© 2017 Rosie Phillips Bingham for APA President

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Empowerment through Inclusion in the Daily Battle with Oppression

Read Dr. Bingham's 2007 keynote address at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit:

 

I am deeply honored to be one of your keynote speakers for the National Multicultural Conference and Summit.  I have to tell you that I have never before had a near panic attack when asked to speak.  The reason for all of my consternation is that I can recall very vividly when Drs. Lisa Porche-Burke, Derald Wing Sue, and Melba Vasquez and I dreamed up the idea for the Summit Lisa was the President of Division 45, Derald was President –Elect of 45, Melba, President-elect of 35 and I was the President-elect of 17.  We all wanted our presidencies to mean something and so at the bar in the Capital Hilton in Washington D.C. the Summit was conceived.  We wondered if we could get a couple hundred people to come and talk about cutting edge multicultural research, practice, education, and training.  In order to up the probability of getting that many people to come to the Summit we decided to invite some top people to deliver the programs.   They were all excellent and the 1999 Summit exceeded our wildest dreams.  It is not humility when I tell you that the kind of people we invited stand heads and shoulders above me and I would never think of inviting me to do the keynote—thus my near panic attack.

 

Many of you are stellar researchers, practitioners, trainers, and educators; so what in the world do I have to say to you?  I decided that I did not have any late breaking research results to tell you about.  I don’t have a novel intervention procedure that will help clients turn the corner when they are suffering with PTSD, depression, or paranoia.  And I don’t even like teaching that much; so surely I don’t have news there.

 

But I did wonder who gives succorance to all of you pioneers who fight the multicultural battles every day?  And just as surely as I stand here before you this afternoon, there are battles.  The battles are with our colleagues who still tell us to talk about something else other than multiculturalism.  The battles are in the classrooms when only the students of color will speak up when the multicultural topic is lecture of the day.  The battles are with agencies that want you to come and do diversity training –for free—so that their bottom lines can be bigger but real change is little.  So sometimes I know that fighting for multiculturalism can get a little lonely.

 

But I stopped by here to tell you that you don’t have to be alone, because there is Power in Inclusion.  As we fight the daily battles with oppression, empowerment can be found through inclusion.  In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We as a people will get to the promised land.”

 

I believe that it is difficult to know who we as a people are and what in the world is the Promised Land.  Well that means a place for me to be me and you to be you; a place where it is okay for you to kneel and pray six times a day with your head covered; a place where you can love whom you want; a place where you can be Jewish or Christian; where you can sit in a wheel chair, be Asian and gay and still be President of the United States.  It’s a place where we get to do our best so that the world can be its best.

 

Now I realize that I will be long dead and hopefully have become fertilizer for some collard greens, but we as a people will get there.  Those of us who are toiling in the fields must continue to toil and we must help each other.

 

At the last Summit I was struck by a statement that I believe Derald Wing Sue said—and if it was not Derald then whoever said it-thank you.  As we struggled with the heartache brought on by a seeming conflict between our gay/lesbian sisters and brothers and our Black sisters and brothers, we seemed to have been embroiled in a battle to see who had the most “blood on the floor.”  And it is true that we all have bled and are still bleeding.

 

It is true that in this corner slavery happened-the middle passage was real.  We did have to lie like spoons and rest in each others excrements as we crossed the Atlantic to work in America’s home of the free, where the Natives were driven off their land to reservations and the Negros had to work without wages.  It is true that even today we still wear the shackles of slavery as we find more African American males in jail than in college.  There is blood on the floor.

 

And in this corner are Chinese Americans, who were brought to North America to replace black slave labor and who couldn’t give testimony in court; had to pay a police tax; built the first transcontinental railroad though they were considered heathens before they became “a model minority.”  Were excluded from America in 1882 and were massacred at Rock Spring.  There is blood on the floor.

 

And in this corner are the Japanese who were to be the cheap labor to replace the Chinese and yet they suffered the Alien Land Law and internment camps.  There is blood on the floor.

 

And in this corner, are Native Americans who were 10,000,000 strong when the Mayflower arrived but according to Tommy Flamewalker Manasso, “our many nations once stood tall and ranged from shore to shore, but most are gone and few remain and the buffalo roams no more.”  There is blood on the floor.

 

And there are still more corners.  Concentration camps happened; and the Palestinians deserve a home and 42 states received an “F” for the abysmal lack of protection of human rights and the dignity of all students in the states and Mathew Shepard and Brandon Teena deserved to live and the Stonewall Inn, June 28, 1969 was.  And I am appalled by a wall on the US/Mexican border.  There is blood on the floor.

 

But I stopped by here to tell you that You make a difference and if we come together We can have power.  When I sent in the title of this talk “Empowerment through Inclusion in the Daily Battle with Oppression” I was in the middle of running for the APA presidency and soliciting evaluations of the Executive Director of a board.  That board’s agenda is to raise money to give to programs and services that help women attain economic self-sufficiency.  The group had raised the largest amount for an annual fund in the organization’s history and has surpassed by tens of thousands of dollars the goal set for that year-raised nearly one million dollars.  In addition, the board had agreed to raise just over 7 million dollars in order for the city of Memphis to receive two HUD grants at 20 million dollars each.  While the board had 5 years to raise the money in just over 1 year 3.5 million had been obtained.  I’d call that outstanding.  Wouldn’t you?  Well though our Executive Director really raised the largest percentage of the monies and she is Black, one of her evaluators wrote that she was sure the ED did the best that she could, But…

“In a perfect world, proper use of the English language should be so universal that the author should only be identifiable as an American, as opposed to a foreign-born speaker of the language.”  The Executive Director was born in Mississippi.

 

In roughly the same period as I ran for president of APA, I received emails from two of my white colleagues.  One told me not to talk about multicultural matters –that I was broader than that.  The other told me not to use her name in any of my publicity material because although I had given a “nice talk” at the plenary session of Council she would not be voting for me and did not want me to misrepresent her in any of my campaign materials.  Well really neither of them planned to vote for me.  Now I do realize that anytime one does a high profile job the slings and arrows are bound to come, but they still sting.  In each of these instances I turned to my circle of colleagues and friends to make the wounds less deep and decided to also talk about these cuts at the Summit so that I could include each of you in my healing process. Thus the title of the talk, Empowerment through Inclusion in the Daily Battle with Oppression.  Lewis-Cole and Constantine would say that my means of coping with what I call “daily oppression” fits right in with styles of coping that African American women use when they perceive institutional and cultural racism; cognitive/emotional debriefing, spiritual-centered and collective coping.  It always makes me feel better when I can find science to back up my lived experience.

 

The other reason that I chose the title to especially include the words "daily oppression” is because since I have been a Vice President I have had questions from young professionals at APA and undergraduate and graduate students of color on our campus, and students across the country when some of you assign your students a task of calling to interview a living “older” psychologist.  They ask me if I have ever experienced racism and if there are ever racist or sexist events in my present life.  I tell them that it only happens everyday.  And that most of the times the events and remarks are not intentional or malevolent.  I then refer them to the work of John Dividio and his colleagues so that they can understand aversive, modern or implicit racism and sexism.  I tell them that sometimes the statements are small as when last week a fuse blew in my office as I worked on the computer and the other black female vacuumed the floor.  When I finally got the white repairman who could perhaps help, I identified my self as the Vice President for Student Affairs and explained the problem.  He said I will come over in about 15 minutes, dear.  By the way I hope none of you out there think that I am being “overly sensitive.”  Sometimes the events are larger as when all the Vice Presidents except me were invited to the one planning session with all the wealthy and influential donors and I accidentally discovered it the afternoon before they were to leave.  Or when I am pushed to attend an evening dinner event where the President and all the other Vice Presidents are assigned a table together near the front of the room and I am assigned a seat with the secretaries and the assistant-to’s in the back of the room.  I swear I thought the US had legislation that said I don’t have to sit at the back of the bus any more.  Or near the restroom as often is tried when I go out to dinner.  Or when my colleagues carefully explain something to me about my area of responsibility .  Or when I disagree with one of my white colleagues and he angrily tells me he is surprised that he has to explain something to me about Black people’s experience. And shortly after 9/11 I began to always allow extra time for my “random” search at the airport because I was searched nearly 100% of the time until they started letting computers pick persons who would be searched.  When APA was in Hawaii in 2004, 5 of us who were all Black slipped away one day to fly to Maui.  Going there and coming back, all 5 of us were searched.  Our reward for skipping out on the conference.  I call events like these my daily oppressions. 

 

I was delighted to learn that Derald Wing Sue and his colleagues recently gave voice to a label for these things.  They call such events and statements Microinsults and Microinvalidations.  So, what I call daily oppression, researchers label Microaggressions.  Sue and his colleagues define racial microaggressions as “brief and common place daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults that potentially have harmful or unpleasant psychological impact on the target person or group.”  What makes this stuff so debilitating is that it happens virtually everyday and is therefore cumulative.  They are even more numerous if you have several identities.  Use your imagination for a moment .  See a woman who is African American and lesbian.  Try seeing a male in a wheel chair.  Now make him Latino.  How about seeing a male, 4’5” tall, white, and using a walker.  Make him gay or Asian.  The micro attacks grow exponentially.  Imagine, Big, Black Male.  One of my colleagues once told me as I rebutted all of her arguments for turning down an African American male for graduate school in counseling psychology,  well maybe it’s just that he is a big Black man.  He did not get into the program.  We have to wonder what is the psychological toll that results from daily oppression or microaggressions.  Tony Brown, a critical race theorist, states that   "racial stratification can cause mental health problems not systematically described in the existing literature or psychiatric nosology.” (Brown, 2003)  While Brown spends much of his time and discourse on Blacks and Whites, I believe his conclusions and recommendations regarding the critical study of race can be applied to all minorities in the United States.  He maintains that “…mental health researchers must theorize at greater depth like critical race theorists do, about the experiential meaning of being Black or White in the U.S. to more fully characterize the empirical relationship between race and mental health.”

 

I fully appreciate this call for more scientific evidence of this relationship between racial microaggressions or oppressions and mental health because it fits with the lived experience of many of my friends, colleagues, and me.  To attribute the behavior of a White male professor who called me a “smart ass nigger” to his wife’s illness is oppressive.  To deem my ideas as ordinary on Monday, but the same idea is brilliant when my white male colleagues delivers the idea on Wednesday is discouraging; in the classroom to over look the raised hands of students of color is demoralizing; to be the one official not recognized in the face of acknowledging all of your white peers confirms invisibility; sitting through meetings when we make statements that we are giving scholarships only to the most qualified students as defined by scores on the ACT when we all know of Claude Steel’s research, is disingenuous; when you want to touch my hair when I am there to interview for a job, is insulting.  And to constantly be paid less is taxing—well taxing is probably not the right word, perhaps depressing is more accurate.  Do you know that on average if a woman ends her education at high school graduation her average salary is likely to be $21, 973, but were she a male with that same diploma the median salary would be $30, 868.  For a professional degree the median salary for women is $55 thousand dollars but goes to $90,650 if you are male.  To have to always fight for your rights drains the energy from even the best of us.  As a side note, I do want to let you know how much I appreciate allies like Linda Forrest, current Division 17 President-Elect who in the early 90s when Division 17 was making the decision to designate one of our 3 Council of Representative seats for an ethnic minority it was she who took up that fight rather than have me do it.  It was John Westefeld who assured me that Division 17 had the money to help seed the funds for the First National Multicultural Conference and Summit.  He steered our budget discussions in the appropriate direction .  I dearly appreciate my White allies; my friends.

 

Even with their help I still found myself in need of some chocolate and peanuts to calm my nerves after those meetings.  Perhaps I resort to that kind of eating in order to deny the racism.  Brown saw a link between African American women who deny discriminatory encounters and hypertension.  I actually don’t have hypertension but all 5 of my sisters and most of my brothers do.  The research is becoming quite clear that the “isms” in our society are deleterious to our health and well being.  So, consistent with the research I do intentionally seek the support of my cultural and ethnic sisters to get me through.

 

Further, I am a deeply spiritual woman so I do rely on a higher power to make my days lighter.  Each of these is a coping strategy that has been confirmed by Lewis-Cole and Constantine.  So I stopped by here to ask you to lift your eyes from the blood on the floor and look up to find common ground.  Maya Angelou says that we can not unlive the past but if we understand it we don’t have to relive it.  All of our pasts have left so much blood on the floor that we could spend generations fighting for revenge, but I encourage you to never forget the past; forgive the wrongs; and always remember that there is a promised land –we just have to look up and grab it. 

 

How do I know that there is a promised land, you might wonder?  I just review my own life and consider my own identities.  I am a daughter of a garbage man, daughter of an alcoholic, daughter of a man who hit his wife; daughter of a man who worked two full time jobs to put bread on the table and shoes on the feet of my 11 brothers and sisters.  That we all at least finished high school and most have places to live; that some are pretty much middle class is a testament to the villagers who where not a part of the family but were part of the neighborhood that insisted on helping to raise all of us.  Clothes, guidance, food, escape.  Just as our parents took in other children who had to have part of the roof of that 4 room space from time to time.  So sometimes we were more than 12 but that was alright because at those times they needed to be part of our family in order to survive and thrive. Just as our group here is inclusive of age, sexual orientation, spiritual orientation, race, ability, class, ethnicity and gender need each other to survive and thrive.  So as I stand here talking to you, I am standing in the promised land.

 

It is so easy to fall victim to in-group behavior; to divide ourselves on the basis of some trait.  It is so easy and who knows, maybe natural, to exclude—to have a little of something and think we must hold on to it or we will surely die.  But it is so important for us to set a collective agenda because Inclusion is Power.

 

More than a decade ago at my university a handful of us started to lobby the university to begin developing programs for Latino/Hispanics because a few had entered the university and honestly part of my reasoning was influenced by race relations in California and the cooperation I saw in Division 45 and later Division 17 as each developed an inclusive agenda.  It was clear that the success of 45 and 17 depended on having such an agenda, but the university’s response was that Black students are the largest minority so that’s where we shall put the few resources that we are appropriating for diversity.  Fast forward 10 years and now Hispanic students are beginning to ask us “Qué tal nosotros?”  What about us? And hardly anyone can speak Spanish.  But since the university wants to be bigger, suddenly, we are trying to find those Spanish speaking brown faces and get them enrolled.  Luckily for us, the currently-enrolled students have formed a Hispanic Student Association and they are smart enough to have a very diverse membership focusing on the needs and culture of our Latino students.  The group is becoming a force because they recognize that if they are to have power they must be inclusive.  Together, the students can confront their daily doses of microaggressions.  Were our students merely focused on blood on the floor they would not have been looking up to see whom they could include in their group so that though they are by themselves small in number, with the inclusion of others they are large in stature on the campus.

 

This past Fall at my university we had an opportunity for a major divisive upheaval that could have split the campus by race.  A young freshman white male who was pledging a traditional white male fraternity was dating an African American woman who was a junior.  One of his Greek pledge mates called his girlfriend Nigger and insisted that he not bring her back to the fraternity house.  After holding on to this message for about a week, on a Friday the young freshman shared the conversations with his girlfriend and some of her friends.  Immediately word began to spread about the incident and by the beginning of the next week there was a front page story in the news paper and the campus looked to be on the road to a major catastrophe as the Black students began to see blood on the floor.  What was truly amazing was the speed at which the students organized a rally for Wednesday at noon.  But perhaps more amazing was that they got such a diverse group of students to sign on to the rally—all ethnic groups including the white sororities and fraternities joined together and said “not on my campus.” The faculty senate and the staff senate quickly followed the students’ lead and joined the group.  Empowerment through inclusion.  Now don’t believe for one moment that our campus is a Pollyanna.  Our Counseling Psychology faculty is all white—and we have never had a visible ethnic or racial person as a part of that faculty.  All the academic deans are white and male except for the dean of nursing.  The librarian is a black female.  The chairs are at least 90 per cent white and mostly male—well actually the entire faculty is mainly white.  But for just a moment in time the students got it right.  Our students got it right because they stepped far enough back from the original problem so that they could see the bigger picture.  The students understood that they want a great university.  For that greatness to happen it could not be only about “me and my group.”  It is striking how our perspective changes when we fly high above the clouds and begin to imagine the possibilities.  So three white guys calling a young woman a nigger looked small by comparison to hundreds who came out with candles and commitments to say “not on my watch.”

 

The power of inclusion makes change happen.  Just review the time-line for the adoption of the Multicultural Guidelines.  From Allen Ivey’s initial appointment of a task force to work on the guidelines in 1981 with a Division 17 task force chaired by a young Derald Wing Sue to the guidelines movement outside of APA to become policy in ACA in the early nineties.  You can read Sue, Arredondo and McDavis for a more complete description - to the adoption of the guidelines as APA policy in 2002 following the work lead by Fouad and Arredondo.  For the guidelines to become APA policy we had to draw a big circle of inclusion of psychologists from all races, sexes, orientations, ages, abilities scientists and practitioners.  I was on Council when the guidelines passed and there was joy in the morning.  We, as a people, had a moment of being bigger than we ever were and more powerful than we thought we could be.

 

It is important for us here at this Summit to recall that at the end of the first Summit the participants called for adoption of those guidelines.  I wonder what the participants at this Summit will call for?  Will we call on our profession to do something to be more inclusive; to be more empowering; to fight the daily microaggressions lodged against people who have seen blood on the floor?  Will we challenge each other to act up and out in outlandish ways that will herald big changes that elevate each of us and make the world a better place.

 

Will we walk away from this Summit feeling empowered so that we live to fight another day?  Will we understand what Angela Davis meant when she wrote If they come in the morning: Voices of Resistance?  In that book she says if they come for me in the morning they will be for you tonight.  If they don’t come for you because of your skin color they will come for you because of you are a woman.  80 women just got raped in the last hour.  But in 1976 an inclusive group of women in Belgium empowered themselves to take back the night.  How shall we empower ourselves? We need a big inclusive group of women and men to take back peace.  Are we able to make a statement about the war in Iraq?  Where are our voices?  Surely they have not drowned in the blood on the floor.  Do we have the power to say anything about those who are dying mental and physical deaths every day in Iraq?

 

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.  Pastor Martin Niemoller, 1976 version.

 

Does this inclusive group here at the Summit have the power to say anything?

 

If we don’t have something big to say, then my challenge is that each of us returns to our individual homes and look to see if we can include just one somebody whom we overlooked.  End one statement that renders a colleague invisible.  Challenge one stereotype that is nothing more than a microassault.  For just one day, go outside of yourself and discover the needs of another.  At just one meal if the pie seems too small for everyone to get a slice—make a bigger pie.  At just one event ask the least of these to sit with you at the VIP table.  For just one day if you think you can not relate to someone who is very different from you then list all of your identities, Black, Woman, Christian, loser, winner, guilt ridden, over 50, daughter, mother, aunt, psychologist, outsider, insider, privileged, lover and so on.  Then find one person from each of your identities, agree on something and make change.  Go out and do it because now you have a big inclusive group that can make a huge difference.  Remember that it was Maya Angelou who said “If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else you will have succeeded.”

 

And the price you pay to be inclusive, to make a difference will be much smaller than the price paid by Viola Luizzo, the only white woman to have been murdered during the civil rights marches.  Viola Liuzzo was a 39 year old teamster’s wife who lived in Detroit.  She was the mother of 5 young children and a Unitarian Universalist.  She was compelled to go to Selma, Alabama to work for voting rights for African Americans.  I can just see her on the Pettis bridge on the march from Selma.  Viola was killed by the Ku Klux Klan.  While her killers were captured a short time after the shooting, they were acquitted after a smear campaigned accused her of being in Alabama to sleep with Black men.  Her blood was on the floor.

 

When asked about why Viola did what she did, Gloria Steinem said “Empathy is the most revolutionary feeling.” 

 

As psychologists we are trained to be empathic.  Perhaps it is that empathy that will compel us here at this Summit to be more inclusive; to empower others.  To be intentional with our empowering ways.  Perhaps it is our empathy that will let us see that all the blood on the floor is red and that we are all blood sisters and brothers. 

Thank You!

 

 

 

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