In the Public Interest

Unless you completely avoid the news, you are aware of the comments Don Imus made that spurred a national debate about whether the "shock jock" should be taken off the air or whether his comments should be overlooked or considered par for the course for him. I joined the "Condemn Imus" chorus and went further to condemn misogynistic media, including rap music and videos that callously objectify and demean women and others mostly from marginalized groups. Although they may take different routes, the reach and impact of Imus's remarks and of misogynistic media are wide, deep and insidious. Psychological research has documented the corrosive impact of stigmatization, stereotyping and oppression.

My own insensitivities

I want to take this one step further, however. On a personal level, I realized that I have inadvertently been insensitive on more than one occasion. Two incidents in particular stand out. During the spring consolidated meetings, I presided over a plenary for all members of the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and Public Interest committees.

As is often the case during presentations, my talk was augmented by slides. As I began my presentation, members of the Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology (CDIP) entered the room, reminding me that there were members in the audience who would be unable to read the information on the slides. (Note: I knew there were blind members on CDIP when I planned my talk, but was "non-conscious" until the time they walked in.) This realization, combined with thoughtful consideration afterward, brought with it an awareness of how important it is to maintain a conscious vigilance against committing inadvertent acts of discrimination and insensitivity. The second example is from my April Monitor column in which I referenced Washington, D.C.'s football team by name. Although I added a parenthetical statement after the name (deleted during the editing process) the name of the team was used. I fully agree with and support the resolution passed by APA's Council of Representatives in 2005, recommending the "immediate retirement of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations." In the resolution APA recognized that "racism and racial discrimination are attitudes and behavior that are learned and that threaten human development," that "the continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by school systems appears to have a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children."While council resolved that the association recognizes the potential negative impact these uses have, I, executive director of Public Interest, inadvertently used the term, angering some members of the American- Indian community and others. I share these examples to emphasize how easy it is to be insensitive in our language or actions, regardless of how noble our intentions may be. 'Interrupt the cycle' Accumulated "slights" and "micro aggressions" label many groups as "others" and keep them from being full participants in society. As noted by Kenneth Clark, PhD, in a letter to social psychologist and activist Herbert Kelman, "How long can our nation continue the tremendous wastage of human intellectual resources demanded by racism?" (Pickren & Tomes, 2002). To Clark's identification of racism, I add ableism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism and religious prejudice. An important part of council's charge to the Public Interest Directorate is to inform and encourage individuals to renounce severe threats to human welfare and social justice. Refuse to passively accept comments by those in the public eye that degrade or discriminate against others simply because of who they are. In the words of Andrea Ayvazian, "Interrupt the cycle of oppression by becoming an ally. Allied behavior means taking personal responsibility for the changes we know are needed in our society, and so often ignore or leave to others to deal with. [It] is intentional, overt, consistent activity that challenges prevailing patterns of oppression, makes privileges that are so often invisible visible, and facilitates the empowerment of persons targeted by oppression" (2004). Quoting Gandhi, Ayvazian states, "As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves."

Let's start with "I must" by committing to a vigilant sensitivity in words and actions to others' situations; refusing to participate, either overtly or through silence, in activities or conversations where prejudice or degradation is taking place; remaining steadfast in creating and nurturing a culture of inclusion; and becoming agents of education and change.