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February 19, 2015 1

Books Matter: The Power of Children’s Literature

Any­one who has ever read to or with a child—parent, fam­ily mem­ber, teacher or friend—knows books leave last­ing impres­sions. Beyond the edu­ca­tional ben­e­fits, books have the power to instill empa­thy, affirm, teach, trans­port and inspire action. Books matter.

Empa­thy
In expos­ing chil­dren to other people’s sto­ries and the moti­va­tions and feel­ings behind those nar­ra­tives, chil­dren begin to con­nect with oth­ers on an emo­tional level, which is the foun­da­tion for bridg­ing dif­fer­ences between worlds. Books have the power to fos­ter empa­thy and under­stand­ing of other peo­ple and cul­tures–their hopes and dreams, their joys and sor­rows, their sto­ries and reflec­tions. Empa­thy is the ground­work for under­stand­ing peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from one­self. Books open those doors for chil­dren to other places and experiences.

Self-Reflection
Par­ents and edu­ca­tors know that one of the most impor­tant things books do for chil­dren is affirm who they are. Com­monly referred to as “mir­ror” books, they con­tain reflec­tions of the children—their cul­ture, fam­ily, race, reli­gion, etc.—and enable them to see them­selves por­trayed with accu­racy, depth and com­plex­ity. As Charles Blow, a writer and op-ed colum­nist for the New York Times shared about books, “They helped me to see myself and love myself when I felt least seen and least loved. They saved me.”  Through books, chil­dren should be able to see them­selves take on endeavors–both ordi­nary and extra­or­di­nary.  Pos­i­tive iden­tity devel­op­ment is cru­cial dur­ing child­hood and when chil­dren don’t see them­selves in books and else­where, they feel deval­ued and less optimistic.

Unfor­tu­nately, there is often a lack of diver­sity in children’s books.  Although chil­dren of color make up about 40% of the pop­u­la­tion, recent sta­tis­tics show that the num­ber of children’s books fea­tur­ing peo­ple of color has been hov­er­ing around 10% for the past sev­eral years. Other types of diversity—including abil­ity, socioe­co­nomic sta­tus and LGBT peo­ple and families—are also lack­ing. There has been an acknowl­edg­ment of this prob­lem and an out­cry in the edu­ca­tion and lit­er­a­ture worlds to address it. A recent New York Times arti­cle asked, “Where are the peo­ple of color in children’s books?”  The con­cept of “We Need Diverse Books” quickly evolved from a hash­tag to an orga­ni­za­tion, and in 2015, the John New­bury Medal win­ning children’s books all fea­tured an aspect of diver­sity. There is grow­ing aware­ness but change is slow.

Teach and Trans­port
“Win­dow” books have the power to teach chil­dren about aspects of life for which they are unfa­mil­iar. They can shed light on peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent in a myr­iad of ways– reli­gion, fam­ily struc­ture, abil­ity, race or coun­try of ori­gin.  In small and big ways, books can illu­mi­nate dif­fer­ences between peo­ple and reveal how bias is some­times caused by mis­un­der­stand­ing. Poignant words and illus­tra­tions trans­port chil­dren into new realms and expe­ri­ences. Through books, they may learn about some­one who is deaf or autis­tic. They can gain famil­iar­ity with the expe­ri­ences of immi­grants from other coun­tries or those who have fam­ily con­stel­la­tions dif­fer­ent from their own. They may learn about dif­fer­ent cul­tures and their hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions.  Help­ing chil­dren gain com­fort with dif­fer­ences has last­ing benefits.

Action
When chil­dren are faced with bias and bul­ly­ing, it can be dif­fi­cult for them to know what to do. Books can help and they often res­onate with chil­dren in ways noth­ing else does. As young peo­ple look for strate­gies to deal with teas­ing and bul­ly­ing, they can also dis­cover books that help them learn how to be an ally. Sto­ries about peo­ple who stand up to prej­u­dice and injus­tice can inspire chil­dren to see them­selves in oth­ers who have fought for jus­tice, espe­cially child and youth activists.

Whether it’s a nine­teenth cen­tury suf­fragette, a Holo­caust resister or a Nobel prize win­ning Pak­istani girl fight­ing for girls’ edu­ca­tion, through books we can teach chil­dren about the world out­side them­selves, the his­tory of injus­tice and how they can make a difference.

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October 15, 2014 0

The Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act: Five Years Later

The Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Pre­ven­tion Act (HCPA), enacted into law on Octo­ber 28, 2009, is the most impor­tant, com­pre­hen­sive, and inclu­sive fed­eral hate crime enforce­ment law passed in the past 40 years.Matthew_Shepard_and_James_Byrd,_Jr._Hate_Crimes_Prevention_Act

The HCPA encour­ages part­ner­ships between state and fed­eral law enforce­ment offi­cials to more effec­tively address hate vio­lence, and pro­vides expanded author­ity for fed­eral hate crime inves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions when local author­i­ties are unwill­ing or unable to act.  Impor­tantly, the HCPA adds sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity and dis­abil­ity to the groups which pre­vi­ously had fed­eral pro­tec­tion against hate crimes – race, color, reli­gion and national origin.

For more than a dozen years, the Anti-Defamation League led a broad coali­tion of civil rights, reli­gious, edu­ca­tional, pro­fes­sional, law enforce­ment, and civic orga­ni­za­tions advo­cat­ing for the HCPA. The leg­is­la­tion was stalled by fierce oppo­si­tion from some con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions — and, for eight years, by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush — in large part because it pro­vided new author­ity for the FBI and the Jus­tice Depart­ment to inves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute cases in which mem­bers of LGBT com­mu­ni­ties were tar­geted for vio­lence.  Ener­getic sup­port by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder, Jr.  was essen­tial to achiev­ing final pas­sage of the measure.

The HCPA has proven to be a valu­able tool for fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors.  The Depart­ment of Jus­tice has brought more than two dozen cases over the past five years – and has suc­cess­fully defended the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the Act against sev­eral con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenges.

Enact­ment of the HCPA also sparked a wel­come round of police train­ing and out­reach – and the devel­op­ment of a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant new hate crime train­ing and pre­ven­tion resources, includ­ing an updated Hate Crime Model Pol­icy pre­pared by the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Police.

Yet, much work remains to be done.  Hate crimes remain a seri­ous national prob­lem. In 2012 (accord­ing to the most recent data avail­able) the FBI doc­u­mented more than 6,500 hate crimes – almost one every hour of every day. The most fre­quent were moti­vated by race, fol­lowed by reli­gion and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.  Of the crime moti­vated by reli­gion, more than 60 per­cent tar­geted Jews or Jew­ish institutions.

Unfor­tu­nately, more than 90 cities with pop­u­la­tions over 100,000 either did not par­tic­i­pate in the FBI 2012 data col­lec­tion pro­gram or affir­ma­tively reported zero (0) hate crimes. That is unac­cept­able. As FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey said in remarks to the 2014 ADL Lead­er­ship Sum­mit, “We must con­tinue to impress upon our state and local coun­ter­parts in every juris­dic­tion the need to track and report hate crime. It is not some­thing we can ignore or sweep under the rug.”

The fifth anniver­sary of the HCPA pro­vides an impor­tant teach­able moment.  It is a fit­ting occa­sion for advo­cates, the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion, and Con­gress to pro­mote aware­ness of the HCPA, to report on the progress our nation has made in pre­vent­ing hate vio­lence, and to reded­i­cate our­selves to effec­tively respond­ing to bias crimes when they occur.

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September 4, 2014 3

Microaggressions Feel Like Broken Glass, So ADL Partnered with MTV

mtv_Look_Different_03

I can’t tell Asians apart.

You’re dif­fer­ent for a Black guy.

You don’t look Jewish. 

Microag­gres­sions. They are every­day slights, indig­ni­ties, put-downs and insults that peo­ple of color, women, LBGT pop­u­la­tions and other mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple expe­ri­ence in their day-to-day inter­ac­tions.  Their impact is often unin­tended, sub­tle or seen as innocu­ous, which makes it easy to dis­miss them or tell peo­ple who object that they are being “too sensitive.”

 

Have you expe­ri­enced them?  Have you said them?

ADL has part­nered with MTV on its “Look Dif­fer­ent” cam­paign to address the issue of microag­gres­sions and other aspects of hid­den bias.  Because while the name “micro” gives the impres­sion they are small and the intent of the per­son say­ing them may be benign, the cumu­la­tive impact can be sub­stan­tial.  And stud­ies reveal that racial microag­gres­sions have pow­er­ful detri­men­tal con­se­quences.

MTV’s recent PSAs, Bro­ken Glass, visu­ally illus­trate the impact of microag­gres­sions — which can be like a plate of glass hit­ting you and break­ing, cre­at­ing tiny lit­tle cuts that alone can seem harm­less, but col­lec­tively cre­ate a sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive impact.  This cam­paign serves not only to edu­cate about the impor­tance of address­ing microag­gres­sions, but also to val­i­date those who have expe­ri­enced microag­gres­sions. Youth have responded on the campaign’s tum­blr with com­ments like “I get ‘You don’t look Jew­ish!’ a lot. Like it’s some­thing to be happy about. ::shud­der::,” “I laugh about it when it hap­pens, but this pic­ture is exactly how it feels” and “the per­fect visual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of microag­gres­sions,” show­ing the impor­tance of see­ing one’s expe­ri­ence affirmed.

We believe it’s impor­tant to edu­cate peo­ple in a vari­ety of ways and meth­ods.  Whether in the class­room or on tum­blr or Twit­ter, the dia­logue is impor­tant and can influ­ence people’s self-reflection on their own biases as well as help them develop the skills to edu­cate oth­ers.  That’s why, in addi­tion to our own edu­ca­tion efforts, like our recent Cur­rent Events Class­room on Microag­gres­sions,we joined other experts on race, gen­der and LGBT issues to sup­port MTV’s Look Dif­fer­ent cam­paign with the poten­tial to reach more than a half-billion house­holds glob­ally and 188 mil­lion fol­low­ers on social media.  We are proud to have rep­re­sen­ta­tives on both the Look Dif­fer­ent Advi­sory Board and the “Good Look Panel.”

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