Frustration

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a a rage almost all the time.” James Baldwin said it and I feel it. I experience it. It’s not always related to being Black, but I have felt like this for quite a while. A few months at least. I am frustrated, angry, and just generally not very happy. I’m frustrated with so many things.

I’m frustrated with my career. I have about another year in this Ph.D. program. I wish I could be done sooner than that. There’s so much I’ve had to deal with during grad school and I’m just over it in general. I’m tired of extending the olive branch to people who don’t deserve it. The relationship with my previous advisor was unhealthy and I recently ended it. She discouraged me from publishing my master’s thesis and now that I have a new advisor who thinks I should publish it, I have to extend the offer for collaboration with her since she was the chair of my thesis committee. It’s the “professional” thing to do. I’m tired of professional meaning that people can exploit, discourage, degrade, and insult you while still benefitting from your work. It makes me sick. She’s part of the reason I needed to go to therapy 2 years ago. I’m tired of having to be the one to smile and nod in the face of people who care nothing for me and who abuse their power and authority. I’m just tired of being devalued and being expected to prostrate myself for people.

I’m frustrated with feeling like I have to shoulder the burden for multiple people. I’m only one person, but I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world. So much is needed and expected from me, frankly unfairly so. It’s gotten to the point that I get anxiety whenever my phone rings because it’s inevitably going to be someone asking me to do something when I’m already really overwhelmed. Too often I have had to bring myself away from the brink of breaking down. It’s rough. I feel like not too many people know/care about this. Me, me, me, me, me. I feel lost in the shuffle of everyone else’s problems particularly when asked to help with them. I feel overburdened and I feel like no one is/will mitigate that burden, particularly if they are adding to them.

I also am frustrated with just the general state of things. Relating back to my first point, I’m frustrated with seeing so much Black pain, suffering, and hurt only for it to be ignored, downplayed, and disregarded. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of finding myself in situations in which I have explain my perspective as a Black person in America only to have it challenged by people who have no fucking idea what it is like. I’m tired of these damn White faux-progressives and their damn performed liberalism that’s used as a tool to talk down to Black people and tell them to behave properly. I’m tired hearing people talk about things they know nothing about and having to challenge people about their erroneous assertions of reverse racism and other nonsensical concepts that allow White people to deny the advantage that they’ve had in this country since before it was even a country. I’m tired of being nice and trying to spare people’s feelings because they want to play dumb and be blind. I’m tired of being someone who possesses much more experiential and scientific knowledge of this area than the people I find myself in these scenarios with, only for them to try to employ half-ass tricks of debate and logical fallacies to tell me how I’m the one who is wrong or mistaken. As if their White opinion trumps my reality and years of academic study. I’m tired of feeling like the token/Black friend who has to tell people how things are because if I wasn’t a grad student as well, they likely would not have much of a reason to associate with me and I’m the only Black person most of them probably interact with past some hierarchial relationship in which they are on the higher level.

I’m tired, I’m frustrated, I’m unhappy. I share all of this for the comfort of some level of catharsis. None of this is up for debate or argument. I’m not backing down from what I say. This is how I feel in its rawest form. Anger and frustration laid bare in front of you. Also, do not use this as a means of projecting your own insecurities onto what I am saying. Basically, don’t come asking me if I am talking about you. If you really care, you wouldn’t ask that question in the first place. I’ve said my piece. Maybe I will be in a better place tomorrow or hopefully things turn around. I need it to because I need to be able to take care of myself and its difficult to juggle that with so many demands from so many people and so many pressures. I want to help, I really do. But sometimes I need help too, but it’s hard to ask for help when so many other people are asking me for the help. Maybe it will get better.

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To Be Young, Black, and In School

America’s education system is screwed up. For Black people, it can be an absolute shit show. I am originally from Gulfport, Mississippi and spent my whole life there until moving to Atlanta for college. As I got older, I began to notice things as I progressed through school. Being a high achieving student, I was placed in honors and advanced classes, but I noticed that fewer and fewer of my fellow African American students were in those classes. There were several instances in which I was the only African American student in the class. At times I felt isolated and alienated, particularly during that one wonderful semester when I was constantly called names by a White student every time I entered the classroom.

Those experiences are not unique to me. Various inequities are part of the educational experiences of African Americans. Discrimination and unfair treatment occurs at all stages of the education system. We get notified very quickly about our standing in schools. Messages are communicated to us about our value, intellect, and worthiness. Too often we get messages about how we are troublemakers. Messages can be sent through relationships with teachers as they tend to have less favorable views of African Americans and have more conflict with their African American students. Disciplinary actions send messages through the disproportionate punishment of African American students. Tracking disproportionately places Black students in lower tracks, while the few Black students in the higher tracks often feel a sense of isolation, not unlike that terrible feeling I remember having frequently. Studies have helped reveal how African American students are not given adequate opportunities to display their intellect and are discouraged from taking more rigorous courses. School curricula are largely characterized by an absence of Black history or culture. I don’t remember learning any significant Black history in the classroom until I went to college at Morehouse. And this is all just in primary and secondary school: it becomes more disheartening to realize that these issues continue on to higher education.

I don’t need to remind you of all the recent stories regarding the protests at several universities. Here is a good resource that gives a pretty efficient rundown of everything happening across the country. I will try to at least explain broadly a lot of issues that African American college students deal with. Studies have shown the negative effects of racial discrimination such as its relationship with negative outcomes including lower academic motivation and increased stress. African American college students too often report negative racial climates outside of the classroom. Classroom interactions too often negate their experiences, leaving them to feel self-doubt and change their educational plans. Even for graduate students, experiences with racism are related to more symptoms of depression and stress. No wonder people are protesting everywhere, look at what they have to deal with and how it affects them!

I know much of the discussion has been about what has been going on at colleges around the country, but I would like people to think about what these students have been going through both during college and before college. It’s understandable why students are frustrated and fed up; they probably have been dealing with these same things for their whole lives: elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and grad school. It’s been a part of their educational experiences for too long and they are tired of it. And so am I.

The Development of Research on Oppression

This paper examines the emergence of research on oppression within the field of psychology up to the year 1961.  Oppression is “the domination of one group by another, politically, eco-nomically or culturally, singly or in combination” (Miller, 1921).  The year 1961 is of particular importance to this topic because it is year of the original publication of the groundbreaking work The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.  The goal of the paper is to determine how far the field of psychology had gone in its examination of this phenomenon.  It is expected that while there was some work done in the area, the majority of the work was theoretical and not as much empirical.

The Wretched of the Earth

Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist who worked with the Algerian liberation movement during the 1950s.  His book The Wretched of the Earth was important in helping to understand the psychology of the oppressed.  Using colonialism and the Algerian civil war as a major backdrop, he describes the oppressive environment and the responses of the native Algerians to the oppressive French government.  There is detailed description of how the responses to violent oppression are often violent rebellion.  Liberation must occur by the hands of the oppressed.  Political education was viewed as a necessity for liberation to occur.  The colony’s economic dependency on the colonial power runs parallel with the psychological dependency and distorted consciousness that makes the people oppressed and dominated subjects.  He also presents several case studies of individuals and groups who have symptoms of psychological disorders due to the oppressive surroundings (Fanon, 1967).  This work’s influence has been widespread, being translated in 25 different languages and influencing renowned educator Paulo Friere and major political figures such as Malcolm X and Che Guevara.

Method

The goal of this paper is to examine how the issues of oppression are discussed and portrayed in psychological research before 1961.  The following inclusion criteria serve as guidelines in selecting the studies to include in this paper.  To be included in this review articles must be: published in peer review journals, written in English, and have the terms “oppression,” “abuse of power,” “social control,” “discrimination,” “Race and ethnic discrimination,” “sex discrimination,” or “racism” in the title or abstract.

A search in the PsychInfo database for the terms “oppression,” “abuse of power,” “social control,” “discrimination,” “Race and ethnic discrimination,” “sex discrimination,” and “racism” for the years 1882 – 1961, yielded 221 results.  Scanning the abstract of all articles revealed that a large majority of them examined discrimination in animals and the cognitive process of discrimination.  Therefore, most of the studies were not examined for the paper.  After reviewing the previous studies, a second search of studies on oppression was conducted across multiple databases.  The same date criteria were used and the utility of this was to get another perspective on the study of oppression from other fields.  The search yielded 112 additional articles for a total of 333 used in this review.

Review

The undertaking of this research project was rooted in an overall interest in understanding oppression and its effects on the people who are on the receiving end.  This topic appears to be a relatively understudied area, particularly within the time frame delineated for this paper.  Some studies focused on how ethnic minority groups are affected.  Other studies focused on racial attitudes and beliefs of minorities and majority populations.  Many of the studies are not necessarily empirical in nature and seem to be more theoretical.

Early 20th Century

The literature produced during the first years of the 20th century had a focus on what precipitated the attitudes that would lead to oppressive behavior.  Thomas (1903) focused the psychological origins of prejudiced attitudes.  He refers to cognitive processes of animals and earlier processes of humans from an evolutionary perspective.  In the article it is demonstrated how these mental processes used for survival later became geared towards social relations.  Noteworthy is the attempt to describe attitudes that lead to oppression rather than the effects of or responses to oppression.  Lewis (1905) asserted that economic conditions in the United States could allow an individual to gain much more resources than otherwise obtainable.  Such a gathering of resources and establishment of partnerships could lead to oppression through the development of monopolies, leading to unfair competition.  Once again, there is a focus on the antecedents of oppressive behaviors and attitudes.  Mecklin (1913) departs from this by going relatively more in depth with the responses to oppression.  He describes 3 situations that are likely to occur when there is racial contact without fusion.  One of the situations is when a European or White country rules another country through military means or as a paternalistic government.  He also states “The ‘color line’ is the result of this effort of the ruling group to make the black constantly aware of his subordinate status and actually to restrict him to it in the absence of legal means for so doing.”  In essence, he felt as though Black people were forced to accept a subordinate status to the point that they would not actively push for an alternative.  This article serves as one of the first that looks at the impact of oppression on those who are oppressed.

1920s

The research during this decade started to place much more focus on the impact of oppression and the psychology of oppressed individuals.  Miller (1921) states that oppression frustrates the will of the people.  He also says that their self-consciousness becomes out of focus and it becomes impossible for the group to view their own problems objectively.  The most apparent result of oppression is the development of a group solidarity that is stronger than any solidarity that would be created through other means.  This study described the effects of oppression in explicitly psychological terms such as the term oppression psychosis.  Yoder’s (1928) review looks at the issue of racial differences and brings up the science being used to demonstrate racial superiority and then the nonutility of such methods.  This in a sense illustrates how science has been used to justify the oppression of racial minorities by “demonstrating” their inferiority and that such research is faulty at best.  Famed scholar W.E.B. Dubois (1928) discussed the issue of democracy in American and asserts that it had not been successful up to that point.  He speaks most specifically of the disenfranchisement of African Americans and how it is causing significant harm to democracy.  While this study is not as psychologically based as some of the other articles reviewed, it is noteworthy that this is likely the first one mentioned that was authored by a person who was a racial minority.

1930s

This decade marked the beginning stages of empirical research on racial attitudes and beliefs within psychology.  Bolton (1937) found that more advanced college students are more liberal in their attitudes toward the rights of African Americans.  This did not hold true in terms of their attitudes toward the social intermingling with African Americans.  The study of oppression takes a different direction with Mead’s (1937) study on treatment of the insane.  He cites how people who were insane were accused of witchcraft and persecuted because of it as well as the brutal treatment of the insane as if they were criminals.  The onset of World War II in 1939 seems to take the study of oppression in yet another direction as much of the research in the area during that time focused on what was happening in Germany.  Singer’s (1939) study focused on the influence of oppression on German Jews.  The oppression of Jewish people in Germany was rooted in deep anti-Semitism.  Methods of oppression included economic oppression, denial of social interactions with non-Jewish Germans, and the disruption of professions.  This study would indeed not be the last of its kind and in the following decade, similar studies would follow.

1940s

While much of the research involved the issues in Nazi Germany, an article of interest was on the subject African American athletes.  Hollomon (1943) describes the background of many top African American athletes as being native of southern states and having poor parents.  Because of this background, their athletic supremacy is based in a desire to compensate for feelings of inferiority and to overcome their oppression.  It is interesting that what is being studied is African Americans athletic supremacy because such a viewpoint almost plays into the same oppression due to the belief of physical superiority and mental inferiority of African Americans.  With studies focusing on Nazi Germany and the Black-White tensions, there continued a trend of looking at oppression in terms of its effects on oppressed people.  Baruch (1944) discussed the hostility toward the Black population.  Such hostilities manifested themselves in the form of discriminating and scapegoating.  The response to such hostilities came in the form of revenge, physical attacks, and gang warfare.  MacCrone’s (1947) takes a slightly different turn in comparison to other studies.  Instead of focusing on only the negative responses or effects of oppression, this study asserts that Black South Africans utilize a number of psychological responses such as group heritage and group tradition that allows them to maintain their distinct in-group identity.  One study took a critical viewpoint on psychology’s role in the events during the World Wars.  Baumgarten-Tramer’s (1948) article criticizes psychologists who enabled and participated in the oppressive regime in Germany.  The author asserts that German psychologists abdicated their social responsibility to search for truth and instead actively supported anti-Semitism and racism.  This article is interesting because the author actively points out the role that the field of psychology played reinforcing and participation in the oppression of minority groups.

1950s

The study of racial attitudes appeared to be predominant theme of research throughout this decade.  Several studies either developed a scale of measurement or used a scale that would allow an examination of attitudes.  Razran (1950) conducted a study in which photographs of college girls were showed to male judges.  The judging was repeated when the girls were given Jewish, Italian, Irish, or American names.  The strongest prejudice was shown toward Jews.  Dislikes because of judgment changes were also related to negative attitudes toward African Americans.  Sullivan and Adelson (1954) developed a scale for misanthropy and found that the items were correlated with items from a measure of ethnic intolerance.  Along with testing racial attitudes, there remained research on the effects of oppression on people.  Record (1954) asserts that a common history of suffering and oppression has a role in shaping a Black nationalism marked by a loyalty to the overall group.  Neimark (1957) discusses job discrimination towards women in academia.  She asserts that such discrimination does harm to the discipline of psychology because it excludes potentially competent and talented scholars.  This article is interesting because it is another article that points out how the field of psychology contributed to oppression and discrimination, yet it also states that these practices are doing harm to the field it excludes those who could make significant contributions to the field.

Conclusion

Examining the research on oppression until 1961 illustrated the fact the psychology as a whole was not very preoccupied with the topic.  While there were some studies on the topic, not many of them explicitly addressed the problem or its harmful effects on the people who received it.  The change from theoretical articles to more empirical research was gradual, yet much of the empirical research focused on the racial attitudes and beliefs of White Americans and not necessarily how those potentially racists attitudes and practices had negative impacts on others.  Some scholars also mentioned psychology’s role in perpetuating this oppression; it is likely the reason not much research was done on oppression was because psychology was a willing participant in the system.

Advocacy and Alternative Settings as Intervention Strategies for Reducing the Achievement Gap

Nature of the Problem

The academic achievement gap between African Americans and their White counterparts has been an issue that has been discussed and dissected for several decades.  In 2010, the Schott foundation released a report on Black males in school.  It was reported that for the 2007 – 08 school year, there was only a 47% high school graduation rate for Black males and only 9% of Black male 8th graders scored at a level of proficiency in reading (Schott, 2010).

Various scholars have speculated on both the causes and the implications of this social problem.  Through recent years, scholars have begun to pay more attention to societal and social factors that adversely impact African Americans’ achievement.  Mickelson (1990) describes an attitude-achievement paradox in which students’ personal experiences with education do not align with the overall sentiment of education being a likely path toward success.  African American students do not receive the same support from teachers and administrators as their peers.  Their teachers are more likely to be less qualified or experienced (Flores, 2007) and the teacher may have low expectations for them and may even go as far as to dissuade the students from attending college or taking advanced classes (Howard, 2003).  These students are not even educated in the same way; they are more likely to attend schools that focus less on comprehension and knowledge (Teale, Paciga, & Hoffman, 2007).

The implications of this gap come through in economic attainment, which then leads to disparate health outcomes.  Ross and Wu (1995) found that education both directly improves health and indirectly improves health through work and economic conditions, health lifestyle, and social-psychological resources.  With its impact on economic, social, and health outcomes, the achievement gap is a social problem that needs to be addressed and reduced.

Main Position Presented

The two intervention strategies that I propose for addressing this social problem are the creating alternative settings and advocacy.  When alternative settings are being created, it is because the current setting or system is inadequate and changing the system is not a good enough option; therefore, the system or setting is completely abandoned and another is created (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  Strategies and tactics for creating alternative settings include identifying and involving both insiders and outsiders, learning the prehistory of a new setting, creating a new organization, and transferring ideas into a social situation.  Advocacy involves representing group interests in established institutional arenas (Checkoway, 1995).  Strategies and tactics for advocacy include outreach to allies, contacting elected officials, and creating a plan that involves a power map of allies and opponents.  With each strategy comes both strengths and weaknesses but I believe that they serve as the best options for solving the issue of the achievement gap.

A strength of alternative settings is that there is a sharper focus on the guiding principles of the setting (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000). Having more of a focus on the main goals of the setting allow for those involved to be more successful in implementing the program and promoting positive outcomes.  For the achievement gap, this is definitely a positive.  Properly educating children should be the main focus of any school, but too often this is not the case.  In today’s climate, there is so much emphasis on raising test scores that students are only learning how to take tests and not actually learning the material.  This is especially an issue for already underfunded schools that have had funding rescinded due to No Child Left Behind Act.  Creating an alternative education setting would allow for educating students to be at the forefront once again.

Another strength is that the climate tends to be characterized by high energy and goodwill (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  The climate plays as big of a role as any other factor in educating students.   As stated earlier, African American students face situations with hostile teachers and administrators that hinder both their ability and their willingness to succeed.  How can students be expected to succeed when the individuals charged with ensuring that are also the ones telling them that they cannot?  Creating alternative settings would likely ensure that students receive the proper support from teachers and administrators that would promote positive academic outcomes.

A strength for creating alternative settings that is specific for addressing the achievement gap is that the students would be more likely to feel as if they belong.  Such a setting would establish a sense of community within it.  All of the parties involved would benefit from being together.  The students would be more likely to feel as though they can trust the teachers and other authority figures.

Advocacy also serves as a suitable option for reducing the achievement gap.  A strength of advocacy is that it allows the interests of the group to be represented at various institutional levels (Checkoway, 1995).  This is allows students and parents to have their voices heard by the various bodies such as the school board or the local legislature.  Making their voices heard at these levels also allow for them to have an impact on policies.  This influences such things as funding and curriculum development.  Advocacy could lead to the increase in funding for schools who lack the necessarily resources to properly educate their students.  As previously stated, African American students are more likely to attend schools that have fewer resources and less qualified teachers (Flores, 2007).  With more funding, the schools could provide more resources to students in order to facilitate their education, as well as hiring more qualified teachers.  More appropriate curriculum development could also be a result of advocacy.  Curricula could be developed that both focuses on the necessary material for students to succeed, but also to provide students with diverse skill sets that can prepare them for life after school.

Another strength of advocacy is that it can empower individuals and groups.  Wallerstein (1992) defines empowerment as “a social-action process that promotes participation of people, organizations, and communities towards the goals of increased individual and community control, political efficacy, improved quality of community life, and social justice.  This definition applies because making their complaints known to governing bodies and seeing their efforts come to fruition gives people a sense of control of their lives and the environment around them.  Parents will be able to feel as though they are better able to contribute to their children’s success and the students will feel empowered in an environment that is more tailored to their continued academic success.

With strengths, come weaknesses as well and the strategy of creating alternative settings has weaknesses that should be addressed.  One issue is that they are typically limited in the number of people they can serve (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  The best example of this in the education realm is charter schools.  To provide a specific example, the KIPP academies in Atlanta have been doing a good job with educating their students and their students tend to have scores that are higher than the national average in several categories.  There are six schools in Atlanta and they serve approximately 1600 students.  That number may seem large, but when you consider the metropolitan Atlanta area, you realize that this is a small minority of students that are receiving this service.  Many other charter schools also admit small numbers of students and when the number of students applying is larger than what they have space for, a lottery is held.  Unfortunately, this leaves a large number of students unable to receive this same quality education and this could be due to pure chance.

Another weakness is that the establishment of these kinds of settings may discourage the larger society from assuming responsibility and addressing this social issue (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000). Whether the larger society would even address the social problem, with or without alternative settings is another issue.  If parents attempt to hold schools accountable for the poor performances of their children, the response could easily be telling the parents that there are other schools to enroll their children.  Yet, as stated before, these alternative schools are limited in the number of students that they can accept.  So not only are a large number of students left out, but they are also within systems of the larger society that are less likely to address the issue or assume responsibility for it.

Another issue is the establishment of alternative settings takes away from the resources available that could be used to change the existing systems (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  This is a complaint that a lot of people have with charter schools. Some feel that charter schools are not guaranteed to be better than the regular public schools and that the funding that charter schools receive takes away from the funding of other schools that could be improved.  With this in mind, the alternative setting that is created should be an improvement over the other settings.

The strategy of advocacy comes with its own weaknesses as well.  One potential issue is the backlash and push back from opponents, which would make the path to enacting policy level change more difficult.  Opponents may feel as though the empowerment of other groups threatens their privilege.  A prominent example of this is affirmative action.  Affirmative action was meant to help increase the representation of minorities various realms such as education.  Opponents felt as though White student were being penalized and individuals with lower qualifications were being allowed into schools.

Another weakness is that the individuals or groups that are being advocated for may not the people who are empowered.  Checkoway (1995) states that some advocates empower themselves and not the communities they advocate for.  They may impose their personal values on the communities they serve and may even exclude community members from the process.  This can lead to issues of dependency because the community will be dependent upon the advocate.  With community psychologists being involved, the troublesome part would be to give up their power.  The community psychologist would have to share their power with both the students and parents; unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Critical Questions

When considering advocacy and alternative settings as viable intervention strategies, there are several critical questions that must be addressed.  Addressing these questions will better illustrate the utility of each of these intervention strategies.  For creating alternative settings for reducing the achievement gap, one question that is likely at the core is what constitutes an alternative setting.  The most obvious examples are charter schools.  Charter schools are relatively free to operate as they wish and they are not subject to the same regulations as regular public schools.  Other than charter schools, what other alternative education settings are there?  Answering this questions helps in also figuring the various shortcomings such as those highlighted by Cherniss and Deegan (2000).  If the alternative setting is a school, an issue that has to be addressed is the addition of new teachers after the initial stages.  Teachers who were there from the beginning would have to be responsible for socializing and training new teachers to using different approaches than those they may be used to in traditional settings.

Another question that has to be addressed is if the alternative settings are actually better than the traditional settings that they would replace.  One debate, especially with charter schools, is if they are actually better than traditional schools.  A problem with most alternative settings is that over time, they become more like the traditional settings that they attempt to replace.  With all of the outside opposition and external forces, any alternative setting would more likely to adapt in order to survey (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  Unfortunately, this would mean becoming more traditional, and in this case that would mean not being much better than the previous settings.

Also, would the alternative settings maintain their effectiveness while serving larger numbers of students?  One of the characteristics of alternative settings is that they tend to serve smaller numbers of individuals than traditional settings (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  What needs to be examined is whether these settings are more effective because of the limit on the number of individuals they serve or whether the setting is an improvement based on its own merit and not the number of people served.  Charter schools such as the KIPP academies and Urban Prep produce students who are academically successful, but they also serve a smaller number of students than other traditional schools.  One of the main issues is that urban schools face, especially those that are predominantly Black, is that there is an overabundance of overcrowded classrooms and a lack of teachers who are able to handle such situations.  There is a shared opinion that smaller classroom sizes lead to improved outcome students; but what if it is not necessarily small classroom sizes that are better, but the interaction between classroom size and teaching style? Maybe the reason that classroom size is a problem in most inner-city and urban schools is that teachers may not be able to properly adapt their teaching style to suit a larger classroom size.  The issue that alternative settings have to address is how to reach a larger number of students, while at the same time, maintaining a high level of effectiveness.

The other question in terms of alternative settings is whether the alternative setting is supposed to serve as an alternative or if it is supposed to be a model of what should be done.  There is no guarantee that if the setting serves as a model it will cause changes in traditional settings.  Even if it causes changes in traditional settings, this could be a problem as well.  Traditional school settings may incorporate aspects from the alternative settings into their system, which could lead to the alternative settings being less competitive (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  This leads to another question of whether these aspects are incorporated into traditional school settings as efficiently as they would be in an alternative settings.  If the aspects are incorporated as efficiently, then it would be a positive, but if they are ineffective then it may reflect badly upon the alternative settings.  Then there is also the issue if the traditional school setting is willing to amend itself to fit the needs of a given population.  If the traditional school setting is not willing to amend itself, then it does not really matter if the alternative aspects are implemented because they may be done so in a way that benefits African American students.

The use of advocacy also has questions that should be addressed.  One major question that has to be answered is: who is the advocate?  Is the advocate the community (students and parents), teachers and administrators, or is it an outside person (psychologist, professional)?  An issue that was brought up by Chekoway (1995) is that many advocates are not members of the communities that they serve and that they only push more minor modifications rather than fundamental system change.  This would relate to an earlier point raised when discussing the weaknesses of the program. Who is being empowered? If the community psychologist is the advocate then there are several areas that have to be addressed.

Community psychologists have to make sure that if they become involved in effort to enact policy change, they have to be sure to not contribute to the status quo or exacerbate the current issue.  Community psychologists have to also be knowledgeable about the fact that their research could have wide-reaching implications that can be seriously detrimental if not used properly.  With facing a multifaceted issue such as the achievement gap, community psychology as a field seems to be best equipped to tackle this issue.  Psychologists have to be aware of the different educational policies that have been enacted in the past.  Also important is the political-organizational context.  The current political climate is an issue because of the cuts of funding for various educational programs.  An example of an educational program that has been hurt by budget cuts is the McNair program.  Several programs throughout the country have lost their funding and have been forced to shut down.  This relates to the political leaning of the group that the community psychologist is advocating to (Wursten & Sales, 1988).  The group could either be one that approaches such an issue by evening the playing field by directing more resources to underfunded schools or they could be in favor of funding only the schools that perform well and leaving the other schools to wither away.  Considering all of these will allow the community psychologist to be a more effective advocate.

If parents or teachers are advocates then they have to be sure that the students have their voices heard as well. There is always the risk that parents and teachers can superimpose their own beliefs onto the advocacy efforts without much input from the students.  Then there is also the issue of parents and teachers clashing with one another because of their different points of view.  Obviously this would not be a good thing for the students for whom they are advocating.  If the students are advocating for themselves, then there has to someone who will facilitate the students’ advocacy and making sure that they learn the proper channels and the best ways to go about advocating for themselves.  At the same time, the person or people responsible for making sure students can advocate for themselves have to be careful that they do not impose their own beliefs on the students.

Another question that has to be addressed in terms of advocacy is determining the appropriate level at which advocacy efforts should be directed.  If the change is only desired at the level of the community, then advocating to the local school board may be enough.  If more widespread change is desired, then state or even national legislature may be need targeted in these efforts.  A very significant and impactful example of this is the case Brown vs. Board of Education.  The landmark Supreme Court case was the culmination of various protests and demonstration and it led to the desegregation of schools and other public spaces.  Determining the level of intervention would likely influence the specific strategies used for advocacy.

Finally, a question that should definitely be considered due to its relevance for both intervention strategies is whether the community is ready for the change.  There would not much point of implementing a strategy if the community is not behind it.  This is especially difficult when the strategy may be implemented by individuals outside of the community.  Jordan and colleagues (2001) discuss issues that Black psychologists face in their own communities due to the mistrust that Black communities have toward researchers and help professionals.  With such a history of abuse at the hands of scientist, this issue has even more importance.

Limitations

While these questions are important to consider, there are limitations in the existing literature that have be addressed in order to adequately answer these questions.  In terms of what constitutes an alternative setting, there seems to be a lack of consensus on both the nature of the construct and its definition.  While Cherniss and Deegan (2000) describe settings as existing on a continuum between the extremes of traditional and alternative, they do not go into enough specifics as to where an “alternative setting” falls on the continuum if it is embedded within a more traditional system.  It also says that alternative settings could also be alternative in different areas.  I believe that this could cause a great deal of confusion because with these stipulations in mind, many programs or settings could be considered alternative even if in practice they are not much different than settings that would be considered traditional.  There was also a description of several characteristics of alternative settings, but they were rather broad and seemed to only refer to surface characteristics that may not necessarily portray what makes them alternative.  With an area like education, it can be pretty difficult to properly define an alternative setting.  With the exception of charter schools, the criteria could be less clear in terms of defining what an alternative educational setting is.

Whether alternative settings can remain effective while serving a larger number of individuals is another area that has gaps.  While there have been studies that have examined how alternative settings have worked when applied to different places or population, there does not seem to be much that looks at the effectiveness of the settings whiles services more members of the same population.  This is an issue because the assumption that alternative settings are effective because of their smaller scope, while a valid assumption, needs to be validated by research.  Studies need to be conducted in order to make sure that there are no other variables at play besides the number of people served that impact the effectiveness.

Also, there is little mention of evidence showing that alternative settings are significantly better than the traditional settings.  A reason for could be the aforementioned issue of defining and operationalizing alternative settings.  While the idea of creating alternative settings seems very attractive, there has to be evidence that there is an improvement of outcomes.  In terms of charter schools, there have been mixed results in terms of judging their effectiveness as compared to regular public schools.  There also seems to be little research differentiating between programs that are intended to serve as alternatives and programs that are meant to serve as models for what is supposed to be done.  This differentiation is important because knowing what purpose the setting serves also influences how the setting is deemed a success or failure.

Other limitations arise when attempting to answer the question of who is the advocate.  While studies have identified the different kinds of individuals who could be advocates (community members, professionals, etc.) there has not been any research that identifies which of these individual is the best advocate or which advocate is most likely to attain positive outcomes for the group they represent.  While there is a bit on the pitfalls of outside individual advocates who advocate on the behalf of communities, there does not seem to be much that identifies whether these outside advocates are as good as people from the communities in question.  The final issue that should be addressed is at what level should there be advocacy.  While it is clear that advocacy could happen at various levels, but there is not much that identifies an appropriate level to intervene at or whether there is one appropriate level.  Phillips (2000) described how problems are defined differently and responded to differently based on the level of analysis, but there do not seem to be specific advocacy strategies for each level of analysis.  It should be expected that strategies that work at the microsystem or mesosystem levels are at least somewhat different than those that work at the macrosystem level, but those specific strategies should be identified.

Recommendations

The issues that were raised in the preceding section must be addressed in order to ensure the successful implementation of these prevention strategies.  Conyne (2010) outlines ten steps for establishing a prevention program and evaluating it.  Some of these steps will be useful in terms of addressing specific concerns that were raised.  The first step is to establish and maintain a team.  In this case, this would include recruiting teachers, administrators, and also other academics in order to help plan the program.  As stated in Cherniss and Deegan’s (2000) chapter, there has to be a socializing and training process that facilitates the staff learning techniques that are suitable for an alternative setting.  In terms of advocacy, there be should representatives from all interested parties included.  This addresses the issues of who are the advocates in that it allows collaboration between students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Step 2 is identifying a potential community issue.  While the social problem is the achievement gap, there are several different aspects of the gap that can be considered (testing scores, GPA, dropout rates, graduation rates, etc.).  However the problem is operationalized impacts the strategy that will be used to reduce the problem.  In terms of alternative settings, this would influence what kind of alternative setting would be used. The options could be a charter school or alternative school being created or established.  For advocacy, the definition of the problem could influence decision of what is the appropriate to intervene at.  Is this an issue that can be handled at the level of the local school or does it require policy change at the state or national level?

Step 3 would be to explore the professional literature.  This would include looking for literature in support of the effectiveness of alternative settings in area of education.  It would also help to search the literature for different definitions and operationalizations of alternative settings; doing so will allow the team to hopefully understand how to best operationalize alternative settings or creating a definition that best combines all of the others.  This may also help to find evidence for what makes alternative settings work and whether these factors are related to the number of people served or other unidentified variables.  For advocacy, conducting a literature search will also help to provide more evidence to present to the policy makers.  Step 4 would be developing a germinal, motivating idea.  This can be done by informal discussion, using idea-creating devices, or a combination of the two.

The next step would be to engage a stakeholder planning council.  The goal of this would be to expand the team to community stakeholders that can take part in planning a program or in this case, developing the alternative setting.  Because members may come from different segments of the community there are issues of power and privilege that will have to be addressed.  Care has to be taken to make sure that researchers, teachers, and administrators share their power with parents and students.  Specifically for students, many people in the group would believe they know what is best for students, but the students should have the freedom and space state their concerns and ideas for change.  This will help to ensure that the students are empowered in this process.

Step 6 is creating a shared vision and mission.  At the minimum, the vision and mission should be related to ensuring the academic success of African American students.  The vision would answer the question of what planning council wants to and the mission would answer the question of why it exists.  Step 7 is stimulating community readiness.  This would address the question stated earlier of whether the community would be ready or receptive to change.  Wolff (2001) discusses dimensions that are important for the success of building coalitions.  Community readiness was one of those dimensions and while it was referring to building coalitions, the concept applies due to individuals from different sectors coming together.  The education system has long been an instrument of oppression against African Americans.  Because of this, it could be much more difficult to bring individuals together for the same goal.  The Black community has to be willing to trust that representative from the school system will work alongside for the best interest of their students.  On the other hand, teachers and administrators have to be willing to admit that there is something that they can do different and identify other factors that influence the success of students.

Step 8 is assessment: a local ecological and literature review assessment.  The literature review assessment is more rigorous than the literature review in the beginning steps.  An ecological assessment is particularly important when there are issues poverty, race, and class that are involved.  The information that could be gathered from the assessment could include graduation rates, dropout rates, and educational attainment of parents.  Other information that could be acquired would the resources present within the schools and also the funding that the schools receive and how the money is spent.  Whatever the information reveals will inform the particular intervention strategy that will be used.

Steps 9 and 10 involved the implementation and evaluation of the intervention.  These two steps would likely be more appropriate for creating alternative settings but they apply to advocacy as well.  Step 9 is designing the program plan.  The problem that would be addressed is the achievement gap.  Possible objectives for reducing the gap would be to increase graduation rates, increase standardized test scores, or increasing the resources provided to African American students.  An activity within the strategy for creating the alternative setting would be the hiring of qualified teachers who have experience in working successfully with minority populations; an activity for advocacy would be preparation of policy briefs that could be disseminated to various policy makers.

The final step, Step 10, is the evaluation of the program.  A process evaluation would be done order to monitor program implementation and to make sure that the program runs effectively.  Information that could gather would be whether the curriculum within the school is culturally relevant or fit the students receiving the instruction.  Does the alternative setting/program take into consideration the context that the students are coming from?  That is another question that would be answered in a process evaluation.  An outcome evaluation would determine whether the program worked and if certain criteria were met.  Academic outcomes should be gathered from the alternative setting and then compared with outcomes from regular public schools in order to determine if the setting is an improvement over traditional settings.  The outcomes should also be compared to national averages in order to determine if there is a reduction in the achievement gap.  There should also information as to whether the students received the proper resources that facilitate academic success.  Another question would have to be answered in the evaluation is whether the program is transferable.  This would require the program to be implemented in multiple areas.  If the program is shown to be effective and transferable, then that would possibly be good enough evidence to warrant the program/setting spreading.  The spreading of alternative educational settings would facilitate in ensuring that a larger number of students receive this service.

These ten steps addressed several critical questions that impact the feasibility of these two intervention strategies.  Whatever strategy is used, either strategy would be a step in the right direction in terms of reducing the achievement gap for African American students.  It is likely that because the achievement gap is such a complex issue, both strategies may be needed.  Alternative settings have to be created in order to provide settings that would be more supportive for African American students and advocacy may need to be used in order to influence policy makers to make changes to the current education system in order to ensure that ALL students have an equal chance at academic success.

 

References

Checkoway, B. (1995). Six strategies of community change. Community Development Journal, 30, 2 – 20.

Chernis, C. & Deegan, G. (2000). The creation of alternative settings. In J. Rappaport & E. Seidman (Eds.), Handbook of Community Psychology (pp. 359 – 377).  New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

Conyne, R. K. (2010). Designing the prevention program and evaluation plan: Steps 9 – 10. In Conyne, R. K. (Ed.), Prevention program development and evaluation (pp. 117 – 130). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Conyne, R. K. (2010). Laying the groundwork for community collaboration, and cultural relevance processes: Steps 1-8. In Conyne, R. K. (Ed.), Prevention program development and evaluation (pp. 97 – 116).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Flores, A.  (2007). “Examining disparities in mathematics education: Achievement gap or opportunity gap?”  The High School Journal, 29 – 42.

Howard, T. C.  (2003).  “A tug of war for our minds” African American high school students’ perceptions of their academic identities and college aspirations.  The High School Journal, 87, 4 – 17.

Jordan, L. C., Bogat, G. A., & Smith, G. (2001). Collaborating for social change: the Black psychologists and the Black community. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 599 – 620.

Mickelson, R. A.  (1990). “The attitude-achievement paradox among Black adolescents.”  Sociology of Education, 63, 44 – 61.

Ross, C. E. & Wu, C.  (1995).  The links between education and health.  American Sociological Review, 60 (5), 719 – 745.

Teale, W. H., Paciga, K. A., & Hoffman, J. L.  (2007). Beginning reading instruction in urban schools: The curriculum gap ensures a continuing achievement gap.  The Reading Teacher, 61, 344 – 348.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education. (2010). Yes we can: The Schott 50 state report on public education and Black males. Cambridge, MA: The Schott Foundation for Public Education.

Wallerstein, N. (1992). Powerlessness, empowerment, and health: Implications for health promotion programs. American Journal of Health Promotion, 6, 197 – 205.

Wolff, R. (2001). A practitioner’s guide to successful coalitions. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 173 – 191.

Wurstein, A. & Sales, B. (1988). Community psychologists in state legislative decision making.  American Journal of Community Psychology, 16, 487 – 502.

Being Black in Grad School

It is really hard. You think you are prepared for it, until you actually experience it. In many ways, it is difficult to put into adequate words, but I will try. The best way to explain it is as a constant paradox of feeling both under scrutiny and invisible. You feel under scrutiny because you are visually different than most people around you. A lot of times I find myself as the Black face in a crowd and even at 25 this is still a discomforting experience. It is things like going to social events and having people come up to you and touch your hair without permission, examining it as if it were some kind of specimen from another world. A sense of bewilderment and awe at how someone’s hair could possibly look the way mine does. Additionally, there is the uncomfortable position of feeling kind of violated but being afraid of making a scene to express your discomfort of such things for fear of being labeled the angry Black man. Or it’s having your friend tell you that one of his colleagues is uncomfortable and afraid of African Americans. It is always fighting that imposter syndrome mixed with its own flavor of stereotype threat. Always being afraid of seeming not as intelligent as your White peers. It is always wondering if the people you are friendly with genuinely like you or if you’re just another background character in the story of their path to racial enlightenment. The Black friend. It’s meeting a friend’s family and having them try to dap you up instead of the handshakes that they gave to everyone else. Or being told that kids would relate to me because they would like my hair. It is feeling different, looking different, and always getting reminders of difference. It can create a completely different kind of social environment that highlights your difference.

Then there is the invisibility. The feeling of seeing so many of your peers get so many opportunities to publish and work on different projects with faculty and being left wondering what is it about you that precludes you from receiving those same opportunities. You come to realize that it may be due to the fact that there are so few Black people around and that there aren’t enough of you work together to have the same level of productivity that White students have because there are so many more of them to work with each other. This is also probably related to the fact that many of us study issues related to Black people. There is the ubiquitous first day introductions in which everyone talks about their research interests. Everyone else gets follow-up questions about their topics. “My name is Dominique Thomas and I study how parents talk to their children about race and how those messages influence academic outcomes” usually gets met with a blank stare and some variation of “ok cool” or “that’s interesting.” Happens at social functions too. The implicit message that your work doesn’t really matter that much. There’s going to bi-weekly brown bags with periodic guest speakers and none of them being Black during the 5 years you’ve been there. There’s disappearing of Black faculty because they realize that their efforts will not be awarded with tenure. There’s going to a national conferences, applying for a mentoring program, asking if there are African American mentors, and then being told to not “segregate yourself.” The endless stories of some Black person who finds new life as the latest #hashtag because they met a premature death at the hands of a police officer. The things that affect you in a different way than your other classmates because you are all too aware of the reality that it could have easily been you.

It’s feeling lost in the shuffle. Feeling marginalized, forgotten about, and invisible. It’s a constant of wondering what’s just your perception or what’s reality. Weighing whether to confront someone about a racist thing they said. Picking which fights are worth fighting. Which things are worth speaking out about. Whether to put yourself out there for fear of repercussions when you are already fighting an uphill battle. It’s tiring, exhausting, painful, and lonely. But you do it because people are relying on you. Your family. Your community. You’re driven by some greater purpose probably. You probably realize that your struggles will probably make it easier for the person behind you. Make some kind of positive difference in your community. Whatever the reason, keep doing it. Surely all this is worth it. I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to keep studying my “Black shit” and do it very well.

Why Are They All Sidekicks? Black Representation in Superhero Films

 

As everyone is well aware, we are in the midst of a superhero boom period. The comic book superhero genre is probably as popular as it has been in decades. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a blockbuster behemoth that has made over $9 billion worldwide since 2008 as well as a producer of quality television on both ABC and Netflix. DC comics has followed suit, attempting to recreate the magic that Marvel made seem effortless. Yet, just as with every other genre of entertainment, the comic book/superhero genre has had an issue with representation of Black people. Unfortunately, there has been a relative consistent trend of portraying Black characters as either non-superhero supportive characters or superheroes who may not necessarily be at the rank of sidekick, but tend to mostly play informal sidekicks to White superheroes. Most of my discussion will be revolving around film adaptations during the last decade or so, but will also refer to materials from this comics to play these portrayals into the broader historical contexts of the characters.

Storm (X-Men Franchise)

The first character I will talk about is Storm from the X-Men franchise. Storm has long been a fan favorite. Blessed with the ability to control the weather, worshipped by some as a goddess, and one of the longest tenured X-Men, she is a force to be reckoned with. Even with all this, Storm has never seemed to truly shine on her own accord in many instances. In Uncanny X-Men #201, she beat Cyclops in a duel for leadership of the X-Men. Rather than set-up Storm as a formidable leader more than capable of heading the X-Men, much of the issue was spent positioning Cyclops as someone who just didn’t have it anymore and was consistently distracted by marital problems and insecurities. It’s unfortunate because the actual fight in the comic was a rather impressive display of Storm’s non-superpowered skills. Then, there is her portrayals in the X-Men movies. Storm in the films lacked any major character development throughout the series and was just another character neutered for the sake of positioning Wolverine as the focal character. There was a significant lack of gravitas to her character in the films, particularly when compared to her comic book and animated TV counterparts. X-Men: Apocalypse may end up having the best film depiction of Storm, but she is still positioned as subservient to another character as one the four horsemen of Apocalypse, the titular character.

Falcon/Sam Wilson (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

Sam Wilson was introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a former soldier who was a part of military program that resulted in his signature wings. A comparably better origin than his comic counterpart, who was a former pimp. Progress. Yet, as with his comic counterpart, Sam Wilson is certainly shown as a sidekick type character to Captain America. This relationship is further cemented in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see Sam Wilson for only 1 scene and we find out that during the time of the movie, he is tracking down Captain America’s once-believed-dead friend Bucky Barnes (a.k.a. The Winter Soldier). In Ant-Man, Falcon makes another appearance as the lone Avenger left to guard the headquarters. There is a physical confrontation between Falcon and Ant-Man, who is attempting to break into the Avengers facility to steal an item. Ant-Man gets the better of Falcon by shrinking and then disabling Falcon’s wings from the inside. Ant-Man proceeds to escape with the item, while the scene ends with Falcon reporting what has just occurred asking the person on the other end to not tell Captain America what happened. In true sidekick fashion. To those who may hold out hope for Sam Wilson due to the fact his comic book counterpart has taken over the mantle of Captain America, I would not get too excited about that. Captain America’s long lost friend Bucky Barnes once took on the mantle of Captain America and I see that likely to repeat itself in the film.

Lucius Fox (The Dark Knight Trilogy)

Lucius Fox is the character who gives Batman most of his toys and gadgets, other than that, we do not know much about him. We at least know that Batman trusts him, given that he knows his secret identity and that Bruce Wayne trusted him with some level of control in Wayne Enterprises. Morgan Freeman is wasted in this series. You can give him so much more than “guy who gives Batman stuff.”

Others

There are more examples of similar things happening to other Black characters in these movies. James Rhodes (War Machine) is always positioned as Iron Man’s sidekick coming to aid Iron Man when a task is too much. Heimdall is a servant of Thor’s Asgard as their guardian/gatekeeper, providing aid to Thor in times of need. Nick Fury is mostly portrayed as a behind the scenes character who will appear when one of the other heroes (likely Captain America or Iron Man) needs a good pep talk. We are never seen as truly running the show, always as background characters or the help.

Progress and Importance

Maybe given what is happening recently in comic books, the movies will be begin to follow suit. As mentioned before, Sam Wilson has taken on the mantle of Captain America, leading his own solo series. Marvel killed off Peter Parker in their Ultimate Comics and replaced him with Miles Morales, a Black Hispanic teenager. Miles Morales has since been positioned by Marvel comics as the main Spiderman, supplanting Peter Parker. Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing the new Black Panther comic coming out this year. The Black Panther makes his first cinematic appearance in Captain America: Civil War and will headline his own film in 2018’s Black Panther. Given Black Panther’s status as one of the first Black superheroes in comics as well as his demonstrated lack of deference to or dependence on the other main comic book heroes, this could be the start of more nuanced and impact portrayals of Black people in comic books movies.

These things are important not only because superheroes are very popular today, but because of the messages that are sent and the values that may be socialized through these movies. When Black characters are consistently shown as background characters or as sidekicks to a White superhero, it sends a message to the young Black children who likely watch these movies. It sends the message that no matter what heights they aspire to and achieve, they will always be second. Never first. When our superheroes are always secondary and subservient to others, what does that say about us mere mortals?

New Year, New Start

This year is going be different, hopefully that is a good thing. For one thing, I’m starting in a new research lab this semester after switching advisors. Things are looking good so far and I think this will be a significant improvement from the previous situation I was in, a none too healthy one. I look forward to a lot of positives and hopefully graduating within the next year and a half. I’m teaching again this semester as well. This first class was this week and I think I have a good group of students this time around. I’m hoping to learn from some of my mistakes last semester and improve my teaching this semester. This year is going to be a period of growth and looking forward. I’m nearing the end of this PhD program and I have to start putting more thought into what I’m going to do after this and how I can best prepare for myself for that next step. This is going to be an interesting year.