The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Self-Care as Resistance

Black woman meditatingThe events of the past few months have left me overwhelmed and exhausted. From the COVID-19 pandemic, whose victims are disproportionately Black, to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the Black community has faced countless heartaches. As a Black woman, my emotions have ranged from sadness to rage to hopelessness.

In order to take care of myself, I’ve hunkered down and grounded myself in daily practices that center my mental health and wellness. I’ve limited my intake of social media and news, and increased my daily practices of meditation, exercise, and most importantly, rest. There are days when I lie down between work Zoom calls — just to have moments during the day that feel like respite.

I’ve also needed to be intentional about my energy reserves, and what I can afford to put my limited energy towards. For several weeks, I wasn’t able to sit down and write about how I felt, or even to explain it to folks who are not Black — it seemed like a misuse of the small amount of stamina I had. I just needed things to feel easy.

I’ve encouraged my kids to do what they need to take care of themselves, as well. They have listened, and limited their own social media and news intake. They’ve also made the conscious decision to prioritize things that bring them joy: listening to music, dancing, chatting with friends. Of course, they haven’t been through and seen as much as I have (and I pray they never do) so their level of exhaustion isn’t the same as mine. Still, it has made me proud to see them center joy for themselves and understand they are worth that effort.

I’ve always been a social justice activist — it has been the foundation of all of my work, including my role as director of Open Circle, a social and emotional learning program for grades K-5. But I haven’t spent the past few weeks going out and protesting in the streets, much as I want to. I haven’t been calling my government representatives and lobbying for change. Right now, for me, my activism looks like self-preservation and self-care.

When you’ve lived under the specter of racism your entire life, rest can be a form of resistance. Activist Tricia Hersey recently spoke to NPR about how “rest disrupts and pushes back and allows space for healing, for invention, for us to be more human. It'll allow us to imagine this new world that we want, this new world that's liberated, that's full of justice, that's a foundation for us to really, truly live our lives.” Amidst so much heartache, that imagining is critical for the Black community right now.

For many, this might be a time to march in the streets, or to start conversations, or to read and learn. For others, it might be a time to just lie down and rest. Wherever you fit, we all have a role to play in building a better world.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, M.A., CAGS, is the director of Open Circle, an action program of the Wellesley Centers for Women that equips elementary schools with evidence-based curriculum and training to improve school climate and teach children essential social and emotional skills.

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Guest — Sammy
Hmmm we're all looking forward to seeing that time when the blacks will get justice for this racism. Thanks so much kamilah
Sunday, 20 September 2020 13:12
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Placards of Hope, Placards of Change: A Reflection in Response to the Killing of George Floyd

Heart icon in speech bubbleThe callous killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 by a uniformed police officer while on duty and while being filmed by bystanders was arguably the most brazen act of police brutality involving an unarmed Black civilian since the Black Lives Matter movement began. What this act demonstrated was that those who are hell-bent on asserting white supremacy and upholding its racist regime are now afraid of nothing and outside the moral community.

The mass demonstrations calling for justice and the widespread expressions of solidarity with Black people and racial equality that have erupted in recent days show clearly that the balance of public opinion and power is shifting towards a multiracial coalition of people who embrace the oneness of humanity as well as the end of racial prejudice and racial inequality. In the long run, racial equality will prevail because it is the truth about human beings, but, at this moment, we are collectively in agony about a shameless, heartless, evil act of race-based assassination.

The protests that are growing day by day are the collective expression of the frustration, pain, fury, and indignation of those who have waited so long and so patiently for the truth of Black people’s equality to be enshrined not only in the law and the practices and policies of those who enforce it, but also in the hearts and minds of their fellow human beings. The enforced, racialized power asymmetries in virtually every sphere of life — political, economic, educational, medical, environmental, and so on — recreate an uphill battle each and every day for every Black person, every other person of color, and every ally of Black people and other people of color, ensuring that the rhythm of social justice efforts is always two steps forward and one step back, if not one step forward and two steps back.

Only when those whose hearts and minds are thoroughly suffused with the reality of racial equality are both in the numerical majority and in positions of influence and power will things begin to shift towards closure on this spiritual disease of racism. Fortunately, what the recent uprisings have shown us is that we are getting there. That people like George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, not to mention the string of their predecessors, not to mention the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to COVID-19, not to mention everybody since 1619) should die to get us there, however, is unconscionable.

As a womanist social movement theorist and also a trained psychologist, my mind turns to the methodologies we are employing to move the needle on racism and an analysis of the kinds of actions we are taking to eradicate the white supremacy, structural racism, racial prejudice, and racist violence we all deplore. I am concerned that we need to be more creative, innovative, and — yes — evidence-based in our social change approaches. We now have the benefit of a century of social scientific research about intergroup relations, as well as decades of neuroscience research, for example, on implicit bias, that helps us understand what works and what doesn’t work, but I’m not sure we are carefully deploying it in our creation of strategies to end racism and its correlates.

Additionally, we have the benefit of dynamic systems theories of varying kinds (a favorite of mine is Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory) that allow us to map how everything from individuals to families, communities, and entire cultures generate, shape, embed, and sustain things like racism — and which enable us to locate effective points of intervention. We also now have such enormous troves of big data that we could answer questions about human behavior and attitudes in real time and at a scale previously impossible. We could and should take a much more research-informed approach to ending racism, and I am glad that this is something we stand for and work towards at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

I am also concerned that we have a social change means-ends problem that we need to scrutinize more closely. Understandably, many social movements begin with emotion-driven, fist-in-the-air protests that are good for mobilizing people and publicizing issues, yet we must remember that the fist is a bellicose symbol inconsistent with peace and harmony — aims that most protesters cherish. The pursuit of justice requires that protests be followed up by the long-form, in-the-trenches work that actually effects structural change, making sustainable peace and justice possible.

Furthermore, new emotional foundations are required to create and sustain a more peaceful and just society. There is already too much pain and trauma in this world because we keep justifying all of the ways that we hurt each other, and all this pain just becomes a factory for hate and violence, both interpersonal and structural.

As a womanist, I would argue that, when we meet epithets with epithets or rage with rage, we are energetically reproducing the conditions we wish to eliminate. We must instead devise new transformational methods that enable us to dig into the spiritual well of goodness that resides within all of us to generate higher-vibrating, more positive and elevating emotional states and belief patterns, and that bring people together socially and relationally in a common space of love, respect, encouragement, enthusiasm, and esprit de corps. This is a tall order, but it is, I believe, what is really needed now.

As I watch the demonstrations on TV, I often find myself thinking, “If I were to make a placard for all the world to see — a placard to catalyze change — what would mine say?” I realized that mine would say “Everyone is sacred.” In times like these, I believe we need a reminder that our fundamental essence is that of Light — our innate divinity and the star-stuff we are all made of — and that everything else, good or bad, is overlay (and changeable).

We cannot continue this regime of oppositionality, in which we perpetually create divides, pit the divided against each other, and struggle to vanquish those who are not us. This regime will never lead to unity, peace, or justice. In the deepest recesses of our souls, we know this, but our politics, practices, and habits of thought have not caught up. The small reminder that everyone is sacred potentially places us on a course towards transformation, and that transformation is my reason for being and the impetus behind all of my work.

What fuels you? And what would your placard say? We would love to hear from you, because now is not the time to be silent. Rather, it is the time to recreate the world.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Social and Emotional Learning During COVID-19 Crisis: Equity Lens Reflection

Social and emotional learning during COVID-19This article was originally posted by Karen Craddock, Ph.D., on April 17, 2020, on The Wellness Collaborative.

While we manage the day-to-day, sometimes moment-to-moment, shifts during this global pandemic, it is sure to have implications on how we navigate the array of feelings and interactions we encounter in every aspect of our inner and outer lives. This process involving managing emotions, setting goals, showing empathy, building relationship, and making constructive decisions, otherwise known as social and emotional learning (SEL), is especially poignant now. Raising awareness of how these skill sets and competencies intersect with interpersonal, situational and structural inequities is even more so…

Pain of exclusion

In my blog article on the social-emotional, neurophysiological pain of racialized exclusion and strategies to remain resilient, there is discussion on how pain is perceived and received across racial lines. Particularly relevant is mention of the well documented racial empathy gap that occurs for people of color, especially in healthcare settings as well as in education. This is important to keep top of mind during this COVID-19 crisis in light of emerging national data revealing the glaring disparities occurring along race for both contracting and dying of the disease, as well as getting access to testing and treatment.

What is clear is that the pain of racism occurs both directly and indirectly. So as communities of color hear and experience more of these disparities, even while not surprising, the impact is felt whether target or watching from the sidelines. Already strategies of resistance have been activated among people of color to buffer and recreate in the midst of this, which includes a call for increased awareness and action by all. Furthering these strategies to remain resilient will be crucial for the long haul calling for intentional awareness to stratified privilege, disrupting inequities, supporting affinity networking, and deploying collaborations with resources of all kinds.

Staying physically distant and socially connected

While we adhere to vital mandates to stop the spread of the virus which can require quarantine and separation, it is important to be aware of language that indicates social or relational disconnection. We are wired for connection and thrive mentally, physically, and emotionally from being in healthy relationship. The limits of the terminology have recently come forward and will likely continue.

Inclusive language that encourages staying socially connected in safe ways is vital. This means honoring the diverse personalities and profiles of individuals falling along the spectrum of introvert to extrovert by making room and opportunities for everyone to find comfortable and necessary methods to stay connected without assumptions of “one size fits all”. By using the term physical distancing it also forces us to look at the range of physical settings people are in while braving this storm. Thus, it is even more important to address the implications and remain aware of the physical constraints and necessities that are realities across the country and for so many.

A current context in the climate of COVID-19

It is not unusual that during times of extraordinary crisis that prevailing stressors become worse. For communities already chronically marginalized by race, ethnicity, gender, class…an increase in volume, intensity, and impact occurs. In addition, a climate of crisis also heightens awareness of social, structural, and systemic inequities. Over the past few weeks we have experienced COVID-19 hit our communities and we are beginning to hear stories and see data that brings this point to a head.

From physical appearance to physical location, the ugly truths of marginalized existences are coming to bear. An African-American man living in Boston expressed this tension in a news article describing the risk and worry he has of being a man of color wearing a facemask to prevent illness while fearing for his safety due to bias. We see the economic intersectional realities during this public health pandemic across many communities and how it is specifically playing out given the disproportionate rate of pre-existing and socially influenced health conditions among communities of color. And sadly rates of domestic violence and abuse are likely spiking especially with quarantine and stay at home recommendations and mandates in place. The backdrop of the growing rise of suicide among Black youth sharpens the need for paying attention to the mental health needs of us all right now and especially within communities of color.

As educators and practitioners of SEL it is vital now more than ever that we remain vigilant in our efforts to defeat COVID-19 while staying aware of how its impact is inextricably tied to issues of bias, equity, and wellness. It will require and invite opportunities for self-reflection personally and professionally that center cultural fluency, emotional intelligence and agility. Before us is a call that compels intentional, active, and inclusive engagement within affinity networks and with racially culturally diverse thought-partners and leaders to seek and create solutions for much-needed healing.

Karen Craddock, Ph.D., is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women. As an applied psychologist, her work centers on issues of equity, wellness, leadership, and partnership. Her studies on psycho-social functioning have included explorations of race and gender intersectionality, models of optimal resistance and resilience, social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and the neuroscience of inclusion.

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When Getting Along Is Not Enough

Maureen Walker When Getting Along is Not Enough bookIf conventional wisdom is to be believed, women are notoriously good at getting along. Cultural pundits, from scholarly theorists to political wags, suggest that women are better suited and somehow more prone to connect with others for good. This notion may have a certain surface appeal, particularly to those of us who want to promote healing in a world marred by mortal violence and near-normative violations of human dignity.

However, women who dare to change worlds know that getting along is not enough. Just getting along allows us to be friendly neighbors, cooperative colleagues, best friends, and maybe even intimate partners. But it is not enough to allow us to build authentic, in-depth connections that bring out the best in ourselves and others, and in our society as a whole. In order to do that, we must delve deeper and ask ourselves hard questions—particularly, as we honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., around the issue of race.

After the 2016 election, analyses and demographic parsing revealed entrenched racialized divides among women. Race emerged as an undeniable constant: as a signifier that gives meaning to our lives, shaping our beliefs about who we are, who we can be, and how we should be regarded by others. Furthermore, race delineates the parameters of belonging and determines the measure of worth we accord others—how we perceive their credibility and deservingness, and how we enact power in our relationships with them.

Although the notion of race itself may be a biological fiction, it is a political reality, one that has functioned as a pernicious strategy of disconnection, violence, and violation. Whether through collusion, co-option, or coercion, women are deeply implicated in sustaining the norms and systems of racial disconnection.

Women of good will (and that, I believe, includes most of us) regularly enact racialized ideologies in real life. Indeed, these ideologies may be in large part cultural legacy, implicit yet potent, unknown even to ourselves. We can begin to know how race shapes our relationships by observing our habits of disconnection. For example, what are the feelings and thoughts we dare not express to someone of a different race—even when that person is dear to our hearts? Certainly not all feelings and thoughts are meant to be shared; some are private and rightfully so. There is, however, a distinction to be made between privacy and secrecy.

Privacy may represent thoughtful restraint, in service of further growth in the relationship. Secrecy, on the other hand, is a habit of disconnection that functions to protect and preserve a preferred image or narrative. Such withholding creates “dead zones” in a relationship. We might observe how and under what circumstances we create these “dead zones.” How big and unnavigable do we believe them to be? How readily do we criticize “them” and what “they” are like when we are in same-race company? What parts of ourselves and of our experience do we withhold in order to preserve and protect the appearance of connection, rather than allowing ourselves to be more fully known and present in a relationship? This is a habit of disconnection that stifles our desire for connection and belies our intentions to engage the richly textured realities that define our shared humanity.

I wrote When Getting Along Is Not Enough as an invitation and a guide for remaking the meaning and function of race in our lives. One of the practices that enables this transformation is what I call “disruptive empathy.” The two words don’t flow easily together, intentionally so, because empathy is not an easy skill. We tend to think of empathy as demonstrations of niceness, kindness, and caring—laudable actions all, but not stand-ins for growth-fostering empathy.

A popular metaphor that more accurately captures the disruptive dynamics of empathy is “walking a mile in another’s shoes.” To walk in another’s shoes implies at minimum the willingness to shed our own. This process is disruptive because it requires a certain level of willful de-stabilization. Specifically, we have to loosen our attachment to the narratives about self and other. We must be willing to be surprised and accepting of parts of ourselves we previously found embarrassing or shameful. In other words, the anchoring value of disruptive empathy is courage, not comfort.

I like to describe disruptive empathy as a dynamic process facilitated by three intentions: awareness, respect, and compassion. Here are just a few of the questions that facilitate the movement through this experience.

Awareness: What am I feeling and thinking? Desiring? Remembering? Is there a cherished narrative or image that I want to shield from scrutiny?

Respect: What is the purpose of this encounter? Am I trying to win? Placate? What might happen if I risk genuine curiosity about this other person?

Compassion: How did this person come to be where she is in this encounter right now? What aspects of our shared humanity is this encounter revealing? Under what conditions do I speak, interpret, and behave similarly?

When Getting Along Is Not Enough is not a mandate for forced harmony. It is an invitation to shed the illusions that allow us to settle for the appearance of harmony, rather than richly textured and authentic connection. It is an invitation to transform the life-limiting imagination of who we can be and how we must engage each other as racialized beings. This book is intended to help us on a shared journey of healing and ask: How might we dare to change worlds? Who, together, might we become? And most important, are we willing?

Maureen Walker, Ph.D., is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women and a founding scholar of the International Center for Growth in Connection, formerly the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute. She is the author of When Getting Along is Not Enough: Reconstructing Race in Our Lives and Relationships, a book that offers a roadmap to personal transformation and cultural healing to repair the damage wrought by racism.

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Beyond #BlackGirlMagic: Representation in Mentoring Matters

Black Girls Create Activity Being Black and a girl--in a society that assigns negative stereotypes to individuals based on one’s race and gender--is often wrought with challenges. Negative stereotypes that have been assigned to Black girls and young women are based on historical controlling images such as the Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire that were created to justify white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal cultural norms of racism, sexism, dehumanization, domination, exploitation, and oppression (Hooks, 1981; Stephens, Phillips, & Few, 2009).  Over the last few years, social media hashtags have helped to bring the marginalized experiences of Black girls and young women to the center of society’s consciousness. Hashtags such as #sayhername, #blacklivesmatter, #ifidieinpolicecustody, #thisiswhatadoctorlookslike, #blackgirlsmatter, #bringbackourgirls, #growingupblack,  #staymadabby, and #blackexcellence have provided global spaces to discuss and bring awareness to the complexity of growing up Black and female in America. The #blackgirlmagic hashtag phrase is used to recognize, congratulate, and commend Black girls and women who have demonstrated extraordinary strength by debunking negative stereotypes and achieving success.  In 2013, CaShawn Thompson began using #blackgirlsaremagic to celebrate the beauty, power, and resilience of Black women and girls (Wilson, 2016).

While social media platforms provide viable opportunities for Black girls to disseminate diverse images of Black women and girls, it is equally important for them to have access to and connect with mentors who represent their race, gender, class, and lived experiences. Evidence suggests that Black girls who have access to relatable, adult Black women who are able to connect with them in unique ways have lower academic, social, and cultural risks than Black girls who do not have access to gender and race-matched mentors (Lindsay, Cummings, & McClendon, 2011; Watson, 2016).  Gender and race-matched mentors, particularly those are viewed as successful in their communities, provide unique opportunities for Black girls to connect with role models who have “lived through” similar experiences and achieved success despite their circumstances.

Mentor Advises ParticipantsIt's important for Black girls to have mentors who represent their race, gender, class, and lived experiences.Positive mentoring relationships are not only beneficial to mentees, Black women mentors show psychosocial gains from their interactions with Black girl mentees (Brown, 2009; Green & King, 2001;Gamble 2014; Lindsay, Cummings & McClendon 2011).  The positive outcomes that could be gained for the Black girl mentees and Black women mentor can be best described using two of the four principles of of Black Feminist Epistemology (Collins, 2000). Principle #1: criteria for meaning argues that those individuals who have lived through the experiences in which they claim to be experts are more credible than those who have not. Essentially, this translates into credibility and trust in mentoring relationship between Black girls and Black women. Principle #2: use of dialogue in accessing knowledge encourages connectedness and provides contexts for Black girls and women to connect on a deeper level.

Noted Black Girlhood Scholar, Ruth Nicole Brown (2009) inquires, “What kind of a space could be created where Black women and girls could come together and be recognized and valued for our diverse ways of being--where we could see ourselves and/or high, but above all, be recognizable and accountable to each other (if we so chose)?” My response to this question is that safe spaces within and outside of social media are needed for Black girls and women to debunk negative stereotypes, empower each other, and cultivate relationships that lead to positive outcomes.

LaShawnda LindsayLaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., (pictured in the top photo above) is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she leads The Black Girls Create Project, a culturally responsive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program seeks to increase underserved girls' interest and confidence in science and math through mentorship and practical experience.

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Guest — Payal patel
Super thougt that was taken osm
Saturday, 23 February 2019 05:42
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Poverty, Black Women, and HIV

About twenty years ago, I received some unbearable news about a dear friend.  A highly intelligent, strong, and beautiful woman of African-descent revealed to me that she contracted HIV as a result of having unprotected sex with a man who had the virus. Twenty years ago, I was convinced that the virus was an automatic death sentence for my friend. Thankfully, with advances in medical technology, not only is she still with us but she is healthy and thriving. However, keep in mind that she has the necessary resources that are needed in order to take care of herself, so she can successfully manage her overall health. She is middle class, has a good health insurance plan, has access to the appropriate health care, and has a supportive social network that encourages her to maintain her health.

However, the reality is that many Black women who contract the virus are not as fortunate as my friend. Black women mainly contract the virus through sexual activity with infected men. Many who contract the virus not only must live with HIV but also poverty. As a result, there are higher morbidity and mortality rates among Black women as compared to other racial communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are 18 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than are White women and due to lack of resources have an increased chance that they will die from AIDS. The theories surrounding this staggering racial disparity are complex. However, much of the discourse among published research discusses poverty as one of the main risk factors for the contraction of HIV among this marginalized group.

Research has demonstrated that poverty and HIV are inextricably linked. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 20 percent of Blacks live in poverty vs. only eight percent of Whites. An impoverished woman is much more likely to have an insufficient education about sexual health practices, less access to proper health care, as well as a reduced amount of access to appropriate contraception (i.e., condoms). In addition, research suggests that life stressors fueled by poverty can be the catalyst for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Such sequela may affect the sexual behavior/practices of women living in poverty that are detrimental to overall health.

This problem is systemic and multifaceted. Addressing this issue through actions based upon the ideals of social justice is key to preventing its escalation. There are several organizations that are dedicated to addressing HIV among Black women including the Black Women’s Health Imperative and the National Black Leadership on HIV/AIDS.

Katherine E. Morrison,KatherineMorrisonPhD Ph.D., is a former post-doctoral intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women.  She is currently the coordinator of the Health & Wellness major at Curry College, Milton, MA. She specializes in the prevention of disease and injury among marginalized populations including communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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