What Is…Minority Stress

When I started my “what is” series, there were a number of terms that I thought were deserving of a post in the series, because they are viewed as social justice jargon that many don’t understand. One term I didn’t know too much about, but have come to learn more about, is minority stress.

What is minority stress, and why is it so important to know what it is?

A concise definition I’ve seen for the term is that it “refers to the way that individuals from underrepresented or stigmatized groups experience a number of stressors that directly relate to a minority identity.”[1] Those stressors come from experiences of rejection, discrimination, and other forms of marginalization.[2]

However, it is more than a term—it is a framework.

When the framework first came to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was one to help explain how certain minority groups experience disproportionate poor mental health outcomes. The rise in prominence of this notion was significant in terms of coming to a greater understanding of why sexual minorities (people who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual) experienced a high number of mental health issues—issues that can be attributed to stressors such as rejection, hiding, internalized homophobia, external homophobia, and more.[3] With this minority stress framework, it is easier to see how such stressors lead to the poor mental health outcomes.

More recently, the idea of minority stress has expanded to also explain how certain other minority groups experience disproportionate poor physical health outcomes—not just poor mental health outcomes. The expansion of thinking about how minority stress may manifest itself was significant in terms of coming to a greater understanding of why sexual minorities also experience a high number of poor physical health outcomes—issues that can be attributable to the same stressors that cause the poor mental health outcomes as well.[4]

While the study of health outcomes for sexual minorities has played a prominent role in understanding minority stress, it must be pointed out that the issue of minority stress for explaining disproportionate poor mental and physical health outcomes among certain people and groups is relevant to many other communities. A few such communities that come to mind are some indigenous communities, some communities of color, and some immigrant communities.

It must also be pointed out that someone can be in multiple minority communities and therefore experience minority stress (with its relevant stressors) for all of the communities they are in. One of the more prominent articles on this subject explored minority stress as experienced by LGBT people of color,[5] but there are other combinations of minority identity that can have the impacts of what the aforementioned article calls multiple minority stress.

I’ve thrown around a lot of terms in this post—minority stress, stressors, multiple minority stress—but does this all matter? And if so, why?

It absolutely matters, on both a personal level and a policy level.

On a personal level, stressors that lead to the experiences of minority stress for a wide group of minority communities should be a call to self-examination, to see whether we act in ways that contribute to that minority stress for our friends of color, for our friends with disabilities, for our friends in the LGBTQ+ community, and so on. And if we find that we do, it’s a call to change our actions. That self-examination may not be easy and may result in letting go of long-held beliefs about certain people or groups of people, but some people’s well-being depends on it.

On a policy level, I would only hope that the stressors which lead to the experiences of minority stress would be a call to action for elected officials to see whether any policies or laws contribute to minority stress for any marginalized communities. And then, if any policies do contribute in such a negative way, curtail them.

Overall, a greater understanding of minority stress and its impacts will hopefully lead to actions from all that will, in the long run, reduce those stressors that lead to the stress. That is my hope, and that is my dream.

[1] https://www.verywellhealth.com/minority-stress-in-health-disparities-4691231

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2072932/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895416/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4059824/

What Is…Critical Race Theory? (Part Two)

In Part One of my “what is” post on Critical Race Theory (CRT), I covered what the theory is, as well as some interesting things I learned about the theory. However, at the end of Part One, I talked about some questions raised by both CRT and the things I learned from it. Those questions include:

  • What are people angry about with CRT in the current political discourse?
  • If this theory has been around for decades, why are people only now getting angry about this?
  • Why is it conservatives who are getting angry about CRT when many of the most prominent critical race theorists critique liberal approaches to racism?
  • Is this anger justified?

Answers to the first, second, and third questions I pose here help us answer the fourth question, so grab some popcorn, and let’s get started…

A fair bit of the attention on CRT appears to stem from one person: Christopher Rufo. Rufo, who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute (a conservative think tank), heard from municipal employees in Seattle, Washington about anti-bias workforce training[1] that he perceived to go too far. He summarized those findings in an article for the City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s magazine. The article was a major hit and led to discoveries from him about similar trainings happening elsewhere.[2] Among the things he noticed from the trainings was that they cited people who were deeply involved in scholarship related to CRT. Rufo thought that in CRT, he found the perfect term, for as he put it himself, “Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’ Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.” Furthermore, he concluded, it is not “an externally applied pejorative” unlike some terms (think of the term “liberal snowflakes” as an example of an externally applied pejorative), but is instead “the label the critical race theorists chose themselves.”[3]

Rufo was correct in thinking he found the perfect term (at least from the standpoint of trying to get national attention), for his work continued getting attention to the point that he appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight in September 2020—a show in which Rufo called on then-President Donald Trump to ban CRT in workforce trainings the federal government did. Within weeks, Trump did exactly what Rufo wanted him to do.[4]

However, Trump lost re-election. But just because Trump lost doesn’t mean that the movements on CRT from the American right ended—not by any means. Instead, the attention that Rufo and others had on CRT shifted from workforce trainings to K-12 classrooms.[5] This brings us to more or less where we are today on CRT, which is that there is a fear among many on the American right that the theory rewrites American history in a way that would “persuade white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages.”[6] The center of that concern about the rewriting of American history focuses on the classroom, with the concern that young kids would be indoctrinated in this seemingly harmful way by CRT. Now, even the slightest bit of concern that kids are being “indoctrinated” with CRT creates anger among some.

But is this anger justified?

This answer is going to upset some people, but…no.

Here’s the thing about CRT and K-12 schools: for all the chatter of CRT being taught to schoolchildren, the teaching of the theory is usually not required at the K-12 level.[7] In a survey of more than 1,100 teachers across the United States conducted by the Association of American Educators, which is a nonpartisan professional group for educators, it was found that 96% of respondents say that their schools do not require them to teach CRT.[8] Instead, the teaching that does happen on CRT largely occurs in law schools and graduate programs.[9] Needless to say, the panicked rhetoric on CRT in K-12 schools just doesn’t seem to match up with what is happening on the ground.

What I’m guessing (and perhaps my guess is wrong, as I am not a teacher myself) is that the rhetoric with CRT has gotten mixed in there with larger, yet important, discussions on how classrooms should navigate through topics of race and racism in classrooms—a hot-button discussion issue in light of the events of the last few years in America, ranging from the increased visibility of white supremacy to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Such discussions are important and needed, though even without CRT in the mix these discussions would be a source of major division. But I fear that heading into such discussions with the falsehood that CRT is being taught and is indoctrinating K-12 students only makes those already difficult conversations even more so.

Those conversations need to happen, though. They need to happen because there continue to be stark racial disparities in the United States, and they should not be ignored. The racial disparities in everything from incarceration rates[10] to educational attainment,[11] from health care coverage[12] to deaths from gun violence,[13] are so great that we would be doing an injustice to ourselves and others if we were to just try to sweep such disparities under the rug. One can debate when to have these conversations with schoolkids, and how to have them, but we would not be truthful as a country about our current disparities if we never had those conversations anywhere.

[1] https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1012696188

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-inquiry/how-a-conservative-activist-invented-the-conflict-over-critical-race-theory

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1012696188

[5] https://time.com/6075193/critical-race-theory-debate/

[6] https://apnews.com/article/what-is-critical-race-theory-08f5d0a0489c7d6eab7d9a238365d2c1

[7] A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 22% of respondents who said they were familiar with CRT (and most poll respondents said they weren’t familiar with CRT) believed that it is taught in most public high schools: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/many-americans-embrace-falsehoods-about-critical-race-theory-2021-07-15/

[8] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/teaching-critical-race-theory-isn-t-happening-classrooms-teachers-say-n1272945

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57908808

[10] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2021-10-13/report-highlights-staggering-racial-disparities-in-us-incarceration-rates

[11] https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rfa.asp

[12] https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity/

[13] https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/firearms-death-rate-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

What Is…Person-First Language?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is person-first language.

Person-first language puts a person before the label, which is often a diagnosis of a disability or a chronic illness. This stands in contrast with what one may call identity-first language, which puts the identity before the person without necessarily denying someone their personhood.

To show an example of how person-first language works (especially in contrast to identity-first language), my friend Joe has a learning disability.[1] When you use person-first language, you are talking about “Joe, who has a learning disability.” In contrast, with identity-first language, you are talking about “my learning-disabled friend Joe.” Here, the person-first language puts Joe before his label of having a learning disability, while the identity-first language puts his learning disability before his name.

The person-centered nature of person-first language (which I know sounds redundant) is why it is so popular among some. However, I offer a huge caveat: not everybody, even in the disability or chronic illness communities, prefers person-first language. As such, while it may be favored by some (including Joe, by the way), you shouldn’t assume that just because one friend with a chronic illness or a disability prefers person-first language means all people with chronic illnesses or disabilities prefer it.[2] In fact, since I’ve started getting more active in blogging and on social media, I’ve known some chronic illness and disability advocates who vocally express their desire not to use person-first language for them, for various reasons.

So, then, what should we do if some people prefer person-first language while others do not? Personally, I would strongly advocate listening to and prioritizing the desires of the individual you are with. In the case of my friend Joe, prioritizing the desires of the individual I am with means using person-first language. For a few of the aforementioned bloggers and social media people I have learned from, it might involve using something that’s not person-first language. But regardless of what those preferences are, what is important is to listen to the preferences of the family member, friend, coworker, or acquaintance (and if you’re not sure, asking that person). After all, it is that person who has experience with the disability or chronic illness they have, and it seems wisest to defer to the language we use for the person with that experience instead of imposing our own wishes and ideas upon others.

[1] Don’t worry; I got my friend’s permission to use his name here.

[2] Also, just as a general principle, I urge against the notion of thinking that any one person represents an entire group, whether that group is based on disability, race, religion, gender identity, or anything else.

What Is…Holding Space?

When I started my “what is” series, there were a number of terms that I thought were deserving of a post in the series, because they are viewed as social justice jargon that many don’t understand.

One term I was not aware of when I started the series, but sounded like jargon to me when I first heard it, was something called holding space. And then, I heard that term heard multiple times in short succession.

So, what is holding space, and why is it so important?

I’ve heard several definitions, but one of the more extensive definitions I’ve seen of it is that it is “to be present with someone, without judgment. It means you donate your ears and heart without wanting anything in return. It involves practicing empathy and compassion. You accept someone’s truths, no matter what they may be, and put your needs and opinions aside, allowing someone to just be.”[1] For example, if you need to process something that’s weighing you down emotionally and a friend of yours listens while you process things, that friend is holding space. When that friend is listening to your rant about something distressing in your academics, your job, or something else (and doing so without judging you, or even doing so by sympathizing with you by sharing their own experiences), they are holding space.

Holding space sounds easy, but it is actually really difficult for many of us. Holding space means that others and their experiences, as opposed to us and ours, are at the center of attention—something that some of us struggle with (because some of us can struggle to have anything other than us and our own experiences at the center). Some of us are more inclined towards taking up space emotionally instead of holding it; as such, that can make holding space all the more difficult.

In fact, certain topics are so sensitive and difficult to process that it’s not wise to expect a friend to hold space (for example, trauma of various kinds). I cannot say enough how important it is, in such a situation, to seek a mental health professional if at all possible. While I recognize the unfortunate reality that mental health care is expensive for many and has a scarcity of access for many (issues which could be the subject of their own blog post on access to mental health care),[2] there is no substitute for a good mental health professional when you need someone to help you process certain things. A friend may be helpful and loving in certain ways, but at the same time, a friend is not your mental health professional. Furthermore, mental health professionals—psychologists, psychiatrists, and licensed social workers—are trained to do more than hold space; they are trained to help their clients process and address crises and other areas of concern.

Even if, in many cases, it may be best to seek a therapist, hopefully this post explains what it means to hold space in other situations.

[1] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/holding-space

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/10/cost-and-accessibility-of-mental-health-care-in-america.html. One thing I should add though is that there are some resources out there for those who find money tight when it comes to mental health care; you can find some such resources here: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/mental-health-services-how-get-treatment-if-you-can-t-ncna875176

What Is…BIPOC?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand.

Over the past couple of years, one term that has increased in usage is BIPOC. This term has seen a particularly significant increase in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.[1]

But what is BIPOC, and why is that term significant?

In short, BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. However, it is more than “just” an acronym—it is an acronym that is meant to “highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.”[2]

In reading many of the sentiments of those who like the term BIPOC, one common theme seems to be how the term reinforces the connections between Black and Indigenous people in experiencing racism in an America. In a way, BIPOC is an acronym of solidarity. While there may be certain experiences of Black people that differ from certain experiences of Indigenous people (for example, how some Black families still grapple with the legacy of slavery and segregation while some Indigenous families grapple with the legacies of Indian boarding schools), there is also that commonality in experiencing that relationship to whiteness that links Black and Indigenous people.

It is worth noting that there is another acronym different from BIPOC, yet also related: POC. POC stands for people of color. Before the events of the past year and a few months, I seldom saw BIPOC but commonly saw POC on social media and elsewhere.

My mention of POC, of course, provokes another question: Does this mean that we should use BIPOC instead of POC from now on? If a 2020 National Public Radio piece which asks the same question is an indicator of anything, opinions are divided on the question.[3] There are strong opinions on this question, but also differing ones. I personally do not feel it is in my place to be involved in the debate over whether to use BIPOC or POC, as I don’t fall under the POC/BIPOC umbrella.

What I do feel, though, is that for those of us who aren’t POC/BIPOC, we should understand both acronyms and their significance. Yet, at the same time, we should be ready to understand what is being talked about when we hear or see others talk about POC or BIPOC, and be ready to use either acronym depending on what our POC/BIPOC neighbors, friends, and colleagues prefer. Hopefully, those who have read this post will now have a greater understanding of both terms when they are used.

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/bipoc-meaning-where-does-it-come-from-2020-04-02/

[2] https://www.thebipocproject.org/

[3] https://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/918418825/is-it-time-to-say-r-i-p-to-p-o-c