Anytown Alabama and The Cycle of Socialization

June 4, 2013

The YWCA Central Alabama has two overarching pieces to its mission: eliminating racism and empowering women. When reflecting on eliminating racism in the digital age, we decided to blog about social justice issues in our community and the ways that our community is responding. This week, we’re kicking off our blog by focusing on a YWCA program.

The YWCA is proud to partner with the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) to provide Anytown Alabama to high school students from the Greater Birmingham area. Anytown is a one-week social justice leadership camp where students develop leadership skills that they take back to their schools and community. This week we will be blogging from camp, sharing the experiences of the students and staff as we participate in dialogue and team-building exercises.

Today, we participated in a workshop called Cycle of Socialization. The goal of this workshop was to encourage students to think about how differences among people may affect our paths as we grow. This is a theme throughout the week as we talk about race, gender, religion, ability and other differences. But any difference can be covered in this cycle.

The idea of the Cycle of Socialization is that we are all born with a specific identity. We may be black, we may be white. We may be male, we may be female. And as we grow, societal norms tell us what we can and can’t do because of these identities. We hear these messages from our families, our churches and our schools. We’ve seen these messages on television, and we hear them in music. As a part of this activity, students shouted some of these messages at two volunteers who represented “black male” and “white male.” Some of the messages were positive. Some of the messages were negative. Often, the messages differed based on the identity of the receiver. Some of the messages shouted were:

•         “Don’t go to that neighborhood.”

•         “Don’t play with dolls.”

•         “You can be anything you want to be.”

Many just accept these messages. They promote the status quo. And while that may work out well for some members of our society, it doesn’t work out well for all.

As we participate in different workshops this week, our goal is to learn a little more about our friends at camp and how we can choose a different path from the one given to us by society. As one student said in the workshop, “I’m hoping to move across these barriers by building friendships this week.”