Sexual Predation in the Workplace

Recently, we have been talking about surviving sexual predation. Because prevention is quite crucial, it is critical for not only the target but the would-be assailant to monitor their behaviors.

In the post #MeToo era, reports show that more men have become afraid of working women, especially alone or in close quarters. However, certain men can take this opportunity to get creative with their ways of relating to women, instead of feeling indicted for being a man.

Creativity is how you combat rape culture.

What is rape culture?

Rape culture is “an environment where sexual assault is normalized and excused in media and popular culture.”  An example of this could be one individual telling another person that they wouldn’t engage with or do a favor for a person unless there was sex involved. Another is pressuring partygoers to drink to release inhibitions, or only promoting employees that you deem sexually attractive while demeaning everyone else. 

One of the more tragic aspects of rape culture is the silence and shaming that both men and women perpetrate against victims who dare to speak up. You may hear things like, “What took her so long?” or “She’s just trying to ruin his life,” or “He just couldn’t handle her, that’s all.” 

Mothers may look away from the children who are being assaulted by a family member. This behavior is a bid to save herself. Employees are often forced to quit because of a hostile environment. This lack of support increases the likelihood of revictimization of the target later on. 

So how do we get creative in our interactions with others? Women often find that there is a premium placed on their level of attractiveness, as perceived by hiring managers, friends, potential suitors, and even the guy who can help her in aisle 5. Her beauty or lack thereof can be a boon or a bane, and it seems there is nothing she can do about it.

Some tips for a healthy workplace

  • If you are a hiring manager, be sure to look at all candidates’ qualifications. 
  • Understand that no one is “asking for it.
  • Look them in the eye. 
  • Ask what their hobbies are and listen actively. 
  • When your new hire begins, do not request that he or she change their style of dress just because you are not attracted to or “agree” with it. If the new hire is doing their job and conforming to the dress code, there is no need for further discussion.
  • Do not make comments about sexual trysts, preferences, or expectations.
  • Honor others’ personal space — this includes personal effects and time spent at the office.
  • Promotions should be meritorious and can triangulate employees when sex is involved.

Taking Steps to Prevent Sexual Assault

In recent months, reports regarding sexual assault allegations involving Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and others have surfaced. While all of the names mentioned are relatively high-profile, the tactics these individuals used to corner their targets are deployable by anyone. It is critical to not live in a state of fear but in a state of awareness. As we delve further into the topic of sexual assault, let’s look at some strategies to avoid being a mark.

Follow your intuition

“Practice listening to your intuition, your inner voice…These intuitive powers were given to your soul at birth.” 

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

We are often erroneously encouraged to put ourselves in danger to prove that we are capable of handling crises. This approach is often akin to drinking cyanide to prove that it can kill you. You already have the information that the circumstances are dangerous; there is no need to prove anything else. Trust that you are smart enough to know the answers.

Survey your circles

Maybe you have friends that promise a dream life in exchange for a job or a favor. Some of us have acquaintances that request help, insisting that you are the only person that can help them. Then, there is the family member that withdraws financial and other support unless they have your compliance. These contacts are often grooming you for something much direr down the line. If an assault happened before, a targeted individual is more likely to experience something similar in the future: 47.9% of sexual assault victims have repeated assaults by the offender or by multiple offenders. 

Create a lifestyle and culture of prevention

Hold spaces for yourself and your loved ones to share their thoughts and experiences. Talk to trusted friends about what almost happened to you. Go for a walk or exercise — then indulge on chocolate later. Hug yourself. Get your feelings out through your chosen medium. Listen to music that you love. Go for a massage to unwind. Take a nap. All of these activities will help you remain centered by balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. 

Do not fight fire with fire

Lastly, while it is tempting to tell a would-be attacker to get lost, sometimes that is not feasible. Sometimes it is better to deflect. Realize your safety by flanking yourself with others you trust or in a crowd. Try to remain calm and understand that your get-away may not look perfect. Getting to safety is all that matters.

Supporting Survivors in the Black Community

So this horrible event happened to you, and your world has been flipped upside down. You don’t know who to turn to, and in some cases, if you were to speak up, the person “supporting” you would just make you interact with your perpetrator or dismiss you altogether.

Reporting sexual assault requires a strength that many survivors don’t have. This is usually due to the experience and the stigmas that are applied to the survivor. These stigmas make it that much harder to speak up, and those that speak up carry a considerable burden. For many, this expectation is a deterrent, and for every Black woman that reports what happened to her, 15 Black women do not.

Here are some facts concerning sexual assault as it manifests in the Black community:

For those that live in low-income communities, the correlation between assaults — particularly assaults with a weapon — increases. These attacks have historically been a way to silence and suppress Black women, and by extension, Black men. While Hollywood tends to portray these transgressions in a sensational manner, such as the stranger who breaks into your home, the truth is a bit more mundane. Often, assailants are people that the victim knows, such as a parent, sibling, or a romantic partner. 

Sometimes, drugs and alcohol are introduced as a way to relax the target’s boundaries. Assailants are often adept at assessing whether the mark exhibits traits of anxiety or people-pleasing, and will often use gaps in power as a way to gain control of the interaction. This includes promises of food, money, popularity, protection, preferential treatment, or some other perceived need.   

A small toolkit for survivors and supporters

Listen. If you are a supporter, center the survivor, and if the event happened to you, listen to your feelings. Our justice system is ill-equipped to handle these cases. Please keep that in mind as you ask the survivor why they didn’t report. Reach out to programs that assist survivors in their healing. Understand that healing is not a straight line, but cyclical — be gentle and don’t push. Exercise, counseling, art and crying are all very helpful.

Barriers to Black Voter Turnout in 2020

While discussion continues about law enforcement and its practices, other factors make this year a very critical one for Black voters. Here are some things to consider on the way to the polls come November:

Proper Allocation of Resources

Redlining, a term popularized in the 1960s by American sociologist John McKnight, has been long practiced in the United States. It has kept Black people away from the voter ballot and has dismissed their concerns. What makes redlining particularly painful to voters is the fact that it perpetuates generational wealth, medical, and food disparities, and those areas deemed “unsafe” 80 years ago are still low to middle-income today

Less money means more voter suppression and less political reach through lobbying and other means. While there are some well-heeled Black people in the United States, Black people as a class do not have wealth that is on par with other groups.

Imbalanced Use of the Census

Another example of this institutionalized segregation — illustrated in Christian Farias’ 2019 article Is There Racist Intent Behind The Census Citizenship Question? — wherein Farias explores how the ethnicity and citizenship information is gathered by the Census and used. 

Everyone is supposed to count, but that hasn’t always proved to be a positive experience. Because of this and other factors, there is public distrust of the Census Bureau, as the Census has been historically used to funnel resources away from areas that happened to have high populations of Black people. 

Health Concerns

Media discourse around COVID-19 threatens to discourage the use of voter participation as a way of biological redlining. With COVID disproportionally affecting Black people, voters have to remain engaged in political conversation, distancing or not. The rub here is that many constituents expect this to happen but will not respond accordingly. 

So what can we do to be prepared for months coming ahead? Some simple steps are:

  • Start or join a healthcare sharing group.
  • Find out more about the Census.
  • Research ways to become financially literate, or if you already are, share that knowledge with those in your community.

The Intersection Between Racism and Ableism

Racism causes and exacerbates anxiety and other mental health concerns. One in four Black Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, aggravated by racism. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges that racism also complicates challenges in receiving help for other ailments. This relationship creates an intersection between ableism and racism, two challenges that need solutions. 

Racism and Psychological Ableism

Psychiatry has a long history of being used to control those who present or behave in a way opposite to what is expected in mainstream society. Today, we have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, which helps counselors and therapists identify psychological maladies. One of the main criticisms of this instrument is that its existence is based on eurocentric, patriarchal cultural norms and therefore, pathologizes any behaviors or beliefs that exist outside of those outlined in the manual.

This is harmful because it erases and marginalizes all patients that are children, female, do not present as “left-brained,” have social mores that are more communal than individual, and have intense emotional and physical sensations. This is compounded when those who have these traits are melanated and are treated as if they have a disability due to their genetic makeup. The use of medication such as Ritalin and Adderall to “control” children, more specifically Black children, is harmful if it doesn’t address actual brain imbalances.

Checking Ableism

It takes everyday work to be an ally and not lean on privilege. Here are a few ways you can help those who need it:

  1. Do authentic work when providing services that were not asked for.
  2. Remember that just because you can not see a person’s ailment, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  3. Understand that an event or proclivity may not be distressing to you but it might be to another person due to culture, upbringing, and expectations. 
  4. Encourage and allow those who need assistance to speak for themselves, while honoring their concerns and requests. Do not change or influence what they want for your own benefit.
  5. Provide adequate resources to allow those you are assisting to help themselves.

The Forest for The Trees: Shifting Perceptions of Black Cannabis Use

In light of the recent events surrounding police brutality and the contact that law enforcement makes with Black people, it is critical to consider the disproportionate sentencing and treatment of Blacks as a result of minor offenses involving small amounts of drugs, namely cannabis.

On May 1, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act. This legislative action effectively initiated concentrated punitive force in low income, high crime areas that happened to be populated by the Black community. Soon after, researchers, psychologists, and legal professionals began to notice the number and nature of arrests skyrocketed past those in Caucasian communities for similar offenses.

In response, states across the country have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana possession. For example, on November 4, 2018, the state of Massachusetts passed a bill to allow cannabis possession in small amounts. However, the ACLU has found that the changes in regulation have not made sufficient impact in changing arrest rates — Black people are still 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites.

What could be generating the gap between the two demographics? Harvard anthropologist Jason Silverstein asserts that a failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities. Cannabis is widely known to alleviate various medical ailments. In his study, Silverstein concludes that both Black and white people seem to think that Black people feel less pain. 

This sentiment is crucial when considering the verbiage used when describing the so-called “War On Drugs” in Black neighborhoods versus the “opioid epidemic” in white communities. This difference in perception means white offenders can more readily build a life after being in the legal system while Blacks have more difficulty when they leave.

Some states are at the forefront of change. Colorado has already taken action to grant pardons for cannabis convictions. Such convictions can interfere in achieving important milestones such as leases, mortgages, and jobs.

Pushes for empathy and investigation of the long-term effects of inequitable arrests can inform ways of creating a more even playing field in terms of economic equity for Blacks.

Tone Deaf: On Not Silencing Black Women

For this week’s post, I had planned to talk about the discussion between the rappers J.Cole and NoName, and share some insights I had on the whole dynamic. As I began to write, I began to think that the endeavor was incomplete and unfair. It was so because J. Cole is but one man, and this is an obstacle for the whole Black community.

So I am always woefully befuddled when Black women — in all of our intelligence, wit, and tenacity — are silenced. There are some men and women that police our tones, cross our boundaries, and dismiss our concerns.

Dismissal of Concerns

I was an avid hip-hop fan for many years. As a young woman, I was aware of the charged lyrics, and like many female fans, struggled to grapple with what those messages meant for my self-esteem, self-image. In maturity, I was lucky enough to meet some of the faces that I idolized, and on the whole, they were not what their personas projected at all. Some of them had families; many of them were thoughtful and well-spoken.

I’d had an acquaintance who was a promoter. He had worked in the industry, and one day I’d had an idea that was bubbling within for many months at that point — a hip hop benefit concert. At the time, that idea was quite popular, but in this case, there was one problem.

The concert was for rape victims, primarily women.

I watched his face morph from excitement to reluctance in about ten seconds flat. The lesson I’d learned at that moment is that women, particularly Black women, are expected to offer others support, but we are not allowed to ask for or demand reciprocity. This was before the MeToo movement, but the same inability to honor and respond to the concerns of Black women persists.

Those who we petition often demand that we do so in a docile, even sexual manner to “soften the blow.” Often it makes me want to ask these individuals if they think that our rapists, killers, and oppressors try to soften the blow. This is why tone policing comes across as ludicrous, at best. If your house is on fire, you are going to scream for everyone to evacuate. It wouldn’t matter who was comfortable with your message. It would be truth. You would not “wait your turn.”

Waiting Your Turn

Another challenge with waiting our turn as Black women are that it is rarely ever our turn to speak. As the world rightfully became incensed over George Floyd’s death, other names are mentioned less like Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and Renisha McBride, although they are no less important. When Black women build momentum around the causes that are dearest to them, the language, mannerisms, strategy, and execution are often co-opted by others, most often without credit, for movements exclusive of Black women.

Black women need to continue to speak up on a day-to-day basis on matters like disparities in pharmaceutical treatments of cancer and other illnesses that plague the Black community. We require tutoring assistance for us or our children in school, live in food deserts, have restricted access to potable water in addition to other needs, and we can’t turn the volume down.

However, we need every voice — especially those of Black men — to join ours, just as we have lent our voices for their concerns.

Every time a Black woman dies in labor, it is our turn to speak up.

Secrets to Another Perception: How to Decenter in Difficult Times

One of the keys to effective decentering is cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness is important because it allows us to become aware of the events, emotions, and thoughts that are occurring within and around us. Often, when one speaks of mindfulness, one can conjure visions of a Buddhist master, but the truth is anyone can achieve satisfying, powerful clarity through this practice.

The Self

The idea of The Self is an important one. It helps us to navigate a world where it is sometimes difficult to understand the place your dreams, desires, motivations, worries, and worldview start and end. If you are not aware of the nuances of this, you may need or demand too much or too little support from others, or they may ask too much or too little of you. 

The sense of The Self also harbors fear. Fear can be a good thing — evolutionarily, fear has kept us from being attacked by predators. However, too much anxiety can interfere with our emotional and psychological growth. It also fosters rash decision making and inability to establish long-lasting and trusting relationships with others. 

One example of this is the police officer that allows fear to cloud their judgment and ascribe far more danger to a citizen than necessary. When a person has this mindset supported by others that look like them, either by race or wearing a uniform, there is little incentive to stop and examine the circumstances through another lens. However, this support can prove to hinder your growth. When you are most comfortable and feel most supported is when you should decenter.

How to Decenter

One of the quickest ways of maintaining a decentered state is a routine meditation practice. Studies show that meditation reroutes pathways in the brain and reduces stress. Stress can aggravate and prolong feelings of fear, aggression, and unworthiness. While there are many books and videos on meditation, meditation does not have to be a process in sitting still and breathing.

The reason breathing is crucial is that, apart from the physiological changes when more oxygen enters the brain, breath is a repetitive movement. 

Meditation is a process of cultivating what psychologists call “flow.” Flow characterizes what laypeople call being in the zone. Any athlete, artist, or another person that relies on the repetition of their skill can report a sense of peace when they “get in their zone.” Getting in the zone provides an acute sense of clarity seldom found in other activities. 

Some activities to get in the zone are:

Visual art

Breath

Daydreaming

Dance

Music

Discussions and lecture

Writing

Reading

Why This Is Important

As a law enforcement officer, your job is dangerous. You probably work strange hours and have seen the worst of the human spirit. Because of this, you can end up overworked and fearful. However, there are other professions and life experiences that cause others to be overworked, stressed, and afraid too. 

If the police apprehend a woman, search her, and she physically retaliates, the police report says she was resisting arrest. The account may be accurate, but if you decentered yourself and listened to her story, you may find out that the way you gripped her arm was the same way her abusive ex-lover did two years ago. She suffers PTSD, and reacted the way she did because she was unable to decenter as well.

Decentering allows the public servant to detach and offer more effective service. It also allows the officer to see that decentering is part of his or her job. The “resist to arrest” no longer becomes about “degenerate citizens” but more about understanding how to diffuse a contentious situation.

Overcoming Mental Enslavement: A Practice in Decentering

You don’t have to believe everything you think. 

Many of our psychological schemas concerning the way the world works are often based on second and third-hand information. We then take these paradigms and apply them to most of the areas of life, without testing their effectiveness. 

Some of us take certain ideologies that we know to be false and force-fit them into our realities, causing undue and sometimes unwitting harm to ourselves and others. These behaviors become habits and then the habits — through repetition — become deeply ingrained, making it difficult to perceive any other method of accomplishing our goals. When solving a problem, it is important to remember to decenter.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

What is decentering?

According to the American Psychology Association, decentering is:

n.

1. any of a variety of techniques aimed at changing one’s centered thinking (i.e., focus on only one salient feature at a time, to the total exclusion of other important characteristics) to openminded thinking. 

2. dissolution of unity between self and identity. 

3. see decentration. —decenter vb.

In other words, decentering yourself does not mean that you should neglect yourself, but consider other viewpoints as you work to solve a problem. In the case of healing our relationships with others, we want to “put ourselves into the other person’s shoes.”

However, changing behaviors can be threatening for some. It can mean a loss of comfort or some other benefit. Or it can mean gaining something, but we don’t know what it is to gain yet. These fears come from the human mind wanting circumstances, relationships, and resources to remain stable and measured. Still, decentering does not necessarily translate to destabilization. The idea that decentering the needs, wants, and agendas of a specific collection of individuals will destabilize their resources is flawed.

Perhaps the number one rebuttal to the expression Black Lives Matter is that All Lives Matter. This is an attempt at circumventing decentering. An extension of this is conflating the focus of other disadvantaged groups with the BLM movement. While there is some overlap between various groups, the problem with this response is the refusal to center the concerns of BLM when we discuss pertinent topics, as if this movement needs to be qualified by other groups with the same aims.

A peculiar assumption is if a person says that Black Lives Matter, they must mean that Only Black Lives Matter or Only American Black Lives Matter. This assumption illuminates the differences in schools of thought: when a white supremacist asserts All Lives Matter, they mean All White Lives Matter and That’s All That Should Matter. With this assertion, only caucasian individuals are people and have lives. Everyone else just exists. 

Centering does not have to be a bad thing. We center patients when they are in the hospital, and center our children when they are upset or scared. However, centering can be problematic when taken out of proportion, as in the case of white nationalists. White people have legitimate concerns and are the majority of the population in this country. That does not mean their lived experiences apply to everyone else’s life.

By white supremacists foisting psychological projection onto others, the aims of the Black Live Matter movement becomes problematic. Then it is called Black Nationalism. Many of our ancestors have been refashioned through revisionist history to be separatists, mercenaries, and boogeymen, because of the inability to decenter.

What are the benefits of decentering?

One of the main benefits of decentering is enriching your life with the stories, knowledge, and voices that may or may not be like you in some way. You do not have to walk in fear that someone is going to forcefully relieve you of something that can’t be taken. Fear can be a prison. In the next article, I discuss how to decenter.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

8 Tips to Cultivating Consistently Strong Allyship

Read the news from many media outlets, or purchase anything at all, you may find political commentators and businesses stating their support of the Black community in light of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. On one hand, one can be filled with hope that we can stand in solidarity against racism, sexism, and police brutality, but on the other, there are so many questions that arise.

One, in particular, is: Why do the same pundits struggle with being as vocal about the quotidian challenges that disproportionately face the black community? We face a higher maternal death rate, unjust treatment in the penal system, the discrepancy in generational wealth, and more daily. What are you doing to be a consistent ally?

But what does ‘being an ally’ mean? Does it mean that you as a business owner say that you stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement while not doing much else to alleviate injustices that Black and other underrepresented people face?

I hope that it means something else. Here are some ideas of what I think it might mean:

  • Correct others on stereotypes, misconceptions, and prejudices even when a member of the group you are defending is not present. It also means accepting correction from members of the party whom you are trying to advocate.
  • Hold space for opinions, emotions, grievances, and experiences that are not your own, without trying to invalidate or minimize the importance of them.
  • Offer full redress to those being harmed, and being fully transparent about your expectations concerning interactions — business and otherwise — with others. An example of this is realizing that certain rules and regulations in various institutions borne of one culture may muzzle the concerns and wishes of another, without making excuses about it.
  • Honor the ingenuity, business-savvy, beauty, and other traits of a group by extending proper compensation, protection of intellectual rights, and historical consideration as others.
  • Be self-motivated to become informed on the social mores, particular cultural practices, psychology, history, economics, and other facets of a particular population that have an impact on the role the group has in mainstream society. It means realizing that even though the group may be a “minority,” it is still a heterogeneous demographic that holds various ideologies by different factions within it.
  • Resist aggression and micro-aggression s through your behavior: ask yourself if you have to see, touch, say, hear, or otherwise assuage your curiosity or fear about an individual at that person’s expense. An example of this is calling the police on a person who has done nothing wrong, or “asking” to occupy personal space in a way that makes the person uncomfortable.
  • Understand that the law is not always just. For example, many citizens do not know that Miranda rights are not required to be read in every situation. In a similar vein, the law is not always applied reasonably, as studies have shown that darker-skinned defendants tend to receive more unfair treatment during processing and harsher sentencing when tried.
  • Do away with political cognitive dissonance: Our collective legislative and political workload increases when supposed allies vote for a candidate whose policies are known to unjustly target disadvantaged groups while espousing beliefs that everyone should be treated equally.
While this is not an exhaustive list, these are stepping stones to being an ally, which is a full-time job. Being an ally is a full-time job because when you are a member of a disadvantaged group, the barriers that must be overcome are present on a day-to-day basis.