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June 19, 2015 0

The Rachel Dolezal Teachable Moment

Abstract Colorful Group Of People Or Workers Or Employees - ConcRachel Dolezal, Pres­i­dent of the Spokane, Wash­ing­ton chap­ter of the NAACP  (National Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple), made head­lines and became the top trend­ing item on Twit­ter last week when it was dis­cov­ered that she had been pos­ing as Black for many years. In her inter­view on the Today Show, she con­tin­ued to assert: “I iden­tify as Black.” These events have sparked strong emotions—anger, con­fu­sion, sym­pa­thy, shock, curiosity—and have fueled a lively pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion about Black­ness, iden­tity, cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion and what it means to be an ally.  All of these con­cepts are ones we address in anti-bias edu­ca­tion work.

Iden­tity is an extremely impor­tant con­cept for peo­ple to under­stand and grap­ple with, start­ing at a young age. Know­ing who you are, what groups you belong to (race, gen­der and gen­der iden­tity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, reli­gion, etc.), your his­tory and how your fam­ily makes mean­ing of the mul­ti­fac­eted nature of your iden­tity are crit­i­cal for self-esteem devel­op­ment. When we know who we are, we can build bridges with oth­ers with whom we are both sim­i­lar and dif­fer­ent.  The con­cept of race is largely under­stood as socially con­structed rather than solely based on genet­ics and biol­ogy. The racial group to which one belongs is a com­plex set of fac­tors includ­ing phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, fam­ily lin­eage and ethnic/cultural upbring­ing. Rachel Dolezal did not grow up Black even though she claims to be Black.

The term cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion has been raised quite a bit in this con­ver­sa­tion. Some peo­ple say that Rachel Dolezal is appro­pri­at­ing Black cul­ture because of her hair style, com­plex­ion, life choices and insis­tence that she’s Black. Cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion is when peo­ple use spe­cific ele­ments of a cul­ture (e.g. ideas, sym­bols, styles) with­out regard for the impact to that cul­ture and it usu­ally hap­pens when a per­son or group exploits the cul­ture of another group, often with lit­tle under­stand­ing of the group’s his­tory, expe­ri­ence and cul­tural norms. Accord­ing to Maisha John­son, it is prob­lem­atic for a vari­ety of rea­sons includ­ing triv­i­al­iz­ing his­tor­i­cal racial oppres­sion, per­pet­u­at­ing stereo­types and let­ting priv­i­leged groups ben­e­fit or profit by using other people’s cul­ture. Is Rachel Dolezal appro­pri­at­ing Black cul­ture or is some­thing else operating?

Based on her pro­fes­sional inter­ests and choices, it seems clear that Rachel Dolezal has a pas­sion for social jus­tice and could have been an ally as a white woman.  There have been exam­ples through­out his­tory of peo­ple out­side a par­tic­u­lar iden­tity group being allies to oth­ers. Count­less white peo­ple have been allies to African Amer­i­cans in the civil rights strug­gles of the 1960’s and today–some even died for the cause.  Dur­ing the Holo­caust, non-Jews helped Jews escape at tremen­dous risk to them­selves. GLSEN spon­sors Ally Week in which straight allies make com­mit­ments to equal­ity for LGBTQ peo­ple.  For more than 10 years, ADL has edu­cated youth and adults across the coun­try to become bet­ter allies and still more works to be done. We need to teach our chil­dren that it is an impor­tant to be an ally, no mat­ter who you are.

What can we learn from this dia­logue and how can we turn it into a teach­able moment for young peo­ple?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Edu­cate youth to explore who they are cul­tur­ally and racially and in all of their com­plex­ity, affirm­ing their iden­tity through books, cur­ricu­lum and all that we expose them to.
  • Point out when you see cul­tural appro­pri­a­tion and high­light why it’s wrong; at the same time. pro­vide young peo­ple with real cul­tural expe­ri­ences with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent groups.
  • Pro­vide exam­ples for and encour­age young peo­ple to use respect­ful ally behav­ior and chal­lenge ally behav­ior that crosses the line into dis­re­spect­ful or unhelpful.
  • Show youth that the world would not have changed with­out allies and that being an ally is a skill devel­oped through prac­tice and hard work.


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January 18, 2013 1

ADL Workshop Cultivates Ally Behavior Online

Over the past few years the media has cov­ered many sto­ries about cyber­bul­ly­ing and its detri­men­tal effects on youth.  The research, and our own expe­ri­ences, make it clear that cyber­bul­ly­ing hurts the youth tar­geted and cre­ates a neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence for those who wit­ness the behav­ior.   We also know that youth are often tar­geted online because of their iden­tity, includ­ing their weight, real or per­ceived sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der expres­sion, reli­gion and race.

To help address issues of cyber­bul­ly­ing, ADL’s AWORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Insti­tute cre­ated Cyber­ALLY®, a half-day (3-hour) or full-day (6-hour) inter­ac­tive train­ing for mid­dle and high school-age youth that pro­vides prac­ti­cal infor­ma­tion and oppor­tu­ni­ties for skill-building.  Cyber­ALLY sup­ports youth in devel­op­ing per­sonal strate­gies for pro­tect­ing them­selves against cyber­bul­ly­ing as well as act­ing as cyberallies—preventing and tak­ing action against cyber­bul­ly­ing and social cru­elty in online forum.

We recently con­ducted a research eval­u­a­tion of Cyber­AL­LYto assess the effec­tive­ness of the train­ing pro­gram and gain insight into areas for improve­ment.  Funded by Cir­cle of Ser­vice and Microsoft, we con­tracted with an eval­u­a­tion research firm, TCC Group, to design and con­duct the eval­u­a­tion.  With TCC Group, we iden­ti­fied in research terms the out­comes we hoped to achieve with Cyber­ALLY:  1) aware­ness and knowl­edge about cyber­bul­ly­ing, 2) demon­stra­tion of respon­si­ble and eth­i­cal online behav­ior, and 3) abil­ity to be a CyberALLY.

The data analy­sis shows highly sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment in all three out­come areas, indi­cat­ing that the Cyber­ALLY pro­gram is effec­tively equip­ping stu­dents to take action against cyber­bul­ly­ing. The stu­dents showed the great­est improve­ment in the out­come “the abil­ity to be a cyber­ally.”  Some spe­cific find­ings include: 93% of stu­dents indi­cated that they learned dif­fer­ent strate­gies for respond­ing to cyber­bul­ly­ing and online bias and 81% indi­cated that “all kids my age should par­tic­i­pate in this work­shop.”  By chang­ing the cul­ture from one of pas­sive bystanders to one of active cyber­al­lies, we can change the way stu­dents inter­act online. In all, the results of this eval­u­a­tion have shown that ADL is con­tribut­ing to fur­ther­ing the  over­all goal of fos­ter­ing increased cyber-civility and a cul­ture of e-safety among our youth.

For spe­cific strate­gies on how you can be a cyber­ally and address bias and bul­ly­ing online, visit


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October 23, 2012 3

Fighting Back Against Bullying

Octo­ber is Bul­ly­ing Pre­ven­tion Aware­ness Month:
Read this story and find out what ADL is doing to pre­vent bullying.

ADL teams with schools, gov­ern­ment and Hollywood.

“They punch me in the jaw, stran­gle me, they knock things out of my hand, take things from me, sit on me. They push me so far that I want to become the bully.” — Alex, 12

Alex, a stu­dent from Sioux City, Iowa, is a tar­get of bul­ly­ing whose story is told in the pow­er­ful doc­u­men­tary, “Bully.” The film, released by The Wein­stein Com­pany with ADL as a part­ner, vividly depicts ver­bal abuse and vio­lence that made school a liv­ing hell for Alex and four other children—two of whom com­mit­ted suicide.

ADL has used this film as a teach­ing tool. To date, we have screened it at ADL anti-bullying events in two dozen loca­tions around the coun­try to drive home a point we’ve been mak­ing for more than a decade: bul­ly­ing has seri­ous con­se­quences and must be dealt with seri­ously. Accord­ing to research by the Olweus Bul­ly­ing Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram of the Insti­tute on Fam­ily and Neigh­bor­hood Life at Clem­son Uni­ver­sity, 16.8 per­cent of youth are bul­lied two to three times per month or more.

“The impact of unchecked bul­ly­ing is one that car­ries over beyond the school years and affects the behav­ior of adults and the entire soci­ety,” ADL National Direc­tor Abra­ham H. Fox­man wrote about the movie in an arti­cle for The Daily Beast/Newsweek.

“ADL’s mis­sion to fight hate and prej­u­dice does not stop at the school­house door,” says ADL Civil Rights Direc­tor Deb­o­rah Lauter. “We con­tinue our work so that all chil­dren feel truly pro­tected, includ­ing stu­dents who are bul­lied because of their ances­try, color, dis­abil­ity, eth­nic­ity, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity or expres­sion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, national ori­gin, reli­gion or race.”


A Holis­tic Approach

ADL is unique because we fight bul­ly­ing holis­ti­cally, by track­ing the nature and mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem, devel­op­ing edu­ca­tion pro­grams for par­ents, teach­ers, admin­is­tra­tors and stu­dents, and by craft­ing legal and leg­isla­tive responses. “It takes a whole com­mu­nity to allow bul­ly­ing to go on, and it takes a whole com­mu­nity to make sure it doesn’t,” Mr. Fox­man says.

“ADL’s anti-bias, anti-bullying pro­grams, which reach over two mil­lion every year, sen­si­tize par­tic­i­pants to the pain inflicted by bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing and train teach­ers, stu­dents, par­ents and admin­is­tra­tors to respond effec­tively,” notes David Waren, ADL Edu­ca­tion Divi­sion Direc­tor. “Our pro­grams give a voice to the tar­get, build empa­thy in the per­pe­tra­tors and inspire bystanders to become allies.”

“If just one per­son had spo­ken up for me, maybe the bul­ly­ing would have stopped,” said ADL Peer Trainer Nikki Allinson at a Con­gres­sional brief­ing in May. She had been tor­mented for being Jew­ish dur­ing her child­hood in Con­necti­cut. “Bully” direc­tor Lee Hirsch and ADL Wash­ing­ton Coun­sel Michael Lieber­man also spoke at the brief­ing, which was hosted by Rep. Sheila Jack­son Lee (D-TX)—a par­tic­i­pant in an ADL “Bully” screen­ing pro­gram in Houston.


Train­ing Secu­rity and Legal Experts

Because first respon­ders to bul­ly­ing are often school police offi­cers, ADL is train­ing them as well. School secu­rity offi­cers in Los Ange­les are learn­ing about the char­ac­ter­is­tics and impact of cyber­bul­ly­ing, and how to inter­vene and pre­vent it. In Chicago, ADL trained approx­i­mately 1,500 Chicago Pub­lic School secu­rity offi­cers about the nature and dan­ger of cyber­bul­ly­ing and key legal issues includ­ing free­dom of speech and its lim­its, pri­vacy, Illi­nois’ anti-bullying law and crim­i­nal law issues.

With so many legal ram­i­fi­ca­tions, ADL is help­ing legal experts keep up to date on bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing case law. More­over, ADL has part­nered with sev­eral state Attor­neys Gen­eral and U.S. Attor­neys to train law enforce­ment offi­cers, school admin­is­tra­tors, social work­ers and oth­ers about legal issues raised by bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing.


Cre­at­ing Smart Laws

ADL is pro­mot­ing state laws that man­date school bul­ly­ing poli­cies. “A law gives schools the power to do some­thing about a bul­ly­ing prob­lem,” says ADL Civil Rights Direc­tor Deb­o­rah Lauter. “With­out a law, schools may choose not to cre­ate anti-bullying poli­cies, or may not actu­ally enforce policies.”

In 2009, ADL cre­ated a model anti-bullying statute that out­lines what an effec­tive law should include, for exam­ple: a strong def­i­n­i­tion of bul­ly­ing that includes cyber­bul­ly­ing; enu­mer­ated cat­e­gories to explic­itly address bul­ly­ing moti­vated by per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics; clear bul­ly­ing report­ing pro­ce­dures; and required reg­u­lar train­ing for teach­ers and stu­dents about bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing. Partly because of ADL’s advo­cacy, 49 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia have anti-bullying laws on the books, and we are work­ing to strengthen those that are not comprehensive.

ADL is also sup­port­ing two pieces of fed­eral leg­is­la­tion, the Tyler Clementi Higher Edu­ca­tion Anti-Harassment Act of 2011 and the Safe Schools Improve­ment Act. The first would require col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to rec­og­nize cyber­bul­ly­ing as a form of harass­ment and fund anti-harassment pro­grams. The sec­ond would help schools develop and imple­ment bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion poli­cies and pro­grams, and would require states to gather and report infor­ma­tion about bul­ly­ing and harassment.

“The law is a blunt instru­ment when address­ing bul­ly­ing. It’s much bet­ter to pre­vent it in the first place,” says ADL Wash­ing­ton Coun­sel Michael Lieber­man. “But these fed­eral laws would pro­vide an impor­tant frame to com­ple­ment our edu­ca­tion and train­ing initiatives.”


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