Addressing Racism Through Non-Profits

Over the course of my internship at the Peace and Justice Center (PJC), I have grown personally through the workshops that they have to offer and have come to realize the importance of the work they do, especially in regards to creating resources in a variety of forms to educate people on how we can better provide support for minority populations in the community, including New Americas, people of color, and refugees. Through personal reflection on what I have learned through these workshops and applying concepts through readings that I have come across in my cross-cultural psychology studies in school, my scope of understanding issues about race and what it means to be a part of this non-profit organization’s work is broadened. Further research helps me understand how workshops that I have participated in at the Peace and Justice Center, including ones that focus on Fairtrade and Racial Justice, improve issues surrounding race and racism, and helps me decipher in what ways workshops that the PJC and other non-profits offer are important for marginalized peoples.

Before integrating what I have learned from my internship and answer the question pertaining to what relevance workshops on fair trade and racism hold in a community, I think it is important to understand that literature in the field of psychology has established much evidence that racism is an issue that impacts the mental well-being of people of color, and also those who identify as white. In understanding the finer points of the research on psychology and racism, we see a clearer picture of what kinds of issues surrounding race need to be addressed, and that there is a need for change on a systemic level. Non-profits like the Peace and Justice Center potentially provide the infrastructure for this change; this non-profit organization and others like it have foundations that are devoted to educating the public about social justice, and such organizations are important in facilitating the mindsets needed for this change.

In one research study done on in-group and out-group bias, which is understood as people creating exclusive social circles made up of in-group members whose skin looks similar, psychologists such as Andrew Barin and Mahzarin Banaji have shown that prejudice is engrained in children from a very young age. Their studies have found that preschoolers show racial bias favoring white skin color as early as the age of five (Rothenberg and Munshi). There is debate about whether this demonstrates negative attitude toward out-groups merely based on this in-group bias; the question is, are children merely showing in-group favoritism because it is common for kids of young ages to do so? Or is it that children are watching racist behaviors, storing it in their subconscious, and having real prejudice against colored people?

Jennifer Pfeifer et al. have a theory about in-group bias; they say that while in-group favoritism does exist, “neutral out-group attitudes” also occurs, meaning that ignoring outgroup members is “normal” and does not show that children are behaving prejudicially. This is an example of a psychological study that ignores some very basic facts about humans, which is that “neutral attitude” is the same as exclusion, or out-group bias, and both phenomena have harmful impact. If children were merely associating with other children that had the same skin color as themselves, then why is there also evidence of children deliberately treating out-group members badly, and can we really say that “neutrality” towards others that don’t look like us is okay just because exclusion is not a physical act of violence? When it comes to human beings treating one another differently, especially based on skin color, “neutral” attitude versus negative attitude can be just as hurtful. What we think qualifies as immoral action and the extent to which we allow our natural tendencies to impact those around us will affect the way we accept Pfeifer et al.’s theory of out-group neutrality, which defends the idea that “white” children displaying behavior that excludes children of color is normal. Depending on our own views, understandings, and definitions of racial prejudice, we will either choose to tread gingerly with the theory that Pfeifer et al. put forth, or totally accept their theory without questioning its implications. We would be wise to demonstrate the former rather than the latter method of ingesting their theory.

In my view, whether it’s normal for us to demonstrate in-group favoritism is a less important question than what we are going to do about these clearly prejudicial behaviors that young children display. Pfeifer et al.’s studies on in-group favoritism argue that the studies that show children are prejudicial are flawed in their measurement methods. Indeed, it seems that forcing children to take a negative or positive stance on one race over another doesn’t leave much room for expressing opinions of neutrality, however this doesn’t account for the significant numbers of both white and black children who demonstrate a clear prejudice for the superiority of white people. We cannot disregard the fact that kids in some studies who, when presented a choice, pick the white person as “less ugly”; and we cannot ignore that their explanations for doing so demonstrate a higher understanding of what is going on in the bigger picture: that racial prejudice has already formed in their growing minds (Rothenberg and Munshi).

If, in fact, young children are more inclined to prefer associating with people with skin color similar to their own merely because they are afraid of the unknown, then why are there studies on CNN and research that shows black children also wishing they were white? It’s because they know that having white skin is beneficial in many settings. We have to realize that there is something fundamentally wrong with our system if we are only rolling over and accepting that these viewpoints are coming about as a result of “neutral” feelings towards the out-group. The fear that white children have of black children will only grow if teachers, adults, psychologists and the community at large don’t find ways to address this segregation which children are learning from their elders. A solution to this troubling reality is for adults themselves to notice and be sensitive to the fact that black people have not felt like the “neutrally-treated out-group” in America since the beginning of its time, and that adults need to take accountability for their own prejudices (Rothenberg and Munshi).

I have learned much about racism and the misconstrued views on race matters like those found in Pfeifer et al.’s article. Even though racism is a topic that should be widely discussed, the cross-cultural psychology class that I took is not a requirement for psychology students at my university, though it is clearly something that should be. The PJC makes information that I learned in cross-cultural psychology very accessible and affordable to students, and this has given me the opportunity to continue my learning about racism beyond that college course. The PJC gives others who don’t attend college the opportunity to learn about their own biases or about how racism affects them.

Beyond learning facts and figures through empirically based psychological science studies, my internship has given me perspective on how pervasive the culture of racism is and how the roots of slavery have affected modern day society. For example, the Fairtrade Banana Presentation that the PJC hosts sheds light on how blood is on the hands of companies like Dole and Chiquita. Since their founding, these companies have monopolized the market on bananas and they have taken advantage of indigenous people, their labor, their land, in countries that were colonized by Western governments.

This presentation brought another way of looking at the issue of racism to light for me; when I think about how many times I buy bananas a week, and then how many times other people buy bananas a week, it is obvious that the truth about these companies have not reached people. Me, and others who have attended the presentation, have managed to remove ourselves, as consumers, from the problem, even after understanding the heinousness of what they are doing and how it is a continuation of slavery. We know that exploitation of labor similarly happens with other commodities (including chocolate which I also learned about in the fair trade cocoa campaign), yet we are still able to remove ourselves from the problem. We are consumers and this means we play a role in the problem but also gives us a power, yet like so many other problems that are solvable, the issue remains how to get people to change our ways of living. How do we show that we care and come together to act as a collective conscious for a brighter future for everyone?

I find the Fair Trade program at the Peace and Justice Center educates us about the systemic levels of racism, whereby corporations who don’t seem to follow any line of ethics in their practices push people of color down. These workshops inform the public that the company where they buy bananas from are able to get away with it through sly workings and receiving aid from the United States government; this has been shown multiple times through the history of Chiquita and Dole, including in the 1912 coup that was established in Honduras and the civil war that started over unused land in Guatemala in 1951. Though it may be that the Fairtrade workshops are more educational in the sense that they convey knowledge and do not specifically talk about how to deal with the societal constructs of race and how it feeds into the perpetual negative cycle of systemic racism, it is an important framework for understanding how the issue of oppression complements the work that PJC does around racism.

Workshops that remain accessible and free to the public such as those offered by the Peace and Justice Center and other not for profit organizations is something that benefits the community according to Harri Holkeri, who made a statement about the importance of education. On Human Rights Day in year 2000, the President of the United Nations General assembly said that human rights education is very important; Holkeri stated: “I strongly believe in the importance of human rights education. It contributes to better understanding between diverse people and empowers marginalized and powerless groups. It helps eliminate gender-based or racial discrimination.” Workshops that educate the public about issues surrounding the disregard for human rights help people understand two things: first, that there are these problems that exist, and second, that we can be doing something to solve them, and both lessons are invaluable to paving the way towards a more inclusivity.

Speaking from the point of view of someone who has attended two of the Addressing Racism and Building Empathy Workshops at the Peace and Justice Center, I can say that such workshops educate the public about matters about which Holkeri spoke, topics that are taboo and the way that marginalized peoples are denied the justice they deserve when these topics are brushed under the rug. The workshops start off with teaching us the ways that the government has systematically treated people of color as lesser people throughout history and how implicit and overt racism are still very much alive and controlling our actions, more than we realize. Something that we learn in the workshop is how centuries of oppression against colored people has impacted the psyche of people of color living in America in this modern age, which also relates to what I have learned in my psychology studies.

Joshua Aronson and Claude Steele’s essay, Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans, is very much in line with what the workshop at PJC teaches us. Aronson and Steele give us a history of imposing racial stereotypes against African Americans and how this has created insecurity in African Americans’ own intellectual abilities. Studies show that when African Americans are aware they are taking a test measuring their intelligence, they will not do as well as their white peers because they are aware of negative stereotypes against their race’s intelligence. Knowing that racism is a social construct puts Black people at a disadvantage in our education system, and we as a people have the responsibility to change the harmful impacts of racism and disregard outdated claims of genetically-based racial superiority (Rothenberg and Munshi).

It seems that including marginalized population indeed starts with educating the public about what racism is and how it impacts people of color. Even economists are beginning to study the impacts of non-profit sectors and are devoting their interest to the ideas valued by many non-profit organizations. Vladislav Valentinov is one such researcher who is interested in understanding the flaws and successes behind non-profits; in a paper he published, he talks about how addressing social problems is often the concern of non-profit sectors, while the existing structures of for-profit sectors are more often deeply concerned with power, status, and authority. As the world of business often maintains a high regard for the qualities found in for-profit businesses, the nonprofit sector is itself marginalized and the things that they stand for, like social care, education, culture, civic advocacy, and environmental protection, are all too often swept aside (Valentinov).

Through hands on experience in working with the Peace and Justice Center and looking at the existing research in fields of psychology and economics, it is apparent that people of color are not regarded as equals, and we live in a society whose profit-oriented markets do not have the same ethical values as non-profits, which directly relates to the matter of racism. We need non-profit organizations like the Peace and Justice Center in order to serve as educational platforms for the larger community and to have spaces where people of color can voice how they really feel in a society where they are constantly being judged, oppressed, and not listened to. With nonprofit organizations being marginalized themselves, there is obviously a struggle in getting the support needed for marginalized people out there, but keeping information free and available to the public is important, and non-profits who do work like the Peace and Justice Center should remain open, supported, and available so that community members can take advantage of their many enlightening programs.



-Gabriela Heermans, former PJC Intern