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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 16, 2016 Off

Charleston Anniversary: We Mourn, We Act

One year ago, on June 17, 2015, a white suprema­cist mur­dered nine parish­ioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   It’s ter­ri­ble – and unfair – that the quiet space in time we should have had to reflect and prop­erly mourn these mur­ders tar­get­ing African-Americans has been lit­er­ally blown apart by another tragedy – even larger in scale – involv­ing the delib­er­ate tar­get­ing of mem­bers of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity in Orlando this past weekend.

We can and must grieve for the vic­tims of the heart­less white suprema­cist who mur­dered nine peo­ple who had wel­comed him into prayer,

com­mu­nion, and fel­low­ship.   We can and must mourn the vic­tims in Orlando cel­e­brat­ing life dur­ing Pride Month and Latino Night.

And:  we can do more than stand in sol­i­dar­ity and mourn.

On this anniver­sary, after a week­end of bias-motivated may­hem, we should reded­i­cate our­selves to ensur­ing that we, as a nation, are doing all we can to fight hate and extremism.

1)     Law enforce­ment author­i­ties are now inves­ti­gat­ing what role – if any – rad­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions of Islam played in inspir­ing the Orlando mur­derer to act — and that work is clearly jus­ti­fied.  But we must rec­og­nize and pay atten­tion to extrem­ism and hate com­ing from all sources – includ­ing white suprema­cists, like the mur­derer in Charleston.

2)     Charleston and Orlando are fur­ther evi­dence that firearms are more pop­u­lar than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for Amer­i­can extrem­ists. We must end lim­i­ta­tions on fed­eral research on gun vio­lence – and make it more dif­fi­cult to obtain firearms through increased wait­ing peri­ods, safety restric­tions, and lim­i­ta­tions on pur­chases – espe­cially of assault-style weapons.   None of these steps will cer­tainly pre­vent the next gun-toting mass mur­derer – but, as Pres­i­dent Obama said, “to actively do noth­ing is a deci­sion as well.”

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal (AME) Church.
Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

3)     We need more inclu­sive and exten­sive laws in place to com­bat vio­lence moti­vated by hate and extrem­ism.  On the state level, though 45 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia have hate crime laws, a hand­ful of states – includ­ing South Car­olina – do not (the oth­ers are Arkansas, Geor­gia, Indi­ana, and Wyoming).  ADL and a broad coali­tion of three dozen national orga­ni­za­tions have formed #50 States Against Hate to improve the response to all hate crimes, with more effec­tive laws, train­ing, and policies.

And, though hate crime laws are very impor­tant, they are a blunt instru­ment – it’s much bet­ter to pre­vent these crimes in the first place.  Con­gress and the states should com­ple­ment these laws with fund­ing for inclu­sive anti-bias edu­ca­tion, hate crime pre­ven­tion, and bul­ly­ing, cyber­bul­ly­ing, and harass­ment pre­ven­tion train­ing programs.

4)     And finally, let us resolve to more fiercely resist unnec­es­sary and dis­crim­i­na­tory laws, like North Carolina’s HB 2, that deprive indi­vid­u­als of the oppor­tu­nity to live their lives in dig­nity, free from per­se­cu­tion because of their race, reli­gion, national ori­gin, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity, or disability.

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May 3, 2016 Off

Labeling Behavior, Not People

language graphicWith 28% of stu­dents ages 12 – 18 years old cur­rently report­ing hav­ing been a tar­get of bul­ly­ing, con­cerns about bul­ly­ing in schools have moti­vated hun­dreds of books to be writ­ten and a wide vari­ety of pro­grams to be designed and imple­mented with the goal of turn­ing the tide of bul­ly­ing. Many of these books and pro­grams aim to change the behav­ior of “bul­lies.” And herein lies one of the prob­lems that makes it so chal­leng­ing to change the dynamic of bullying.

First, what is it? Bul­ly­ing is the repeated actions or threats of action directed toward a per­son by one or more peo­ple who have or are per­ceived to have more power or sta­tus than their tar­get in order to cause fear, dis­tress or harm.

When most peo­ple pic­ture a “bully” in their minds, they see some­one who is big­ger than every­one else and goes around intim­i­dat­ing oth­ers. Because of this per­cep­tion, if you ask a room full of stu­dents if they have ever been a “bully,” chances are no one will raise their hand. Ask the same stu­dents if they have ever excluded some­one, called some­one a name, spread rumors or picked on some­one because of the way they look, you will find that many hands – if not all – will go up.

This tells us that there is a dis­con­nect between being labeled a “bully” and actu­ally engag­ing in bul­ly­ing behav­ior. As long as that dis­con­nect exists and we con­tinue to use the label “bully,” we will not be able to engage stu­dents in real con­ver­sa­tions that chal­lenge the social norms around bul­ly­ing. By iden­ti­fy­ing bul­ly­ing as a behav­ior rather than a label assigned to a per­son who exhibits the behav­ior, a few things happen:

  1. Stu­dents are able to self-reflect on their actions with­out fear of judgment;
  2. Stu­dents are able to rec­og­nize that the dif­fer­ent behav­iors that peo­ple choose play an impor­tant role when instances of bias or bullying—whether active or pas­sive occur; and
  3. Stu­dents begin to make con­scious deci­sions to respond in par­tic­u­lar ways when inci­dents occur and ulti­mately, take respon­si­bil­ity for mak­ing sure every­one is treated with respect by becom­ing an ally.

We live in a soci­ety that often uses labels to stereo­type and sim­plify peo­ple. Unfor­tu­nately, bul­ly­ing is not a sim­ple con­cept and it is up to edu­ca­tors and fam­i­lies to engage the young peo­ple in their lives in bet­ter under­stand­ing that bul­ly­ing refers to a behav­ior and not a per­son, and that it is a behav­ior that all peo­ple at some time in their lives have engaged in.  Under­stand­ing this dif­fer­ence empow­ers and moti­vates young peo­ple to move from being a bystander to an ally.

 

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