Final Project

At the very beginning of this semester when I wrote my introduction, I made a promise to be honest.  I’ve kept that promise and I don’t plan to break it.  This final project has been a daunting task that I’ve been dreading.  I’ve struggled with what I would do because I want my words to have an impact and most importantly, get me out of my comfort zone.  The more I have learned about diversity, privilege, and oppression, the more I become aware of how much I don’t know.  I always feel enlightened when learning more about these sensitive topics, but with that feeling also comes the acknowledgement of how much I still have yet to learn and how much growing I still have to do.  I’m not proud of how unaware I have been, but I hope that my open-mindedness and eagerness to learn will get me closet to where I need to be in order to be an effective ally and also a culturally sensitive social worker.  In this blog I am going to attempt to sort out some of the messages I grew up hearing from key adults in my life.  I also want to give a warning that some of the things I say in this blog are offensive and hurtful.  Please know that I’m truly sorry that this was my experience and I hope you understand why it’s important for me to say it out loud.  I promise my intent isn’t to offend anyone, I simply want to call it out, acknowledge the distortion, and move on having learned that I can do better because I’m more aware.  I also want to let everyone know that I am open to criticism so please be honest with me in your responses.  If you’d prefer to not write it out in a comment, I’d appreciate the opportunity to have a face to face conversation.

So here goes…

When I was around nine years old, my mom’s best friend (also our neighbor), got guardianship of her two nieces and nephew, all of whom were biracial.  We spent a lot of time together and they felt like extended family.  One day, the oldest niece was suspended from school for fighting someone who was using racially derogatory language toward her.  I was eavesdropping on her phone conversation and I heard my mom say how unfortunate it is for the kids that they are biracial.  After she got off the phone I asked about it and she explained to me that interracial relationships are fine, but not if you plan to have children.  She further explained that children who are biracial “don’t know how to identify or where they fit in.”  Specifically, she said, “to white people they are black, and to black people they are white.”  I was totally perplexed by this because I could clearly see they were both, but I didn’t see why they had to be one or the other.  I couldn’t figure out why that was a big deal.  I suppose at some point I justified this way of thinking in my mind, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect my dating habits.  I grew up knowing I wanted children someday.  Naturally, I wanted to do right by them and predispose them to an identity crisis.  So I never really considered it an option for me to date outside of my race.  Even though I never heard either niece or nephew describe being biracial as a hardship, I accepted what my mom said as truth and let it impact one of the most important decisions I could make about my future.  So in my mid-twenties, when I became somewhat romantically involved with a biracial man, I found that I was hesitant to move forward or to allow myself to truly fall for him.  I deeply appreciated his companionship but I couldn’t bring myself to take it to any real level of commitment.  It’s taken be a long time to really admit this… I didn’t want to believe that I was struggling with what it would mean to be with him because he was biracial.  Could my mom be right?  It seemed ridiculous… but maybe there was truth to it?  Even though I’m incredibly happy in my current relationship and I wouldn’t change it for the world, I do wish that I had been more open-minded around this topic.  At this point I feel the best thing I can do is to end the cycle on this way of thinking when it comes to what messages I pass down to my children.  I can promote love and healthy relationships without putting limitations on what it may look like.

I believe one of the most tragic cornerstones of America is the lack of exposure to the historic racism.  Our history textbooks are filled with a narrative that perpetuates white privilege and is taught in a way that makes racism and oppression seem like something that only existed in the past.  Surely we talked about the history of slavery and how horrible it was.  Then about the civil war and the “end of slavery.”  I don’t remember ever hearing about anything after the civil war era.  It seemed like the end of a fairy tale, almost as if we should just conclude “and they all lived happily ever after.”  Or maybe this thought that “they are no longer slaves, what else do they want?  They should be grateful for freedom.”  I can vividly remember sitting in my Modern American History class as a sophomore in high school.  This was the first time I had ever heard about Affirmative Action.  I should take this time to remind you that the student body of my high school was almost completely white.  Our class discussion on Affirmative Action was literally formed around the simple question “should someone be admitted into college based solely on race?”  It’s important to point out that there were quite a few of us in that class who were expecting college to be the next step after high school.  Furthermore, we hadn’t even begun the college application process at that point.  I distinctly remember there being this shared anxiety in the room that we were at risk of missing out on an opportunity to better ourselves and get a college education simply because we were white.  Instead of creating an opportunity for us to learn about what it means to be privileged and have education much more accessible, it created this idea of reverse discrimination.  I’m not going to try to pretend that I felt differently than my peers during that class discussion.  Because I wasn’t able to recognize at that point that the chances of me not getting into college was small, I was truly upset by this.  Clearly that class discussion had an impact on me emotionally since I am able to recall it so well over 16 years later.  It instilled this distortion that white students have to work harder than students of color and that Affirmative Action was a free pass of laziness.  We also failed to address the gender and nationality access to education through Affirmative Action.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that we will develop these emotionally charged opinions that are not educationally informed.  Our education system has left us racially illiterate.  Until taking this 504 class, I had minimal experience in thinking critically about what information was presented to me through my education system.   It took me until grad school to recall my initial introduction to Affirmative Action and how disproportionately it was represented.  I’m positive that fewer than 1/8 of the students in my Modern American History class have reached grad school.  Even for those who have, it’s highly unlikely that unless they are going into a field like social work, they aren’t ever going to have a class in which they dissect oppression, racism, and social justice.

As I was growing up, both of my parents drilled into my head that I was not better than anyone and also, nobody was better than me.  I remember there being a lot of emphasis on treating every person with respect and always pointing out their best qualities despite someones wrongdoing.  I also remember how mom would be one of the first people to offer a perspective that brought to light a justification for someone’s actions.  She would always suggest to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes before we formed our opinion of them.   However, this message didn’t really translate in all situations.  When I started graduate school and was accepted into the Detroit Clinical Scholars program I was so excited to be a part of something that I feel is so important.  I explained to friends and family that I would be working in Detroit through the program.  I was questioned by nearly everyone as to why I would want to do such a thing.  I was asked if I was fearful of my safety.  It was then that I remembered the message I received from a family member about black neighborhoods being unsafe and this idea that all black people were gang affiliated and/or involved with drugs to some extent.  Based on the conviction in their voice, the fear was very deeply rooted despite never having a personal experience in these settings.  Luckily, my undergrad experience never allowed this idea to settle in my head.

To wrap it all up, I have to say that my education has saved me from a life of fear and continued cultural ignorance.  By no stretch of the imagination am I perfect.  I know that I still have distortions that I haven’t begun to recognize and analyze.  However, I feel as though I am on a path that will lead me to recognizing them and continuing to learn from it.  I have started finding non-confrontational ways to talk through the messages I received with the people I am close to in hopes that dialogue will lead us to a place of enlightenment.  Perhaps most importantly, I am setting a primary focus on the conversations I have with my children to encourage critical thinking, understand privilege, and how to stand up for people in all situations.  Will I be perfect in doing this? Absolutely not.  I am still learning and will continue to do so.  My hope is that my children and all of the future generations will be significantly better than the one that preceded it.

If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading my blog.  I want to say again that I’m sorry if these topics were difficult to read.  I’ll admit that it was much harder actually putting it to words than I ever imagined it would be.

-Amanda

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Anti-Oppressive Social Work

In the very beginning of Chapter 9, Mullaly explains how some strategies to elicit social change and challenge oppression fall short of actually eliminating sexism, racism, etc and their implication simply covers up the unjust society and makes it seem more humane.  This is especially true because these systems/programs are created and implemented by the oppressor and therefore will (even if unintentional) likely still be supporting the oppressor.

This reminded me of an article I read about The Guatemalan Stove Project.  There was an American social worker named Teresa went to Guatemala for a service project.  While she was there she noticed that the open flame stoves were incredibly hazardous and the women and children in these homes were suffering from multiple burns.  An important aspect of this story is that this culture is patriarchal, and the men control all of the money and essentially all of the household decisions.  Furthermore, the men are gone during the day to harvest crops in the fields, so they aren’t at all involved in the cooking, nor do they understand the hazards or struggles.  Teresa knew this could be improved and worked to find a solution.  She worked with an engineer back in America to design a stove that would be safe and cost-efficient in these homes.  Though I would say that was the least challenging task of all.  What proved to be her greatest barrier was helping the women in the community to acknowledge that the stoves were unsafe and then empowering the women to speak up to the men, the oppressor in their society, to implement a change.  While this was beneficial in alleviating some of the hardship women face while cooking in their household, it doesn’t at all work toward alleviating the men of their power in the society nor does it work toward giving women more power.  Ultimately, the women still asked the men for permission and the oppressive society remained.

Selected Principles

I was enlightened at the example Mullaly gave in the explanation of situational ethics.  I could be way off base here in my train of thought… but I immediately related this to my experience with religion.  I was raised in the Christian faith and attended church on a regular basis with my family as a child.  It was always presented to me in church that Christians help people and accept everybody… except that didn’t seem to be the case when it came to things like sexuality, forgiveness, etc.  The ideologies presented in the church and bible didn’t reflect how I feel about acceptance and humility.  As a result of this, I was completely turned off by religion because it felt to me like these rules mattered more than humanity.  It was then that I looked very critically at Christianity and ultimately decided to step away from organized religion completely.  With that being said, I still feel as though I have a strong moral code that I abide by.

I have to be honest and say that I’m not sure that I have ever broken a rule/law to help humanity.  A part of me would like to think that I would put the person/peoples needs first if I were placed in a situation to do so, but maybe I have unknowingly been in this situation.  I recently spoke to a fellow SSW student who shared my experience in the child welfare system.  She explained how she would refrain from asking permission from her superiors to do something regarding a child’s placement and instead go straight to the court system for approval.  I found this to be heroic and resourceful in this difficult line of work.  Anyone who knows the child welfare systems knows there are many barriers to providing helpful and quality services to families.  I’m perplexed on whether or not I would have ever done something like she did.  I’m guessing not because I place such a strong importance on developing a strong rapport with my supervisor and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that relationship.  Furthermore, I am down right terrified of doing something that I think will get me into trouble.  It would be interesting to me to have a conversation in class about situational ethics being added to the NASW code of ethics.

Critical Social Policy Practice:

I fully agree that our current practice of focusing on one single issue such as homelessness or hunger is ineffective and always seems to fall short of truly benefiting the individual/family because there is always so much more going on than a single issue.  In my experience as a professional in the social work field, it was always challenging to implement services for families because of limited access to the services, as transportation was inevitably an issue to some degree.  Also, I never encountered a family who was facing homelessness as their only need.  I always had the thought that it would be most beneficial for individuals and seemingly cost effective for providers if social service agencies would have the all of the resources they need in one agency to meet the needs of each individual/family.  As it is now, we are sending people to countless agencies to get the assistance and services they need; which is nearly impossible when they have transportation issues.  To relate it to someone who doesn’t have experience trying to set up services in the SW field, it’s like needing to get groceries but you have to go to 5 different stores to get all of the things you need.  Now try to imagine doing that without transportation and working around a school schedule or trying to do it with a couple young children are with you.  Furthermore, our current practice of criminalizing substance abuse instead of treating it is ineffective and costly.  It’s infuriating to me that our policies and procedures are so far behind our research and understanding of what is best practice.  We have the knowledge and resources to be better and to truly help people but we are restricted because of systems and policy.

I am optimistic about and grateful for is the UM SSW program being focused on integrated health and also placing an emphasis on being trauma-informed.  Even though it’s far from fixing the flawed system, this feels like a big step in the right direction.

Constructive Use of Anger:

I feel so vindicated after reading Mullaly’s perspective of capitalizing on anger.  I surely need much more practice in channeling the anger to be constructive, but it gives me so much reassurance that the strong emotions I’ve felt regarding the current political climate and oppressive society isn’t a major flaw I perceived in myself.  I have had such an internal struggle with the extent to which hearing about injustice fuels my fire and  wishing I could keep my emotions out of the equation.  My new goal is finding effective ways to transform the anger into fuel for constructive change.

 

Final Project

It has taken me quite a while to commit to a specific final topic.  I have considered a few different things but ultimately, I want this to be real and I think I need to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone.  I’m considering a project of digital storytelling to discuss the messages that I have received throughout my life about diversity, racism, homophobia, sexism, privilege, etc.  My main concern with this is knowing how sensitive of a topic this is.  I don’t want this project to offend anyone.  With that being said, if there is something that is offensive, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss it either in the comment section of the blog or face to face.  I am open to critical feedback.

If anyone has any questions for me to answer in my project, please let me know!

The Stolen Generations/The Rabbit Proof Fence

This video was incredibly difficult for me to watch.  I have two step-daughters and I kept imagining them going through the trauma these girls went through in their removal from their mother and their journey back home.  I didn’t have any former knowledge of Aboriginals prior to watching this film.

The first thing that shocked me while watching Rabbit Proof Fence was that it was taking place in the 1930’s.  I was expecting it to be in the 1800’s at the latest.  It was so sad to me how Mr. Neville referred to the mixed-raced individuals as “half-castes” and the “unwanted third race.”  I took this to essentially mean they are seen as only half human.

It was interesting to me that there appeared to be research of how many generations it took to have the “Aboriginal bred out.”  Because these children in particular were half-white, they were deemed worthy enough to be given an education.  If their skin was lighter, they got to go to the “proper school.”  While I sit here thinking THIS IS SO MESSED UP, I realize it’s really not much different than how our school systems in America are today.  This is a modern example of structural oppression.  While we all have the opportunities to attend school, our inner city schools that are predominantly black are not equipped with the resources that white children have.  Detroit public schools are a perfect example of that.  We know that socioeconomic mobility is essentially impossible and having our public schools funded by property taxes ensures that people in those locations will essentially be oppressed forever. Or until something is done systemically to give them a fighting chance.

The scene of the children being taken away from their family was heart breaking.  All I could think about was how trauma affects children and the lasting effects this would have on them.  I couldn’t imagine being a mother or grandmother to children being taken away like that.  Especially when there wasn’t a risk of harm.  With my background as a foster care worker, I recognize how traumatic it is for children to be removed from a house even when you’re removing them from an abusive or neglectful situation.  The removal of these children was validated by the settlers by thinking they were being given a future and an education; when in reality they were taking them away from their loving family and placed into situations where they were dehumanized and suffering horrendous abuse and neglect.  The parents didn’t have any authority to turn to for justice.  The authority was the oppressor and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it.

I felt a bit of solace when I saw the three girls huddled together because at least they had each other… but then I realized there were plenty of children who came into it by themselves.  Furthermore, they were forced to reject their culture but then immediately adopt the white culture including prayer, speaking only in English, and eating food that was totally foreign to them.  Not to mention the lack of affection and the abuse and neglect they surely endured.  Again, thinking about my step-daughters as I watch this, I can’t begin to imagine having them go through all of this because of the color of their skin.  I began thinking about how these poor kids have to absolutely despise white people.  How could they not?  They were expected to be ripped away from their home, abused in every which way, and forced to adjust to a new culture.  Then from what I understand, they would be expected to have a family with a white man in to “breed the Aboriginal out.”  Not to mention, white people expected them to be appreciative of this because they are “helping” them.  These settlers made them outcasts on their own lands.  With these children not being raised in a healthy family environment, how would they be expected to care for their own children?  I imagine this would create a vicious cycle of abused and neglected children.

I imagine Australians shy away from speaking about this part of their history for the same reasons we shy away from teaching about American colonization in our history lessons.  I think people deny this because it’s much easier to pretend it didn’t happen than to work toward rectifying the issues that this trauma has caused.  I also think it’s a move to innocence as we discussed in chapter 1 of Mulally.  However, with that said, I think we absolutely should be teaching this in our public schools.  We need to understand the effects of oppression and the systemic issues that maintain it.  Maybe if our younger generations can see it and acknowledge the effects, we can move toward true social justice.

 

Theory and Decolonization

I believe that theory can eliminate placing blame on an individual and instead provide a possible explanation of what events or circumstances may have led to the current situation. In most other areas of study, there is a right and wrong answer. When you are working in a social services setting, the answers aren’t as cut and dry because every situation is unique in some way or another. Using theories in this practice area helps us to understand a larger picture of what may have contributed to the situation and hopefully also lead to a resolution, or at least a positive change.  I also think theories are the best way for us to make progress in the profession.  If we can disprove the efficacy of a theory we can move forward in our understanding of the problem and possible solutions.

When working in the social services field, you are likely serving diverse populations. Therefore, it is relevant and crucial to understand what theories/conclusions you have drawn through your experience and education, especially pertaining to ethnicities and cultures not of your own. Furthermore, it is important to challenge those thoughts/theories to make sure you’re looking at it through a neutral lens instead of your own frame of reference. It’s specifically important to learn about theory and how it pertains to diversity in order to acknowledge culture, oppression, privilege, and history. Theory shapes our outlook and ultimately will affect how well we understand the needs which has an impact on how efficient we are in rectifying the problem. The theory you rely on to gain perspective of the situation will form your approach in how you handle the issues/individuals in your social work practice. I also believe theory is crucial as it drives discussions and analysis of the issues at both a macro and micro level.

Something that stands out to me after these readings is how I’ve heard so many white people say they have all that they have because they worked for it. There’s a belief that just because you work hard, you can have anything you want. Insinuating that if someone doesn’t have something it’s because they didn’t work hard enough. These beliefs completely ignore how colonization has paved their path to success.  This impacts me because after understanding the truth of it all, I don’t feel the sense of entitlement that has been engrained in me.  I have benefitted from settler privilege while other cultures and societies are completely devalued and nearly eradicated.

Learning about colonization and decolonization this week was incredibly enlightening. I am still wrapping my head around it all and trying to make sure I sincerely understand decolonization and what it exactly looks like and what it’s not.   In the article Decolonization is not a Metaphor, I found the following statement was crucial in understanding that this is much more than trying to make some social changes or trying to place an emphasis on social justice: “There is a long and bumbled history of non-Indigenous peoples making moves to alleviate the impacts of colonization. The too-easy adoption of decolonizing discourse (making decolonization a metaphor) is just one part of that history and it taps into pre-existing tropes that get in the way of more meaningful potential alliances.”  Furthermore, learning about the “settler moves to innocence” which alleviates the settlers feelings of guilt without ever relinquishing power or privilege is a perspective that I had never considered.  This proves that the path to decolonization is not through social justice.  I am understanding decolonization as true equality which isn’t a movement but a total reconstruction of society.

Mo’olele

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Hi Everyone!  My name is Amanda.  I was born and raised in the very quaint rural town of Morenci, MI, Pop: 2,500.  To paint you a picture… there’s one stop light, only one policeman on duty at any given time (whom residents surely know by name), and if you travel a mile in any direction you’re sure to see a cornfield and a familiar face.  I was one of 59 students in my graduating class from Morenci High School… where the “country kids” drove farm tractors to school and November 15th is basically a holiday because it is Opening Day of gun season.  There is a big sense of community because it’s so small but the region definitely lacks diversity, which most of the residents seem to prefer anyway.  It’s a town that finds contentment and comfort in the simple life rather than a lavish lifestyle.  With the exception of spending a few summers away, I lived in Morenci throughout my life up until graduating from college and moving about 30 minutes to Adrian, MI.  While Morenci will always be my hometown, it no longer feels like home to me.

I grew up with my younger brother and both of my parents until they divorced when I was 15 years old.  After that, it was just my mom and brother and me.  I was the first one in my immediate family to graduate college but I owe a lot of that success to my mom and grandma who made it possible.  After graduating with my degree in psychology in 2008, it was nearly impossible to find a job in my field in Lenawee County because we were in the middle of the recession.  All of the state workers were being laid off and taking the entry level jobs that would typically be available to those of us entering the field.  After about a year of looking for a job in my field, I finally got a position as a Foster Care Worker.  I worked in this position for about four years and it was by far the most exhausting and unappreciative job I ever could have imagined.  I never took the time for any self care and, as a result, I was completely burnt out and emotionally callused.  It made me question if this was the field I was meant for.  I considered a total job change but it turned out every job I was interested in was still in the human services field.  I finally found a position as a Family Support Coordinator in a Head Start program.  It never felt like work.  My passion and love for the field was renewed in the classrooms with those preschoolers and the families I had the privilege of working with.

I relocated to Canton, MI in April of 2016.  Since it would have been such a long commute after the move, I switched jobs and currently work in HR doing temporary dental staffing.  It took me about a month to realize that social work is my passion and calling.  It wasn’t until this job change that I realized how much of my identity is about helping people.

The decision to move to Canton came after I met the most amazing man and we decided to move in together.  He is a divorcee with two precious little girls from his previous marriage.  I took the last year and a half focusing on building a strong relationship with each of the girls and navigating this step-mom role.  I never expected it to come with so many emotions but it is incredibly rewarding and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.  I’ve included a picture because I think they are the cutest!

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Currently, I identify as a helper, friend, daughter, (first born) sister, partner, step-mother, dog mom, employee, scholar, social justice advocate, humanitarian, and animal lover.

In this class, I hope to learn ways in which I may improve my understanding and appreciation of diversity so that it may help me be consciously aware of how it affects my interpersonal interactions both personally and professionally.  I also hope to learn effective tools to educate those who may not be open-minded about diversity and other cultures.  I will contribute an open mind as well as respectful and thoughtful responses in discussions and blog entries.  I will also contribute honesty and share personal experiences that are relevant to topics we discuss.

My understanding of diversity is having all groups and subgroups of people represented, acknowledged, and appreciated equally.  Diversity is inclusion.  My understanding of social justice is that the focus is on equality in society and breaking the barriers for social mobility.  It’s about being aware of privilege and oppression and how they affect opportunities for individuals.

Diversity is relevant to social justice because progress cannot be made to a more just society unless there is an understanding of the oppression and the barriers that minority groups experience.

I very much look forward to getting to know each and every individual in this class.  Here’s to a great semester and a lifetime of learning. Cheers!