Friday, January 6, 2017

Analysis of Internalized Superiority, and Anti-Racism work in Lewisburg

In the last post, I broke down 'whiteness' and internalized superiority a little bit. I mentioned that internalized superiority has a hierarchy, and that black Americans are on the bottom of that leading to enormous debt to our black citizens in opportunities and resources like education, wealth, jobs, and leadership.

Further up the hierarchy, however, the same behavior exists among 'white' people as well, and can be a significant barrier to white anti-racist work. Not surprisingly, the same elements of internalized superiority are components to negative behaviors like elitism and bullying. The end effect often perpetuates systems of inequality, toxic culture, and weak communities.

Elitism -
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their superiority, as in intelligence, social standing, or wealth.
a. Behavior arising from or indicative of such a belief.
b. Control, rule, or domination by the members of an elite.

Adult Bullying (experienced by nearly half of all adults) -
Some key examples of Adult Bullying (from 
Repeated hurtful and hostile actions 
Actions which are intended to mistreat or control people 
Hurtful verbal and non-verbal communication  
Actions which decrease someone’s intrinsic self-worth
The repetition of insults 
Verbal conduct which any reasonable person might see as humiliating or threatening 
Sabotage work tasks 
Assigning tasks that have impossible deadlines 
Removing responsibility in favor of trivial tasks 
Taking undue credit 
Spreading rumors 
Undervaluing effort on a consistent basis 
Non-productive criticism that never ends

Some Elements of Internalized Superiority -
Demanding conformity, and creating a hierarchy of power to maintain the comfort levels of one section of the population, over others.

Taking credit for other people's work
Dismissing consequences of decisions/actions to 'others'
Focusing on maintaining power for the favored group
Blaming the victim
Hording knowledge
Abusing hierarchy (power) to punish/lock out 'others'

I have seen elitism, bullying, and internalized superiority play out in my interactions with 'diversity' group leaders who are part of the same network from Lewisburg:

From the outset, I was very clear about giving The People's Institute credit when talking about Undoing Racism (R) and the knowledge we gain from their work, because they had relayed to me that they have problems with people stealing their work and not giving them credit. However:

  • Cynthia Peltier of the CommUnity Zone, in a meeting that was supposed to be about me volunteering, instead interrogated me about my personal life, and insisted that we don't need another training, and that Undoing Racism (R) won't be useful. The CommUnity Zone proceeded to then plagiarize Undoing Racism's (R) web material as the foundation for new programming called Race Matters. I had specifically told Peltier in this meeting about the troubles the Institute has with plagiarism. 
  • The United Way Diversity and Inclusion Council touted 'a training' as part of their new programming, but did not name the program, or give credit to The People's Institute. Their description took credit for 'sending several people' to the training, when in fact they sent two people, and were invited and given scholarships by Inequity Analysis, with the understanding that they would help in efforts to build support for others leaders across the region to have the same educational experience. Instead, no credit was given to anyone and the experience is being used to bolster the GSV United Way and their affiliates. The United Way claims that the training gives them authority to 'talk about racism in the community,' when the purpose of the training is to internally examine ones own institution to do a power analysis of whether an organization is serving itself, or its mission. 
  • Immediately after attending the training together, I was kicked out of the Council for 'disagreements with the chair' which were never explained. They refused to voice any public support for Undoing Racism (R) and Inequity Analysis. Again, I stress, GSV United Way removed me, unethically, while emulating what I, and Undoing Racism(R) training brought to the table.
  • Inequity Analysis asked groups to help with fundraising activities, and offered to help raise money for the Inequity Analysis fund with Art Auctions and concerts around the area. In a conspicuous correlation, The United Way's new initiative The Valley Together has started a new series, "Art in Bars," connected to their new programming to foster diversity. Not that I mind them doing so -- but in context of the situation, it shows disrespect, and further display of internalized superiority.

Additionally, folks from this group continually tried to control and monitor my speech:

  • I was yelled at at a Meet Up! at the Wesleyan Church coffee shop to 'change my mind about Penns Commons' because Jim Buck had worked on it for so long. I had made my opinion known about Penns Commons on an email list conversation. I am still of my own mind about the issue, but it was a real problem for this group in Lewisburg. 
  • I had actually met with Jim Buck for two hours to check out the site of the housing development, where I was told that my opinions 'were along the same racist lines as conservatives.' I assured him that I am not a conservative. He scoffed at me (!), and stated that 'I sound like one.' 
  • When I brought up issues I encountered with Peltier, Buck, and this exchange at the Meet Up, with Susan Jordan (the Chair of the GSV UW Diversity Council) over the weekend when we took Undoing Racism (R) training together, she yelled at me, pounding her fist, telling me that I have a 'messaging problem,' and a 'listening problem' because of my opinion about Penns Commons. I was told that "I talk like I know what I am talking about," and as if "what I say is true." I do have a background in sustainable community development, and my opinion is similar to that of County planners -- but this group was livid about my opinion, and pressured me to stop voicing my point of view -- which I did, and asked to be removed from the email list, because I don't live in Lewisburg. I was added to the email thread, without request, because of my anti-racism work.
  • When I asked Sam Pearson, who was working with Inequity Analysis, but moved to the Diversity Council in sync with my ousting, about this 'messaging issue,' she also was upset with my Penns Commons opinion, and added "Who knows what you are saying when we are not listening." 
  • There were other disagreements Susan Jordan had with me over our training weekend -- about identity issues. The day after our training, Jordan sent me an email asserting that my opinions that she did not agree with compromised my integrity to work on anti-racism issues with Undoing Racism (R), because they don't align with the 'curriculum.' (There is no 'curriculum.' I had been coordinating with The People's Institute for over a year)
There is so much irony in what happened next: I was kicked off of the council because of 'disrespecting Susan,' 'disagreements with leadership,' and 'disrespecting the hierarchy of the council.'  I was silenced and told to speak with no one -- not the public, not the board, not the actual council about anything of my experience with the United Way Leadership. You can read my initial blog about being removed from the council here. It seems impossible to hold GSV United Way Leadership accountable, as they have continually refused to address my concerns; the board has also refused to respond to any concern; and the larger United Way says local issues must be dealt with by the local board. As well, the Daily Item who regularly prints pieces favorable to the GSV UW, has refused to report on this story, or publish my letter to the editor.

The reason that Inequity Analysis asks for a statement of support from those who accept training scholarships is because properly ensuring accountability requires what The People's Institute calls, 'a net that works': a network of leaders, across fields, and the larger community (cops/teacher/healthcare/social services etc). This 'net that works' is essential to maintaining accountability.

It is counterproductive, and unethical, for one organization to accept scholarships to the training and shut down efforts for the larger community. Undoing Racism (R) is meant to be experienced by a wide range of community leaders -- and again, the program focuses on helping community leaders analyze their own institutions and programs for racial disparities.

What the GSV United Way has done, is to continue on with the patterns of internalized superiority: taking credit where it is not due (and away from the black centered Undoing Racism (R) training); assuming to 'know better'; copying others work; demanding conformity with their leadership; and loyalty to their hierarchy (of course with their leaders at the top); hording information; denying accountability; double standards etc.

This really comes back to power, and abuse of power (even small amounts of power). The United Way leadership abused what power they could to ensure that they would benefit from my efforts, over myself, and the larger 5 county region.

I deserve an apology from the United Way. Inequity Analysis deserves statements of support about the training -- considering that it is the basis of the United Way Diversity and Inclusion Council's new programming. I also think they need to change leadership, and work on their organizational culture. 

Other concerns I have about the leadership at the United Way, the Community Zone, Sustaining Diversity, and other groups rooted in Lewisburg that deal with 'diversity':

I regularly heard bigoted statements against conservatives, like "conservatives are wired to be racist." A lot of action was around "confronting" conservative ideas, things conservatives had said etc., like holding a rally outside of someone's house who has a confederate flag, and trying to get a conservative teacher out of the school system. Most of the understanding around racism was focused on blaming someone else -- especially conservatives. In the last meeting I had with Sam Pearson as part of Inequity Analysis, she asked me to look at an article about 'Talking to Middle Americans about Progressive Issues,' which assumes that 'liberal' ideas are right, and that others just need to be nudged little by little into the 'right' way of thinking.

Racism is not a partisan issue, it is a cultural issue, and we need perspectives from across the political spectrum to properly analyze the issue. 'Liberals' need to look in at themselves, before blaming 'the other side.'

The fight between white people, in an effort to maintain power and comfort, perpetuates racist actions and prevents us from solving problems of racism in our communities.

I had seen conflict with this group coming for quite some time. If you look back through these blogs, you will see mentions here and there of bubbling petty conflict. I offered, as a resolution to the problem, that the council talk about the conflict in the context of the Undoing Racism (R) training we just had -- that we look at our bias against conservatives, and internal bickering and how we might be contributing to the perpetuation of racism in the process. Unfortunately, instead, I was quickly told to never return, and to never talk to anyone about the situation ever again.

One way or another, this pattern of superiority has to be addressed before we can effectively address the perpetuation of racial inequalities. I am still open to an apology from this group, and afterwards, a sharing of our experiences and partnership to bring more understanding to other leaders in our area about how we can 'undo racism' together.

Further reading:
Distancing Behaviors
Racism is not a mental illness
Breaking Down the Non Profit Industrial Complex
Toxic organizational structure vs. Community Centered
Political Exclusion Breeds Extremism and Inhibits Respect 
Dynamics of Power, Inclusion, and Exclusion 

'Whiteness' and Internalized Superiority

What is 'whiteness'? It is a flawed concept, but useful to a degree in explaining racism in the USA.

'Whiteness' is a reference to 'power' more than race.

'Whiteness' is a normative political power (rooted in law, religion, science, and the media), crowned with the ability to distribute wealth, resources, and opportunities. You can see this in US history in laws like the 1790 Naturalization Act, which were influenced by other embedded political institutions like religion and science. For instance, some interpretations of biblical stories like 'The Curse of Ham', and Ishmael created disfavored groups of blacks, and Arabs.

Why is 'whiteness' a flawed concept? It is a flawed concept because it links oppressive power to 'whiteness' as a racial construct. When used in extreme rhetoric like George Ciccariello-Maher, associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel, in his Christmas Eve tweet for a 'white genocide,' it can perpetuate cycles of racial violence, and misunderstanding.

The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond call this 'whiteness' internalized superiority, which I think is a much more appropriate, widely applicable, and accurate label.

The Institute connects internalized superiority and 'whiteness' with the history of power dynamics and social norms in the USA.

Internalized superiority in the USA centers norms and power in 'white' spheres of influence. It is a power structure that only 'whites' are born into. Internalized superiority is 'a way' of acting that perpetuates favoritism and inequality. In the USA, the favored group, the group in power, the social norms, are centered on 'whiteness.' In other countries or historical contexts what is considered 'white' might not be the group in power, or the norm.

This way of acting superior affects American culture beyond racism. In fact, in the workshop, facilitators focused on how 'white' people treat each other -- and how internalized superiority creates abusive, inauthentic, and dehumanizing social interactions based on ego in 'white' spheres of influence.

These interactions -- this way of behaving -- is counterproductive to addressing issues of equality/inequality. Internalized superiority is a number one reason why the USA has made such little progress in the area of racism, according to the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond's co-founder, Ronald Chisolm:

This is reflected in my experience with the GSV United Way, and other leaders from Lewisburg, while trying to work with them on anti-racism efforts in our community. You can see an analysis specifically about my experience with this group and internalized superiority in the next blog here.

So, what is 'whiteness' again, or internalized superiority?

'Whiteness' as rightness: social and cultural norms in the USA are centered on what seems 'right' to 'white' people. For instance, black professionals are often asked to straighten their hair, and are asked to not wear cornrows or afros; 'Americans' don't want to hear a 'foreign' accent when they call customer service; covering the head or wearing certain dress is taboo in the workplace.

If we look, we can see this pattern in smaller ways within 'white culture' itself -- restrictions on died hair, piercings, tattoos, dress codes -- basically demanding conformity, and creating a hierarchy of power to maintain the comfort levels of one section of the population, over others.

There are other, more nefarious, patterns of behavior that tag along with 'power always being right,' and it is not surprising that these patterns line up with bullying and toxic organizational culture.Things like: taking credit for other people's work; dismissing consequences of decisions/actions to 'others,' and focusing on maintaining power for the favored group; blaming the victim; hording knowledge; assuming to 'know better'; using hierarchy to punish/lock out 'others'; double standards; etc.

The end result is an inability to form authentic and meaningful relationships with 'others,' and a breakdown of community. What The Institute conveyed to us in the workshop was that internalized superiority is harmful, not only to disfavored 'non-white' groups, but to 'white' groups as well.

In a racialized context, because the pattern favors those at the top of the hierarchy, those at the bottom come out with the least access to power, resources, and opportunities -- hence institutional disparities for black Americans are the worst in our culture. 

Examples of Acceptable dress/behavior/ideology: 
Suits/slacks and button down shirts/shaved (men and women)/
trimmed hair of natural color (even died 'natural')/
compliant to conforming/light skinned/
speaks without an accent, and with 'proper' English (even 'American' accents like from Boston/Wisconsin/Texas are discriminated against)/
Christian/'American' as European Centered/
more education should correspond to more power

Who meets these descriptions?: 'Professionals,' Christians, descendants of European culture, and those who will follow these standards/norms/requirements to be 'accepted.' So, at the top here, we have 'proper whites.' Well educated, light skinned, professionally dressed, 'well' spoken, Religious (Christian)  

Are citizens with these characteristics afforded more access to opportunity and resources? Should they be? Are citizens who do not meet these norms denied access to opportunities and resources? Should they be? Does it align with American values, to answer yes to any these questions?
Another poignant question is: should we blame those who do fit this description and/or those at the top? I argue no. Our Undoing Racism (R) training also tried to relay that 'white' people are not to blame, but are subject to the same cultural requirements. Looking at the roots of these requirements in history, religion, science, and media can help us to understand how social stratification has been perpetuated.

This is why Undoing Racism (R) focuses on institutions, and leaders of institutions as change agents. It is difficult to challenge norms in our textbooks, or organizational/institutional culture, and indeed, The People's Institute notes 'resistance to institutional change' as one of the greatest challenges to 'undoing racism.' Institutional leaders are uniquely positioned to implement change -- by taking down the arbitrary boundaries of 'norms' concerning dress/lifestyle/culture/religion/ideas; by becoming more democratic vs. autocratic in management; by examining their own institutions history, mission, work, and outcomes; identifying racial disparities; naming where internalized superiority may have blocked the right leadership, or  contributed to racial disparities in their work's outcomes.

When power is an end, when power is continually put in the hands of one homogeneous normative character, inequity is inevitable.

All people have value, all people in our communities have something to give -- different perspectives, different strengths, different knowledge. Our country, and indeed our All-American ideals are what have made the US the envy of the world. We lose community, profits, innovations and more by having a narrow definition of what is 'acceptable' and required before someone is a valued member of society -- worthy of equal respect to those who are 'Well educated, light skinned, professionally dressed, 'well' spoken, and Religious (Christian),' or otherwise part of the 'in group.'

Too often those in our communities who fall away from this norm, are less valued, and denied access to equal legal protections, voting access, jobs, leadership roles, investment etc. Those who fall away from the norm are asked to prove more, to be 'exceptional exceptions' in order to gain respect and equality in our communities. Conversely, those who fall away from the norm are judged more harshly, often characterized, and dehumanized -- all of which can lead to harm for the disfavored individual/group.

Connecting internalized superiority to 'whiteness' as a racialized concept is wrong, and harmful. However, reflecting on how internalized superiority has benefited 'whiteness' historically in the USA, religious texts, science, and laws, is vital to understanding what racism is, and how we can stop it.

How too much education can lead to ignorance
Asset Mapping-- there are many excellent resources about this online.
Double Standards of reactions to riots