Keynote: 2018 Equity in the Center Summit

Dr. Hackman will be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming 2018 Equity in the Center Summit in Baltimore, MD.

2018 Summit themes will include decolonizing the social sector, addressing race equity in an intersectional context, and the role of foundations in driving race equity funding strategies.

Building on momentum the EiC network has gained since the 2017 Summit, their goal is to provide opportunities for leaders and organizations to increase capacity to drive race equity internally and across the sector. Nonprofit and philanthropic leaders will provide case examples of how organizations have successfully moved through the Race Equity Cycle, as well as share insights on the funding and capacity building strategies and tactics necessary to make progress toward race equity within organizations, across the social sector and in society broadly.

“Women for Trump”…?

I saw a headline Tuesday describing Donald Trump’s debasing of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony with a picture of white women, strategically placed behind the podium, cheering him on as he did so. How to explain this? An uninformed position would suggest that “everyone is entitled to their opinions”, but of course it’s not that easy. Scratch beneath the surface and you see the fingerprints of sexism, gender oppression, male dominance, patriarchy and whiteness all over that deeply problematic display.

But, how does this happen? How did we get to a place where (mostly white) women will support an admitted sexual harasser and someone who constantly demeans women? The answer can be found in a deeper question – How does a dominant group who is the numeric minority (men) maintain control over the numeric majority (women and trans* folks)? Two central methods – socialization into an ideology that makes it seem normal, and/or state-sponsored violence. These are not mutually exclusive, of course, but the proportion to which they are used depends on the political reality. Apartheid South Africa used socialization to spread the ideology of the inferiority of POC, but also made much more ready use of state sponsored violence to maintain its power.

Conversely, when it comes to gender oppression in the U.S., socialization seems to be the slightly favored tactic, followed by what is still a substantial amount of violence against women and trans* folks. The purpose of this socialization is to ultimately silence women by making enough women and men think that these dynamics are not “sexism” but simply “the way that it is” or “the way men and women are” thereby eliminating any resistance to the system of oppression. To be sure nowhere near all women (and not all men) think this, but in the U.S. enough women and certainly plenty of men have been convinced of this basic ideology that uniform resistance to gender oppression is difficult at best.

Below is an explication of three pathways that this gender role socialization takes place. All are rooted in the need to control women and maintain the access to resources, power, privilege for men. Any deviation from the script results in the use of violence as is evidenced by the gender violence directed toward Dr. Blasey Ford, the backlash to the #MeToo movement, and the extreme levels of violence experienced by trans* people all over the U.S.. Of course, the system simply frames this backlash as “men defending themselves” and suggests that any erosion of the power held by men makes this “a bad time for men in this country”. Absurd to the extreme given the statistics in every major metric of the U.S., but such is the power of dominant groups – to simply say it means that it must be so.

The first of the three pathways is the placement of everyone into a rigid gender role binary. Thus, while our lived experience is gender fluidity, the system of gender oppression only sees and tolerates ideas of gender that are diametrically opposed and portrayed as essential and thus biologically based via the conflation of gender with biological sex. Examples are men being seen as naturally “tough, in control, strong, emotionless, interested in sports and war, competitive, and in charge with no need of help from anyone” while women are naturally “quiet, not too assertive, not too smart, beautiful (tall, thin, white, rich, sexually submissive), powerless, mothers and caretakers first, and followers”. As you can see, these meta-narratives of gender apply largely for white men and women, but many of their implied characteristics are used in differing ways across race and class lines to reinforce racism and classism as well. Ultimately, the above calcified binary, when conjoined with power, then leads to the “inevitable” differential in societal power between “real men” and “ladies”. Socializing all genders into this binary-based ideology serves to make this power differential and its concomitant gender oppression seem “normal” and “natural” and “inevitable”. The goal of this process is for all men to see themselves as rightfully the ones in power, leading and dominant, while women should see themselves as secondary, silent and powerless.

To be sure, this socialization is pervasive in U.S. society, not incidental or occasional. Every element of U.S. society from education to mainstream media to history to laws to toys to social activities to clothing to…you name it, has evidence of deep socialization into gender role narratives. Meaning, if you socialize an entire society to see gender disparities as natural and inevitable, you will get at least some of the targeted group (in this case cisgender women and trans* folks) and most of the dominant group to go along with it. Once these messages are established in our individual and collective minds, male dominance and gender oppression encounter little true resistance. Thus we see some “Women for Trump” willingly supporting his misogyny.

But the process of getting even some women to go along with this system does not stop with the mere creation and enforcement of gender role narratives. Within this vast process of socialization lies a second pathway that helps explain what I saw – heteronormativity. For those women who identify as heterosexual and who are in / seek relationships with men, challenging men’s dominance, or even just questioning the tired tropes born out of the above gender role socialization, can feel like a precarious proposition given the intimate nature of one’s relationship to men. It’s this dynamic that had Tammy Wynette sing “stand by your (abusive) man” without our entire society reacting with dismay. The absurdity of it can be seen when comparing this to other forms of oppression – e.g. it is quite rare for POC/N folks (save for Kanye West) to write songs, poems, etc. entreating other POC/N to “stand by your (racist) White person” no matter how oppressive they are.

Some authors have called this the challenge of “sleeping with the enemy” and described how complicated it can be to name systemic, institutional, interpersonal and individual gender oppression in our society while being partnered with cisgender men who may or may not have a clue about those very dynamics. Sometimes it just seems “easier” to let it go and put up with the daily slights, insults, demands and mere invisibility in order to keep the peace in the relationship and get through the day. Over time this sexism becomes so normative that it’s no longer seen for what it is. Of course, it is never packaged as heteronormative / sexism and is instead framed as “being a good wife, mother, woman”. Thus, the compounding power of socializing cisgender women into believing the rigid and limiting gender role messages about themselves and the “real men” in their lives (understanding the variations across race and class), combined with the pressures of being in intimate and constant relationship with the very group that is perpetrating your oppression and benefitting from it on a daily basis, can serve to have many cis-women who are heterosexual support those who are standing in front of an audience and degrading their very sovereignty and humanity.

A final socializing pathway is the pressure of Christian hegemony with respect to how women should (and should not) behave and simply “be” in the world. My colleague and friend Erin deeply identifies as Christian and just shared with me today how infuriating it is to have so many Christian leaders in the U.S. lauding Mr. Kavanaugh while heaping horrible accusations on Dr. Blasey Ford. More than just being an opinion proffered by “men”, these comments are offered be faith leaders and said to be “supported by the Bible” and therefore rooted in what it means to be a (white) Christian. Given that perhaps 2/3 of the U.S. population identifies as Christian, the collusion of women in these Trump moments can be understood by examining the additional power “faith” has in suggesting that women should be silent, that “boys will be boys”, that men are sovereign and women are submissive, and that the natural order is patriarchy. I am focusing on Christianity here given its significance in U.S. power structures, but Judaism and Islam also have communities of followers who place women in secondary, subservient positions to men.

To be clear, I am not blaming women for this moment, for Kavanaugh, for Trump, for any of it. In exploring why there were women standing behind Donald Trump on Tuesday I’m trying to shed light on the pernicious ways in which men have been telling a story about gender roles, about power and about our society that has conveniently served their goals around access to power, privilege and resources in the U.S. And, unfortunately, some women have been so inundated by those messages that they, too, believe them. This of course is not limited to “Women for Trump”, but is also applicable to those who claim moderate, liberal and even progressive identities around gender / politics / social issues while repeatedly buying (literally and figuratively) into troubling aspects of misogyny, albeit not as explicit as the Kavanaugh circus.

So, when I see those white, middle-aged, possibly middle-class women standing behind Trump waving signs of support, my primary focus is not on the women themselves but on how they are used as cover by the dominant group for dynamics that are much more specious and harmful to women. Dominant groups have always used some members of the targeted groups as cover like this – Clarence Thomas, Phyllis Schafly, Christopher Reeve, Joe the Plumber, Log Cabin Republicans, and so on.  When it comes to gender, however, the socialization via gender role narratives, heteronormativity, and Christian hegemony has been so deep, pervasive and long-standing that it makes sense that there are likely more “women for Trump” than can typically be found with other targeted groups in other forms of oppression.

Understanding where to place my focus affords me two avenues of action: First, I can keep my eye on the source of the problem (bell hooks’ explication of white supremacist hetero-patriarchy) and not be distracted from it by “Women for Trump” (but definitely eventually get to them). The problem we need to address is the hold that male dominance has on our society and we must never lose sight of that. The more we name it, focus on it, call it out, the more we are able to change systems at their core. So instead of simply telling the Houston school they cannot have that sexist trope above the lockers in their hallways, we can tell our schools to stop perpetuating gender binaries, the subordination of women, and the socialization of men into toxic masculinity. We can demand an end to violence being directed toward our trans* students and instead enact policy change, curricular change, and pedagogical change in our education system that will let our schools be places where gender is a non-issue and all energies can therefore be put into learning and building community.

Second, I can focus my attention on causal factors that lead to “Women for Trump” by assailing our education system, our media, our social spaces, our private sector, our non-profit sector, and other areas of our society with accurate, gender justice content and education. If we want gender liberation, it will require a profoundly intense decolonization process whereby we help everyone who has been exposed to this misinformation uproot it and replace it with liberatory ideologies. This is mind work, this is body work, this is soul work. Across the gender spectrum, our bodies carry the pain of millennia of this garbage. Clearly, we need something better since this Kavanaugh spectacle is tearing at some of the deepest roots in our society. Said differently, if sexism were truly “working” as a social reality for our society we would not be so opposed to what is happening. But it is not working. It never has. Not if what we want is both a healthy and thriving society, and one that is truly a democratic republic (yes, these points will also require deep racial, economic, and other justice work to come to fruition). In fact, gender oppression is profoundly harming our society by the normalization of violence against women, by the loss of whole humanity for men, by the life-threatening realities for trans* folks. We are losing people, we are losing creativity, we are losing great minds, we are losing loved ones…we are losing ourselves. In no way, shape or form can we say we are a civilized society when someone like Brett Kavanaugh can even be considered for the most powerful court in our country. If confirmed he will adjudicate for another 30-40 years and all of our lives will be impacted by the sexism of this man.

“Women for Trump” is a symptom, a symbol of oppressive gender dynamics that run much deeper in the U.S. Dynamics that are bent on holding patriarchal power or die trying. Senator Graham’s directionless outburst alongside Mr. Kavanaugh’s testimony are both “testimony” to the sanctity of patriarchy in our society and the deeply corrosive impact it has. “Women for Trump” is the modern Tammy Wynette and is more indicative of the effects of these pathways of patriarchal socialization than of anything else. Yes, I hold women accountable for their choices, but if all I do is yell at them the real “Wizard behind the curtain” slinks into the night. Thus, while those women are an affront to the liberation of women everywhere, I will never take my eye off the prize – an end to the scourge of patriarchy / gender oppression and the long overdue rise of gender justice.





Radio Show: Hidden Edges Radio 950 AM

Listen to Dr. Stephen Nelson, HCG consultant and member of the MN Health Equity Leadership Network, as he goes on-air with trans-activist Ellie Krug on her Hidden Edges Radio show. Tune in to AM 950 in Minnesota or find the interview here after it airs:

Pre-Conference Institute: The Body Already Knows: A Framework for Dismantling Race, Racism and Whiteness and Achieving Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be facilitating a pre-conference institute at NCORE this May. This workshop is based on two key ideas: The first is that Race, Racism and Whiteness (RRW) serve to unnaturally divide us and violently disrupt our inherent human connection. The second is that our bodies already know how to live in just and supportive community and this knowledge can serve as a powerful framework for uprooting racial oppression and achieving racial justice. Thus, the dismantling of RRW is not actually something we have to “work toward”, but rather a “coming home” to our rightful human interdependence. And, it is in the space of this interconnectivity, rooted in our bodies’ own knowledge, that we can find the deep sources of racial liberation and healing.

A Tale of Two Conferences

Written by Dr. Heather Hackman

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending two equity / social justice conferences back to back – the 19th annual “White Privilege Conference” (WPC) and Policy Link’s (PL) semi-annual “Equity Summit 2018”. What was striking to me about the second was the absence of what was central to the first. The work that Equity Summit folks were doing was impressive, especially from the vantage point of the majority People of Color / Native speakers in the plenary sessions. Glaringly missing, however, was any substantive attention to Whiteness. Conversely, the White Privilege Conference by its very nature centers the conversation on Whiteness as a means to attend to the core driving dynamic of racial oppression in the U.S. When the Equity Summit did name “white” it was often in the context of individual White people and not the ways that White privilege and White supremacy serve as the continual catalyst for this system, altogether. Said differently, White people would not work so hard to maintain racist housing segregation, despite red-lining being illegal, if they did not get something out of it – namely better housing, better schools, better transportation options, more access to multi-generational wealth brought about by property value increase, and the like. For the Equity Summit to discuss issues such as housing, education, criminal justice, etc. without naming this driving force is at best unfortunate and at worst deeply problematic. WPC knows this and chooses to go right to the heart of the matter as is evidenced by the extraordinary level of focus and organization of the conference on all that is necessary to bring about abiding and permanent racial justice for the U.S.

To elaborate, it is one thing for the Summit to call out racism in the prison industrial complex and emphasize the deeply urgent need to revamp the current prison system (or perhaps eliminate it altogether and replace it with something dramatically different). But, it is short-sighted to proffer that position without identifying that White folks from the private / economic sector, the political sector, and the social sector garner extraordinary power from the way the criminal justice system is currently operating and therefore will not simply yield that power because there is a louder call for us to change that system. For me, this omission left the conversation about criminal justice reform incomplete.

Even worse was a White, cis-male speaker on a panel about the role of philanthropy in racial equity work who continually suggested that cities “are just not educated enough” about how to use data and that their organization’s work is designed to “teach cities how to read and use data”. Aside from the deeply condescending tone this man had toward all cities, who are apparently too ignorant to know how to use data (rather than city workers often being overworked and underpaid, or unable to afford the software or time to do such sweeping data analysis), he had no idea whatsoever that his entire transactional, data-driven approach was steeped in Whiteness and racially dominant ways of perceiving government, social change, and the function of cities altogether. I was appalled that he was presenting this type of perspective at a conference on “equity” (primarily racial equity, it seems) and thankfully, two of the People of Color on the panel shut him down a bit – not so that he would notice it because I think he completely missed it, but certainly so the audience would notice it.

To be fair, one Equity Summit panel did talk about Whiteness (more than the entire rest of the conference combined) through its focus on gender justice as articulated by some very fierce POC/N speakers making the deep and critical connections between the system of patriarchy and gender oppression to that of racial oppression and Whiteness. The fact that this perspective stood out, however, speaks volumes about the lack of attention paid to Whiteness in the overall conference. Policy Link (PL) would do well to pay attention to the work of the White Privilege Conference (WPC) and take the very courageous step into a comprehensive racial justice approach in the way WPC does. In asking folks at the Summit about this, their response was that PL has never really paid attention to Whiteness largely because it is trying to work with majority, historically White leaders whom they did not want to alienate by naming Whiteness that explicitly. I have heard similar rumblings about the work of GARE and that it has no problem naming racism, but continually comes up short with respect to addressing the White privilege and White supremacy at the heart of so many government practices, policies procedures and programs that continually target POC/N folks and benefit and advantage White folks.

As is evidenced by the laser-like approach of the White Privilege Conference, we will never see an end to the system of racial oppression if we do not clearly and consistently call attention to the Whiteness driving it. As I left WPC fired up for more of the deep and hard work, but then went to PL’s Equity Summit, I was reminded yet again that even in spaces where racism is named there is still often a lack of willingness to call attention to Whiteness. Perhaps PL’s new leadership will use this transition as an opportunity to usher in a more comprehensive analysis (racism and Whiteness) of U.S. racial realities for all of the systems and structures they are trying to change. If that is too risky of a move for the POC/N leadership in terms of their safety and well-being, as is often the case when POC/N folks have spoken truth to power, then White people involved in Policy Link need to step up and speak up about Whiteness.

I look forward to the next Policy Link conference and hope that it has a chance to lean even harder into its work around racial justice and decolonization. This cannot be done without dismantling structures of Whiteness and I hope they make that move for the betterment of everyone who is trying to do this work. The time is surely now to do so.

Keynote Address: Race and Racism’s Impact on Health and Equity

Dr. Stephen C. Nelson will be delivering this keynote address at CentraCare Health’s 8th Annual Diversity Conference: Embracing Diversity to Thrive: Strategies for Business, Health Care, and Community.

Conference Session: The Healer’s Power: How Whiteness Kills

Dr. Stephen C. Nelson will be presenting this concurrent session at the White Privilege Conference in April. This session will highlight how racism and whiteness affect the health of people of color. Even when the social determinants of health are equal, people of color have poorer outcomes in the United States. I will share my personal role and responsibility as a white male physician in racial health inequity. It can be very difficult to sustain social justice work at any institution. It has been especially difficult within healthcare. There is much resistance to this kind of work. We will examine the greatest barrier to health equity and institutional change…..the power of whiteness. Dr. Nelson will describe experiences and we will discuss the types of resistance to establishing social justice work. We will discuss tools and interventions to help break down these barriers. This will be a highly interactive session as we work together to build our super powers for breaking down institutional and personal barriers to social justice work. Participants will leave the workshop with: 1) A clearer sense of how racial bias and systemic racism impact the health of persons of color, 2) A clearer sense of the institutional barriers to social justice work, 3) An understanding of how we can break down these barriers with specific tools.

Conference Session: The Body Already Knows: A Framework for Dismantling Race, Racism and Whiteness and Achieving Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be presenting this concurrent session at the White Privilege Conference in April. What stops any of us from taking action, what hampers our courage, what slows our resistance to injustice? This workshop is based on two key ideas: The first is that the creation of Race (and the system of racial oppression it supports) serves to unnaturally divide us from each other and disrupt our inherent human connection. The second is that the 50 trillion cells in our bodies already know how to live in just and supportive community and these patterns can serve as a powerful framework Thus, the dismantling of Race, Racism and Whiteness is not an idea or reality we “work toward” but rather a pathway that helps us all “come home” to our rightful human interdependence and find deep sources of racial liberation and healing. The workshop (1) begins by grounding into the body in myriad ways and helping participants explore the notion of “embodied racial justice”. To be sure, this is not a watering-down of critical race work and instead helps participants be more present and more capable of leaning into the complexities of racial justice work. (2) We discuss concrete concepts regarding Race, Racism and Whiteness such as the power of the U.S. “racial narrative” and the role of the White Imperial Gaze, (3) examine the innovative framework of “cellular wisdom” and then (4) practice using it to upend the divisive patterns of racial oppression and replace them with ways of being that speak more truthfully to our human connection and the core principles of racial justice. The workshop ends (5) with small group discussion and dedicated time for concrete application of this framework to participants’ lives and to their racial justice work.”

Conference Session: Know Racial Justice, Know Climate Justice: Why Getting to Climate and Environmental Justice Demands a Dismantling of Whiteness

Dr. Hackman will be presenting this concurrent workshop at the White Privilege Conference in April. Issues of climate disruption and environmental destruction are deeply connected to systems of Racism and Whiteness both in terms of who will suffer first and worst, and with respect to the ideological roots that have led our planet to this precipice. This session suggests how a racial justice lens can be used to more critically understand the roots causes of our current environmental moment, and demonstrate how it can be used as a means of finding deeply just and truly sustainable means of existing on this planet. The session begins by critically examining the race (and class and gender) mindset that has led us to this current climate moment and then offers a framework of racial (and gender and economic) justice to be used when developing climate and environmental solutions. The session is interactive via reflective questioning, paired discussion, and case study examples where participants can apply this knowledge to current technocratic and politically insufficient climate strategies and identify new, more racially just means of organizing and strategizing around climate issues. This session is best suited to folks who have both a basic understanding of current environmental realities and of racial justice concepts.

Pre-Conference Institute: Post-traumatic Master’s Syndrome: An Exploration of Whiteness as Trauma and Embodied Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be facilitating this pre-conference institute during the White Privilege Conference in April. Thanks to the work of Dr. Joy DeGruy and Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, as well as countless other POC/N folks who have spoken truth to power, we know that the deep and long-lasting impacts of racial oppression do not merely register in the systems of our society but also land in the bodies of those targeted. This work has been incredibly important in expanding our notions of what racial justice looks like and feels like. However, just as there can be no “oppressed” without the oppressor, the exploration of racism as trauma for the oppressed also requires an examination of the generational and historic dynamics of Whiteness and how it, too, lands as trauma in the bodies of multigenerational White folks. This day-long session will undertake that investigation and explore the ways that Whiteness as trauma has disrupted the work of even the most well-meaning White folks as they strive for racial justice. There is a cost to Whiteness, as we know, but that cost is often laid out in moral or ethical terms alone. This session explores another area of “cost” via the impacts on the body of witnessing, participating in, and/or ignoring the dynamics of racial oppression propagated in our name. Elements that will be explored are the general dynamics of trauma, dissociation, and the distancing effect that Whiteness has on many White people. Conceptually, the session begins with some grounding work and a few ways of getting into our bodies, it will then explore the narratives given White folks with respect to their racial identities and the ways they live those narratives out. The session will then turn to the more nuanced and complicated aspects of White privilege and White supremacy and the ways they synergistically feed each other, thereby supporting the ubiquitous dynamics of Whiteness in the U.S. More specifically, the session will explore the “counterweights” to the work of Dr. Degruy by leaning into three key aspects of “post-traumatic master’s syndrome”: 1) inflated esteem, 2) ever-present hostility toward / fear of People of Color / native peoples, and 3) supremacist socialization. The session concludes with work around resiliency tools and ways White people can more effectively show up in the midst of painful and complicated work for racial justice. Experientially, while the session will explore some intense aspects of what it means to be White in the U.S. it is not meant as a therapeutic space for White folks. Instead, this session seeks to create a space where White people can more deeply, thoughtfully and honestly explore places where they feel “inexplicably” stuck in their racial justice work. Through personal writing, paired conversations, small group work, and physical engagement, this workshop is designed to help White people ground the content in their bodies and establish “movement” through those “stuck” spaces. Because the session is completely geared toward the experience of White people, and therefore centers the White experience, it will not likely have significant resonance for participants of color / native participants. The session utilizes the work of Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Thea Lee, Tommy Wong, and of course the example set by Drs. DeGruy and Yellow Horse Brave Heart. The session is quite interactive, asks participants to lean into discomfort and seek authenticity, and is not well suited for those for whom racial equity issues are a new area of exploration.