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Diversity

Offhand Comments Can Expose Underlying Racism, UW Study Finds

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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 ManbeckMonnica Williams of the University of Connecticut, Marlena Debreaux of the University of Kentucky; and Daniel Rosen of Bastyr University.

SWHelper is a news, information, resources, and entertainment website related to social good, social work, and social justice. To submit news and press releases email contact@socialworkhelper.com

          
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Diversity

Hearts and Humanity: Reframing Homicide, Renewing Communities

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On July 18, 2013, Dr. Tyrese Gaines, author of “Homicide ‘directly affecting’ racial gap in U.S. life expectancy, study shows” stated, “But overall, African-American males continue to die younger, with heart disease and homicide shortening their lives.” This grave conclusion was further substantiated in a report from the Centers for Disease Control which highlighted the following statistics (page 1):

  • In 2010 the life expectancy rate at birth was 78.7 years, an increase of 11% since 1970. The life expectancy for whites rose 10%, and for blacks, the rate increased by 17%.
  • Life expectancy for black males was 4.7 years less than that of white males. This difference was attributed to higher death rates for black males from homicide, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and pre-birth environments.

Given these facts, Kenneth D. Kochanek, lead author and statistician of the CDC report, surmised, “…when you look at the graph for males, you see how important homicide is for directly affecting life expectancy for African-Americans.”

Considering this direct correlation, Dr. Robert Gore, an emergency medical physician at Kings County-SUNY Downstate Hospitals and executive director of the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) in Brooklyn calls for a paradigm shift in the way we view homicide. Dr. Gore says, “We have to look at [violence and homicide] like a disease. We have to stop looking at violence as a purely social problem.”

Flash forward to April 27, 2016, and Dr. Dhruv Khullar and Dr. Anupam Jena echo these sentiments in an article titled, “Homicide’s Role in the Racial Life-Expectancy Gap” in the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena note for blacks ages 1 to 44, the premier cause of death is a homicide. They further add the life expectancy of black males has decreased substantially by the high rate of homicides. Acknowledging this alarming outcome, Khullar and Jena suggest a reevaluation of the way medical professionals consider violent crimes. Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena state, “Homicide can no longer be understood only as a criminal-justice problem; it needs to be seen as a first-order health issue, a contributor to early mortality.”

As a resident of Louisville, KY since 1999, I know homicide is a visual and a visceral experience for our community. Hearing gunshots throughout the day and night, seeing shell casings lying on the streets, and being afraid to let your children play outside is a reality for myself and many Louisvillians. On February 25, 2016, the Louisville Courier Journal conducted an in-depth look at the homicide rates in Louisville, KY over the past year.

According to the Louisville Courier Journal report:

  • In 2015 the total number of homicides for Louisville was 84, up 47% from 2014.
  • Two-thirds of the victims – 52 men and 4  women – were black. About 22% of Louisvillians are African Americans.
  • In instances where the suspected perpetrator was known, 91% of the black victims were killed by other African Americans, while 72% of white victims were killed by other whites.
  • Louisville was not the only city that experienced a spike in homicides. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, after two decades of a downturn in violent crime, 44 of the nations’ 65 largest cities saw upticks in the murder rate in 2015.
  • Only 14 cities had larger increases than Louisville, though even with the dramatic rise in killings here, the Louisville homicide rate – 11 per 100,000 – is standard for cities its size.
  • While the investigation revealed citizens were murdered in 21 of Louisville’s 26 residential ZIP codes, 14 were killed in the 40212 area, the city’s northwest division.
  • Mirroring data for other cities, the homicide rate for African Americans – 35 per 100,000 – was greater than three times the rate for all residents, while for black males that rate doubled to 70.

As a resident of Louisville’s West End (Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park Duvalle, Park Hill, Parkland, Portland, Russell, and Shawnee neighborhoods) I understand why these numbers make citizens afraid to live and go about their daily routines in these areas. Due to the tragic death of social worker Boni Frederick in October of 2006, some social workers who live and work with clients in the West End are apprehensive as they conduct home visits and provide services in these areas.

On July 7th of this year, Jonathan Capehart, author of the Washington Post article, “Why African Americans are terrified” attempts to define this fear in light of current events. Capehart shares all these incidents together: (Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Samuel DuBose, the Mother Emanuel nine, Levar Jones, Sandra Bland, and Walter Scott). These which took place under various circumstances, add to the fear African Americans feel across the nation.

This emotion is lamented in the words of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Democracy” when he writes, “I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

Why do the homicides in our country, states, and cities continue to end up as cold cases? According to a March 7, 2016, Louisville Courier Journal article, Major David Ray, commander of the Louisville Kentucky Metro Police Major Crimes Division, believes a low rate of citizen involvement has led to a lack of justice in many cases. Major Ray adds that because of the decreased rate in citizen involvement the percentage of homicides solved is lower than 52%, in contrast to the 2014 rate of 75%. Additionally, Major Ray proposes the fear of being labeled a “snitch” which is embedded in our pop culture and general skepticism about police creates apprehension about providing information. Knowing these barriers exist to solving our nation’s homicides, what can police and citizens do differently?

Four major cities: Boston, New York City, Cincinnati, and Louisville have initiated diverse game plans for addressing the homicide rate in their respective areas. Each approach has had varying degrees of success. Andrew Wolfson, author of “Curbing homicides: What other cities have tried” lays out the pros and cons for each of the above metropolitan areas.

According to the article:

Boston:

  • In 1996 an interdisciplinary group of law enforcement, clergy, and helping professionals formed Operation Ceasefire.
  • Program goal was to inform local gangs of a zero-tolerance policy against violence with prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
  • Neighborhood groups, social services, and probation officers also presented gang members with the opportunity for rehabilitation.
  • The effort nicknamed the “Boston Miracle” produced a 63% decline in homicides among teens.
  • Eighty-two cities conduct “call-in meetings” openly between gang members and community leaders to foster relationships and address crime.

New York:

  • Homicides have decreased by 85% over the last 25 years and the overall crime rate decreased by 40%.
  • Efforts were described as “quality of life” or “broken windows” policing in which officers focused on low-level violations that may lead to felonies.
  • The New York City Police Department (NYPD) increased their visibility in specific areas utilizing crime mapping and investigation and amped up the number of officers from 17, 000 to 25,000.
  • From 1990 to 2009, NYPD stops grew from 41,000 to 581,000. Blacks were detained for possession of marijuana at seven times the rate for whites, despite statistics revealing greater marijuana usage among whites.
  • However, in 2014 the city’s “preventive policing” or stop and frisk methods were deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge citing that Hispanics and blacks were disproportionately pursued.

Cincinnati:

  • In 2006, a community partnership called the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) was created to diminish gang activity.
  • During a period of 42 months, 568 perpetrators were informed that entire gangs would be held accountable for individual homicides.
  • A local group of 14 activists proposed counseling services and employment coaching to over 600 clients.
  • Gang-affiliated homicides dropped 41%.
  • However, even with preliminary gains Cincinnati’s homicide rate was approximately double that of Louisville in 2015.

Louisville:

  • In 2003, the Department of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods was instituted as a community effort to combat violent crime.
  • Program director Anthony Smith attempted to conduct neighborhood meetings with community leaders and former offenders to convey stiffer penalties would be enforced for drug trafficking.
  • However, the efforts proved disappointing as only a few former offenders attended the meetings.
  • The Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) enhanced its homicide unit by adding 8 detectives for a total of 25.
  • Also, in February 2015, a project called Operation Trust was established as an evidence-based initiative to focus on high crime areas. This effort consisted of federal agents and LMPD representatives from various units.

Despite sincere national, state, and local efforts from law enforcement, helping professionals and Commonwealth leaders to diminish the number of homicides and attempt to rehabilitate offenders, each approach was met with variable outcomes. Steve Brown, author of the July 8, 2016 article, “What can we do to prevent the next killing?” states, “We have already identified numerous evidence-based policies and programs that can make our communities safer and more enriching for young people of color, make policing more effective, and improve under-resourced neighborhoods.” Research and evidence can help, but our hearts and humanity will take us there.”

This is where social workers come in. Dr. Angela Henderson, author of “Voices of Reason”, notes social workers serve a pivotal function in impacting violent crime in our nation. The irreconcilable loss of countless black men, women, and police officers should be challenged and stopped. For this reason, social workers must continue to serve their communities without fear. We must educate the public about the epidemic of homicide in our nation and its impact on the life expectancy of black and brown citizens. And we must continue to apply evidence-based practice in policing and policy reform to protect all of our citizens.

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Diversity

Is It More Than Just A Shooting?

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Several articles in response to the shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas point fingers at racists, PTSD, and mental illness. Although these issues are valid, there is a multitude of factors making this issue far more complex than a singular culprit like mental illness.

Underneath all these shootings and acts of violence is fear, an emotion we don’t often factor in when discussing shootings. Fear causes fight or flight reactions in humans, a strong, protective instinct which can, at times, cause reactions that aren’t typical of our normal behaviors. When we experience fear, whether real or perceived, our adrenaline increases and as an act of self-preservation. Our reactions to fear may cause us to act in ways our “normal” brain might not have. Unfortunately, it can also cause us to react in a way which can take the life of someone in the name of self-protection or justice.

So, imagine the stress of living in a neighborhood where people are killed, gunshots are heard regularly, and those around you are involved in nefarious activities. Long-term stress can have severe consequences – such as physical health issues and problems with cognitive thinking. For children, toxic stress results in behavioral and development issues. Living in a state of constant fear never allows an individual to care for themselves, always on the alert for potentially dangerous situations. Living in fearful conditions where a community’s needs aren’t met and their safety is questionable, a physically and mentally harmful lifestyle is already enough to deal with. Now, factor in racial profiling, police bias and brutality, and classist targeting.

In low-income neighborhoods, police are not always responsive. The police don’t often know you or your family and tend to approach certain neighborhoods with harmful preconceived ideas. Whether it’s internalized hate, racial profiling and learned bias, classism or just plain ignorance, many police officers are not educated about communities different from their own and only have reference points from television and media, which reinforce harmful stereotypes. If this is the basis from which police are viewing the public, it’s highly likely police will target certain groups out of fear.

It is important as a society, we do not downplay the personal responsibility we have for our actions nor the sheer horror of violence. But we are not born disliking people of color, women, immigrants or cultures different from our own. Through our learned experiences with family, school, media, or religious institutions, we learn to be separate and fear groups who are not like us. We look around and see people who only look like us and learn to live in a comfortableness rather than question the status quo which oppresses certain groups more than others.

So, how do we get past this fear? Education, compassion, and empathy are key. As a community, we need to be more responsible to one another and have difficult conversations about race, gender, and class while challenging our own internalized biases. Speaking to our legislators, media representatives, friends, and family is a power to hold ourselves and others accountable for racial profiling, classism, abuse of power, and internalized fears. We need to put our foot down and refuse to settle for superficial conversations or answers to large, complex problems.

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Disability

Four Ways Neurodiversity Holds the Key to the Future of Special Education

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For ages, special education has been developing on its own, together with the development of ordinary education. It emphasizes disorders and the ways special education students are lacking compared to an average student. Those who have a noticeable dysfunction have even been mocked for their lack of focus or skill to learn something – sometimes by teachers too.

And even though the history of the special education has been filled with inappropriate names and terms, the future is bright. More and more scientists and educators are turning to the better ways of conducting special education – and one of those ways is related to neurodiversity.

This term was first used by journalist Harvey Blume in the early 1990s and means that autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other special-needs conditions are the part of normal variations in the human population. And here is how neurodiversity changes the entire special education system.

1. In theory.

Special education as it is at the moment regards disability categories as something originated from biology, genetics, and neurology. Neurodiversity, on the other hand, focuses on the advantages these disabilities have to offer – they use this to explain why these genes are still here today and why people are still born with disabilities.

This new concept examines how a person with a disability can be lacking in some aspects but even more advanced than regular people in some. During the past decade, university programs such as London School of Economics’ Dyslexia and Neurodiversity program, or the College of William & Mary’s Neurodiversity Initiative are aimed to support neurodiverse students and create positive acceptance and niches for them.

Annabel Gray, neurodiversity specialist and educator at Origin Writings states, “Regarding a person as completely disabled is fundamentally wrong. Whereas a person with, for example, autism can be lacking in some areas of life, on a job which requires focus and attention to detail, this same person would do outstandingly well.”

2. The focus.

The focus of special education so far has been solely on assessing deficits and how to go about educating students based on these deficits. However, neurodiversity relies more on assessing the strengths, talents, abilities, and interests of disabled students. It is a strength-based approach where an educator would use a series of tests to discover the student’s abilities and teach them how to use them to tackle their everyday and educational challenges.

What is so great about neurodiversity approach is it gives the students all the necessary tools to cope with their day to day life by focusing on what they do best. This way the students are not feeling left out and they know there are some things where they can thrive in.

3. Workarounds.

Workarounds are another way the neurodiversity improves the disabled students’ lives. What it essentially means is the educators are supposed to find ways for students to experience and learn which does not include their disabilities. For example, students with ADHD could be allowed to use special tools like stability balls or standing desks in order to focus on studying.

This could be expanded to create an individual education plan for each student based on what they need and in which environment they thrive the most. Placing those students in the traditional learning environment will help them to feel “lesser human being” or a burden.

Lila Christie, an educator at 1Day2Write and WriteMyX confirms: “Workarounds are some of the best ways of teaching the disabled students. We implement this strategy of putting each student in an environment that will allow them to learn without anything in the way. It not only works but also gives students the satisfaction and comfort.”

4. How to communicate with students.

While most special education programs still teach children about their disabilities, neurodiversity teaches them about the value of variation and being different. It teaches them how their brain works and how the environment affects it, how to use their skills to the maximum etc. This kind of mindset can help them realize the growth mindset can improve their performance.

To get the brain to its full potential it is important to get the students exercising in various ways, each suited to their own abilities – writing exercises are excellent ways to improve brain power and it can be easily accessible to students through tools such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows Speech Recognition, etc.

Conclusion

Neurodiversity is a great new approach to special education. It gives students opportunities and new ways of understanding themselves. This is a fresh take on educating those with disabilities – in fact, it relies more on their abilities and strengths. It can give students confidence and tools to be successful and do more later in their lives.

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Diversity

Let’s Have Some New Gender Stories–Please

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When I was a kid, there were girls and boys, men and women. My sister was a bit of a tomboy which was hardly surprising perhaps given she had two older brothers. Truth be known, I was a bit of a sissy – not as acceptable as my sister’s gender-non-stereotypical behavior. However, apart from ‘big boys don’t cry’, I was never particularly shamed on account of it.

Those were the early 70s and 80s. Cut to the mid-80s, as puberty and adolescence coursed through my body and threw open my mind, one afternoon I was watching Ready to Roll and a new song appeared on the charts: “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” by Culture Club. The group was fronted by this person over whom, for the next couple of weeks (there was no Google back then), I obsessed. Whether they were female or male, I really couldn’t tell.

Finally, listening to the UK Top 40, it was confirmed: Boy George was a guy and he preferred a cup of tea to sex.

Then followed others in the new romantic music scene of the 80s: Dead or Alive’s Pete Burn, Marilyn, Annie Lennox, and others. All challenged gender appearance norms in what seemed to be a sea-change of gender ambiguity. Even before my burgeoning awareness of my own sexual orientation, I remember having this growing excitement that gender, as we knew it, had changed for the better and, I was sure, or at least hopeful, it would never be the same.

Alas, the 90s intervened. The Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys fought back, re-entrenching the normative ideology that boys were boys and girls were girls. Even Blur’s “Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys Who Like Girls” couldn’t cut through the hysterical backlash.

Hyper-gender-role-normalcy had to be restored because, well, it had to be. In my late teens and early 20s, as I came out and became immersed in the social and political worlds of the gay scene, the only genderf*cking to be seen was the caricatured gender stereotyping of drag queens and, less commonly, drag kings.

The intriguing, creative, uncertain and unknowing story of androgyny, it seemed, had just been a phase.

Over the following couple of decades, a new phenomenon emerged: the transgender or now more openly termed trans* movement moved to the fore. Beginning, in my circle anyway, mainly with men who decided to live as women and then women who would realize that they identified as men.

Unlike androgyny, trans* people wanted to be recognized, for all intents and purposes, as the opposite gender. Most would want their birth gender to go unnoticed; a few activists would tell their story to raise awareness and lessen the stigma.

This new phenomenon medically termed gender dysphoria but politically dubbed genderqueer speaks a different story: gender isn’t what you’re born with — it’s what you think and how you feel. Sometimes they match, sometimes they don’t. If it’s the latter, it’s okay to change.

I felt compelled to write this blog is when I read a news article entitled Born in the Wrong Body, which I think signals the beginning of another new story:

  • “The parents of a seven-year-old girl are backing a decision for her to live as a boy and to medically stop puberty.
  • “If he reaches 11, 12 or 13 and decides it’s not what he wants, then he stops blockers and he’ll go through puberty as a woman,’ said the child’s mother.”

Here’s why I think it’s a new story, one which I’m excited about. Boy George and his peers told a story of growing up cis-gendered (meaning the gender they were born), but refusing to conform to gender stereotypes, particularly in appearance.

Trans* people tell the same first half of the story:

I grew up cis-gendered. (Then it changes.) It didn’t feel right. When I was old enough to be autonomous I changed my gender. I had to take hormones and have surgery to undo what puberty and adolescence did, which was to make me an adult of the gender I didn’t identify with.

This boy, the subject of the article, and Jason mentioned later, will tell a new story:

I was born a physical gender that didn’t match my identity. I was aware and my parents were open enough to understand, so took steps to allow me to grow up and go through puberty and adolescence that gave me an adult body that better matched my gender identity.

I was surprised at Georgina Beyer’s response:

“I don’t think a seven-year-old has enough life experience to understand precisely what they’re doing. I think it’s better a person gets to puberty and through puberty and then if this is continuing to develop . . . then yes, there is more of a case to be fought.”

I disagree with that stance because, all through life, we do things about which we may feel different later. If this boy gets to 15 and wants to be female, the woman he will then become will simply have another part to her story:

And then I changed my mind.

The stories we tell as humans are what sets us apart from every other species on the planet. Yet we fear to change our stories. We mindlessly ignore the influence of nurture on our social and intellectual development. We conservatively defer to nature as being statically right, rather than embracing the wonder of human nature: that we can change what nature creates for us because we have the awareness, understanding, technology and will to do so.

Changing our stories is what allows us to evolve. Our gender stories are the most basic and fundamental of all. Until we can change those, how on earth will we change the more complex stories of our diversity?

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Culture

Girls Who Run the World at London ComicCon 2018

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Geek culture has a rocky history with women. But now, women are rocking geek culture. Historically, women have faced invisibility (not the superpowered kind), exclusion, active hostility, violence, and sexualisation.

This is across video games (the communities surrounding video games), films, TV, and comic books – from sci-fi, superhero and fantasy genres. Geek culture does not ‘cause’ gender inequality. However, it does facilitate and shut down particular attitudes.

The stories we tell teach us who is important – and who is not. And now, women are taking charge of their own stories.

MCM London Comic Con

Orange is the New Black stars Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning) and Flaca Gonzalez (Jackie Cruz) spoke about the importance of centering women’s stories, particularly untold stories. The hit Netflix series focuses on a women’s prison, and the actors admitted that they have learned a lot about the conditions faced by incarcerated women during the filming process. There is also space to unpick gendered issues around race and class. “If you don’t see it, create it”, Jackie added, speaking of her extracurricular endeavours with music production.

Then, there were the wrestlers.

EVE  is a self-described “ground-breaking feminist-punk-rock wrestling promotion”: a pro wrestling group for women. ComicCon hosted a debut screening of Empowered, a documentary by Lea Winchcombe showcasing Rhia O’Reilly and Candy Floss. Unashamedly feminist and political, the documentary considers the challenges of being a female wrestler (stereotypes, naysayers and balancing home life), with the buzz of parading around the ring being “glamourous and outrageous”.

On being a role model for her daughter and others, EVE founder Emily Read laughed, “I am the hero, I am the strong one”.  They have opened up wrestling classes for women which build their confidence and self-esteem (irrespective of being novice, casual, professional or old hat). “Women have a place, women have a voice, and women kick ass!” she concluded. The author of this article may very well have shed a tear.

On a less physically exerting note, geek writer/actor/creator Felicia Day happily spoke about her work and creative projects alongside motherhood and her hair. Many members of the audience seemed to share with Felicia the same heartfelt and almost tangible importance of having a female role model within the industry to look up to. Felicia humbly acknowledged the praise and assured us that female representation in geek culture is changing. This was a repeated message at this year’s ComicCon – and a very believable one.

Photo Credit: GoGCast 156: Interview with Patricia Summersett and Victoria Atkin | Girls on Games

Voice actors from Pokemon, South Park (yes, April Stewart confirmed that Wendy is very well received by female fans) and Assassin’s Creed participated in discussions about their gender (of course, only as one element of the colorful spectrum of conversations).

Victoria Atkin and Patricia Summersett of the Assassin’s Creed games spoke about how “challenging” things can be in the industry – particularly to find female characters that aren’t one of the two common tropes of  “sexualised” or “butch”, but “somewhere in the middle”. They discussed wanting to be role models for women in a world where there can be little representation, with a standard gender ratio which appears to “almost compensate for having a female lead”. (Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Justice League, I’m looking at you – the good old ‘one woman in a group of four or five men’ trick).

Victoria and Patricia positively, and somewhat bravely considering how women can be treated for speaking up, critiqued their industry to a somewhat male-heavy press audience. These women want to be, and indeed, they are, changemakers – whilst acknowledging the hopeful message that, already, “It is changing”.

Away from the interview room in Comic Village, there was a whole host of women proudly showcasing their own work. This included everything from personal stories about one’s cat (and other pets), adventure tales, tea and romance, magic, fairies and fantasy, space and Japan. Worth a special mention in this mix was the interweaving of gender, sexuality, and race in the creations. Sexuality we may consider another time.

Olivia Duchess showcased a stall solely dedicated to beautiful, tender artwork of Black girls and women. Having been drawing since 2015, Olivia explained that “When I was growing up, I didn’t anyone who looked like me… I didn’t see a lot of Black characters,” (Susie Carmichael from Rugrats got a special mention). She continued, with a modest shrug, “I’m trying to be the change I want to see”, as though unaware of her brilliance.

The interplay of gender and race was also witnessed in other ways – for example, Letitia Wright (Princess Shuri from Black Panther), discussed the importance of  Black female presence in her film, not least the range of “strong female characters”. She agreed with an audience member, “The women were an amazing entity”, before going on to talk about the value of a “Disney Princess with cornrows”.

There was a woman so overwhelmed with emotion at meeting the badass Black Panther science princess, Letitia Wright, that she was trembling with joy. After a quick photo, she took my hand intently, asking: “Do you understand? Do you understand what this means for Black people?”

Her face was full of magic and the power of visibility. I don’t know how one heart held so much in a moment.

This theme was repeated by IvyDoomKitty in her panel on mental health with Janina Scarlett. She spoke about how she had never thought the representation of women was important in geek culture until she saw it. Before then, she was satisfied with the norm of the male superhero. Then she saw DC’s Wonder Woman: an unfurling, a stirring. A hunger revealed. As Dr. Scarlett said, in her discussion about seeing oneself in these stories, “equality sends a very powerful message that everyone is equal and everyone matters”.

I felt it too, this ComicCon. A sense of … something, resonating, muscular and powerful, yet somehow delicate and bright. The kind of visceral sensation that glows in your belly and makes you grab a stranger’s hand and ask them:

Do you understand?

ComicCon, I think you did understand. You gave women – all kinds of women – space, made us central and elevated our power.

Superwomen are here to stay. See you next year!

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Diversity

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

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A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County.

It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administrators, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them.

Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.”

Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have.

Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore.

Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate.

For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

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