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.

What Could Be More American Than Critical Race Theory?

Paper cutouts of faces in profile with a range of skin tonesCritical race theory has become the latest front in the culture wars. Depending on what you’ve read or what you’ve heard from politicians, you may be under the impression that critical race theory means talking about racism in any context, or that it means white people are inherently racist.

But critical race theory, or CRT, is actually an academic movement that critically examines the law as it intersects with issues of race. CRT is rooted in the broader concept of critical theory, which critiques society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. The history of critical theory is one of people who had previously been sidelined rising up with their own understandings of the world. Critical theory says, we can make our society more equal for everyone, and here’s how.

For example, if you’re a woman who works outside the home, you have critical theory—more specifically, feminism and the feminist movement—to thank for that ability. If you’re an LGBTQ+ person who enjoys the same rights as heterosexual people, you have critical theory—more specifically, queer theory and the LGBTQ+ movement—to thank. If your children don’t work backbreaking hours in a factory, you have critical theory—more specifically, the labor movement—to thank.

In all of these cases, critical theory comes from those on the periphery. Those who have been marginalized in the past gain the power to stand up and demand equal rights for themselves and their families.

In the case of critical race theory, Black, Latinx, and Asian American thinkers like Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, and Robert S. Chang have stood up and asked why people of color should not receive equal treatment under the law as white people. Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”—a speech delivered on July 5, 1852—was also an early work of critical race theory that raised questions about the nuances of freedom in the United States.

On this 4th of July, we wonder, what could be more American than that?


In a sense, our founding fathers were also proponents of critical theory.

In a sense, our founding fathers were also proponents of critical theory. They were critical of the British monarchy and believed they could design a more just society, one in which power is vested in the people. They built a democracy which, though deeply flawed, remains full of promise. When people on the margins force us to examine those flaws, they are moving us toward the highest values of our Constitution: freedom, justice, and equality for all. Critical theory springs from those roots.

As research scientists who study womanism and the social determinants, racial injustices, and cultural biases that burden the progression and viability of Black girls and women, we believe that critical theory, including critical race theory, plays an important role in our work, and we believe that its evolution has improved our lives and the lives of all Americans.

So when we’re told that students should not be learning CRT in schools, or that it’s demonizing white people and dividing our society, we need to take a step back and view it in the larger context of critical theory as a whole. When we question whether we can do better, and when we give voice to people who have been sidelined, we are part of this grand tradition, and we are living up to our highest ideals as Americans.


Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and an expert on the womanist worldview and activist methodology. LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., is a research scientist who leads the Black Girls and STEM Education Research Initiative at WCW.

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Guest — Liz Camarie
As a white woman born in 1949, I appreciate your description of CRT. It honors the reality of the lives many generations. And it s... Read More
Wednesday, 07 July 2021 18:18
Guest — Rinchen Angmo
It's a good thought
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 06:28
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How Asian Women (and Men) are Dehumanized

Professor Lee wrote this reflection the day after eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed at spas in the Atlanta area, and shared it with the Wellesley College community. It is posted here with her permission.

Stop Asian Hate photograph by Miki Jourdan. Blacka and white photo of woman holding sign that says Stop Asian Hate. DC Rally for Collective Safety; Protect Asian/AAPI Communities; McPherson Square, Washington, DC.Stop Asian Hate by Miki Jourdan. DC Rally for Collective Safety; Protect Asian/AAPI Communities; McPherson Square, Washington, DC. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license. I spent much of yesterday in a spiral of grief, fear, and rage, thinking, among other things, about mace and bulletproof vests, wondering whether Wellesley should provide them for our Asian American students (do you know how many students of Asian descent we have? each one an individual, with their own hopes, fears, quirks, talents, ambitions, with their own sense of humor, their own way of experiencing the world)...

You may have seen or read about the news conference yesterday at which the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson (a monster who is in charge of communication and community relations, unbelievably enough) spoke lovingly and sympathetically of the man who hunted down Asian women in cold blood, driving miles to do so. Throughout the day, this murderer was portrayed by media as innocent, church-going, pious. He loves pizza, drums, going to church. Apparently also Asian women. He was just "having a bad day." Just reached the end of his rope. Poor, good kid! If only those Asian women were not so tempting! (“[It's] a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.")

The names of two of the four Korean women murdered have not even been released (what did they like to eat or do in their spare time, if they had any, I wonder; my 94-year-old Korean mother-in-law also loves pizza). To America (and, yes, even here at Wellesley), Asians are faceless numbers or bodies. Just faceless numbers or bodies: bodies that are sometimes grudgingly tolerated at the table for the sake of "diversity," sometimes held up like a shield to protect white supremacy or used as a weapon to injure other people of color, sometimes fetishized and lusted after, sometimes (most of the time, now) beaten, spat on, or shot. Getting back to the bullet-proof vest idea: I'm afraid to go outside.

To call things "microaggressions" (like being yelled at to "go back where you came from") is misleading. If you've ever experienced one, you know that it's only the tip of a gigantic iceberg of hatred that's coming right at you. Sometimes that hatred boils over; at other times, it congeals into a huge, massive, cruel indifference. Asians suffer or die—so what? Aren't they just funny little people (or sexy little people) who are meant to stand in the background, serve you, not speak or have opinions or lead, god forbid! Supposed to give you nice massages or paint your nails, get out of the way (or be gotten out of the way, with millions of tons of napalm if necessary), and, most importantly, weren't they put on earth to be the butt of jokes everywhere, in public and in private, among liberals and conservatives?

Aren't there just too many Asians, always too many of them? Are we not a horde, a tide, too many to even count? And for us, the psychic cost of knowing that hatred—well, just try to imagine it, if you are so fortunate as not to know from your own experience what it's like to be hated or despised. Reading Asian Americans write about their shame and self-hatred breaks my heart; I can't do it any more.

I am not asking for your sympathy. I'm an old, tenured member of the faculty, and I will be fine. But I needed to express some of this bitterness of soul, as I look for ways to turn my rage and grief and fear into action. I would ask you to think about the people of Asian descent you encounter (as individuals with distinct faces, names, and histories) and to think about how we can extend some of the love and sympathy that was lavished on the white murderer to members of our own community, who have been and will be receiving all the effects of the obscene legacy of Trump.

The police and the media still refuse to call it a hate crime. They take the murderer at his own word that he was not racist: as if to dehumanize Asian people into a trope of "sexual temptation" were not obscenely racist and misogynist. I ask you to please, please, stop denying that racism exists or that it rules our lives, determines where we can and cannot go, and suffocates human potential at every hour of every day for all non-white people (Breonna, George, Tamir, Travis...).

Please use the word when it's called for. Call racism by its name. Whatever your own race, you can call out racism when you see it. It's particularly urgent for white folks to do so; I can't emphasize this enough.

In case it wasn't apparent, some (though not all) of my remarks above are sarcastic. Also, I've been saying these things forever. Thanks for reading.

Yoon Sun Lee, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Wellesley College. She works in several fields: the eighteenth-century novel, British prose in the Romantic period, Asian American literature, narrative theory, and literary theory.

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Exploring Possibilities: Advancing Racial Justice Through Research

dark barn interior looking to brightness outsideThe question of how to address structural racism continues to loom large, both in our national conversation and in social science research. Addressing the white supremacist system (which is also marked by gender oppression, economic exploitation, and heteronomativity) is ultimately the question that connects all other research questions about equitable outcomes for young people. As a research scientist who focuses on child and adolescent development, I am starting with what I have learned from young people, youth workers, and community leaders, which has shaped how I think about the role research can play in advancing racial justice.

Much of my work involves documenting how various interventions support the academic progress, health, and wellbeing of young people — and furthermore, how outcomes are different for youth based on their race/ethnicity, income level, age, gender, learning needs, or language. For example, I might be interested in whether offering a certain kind of enrichment activity to a young person will help them graduate from high school. Can a program help a young person to stay out of “trouble” and go on to contribute to society? This work is important and I enjoy doing it, but this framing also implicitly locates the source of social and political problems within a young person rather than within the system itself.

Given the systemic and pervasive nature of racialized inequalities, I wonder if these types of interventions are sufficient. I wonder if there are ways that researchers, practitioners, youth, and families might collectively intervene upon the system of inequality, and then assess the impacts of systemic changes on the lives of young people, their families, and their communities.

We don’t need research to tell us that every young person and their family has a right to a home, but research might test the hypothesis that providing them with safe, secure housing throughout 15 years of schooling could impact academic achievement. Instead of looking at whether a specific training program helps youth to get jobs, perhaps we can expand our focus and efforts on training employers to resist perpetuating racist tactics in their organizations, hold them accountable to hire people from the communities where they are located, and then document the impacts of these efforts on job access and retention for young people and adults. The scope of this kind of research requires a shift in our current approaches and existing methods, but I believe it is worth exploring.

As the examples above show, housing and employment are racial justice issues. Similarly, many of the systemic issues we aim to address in the out-of-school time (OST) field are also racial justice issues. For example, we are interested in recruiting and retaining a diverse and skilled workforce. I wonder if and how recruitment efforts, retention rates, and program quality overall would improve if each worker earned a full-time salary, healthcare, and benefits. I wonder how youth's sense of inclusion and belonging in these programs is affected when programs are staffed by the families and neighbors of the youth participating in them. And I wonder if the overall quality of the programs would increase if we prioritized funding organizations led by these families and neighbors.

Based on what I know about the ingenuity and stamina of the OST workforce and grassroots community organizations, I am sure that these types of initiatives that I imagine do exist. But can we as research entities elevate, validate, and document the successes of interventions aimed at structural change?

The examples above are the types of questions that have taken root in my mind, and that I’d like to explore. They are complex and come with no easy answers. But seeking answers could give us valuable insights into improving the lives of youth, particularly youth who are systematically marginalized and harmed by a white supremacist system.

As I reflect on the year behind us and the year ahead of us, I think of something Layli Maparyan, WCW’s executive director, said to me recently: We can imagine what is possible through our work. In fact, imagining possibilities for a better future is one of my favorite parts of listening to young people and the adults who support them. They remind me that we need to think bigger, not smaller, and shift the narrative about what it means to do research. Only then can we incorporate racial justice into research in a meaningful way.


Lisette M. DeSouza, Ph.D., is an associate research scientist working with scholars at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She takes an intersectional approach to the positive development of systematically marginalized youth, with the goal of youth- and community-initiated social change. Lisette is grateful to her collaborators at WCW and in MA 21CCLC, Mimi Arbeit, Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, James Jennings, Kirshby Osias, Julie Parker and Elise Harris Wilkerson, for sharpening her communication about and focus on social justice.

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Moving Forward from a Year of Sacrifice

Happy New Year from all of us at the Wellesley Centers for Women! This is a moment of profound reflection about all we’ve been through and where we are headed.



2020 was a year like no other. From out of nowhere came a global pandemic that left no one untouched. Many of us, myself included, were visited by the strange new sickness known as COVID-19. Many of us endured the loss of loved ones whose lives were cut short by a virus we barely understood, but thanks to scientists working around the clock and around the world, the genome was quickly mapped, its elusive symptoms were painstakingly documented, and life-saving therapies and vaccines were developed and tested in record time. In many respects, this was a year when we learned what we were capable of as one human race writ large.

Yet, it was also a year when we had to face some of our ugliest demons. The specters of racial inequality and racial violence jointly rose up amid the pandemic, sparking a racial justice movement larger and more inclusive than any we have seen in decades, perhaps ever. We were moved to tears and rage by the CDC’s data showing that people of color were roughly 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 as white people, as well as by the ongoing killings of Black people — such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks — even with the pandemic raging on. The movement for racial justice generated important dialogues, as well as many changes in policy and practice around the country. Yet, it also highlighted all the work we have yet to do to ensure a world of equality, justice, and wellbeing for all.

The devastating pandemic deepened financial fissures, ripping away what little economic security many people had managed to accumulate. We saw unemployment spike, surpassing all past records, we saw food pantry lines triple and quadruple, we saw more people become unhoused or buckle under the looming threat of eviction. Yet, against this backdrop, we witnessed in 2020 the emergence of the world’s first centibillionaires — that is, individuals whose wealth exceeds $100 billion.

On the bright side, our society came to recognize the tremendous worth of many low-wage essential workers — from nursing assistants and emergency medical technicians, to grocery and restaurant workers, to truck drivers, delivery people, and everyone in logistics, to gig workers of all kinds — expressing long-overdue gratitude for all they do to keep society functioning. Yet, most are still economically vulnerable and will remain so without a major rethinking of what makes a society thrive economically.

As we begin a new year, we must concern ourselves with the fact that economists have predicted a K-shaped pattern of economic recovery — one in which those who are financially well-off are expected to do better and better and those who are financially vulnerable are expected to do worse and worse.

The mental health consequences of 2020 were not insignificant. The stresses of the pandemic, the stresses of racial inequality and violence, the stresses of economic precarity, the stresses of new patterns of life, and the stresses of looming unknowns affected virtually everyone in some way. For those of us who had to suddenly pivot last March from “life as usual” to “work from home” and, often, “remote schooling” for our children, there were many new stressors, from having no clear boundaries between work, family, and self, to the pressure of having to take on new roles such as homeschool teacher or family nurse and public health officer.

These pressures were especially acute for women, a not insignificant number of whom made the difficult decision to retreat from the workforce, whether to care for family or pursue other life goals. We must also remember what the year was like for those women and girls — in fact, for anyone — for whom home was not a safe place to be, whether for reasons of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, or child abuse — all at a time when protective services and resources were sharply curtailed due to the pandemic.

For people who had to isolate at home alone, loneliness and disconnection became real risks, as did fears of what would happen if they got sick with no one around. The year was perhaps most stressful of all for those who could not be together with loved ones who were in the hospital or, even more tragically, those who could not be together with loved ones who were dying.

And we cannot forget the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who were the heroic heart of the year, who were caring for us and our loved ones, despite the uncertainties related to their own health and survival, and despite the risk to their own families.

2020 was a year of great sacrifice for every single person on this planet, in fact, a year of profound trauma for some, and we owe each other the grace of that. Against this backdrop, we must look ahead in 2021.

The fact that 2020 was an election year almost fades into the background, yet, it becomes a source of hope when we imagine the possibilities of a new administration and all that we can do together, inside and outside politics, to restore faith in ourselves and the world.

We must, in particular, acknowledge the historic first of Kamala Harris, a Black woman, a South Asian woman, and first-generation woman born of immigrant parents, being elected Vice President of the United States, and the courage of Joe Biden, a white male presidential candidate, to buck the trend of history by choosing her as a running mate.

These things bode well as we continue our work of building a more inclusive and equitable society in which all can prosper and thrive. We at the Wellesley Centers for Women are energized by a tempered optimism, geared up for another year of doing what we do best — shaping a better world through research and action — and we look forward to partnering with all who share our vision in 2021!

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

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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 ActivityBeing 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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Super thougt that was taken osm
Saturday, 23 February 2019 05:42
Guest — Dnyanda Kakare
The way you shouldn't change just to please or making friends. I have a friend who changes herself according to the situation and ... Read More
Monday, 09 August 2021 12:10
Guest — Dnyanda Kakare
Don't change yourself for someone else. I have a friend who changes herself according to the situation and place. It isn't a bad... Read More
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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,KatherineMorrisonPhDPh.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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