Sometimes I hear about a news story that gets under my skin and I can't seem to shake it. With these stories I often find myself talking directly at my radio or launching into a five-minute rant the second I hear the name of the key players or location.
The armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon has been one of those stories.
One of the reasons this story had such a powerful impact on me is because I grew up in the western United States, where battles over public land were far from rare. Although not exclusively, arguments were often between conservationists who sought to protect public lands to preserve wildlife and individuals who wanted land to be privately owned and open for unrestricted recreation (think ATVs) and/or financial gains (e.g. logging and ranching).
It probably comes as no surprise that I often fall on the side of the conservationists. I consider myself lucky to have hiked and camped in some of the most beautiful places in the world--in my home state. Why would anyone want to destroy such spaces which inspire awe and remind us of the more important things in life?
But, my interest in this story has not just been about the politics of land use.
Like many others, I was immediately disturbed by the implications this situation has for the state of racial affairs within the United States. And on this MLK day as I reflect back on a year filled with yet more shootings of unarmed black youth, I find it impossible not to see the unfolding (or perhaps more accurately stalled) situation in Oregon as an example of the way white privilege functions within the United States.
No, I am not saying that the police should barge into the wildlife refuge with guns blazing. I hope that the authorities find a way to end the standoff without any lives being lost. I am saying that police should stop shooting at unarmed black men who are running away. And they should stop shooting black 12-year-old boys playing with toys.
Questioning the terrible racial double-standard on display in Oregon is not about wanting more force to be used there--it is about wanting less force to be used elsewhere.
When I teach about white privilege in my classes, occasionally white students get upset and argue that they do not have any privileges. That they have only been treated in the ways that they deserve to be treated.
What they sometimes fail to understand is that is exactly how privilege works. Yes, some privilege functions like a zero sum game-- a tiny fraction of the population controlling most of the wealth is a type of privilege that means some people are benefiting from the disadvantages facing others. But some forms of privilege are about the ways that everyone deserves to be treated. But the reality is that not everyone receives such treatment.
In order for women to feel safe walking alone at night, men don't need to feel unsafe.
There is not a limited amount of safety available in the world.
In order for LGB couples to hold hands with their same-sex partner without fear of ridicule or physical threats, heterosexual couples don't need to be threatened.
There is not a limited amount of respect available in the world.
And for the police to stop shooting unarmed black women, men, and children, they don't suddenly need to shoot white men.
The fact that the protesters in Oregon feel confident that they have the right to protest and fight for (their interpretation of ) democracy, that they feel entitled to enter a federal building armed to the teeth is absolutely about white privilege. They trust that the system they live in --the very system they proclaim to hate-- will respect the dignity of their lives.
(And don't even get me started on the entitlement that these white men feel about the land. Land that was home to Native Americans long before white people showed up to claim it.)
EVERY SINGLE PERSON deserves to trust that people in power believe that their lives matter.
It is a privilege in this country to assume that the authorities will do all they can to resolve a conflict peacefully. But it should be a right available to everyone, not denied to some based on the color of their skin.
We must stop acting as though having respect for the dignity of human life is a scarce commodity available only to those with the most power. Let us instead move closer to The Dream we honor today.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
So, I have to admit that getting to the question that serves at the title for this post was a process for me.
I read about the sexually suggestive signs posted by a fraternity at Old Dominion University last week and had the reactions that anyone who knows me would expect me to have.
I was angry, disgusted, annoyed, and saddened.
Offensive back-to-school signs have been spotted all over the country. The problem is clearly not isolated to Old Dominion University or Sigma Nu fraternity.
At this point, fraternity men posting signs suggestive of sexual violence is almost a cliche. I mean, come on.
So many people have been working tirelessly to eradicate sexual assault on college campuses (efforts I have written about elsewhere on this blog). Brave survivors have gone public with their stories, hoping to raise awareness about ineffective responses, poor treatment of victims, and repeat offenders being allowed to stay on campus. I have been optimistic about some of the changes taking place---increased pressure to comply with Title IX, the Obama administration's efforts to improve campus prevention and response.
And then this.
It is almost like no one is talking to these young men about any of these issue. Maybe they live under a rock. Maybe they just don't care. Maybe no one is talking to them about masculinity and sexual violence.
I laid in bed one night stewing about all this and have to admit that my first thoughts were punitive. ODU's Sigma Nu chapter was suspended pending a university investigation. "Big F-ing whoop," I thought. They should just be done. Zero tolerance. No more fraternity for them.
Full disclosure: I am not exactly the biggest cheerleader of the Greek system. In graduate school we were required to attend an event held by a group that we had negative stereotypes about (with the intention that exposure would change our perceptions). I went to a sorority fundraiser.
I came by my dislike of the Greek system honestly. A friend in college was raped at a fraternity party. Many of my friends (male and female) had negative experiences in fraternities and sororities related to hazing, binge drinking, disordered eating, etc. While working at various college counseling centers I heard many Greek-related horror stories.
A colleague of mine recently told me that he was asked to write a book chapter about fraternities and he declined the offer, saying that the chapter would be too short. Three words in fact:
"They are bad."
Unfortunately, most of the evidence indicates that these systems are problematic. How many stories of rape, racist songs, hazing related deaths, eating disorders, do we need to hear to realize that something is not working within the Greek system?
Which is how I got to the "get rid of all of them" opinion.
I responded to my colleague saying that fraternities are certainly more bad than good. Which is coming a long way for me.
I have a number of good friends, colleagues, and graduate students who participated in Greek life in college and found the experience to be empowering and positive. The idea of groups of students living together, providing each other with social and academic support, encouraging leadership, engaging in service to the community seems pretty good. The practice in many cases is much more problematic.
So maybe the Greek system should be eradicated on college campuses.
But, we would be foolish to think that will actually solve these problems.
As I thought about the events unfolding at Sigma Nu I realized that a punitive approach would likely accomplish little. Most likely the young men who made and hung those signs would just get angry about having their fraternity suspended and take their same attitudes about women elsewhere. They probably didn't learn anything and I doubt anyone at the campus feels safer.
Zero tolerance policies just don't work. As much I as I felt better for about 2 seconds being righteously angry, what I REALLY care about is the eradication of sexual violence. Maybe getting rid of fraternities will make college campuses safer. But probably not if that is all we do.
Perhaps it is time to use restorative justice with fraternity members in these cases. Focus on repairing the harm that has occurred within the community. Help young men deconstruct negative messages they have internalized about women. Challenge assumptions about masculinity. Create safe spaces where men can be authentic and vulnerable.
While many fraternities do become hubs for toxic ideas about hegemonic masculinity, objectification of women, and tolerance (and promotion) of violence, they are not the source of these problems. Until we do more as a society to challenge harmful stereotypes about masculinity and degradation of women, sexual violence will continue--whether or not fraternities are involved.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
Thank you to the police officer who showed up last night to address the loud fight that broke out within a group of black kids in the middle of the road. The situation clearly needed some attention.
Thank you for responding calmly to the child who was clearly agitated and upset. Yes, he was yelling and swearing at you. No, he didn't want to be put into cuffs or get into the back of your squad car. But he is a kid and you are a police officer.
Thank you for being patient and responding compassionately to the other kids still standing in the street and arguing with you.
Thank you for calling for back-up to help you de-escalate the situation.
Thank GOD the back-up police officer did not make the situation worse.
Thank you for noticing my husband and I standing in the street watching you.
Thank you for not trying to tell us to put away our cameras or go back in our house.
That was not going to happen.
And thank you for not wasting your breath asking us why we were there.
You know why we were there.
So, thank you police officers, for doing your jobs the way you should do them. For responding appropriately and ensuring everyone's safety.
But please understand that we were there because we did not trust you to do your job. It is not personal--we have never met you before. But too many situations with police officers and black kids have ended in violence. Too many black men, women, and children have been killed by police officers.
So, we will stand in the street in our pajamas all night if that is what it takes. We will have our cameras ready. We will return your eye contact so you have no doubt we are watching.
We will remind you that you are accountable to all members of this community. We will remind you that we will not stand for any member of our community to be treated with anything less than the dignity and respect that all people deserve.
Until all police officers put peace above power and love before hate. We will be there.
Black Lives Matter.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
A re-post of my contribution to the APA convention blog.
Most images of older women in the U.S. media are based on stereotypes about older adults. The "Raging Grannies" are shattering those stereotypes.
The Raging Grannies are activists who promote peace, justice, social and economic equality through song and humor. Attendees at the convention session Aging and Raging Well Women, Art, and Activism were lucky to see them in action, singing on such topics as double standards for women and men related to aging and climate change.
These women are not alone in their efforts to fight stereotypes about older women. Mary Gergen described her research, which finds that older women feel invisible as they age, disappearing at work and in public. "The irony," Gergen said, "is that at the same time one becomes invisible, she is also experiencing her most wise and self-fulfilled time of life."
Gergen commented on the many ways that ageism affects older women, sharing her own experiences being called “honey” by shopkeepers. Ageism can also include jokes about older adults and assumptions that one is no longer interested in (or capable of) being actively engaged in work or hobbies. Stereotypes about older adults are so pervasive that many older women have internalized ageism — some are reluctant to visit community centers or move into assisted living facilities because they don’t want to spend time with people who are “old.”
Just like other forms of bias, it is important for psychologists to speak out against ageism and resist stereotypes about older adults. “Let’s be celebratory and joyful while we attack barriers related to ageism,” said Maureen McHugh of APA's Div. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women).
Another blog I am re-posting from my contribution to the APA Convention blog. Be sure to check out all of the convention blogs.
Do you know that feeling when you hear something really meaningful? For me it often involves a pit in my stomach and the chills. It is not an entirely pleasant feeling, but it is a helpful reminder that something important is happening that I don’t want to miss.
That’s the feeling I got at the beginning of the session "Working with Critical Gate Keepers to Ensure Safety and Justice for Boys and Men of Color." I was moved right away by Dr. Christopher Liang’s passionate opening in which he described why he and Dr. Helen Neville decided to co-chair the symposium. He shared his reactions to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, (and other similar incidents) and called on psychologists to do more to address the epidemic of police violence against boys and men of color.
The speakers covered a range of important topics. Warren Spielberg, PhD, discussed the experiences of boys of color in school, including the fact that many are accused of cheating if they do well, are blamed for fights, and are generally described in negative ways. Many boys cope with this treatment through academic dis-identification, where they decide it is better not to care about school than to experience the emotional pain that could accompany these interactions.
Most of the panelists discussed the fact that psychologists can play a larger role in screening and training police officers to reduce bias against boys and men of color. They can work with community members to develop guidelines and use the research on prejudice reduction to train police officers. This work is often challenging and it may take years to develop relationships with police departments. Lorraine Greene, PhD, noted that “strong partnerships between police and males of color require trust and confidence to have legitimacy and justice.”
Nevertheless, the success stories shared during the symposium were inspirational and provided the audience with practical suggestions about how to do this work in our home communities. The symposium ended with a call to action—audience members were given notecards to write down our plans to put what we learned into practice in their own lives.
Change can start with us.
I have had the great privilege of contributing to APA's Convention blog over the past few days. I decided to repost a few of the entries here. Be sure to check out all of the convention blogs.
'But How Do I do It?' Application of Theory to be Focus of Revised Mulitucultural Guidelines
Only 20 percent of doctoral degrees in psychology go to students of color, despite the fact that 40 percent of Americans are people of color, according to Nayeli Chavez-Duenas, PhD. Even with the shifting demographics in the United States, studies have demonstrated low levels of cultural competency among psychologists. The proposed revisions to APA's multicultural guidelines are designed to address this problem by offering concrete suggestions for preparing psychologists to become multiculturally competent.
The current guidelines were approved in 2002 and have been studied in most psychology training programs, providing important direction about preparation of psychologists for working in a diverse world,
"Addressing culture within psychology requires complex thinking," said Patricia Arredondo, EdD, one of the lead scholars working on the proposed revisions. This comment reflects the spirit of the revisions, which will seek to build on the current guidelines by maintaining the core principles, while emphasizing ways to operationalize and apply the values.
I regularly teach our required diversity/ multicultural competence course to master's students and one of the questions they often as me is, "But how do I do it?" Getting buy-in for the importance of multicultural competence is a needed first step for some students but even those who fully embrace the idea in theory struggle to learn how to put it into practice. The proposed revisions offer strategies for just that.
The new guidelines would offer ways to deconstruct and increase self-awareness about one's own ethnic identity, said Hector Adames, PsyD. They provide specific recommendations about developing awareness about various aspects of identity (such as one's identity as a white person), while encouraging psychologists to "use multiple lenses to understand complex processes, especially complex human experiences and identities, " according to Adames.
I am especially enthusiastic about the proposed recommendations for skill development, including how to engage in dialogue and behavioral change.
Although the revisions are not yet available (they are undergoing the approval process within APA), I am excited to take what I have learned back home with me. I will certainly be integrating some new ideas as I prepare my fall syllabi in the coming weeks.
Marriage equality is now the law of the land in the USA. I have to admit it is a bit surreal to even write that statement. Over the past few years I have regularly turned to the Human Rights Campaign website for updates about legal battles regarding same-sex marriage, as it has been challenging to keep track of court cases in each state. They have an interactive map that allows one to easily select a state to find more information about the specific laws that apply, using a helpful color-coded scheme.
Red: marriage-related ballot measure
Yellow: authorizes same-sex marriage
Blue: prohibits same-sex marriage
Grey: does not authorize or prohibit same-sex marriage.
I checked the website yesterday and saw that the entire map was yellow.
My eyes filled with tears. Of course I knew about the Supreme Court decision and cognitively understood its implications, but there was something so powerful about seeing it visually. The United States, united by marriage equality.
It really is a day that many people doubted would ever come.
For many years I have worked in agencies dedicated to sexual violence prevention and treatment. While I was in graduate school, I was a victim advocate and therapist at the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. I am currently a member of the board of directors for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) and have worked on sexual violence prevention and treatment on a number of college campuses. I have often told people that the main goal of these organizations is to work themselves out of a job. PAAR’s mission is to Respond, Educate, and Advocate to End Sexual Violence. I wholeheartedly believe it is possible to eradicate sexual violence. But I am doubtful that will happen in my lifetime. So I continue to contribute to prevention and treatment work, helping the organization plan for the future.
What would happen if the day came that such services were no longer needed?
I can only imagine what it is like for the employees of organizations who have dedicated their hearts and souls to fight for marriage equality. Of course they are wondering what is next for them. Numerous non-profit organizations are debating if they should close their doors now that marriage equality has been achieved. There is no doubt that legal challenges remain for the LGBTQ population and that the culture war against homophobia is far from over.
Change can be scary, but it can also be good. Yes, there is more work to be done.
Let us not forget the amazing victory that has been achieved. Let us not get lost in our future-oriented approach to life and neglect to celebrate, revel, and soak up the justice!
Let our joy feed our souls and keep this movement moving!
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
This week one of my colleagues stopped into my office and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. She had recently watched the video of Sandra Bland being arrested and was struggling with the abject horror of it and all its implications. I had delayed watching it myself, worried that I didn’t have enough emotional resources for it. I have since watched it and it is as terrible as I expected.
My colleague and I shared our feelings of sadness, rage, disappointment, and powerlessness. I shared how much I cried while watching the video of a police officer in McKinney, Texas brutally shoving a Black girl to the ground and pulling his gun on teenagers at a pool party.
We also talked about the fact that we know as White women that we cannot begin to imagine the impacts on our friends, neighbors, and allies in the African American community. We know that we benefit from the oppression of people of color and we struggle with our own feelings of guilt while trying to use our privilege to bring change.
I worry that when I speak out my voice will be heard because of the color of my skin. And I fear the ways that recreates the very same oppression I want to fight.
I worry that if I don’t speak out my silence is perceived as agreement and acceptance of a racist system.
So, I try to find ways to use my voice while also supporting the voices of people of color. I bring issues of police brutality into my classroom so my students are aware of what is happening in the world. I encourage them to examine their own biases and to consider the ways they can integrate advocacy into their future identity as counselors and Psychologists. I continue to challenge myself to be aware of my own biases and commit to owning up when I commit microaggressions. I look for ways to engage in small advocacy in day-to-day life.
And I feel like there must be more we can do. I feel that all my small contributions are not enough when what we need is such massive change.
But perhaps right now we have to just stay in the fight. We have to talk to each other, support each other, own our rage and sadness, speak out, shut up and make room for other voices, stand tall, cry, and keeping moving forward. We have to not let ourselves grow numb to the overwhelming injustice. We have to fight for peace and justice. We can only dismantle a system based on greed, fear, and hate with love, humanity, and an open heart. And we sure as hell can't do it alone.
Britney G Brinkman
In case you hadn’t noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I have the best/worst excuse—I have been writing my first book (the content of said book will be the topic of a future blog…). The book writing process was exciting, terrifying, stressful, and fulfilling. But above all, it was time consuming. So while I maintained interest in my blog I just didn’t have the time or energy to work on it.
However, I often found myself thinking about the blog—I would hear a news story on NPR or read something on Facebook and think, “I need to blog about this!” Then I would sit down and work on my book.
Doing so much writing on the book also got me thinking a lot about writing, and creativity, and criticism. Although this will be my first book, it is certainly not my first published piece of writing. But this process has felt substantially different in a number of ways, one of which being my worries about how the work will be received. I realized during the past six months that typically when one of my articles is published I just never think that much about who was reading it or what they thought about it. If I was being really honest with myself I would admit that in some part of my brain I just assumed that no one was reading the articles I wrote! Which of course is incredibly silly and would be ridiculous and a shame if it were true. Why put all that work into conducing a research project and getting the results published if it is not going to be useful for anyone?!
Nevertheless, working on my book has forced me to face the (reasonable) terror that comes with creating something and unleashing it into the world for others to evaluate.
Unfortunately, during this time I came across stories that raised my terror alert level from orange to red. In the January 2015 This American Life episode “If you don’t have anything nice to say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS” Lindy West, a former staff writer at Jezebel, tells her story of dealing with internet trolls. She actually interviews one particularly vicious former troll who had used the death of her father to hurt her. He basically explains that he felt threatened and angered by strong outspoken women.
Then there was this:
Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire
One of my personal feminist heroes, Jessica Valenti, shared her experiences of being trolled, harassed online and off, and receiving death threats. She concludes in the article that if she could do it over she would only write anonymously. That the emotional and psychological toll of the backlash she has faced is just not worth it.
I cried reading this article. Where would feminism be without Feministing.com and its Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet? Would Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters have been as impactful if it had been written anonymously?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not critiquing Valenti for her statement, but rather am lamenting the state of the world in which she (and others) have experienced such debilitating harassment. I admit that I wondered if I should just walk away from this blog. It was on hold anyway—should I even return?
And yet, here I am.
Perhaps I find comfort in my awareness that I am no Jessica Valenti and reassure myself that I probably won’t become a troll target.
But the truth is something bigger and more complex than that.
When I sent my book to the editor for the final stages of production I thought, “Now I just hope that no one reads it.” Which I suppose is not really true. I want people to read it. I want it to HELP people. I just don’t want people to make it about me.
I suppose in this process I have uncovered my own personality paradoxes. I am an incredibly open person with people I know, but I am also private. Sometimes I think that if I hadn’t been a Psychologist I would have become a park ranger, living in a quaint cabin in a national park, spending my days hiking and reading and enjoying a quiet life with a small group of close friends.
I have always felt called to speak out against injustice. Even if that means disturbing my potentially quiet and peaceful life. As a child that meant standing up to bullies, challenging teachers who made sexist comments, and speaking up for what I believed in. And it meant being misunderstood, disliked, (sometimes admired from afar), and often a bit lonely.
As an adult it means pushing students to unpack privilege, it means challenging colleagues when they make racist and classist assumptions. It means writing a book about identity-based bullying, and it means writing this blog. It means facing the inevitable criticism that will accompany publicly challenging patriarchy and advocating for social justice.
But what else is there to do? As long as black men are killed by police officers, LGBT youth are bullied relentlessly in schools, women are raped on college campuses, children are living in poverty, and people defend symbols of oppression (confederate flags and native mascots) there can be no quiet life in the woods.
No one is free when others are oppressed.
So—I guess all I can do is buckle in for the ride. Here we go.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
Just a few days after my wedding in the summer of 2012 I decided to go for a run through the neighborhood while my husband slept in. I wasn’t gone for long, but I returned to my street to discover that it was blocked off by police. A crowd of people were standing near the blockades and when I asked what was going on, someone said that a young man carrying a gun was walking up and down the street. The street right in front of my home, where my new husband was resting. I didn’t have my phone with me (the point of running is to leave some things behind…) but luckily I was able to borrow a phone and called my husband to learn that he was safely upstairs. He didn’t know what was going on, but there were cops in front of the house. A few minutes later a neighbor who lived on a different street showed up to fetch me—I spent the next hour or so hanging out at their house, playing games with their young daughter.
That hour ended with a loud bang. After about a 90-minute stand-off, a police officer shot and killed 19-year-old Odell W. Brown.
We slowly learned about the facts of the case as they unfolded in news reports. Brown was distraught over a recent breakup. Someone called the police when they saw him in the street with a “gun” that later turned out to be a pellet gun. Brown refused to drop the weapon and eventually aimed it a deputy who then shot him.
“Suicide by cop” they called it.
Those three words haunt me.
The fact that a young African American man was so certain of the police’s response to him that waving around a fake gun was an effective means of suicide says something profoundly disturbing about the state of racism in our country. The fact that I had never before heard of “suicide by cop” says something profoundly disturbing about the privilege I am afforded by my whiteness.
On Sunday, a 12-year-old African American boy was shot and killed by police officers in Cleveland, Ohio while he was playing at a rec center playground. He allegedly had a fake gun that the officers mistook for a real one.
Last night, the grand jury in Ferguson, MO decide not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown—a black, unarmed 18-year-old.
I could go on—listing story after story of young, unarmed, black men being killed. One study by the Malcom X Grassroots Movement found that in 2012 alone, 313 African Americans were killed by police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes (think George Zimmerman).
There is a problem in this country and it is not a Pittsburgh problem, a Ferguson problem, or a Cleveland problem. It is a problem that every single one of us need to face and take responsibility to change.
The response in Ferguson last night was understandably one of anger and frustration. And yet, today I keep hearing more about the responses to the decision than the injustice of the decision itself. Obviously, I don’t think looting, causing fires, or throwing objects at people is the best reaction here. But it seems that those who want to avoid conversations about racial profiling, the prison industrial complex, and police brutality are using the bad behavior of a few individuals to justify their own denial. They seek to minimize, suppress, and ignore the thousands of voices of protesters around the nation who are asking for answers and demanding justice and change.
Enough is enough. It is time for white Americans to stop relying on the tired rhetoric of “equality” and instead engage in a heartfelt (and probably heart wrenching) assessment of the entrenched inequities and systems of oppression that persist in this country. It is time for white anti-racists to step up—there is much we can do.
The first step is to listen.
Hands up, don’t shoot. Hands up, don’t shoot. Hands up, don’t shoot.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.