‘SOCIAL JUSTICE IN MY VEINS’
By LORETTA FULTON
Even if Stephanie Hamm didn’t want to be a social activist, she would have little choice.
“I have social justice in my veins,” she said.
Hamm, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Abilene Christian University, was guest speaker Feb. 6 for the weekly program at First Central Presbyterian Church.
Stephanie Hamm, left, visits with Lisa Powell Feb. 6 at First Central Presbyterian Church. Hamm was guest speaker for the church’s Wednesday night program. Photo by Loretta Fulton
February is Black History Month and Hamm talked about the biases that still exist in society called “microaggressions,” a term coined in 1970 by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce. It is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.
Legislation and societal norms have taken care of the bigger injustices, Hamm said, but microaggressions remain.
“Those big things, we don’t do them,” Hamm said.
Microaggressions may not be deadly, Hamm said, but they are tiring and hurtful. Hamm grew up in a military family. Her family was stationed in Little Rock in the 1950s and her father listed the names of his five children among the plaintiffs in the Cooper v Aaron lawsuit in 1958, the landmark Supreme Court decision that denied the Arkansas School Board the right to delay desegregation for 30 months.
Despite the law being on their side, Hamm said she recalled her best friend, Shelly, a white girl, moving away and then moving back. When she returned, Hamm said, Shelly’s mother wouldn’t let her play with Stephanie because Stephanie was black.
That was Hamm’s first encounter with overt racism. Now, encounters with racism are more likely to be “microaggressions,” those intentional or unintentional indignitites such as someone remarking about how smart she is and sounding surprised.
“I do have a Ph.D.,” she joked.
A major issue in the United States, Hamm said, is systemic racism, implicit biases built into systems. The current population of Texas is 28 million. According to the Census Bureau’s 2018 Texas Quick Facts, the racial makeup was 79 percent white and 12 percent black. Yet, the Texas prision system statistics show 33 percent white and 32 percent black. And Texas poverty statistics show 5 percent white and 28 percent black.
“There’s something about the system going on there,” Hamm said.
The historical timeline shows that racism has been of our nation’s makeup much longer than equality. It is marked by 250 years of slavery and 100 years of segregation. By comparison, Civil Rights legislation came about 55 years ago.
“We’re still young at this,” Hamm said. “We’re still new.”