When I first got out of grad school with my Master in Social Work, I was a bright-eyed kid full of hopes and dreams of doing my part to make the world better. Completely broke and desperate to find work before the student loans people released their hounds, I applied to countless jobs and found that no one would hire me because I had no experience, a vicious “Experience Paradox” that many young grads go through each year.
Frustrated and dejected, I secluded myself in my room (in my parents’ house), sending out my resume all day, coming out at night to raise my clenched fist to the dark skies and screaming “I may be inexperienced, but I am still a human being! A human being!!!” Then I would eat some ramen and watch Spanish soap operas on Univision.
What is the point of that story? The point is that communities of color, and the organizations led by these communities, often feel like these recent grads. We are stuck in this debilitating and demoralizing “Capacity Paradox” where funders do not invest sufficient funds in our organizations to build capacity because we don’t have enough capacity. Yet, we are constantly asked to do stuff, to sit at various tables, to help with outreach, to rally our community members to attend various summits and support various policies.
Everyone seems to be in agreement that major efforts to effect systemic change are missing the voices of communities of color and would benefit from having those voices. Everyone also seems to be in agreement that communities of color that have strong organizations behind them are much more involved and effective at all levels of service and policies. Building the capacity of these organizations, then, is critical to all systems-change efforts: Housing, homelessness, climate change, education, neighborhood safety, etc.
What many of us fail to recognize is that the current efforts to increase the capacity of nonprofits led by immigrant, refugee, or other communities of color, which I call “nonprofits of color,” are not sufficient. Funders who provide significant, multi-year, general operating funds—the holy grail of funding and the thing that will help any organization develop its capacity the fastest—operate under systems that leave most nonprofits of color behind. These significant capacity building grants are almost impossible for nonprofits of color to attain. We usually don’t have the same relationships. Or grantwriting skills. Or board members who can strongly articulate the vision. Because we don’t have capacity, we can’t get support to develop capacity.
With significant, catalytic funding out of the question, funders provide small grants to nonprofits of color so they can do things like hire a consultant to facilitate a strategic planning retreat, or to send them to workshops on board development, fundraising, personnel policies, or myriad other capacity building topics. These grants can be very helpful to keep an organization going. But in the long run it doesn’t work because there is a critical missing element. Staffing.
You can send an organization to a thousand workshops and do a thousand strategic planning processes, but if they do not have staff to implement their learnings, they are not going to build significant capacity. We have many, many nonprofits that are doing good and much-needed work, that are constantly asked to do more work for free, without receiving any of the trust and support to hire qualified staff to sustain and grow their operations.
The paradigm has to shift. I don’t say this lightly, because there are few things I hate more than jargons like “shifting the paradigm.” But the reality is that what we are doing is not working, and we have to change our mindset completely and do things differently. If we value the voice of our diverse communities, we must build the capacity of organizations led by those communities. But we must do it differently than how we’ve been doing it. We must invest strategically and sufficiently. We must take some risks. It to society’s benefit to help these nonprofits break out of the Capacity Paradox.
For the past couple of years I have been working with a group of brilliant and passionate people on a project called the Rainier Valley Corps (RVC), a model designed to increase the capacity of immigrant/refugee-led nonprofits by providing this critical missing element of staffing. The project recruits emerging leaders of color from within immigrant/refugee communities, trains them in a cohort on capacity building and nonprofit management, and sends them to work full-time at nonprofits of color to help those nonprofits develop their infrastructure and effectiveness.
Now, we can send these nonprofits to workshops and do strategic plans, because now there is staffing to implement stuff. These emerging leaders get a stipend, healthcare, and a bonus to support paying back student loans or furthering their education. They will get mentorship and support and encouragement to stay in the nonprofit field and rise up to become leaders within their communities.
RVC addresses several needs, among them the vital staffing that is required for capacity building to be successful. But it also addresses a scary challenge that many of us are not even talking about: The gap in leadership among the immigrant/refugee communities will widen further because kids are not entering the nonprofit field. Most immigrant/refugee kids are pressured by their families to go into jobs with higher pay and prestige.
Many nonprofits of color are currently led by elders, who will in 10 or 15 years retire, and if we don’t start to develop the pipeline for new generations of leaders of color soon, we may not have many in the future. This will jeopardize all sorts of systemic-change efforts.
So, Rainier Valley Corps will increase capacity of nonprofits of color, improve services to immigrant/refugee communities, build up new generations of leaders of color in the nonprofit field, and foster collaboration between diverse ethnic groups to address inequities. If we do a good job, lessons can be learned that can be applied to diverse communities all over the US.
The project itself is ambitious with nearly $700,000 per year for seven years to support cohorts of 10 to 18 emerging leaders/organizations each year, but if we genuinely want to build the capacity of nonprofits of color, then we must be willing to invest sufficient funds to make it work.
This year, RVC received some start-up funding, enough to hire a full-time Project Director who will focus on raising the $700K/year, develop the infrastructure and curriculum, and strengthen relationships among the various nonprofits, funders, and capacity-building organizations. I firmly believe this model holds promise to greatly increase our immigrant/refugee communities’ effectiveness and voice which is why I left my job as executive director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) to become RVC’s project director.
It was bittersweet leaving an organization that I love and one that has given me so much in terms of skills and connections as well as relieved some existential angst about the meaning of life. But, VFA is doing great, with an incredible board, amazing staff, and dedicated supporters. I have nothing but gratitude and pride for VFA and all we achieved over the last nine years. I still remember when we had an operating budget less than $20,000, no staff, and one program. I remember staying at the office until midnight to get work done, and then come to my car to find it had been broken into. VFA have grown a lot. We strengthened our capacity. We now have several staff, many great programs serving thousands each year, and we’re being more and more involved in cool stuff like working with other ethnic groups to push for education equity.
VFA is why I so strongly believe that Rainier Valley Corps holds the key to capacity building for immigrant/refugee communities. Ten years ago, when I could not find a job because I had all this passion and no experience, I was accepted into a unique program. It recruited us emerging leaders, trained us in a cohort on capacity building and nonprofit management.
Then, it sent us to work full-time in small Vietnamese-led nonprofits across the US to help those nonprofits develop their infrastructure and effectiveness, and I was sent to VFA. I know this RVC model and how effective it can be because I personally went through it and have seen the results. The program drew us inexperienced-but-passionate grads into the field, and many of us stayed and continue to contribute. Several of us became leaders of our organizations and within our communities, which is great.
Without this program that kept me in the nonprofit field and inspired Rainier Valley Corps, I probably would have ended up on another career path: Writing for Spanish soap operas.
Offhand Comments Can Expose Underlying Racism, UW Study Finds
Blatant racism is easy to identify — a shouted racial slur, a white supremacist rally, or the open discrimination, segregation and violence of the pre-civil rights era.
But more subtle forms of bias, called microaggressions, emerge in the everyday exchanges among friends and strangers alike and can offend racial and ethnic minorities.
Such statements, uttered intentionally or inadvertently, draw upon stereotypes and are linked with racism and prejudice, according to a University of Washington-led study. The research is believed to be the first of its kind to explore microaggressions from the perspective of those who commit them, and suggests that whites who are more likely to deliver microaggressions are also more likely to harbor some degree of negative feeling toward blacks, whether they know it or not.
The concept of microaggressions has garnered greater attention in today’s political environment, explained lead author Jonathan Kanter, a UW research associate professor of psychology.
“Our study results offer validation to people of color when they experience microaggressions. Their reactions can’t simply be dismissed as crazy, unreasonable or too sensitive,” Kanter said. “According to our data, the reaction of a person of color — being confused, upset or offended in some way — makes sense, because they have experienced what our data show: that people who are more likely to make these comments also are more racist in other ways.”
The study appears online in the journal Race and Social Problems.
For this study, the team, with the help of focus groups of students of color from three universities, devised the Cultural Cognitions and Actions Survey (CCAS) and administered it to a small group of students — 33 black, 118 white — at a large public university in the Midwest. The 56-item questionnaire asks the white respondent to imagine him- or herself in five different everyday scenarios involving interactions with black people, such as talking about current events, attending a diversity workshop, or listening to music. The respondent then considers how likely he or she is to think or say specific statements. For black respondents, the wording of the scenarios and questions was revised slightly to assess whether they would experience racism. Each of the statements included in the survey was deemed at least somewhat, if not significantly, offensive by black students.
In the “current events” scenario — the one that yielded the highest percentage of “likely” responses from whites — respondents were to imagine talking about topics in the news, such as police brutality and unemployment. More than half of white respondents said they would think or say, “All lives matter, not just black lives,” while 30 percent said they might say, “I don’t think of black people as black,” and 26 percent said they were likely to think or say, “The police have a tough job. It is not their fault if they occasionally make a mistake.” More than half of black respondents identified each of those statements as racist.
Responses on the CCAS were then related to several validated measures of racism and prejudice, to determine if one’s likelihood of making microaggressive statements was related to these other measures. An additional scale controlled for social desirability — the idea that respondents might answer in ways that put themselves in the best possible light.
Results indicated that white students who said they were more likely to make microaggressive statements were also significantly more likely to score higher on all the other measures of racism and prejudice, and results were not affected by social desirability.
The statement that yielded the highest statistical relation to other measures of racism among white respondents came from the “diversity workshop” scenario, in which a class discusses white privilege. Though only about 14 percent of white respondents said they were likely to think or say, “A lot of minorities are too sensitive,” the statement had the highest correlation with negative feelings toward blacks. Nearly 94 percent of black respondents said the statement was racist.
The correlations between statements and attitudes are averages from the study sample, Kanter said, and so the results do not address the intentions or feelings of any one person.
“It doesn’t mean that on a case-by-case basis, if you or I engaged in microaggressions, that we have cold or racist feelings toward blacks,” he said. “But the study says that regardless of the intention behind a microaggression or the feelings of the specific person who uttered it, it’s reasonable for a black person to be offended. On average, if you engage in a microaggression, it’s more likely that you have cooler feelings toward black people, and that whether you intended it or not, you’ve participated in an experience of racism for a black person.”
In many ways, overt racism has declined gradually since the civil rights movement, Kanter said, and white people often assume that because they do not utter racial slurs, or perhaps are well-versed in and value social justice, that they do not have to worry about engaging in racist behavior themselves.
“It can come as a bit of a shock to a lot of white people that their behavior and attitudes are under scrutiny,” said Kanter, who pointed out that as a white male, he has had to confront realizations about his own behavior over time. “The nature of how we’re looking at racism is changing. We’re now able to look at and root out more subtle forms of bias that weren’t focused on before because explicit racism was taking a lot of the attention.”
Taken in isolation, the size and location of the study sample limit the generalizations that can be made, Kanter said. But the idea behind the CCAS is to use it elsewhere and adapt it to focus on other racial and ethnic minorities so as to better understand racism and develop educational tools to combat it. The survey has since been used at the University of Washington, he added, where early results are very similar to those reported in the published article.
Kanter said he’s heard from critics who say the study has a liberal bias, or that the research should examine offenses against white people. But he says the point is to address racism targeted at oppressed and stigmatized groups.
“We’re interested in developing interventions to help people interact with each other better, to develop trusting, nonoffensive, interracial relationships among people. If we want to decrease racism, then we need to try to decrease microaggressions,” he said.
Other authors of the study were UW graduate students Adam Kuczynski and Katherine Manbeck; Monnica Williams of the University of Connecticut, Marlena Debreaux of the University of Kentucky; and Daniel Rosen of Bastyr University.
Increasing Workplace Diversity: The Glass Escalator Phenomenon in Female Dominated Professions
Many assume that most workplaces are meritocracies where effort is rewarded by advancement and success. But as companies in the United States strive to accommodate greater racial and ethnic diversity, this premise has proved questionable for women and non-white men.
Broadly-designed efforts to incorporate black workers into positions where they are underrepresented, particularly in professional or managerial jobs, have been largely unsuccessful. Relatively few black people have attained high-status positions in the medical, legal, and scientific and engineering fields; and racial gaps persist for highly-educated blacks in white collar and professional positions.
To support the advancement of black workers in white-collar occupations, researchers and managers need to understand how implicit behavioral biases can sideline black careers. My research deals with these issues in various kinds of job settings.
Various jobs come with unspoken emotional requirements, rarely codified, that hold workers accountable for creating feelings in themselves or others. For instance, customer service workers are expected to make clients feel respected and valued. Flight attendants must remain calm even when interacting with unruly passengers. Such emotional requirements mean additional labor for workers of all races, yet black professionals in predominantly white environments must also deal with racial dynamics that further complicate this work.
Both inside and outside of the workplace, the implicit emotional rules that black professionals must meet – often, they say, at great cost – are quite different from those applied to their white colleagues. Black professionals are expected to express emotions of pleasantness and kindness constantly, even in the face of racial hostility.
Diversity trainings require them to conceal feelings of frustration even when colleagues express racial biases. Black men in particular report a prohibition on any expression of anger, even in jobs where anger is accepted or encouraged from others. Black women, in contrast, deploy anger strategically as a means to be taken more seriously at work.
Black Men in Female-Dominated Fields
Such gender differences are not limited to emotional performance and even prevail in occupations where men are in the minority. Research shows that white men working in culturally feminized fields – nursing, social work, and teaching – are privileged by the “glass escalator” phenomenon, in which they are afforded advantages and advancement unavailable to colleagues who are women or non-white males.
For example, white men are generally supported by male authority figures, encouraged to pursue administrative or supervisory positions, and enjoy a positive reception from female colleagues who welcome men into “their” professions. But the same advantages do not extend to black men in traditionally female jobs. Black men in these fields experience social isolation from those who might support their climb up the career ladder. Any “glass escalator” that may exist for white men in female-dominated jobs is largely out of service for black men.
Black Men in Male-Dominated Fields
Black men in culturally-masculinized occupations — lawyers, doctors, financial analysts, engineers – are uniquely positioned. In workplaces like this, majority and minority racial and gender statuses inform how black men are expected to present themselves and interact with colleagues. Specifically, black men’s minority status keeps them from fully integrating into their jobs, even as their gender status gives them advantages over their women counterparts.
As the racial minority, black men often empathize with the ways women are treated and use their gendered privileges to advocate for gender-equitable workplace policies. At the same time, black men report wanting closer relationships with other black professional men, but are uncomfortable engaging in the socially stereotyped feminine behaviors that are necessary to achieve this– such as initiating contact, staying in communication, checking up on one another.
Similarly, the black men are reluctant to express or reveal a need for social support, because men are culturally expected to “go it alone.” As a result, black men in white-collar occupations often remain quite isolated at work.
Although black men may be able to bond with white men over “guy things,” they lack access to critical social networks (to elite white friends, neighbors, and acquaintances) that can provide boosts up the corporate ladder. Racial and gendered stereotypes often also force black professionals to develop and maintain alternative types of black masculinity.
Bottom Lines for Employers, Organizations, and Policymakers
Workers of color face numerous challenges in the workplace that differ greatly depending on the field, profession, and specific office setting. The challenges faced by black men and black women are not identical, even in the same work environments. And specific work settings matter, too, because black men in the medical field, for instance, face distinct challenges from those practicing law.
Because one-size-fits-all approaches and generalized diversity policies will not effectively address the specific challenges facing workers of color, organizations, and offices must try to understand how racial and gender dynamics play out in their specific fields and workplaces. Only with such understanding can a workplace succeed at becoming more attractive, accepting, and comfortable for diverse employees.
How to begin? A workplace could start by soliciting buy-in from professional black men, who may have been overlooked in previous efforts to foster equal acceptance. Employers can tie diversity outcomes to concrete rewards for managers and workers. And because black professionals are often required to leave their racial identity at the door – under the dubious rationale that it will reduce race-related stress – perhaps the most important step is to openly acknowledge that racial issues impact workers’ lives.
Find out what the issues are for each workplace and its employees – and then tailor solutions to real-life experiences. Overall, this is important work for employers. As the U.S. workforce continues to diversify, workplaces must be creating acceptance and support from the ground up in order to remain competitive.
How Discrimination Hurts Health and Personal Wellbeing
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States has used the force of nationwide laws to prohibit discriminatory treatment in the job and housing markets, in government and educational institutions, and at stores and facilities serving the general public. Many legally proscribed forms of exclusion and ill treatment are directed against people because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age, and disability status. To this day, efforts continue to extend protections to additional groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Core American values of fairness and equality inspire nondiscrimination measures, but there is also an important health rationale. Research has repeatedly confirmed what common sense suggests: when people are subjected to discriminatory acts ranging from subtle put downs to outright harassment or exclusion from opportunities, their personal wellbeing suffers. Discrimination contributes to health inequalities – and fighting bias can reduce them.
The Harmful Effects of Discrimination
Discrimination typically refers to the unfair treatment of people on the basis of social identities defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion. Many Americans report facing discrimination that constrains their livelihood – for example, when they are unfairly fired or denied a job or promotion, when they are denied a bank loan or medical treatment, or when they are discouraged by a teacher from pursuing further education. Banned by law, such blatant forms of discrimination also affect victims’ health by depriving them of jobs, medical treatments, and other benefits and opportunities that keep them out of poverty and open doors of opportunity.
In addition, discrimination harms health by causing personal distress. Being unfairly fired from a job, for example, hurts a person’s sense of fairness and wellbeing as well as his or her economic fortunes. Beyond harm from currently unlawful actions, the wellbeing of those who suffer bias is undermined by everyday ill treatment – for example, when they are called names or insulted, disparaged as not very smart, or treated as if they are threatening or dishonest despite doing nothing wrong. Like other strains and traumas, day-to-day experiences of discrimination can wear victims down, placing them at increased risk for mental and physical illness.
Why is that? Researchers have found that victims of discrimination often have heightened physiological responses, including elevated blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, ongoing struggles to cope with discrimination lead to lower self-esteem or a reduced sense of personal efficacy.
Victims may turn to unhealthy means of coping such as drug and alcohol abuse, and they may stop regularly taking medications or keeping medical appointments. Further, because discrimination is not experienced evenly across the population, researchers find that it contributes to the persistence of disparities in mental and physical health along societal fault lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, or even physical statuses such weight or appearance.
Double Discrimination Can Heighten the Health Burdens
What about the experiences and wellbeing of Americans who are members of more than one disadvantaged group? Since the 1980s, black feminist scholars have argued that research solely looking at blacks, or at women, fails to adequately capture life at the intersection of these two identities that put people at risk for discrimination. Neither the health nor experiences of bias are adequately captured when one such identity group is studied as if it were separate from others.
In my research, I have asked whether multiple disadvantaged youth and adults face extra discrimination and, as a result, greater risk for poor mental and physical health. The answer turns out to be yes. When characterized by more than one disadvantaged status, young people and adults (age 25 to74) are more likely to face multiple forms of discrimination than people not defined by any disadvantaged status or people with just one disadvantaged status.
Because doubly disadvantaged people have extra exposure to bias, they are also more likely to suffer from mental and physical health problems. They simply experience unfair treatment more frequently. For example, black women report racial slights in social situations where women predominate, and they also experience sexist discrimination in their own racial communities.
What Can be Done?
Banning discrimination by law is an important basic step. Anti-discrimination laws must be maintained for currently covered social categories and expanded to protect vulnerable people in statuses still not included – such as sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and weight. In addition, laws and legal practice should acknowledge the unique experiences of multiply disadvantaged individuals. Their discrimination cases are often not successful in court, perhaps because the complexity of multiple forms of discrimination is not well understood.
Laws are not enough, however, unless widely understood and actively carried through. People who work at organizations with an equal employment opportunity office and formal training about diversity are more likely to file discrimination claims when necessary. Knowledge and organizational resources empower people to seek remedies.
Diversity training for managers also helps to reduce the number of discrimination claims.
When legal violations are found, remedies are most effective when they move beyond compensation to individual victims to establish reformed organizational practices. Finally, it is crucial to recognize that the current legal model places the burden of proof on victims, even though it is often very difficult to prove intentional discrimination by an individual, institution, or employer.
Moreover, because Americans today tend to view discrimination as a thing of the past, victims often face social skepticism and self-doubt. The extra mental labor involved in replaying personal experiences and deciding what, if anything, to do can exacerbate stress and health problems. All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.
All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.
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