Mind Matters — Challenging Our Perceptions

Did you know that every thirty-two seconds a child is born into poverty—in the United States? This is reported by the Children’s Defense Fund (2010) and is one question of a quiz compiled by EdChange.org.

I had the opportunity to take the “Class and Poverty in the U.S. Re-Perception Quiz” while attending a conference for psychologists who represent their state psychological associations’ disaster response volunteers.

To educate us about multicultural issues in the wake of disasters, Dr. Ester Cole of Toronto, Canada, actively engaged us with some tests from EdChange.org.

It is the least affluent and most disenfranchised among us that are often most affected by disasters—and arrive at emergency shelters. We, as a group, know that. Even so, these quizzes challenged our perceptions.

For example, we found that, according to the Center for American Progress, one-third of the population of U.S. citizens will live at least one year of their lives in poverty! Meanwhile, most poor live outside of inner cities (Shannon, 2006); and furthermore, suburban areas have the greatest increases in poverty rates (Freeman, 2010).

How about the media wealth of white households in the U.S.? It is twenty times larger than African American households, according to the Pew Research Center (Taylor, et al).

Academic researcher Paul C. Gorski also developed (in EdChange.org) a quiz on equity and diversity. This too was a shocker. Are you also shocked to find that, according to a study by the American Association of Physicians for Human Rights, 52% of physicians report witnessing a colleague who refused care or gave minimal care to lesbian, gay or bisexual patients?

Another query considered the treatment of children. UNICEF (2007) rated the twenty-three wealthiest countries in the world according to forty indications of child well-being. The United States and the United Kingdom were at the very bottom of the list.

There’s more. While 2,600,000 U.S. citizens may be millionaires, according to the Economic Policy Institute (2007), the annual earnings of the average full-time U.S. worker approximates the daily earnings of the average U.S. CEO. Although the U.S. military budget is seven times higher than the globe’s second biggest military spender, China, less than one per cent of the U.S. government budget goes to welfare and social security.

And as to college? A Princeton study of elite universities in the U.S. found that legacy applicants—generally white and affluent—“are far more privileged by legacy status than applicants of color are by affirmative action” (EdChange.org). Legacy status was equivalent to boosting the applicant’s SAT score by 160 points.

With the possibility of natural disasters becoming more intense, if not more frequent, due to climate change, and with the fact of the division between the rich and the poor becoming wider and deeper, psychologists involved in community mental health and disaster response need to be culturally informed. Actually, we all need to be so informed!