Spirituality, the Self, and the Struggle for Social Justice

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  • 1. Spirituality, the Self, and the Struggle for Social Justice john a. powell Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, & Williams Chair in Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, Moritz College of Law “ Possibilities for a Post-Racial Nation/World in the Obama Era” Symposium April 24, 2009
  • 2. Today’s Conversation
    • Identity and the Self
    • Spirituality and Social Justice
    • Race and Racialization
    • Social Cognition and Implicit Bias
    • Post-racialism and Talking about Race
    • Targeted Universalism
    • Linked Fate and Transformative Change
  • 3. Identity
    • Identities can be multiple and conflicted
      • The British did not become “white” until Africans became “black”
    • Both internal and external pluralism is supported by a healthy society
    • We may experience an uncomfortable awareness of our own multiplicity
      • W.E.B. DuBois’ double consciousness
  • 4. Identity, Groups, & Structures
    • Identity reflects group positioning rather than actual group identity.
    • Groups are often seen as possessing some distinct personal or social attributes that differentiate group members from non-group members.
    • “ Considered relationally, a social group is a collective of persons differentiated from others by cultural forms, practices, special needs or capacities, structures of power or privilege.” (p. 90)
    • “… a structural social group is a collection of persons who are similarly positioned in interactive and institutional relations that condition their opportunities and life prospects.” (p. 97)
    Source: Inclusion and Democracy by Iris Marion Young (2000); chapter 3
  • 5. The Self – Hobbesian View
    • Current paradigm: Hobbesian, isolated
      • Perceives individuals as autonomous-independent selves
        • Egoistic, possessive, separate, isolated, rational
    • This has led to increasing isolation and fear of the other
      • This framework creates, marginalizes the racialized other
      • Racial disparities are seen as a subjective, personal experience
      • Creates false separations – negates shared humanity
  • 6. The White Self
    • Whiteness illuminates everything but itself.
    Whiteness Blackness
  • 7. Identity: White Identities
    • In the past, non-whites sometimes tried to “ pass ” as whites in order to reap the benefits associated with whiteness
    • Fully white - denotes those who, “with all of the racially relevant facts about them widely known, they would generally be considered white by the community at large”
    • Honorary whites “are extended the status of whiteness despite the public recognition that, from a bio-racial perspective, they are not fully white.”
    • More recently, non-whites have been accused of trying to “ cover ,” meaning they are acting as though they are white
    Source: “Colorblind White Dominance” by Ian Haney López (2006)
  • 8. Clip from “Bowling for Columbine”
      • “ A Brief History of the United States of America” –
      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPBHtjZmSpw
  • 9. The Self – A New Paradigm
    • What is the alternative vision?
      • A model of connectedness
      • Inter-being, unified
      • Not egoistically separate
    • Individualism and interconnectivity are not mutually excusive
    • When a linked correctly, interconnectivity supports individuality
  • 10. Spirituality and the Self
    • How do postmodern rejections of an isolated or unified self and assertions of the multiplicity of selves come into play?
      • If “self” is actually constructed within an intersubjective space, if there is no personal sphere without the social sphere, is it possible to have a private, personal relationship with God? Or are our yearnings always communal yearnings?
      • If the social and the personal are constituted in relationship to each other, could our unresolved ontological suffering create the structures that perpetuate social suffering.
  • 11. Suffering
    • Existential/Ontological Suffering
      • Transience (First Noble Truth of Buddhism)
      • Loy’s Sense of Lack
      • Psychoanalysis (Lacan’s Lack)
      • Inherent in existence
    • Surplus/Secular suffering
      • The result of social arrangements/structures
      • Visited on people unequally
  • 12. Suffering
    • What is the relationship between spiritual suffering and social suffering? Individual Suffering and Collective Suffering?
    • What is the relationship between spirituality and social justice?
    • What is the greater relationship between the secular and the spiritual in our world?
        • Questions reflections of each other
  • 13. Personal vs. Social
    • If spirituality is our effort to connect to something beyond our egoistic self – how does that relate to social justice?
    • Could working to relieve social suffering be a non-optional part of moving beyond our “self”? Working for social transformation be an integral part of engaging deeply with all of our personal encounters?
      • Addresses the tensions between “transcendence” and “immanence”
      • Must reject structures that limit our ways to embrace love and hope in all our interpersonal interactions
      • Love calls the ego beyond itself
  • 14. Spirituality and Social Justice
    • We usually focus on how spirituality inspires social justice work, but not on how working for social justice informs spirituality
    • Caring about other’s suffering not just about relieving their suffering, but about one’s own spiritual development
    • Suffering a central concern of both
    • Spirituality  Social Justice
  • 15. Avoiding the Duality Mindset
    • President Obama has provoked discussions about race and racial identity, but much confusion remains
    • Often race is portrayed as a duality, indicating that either
      • Race is important, OR
      • Race is not important.
    • Perceiving race through these two perspectives is not accurate. Race is a continuum, not a duality.
  • 16. Whiteness and the Continuum
    • There is a perception that minority populations are surpassing white populations.
    • When considering racial identities, we must address the role of whiteness and white space.
    • The fluidity of other races’ locations in the continuum depend on how we think about whiteness.
    • This continuum is becoming more
    • complicated, yet it is stable.
  • 17. Defining Racial Categories
    • The Census has been a tool for defining “whiteness”
    • “ Whiteness” is not a stable category
      • i.e., Irish Americans were once considered non-white
      • Are Hispanics/Latinos considered white (yet)?
    • Given that racial categories are dynamic, there is no way to know whether whites will be a numerical minority
  • 18. Deconstructing Racial Categories
    • Our collective failure to deconstruct racial categories, especially the “white” category, has two main ramifications:
      • The racial hierarchy is maintained
      • Whites who want to reject the white category need an alternate identity
    • What is the meaning of being in these categories?
      • These categories are constructed, sorted, and policed
  • 19. Not Just a Typology
    • These categories of racial identity are more than just a typology.
    • They give social meaning and social significance to race.
    • These categories are reflected in institutional arrangements
      • For example, consider privilege (specifically white privilege)…
  • 20. White Privilege and the Organization of Structures
    • Privilege is sorted through institutional arrangements
    • Without critical examination, the system can appear to be just and fair, perhaps even neutral towards race.
    • Often unbeknownst to them, whites inherit and possess many benefits that are often unacknowledged and/or taken for granted.
    • Interestingly, the norm of whiteness is strong enough that the privilege of whiteness may not even be perceived by people of color.
  • 21. Another Example
    • Some argue that the culture of poverty is a reflection of white dominance, not a particular group’s (Blacks, Latinos, etc.) failure.
    • Thus, the logic follows that in order to fix the culture of poverty, white dominance must be fixed.
    • Others suggest that the culture of poverty is a reaction to being locked out of society.
    • These examples clearly indicate that racial categories are reflected in larger societal and institutional arrangements.
  • 22. Defining Race
    • From this nation’s inception, the race line was used to demarcate and patrol the divide between those who constituted the “We” in “We The People.”
    • Race-based interventions (such as Affirmative Action) are sometimes seen as unfair because race is incorrectly thought of as phenotype alone.
    • Race is a modern idea. In the past, people were grouped by other attributes, such as religion, social class, or language.
  • 23. Race as Social Space
    • We have fluidity in terms of our racial identity (or, in reality, racial identities.)
        • Situations affect who you are , how you identify.
          • For example, it may not be until you’re in a room with full of people of a different race that you become truly aware of your own race.
          • The British did not become “white” until Africans became “black.”
    • In order to notice race, society has to create this category/idea of race. After it is created, individuals can negotiate it using the social tools created by society.
  • 24. The Social Construction of Race
    • Race is a scientific fiction; it is a social construction.
    • Despite the lack of scientific support, the social reality of race is substantial.
      • The racial categories into which we group people are not as problematic as the social meaning and racial hierarchy we assign to those groups.
  • 25. The Social Construction of Race
    • People talk about race as though it is essential, even though it is socially constructed
    • This provokes some important questions:
      • How is race constructed? By whom? For what purpose?
    • The fact that race is constructed implies that it has a history and that it is constantly changing.
    • People tend to misunderstand and underestimate the significance of this.
  • 26. Race and Racialization
    • We have seen a move away from legal racism and personal prejudice to a racial hierarchy that is enforced through institutions/structures
      • de jure segregation  de facto segregation
      • inscribed in laws  inscribed in land
    • Although racial attitudes and personal prejudice is improving steadily, racial disparities persist on every level
    • Not enough just to recognize these disparities, we must understand our assumptions surrounding them
    • What is the meaning of these disparities in terms of a true democracy?
  • 27. Understa nding Structural Racialization
    • Structural racialization addresses inter-institutional arrangements and interactions.
      • It refers to the ways in which the joint operation of institutions produce racialized outcomes.
    • Structural racialization analysis allows for a view of the cumulative effects of institutional arrangements.
    • How we arrange structures matters
      • The order of the structures
      • The timing of the interaction between them
      • The relationships that exist between them
  • 28. Social Cognition and Implicit Bias
  • 29. Unconscious Cognitive Modeling: The Kanizsa Triangle
    • Illusion of a triangle appears even though there are no lines connecting it.
    • Triangle appears brighter than the surrounding area even though it has the same brightness as the background.
    • Active modeling occurs well before sensory information reaches the area of the brain responsible for conscious thought.
    • Cognitive modeling occurs at higher levels of knowledge too
  • 30. Social Cognition
    • Cognitive psychologists explain that these schemas (black/white, young/old) are cognitive structures which permit us to make decisions quickly.
    • However, because they are unconscious, we are generally unaware that these mental models even exist.
  • 31. Implicit Bias
    • Data are complex, but so are people.
    • We unconsciously think about race even when we do not explicitly discuss it.
      • Implicit thoughts can overpower our explicit positions.
    • People have multiple networks that may be activated without our awareness.
      • Depending on the situation, one network becomes dominant over the others.
    • Our race schemas may be activated without our awareness.
  • 32. Implicit Bias
    • Even though we may fight them, implicit biases reside within us.
    • Often these biases are socially unacceptable or embarrassing, so we try to hide them. Nevertheless, our unconscious networks are still operating…
      • "Call Me, Harold" ad (VA Senate Race): http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v =kkiz1_d1GsA
      • The Willie Horton/ Dukakis on Crime: http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v =EC9j6Wfdq3o
  • 33. Framing
    • How messages are framed affects how they are perceived.
    • Conversations about race and diversity must be honed to ensure that messages are effective.
    • We need to start from the assumption that an awareness of racial disparities is fundamental to fostering race-conscious approaches to social justice policy.
      • This is the first step in proactively achieving and maintaining diversity in our public institutions.
  • 34. Moving forward
    • Put your outcome first: what do you want to achieve?
    • Work backwards from there … how do you achieve it, for everyone?
    • Talk about race – it is part of the American story
    • Targeted universalism and linked fates
  • 35. History shapes our present & future
  • 36. We were separated from each other… http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol2no1/sugrue.html Detroit’s “Wailing Wall” being constructed
  • 37. Opportunity still plays out across space
      • Measures of segregation (i.e. the “dissimilarity index”) have nudged downward a tiny bit but are still high
      • Outward growth can pull resources away from existing communities
      • The “favored quarter” has a disproportionate share of high quality opportunity structures
  • 38. Segregation leads to disparate (racialized) outcomes Lower Educational Outcomes Increased Flight of Affluent Families Neighborhood Segregation School Segregation & Concentrated Poverty
  • 39. Why We Need to Talk about Race
    • To not talk about race is to talk about race.
    • Race plays a critical role in the creation and perpetuation of many social, political, and organizational structures that control the distribution of opportunities.
    • Race affects all aspects of our lives.
      • Where we live, who our children’s friends are, what social programs we support, how we vote, etc.
    • We must address race to understand the history of our nation’s democracy and the future well-being of its people.
  • 40. Consequences of Not Talking About Race
    • Racial disparities are masked
    • Misperceptions about equality are reinforced
    • Support for equitable interventions is decreased
    • Diversity becomes less valued
    • “ Color-blindness” gains salience
    • Inadequate proxies, such as class, become more visible
    • Understanding of “linked fate” is weakened (we fail to see that institutional arrangements are functioning poorly for everyone)
  • 41. Colorblindness v. Color-Consciousness
    • Color blindness
      • The logic: Since we know race is socially constructed (not scientific), we should eliminate racial categories
      • This perspective assumes “that the major race problem in our society is race itself, rather than racism.”
      • Attempting to ignore race is not the same as creating equality
    • Is colorblindness an appropriate shift in how we perceive race? NO.
      • Colorblindness will not end racism.
    Source: john a. powell. “The Colorblind Multiracial Dilemma: Racial Categories Reconsidered.” (1997)
  • 42. Colorblindness v. Color-Consciousness
    • Color- Consciousness
      • This perspective acknowledges that race can be a divisive issue in our society
      • Policies and interventions need to address race; otherwise they will only provide partial solutions to problems that are grounded in race
      • Acknowledging race through a multicultural frame can reduce prejudice
      • Color-consciousness fosters an appreciation of each group’s contributions to society
    Source: Philip Mazzocco. “The Dangers of Not Speaking About Race.” 2006
  • 43. Understanding of Disparities Present Extreme Persisting Absent Minimal Declining Explanations for Disparities Structural Historical Abnormal Individual Cultural Normal Solutions to Disparities Color-Conscious Color-Blind OPPOSE AA SUPPORT AA Color-blind/ Color-conscious Racism
  • 44. Talking about Race… post-Obama
    • A popular discourse following President Obama’s victory was that his win heralded a post-racial society.
    • This conclusion is deeply mistaken.
  • 45. A post-racial society? Anxiety over racial identity … and humor Tracy Morgan accepting a Golden Globe for 30 Rock “ I am the face of post-racial America. Deal with it, Cate Blanchett!”
  • 46. A Post-Racial Society? (or Not?)
    • Obama’s victory does not change the facts:
      • Black and Latino children are much more likely than white children to attend high-poverty schools
      • A white man with a criminal record is three times more likely than a black man with a record to receive consideration for a job
      • M inority home-seekers, many with good credit scores, are steered disproportionately to high-cost, sub-prime mortgages, thus devastating their communities in light of the foreclosure crisis
    By prematurely proclaiming a post-racial status, we ignore the distance we have yet to travel to make this country truly a land of equal opportunity for all, regardless of racial identity.
  • 47. Talking about race…productively
    • Acknowledge racial progress
      • Recognize our racial history and connect it to our future
      • Explain how past injustices still matter today
    • Create empathetic space
      • Everyone needs help now and then; we all want to do better
      • We share deep values, concerns, and hopes
    • Provide potential solutions
      • We need to be able to articulate what we support - not just what we oppose.
        • Martin Luther King, Jr. did not start a speech with: “I have a complaint…”
    Source: http://www.equaljusticesociety.org/2008/12/talking-about-race-in-the-obama-era/
  • 48. Thinking Transformatively about Race
    • Transactional vs. Transformative
      • Affirmative action is predicated on a transactional approach. It assists individuals but does not alter the larger system of structures.
      • A transformative perspective changes the arrangement of societal structures and consequently alters relations to opportunity.
  • 49. Conditions for Change
    • Moving from a transactional to a transformational paradigm requires structural change:
      • Institutions should allow for participation and dissent of individuals in a democratic society.
      • For those in poverty, this participation is denied as they lack access to power, influence, and choice; thus, poverty is maintained.
        • Structures act as filters, creating cumulative barriers to opportunity.
      • Reorganization of institutions to encourage the “emergence of differences” is one example of transformative thinking.
  • 50. What is a truly universal policy?
    • “ Universal” policies are often based on a non-universal standard (i.e. social security: able-bodied white males working outside the home full-time for pay)
    • Instead, a targeted universal strategy is inclusive, but pays particular attention to the needs of those falling behind
      • Ex: Every school a performing school
      • What does each school need to get there?
      • What does each student, family, teacher, community need?
      • What are their strengths and constraints?
  • 51. Group A Group B The universal program affected everyone in red, but Group B is still constrained by the boxes. Universal Program
  • 52. Group A Group B The universal program affected everyone in red, but Group B is still constrained by the boxes. Universal Program
  • 53. Targeted Universalism
    • This approach supports the needs of the particular while reminding us that we are all part of the same social fabric.
        • Universal, yet captures how people are differently situated
        • Inclusive, yet targets those who are most marginalized
        • Example goal: Every school as a performing school
          • What does each school need to get there?
          • What does each student, family, teacher, community need?
          • What are their strengths and constraints?
  • 54. Targeted Universalism
    • Targeted Universalism recognizes racial disparities and the importance of eradicating them, while acknowledging their presence within a larger inequitable, institutional framework
    • Targeted universalism is a common framework through which to pursue justice
      • A model which recognizes our linked fate
      • A model where we all grow together
      • A model where we embrace collective solutions
  • 55. Understand and communicate our linked fates
    • Racialized structures and policies have created the correlation of race and poverty. People assume that only people of color are harmed.
    • BUT: these effects are far reaching and impact everyone – we share a linked fate
    • Example: credit tightened for everyone after the subprime fiasco
  • 56. Linked Fates… Transformative Change
    • Our fates are linked, yet our fates have been socially constructed as disconnected (especially through the categories of class, race, gender, etc.).
      • We need socially constructed “bridges” to transform our society.
      • Conceive of an individual as connected to—instead of isolated from—“thy neighbor.”
  • 57. Linked Fates…Transformative Change
    • Tension is dynamic and positive (constitutive).
    • The situated nature/essence of the Self (and its multiplicity):
      • Social justice (external)
      • Spirituality (internal)
    • We are the same and different. Because we are the same, dialogue is possible. Because we are different, dialogue is necessary.
  • 58. For more information, please visit us online at www.kirwaninstitute.org
  • 59. Appendix
    • Our Unconscious Networks
    • Commonly Used Frames
    • Priming
  • 60. Our Unconscious Networks
    • What colors are the following lines of text?
      • Vqeb peow ytro
      • Cvur zxyq brrm
      • Vhrn wwte zytn
      • Xoc jbni oew mne
      • Zre ytu vee mkp
  • 61. Our Unconscious Networks
    • What colors are the following lines of text?
      • Red
      • Blue
      • Black
      • Green
      • Brown
  • 62. Our Unconscious Networks
    • What colors are the following lines of text?
      • Sky
      • Grass
      • Dirt
      • Coal
      • Stop sign
  • 63. Our Unconscious Networks
    • What colors are the following lines of text?
      • Dirt
      • Sunshine
      • Sky
      • Grass
      • Stop sign
  • 64. Our Unconscious Networks
    • What colors are the following lines of text?
      • Green
      • Blue
      • Brown
      • Red
      • Black
  • 65. 4 Frames Commonly Used When Discussing Race
    • 1) Minimize the existence of disparities
    • Examples:
      • “ Things may not be entirely equal, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be.”
      • “ The racial ‘playing field’ is level.”
    Source: Bonilla-Silva (2003) Racism Without Racists & Mazzocco (May 2006) “The Dangers of Not Talking About Race.”
  • 66. 4 Frames Commonly Used When Discussing Race
    • 2) Blame culture for racial inequality rather than societal structures or white privilege
    • Examples:
      • “ Blacks are lazy and lack motivation.”
      • “ We get what we deserve in life. If some racial groups aren’t doing as well as others, people just need to work harder.”
  • 67. 4 Frames Commonly Used When Discussing Race
    • 3) Racial phenomena is “natural”
    • Examples:
      • “ Racial segregation in housing is natural. After all, they prefer to live by themselves instead of interacting with us.”
      • “ They’d rather be with their ‘own kind’ anyway.”
  • 68. 4 Frames Commonly Used When Discussing Race
    • 4) Focusing on individuals and their traits, assuming that we all start from the same “position” in society
    • Examples:
      • “We should all be judged as individuals based on our personal merits. No one should receive special privileges. It’s not fair.”
      • “People like Tiger Woods, George Lopez, and Oprah Winfrey are proof that anyone can be successful in America.”
  • 69. Challenging These Frames
    • These frames are not easy to challenge, especially those that draw upon our national values of meritocracy and individuality.
    • It is important to confront all four of these frames at the same time; otherwise, people tend to just switch to a different frame rather than change their understanding of race.
  • 70. Other Semantic Moves
    • “ I am not racist, but….”
    • “ I kind of support and oppose….” (views on affirmative action, interracial marriage, and other topics)
  • 71. Priming
    • Our environment affects our unconscious networks.
    • Priming activates mental associations.
      • Telling someone a scary story activates a frame of fear
    • Claude Steele’s “stereotype threat”:
      • For example, tell students about to take a test that Asian students tend to do better than whites, the whites will perform significantly worse than if they had not been primed to think of themselves as less capable than Asians.
    Source: http://www.eaop.ucla.edu/0405/Ed185%20-Spring05/Week_6_May9_2005.pdf
  • 72. Social Cognition
    • Racial schemes are the categories into which we map individual human beings. Once a person is assigned to a racial category, implicit and explicit racial meanings with that category are triggered.
    • The meaning (valence) attributed to these schemas are culturally derived.
      • Measured by IAT tests.
  • 73. Implicit Association Test
    • IAT measures unconscious attitudes toward various groups of people.
    • IAT tracks the response time required to match up pleasant and unpleasant words such as “love,” “kindness,” “trust” and “fear,” “hatred,” “dishonor,” respectively, with images of individuals who belong to “in-groups” and “outgroups”— Caucasians juxtaposed against African Americans or males juxtaposed against females, for example.
      • Think about previous slides with text and colors.
    • More than two-thirds of test takers register bias toward stigmatized groups.
  • 74. The Shooter Game
    • Using images of white and black men, each gripping a cell phone, a wallet, or a handgun, scientists have created a video-game experiment that requires split-second judgments.
    • Images of suspects—both armed and unarmed, black and white—flash onto a monitor. Within a split-second, subjects must decide whether to shoot.
    • One after another, images flash onto a monitor and participants must assess whether the man in each picture is carrying a gun. Within 850 milliseconds they must press one key to shoot or another to leave the figure unharmed.
    • In experiment after experiment people’s mistakes, although rare, follow a pattern: they shoot more unarmed blacks than unarmed whites, and they fail to shoot more whites than blacks who turn out to be holding weapons.
  • 75. What Would You Do?