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.

Reclaiming the Self: A Return to Ancestral Wisdom

The Black church is currently experiencing an exodus of its millennials who are seeking community and spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that four out of ten millennials are likely to claim no religious affiliation (Cox, 2019). It is assumed that those who are leaving the church are becoming atheist or agnostic, however, this is not necessarily the case. As the church experiences an exodus, many millennials are finding their genesis in traditional African spiritual systems and the wisdom of their Ancestors.

What are African Spiritual Systems?

African spiritual systems are those that predate the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and were practiced on the African continent prior to European colonization. While the spiritual tradition varies dependent upon where one is on the continent, two that are most widely known throughout the diaspora are Ifá and Vodun. The practice of both systems has been vilified throughout history, but particularly after the Haitian Revolution because during the Haitian Revolution, an important Vodun ceremony took place at Bois Caimen that helped assist the enslaved Africans defeat and drive away their French colonizers. The vilification and demonization of these systems has helped ensure that diasporic Africans remain disconnected from their Ancestors, and therefore themselves. Though the systems may vary, there are a few key elements that translate between them.

Ancestral Veneration: It is often assumed that in African spiritual systems, people are worshiping those who have transitioned. To venerate means to pay homage to and show deep respect for someone or something. The Ancestors are given a high level of respect because they are their descendants’ first line of defense, and a connection to the spiritual realm. They are able to help guide and direct their descendants, as well as keep them from harm or unwise decisions. It should be noted that all cultures have a form of Ancestral veneration but may not realize it. For example, when going into an elder’s home, you may see that they have a collection of obituaries on their mantle, and photos of the transitioned all throughout their home. Though they may balk at the idea of setting up an Ancestor altar, they are engaging in a form of ancestral acknowledgement. Additionally, when one “pours one out for the homies,” it is a libation used to honor those that are no longer physically present. Elements of the African worldview and thought process are syncretized into modern day practices, often without a true understanding of where the traditions originate from.

Belief in a Divine Creator: African spirituality is often viewed as polytheistic due to the presence of Orisha (Ifá) or Loa (Vodun), who practioners can work with and call upon. However, there is still the belief in a singular Divine Creator who is not assigned a gender and is considered to encompass both genders.

Divination: In Christianity and Islam, one of the primary tenants is faith. However, African spiritual systems include divinatory abilities. Practioners do not have to guess if they are in alignment, making good decisions, or moving in purpose. With the ability to divine on a matter, practioners are able to move throughout the world in a more effective manner with a certainty that what they are doing is correct, or that what they are doing will lead towards harm.

“Bevier Pot” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

Why is Returning to Ancestral Wisdom Important?

2020 has shifted everything, including worldviews and ideologies. This time of quarantine and social distancing has allowed many to sit with themselves for the first time in years, or first time ever. During this time of sitting with oneself, many have come to realize that the ideologies and expressions of self they were taught to hate and fear, might hold the key to their wellbeing. The Ancestors are our first line of defense, as such, it is necessary to be still and listen to what they are trying to teach us. We cannot claim to be their wildest dreams if we are not taking heed to their advice, or diminishing their practices. It’s not enough to rally against systemic anti-Blackness if one does not address internalized anti-Blackness that is present through the demonization of one’s own traditions. Regardless if one chooses to participate in an African spiritual system, it should be understood that there are alternative epistemologies, and wisdom to be gained.

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.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 5

Emotion Words

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

How can parents help their child understand and express their emotions in healthy and constructive ways? First by assigning a name to the emotion the child is feeling, and encouraging conversation about what they are feeling. With a vocabulary for emotions the child now has a tool for exploring and understanding their feelings. Second by giving children the chance to determine what they are feeling and what someone else may be feeling. Third by pointing out the variety of reactions to their feelings available to them, and this can be reinforced by the parent with their own experiences in dealing with their emotions in the form of stories that serve as examples for how to react to emotions and feelings. Fourth by utilizing friends and family as examples for the child to see different ways to react to emotions.

When naming emotions it is important to use a name that is easily understandable for the child. This can be done while watching kids television shows or movies, or reading children books. The child can point out what emotion the character is feeling and how they reacted to it. Also utilizing the actual events that are taking place in their lives as examples and teaching moments for the child to identify their own emotion. If they felt sad yesterday due to some event, talk to them about what they felt and why, and have them assign a name to it. These are the beginning steps of building their vocabulary around their feelings and connecting them to their experiences. 

Communicating with the child on the possible responses available to them when experiencing emotions is vital to developing their understanding and their relationship to their feelings. The more that the child can be responsible for their own strategies for dealing with emotions the better. They should come up with how they will handle their feelings. Then parents should discuss with the child the positive and negative responses to emotions. When the child uses inappropriate expression when dealing with an emotion the parent should present healthy alternative strategies to the child that can help them with future similar situations. It is important that the child experience the negative response as a way of emphasizing why the positive response is preferred.

When children choose to talk about their feelings it is important that they be met with positivity and encouragement. Clear instruction as to what the child did right and what the child did wrong will encourage them to communicate about their feelings and feel comfortable coming to the parent for future discussions and development of their understanding. It is important that the time and space for these conversations be daily and predictable. During dinner, or game time, when the child is open to engagement on these types of topics. Throughout the day things will happen that provide topics for conversations surrounding emotions and feelings and every opportunity should be utilized to practice discussing how they felt about their day and how they should respond.

It is important that when the child is emotionally charged, that these conversations do not take place. The child should be calm and at ease when discussing their feelings and strategies for dealing with and responding to their emotions. They should associate these communications with parents as positive experiences, rather than as negative experiences attached to discipline for misbehaving. After the tantrum or emotionally charged situation, and the child is calm and ready to receive information in a positive form, the strategies above can be utilized to help the child analyze the situation, their emotions around it, and how they responded. Part 6 next week will center around emotional governance.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 4

Regulating Emotions

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

One of the key aspects of emotional intelligence is the ability to regulate one’s own emotions. Development of the understanding of language in the process of emotional maturation is vital to children in the early childhood educational setting. The evolution of the ability to communicate is directly connected to the progress of the emotional regulation ability. Once the child has developed the language with which to identify and describe emotions, the ability to assess effective methods of handling emotionally charged situations. The language connection to emotional awareness, emotional intelligence, and emotion regulation, is the point where culture intersects with practice. Different cultures have different ways in which emotion is processed, where emotion is felt, how emotion is felt, when emotion is felt, and to whom emotion is expressed. So it is critical that early childhood educational practices within a multicultural setting take into account the varying relationships to emotion that different cultures possess. 

Socialization in early childhood educational settings is directly connected to the ability of a student to navigate relationships with peers and teachers, and is a signifier of the level of emotional competence the student demonstrates. When a child cannot regulate their emotions properly, or in accordance with societal norms, their judgment and decision making become compromised. One area where emotional regulation is important is in transitioning from one stage of life to another. In early childhood education a major milestone for the student is also an opportunity to assess which students can transition from preschool to kindergarten successfully. The successful transition is an indicator of the ability to regulate emotions, while a difficult transition may be an indicator that the student may need more support in the area of emotion regulation. However the goal should be to provide students with the tools necessary to have a successful transition to kindergarten, as this is directly correlated to the ability to access academic information. 

The ability for adults to perform cognitive tasks is connected to their ability to regulate their emotions. This is true for children as well, as planning, memory, and attention are inhibited in the student unskilled in emotional regulation. The ability to be successful in the early academic setting is tied to this skill, lacking this, students are less able to be present for and retain the information being presented. Emotional regulation is also connected to behavioral regulation, and impacts the student’s ability to complete academic tasks and assignments. 

So what does this all mean? The key takeaway is that students need to be able to respond instead of to react. A response requires forethought and planning, whereas a reaction can take place without thought and lead to undesired consequences. Once a student is equipped with the tools of forethought or emotional awareness, they can more readily attend to the various academic requirements that they may face for the rest of their lives. This is an example of the old saying, fix a big problem while it’s small. In this case while the student is small, if we can teach them to identify their emotions as well as the emotions of those around them, and then provide them with the tools for regulating their emotions, then that is one less obstacle in their path towards academic success. 

Of the categories above: emotional awareness, behavioral awareness, and social awareness, all can be placed under the umbrella of self regulation, which will be the topic next week in part 5 of this ongoing series exploring early childhood education.

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.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 3

Teaching Emotional Intelligence

Last week I talked about the importance of emotional intelligence in early childhood education, this week I would like to focus on some strategies for teaching emotional intelligence. The first category I want to focus on is Identifying Emotions. This is in regards to the development of emotional awareness which is the capability to identify and comprehend our own emotions and actions as well as the emotions of others, along with the understanding of how our own emotions and actions affect ourselves and others, and how the emotions and actions of others affect ourselves. 

One strategy to teach this skill to children in an early education setting is to show them a picture of someone displaying an emotion, and then have the students recreate this facial emotional representation on their own faces. Next, assign each student an emotion, and have them walk around the classroom displaying that emotion on their face while also identifying the emotions on the faces of their peers until they find someone who matches the face of the emotion they were assigned. This allows students to not only practice identifying the emotions of others, but also to become comfortable with identifying the spectrum of emotions and displaying those emotions themselves in a safe and fun environment. 

Another strategy for identifying emotions are mood boards or emotion indicators. These come in various forms, but are visual cutouts, or small posters that the students decorate and can carry with them or leave on their desks. Each card has a picture of each emotion and the student can identify quickly what emotion they are currently feeling.

Identifying emotions can be reinforced through an activity that has the students draw four basic emotions on four separate pieces of paper. For example, sad, mad, happy, silly, and during various activities the students, when prompted, can hold up the emotion that they are feeling, for example during storytime. The students can display the emotion they are feeling during a particular moment in the story, rather than shouting out or talking with peers. This helps students to connect emotions to actions or ideas taking place in the story.

These are great for when students are engaged and not experiencing any difficult feelings, but there should be activities for students to participate in when they are actually going through an emotional difficulty. There should be visual posters or areas around the classroom that help students to cope with what they are feeling. A spot in the room where the students associate good feelings and happy thoughts, where they can go when they need a break, when they need to gather themselves, or when they need redirection or some time to refocus their attention. 

In this area manipulables can help to de-escalate their emotions, things like silly putty, or destressors like squeeze toys or cards with strategies for regaining calm. Posters with strategies that teach kids how to identify the emotion they are feeling and what to do when they feel that emotion escalating.  Many students learn best by engaging in activities that put them in situations where they will have to practice emotional awareness in real time. Through activities geared towards peer interactions, students will be put in situations where the full range of emotions will be present, and they will have to learn for themselves how to navigate the emotional spectrum in themselves as well as in others. Once proper emotional display and strategies for de-escalating high emotion have been modeled, it is time for students to practice the strategies and engage in social activities where they will deal with real emotions in a safe, low stakes environment.

Next week, in part 4, I will continue this look at best practices for teaching emotional intelligence and awareness.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 2): Breathing into Fairness

Covid-19, civil unrest and curfew means we are in our homes. Miraculously, many formerly house-less people are sheltered. This is a good time for unlearning racism, by examining closely the root of this tree. California passed the Unruh Civil Rights Act (No Discrimination in Business in 1988, to try to prevent steering and blockbusting. “All person within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin, they are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever…” (California Real Estate Practice, 9th).

Part of the Dialectial Behavior Therapy approach to dis-ease to undertake to change our thinking patterns. You practice the action that embodies the thinking, while staying in contact with your body and the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that when we touch deeply the present, we can transform the past and the future. In essence, our awareness, our attention and our love can transform our reality–for the better.

I started this practice of looking inward in my early twenties. As imperfect as I am, as we all are, I’ve worked to not repeat the same mistakes. I try to grow, do better and master myself. Yet, mastering oneself requires intimacy, silence and introspection:

Lesson 2: Meditate, pray, study, journal or contemplate the Unruh Civil rights Act implemented in California seeking to understand the root necessity of such legislation. Why was this legislation necessary? What are the consequences of steering and blockbusting to the families involved? Spend 10-20 minutes daily on these questions.

Who we are as a people is defined by our actions. Our deeds in the world will inspire awe and be remembered-no matter what we do. Only by looking deeply into the present, can we unlearn the unspoken. We are taught to look past and through one another. Together we can unlearn the damaging ideologies that puts a value on skin color and enforces that projected vale with systemic violence. It’s time to heal. It’s time to do the hard work or turning inward, in silence and loving kindness, a Gift of the Spirit.

How to Maintain Mental Health Through Ritual

With unexpected changes happening every day, I’ve found that it’s important to find a routine or a ritual. For me, it is walking in nature to breathe the air that refreshes and heals, taking warm showers with luxurious soaps and salts that soften and cleanse, and drinking the teas that bring forth healing and wash the worries of the day away. These sensual indulgences link my body, mind, and spirit and allow for optimal psychological and spiritual health.

Mental health, our internal heaven, sometimes seems to elude us but is always available to us. A fragile, steadfast friend, it wants to stay with us — through connecting with our friends and our family, scribbling in a journal with tattered pages; a trusted and empathetic psychiatrist or counselor, or the paintbrushes tucked in our studio. 

Respite and Revival

These rituals simultaneously connect us to and vehemently release us from the realities of life, while life makes it possible to enjoy and revive our bodies and souls. With our staunch collective obsession of all that is new and theoretical in our Western society, coming back to that which is tried and true can be a welcome respite from the pressure to be different.

Still, a mysterious danger remains of being stuck in the past, present, or even future instead of being edified by it. We must embrace cycles in their full spectrum. Cycles are not just a hallmark of fertility although that is certainly significant; these cycles are cues that allow healing, sleep, emotional development and stability, calm. 

Alleviation of Emotional and Psychological Pain

These rituals and cycles — circling, and spiraling — undo the knots of symptoms such as anxiety and anger. Our internal revolutions unfurl the painful memories locked into our psyche and cells and are expressed as inflammation. Whether you call these experiences cytokines or prostaglandins, rituals to remove stress can stop the overabundance of pain.

We also stop the pain with laughter, the ultimate healing ritual amid the friction that can be described as systematic subjugation. I laugh with my ancestors: they get the joke, the absurdity that we should have to fight oppressive forces all this time.

Finding my center

My rituals help me to tap within, to figure out why we do what we do. Where do we fit into the seeming madness of the world? It seems like we all have desires that appear to be at odds with each other, yet make up a composite mosaic that is reflective of our collective experience.