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June 22, 2015 1

What Should We Tell Our Children About Charleston?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we grieve, protest and fur­ther inves­ti­gate the hor­rific mur­der of nine African Amer­i­can parish­ioners at the his­toric Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, many peo­ple are ask­ing: What should we tell the children?

Par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers and oth­ers are some­times uneasy about dis­cussing issues of vio­lence and injus­tice with chil­dren because they want to pro­tect them from ter­ri­ble and scary top­ics. How­ever, it is impor­tant that chil­dren have a lan­guage for dis­cussing the unfair­ness and injus­tice they see in the world and that as adults, we model that these con­ver­sa­tions are ones we are will­ing to engage in as we assure them that we are work­ing to coun­ter­act injustice.

Except for very young chil­dren, it is impor­tant to raise the issue with chil­dren. It is likely that with online access and the 24/7 hour news cycle, many young peo­ple have already heard about it and may be look­ing for an oppor­tu­nity to learn more. In talk­ing with chil­dren about emo­tion­ally chal­leng­ing top­ics, remem­ber to:

  • Give them the time and space to express their feel­ings (what­ever those feel­ings are) and actively lis­ten with empa­thy and compassion.
  • Find out what they already know, clar­ify any mis­in­for­ma­tion they have and answer their ques­tions. If you don’t know the answer, be hon­est about that and find out the answer together.
  • In an age-appropriate way and using lan­guage they can under­stand, share your own thoughts, feel­ings and spe­cific val­ues about the topic.
  • Give youth infor­ma­tion about what is being done to make things safe and what actions are tak­ing place to coun­ter­act the injustice.

Here are spe­cific talk­ing points you may want to cover with young people:

Words and sym­bols matter

We have heard that the alleged shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, told racist jokes and spewed biased ide­ol­ogy. A con­tem­po­rary of Roof’s said “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seri­ously like that.” Hate has the poten­tial to esca­late and the Pyra­mid of Hate illus­trates how biased behav­iors and attitudes—when left unchallenged—can lead to more seri­ous acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence such as the one per­pe­trated in Charleston. If those atti­tudes, beliefs and behav­iors were ques­tioned and addressed, per­haps there would have been dif­fer­ent out­comes and those nine lives would not have been taken.

Sym­bols are forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that con­vey impor­tant mes­sages to chil­dren about what we value, what is impor­tant and what kind of soci­ety we want to cre­ate. Hate sym­bols, espe­cially when dis­sem­i­nated and per­va­sive, com­mu­ni­cate that hate and bias are accept­able. Roof had patches on his jacket of flags of regimes in South African and Rhode­sia that enforced the vio­lent white minor­ity rule. He was also seen in sev­eral pho­tos with a Con­fed­er­ate flag, which has come to sym­bol­ize racial hatred and big­otry. Iron­i­cally, the flag is still dis­played in South Carolina’s state­house grounds in Colum­bia and activists and elected offi­cials have been press­ing for its removal for years.

Racism is sys­temic and can be overcome

While Roof was not a for­mal mem­ber of a white suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tion, he espoused white supremacy ide­ol­ogy that is preva­lent, online and world­wide. In address­ing this topic with young peo­ple, we need to give them hope and inspi­ra­tion by show­ing them that we have come a long way on issues of race and other social jus­tice issues by push­ing for leg­is­la­tion, edu­cat­ing peo­ple and tak­ing action. At the same time, it is also impor­tant that we con­nect the dots so that young peo­ple under­stand that issues such as school seg­re­ga­tion, racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and vot­ing rights are not indi­vid­ual acts but are part of a larger sys­tem and that if soci­etal change is going to take place, the solu­tions also need to be systemic.

Activism makes a difference

Since the mur­ders last week, there have been protests across the coun­try and in Charleston and Colum­bia, SC specif­i­cally call­ing pub­lic offi­cials to take down the Con­fed­er­ate flag as a first step. On Sun­day, in a mov­ing demon­stra­tion of empa­thy and con­nec­tion, church bells across Charleston tolled for nine min­utes to sym­bol­ize the nine vic­tims. We know that our nation has a long his­tory of activism that has brought about sig­nif­i­cant social change–from mar­riage equal­ity to immi­gra­tion reform and the recent “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment. One of the most impor­tant prin­ci­ples we can con­vey to our chil­dren is that their voices and actions make a dif­fer­ence and will help to build a bet­ter world.

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March 16, 2015 2

To Confront Racism, We Must Also Look In the Mirror

teenagers debateLast week, dis­turb­ing video emerged of fra­ter­nity broth­ers from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chap­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Okla­homa laugh­ing while singing a racist chant: “There will never be a ni**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a ni**** SAE.”

The news comes on the heels of the recent find­ings from a Depart­ment of Jus­tice inves­ti­ga­tion in Fer­gu­son, MO which, among other things, revealed a deeply trou­bling series of racist emails by Fer­gu­son offi­cials. One email, for exam­ple, in Novem­ber 2008 pre­dicted that Pres­i­dent Obama would not be pres­i­dent much longer because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

With few excep­tions, peo­ple have denounced these inci­dents as racist. Imme­di­ately after the news broke, the pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of Okla­homa con­demned the stu­dents’ behav­ior and sev­ered all ties between the uni­ver­sity and the local SAE chap­ter.  At the same time, the national SAE head­quar­ters shut down the local chap­ter. Ferguson’s munic­i­pal court clerk was fired and the chief of police and two police offi­cers resigned after the DOJ report was released.

It is cer­tainly appro­pri­ate to con­demn this racism and teach peo­ple to chal­lenge biased lan­guage, but it is not enough.  Today, thank­fully, such overt racism is much less com­mon than in the past.  Still, there is an under­cur­rent of much sub­tler, more deeply buried bias that still flows through Amer­ica.  While fewer and fewer Amer­i­cans would use overt offen­sive, deroga­tory terms, many of us—consciously or not—have implicit biases (uncon­scious atti­tudes, stereo­types or unin­ten­tional actions that we direct at a mem­ber of a group sim­ply because of that person’s mem­ber­ship in that group).

The implicit biases embed­ded in, for exam­ple, the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem or the seg­re­gated nature of the col­lege fra­ter­nity sys­tem, can be as or more harm­ful than this hate­ful and deroga­tory language.

From a very early age we learn to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between things that are the same and things that are dif­fer­ent: one of these things is not like the other one.  Sci­ence shows that we make the same snap judg­ments about other peo­ple, using what we know and what we assume to cat­e­go­rize things. While that gives us impor­tant tools in mak­ing sense of the world, when paired with soci­etal biases and stereo­types it can become harm­ful. As a result of sub­tle mes­sages through­out soci­ety, most people—whether or not they intend it, and often when they expressly do not—have some implicit biases.

Stud­ies have found, for exam­ple, that doc­tors are more likely to pre­scribe pain med­ica­tion for white patients with a bro­ken leg than African Amer­i­can or Latino patients. Law firm part­ners, when asked to eval­u­ate a memo writ­ten by a hypo­thet­i­cal asso­ciate, scored the memo lower and found more mis­takes when they were told it had been writ­ten by an African Amer­i­can.  Another study found that, in order to get a call for an inter­view, appli­cants with typ­i­cally black names (such as Jamal or Lak­isha) had to send out 50 per­cent more resumes.

It is easy to dis­miss the racism at SAE and in Fer­gu­son as an aber­ra­tion and some­thing we would never engage in our­selves. It is much harder to deny that we have any implicit bias, espe­cially if you take the Implicit Asso­ci­a­tion Test. Because implicit bias begins at a very early age and devel­ops over the course of a life­time, there are ways we can par­ent, teach and inter­act with young peo­ple to coun­ter­act these direct and indi­rect messages:

  • Make your home, class­room and school envi­ron­ment as diverse as pos­si­ble so that from an early age, you work to coun­ter­act neg­a­tive biases. This means cre­at­ing an inclu­sive and cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive class­room with books, class­room dis­plays, bul­letin boards, hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions, videos, sto­ries, text­books, etc. and make sure dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives are reflected in your class­room curriculum.
  • Affirm and reflect the dif­fer­ent aspects of iden­tity rep­re­sented in your class­room and help young peo­ple decon­struct assump­tions, stereo­types and labels they have about dif­fer­ent groups of people.
  • Teach stu­dents what overt and implicit bias are and seek their par­tic­i­pa­tion in pro-actively doing some­thing about it.

 


 

 

Para Enfrentar el Racismo, Tam­bién Debe­mos Mirarnos en el Espejo

 

Hace poco tiempo apare­ció un per­tur­bador vídeo de los miem­bros de la frater­nidad del capí­tulo Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) de la Uni­ver­si­dad de Okla­homa, en el que ríen mien­tras can­tan un cán­tico racista: “Nunca habrá un ne***** en SAE. Puedes col­garlo de un árbol, pero él nunca podrá aso­cia­rse con­migo. Nunca habrá un SAE ne*****”.

La noti­cia le pisa los talones a los recientes resul­ta­dos de una inves­ti­gación en Fer­gu­son, MO real­izada por el Depar­ta­mento de Jus­ti­cia que, entre otras cosas, rev­eló una muy pre­ocu­pante serie de correos elec­tróni­cos racis­tas emi­ti­dos por fun­cionar­ios de Fer­gu­son. Por ejem­plo, un correo  predijo en noviem­bre de 2008 que el Pres­i­dente Obama no sería pres­i­dente por mucho más tiempo porque “qué hom­bre negro es capaz de tener un tra­bajo con­stante durante cua­tro años”.

 

Con pocas excep­ciones, la gente ha denun­ci­ado estos inci­dentes como racis­tas. Inmedi­ata­mente después de que aparecieran las noti­cias, el pres­i­dente de la Uni­ver­si­dad de Okla­homa con­denó el com­por­tamiento de los estu­di­antes y cortó todos los vín­cu­los entre la uni­ver­si­dad y el capí­tulo local del SAE.  Al mismo tiempo, la ofic­ina nacional del SAE cerró el capí­tulo local. El sec­re­tario del juz­gado munic­i­pal de Fer­gu­son fue des­pe­dido y el jefe del policía y dos ofi­ciales de policía renun­cia­ron cuando el informe de Depar­ta­mento de Jus­ti­cia fue dado a conocer.

Cier­ta­mente es apropi­ado con­denar este racismo y enseñar a la gente a enfrentar el lenguaje pre­jui­ci­ado, pero eso no es sufi­ciente.  Hoy día, afor­tu­nada­mente, el racismo tan abierto es mucho menos común que en el pasado.  No obstante, en Esta­dos Unidos todavía hay una cor­ri­ente sub­ter­ránea de pre­juicio mucho más sutil, enter­rado más pro­fun­da­mente.  Aunque cada vez menos esta­dounidenses uti­lizarían tér­mi­nos ofen­sivos o despec­tivos abier­ta­mente, muchos de nosotros −con­sciente o incon­scien­te­mente− ten­emos pre­juicios implíc­i­tos (acti­tudes incon­scientes, estereoti­pos o acciones no inten­cionales que dirigi­mos con­tra un miem­bro de un grupo sim­ple­mente por ser miem­bro de ese grupo).

 

Los pre­juicios implíc­i­tos arraiga­dos en, por ejem­plo, las dis­pari­dades raciales en el sis­tema de jus­ti­cia crim­i­nal o la nat­u­raleza seg­re­gada del sis­tema de frater­nidades uni­ver­si­tarias, pueden ser tanto o más dañi­nos que este lenguaje despec­tivo y de odio.

Desde muy tem­prana edad apren­demos a dis­tin­guir entre las cosas que son iguales y las cosas que son difer­entes: una de estas cosas no es como la otra.  La cien­cia demues­tra que hace­mos los mis­mos juicios rápi­dos sobre la gente, usando lo que sabe­mos y lo que asum­i­mos para clasi­ficar cosas. Aunque eso nos da impor­tantes her­ramien­tas para enten­der el mundo, cuando se une con pre­juicios y estereoti­pos sociales puede lle­gar a ser per­ju­di­cial. Como resul­tado de men­sajes sutiles en la sociedad, la may­oría de la gente −lo quiera o no, y a menudo cuando expre­sa­mente no lo quiere− tiene algunos pre­juicios implícitos.

Por ejem­plo, los estu­dios han encon­trado que los médi­cos tienen más ten­den­cia a pre­scribir medica­men­tos para el dolor a los pacientes blan­cos con una pierna rota que a los pacientes afro-americanos o lati­nos. Cuando se le pidió a los socios de una firma de abo­ga­dos eval­uar un memo escrito por un aso­ci­ado hipotético, lo cal­i­fi­caron menos bien y encon­traron más errores cuando les dijeron que había sido escrito por un afro-americano.  Otro estu­dio encon­tró que para con­seguir una cita para una entre­vista, los aspi­rantes con nom­bres típi­ca­mente negros (tales como Jamal o Lak­isha) tuvieron que enviar 50% más currículos

Es fácil descar­tar el racismo en el SAE y en Fer­gu­son como una aber­ración y algo en lo que nunca par­tic­i­paríamos nosotros mis­mos. Es mucho más difí­cil negar que ten­emos algún pre­juicio implíc­ito, espe­cial­mente si tomamos la Prueba de Aso­ciación Implícita. Debido a que el pre­juicio implíc­ito comienza en una edad muy tem­prana y se desar­rolla a lo largo de la vida, hay man­eras en que podemos criar, enseñar e inter­ac­tuar con los jóvenes para con­trar­restar estos men­sajes direc­tos e indirectos:

  • Haga el ambi­ente de su hogar, salón de clase y escuela tan diverso como sea posi­ble, de modo que desde una edad tem­prana usted con­tribuya a con­trar­restar los pre­juicios neg­a­tivos. Esto sig­nifica crear un aula inclu­siva y cul­tural­mente sen­si­ble con libros, exhibi­ciones, cartel­eras, cel­e­bra­ciones de fes­tivi­dades, videos, cuen­tos, tex­tos, etc. y ase­gu­rarse de que esas diver­sas per­spec­ti­vas se refle­jen en el cur­rículo de sus cursos.
  • Refuerce y refleje los diver­sos aspec­tos de iden­ti­dad rep­re­sen­ta­dos en su aula y ayude a los jóvenes a decon­struir los estereoti­pos, suposi­ciones y eti­que­tas que tienen sobre diver­sos gru­pos de gente.
  • Enseñe a los estu­di­antes qué son los pre­juicios abier­tos e implíc­i­tos y busque su par­tic­i­pación para hacer algo al respecto proac­ti­va­mente.

 

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January 14, 2015 1

Beyond the Dream, Teaching King in Context

Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Day is Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 19, and many edu­ca­tors will take the oppor­tu­nity to teach about King and his enor­mous con­tri­bu­tions to our soci­ety. As edu­ca­tors, how we approach the teach­ing of this hol­i­day makes an impact on how stu­dents under­stand the larger con­text of the Civil Rights Move­ment and whether they make a con­nec­tion between the past strug­gles to the cur­rent day and their own lives. Here are some thoughts about teach­ing the topic in a mean­ing­ful way:

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, LC-USZ62-126559

Cour­tesy of the Library of Con­gress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Col­lec­tion, LC-USZ62-126559

Focus on what Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. rep­re­sents.  King is an icon, a larger than life fig­ure and a tremen­dous ora­tor. These char­ac­ter­is­tics can lead stu­dents to believe that he sin­gle­hand­edly accom­plished the goals of the Civil Rights Move­ment or that they could never be like King.  It’s impor­tant to put King’s work into the con­text of the larger move­ment of peo­ple that he rep­re­sented.  Stu­dents need to know about King’s life, that he was a leader of all types of “ordi­nary” peo­ple, and it was them – peo­ple of all ages, all walks of life, all dif­fer­ent races and reli­gions – that made the Civil Rights Move­ment possible.

It is impor­tant to under­stand and teach that the Civil Rights Move­ment was a strate­gic, on-going  move­ment with spe­cific objec­tives.  Author Bryan Steven­son talks about the idea that peo­ple today often think of the civil rights move­ment as a 3 day event; “Day One, Rosa Parks gave up her seat on a bus; Day Two, Dr. King led a march on Wash­ing­ton; and Day Three, we signed all these laws.”  This sim­plis­tic view of the Civil Rights Move­ment leaves out all of the impor­tant ele­ments of strat­egy, strug­gle and the actual “move­ment” of the Civil Rights Movement.

Sim­i­larly, it is impor­tant to be spe­cific when talk­ing about King and the Civil Rights Move­ment. Dr. King’s legacy can­not be under­stood with­out talk­ing about big­otry, race and racism.  That may seem obvi­ous, but often edu­ca­tors are hes­i­tant to talk about race.  With thought­ful prepa­ra­tion, how­ever, these issues can be raised in a devel­op­men­tally appro­pri­ate way.  It’s also really use­ful to be spe­cific about the aims of the Civil Rights Move­ment– not just a vague notion of “equal­ity” but a social jus­tice move­ment that was seek­ing to end seg­re­ga­tion, secure vot­ing rights, advo­cate for worker’s rights, and address eco­nomic disparities.

In this way, we have teach­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties that con­nect the past to cur­rent events.  Stu­dents can see both the suc­cess of the Civil Rights Move­ment while also con­nect­ing to what forms of sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and unequal treat­ment exist today.  For exam­ple, exam­in­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act allows for an oppor­tu­nity to ana­lyze the 2013 Supreme Court deci­sion which gut­ted the heart of that law or explore tac­tics like Voter ID laws which sup­press the abil­ity to vote.  Sim­i­larly, focus­ing on the impor­tance of youth involve­ment and lead­er­ship in all aspects of the Civil Rights Move­ment allows for an oppor­tu­nity to learn about cur­rent activism led by youth.  

We know that no edu­ca­tor has the lux­ury or time to focus on all aspects of King’s life and the work of the Civil Rights Move­ment. Choos­ing one spe­cific aspect of King’s life or the Civil Rights Move­ment can give stu­dents more oppor­tu­nity to under­stand and explore, whether focus­ing on Selma or The Children’s Cru­sade or the San­i­ta­tion Work­ers’ Strike in Memphis.

These are just a few exam­ples of the many dif­fer­ent entry points for learn­ing about Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and the work of the Civil Rights Move­ment.  For many, the “go to” entry point is to focus on King’s most famous and most quoted “I Have a Dream” speech, specif­i­cally the end with its lyri­cal, mov­ing rep­e­ti­tion. Because this speech has vivid imagery and phrases that make it easy to teach, it can also be over­sim­pli­fied. We need to go beyond “the Dream” for stu­dents to truly make mean­ing of King’s legacy.  King’s dream was deeply rooted not just in “the Amer­i­can Dream,” but also in that time’s con­text of dis­crim­i­na­tion, racism and big­otry.  How­ever we choose to honor King’s legacy this year, stu­dents’ learn­ing should also be rooted in those con­cepts of injustice.

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