Since the abolition of slavery, no school board in the nation has ever implemented a curriculum to explain or teach the reasons why slavery was abolished. The same happens with women’s suffrage, labor rights, the civil rights act, women’s and LGBT rights.
Thresholds of change has been crossed and public policies have been enacted without an intentional educational curriculum in place to address the ideological element. This has caused an unchecked growth of these ideologies within the cultural fabric of the nation. This website has the intention of proposing the idea of designing a mandatory curriculum that addresses the history and sociology of all inequalities in every intersectionality in society.
I grew up in the context of conservative Christianity. Homophobia, misogyny and other ideologies of hate were indirectly programmed into my system of thought. Another level of programming came from the context of colonialism and imperialism. As a Puerto Rican, the syndrome of the colonized mind was very evident and pervasive in every aspect of life.
It was through education that my process of decolonization began to unfold. And I was finally able to challenge the absolutes that for centuries were considered the main cultural frameworks of my society. When it comes to transformative and liberational education, I believe that the process of illustration is the most transcendent and important aspect.
It is through illustration that citizens are able to do a healthy interpretation of the social, political and economic realities of society. The U.S has been a market oriented society for a long time. Therefore, our education is also market oriented. People are formed and educated to become employees and not critical thinking beings.
And so in order to address this systemic lack of illustration, a systematic and intentional change has to take place. My intent with this website is to present the idea of how this change could be viable and doable. The primary premise is that a mandatory school curriculum that addresses the history and sociology of all inequalities, in every intersectionality, can lower and reduce the proliferation of ideologies of hate.
Looking at the growth of hate groups and the “epidemia” of mass shootings and other acts of hate. We can conclude that there is a need to address these ideologies as a public health issue because it affects the well being and security of everyone in society.
Racism, Inequalities & Mental Health.
by Samuel Paunetto & Leia Lawrence – Wichita State University – School of Social Work
For black and brown people, daily experiences with systemic racism and hate are too many to enumerate. We are motivated to explore how white racial ideology and its effect on identity formation threaten mental health because our personal and professional ethics compel us to stand against this oppression. At its most basic level, white racial ideology is the tool used to justify and perpetuate oppression against black and brown bodies for the sake of amassing wealth and privilege invulnerable to redistribution. By tracking key intersections of the anti-oppression movement with mental health theory, research, and initiatives, we hope to lay the groundwork for recommending essential pre-service social worker training curriculum.
The anti-oppression umbrella: Basic assumptions and concepts
Anti-oppression perspective says the central tasks for those promoting well-being within oppressive environments is the illumination and deconstruction of those forces which promote and maintain inequity (Dominelli, 2002). Awareness of oppression and its root causes, linked with the drive to transform it within a wider resistance movement are foundational principles informing empowerment practice (Gutierrez & Lewis, 1999). This kind of critical race consciousness becomes the “diagnostic tool” (Bell, 2016, p. 111) necessary for revealing the often hidden root causes (Friere, 2000; Leonardo, 2013; Bonilla-Silva, 2018).
Diagnosis: Understanding the data through theoretical concepts of identity.
However, this is a complicated task within any oppressive system. White racial ideology, as sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2018) describes, is an ever-evolving strategy designed to enforce white supremacy as social and cultural realities change. It develops out of intimate socialization processes, affects identity and sense of meaning, becomes the impetus for continued inequality, and is largely unconscious for most. As an activist friend noted, “It is the very air we breathe.” It manifests at all levels: intra-personal, inter-personal, institutional, and cultural or systemic. Within each of these levels, racism entitles white people to powerfully affect personal and collective identity for the sake of maintaining white power. The most visible manifestations of this are called oppressive power (Miller Shearer, T., Shands Stoltzfus, R., de Leon-Hartshorn, I., 2001).
Within the mental health system, social workers may have an easier time noticing oppressive power. It shows up for people of color as symptoms like depression, anxiety, exhaustion, PTSD, grief, violence, low self-esteem, isolation, conflict, rage, and death (Horton, 2017; Ong, Burrow, Fuller-Rowell, Ja, & Sue, 2013; Nadal, Griffin, Wong, Hamit, & Rasmus, 2014; Sue, Capodilupo, & Holder, 2008). The daily experience of discrimination, as illuminated by a recent APA (2016) survey, is much more common for people of color than for white people and contributes to poorer health outcomes and significantly higher levels of stress (APA, 2016).
Steeped in this data, the World Health Organization has twice since the 1980s published resolutions calling for greater attention and prioritization of health problems related to racism (Muscat, Paget, & McKee, 2017). A 2018 World Congress on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health representing fifty countries produced what they titled the Edinburgh Declaration (2018) stating, “Racism, xenophobia and prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and exploitation damages the mental and physical health of individuals and groups, both minorities and majorities alike.”
Much harder to see is the massive iceberg under the water—identity power at the base of it all, holding white power at the center. This power to affect identity enables the rest. The “unearned privileges, access to institutional power and invisible advantages based upon race” confirm the messages of superiority white people receive and internalize. These messages are communicated and accumulate over many generations and infuse the contemporary ecosystem (The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, n.d.). Thus, internalized racial superiority (IRS) becomes one of the main barriers to racial justice and greater well-being for people of color. A necessary complement, internalized racial inferiority (IRO) is “the acceptance of and acting out of an inferior definition of self, given by the oppressor” which over time “expresses itself in self-defeating behaviors” (The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, n.d.). Liberation from this internal oppression, standing against dominant white socializing forces, is another essential tactic for advancing well-being.
Within an indigenous worldview, healthy human identity emerges from the balanced interconnection between the body, mind, spirit, and context (Hodge, Limb, & Cross, 2009). Similar indigenous models of self may shuffle the concepts around and give emotion its own domain (Solanto, 2013; Jeffries-Logan, Goodwyn, & Rosado, **). What they share in common, however, is the notion that imbalance in one area creates imbalance in all others, reaching to the very core of the psyche. Racism and its accompanying white racial ideology, as it is expressed through wide ranging systems of oppression (i.e. imperialism, colonialism, and neoliberalism), are responsible for an assault on the total person (emotions, body, social connections, mind, and spirit) which depletes resources critical for maintaining well-being.
Contemporary scholars describe the forms through which this oppression is mediated as micro and macro aggression (Sue et al., 2019). While it is beyond the scope of this paper to define and explore these concepts, they are important to the field of anti-oppression understanding and have been deeply analyzed. The style of these aggressions depends on the context within which they manifest (Bonilla-Silva, 2018). Added to these real-time assaults, insults, and invalidations are often the physical and psychological impact of intergenerational trauma (Solanto, 2013).
Treatment: The path laid out by mental health practitioners, past and present.
We are not the first to ask ourselves, “What can be done?” From an anti-oppression perspective, addressing the harm racism inflicts on people of color requires both internal and external work. It requires dealing with the emotional realities of either succumbing to or resisting white racial ideology. It also requires action aimed at ending the oppression and establishing equity. (Sue et al., 2019)
Franz Fanon: Liberation through the decolonized mind
We look to Dr. Franz Fanon for some of the earliest formal work done in this field. At the time, “Psychologists employed personality tests to identify prejudiced people, with the hope of understanding how to treat them with psychotherapy, under the assumption that ‘if the problem, like a cancerous tumor, can be identified and removed or treated, the problem will be contained, and the rest of the system will be healthy’” (Hayasaki, 2018, p. 6). Fanon, however, wasn’t concerned with the health of the colonizer. He was focused instead on liberating the mind and body of the colonized. Fanon’s theories also ran counter to dominant Enlightenment narratives that pathologized the individual and ignored the contextual forces playing upon individuals. Fanon sought to address the internal dynamics by overturning the external systems responsible for initiating the violence and oppression.
To better understand what this meant for Fanon, one must understand his context. Born in Martinique, at the time a French colony, and later trained as a psychiatrist in France, Fanon was able to see first-hand the psychological consequences of imperialism and colonialism. Most of his work was done in Algeria during the 1950s while the country was fighting for its political independence. Scholars examining these systems note that colonialism has given rise to some of the most complex and traumatic human relationships in history (Loomba, 2005). Surrounded by this trauma, Fanon believed the battleground extended to his mind, his very soul–a colonized space, subjected to the aggressions of racism and colonization, in need of liberation through decolonization. As such, his theories are driven by the topics of diversity, oppression, and human rights. Through his clinical work and personal journey of resistance, he developed a theory of the colonized mind and psychology of decolonization.
The theory of the colonized mind, Volpato (2010) writes, was Fanon’s way of understanding “the psychological consequences of colonialism, especially the dynamics of internalization of self-depreciating identities among the colonized” (p. 7). Fanon explained colonialism as a systemic negation of the other, negating the colonized of all the attributes of humanity. The colonized, as a result, enters a state of identity crisis. This interior focus on identity stemmed from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. While explicitly influenced by Freud, Fanon rejected his notion of a universal psychosexual origin determining human behavior, instead believing that the behavior of colonized people is determined primarily by political context (Sikuade, 2012). Also influential was Germaine Guex, a psychoanalyst who developed the abandoned neurosis theory. Through this lens, Fanon understood Algerians as the abandoned child, rejected by the French, who were also rejecting their own black identity. Fanon described Algerian patients who would see their doctors, presenting physical symptoms that were not there. What really hurt, Fanon believed, were their souls–in turmoil from all the pain inflicted by
colonialism (Fanon, 1961).
Recent studies expand on the topic of colonialism and collective psychological trauma. Volpato (2010) elaborates with the following:
“Parallel research is being conducted about immigrants originating from former colonies. Studies on the mental health effects of the colonial mentality of Filipino immigrants in the United States show that colonial mentality is negatively correlated with ethnic identification and individual and collective self-esteem, and positively correlated with cultural shame, assimilation, and depression. Other studies, using the semantic priming or Implicit Association Test paradigms, show that cognitions linked with colonial mentality can operate automatically, independently of conscious control” (p. 8).
Fanon’s proposal of the use of violence as the essential tool of decolonization and for the colonized to regain mental health is the most criticized part of his theory. At the end of his field studies in Algeria, Fanon took to the revolution’s war front with a rifle. He justified this in his final publication, The Wretched of the Earth (1965):
“Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. The “thing” which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself. “The last shall be first and the first last.” Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence. The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists” (p. 28).
Fanon argues that the hypocrisy of popular opinion in regard to the use of violence and self-determination reveals that when violence is used by the white colonizer, it is seen as valid and necessary; but when is used by the colonized, it is viewed as savage and terrorist in nature. Fanon made many contributions to clinical mental health treatment. During his time in Algeria, Fanon implemented group therapy and day hospitalization. Fanon proposed practices and ideas that were new at the time, like encouraging patients to have a choice in their treatment planning. He introduced culturally sensitive and relevant treatment standards. Sikuade (2012) writes, “He started a ward-based newspaper, formed a soccer team, desegregated wards and held psychodrama and psychoanalytic sessions. He emphasized the social inclusion of patients into society, by urging participation in culturally relevant vocational activities” (p. 28). He also helped lay the groundwork for a more contextual way of approaching mental health that would catch on in the decade following his death. The introduction of ecosystems theory emphasizing person-in-environment in the 1970s helped the rest of the psychological and social service community catch up to Fanon.
Fanon’s theories have been corroborated by modern scholars in the United Kingdom. Sikuade (2012) points to three important examples: Chakraborty & McKenzie (2002) suggest that cross-sectional research links perceived racial discrimination with psychosis and depression. Bhugra & Ayonrinde (2001b) have established the idea that racism is likely to act as a chronic stressor and that chronic racism may precipitate psychiatric disorders. Other research suggests that the evidence regarding the Black incidence rate of schizophrenia is shifting in favor of ‘factors of racism and social alienation experienced by Black people in the UK’ (Hickling 2005: p.256). (p.29) This deepens the research on mental health for people of color, giving further evidence that racism is a very real causal factor.
Equipping liberation today: Micro Intervention practice in an anti-oppression framework
Like Fanon, scholars, activists, and practitioners today are trying to recruit more into the fight against oppression–widening the scope beyond targets to include allies and bystanders. The primary goal is not just to overturn systems and climates of oppression, but to do so in a way that improves the internal well-being of the people targeted by these forces. The internal and external agendas are inextricably linked. We look to one particular study on micro intervention to illuminate a contemporary anti-oppression strategy which embeds this dual mission in its structure. Published in American Psychologist in a special issue on racial trauma, authors Sue, Alsaidi, Awad, Glaeser, Calle, and Mendez (2019) present a strategic framework for microaggression intervention (microintervention) distilled through a “monumental” review of anti-racist activist reporting (p.134). Microinterventions are the “everyday words or deeds, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate to targets of microaggressions (a) validation of their experiential reality, (b) value as a person, (c) affirmation of their racial or group identity, (d) support and encouragement, and (e) reassurance that they are not alone” (p. 134). They function to “enhance psychological well-being, and provide targets, allies, and bystanders with a sense of control and self-efficacy” (p. 134). They also “provide a repertoire of responses that can be used to directly disarm or counteract the effects of microaggressions by challenging perpetrators” (p. 134).
These researchers found embedded within this repertoire four primary goals: “(a) make the invisible visible, (b) disarm the microaggression, (c) educate the perpetrator, and (d) seek external reinforcement or support” (p. 128). Arming targets, regularly subjected to intentional and unintentional expressions of racism, with clear and concrete response strategies does the following, according to Sue et al. (2019):
…provide[s] targets with the tools to be brave in the face of adversity and to feel dignified, leading to an increased sense of self-worth. [Response strategies] also provide targets with the ability to dispel racist attitudes of perpetrators through educational and action-oriented approaches, leading to a greater sense of self-efficacy. (p. 132)
This emphasis on action intentionally broadens the repertoire of target response strategies most researched from race-related stress coping, which includes emotional survival and self-care–intrinsically a reactive, defensive posture–to a more proactive stance that seeks to “eliminate the source of future acts of bias” (Sue et al., 2019, p. 132). We hear echoes of Fanon here. Pacifist echoes, but echoes nonetheless. Both are “target[ing] the cause of the distress” (Sue et al., p. 129). In fact, these authors use rather military-esque language when describing their mandate—“to begin the process of disarming, disrupting, and dismantling the constant onslaught” (p. 131).
As already alluded to, Sue et al consider allies and bystanders important parts of the liberation equation. People of color benefit when these individuals are better equipped. Often disconnected from the action wisdom of the anti-oppression movement, allies and bystanders might find themselves morally offended by racism (when recognized) but unsure how to act. Add to this barriers like “[d]iffusion of responsibility, fear of retaliation, fear of losing friends, not wanting to get involved, and other anticipated negative consequences” (Sue et al., 2019, p. 133; Latane & Darley, 1970; Scully, 2005), and the roots of inaction so common in our contemporary colorblind, white supremacist society are exposed, at least partially. However, Sue et al. point to research on bystander action that suggests their framework could be an essential ingredient in motivating broader societal action for racial justice (Scully & Rowe, 2009). We will refer to this research in more detail later as a guide for our own action proposal.
Social Work Application
Within the contemporary U.S. colorblind milieu, social workers will be partnering with clients processing racial microaggressions and macroaggressions, along with the bio-psycho-social-cultural-spiritual fallout evidenced at the level of visible oppression. How do we respond? In the discussion following, we imagine one way an anti-oppression, decolonizing, micro intervention framework might be applied within social work. Relevance to social work values As evidenced above, racism and other ideologies of hate, like colonialism, create and compound mental health challenges for people of color. Social workers are obligated by their ethical mandates outlined by the National Association of Social Workers to consider how this affects the individuals and communities in which they serve. This will necessarily affect assessment, partnership, and treatment. They must also consider how these forces affect themselves and their ability to meaningfully serve, fight for social justice, promote the dignity and worth of others, strengthen human relationships, and embody integrity and competence. While we social workers are driven by our professional mandate to be competent advocates for social justice and amplify the dignity and worth of all, white racial ideology functions to undermine our capacity, hiding its very role through the discursive frames and institutional policies that put identity power in the hands of a very small group of powerful white male elites and the leagues of white people who benefit from their superior designation (Bonilla-Silva, 2018; Feagin & Ducey, 2017).
Insights and application of theories into practice
The constellation of concepts illuminating how identity is linked with power and affects our wellbeing are foundational for social workers promoting individual and social health. As such, Fanon’s theories are critical to social work practice because they help us critically examine how systems of oppressive power have affected how we understand our place in the world, create meaning, and act. Some consider this place of identity, meaning, and motivation to act the essence of a person’s spirit (Solanto, 2013). These theories and concepts, then, shed light on the psychological and spiritual urgency of liberation. Studies on the intersections between racism and mental health should be a required component of preservice training within the mental health sciences as a way of helping social workers develop their cultural competencies. Anti-oppression practices aimed at dismantling systems of oppression by equipping individuals to liberate their identities and respond to injustice help social workers satisfy their ethical mandates with more integrity. Micro Intervention strategy, like the framework presented by Sue et al. are designed explicitly to do this in a contemporary context. They note research by Scully and Rowe (2009) on bystander action that uncovers four keys to overcoming inaction:
(a) the ability to recognize acceptable and unacceptable behaviors,
(b) the positive benefits that accrue to the target, perpetrator, bystander, and organization through taking action,
(c) providing a toolkit for active bystander interventions, and
(d) the use of bystander training and rehearsal (Sue et al., 2019, p. 133).
We believe that these keys to empowerment can direct the agenda and resourcing within social worker training.
Possible practice engagement
We think that, on the educational discussion of how people understand and process the topic of racism and systemic inequalities, there is a challenge with the process of illustration. We believe that the process of illustration is the most transcendent aspect of education. Illustration comes from attaining erudition in the “illustrative disciplines,” also known as the social sciences, the studies in humanities and the arts. As explained by Bullough (2006), it is through the understanding of these studies in humanities that citizens can do a healthy interpretation of the social, political and economic realities of society. Sadly, these illustrative disciplines have been placed on the backside of our educational priorities because they don’t represent the interests of the production and consumer-oriented system that we have in place. Looking at the growth of hate groups and the proliferation of mass shootings and other acts of hate, we can conclude that there is a need to address these ideologies as a public health issue, as explained by Hagopian (2018), because it affects the wellbeing and security of everyone in society. The NASW Code of Ethics clearly states that social justice is one of the main pillars of social work. It is the responsibility of every social worker to actively identify systems of injustice and advocate for their systemic transformation. Therefore, as social workers we have the responsibility of researching and advocating for a solution.
We find this paper to be of great relevance to social work. We agreed on expanding on this topic at the academic level within our MSW program at WSU. Developing a mandatory course, or at least integrating the content of this paper into one of the cultural competency classes, would be a great way to start including this content as a requirement for finishing the MSW. The attention we give to theory and application in this paper reflect our common drive to liberate ourselves and others from the devastating constraints of white supremacy. We share a particular interest in using education to illuminate unjust power and inspire social change.
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Articles and Journals.
- On the Prevalence of Racial Discrimination in the United States.
- The New Racism of K-12 Schools.
- Adopting an Anti-Racism Public Health Curriculum Competency: The University of Washington Experience.
- Race, Ethnicity and Immigration.
- Teaching Tolerance: Classroom Resources.
- Decolonize your Syllabus.
- Historical Roots of Inequality.
- Growing Apart: History of American Inequality.
- Systematic Inequality.
- Equal Justice Initiative.
- Teaching Hard History
Videos and Media Content.
Facts on Racism and Social Disparity.