­tion era and much more.

Accord­ing to the His­tory Channel’s Edu­ca­tion Guide, the key themes explored in the 2016 ‘Roots’ minis­eries, which are also ele­ments of anti-bias edu­ca­tion, include:

  • Iden­tity and nam­ing: the words Kunta Kinte hears as a baby—“your name is your spirit, your name is your shield”—guide him and his fam­ily through generations.
  • Resilience and strength: Despite the hor­rors of slav­ery, the fam­ily sur­vives through their con­nec­tion to each other and their history.
  • Fam­ily: Ded­i­ca­tion to fam­ily and car­ry­ing on tra­di­tions are pri­mary val­ues of Kunta and the gen­er­a­tions after him. Fam­ily her­itage and con­nec­tion to the African past help them persevere.

In addi­tion to these themes, the con­cept of resis­tance that is present through­out the series is an impor­tant one to explore with young peo­ple. As Levar Bur­ton, the orig­i­nal Kunta Kinte in the 1977 ver­sion and co-producer of the 2016 ver­sion, says, “The empha­sis is on resis­tance and rebel­lion as a path­way to redemp­tion.” When­ever we teach young peo­ple about a time in his­tory of oppres­sion and injus­tice, it can feel very demor­al­iz­ing and dis­em­pow­er­ing if we only tell them about the per­se­cu­tion.  Instead, it is impor­tant to con­vey we (as indi­vid­u­als and the col­lec­tive we) are not pow­er­less in the face of injus­tice and we can stand up and fight back. Sim­i­lar to teach­ing about the cul­tural and spir­i­tual resis­tance dur­ing the Holo­caust, we want to high­light for young peo­ple that peo­ple resisted and that they overcame.

The rel­e­vance to today’s issues raised by the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, specif­i­cally vio­lence against peo­ple of color and the racial dis­pro­por­tion­al­ity in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, are ones that can be explored and con­nec­tions made. It is impor­tant that peo­ple know and under­stand their his­tory and her­itage and reflect on con­nect­ing the past to the present. Malachi Kirby, the 26-year-old British actor who plays Kunta Kinte in the new series said: “These things hap­pened. And they’re hap­pen­ing today.”

The 1977 ‘Roots’ was a pro­found Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non, its impact deep and vast. The reboot will bring the topic alive for young peo­ple today and pro­vide edu­ca­tors and fam­i­lies with a con­tem­po­rary con­text within which to explore mod­ern day man­i­fes­ta­tions of racial injustice.





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