Talking about Diversity with Clients Andre Koen:
Talking about Diversity with Clients
Andre: Good. Lots of traveling. Just Iowa. Iowa, Des Moines. The Des Moines public schools. Did a bunch of diversity sessions and stuff. That was fun. Very Interesting. For teachers. Woman 2: For teachers? Andre: Yeah. Audience: [whispering]Group Leader: Hi, should I go and do the [inaudible 00:04:00] and then let you introduce yourselves.
Woman 3: Sure. That works for me.Group Leader: All right, I think we'll get started. I just want to welcome you all here and thank you so much for coming. This is part of our "Undoing Racism Goal," which is creating a series of training with discussion groups focusing on issues related to race and poverty. What we're trying to do is learn and decimate knowledge about Minnesota's racial disparities, white's privilege and economic bias.
So, to go to the agenda, what we'd like to do is just have each panelist open up, talk about what their experience has been talking about racism or classism with their clients. How did this conversation start? If they opened the conversation? Why did they want to talk about it? What has been the reaction from their clients? And what have they learned or heard differently as a result? What are some of the advantages of talking about racism or classism? What are some disadvantages? And how we think social service providers can talk with clients about racism and classism without being discouraging or dis-empowering?
Once each panel member has had a chance to talk, we'd like for them to respond to each other, answer questions, and then we'll open it up to the audience.
Onika: First off we'll just kind of introduce ourselves. I'm Onika. I work here at EAC. I think I know all of you. [laughs] So, I work with the paid program Supported Work in Hennepin County, and I'm a member the group that's putting this together. I'm also working with some broader groups outside of EAC on racial disparities issues, which is also how I know some of the other panelists who are up here today.I also want to say that we were going to have a fifth person, Anita Patel, who works with the YWCA and is their Director of Public Policy and Racial Justice. Unfortunately, she is sick today, so she emailed me to cancel, but sends her regrets and said she very much wanted to be here so she wanted me to pass that along.
Andre Cohen: My name is Andre Cohen and I'm the Cultural Coordinator for Anoka County. I know that sounds like Julie McCoy from the Love Boat, and some of you aren't old enough to know what I'm talking about and that's OK. I do a lot of activities out of my department around ratio and gender equity and fill out a number of our reports to state and federal government around employment activities in the county. So, that's it. Christine Smith: My name is Christine Smith, and, let's see what you've got on here. OK, I am currently the founder of the Metro Talking Circle, but I was formerly the lead employment counselor at the American Indian [inaudible 0:07:23] as an MFIP counselor, so I did that for four years, and that's actually how the Metro Talking Circle got birthed, because we started to see the disparities, and see how consistent they were across the board, and I wanted to form a strategic group to start addressing and working towards eliminating them. Peter: My name is Peter Grombec, I'm Program Director for DAC Network Program [inaudible 0:07:44], basically the short formal program designed to people [inaudible 0:07:49]. I used to be an employment specialist with the DAC for about four years, working with very diverse clientele in Minneapolis. Just since I started here I've been active and just doing racism basically, and groups or things oriented, at least related to, achieving social justice. Onika: And thank you everybody for being here, for doing this today.So, my experience with talking about racism or classism with my clients started for me because I do workshops with people regularly, as part of supportive work, and one of the workshops that I did was about goal setting.
So I would get up there and I would talk about how important it is to set goals, and I would talk about breaking your long-term goals into short-term goals, and all this stuff. And I felt like it was really good information, and important for people, and I also felt like as I stood at the front of the room and gave that presentation to folks as a white person and as a person of economic privilege, it could easily look like I was just totally glossing over all of the obstacles that people face in actually trying to achieve those goals and implement them in their lives.
And I felt like I wasn't being particularly honest with my participants about how I understood their situation. Not that I know everything about what my participants go through on a daily basis, but I felt like I wasn't saying anything that even acknowledged that setting goals might not be something that you could just snap, do, and make happen.
So, I wanted to feel like I was being more honest about that, and I wanted to open up a conversation so that participants could talk with me and could talk with each other about how that works. So what I did was I built a portion into the workshop that directly ties into what we talk about in terms of setting goals, that is about what are some of the obstacles that people have to deal with in order to accomplish their goals? And some of them are stuff that has nothing to do with race; some of them are obstacles about managing time, and managing stress, and stuff like that.
But, then a part of it, one of the obstacles that I talk about is dealing with internalized stereotypes. So I led my participants through activities, the same one that many of us maybe did; I did it with Doctor Bea when we went through the "Undoing Racism" workshops that she did with resource staff, where you identify a group, and you just throw out, what are all the stereotypes about that group.
So usually I start out with something that's non-threatening; like I do what are the stereotypes about blonde people, because nine times out of 10 I'm the only one in the room!
So that breaks the ice, and it's just funny, and people can talk about how blondes are dumb and whatever. But, then we have a sense of how the activity works. But, then we move on to talk about what are some of the stereotypes out there about people on MFIP.
And it's led to some very interesting conversations, and it seems like people have appreciated it. I haven't had anybody storm out of the room, I haven't had anybody write on their evaluation, that was the stupidest activity I've ever gone through, and a few people have said that they appreciated it.
So we were able to talk about that, and then share some ideas about what are some of the ways that you can deal with internalized stereotypes and how they may be factoring into your ability to meet your goals, and stuff like that, and share some ideas there.
I've done that with a number of different groups, and there are always mixed-race groups, there are all folks on MFIP so they're right now in a common economic situation although who knows where they came from and how they grew up.
But, I think in terms of what the reaction's been, people have been very willing to share, and when I ask for some information about what are the stereotypes that are out there about people on MFIP, it's right on the tip of their tongue. I don't have to do anything to try to pry that out of people, it's right there, and they're willing to share and they're willing to talk about it.
I'm moving the conversation onto a bit deeper level has been a little more challenging, to get people to really think about, 'OK, what do you do with this?' Oftentimes the answer that I get to that question is 'just keep on, keeping on,' is about what people usually have to say.
I think in terms of some of the advantages and disadvantages, the advantage for me personally is like I said at the beginning, I just feel like I'm a lot more honest. Like our conversation is a lot more honest, because this gives me a venue to acknowledge what people have to deal with on a daily basis, and the fact that there is real discrimination out there based on race and class. That is part of the challenge for our participants in finding employment. I hope that it's a helpful conversation for my participants that they have that advantage too.
Some of the disadvantages, really most of the disadvantages fall into what I was afraid might happen when I opened up this conversation, rather than what has actually happened. But, I was a little nervous that I was going to be opening up a big can of worms, and that people were going to get really mad about talking about this topic and if that could end up being directed back at me, because I'm white, and middle-class, and a professional, and teaching this class, and I'm the MFIP "man."
So I was nervous about that frankly, going into it the first time, I was like, "I don't know, what's going to happen here, I'm tiptoeing on thin ice!"
But, nothing's happened, like I said. Nobody has gotten upset, when we've had these conversations, people have strong opinions, and people have certainly expressed those opinions, but people have been able to talk to each other, so I think that's been really key, and in terms of the last question about how to talk about this without being discouraging or dis-empowering.
That's still something I struggle with and that's something I'm trying to get better at because this is top stuff and acknowledging that people deal with discrimination and deal with racism can be pretty dis-empowering, especially when we're looking at employment issues and people trying to find work. We always want to be that voice of hope. Of, "Yes, you can do this. Yes, you can find that job. Yes, there are opportunities out there for you." And I believe that that's true. I also know that cards are stacked against certain people in terms of achieving those opportunities as much as they can.
So I think in the workshops that I've done, trying to make sure that I leave it on a constructive note of here are things that you can do about stereotypes and about internalizing stereotypes. We talk with people about being part of community groups that are working to make changes in this area. Talk with people about building up themselves, practicing positive self-talk to talk back to some of those negative messages. We talk about people building up their kids so that those attacks on self-esteem don't get transmitted on to the next generation.
So I think that's been really helpful is that we're able to end the conversation on a constructive note of here's what you can do. Here's how you can take action in your own life to try to make the best out of this situation.
So that's what I got. That's where I'm at so far and it's still a relatively new thing for me. It's still not necessarily comfortable every time we get to that part of the workshop. [laughs] But I think it's good and I think it's opening up a platform for conversations.
Andre: Again, my name is Andre Cohen and what has been my experience in talking about race and classism with our clients. I'm a member of a group that has morphed. The original name of the group was "Team Two". It has now moved into "Team Three". Onika: [laughs] Andre: Because apparently that was available.[laughter]
Andre: In "Team Two's" or slash "Team Three's" primary objective is to work on reducing disparities among African Americans and Native Americans in Anoka County. And so that has been where I have engaged clients. And so we ran a program for... some of the premises I operate from is that and that we've talked about in our team is how feminizing the welfare system was, in the sense that the system itself would take manhood away from men.So one of the things that we thought about was creating some network to help build the men so that they could lead strong families. If we could get the men to be strong leaders in their families, however those are constructed. That was one of the many strategies we thought could help reduce the disparity. And so we took that on.
I ran a men's group and it was so funny because all of the folks on the team... I was the only male on the team. All of the females said, "We need a men's support group." And I looked at them and I said, "No, we don't!"
Andre: Because as a man, I'm not going to some support group! Just tweaking the way we talked about that. So we generated these flyers and posters that said, "Men's work", and that's what we called it. We called the group, "Men's Work". We wanted to be action oriented but we also didn't want it to give that feel of this was an empowering experience as opposed to when- where you needed support. So you had skills and abilities and you would be a part of the "Men's Work" group.So in that group we talked a lot about things and I tried to take it from a different angle. I don't know if you can tell but I'm African American. Growing up African American in the 70's, I was a part of a lot of educational experiments: desegregation, bussing, individual guided education - all of these kinds of experiments that happened through education. And there were some things that I picked up that I found to be very useful.
One was, that people do not like to be given help. They would rather ask for help when they need it. It's just a basic human relationship. So one of the things that we started off with was a basic premise or assumption. And I'm not sure, this may be a little bit grotesque in a sense, but I want you to think about this model because we were men and so we could deal with this metaphor.
We talked about racism as if it were athlete's foot. One of the things that typically happens with athlete's foot, again just follow the metaphor, is that once one gets athlete's foot, one doesn't ever really get rid of it. You can manage it, you can make sure you have clean socks, you keep your shoes clean, feet dry, all that stuff. But it never goes away.
And so we talked about racism in that very same fashion. That, what if racism never goes away? What if these are things we have to deal with for our lifetime? One of the things that we talked about, as we explored that metaphor, was that there are certain things that you can do that athlete's foot will never bother you. You can keep your hygiene up and rotate and all this stuff.
We also talked about racism in that same way. There are things that you can do that racism will still be present. You'll still know that it's there, but there are things that you can do for yourself where the level at which it impacts your life is decreased.
Some of those ways that we talked about were education. Some of those ways were knowing how to be bilingual and we talked about bilingual not just in the knowing two different languages or languages that were foreign to you, but how do you talk business talk. How do you balance both of those? We talked about the whole idea and the concept of... sometimes people say you're "talking white" when you're talking business talk. Well, what does that mean? What does it mean to "talk black" or "talk native?"
And so we really started to try to unravel a lot of even the misconceptions about race and racism so that folks could feel empowered by the conversation as opposed to feeling victims or being victimized by it. And so we did a lot of those things.
And one of the things that was also helpful was that we took our staff through a number of trainings to talk about why folks on MFIP sometimes don't move the way we want them to. And it was very interesting, and I would encourage you to look this up online. There's an activity that we did with our staff called "Horatio Alger." And Horatio Alger was a set of stories that happened in the 1930s that were rags to riches stories. "Annie" was one of those kinds of rags to riches story. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can make it.
What Horatio Alger -- one of the hidden parts of Horatio Alger that's not very prevalent to people was that there was always someone with money giving that rags to riches person a chance, an opportunity. And so we took our staff through one of those exercises, and it was very illuminating to them why people didn't move. Because they found themselves in the particular activity that they acted just like the clients that they say don't move. And so that was a very helpful tool for staff to have a better understanding about how and why people don't move and act.
And so as part of our men's group, we talked a lot about what is our personal responsibility -- both for our family and our society -- to break the chains and the old patterns of behavior to move on to being able to do something new and different. And so we talked a lot about that stuff.
What was the reaction? The reaction was quite interesting because many of the men had never thought about diversity in that way. They had always considered themselves to be victims, and here's an example of trying to shift their thinking. If I were to ask you the question â€œAre there more black men in prison, jail, or in college?â€ What would popular media, or what would the popular discourse say to us about that?
Audience 1: Prison. Andre: Prison, right? And so what we've started to be able to do is to listen to some of those messages, and actually deconstruct them to see the fallacies in some of our popular thoughts, because if you look at the question -- the question is dysfunctional. The question is poor. What is the age range of a college student, the average age range? Audience 2: 18 to 22. Andre: 18 to 22, 18 to 24. I mean, we can put it in that window, right? What's the average age range of a person who can go to prison, jail or county? Audience 3: 16 to 99. Andre: 16 to 99, blah-blah-blah. So here we are measuring a small minute against a greater number. And also I've also heard people say that one in every ten black men has some relationship with the criminal justice system or blah-blah-blah. And I have to remind folks that my Uncle Tony has been to jail enough for me and my cousins. [laughs] Right?So there's this thing called recidivism where the same people keep going to jail, and they keep counting those people as if they were new people. And so even if in your neighborhoods, if you think about the people who get in trouble, it's the same people who keep getting in trouble. It's not these new people sprouting up.
And so we started deconstructing some of these messages in order to have people start challenging what other people are saying about them, but also help them to challenge what they think about themselves, because ultimately, if they don't change what they think about themselves -- we can have all the greatest programs, we can blah-blah-blah all this stuff -- and things won't change.
And I can't remember who said it, but the best social program is a job. And so we encourage people to get jobs. There was one young man who I was counseling through these programs who used to sell drugs. And he's saying to me, he's like, "Look, man. This is really getting hard. I'm getting sanctioned on this and that, and so I think I'm going to go back out and do that thing."
And I said, "Well, you can do that. You know how to do that. But will that get you to where you want to go? Because when you get locked up, everybody in your household gets locked up. Your girls go to foster care. They get locked up. I mean, that's a form of locked up. Whatever happens to you, happens to your kids."
And so we started talking about that, and I said, "What I don't want you to do is to change your hustle. You need to be that hustling dude, because that's you. That's why you're in. But I want you to change what you hustle. I want you to hustle some insurance. I want you to hustle -- go buy some t-shirts and hustle those t-shirts. But don't change who you are. Just change what you do."
So those are some of the ways that we were able to really with folks to help get them off the system. Some of the downfalls of our approach and our program, is that as you know, our folks are pretty transient. And so particularly in Anoka County, they may live in the county, but all of their resources and their networks are in Hennepin County or in Ramsey County. And so we've got this back and forth kind of teeter-totter swing thing that we're trying to catch people and we're getting new people all the time, so it gets real difficult to do any long-lasting change.
After every one of our sessions, the typical ones were, "I never thought about things like this. I had seen or talked about these things, but never like this. And so I think, if anything, I can say that the program has been a success just because we've gotten people to think.
And oftentimes, they're discouraged to think because they have so many problems that they're trying to juggle, that they don't have room enough to even breathe, nonetheless sit back and analyze their own situation and come up with a strategic plan for themselves. Yes, that's it.
Christine: Swallowed my water. So I had two experiences when I started talking about race and classism with my clients. I used to be in charge of facilitating and coordinating a job club. How many people in here are direct service workers? By show of hands. OK.How many are in management and have no direct service with clients?
OK. All right.
So I did both, I was leading and managing but I also did the direct service work, and so, it was exciting because I got an opportunity to coordinate facilitate these job clubs.
So I did one approach which was what Onika talked about. I had everybody in the group. Let's talk about myths and I just jumped right in. My clients were predominately Native American and African American and so, we just jumped right in and we said, "Hey, what are some myth and stereotypes about African American people, what do you think people say?"
And we just went on a tangent and just wrote down everything you could think of.
And then we did it about Native Americans and it was interesting. You could see people amongst each other arguing and be like, oh no, they don't say that, or they do say that, just having conversations about it, and then we started talking about what are some of the assets, what are some of the truths about African American people, what are some real things, what are some real characteristics?
And, I found that really interesting, because people could not identify a lot, it was actually sad. It was sad and interesting both because when you talk about stereotypes and myths it's like just going off, pimps, and hustlers and all this stuff and alcoholics and lazy and all these other things, but when it came to talking about what are our strengths as African American Native American people, it was really limited. So we talked about that, we talked about why, why is it that it's so much easier to identify weaknesses than it is to identify strengths.
And, allowed people to say what was on our mind with that. And then, we talked about how do they think if this is what some of the stereotypes are then a lot of employers are probably also thinking this as well, so you're going out, getting dressed up, you're getting yourself all prepared and ready.
Do you think that employers are looking at you this way? And how would that affect you in the interview? If you think that they think of you this way, do you carry yourself differently?
And so, we had a conversation about that and that was really in my mind successful because people were talking and engaged in the conversation and again, like Andre said it changed some peoples thinking. Some folks in the room and also just talking about it openly giving them the opportunity to talk about that stuff.
One method I tried that wasn't so successful was, and I was really excited about it, I went to a historical trauma training out at this ranch, I don't know if any of you are familiar with it, it's out in Saint Croix park or something, it's called, and there's a couple out there, a Native American couple and they have a horse ranch and they bring social workers out and do a colonizing exercise.
I encourage you to look into it a little bit; it was really helpful for me. So they have you come in and they talk to you about colonization and how it's affected Native American people and give you some history about it and then they bring you into with the horses and they say here's what you need to do, you need to get this horse from point A to point B, go at it.
So you have the 12 social workers all going in this big horse to try to get them over to this point B.
And you'd think OK it's easy, this is a horse, there's 12 of us we can figure this out right? It was impossible. And then half of us were scarred, I was scared, I was crying [laughs] I don't want to get kicked in the eye, all that stuff.
But, no, I actually was crying and I stepped back and the woman came over to me, Mrs. Smith â€“ we're not related â€“ and she said, "What's going on?" And I said that I'm frustrated because I feel like they're trying to make the horse do something against its will. And she was like, "That's good, that is what I wanted you to see."
And so we went back in and had a conversation about that as social workers. And then she did another exercise with us to help us be successful in leading the horse. She was saying, you have to earn the horse's trust and then you have to follow the horse's lead in guiding it. And she walked us through these steps these are things you need to do with your clients, you need to build trust. And that is one thing I innately knew, but to put it in words was different and so the exercise was really helpful.
So, I thought this was great, I just, I loved these guys, I went back out to their ranch. And I was really excited and I'm like I'm going to invite this guy to come in and talk to my clients about historical trauma. This is going to be great, he has all this information and he's doing this great work, and he's a native dude and he can come in and talk to my clients and I was excited about this.
So, we had our job club and here comes in Steve Smith with his PowerPoint and his slides and stuff and all my clients. I actually had a class of 25. I don't know how many of you have done job club, but 25 is a good turnout for job club. [laughs] So I was excited. We had a whole auditorium. You were there that time. We had the whole classroom packed.
And so, here he goes, he's running through these slides. And I like to scan rooms and pick up vibes and see what's going on and I'm watching my clients get disengaged. I'm watching folks turnaround, to the side. I'm watching people looking down at their text. And when I see that at my job clubs, I stop what I'm doing and let's shift, what's going on, what's going on let's shift, let's talk about what's going on. Because I feel like I'm not going to sit here and waste my and your time. Let's be productive with our time, that's my style of doing stuff.
But, this is his thing, so I'm letting it play out I'm watching and so after he gets done with his elaborate slide show, going through the history of American Indians and America as we know it and colonization and what's taken place. And he opens it up for conversation and I'm just waiting to hear all my clients, just like excited and one girl gets up and she's like, I don't know why the F we have to see this junk.
She's like, we already know what's going on with our people I don't know why you brought this white man up in here to talk to us about this stuff, I'm outta here, I don't need this. And she dropped her stuff and walked out of the room and it was almost like a contagion. My other clients were sitting there, then they turned around and looked at me.
They're like, "Why did you bring him in here, Christine? Why are you having him talk to us about this? We already know what's going on. And why? It's just depressing? It's just sad, my cousins and my family and my relatives are affected by this." "Why? Why would you show us this?"
And so we talked about that a little bit. I said "I apologize. I thought it would be helpful. I thought this information about history would help you, give you some tools and some language, and help you to identify why you might be feeling some of the ways that you do. And he's a good resource."
So, that played out for a couple of the job clubs were like, "Don't bring him back." We do a survey after each class and after each question and they're like, "We don't want that dude with the ponytail to come back." So, Steve didn't come back.
But it was interesting to me how that panned out. And so, I had to take a step back and reevaluate where I am at as an African-American and Native American person and my experiences in life and what I've learned about myself and separate that from where some of my clients might be at in their life.
Because I'm thinking "We're in this together. You're African-American, Native American, I am, too. We're connected. And we're not all at the same place. We all have different levels of, well, different personalities. We're different people. We're different individuals."
And so, that was a great learning experience for me. And what I learned from that is to be a more effective listener to my clients, one-on-one. And also to make sure that I am very respectful when I'm talking about things that could be traumatic to folks. So, that was a great learning experience for me and I wouldn't change a thing. I am glad that I did it. But that was my experience. I experienced more success when I opened it up to them and allowed them to come in with the input and to say what their thoughts and opinions were.
And we've also had one-on-one conversations. I've had one-on-one conversations with clients to see where they were at and how their opinions and views and ideas were. And that works in general whether it is a client of color or a white client or a non-English speaking client because it's about looking at them as a human being.
Because really what it boils down to is we're dealing with grown people. These are grown folks and they're going to do what they want to do. So, you can motivate. You can give all the knowledge and all the tools and all the great stuff that you want, but at the end of the day folks are going to do what they want to do. So, what we have to think about as direct service workers is how can we be the most effective?
And I honestly believe it's to really ask questions and be an effective listener where folks are at and be respectful about that and help them where they're at. Help them with what they say that their goals are. And that's even talking about race and classism, because some people might not be ready to have that conversation and some people might be pretty advanced in that conversation.
So, that touches on what some of that advantages and disadvantages would be. I think it's always good to be open and honest with people and to talk about the big elephant in the room. Isn't that the term they use, the big elephant? Because it's there and it stinks. You're like, "OK, there's a funk going on here. I'm uncomfortable, you're uncomfortable. Can we clean it up? Can we move it? Can we do something?" I'm that person "Let's talk about that elephant." And that's something that I do.
But some of the disadvantages can definitely be some people don't want to talk about the elephant. They'd just rather put a face mask on and continue smelling it. [laughs] But, that's where people are at and I can respect that. I can respect that people might be at different places. And so, trying to gauge and understand where people are at, I think, is really key and again to reiterate that.
I think it's really important for social service providers to talk with clients about racism and classism because Onika but the thing that we don't say, a lot of times we still know. But we just don't say it.
They might be looking at her like what does this white girl with blonde hair, what is she about to come and tell me about something? This is a white girl with blonde hair. She comes in here. She hasn't had a hard day in her life. She doesn't know what it's like to be a single mom on welfare or anything.
So, for her to talk about that, in itself, is just going to make some segue into building that trust level and that's the most important thing to be able to say openly "Yes, I am a white person and I've had, been experienced to privilege. But I truly, genuinely care about my job and want to be the most effective."
With you, I think opening up with that conversation is the most important. Because if you don't build your clients' trust, you're not going to be able to do your job, which is most likely helping them find employment or becoming self-sufficient.
They'll probably still do that on their own, but you're not going to be as effective in doing that if you don't build that trust level with them and definitely being cautious, because you don't want to be dis-empowering. You don't want to be discouraging.
And that's something else I had to, just to close with this. Also, when you talk about the historical trauma and things that have taken place with clients, especially African American and Native American clients, you have to find a way to bring it back. Because people can get flared up and start talking and get fired up and be amped and be like, "The system" and just get really upset and angry.
And that's OK and good. But we have to help people harness that anger into how can I use this anger to reach my goals and to defy all these myths and these things that are stereotypical that are not true. So bringing it back, and I think Onika touched on that, too, and Andre as well, just to put it back on the individual and say "This stuff is horrible and there is systemic racism going on, institutional racism, historical trauma that's taken place in our communities and in this culture."
"And we need to be responsible to figure that out together. I'm here to help you. And you the individual need to take responsibility and do whatever you need to do to be successful in your life for your children."
And I think that's probably the best message you can give to a client. Whether they get a job or not, they'll take that and value that. And probably use other things that you said to them to help them reach their goals.
That's all I have.
Peter: Wow. So, everyone hit on a lot of interesting information. I want to go to [inaudible 0:44:04]. [laughs] But that sounds really interesting.I'm going to come at you guys with more of a case management perspective on this issue, just because I did it for such a long time.
I want to just ask, because I pretty much saw a ton of hands, I mean, I've worked with all of you guys, what do you hear from a client or get from them when the word "sanction" is involved? They're calling you on the phone, you're not getting your benefits from something related to them getting something in the mail.
Someone say something. What do you think?
Peter: Well if they're in sanctions, what do they come at you with? What I was trying to get at was basically that they're frustrated, "It's not my fault, it's my case manager's fault. Who's your supervisor? Let me talk to their supervisor."Basically, it's pushing the burden not necessarily on them but on someone else basically. That's what I've gotten a lot with my clients when I've worked as a case manager, and a specialist, about racism and classism. "It's not my fault. I got fired from my employer because he's racist," or, "People are saying bad things, and especially my employer, because I had to give him a work verification. So he was wondering why I needed this filled out by the county."
The question I really wanted to bring up with people is the conversations really don't start with some people that are working as case managers by you bringing the topic up. Whether or not you're doing a workshop or not, but it's more the fact that they're coming to you with a question or concern, or a problem in their life.
When I was a case manager, I basically worked with a client who, after getting a job, gave a work verification to an employer and that person started drilling them with questions about being on welfare. They were a hard worker, and I was just shocked. I was thinking, "This is ridiculous. This is not legal. What's going on here? This is concerning."
But, it was a smaller employer, and the person of course didn't take the job. But, the thing is, racism and classism is evident everywhere. Like she was saying, it's one of those things that there could be some hard worded situations that someone is just not talking about of course.
A lot of the time, when I respond to the conversation, my reaction has been, of course, openness and trying to go on the defensive more with the situation of trying to empower someone. Empowering someone can be anything from: How can you combat those things? How can you make that employer think differently? "
Well, if he thinks that I'm on welfare, what's his image of me going to be? Obviously it's going to be horrible." But, the thing is, you just have to make that necessary change. At least coming at people with questions or concerns, or having them work hard.
At least a lot of the times when I've been talking about race, at least, and classism, disadvantages and advantages, it can hopefully be a coping strategy for the client, helping them get out all the information that they want to tell you about a specific situation, but also creates development psychologically.
Also, it can unmask racial disparities that someone might not have realized in the workplace or just in general. But, major disadvantages of this situation would be that people are afraid of conflict. People are unable to actually voice their opinion a lot of the time, because of the fact that racism is huge. People just don't understand the fact that institutional racism has been going on for ages.
Also, calling someone out if they were to say something racist or something derogatory about someone that was on welfare, such as calling their employer out in that situation that I described. And that can also reinforce stereotypes, just in general.
Basically, as social services providers, being empowering is the biggest situation, at least in my point of view as a case manager helping people out to try to change their perspective. But, also... That was pretty much it. [laughs] I had a whole bunch of different stuff that I wanted to talk about, but a lot of it has been gone over by you guys.
Onika: Sorry. Peter: Oh that's OK. Onika: I read your paper. [laughs] Just kidding.Does anybody on the panel want to respond to anything that any of the rest of us have said? Or ask for any clarification on anything? Was there something that jumped out at you as, "That sounds awesome, tell me how to do that," or, "Why would you ever think of such a boneheaded idea," or anything in between?
Andre: I do want to address a process that you guys had been a part of, which was the dismantling racism. And I would encourage folks that is an approach, but not necessarily "the" approach.Because there are some presumptions that we can actually get rid of it, which we may or may not be able to do given the way things are embedded in our society, but at the end of the day, it's extremely important to go right back to where you left off, is that part of our responsibility is to empower people to meet the challenges that face them, no matter what those challenges are.
Often times we operate, particularly in social services, from a deficit model, where we're looking for disparities, we're looking for where you're not doing so well, and all of these things. Which is where that dismantling racism comes in, as a deficit model, how do we fight this nasty thing, as opposed to, how do we look at overcoming these things.
I did want to just make sure that folks knew that there are other models, other than just the dismantling racism. There are some empowerment models as well that try to speak too in terms of, how do we overcome those things. Because for some folks, the task is so daunting that they get frozen and say, "I can't get over racism. It'll never go away, so that is the excuse for my crazy behavior."
They're going to think I'm so-and-so anyway, so I don't have to try or do anything. Which I think is a way that people don't have to own their behavior as well. It's easy to blame the system or the man as opposed to actually having to own your situation and do something about it.
Christine: It's a heavy topic, and I think you can come from multiple angles with it. It's something that I have a lot of conversations about with the work that I do. It's interesting being in a service provider position, because you're pulled, and one thing that I really struggled with while I was working in the system was, I'm getting paid because other people are poor. I have a job because people are poor and on welfare.And that was troubling for me that was really difficult. Because I just kept thinking that I'm going to hop in my car, go home and I'm going to have money to buy food if I need to. And a lot of my clients don't.
And so, that in itself was troubling. And I actually talked to my clients openly about that before, as well. I've had conversations. I actually said that to my clients in a job club. And I said, you know that myself, my coworkers and everybody downtown at Century Plaza has a job because you're on welfare.
And the room was just dead silent. They were like, "Did she really just say that? She really did say that." And I was like, "It's true." I'm like, "Honestly, none of us would have a job if you weren't on welfare. And so what are you going to do about that?"
And I also share with my clients, I was also on MFIP for four years while I was going to school. I usually open up with that, with my clients. I let them know, actually from overview. As soon as they come in from overview because they're already looking down, filling out the eight million sheets of paper, writing War and Peace right there.
So, I just hit them with that and then I have the instant attention. "Oh, you were on welfare? OK. I might listen to you." So then they look at me and they listen. And I'm like, "I'm not playing games with you. You turn your job logs in, you do this and that stuff." So I get their trust from me telling that. I do have the advantage with them.
But I like openly talking about the fact that I have a position of power. I don't say it like that. But again, it's there, it exists. They know that I have a job because they're on welfare.
And I tell them, I switch them out even with my staff. I said, we need to be more about customer service. We really need to have a mindset of customer service because though they're not paying us directly, they're still our customers. And they're being here is keeping us with a job. And we need to remember that and not just look at how adults like we have the answers to all their problems.
And I got caught in that too, even though I was on the system and I'm a person of color and I still got caught in that mode of like, "OK. Well, I can help them. I can solve people's problems and I can fix this. And I have the answer and really had to check myself." I had to do some internal stuff with myself. Like, "OK, what's going on here? Why are you having this resistance and stuff?"
So, human service work is a heavy thing. I mean, I command all of you in this room because I think, personally, it's probably one of the most important things, next to being a parent. But it's, working with human beings is really hard work. And it's really important and something should be done, you have to take care of yourself, as an individual. You really have to do self care and reflect on, is there stuff that's going on inside me that I'm reflecting on to my clients.
And the more self-aware that you are, I think will make you a more effective worker in what you do. And you'll probably gain more respect from your clients. Because they still know. Just because you're not talking about it, they know.
Peter: One thing I wanted to just even imagine, is like even when I used to work with my clients, you know. I used to like literally legitimately tell them how it is.Like granted, like the service we're providing you, of course, like people pay good money for this. And it's just a great service.
But also, it's just the fact that, like treating people, like whether it's racism or classism. You have to come at them with just an even keel, treating everyone the same with the same respect, because you're not going to get that out in say ... in the world. I mean, it's more the fact that when people come in you're treating them all the same.
Onika: [inaudible 0:55:56] Peter: Just consulting services to help them find work, so. Christine: The model has changed a lot just because of the ... because, it used to be AFDC and it's like that even is something that is difficult to deal with, with clients. Because it's ... people didn't used to have to report to a probation officer all the time, like they do now. Technically when you ... who is an employment counselor in here?You're POs. You're a probation officer for the system. I mean seriously, you called them up and instead of putting them in jail you put them in sanction. I mean it's similar to being like a probation officer. It's very punitive.
And so, it's difficult because, you get clients feeling especially ... I'm going to go there ... especially African-American, Native American clients. The stuff that's taken place historically in this country with the government. I think there's a lot of, a lot of stuff.
And so when it comes to the system, the system and our folks, Native American, African American people, it's like there is a sense of entitlement. And so it's like OK, why ... and I think it's justified, personally. That's just my opinion. I think it's justified just because of the stuff that's taken place in this country.
But there's that feeling, it's an underlying feeling of entitlement. Like OK, well you owe me these services. This is my reparations. This is my payback for all the broken treaties or whatever. I mean, seriously.
And so it's like, we're like why do we have to bust out tails to turn in a job log to you. And you're the reason we're in this condition.
And so I think there is some of that type of stuff going on in our communities. And so, that's a heavyweight discussion. That's definitely not something that I would advise going into, nor would I willingly go into. I had to think about it before I just went to it in here.
But I maybe shouldn't have. Maybe I'll go up there [inaudible 0:58:08], I'll see. But it's definitely, that right there, what you said. The question you asked and what he said. That was ... that was some of that stuff. And so that's what's going on.
And so if we look at ... if we look at the results that we want, we have to look at some of that stuff. We want these end results but yet we have to take a real inventory. And taking that real inventory has some stanky elephants in it, so.
Andre: Stanky elephants. Onika: Stanky elephants with athlete's foot. Andre: Yeah. Stanky elephants with athlete's foot.But yeah, the part is, that sense of entitlement, we have to ... people need to have that, because as an American there are things that I'm supposed to have. I'm supposed to be able to pursue happiness. It's in the document, right?
And so again. We keep telling people who are oppressed that they're not supposed to feel oppressed. When the system itself ... The body images of women in popular magazines help drive a whole market about how women participate in the marketplace. We capitalize on trying to make women feel bad about themselves so that they can buy these products and be a part of this stuff.
We do the same thing with other oppressed people. It's funny, I was in a conversation and we were talking about -- oh, it was at a Native American training -- and we were talking about drinking and what were some of the stereotypes of Native Americans, the drunk Indian thing and we talked about that.
I brought up... I was like, yeah, it's only cool to be drunk and incoherent when you're cute and white and young. If you don't have those three things, you are a derelict in our society. I think about that, what's that show, where the kids, that's all they do -- New Jersey, New Jersey...
Audience: Jersey Shore. Andre: Right. They have those three things. They are cute, white and young and when they lose one of those three things, they will be has-beens. It's important that, I think, people have that entitlement personality because I'm entitled to have a better life than what has been dealt to me. I'm entitled to have a better education than what I was a part of.I think it's, again, not taking the hustle out of the person, but refocusing and reshaping that entitlement. You're entitled to have a better job and live in a better place. You're entitled to that, but let's try to change how you get that because right now, getting, what is it -- $460, or depending on how many kids you have...
Onika: $437. Andre: $437 a month is not going to get you to what you're entitled to. It's not going to happen. But, if I can get you to work this job and get over at 3M or even start your own auto mechanic shop, you can make the kind of money that you're entitled to. I think it's that shifting that we have to do in the way people think about stuff. Onika: I think it's interesting that you brought up the example of body image because that was one thing that I was going to say and didn't get to earlier. For the white folks in the room who would be having these conversations, one of the things that I do in my workshop is I use that as an example.So, when we're talking about what is an internalized stereotype, I talk about, OK, I see this magazine. I see this Calvin Klein model sprawled out in Vogue or whatever and I know that that is a ridiculous airbrushed very unhealthy human being.
I know that consciously. I know that it's just a stereotype that women are supposed to look like that, but it still sneaks into the back of my head and there's still that little voice that's saying that I'm supposed to look like that and whatever ways I don't add up to that are flaws of mine and that's what I notice when I look in the mirror. That's the example that I use of how internalized stereotypes work.
I think the larger point there is that there's a lot of ways in which I'm not going to be able to identify with what my participants live with on a daily basis because I'm not a person of color, because I haven't been poor.
There are some ways that I have some understanding and I don't try to pretend that what I experience as a woman is the same thing, but there are some ways that I can draw parallels to show that this is a little bit of how this operates on me and this is a little bit of how I do get it. There's a lot of places where I'm not going to get it, but there's opportunities for some commonalities there even though it may look like there's this huge gulf between us that we're never going to be able to get across. One thing I wanted to throw out.
Andre: I also wanted to add a little bit that sometimes people call things what they're not. I watch Animal Planet, and so I like the metaphors that it presents me. They were following this group of Rwandan mountain gorillas -- silverbacks -- and so the alpha silverback, just massive, massive creature, but I found out that as big as those creatures are, and they have these huge canines and just powerful, they're vegetarians. They eat vegetables. That's what they do.The alpha gorilla is with the pack and he sees another gorilla from another troop coming into his territory so he starts to engage in these behaviors that are pretty typical in any movie or anything that you've seen. He gets to the edge of his boundary and he grabs the grass and throws it up in the air and he starts showing his teeth and he's banging his chest and he's making all this noise and creating all this hoopla -- arghh! -- and all this stuff. They explained it in the episode, but I was asking myself, "Why is he doing this?" and I'd ask you the same question. Why is the gorilla doing that?
Audience: [mumbling]Doesn't want anybody in his space. He's trying to scare them. Yeah, because there are no hospitals in the jungle. So if we have these two 500 pound gorillas physically fighting each other, what's going to happen? One of them is going to get hurt, and without any doctors or hospitals it's death. A lot of times what happens is that the people that we engage in this process kick up dirt. They kick up, they make a lot of noise, they show their teeth, they get nasty so that we don't have to actually deal with their real behaviors.
I recall as a kid my parents would tell me to take out the trash and the first thing I would do was talk back. And why would I talk back? Because they would engage me about me talking back because I knew they didn't like that. So I would start talking back and we'd have this argument about talking back and then I didn't have to take out the trash [laughs] because I'm either on punishment or doing something and blah-blah-blah, but I totally avoided taking out the trash -- until they got hip.
And so I would talk back and they would say, "Whatever, as long as you take out that trash." And I'm like, "Blah-blah-blah," and pretty soon, I was taking out the trash just as they had asked me and after a while, I stopped talking back about that because it didn't work any longer. Sometimes our clients will call things racism or they'll say that it's sexism so that they don't have to look at their own behaviors and the choices that they've made that have kept them out of opportunities.
And I'm not saying that those things don't exist and that they're not real, but I also change people to ask themselves, what has been your participation in this process? Was there anything that you did or didn't do that has bled into you being in this circumstance or even feeling this way about stuff? And I also had my staff focus on that.
If somebody tells you that something you did was racist, you don't just wash it off. You look it at, you analyze it and say, what was my role in that exchange, and it's through that critical thinking that we actually create space for growth and for building relationships and empowerment. I don't believe that people can really be empowered until they're in a position where they can think critically about things, places, and goals.
Onika: Should we open it up to other questions? Somebody had a question, Katie? Katie: Can you talk a little bit more about - or maybe I just want to say while I'm thinking out loud that Dismantling Racism is really easy for me to grasp onto as a white person because I can talk about what's happened to people, and I can spend my - open a knapsack and spend my account on my white privilege and I can do all that stuff.But when you're talking to people about what was their goal in this, what could you do - racism isn't going away so how could you - how are you going to move your behavior instead of always blaming, how do I, the white person, bring that up easier to talk about stereotypes and parallel things like woman's bodies or being blond or whatever, but to be able to talk to somebody about - almost seems like if I was to say that I'd be saying - oh hey, get over it - but it's not what I mean. How do I say you're white, get over it?
Christine: That's an awesome question. I love that question because it's... Katie: [inaudible 1:09:31] [laughs] Do you think there needs to be more of a balance of I hear you [inaudible 1:09:43]. Andre: But the other thing is, asking questions, I mean the Socratic method has been used for thousands of years and we don't have to come up with answers because ultimately the answers have to come from them.And that's part of as helpers we have to have the answers. I taught high school for eight years, and I went into the classroom thinking I knew stuff. And then my students re-taught me because they had the answers. They had to figure out what the answers were for their own situations.
And so part of it is, and I can say it differently than you can, because we're different people, we have a different blah-blah-blah, but at the root people really do have to get over it. We have to figure out ways to say there are things that happen to us that we can either become victims or we become resilient as a result of those.
And I would never negate the experiences because they are true, they are real. People have to deal with that, but a parent dies, do you go lay in the coffin too, or do you say there's something that I can learn from this and that can make me stronger. So part of it, I would say, is to ask questions. This happened, it was horrible, now what?
And I think part of the conversations around - here's a core reason why the Dismantling Racism doesn't work so well for me, because it's so guilt and fault ridden. And so what ends up happening is, particularly from what I've noticed about white people, is that they start doing things out of guilt and shame. I don't want anybody doing anything out of guilt and shame, because then you'll start doing stupid stuff like you'll give away your car to somebody.
Just asinine stuff where if we think about it from a different point of view that this stuff happens but we have to think about way to get over it together, then were building things together. We're being collaborative, as opposed to compromising or having all these - it's just crazy. I mean my mother makes me do stuff out of guilt that I just, after a while I'm like, "Why did I do that, that was silly." So just think about those things.
Christine: Yes, and I totally agree. I think that's it's better to be upfront with people about their responsibilities because that's all you can deal with and to ask them questions and have them to come up with the answers.But to touch directly on that, the analogy I can think of is like, OK let's say I'm sitting there talking to somebody, a co-worker whatever, "God my mom is such a pain in the butt," I'm always talking about what a pain, and she irritates me and all this stuff, and then somebody comes up and I'm like, "Oh yeah that was my mom on the phone." And they say, "Oh your mom. Oh my God! She sounds - she's just a horrible person and starts going off about your mom." You're going to be mad. You're going to be like, "You're talking about my mom, hold on a second."
And that is the type of reaction a lot of times if somebody, a white person, was ever to come up to a person of color and just say, "Get over it." That's the reaction it's going to be. It's like somebody's talking about their mom, that type of reaction. But it is still there and it's something to be thoughtful about because it's there. And they might even be thinking that you already didn't get over it.
And so that's touchy and if you think about respect as the core and just really just think about respect with that individual because people are different. I might be ready to talk about something like that with you, but you might meet one of my clients for the first time and they might never be able to talk about that with you.
So it's different and it's about really gauging where that person is at and having that respect. And when you come from a holistic approach, or I don't know if I'm going to use that word, forget I said that. When you come from an approach of looking at everybody and wanting the betterment of the community and you really have good intentions, you can start having more of those open conversations. And again, that's looking at yourself, too. Where are you coming from with that?
Because if you hear somebody complaining, whether it's about race or class or whatever, what are you thinking? What are you thinking in your head about that? Are you thinking, "Oh my god. No, they are not about to tell me one more excuse." Are you thinking that? Because I've thought that before, but I know that's the time to keep my mouth shut. I'm not going to tell them what I'm thinking right now, because that would offend them.
Really gauge where you're at when you're ready to talk about that stuff. Figure out where you're at, because it could open up a can of worms.
Andre: The other part to that, and I want to add, is what I do, and particularly when I taught high school, I asked my students, because they'd say, "That's so racist," or, "They hate me," or whatever. So I asked them what was their individual role in that. So I get them to think about that. And then I go to the other person, and say, "What's going on?"So if it's an employer, and a client says, "That employer is blah-blah-blah," I'd ask the client, "What do you think your role was in that?" "What might be your plan next time to do it a little better?" But I'm going to call that employer and say, "What's up? My client just came in and said that this, this and this happened?" Not in an investigative, official interrogation.
But I need to have them be critical thinkers as well. Because if I change this employee, and they go back to the same environment that they came out of, we're going to keep getting the same results. And ultimately, the person is going to get so frustrated because they've been changing, but they're not going to want to be a part of the system at all. So it's easier for me to go back home and collect my check and take the sanctions, than it is to deal with all of this craziness.
Onika: I would say [inaudible 1:16:24]. What was your role in this? [laughs] [inaudible 1:16:26] Ask some other questions first. What was your role in that? [inaudible 1:16:30] Woman 4: [inaudible 1:16:32] questions [inaudible 1:16:34] all the time. I went to an interview, and [inaudible1:16:38]. And it always comes down to screwy things like, "Well, they asked me to. [inaudible1:16:42]" "Well, you have to ask them questions or [inaudible1:16:48]" [laughs]. "You have to ask yourself [inaudible 1:16:51]." And when they have valid points, you have to know when they're making valid points and when they're not making valid points, and say, "Yes, I totally agree. That's a valid point."And when it's not, you have to ask them the questions. Or if nothing hits you, "You're right. I guess that's a good point. But we also need to work on this."
Andre: I think a lot of what we deal with, at least in social services, is more of a reactive approach. Onika's situation with her workshops is very proactive. Like getting it out of the home so she could talk with people that are dealing with that kind of stuff, but a lot of at it, at least with case managers and stuff, is more reactive, where you're reacting to someone coming at you because of a problem with going to an employer or just dealing with situations that are really complex.And the thing is, personally I've never wanted to play the expert. I've never wanted to play that role. Ever. I wanted to always foster dialogue, because I'm no expert on completely changing racism 180 degrees with classism. I mean, maybe if I was a professor teaching a class on it, I might have some information on it. But it's more just fostering dialogue and not trying to be the expert. It's more of a reactive approach [inaudible 1:18:58].
Onika: Can you talk a little bit more about the some [inaudible 1:19:15]? Also poverty that affects [inaudible 1:19:23] [laughs] Andre: First of all, men and boys are taught to work. Lots of us. There are those who have been taught that their work is to get money from women. [laughs] It's work, it's just another form of work. And so, typically what ends up happening is that men have to report to a PO. And the PO happens to be female. So there's that part. And I don't mean PO. I actually mean case workers... Onika: Employment counselors. Andre: Employment counselors. [laughs] I was trying to tap into her stuff. So there's that. I don't know, it's just a real demeaning process for a man to have to go to the county or go to somebody else to get bread to feed his family, when I can hustle on the street and get tons of props and be proud and have camaraderie and not have to put up with all this other stuff.And I perceive that I'm making more money. If you look at the hours they spend on the corner versus what they actually bring in, it doesn't equate. But I get all those external, really good feelings about being a dude without being in the system. And so if we can figure out ways to engage men so they can get enough strength and camaraderie to get off the system that's helped them.
There are also these welfare legends that are out there around the fact that if a man is in the household, if the family gets sanctioned, if the family is better off without him in the picture, and all of these kinds of things. So historically, having a man in the house has been a detriment to the family as opposed to an asset. And so there's some of those still lingering thoughts about manhood and being in the family. So why would I...if my family can do better without me, I'm going to be out.
And if I can have two families, I'm going to do better and so are they. So there's the welfare stuff, and then there's the whole paternal stuff that happens with men, when they have to pay child support on multiple children. That's not helpful, because the man again is telling me to do something. Yes, ma'am?
Woman 5: I just have found it really interesting in my particular situation as a case member. I'm working with people who are specifically almost at 15 months. So I just have noticed the single dads on my case load, it's like they don't get it. They just don't...But I just assume that it's like a gender role sort of a thing, like... Andre: Get "it," what is "it?" Peter: Yes, I was going to ask the same thing. Like, find a job, or...? Woman 5: Like, I am going to sanction you! Your time is running out! Are you doing something else? Is there some other way I can help you? Are you just riding it out, or do you just not want to come see me, or what is going on? Andre: Yes, all of that, because this is the thing. When the economic downturn happened, there are certain groups of people that weren't affected by it. Poor people, because they've always been poor. So whatever - and I heard this the other day and it just blew my mind - but someone was talking about how our legal system does not work for Native Americans. And the reason it doesn't work for Native Americans, because jail is just another place. It's not a bad place. It's not a good place. It's a different place.And so for most of us in the West, we think of jail as being a bad place. "That's a place I don't want to be!" So if I'm trying to use that to help motivate behavior, it's not going to work! Because it's not a bad place or a good place, it's a different place.
And so what happens a lot of times, particularly with poor people who have been in generations of poverty, sanction me. I'm going to make my hustle. I'm going to make it happen, because I always have and I always will. And whatever that piece of joy is for me may not necessarily be what society accepts or thinks is positive, but it's going to be good enough for me.
And so, part of what we have to understand is, people will do, A, what they want to do, but they do what they think is good for them. And so we have to help people change what they think is good for them, and then we can start curbing behaviors. Because as soon as you sanction them, they get cut off, they're going to figure out a way to do something else. They'll get on SSI.
And if I get on SSI or if at least I get on the list, I can hang out. I can circle the airport until they tell me to come in. Or there's some emergency program that I can get on, some other program that'll give me an extension, blah-blah-blah. People know...it's amazing how people have figured out what our systems are. And they get it. They just...
Peter: [inaudible 1:25:14] did people become that way? Andre: They become so resourceful. But if we can redirect that resourcefulness to something more positive or something that can benefit them in a different way... Onika: I wanted to touch on what Christine was asking about the feminizing. First of all, MFIP is set up where the woman is the head of household. That in itself is just automatically...any male, you're parent number two on the caseload right there. She's in charge, she's the head of household.And though we're in a day and age where women are working and women are earning as much or even more than men [laughs]...Dave Chappelle did a really funny skit about that...is still, the man has typically been the head of household. And so for now MFIP to be switched so the woman's now the head of household that in itself just sets the tone of defeminizing the man. And the man is from the gate not going to respect the system or want to comply. So there's that.
Woman 5: Most often, my two-parent families, the mom is towards 16 months and the dad is at like 14. Onika: Yes. Woman 5: So...I don't know [inaudible 1:26:40] reapply. Well, depending on what happens with their family, then he would be the head of the case or whatever. And it is not set up for...You're absolutely right. I just want to agree with you 100 percent [inaudible 1:26:57]. Onika: In Native American culture, African American culture is very blended, just because African American people have not been exposed to their African roots as much. But Native American people have had a privilege of having elders teach about some of the ways, and the man is the warrior. The man's the hunter. He goes out and he is the provider for the family. And that's more the traditional ways.And so for Native American men to not be able to get jobs and not to be able to provide for their families is very feminizing. So then the women end up becoming the warrior and the hunters and providers for their home. And then there is no place for the man. And so that causes a lot of dysfunction just in the family unit in itself, just the functioning. And so again, just like Andre said, it's better just to not be here.
We have programs set up all over the city and the state that are for single mothers. I had a man looking for a domestic violence shelter. And his woman was fighting him and stuff like that and there was nothing, absolutely nothing. And then there's domestic violence shelters or even just homeless shelters for families and stuff is also very limited. So there's...
Andre: But families don't include men. Onika: According to the systems. Andre: So if you're homeless and you're a family, everybody can go but the dude. So we have to be critical thinkers and really just understand where people are coming from. They're doing what they think works, even when it doesn't. So we have to change a bunch of stuff. Christine: And women are relational. It's no problem for us to come to another woman and talk. So we might feel resistance for that, but we're going to come to a woman and talk to her and find resources to help. Whereas a man isn't innately a provider. They're innately the warrior. And so, for them to have to now bow down and crawl and ask for you to help them for their household, is you're not going to. Onika: Well, in the way that two parent families have to cooperate [laughs] [inaudible 1:29:21] and be in, in completely in sync. I mean, anybody who's married [inaudible 1:29:30] [laughs] and have to do everything the same, be out of the house at the same time to get to childcare, do this, that sanctioning. I mean, it's just not set up for harmony. Woman 6: Right. Onika: At all. Peter: [inaudible 1:29:44] Onika: Yeah. Woman 6: Well, one, I mean, one thing that I wanted to respond to is I think when you're originally talking about that, that phenomenon of feminization is that partly it's just demoralization and the dignity that gets taken away by the system. And that effects everybody and in some ways referring to that is feminizing kind of accepts the idea that women should be OK with begging for help [laughs] and that's just normal and OK. Onika: Right. Woman 6: And I think it's demoralizing for everybody. Onika: Right. Woman 6: And I am not saying that you were trying to imply that. I think it is particularly challenging place for men to be, but yeah it's a tough situation for everybody. And that's one of the things that has come up when we've talked about these stereotypes about classicism. Is we start to talk about how do these get reflected in the way that [inaudible 1:30:40] is built?And if there's these stereotypes out there that people are lazy and people are trying to cheat the system, think that might have something to do with the fact that you have to document every single minute of everything you do. Because somebody out there is assuming that you are lazy and trying to cheat the system and not going to follow through unless you document every single minute of everything that you do.
So, that's another way that we can demystify things and like what you were talking about with media images. We can start to demystify the system and realize that a lot of the ways that it's built and a lot of the things that people have to go though that can be so harmful to sense of dignity are that way because those stereotypes are in place and because those stereotypes inform the policy makers that set the system because those stereotypes... honest about it are in all of us somewhere under there even if it's unconscious. Even if we're trying to do our best not to be run by that, it's in there.
So, every layer of the system is influenced by those stereotypes that we all have about the folks that we're trying to help. And that builds some dysfunction right into the system from the get go. [pause] Any other questions any other comments? Does everybody know exactly how they're going to handle every conversation about racial [laughs] issues that may ever come up? [laughs] [pause]
Woman 7: [inaudible 1:32:30] monitor on your way. But it's true, that's how it is. [inaudible 1:33:04] Christine: It's good to do that. I'm glad you did. Because I had to deal with that to a [inaudible 1:33:12] you're in a chain because you're like on one hand I don't want it to be this way. But just like Onika said you have to monitor everything. Unemployment with people on unemployment they go on unemployment they collect their check and they go on a website and it asks them questions. Did you look for a job? Yeah. Would you have taken a job if it was offered? Yeah. Did you have the time to get a job if you could?Yeah, submit. Then you get your check. Our clients better come in with 25 hours of job search with phone numbers and a contact name and case notes. That helped me not have to be so micromanaging with my clients. It got me all my monitoring use to score really high in monitoring because we had beautifully accurate case notes because some of our clients weren't as good with the job search, but I knew they were working on something else. I compensated for that with my case notes.
I mailed the client I talked to them we're talking about this. They're working on this. So you can have a little bit of freedom because in monitoring they want to make sure you have some kind of context.
Peter: And the real interesting thing for note the county ... the thing that helped shift how we thought and what we did was that we did some focus groups. And one thing came clear out the focus groups was that when people came to the county, all the metaphors that they used were war metaphors. "I know I'm going in to do battle." "I have to put my game face on." "I have to be prepared for..." I mean, it was all this hostile metaphors that people were using when they engaged us.And we sat back and we were like, "Oh my goodness. What have we created? What kind of atmosphere?" So we started changing how we did chairs. We got different kinds of pictures up, and we started doing some cultural competence training among ourselves and we really started trying to change the atmosphere until we got to a point where people weren't using war metaphors in dealing with us.
And so that was just such a surprise. And it was stuff that some of us knew, but we didn't have information. We didn't have it documented, but when we were able to document it, that is when we were really able to make some hardcore change.
Man 1: Can you talk about [inaudible 1:35:51] If someone has not seen or [inaudible 1:35:54] a dad going to work, we need to be happy [inaudible1:36:38] is going to work...[inaudible 1:36:51] he went to work yesterday [laughter] [inaudible 1:36:58][laughter] [inaudible 1:37:13]
Andre: So here are two stories from my pastor.One is when he was counseling a professional athlete, who was coming for counseling because he was in negotiations for his contract. The professional athlete said, "Sir, they're only going to offer me 14 million dollars. That's it." My pastor was, like, "Really?" The athlete's like, "Yeah! I should be making at least 30 blah-blah-blah."
My pastor said, "What's your degree?" He told him what his degree is. My pastor said, "Tell me, with your degree, where can you make one million dollars?"
He said, "So, if you can get more than 14, that's great, but be happy with the 14."
Another story from my pastor was from when he was in grad school: full ride and everything but then money got short, so he went to work at McDonald's to work. He was a grad student, and he's supposed to be at the top of the blah-blah-blah, but didn't care what people thought, because he was going to work to feed his family.
Here's one more story. My uncle is a plumber. He was originally going to Ohio State to be an engineer. The money ran out, so the best thing he could do after that was being a plumber. My family talked about this man like he was a dog, because he was becoming a plumber, which is the lowest thing that you can be. He gets the last laugh: he makes $200 an hour; he's done plumbing in Antarctica; he's done Iraq; and I think right now he's in Afghanistan. He gets the last laugh.
Sometimes we think that we need to put our thoughts in our client, and tell them what we think is good for them as opposed to having them decide for themselves what was good for them.
Low wage jobs - somebody's got to take them. They teach you more about life than any class that you can take. Anybody who's been a waiter or a waitress will tell you that you learn more about people doing that than you will ever learn in any kind of sociology class.
The class piece is extremely important, and we also have to tell the truth about who is on welfare. We typically see brown faces, or yellow faces, or red faces on magazines and covers, but we never talk about farm subsidies. We never talk about unemployment. Those are all social welfare programs but we never see those types of faces.
Lastly, we have a whole new group of people. It was funny, I was at the Workforce center, and there was a lady crying in the lobby because she didn't know what to do because she had never been on welfare. They had a huge house, a huge mortgage, and they lost the huge job, and now she's applying for services that she's never been a part of. She's embarrassed, and she doesn't know what to do. We smiled and directed her where she needed to go, but I knew she now knew how the other half lives.
We have to be honest and deal with that as well, that everybody who we think is on welfare isn't; and everybody who we don't think is, some of those folks just may be.
Onika: Yep, yeah, I think I've really seen that too, in terms of projecting my own assumptions about what people want or what people think about things. A couple of things come to light; one of them is exactly the same as what you're talking about.I do my little orientation for this is how Supported Work works, and I say, "Yes, minimum wage and you're getting $360 every two weeks, and I know that's not a ton of money." I remember somebody sitting, talking to the person next to her, saying "That's a whole lot more than I'm getting right now." I was thinking "Oh, OK. OK. Shift my mindset."
I had a conversation with somebody this morning who was saying "I don't understand why I'm working for nothing, and I could be out there making all this other kind of money."
Within the participants that we work with, we have our own expectations but there's a whole range of expectations in them. I remember once when I had a slide where I talked about different types of jobs, and based on your personality what type of job that you might enjoy. I had examples that if you are this kind of personality then these are some jobs that you might enjoy doing.
One guy commented to me afterward and said "You're listing security guard up there as something that somebody could do. You should have higher-level jobs up there, because you want people to aspire to things. Nobody's going to aspire to be a security guard." I was thinking "Um, no, not really." That's one of the positions that we offer and that is one of the best positions. I've had a number of people who were thrilled to get a job as a security guard making $13 an hour.'
People are all over the map. I think it comes back to what a lot of people have said: it has to start from a basis of respect. And trying to allow people to make their own decisions for their own lives, because I am certainly not real good with my crystal ball in terms of predicting, OK, you right here you want this. I have been wrong way more often than I've been right.
Man 1: I just want to go back to what you said about, of the, about it being a system, and like probation officer and like how you used it to make them aware of what theyâ€™re getting themselves into and I think that's helpful and it has to be constantly reminded, because sooner or later it's going to click in their heads. You want to catch that time when it actually soaks into their brain and actually clicks.[inaudible 1:45:02] people who are really in the system what happens to them when they go in the system they spend years in there, they get used to the system. So, when they actually get out instead of going back because there so comfortable with that system and that's what people allow themselves to do so [inaudible 1:45:19] that constant reminder hey [inaudible 1:45:21] oh you're on [inaudible1:45:22] whatever [laughs].
I'm going to, I could get cool with you, and try to help you, that's what, I've got these rules that I've got to set up for you today. It's just like being on probation. If you want this or you want to get out? How are you going to get out?
I'm [inaudible 1:46:06] doing my thing here as well as trying to help people realize [inaudible 1:46:10] what they want to see [inaudible1:46:15] kind of rhetorical question but [inaudible1:46:10] lady that is sitting there as well, how she views [inaudible1:46:22] trying to relate to the people [inaudible 1:46:30]
OK, I'm one person. What kind of expectations do you think I would need and want from you? How could you win me over? Just trying to get them thinking, that's the thing to be able to [inaudible1:46:44] get their brains working on our problem. [inaudible 1:47:08]
Man 2: [laughs] Man 1: ...think about that is, I was like, this call us to being a [inaudible 1:47:13]... for six months and is disturbing for us to go and supervise, [inaudible inaudible 1:47:25] and it's disturbing but.You don't want to go at people like that but it's very similar but, I mean, it's almost frustrating to have to think about that. I think about it almost weekly because it's just the type of work I used to do in the past it was for a shorter period of time it's somewhat similar to what I did in case management, I'm just like, kind of strange that this is so similar.
Woman 8: Yeah, well, I mean, I think what you're talking about [inaudible 1:47:56] goes right into what Andre was talking about in terms of promoting that sense of entitlement and counteracting the messages that this is all you're ever going to get and this is, and you can feel OK with that and sort of promoting that sense of entitlement of you deserve a lot more than what you're getting out of this. [laughs]. You are entitled to a lot more than what you're getting here and you're entitled to have a lot more opportunities than go for it [laughs]. Andre: How many of you have read the Constitution of the United States? How many of you have a copy of the United Constitution? You know what I'm saying, I mean, the, to be quite honest part of what people feel is disenfranchised from of being a part of America and if we can instill that or get folks to really think about themselves as being a part of this great country they can start seeing themselves a little bit better.Because we focus [claps] we do focus a lot on all the tragedy and the sadness and the hurt that has happened but this is also the greatest country in the world and you can also make anything happen that you want to make happen. I mean look at the OC for example [group laughs]. I mean, "The Jersey shore", right [laughs], "Kate and eight plus..." whatever, you can have your own reality show. [laughs] But, I think it's that possibilities that we have to really connect with folks.
And again, if I were going to have these next rounds of trainings that I am going to do I'm going to bring the constitution and we're going to look at it and we're going to see: this is what you're supposed to have, you have access to. So let's go get it, let's do it.
Woman 9: I just want to say a comment [inaudible 01:49:47] long time ago. It was time when [inaudible 01:49:55] and she [inaudible 01:49:59] had to be here because she [inaudible 01:50:01] back then [inaudible 01:50:04] she came in and she goes, "Walter is my husband" and I said " You need to get a divorce."[laughter]
Man 3: She loves [inaudible 01:50:10]. Woman 10: I did, and she went "Wow, I never even thought about that" and I said, "Well, yeah you do. Get rid of him quick." [laughs] And she just went "You know I thought that she said I never even thought about anything like that." I said "Well, you just made me think about it [laughs] I can't help it that's what came out of my mouth. The next couple of days later she came to me like a little medallion thing that said respect on it.And she said "I want you to have this" and I said "We aren't supposed to take anything from people" and she goes "No, just take it, just take it" and I said "I'll take it" and I just gave her a very big hug and it's still in my drawer and it's been there for about 10 years. But it was really, I mean, I have always treated my people with respect because I don't know Walter, so.
I have a whole bunch of stories I can tell. Everyone who [inaudible1:50:24] my room I have something [inaudible 1:50:27], not color of the skin and I let them know that [laughs], but there life on [inaudible1:50:35] with Walter [inaudible1:50:45] I have it [inaudible1:51:00].
Man 4: Yeah, I just want to go back again to, to the Constitution [inaudible 1:51:24] Woman 11: Except my cousin. [laughs] [inaudible 1:53:47] Andre: I think that the work that [inaudible 1:53:57] is doing with a lot of the sustainability that she is part of is just absolutely incredible, and it's what made its focus [inaudible 1:54:09] always. Andre: The ironic thing about... Andre: But to be quite honest, I was in Head Start. When the bus came to pick me up, I didn't know that I was going to a special program that was designed to lift my educational standards so that I was equal with my peers. I went to school. A lot of times, our children are living in atmospheres, where they don't know that they're poor. And it doesn't matter, because they're getting the nurturing and the development from their parents that is necessary for them to survive.And so it's educated folks like us that call it, because we know what the federal government guidelines are that call stuff poor. And so, what [inaudible 1:55:14] talking about is looking at people's assets. And if you can build on those assets, I think you can be much more effective in just looking at the deficits that the system at large tries to help us pay attention to.
Onika: All right. Shall we ring a bell. Christine: What [inaudible 1:56:02] manual is that? Christine: The 530-page manual?[laughter]
Man 5: That's right.[laughter]
Andre: And also, not everybody's going to work. When my wife has kids, she'll probably stay home, and that's a choice that she will make for our household. So you've got a bit of my opinion in that too. Maybe some folks think it's better for them to raise their kids than to go off and work. And they're a single parent. So there are those decisions that we have to also honor and think about as well. Onika: [laughs] All right. Well, thank you everybody for coming. Group Host: Thank you panelists.[applause]
Woman 12: Good job. Andre: Good job, good job. Onika: Feel free to grab a cookie, or carrot, or something on your way out.[laughter]
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