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June 19, 2015

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

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

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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