By Kathy Les
We can all be too quick to pre-judge others, said Dr. Rita Cameron Wedding, a resident of Donner Way and former chair of the Women’s Studies Department at Sacramento State University who has traveled the world teaching how to recognize and guard against racial prejudice.
“We’ve all been taught by society who the people are we can trust and those we cannot,” she told SCNA’s Racial Justice Committee at its June meeting. As an example of her own internal bias, she recounted her guarded response while walking one day from Curtis Park to Sacramento City College. She passed four individuals she quickly assessed as possibly threatening. Each of these people, she said, had an unfamiliar set of traits that caused her to question their presence.
“If I can’t respond intelligently, I will respond poorly,” she said. On her walk, she paused a moment to question her bias and was able to catch herself.
Cameron Wedding has trained judges in more than 45 states, designed a program to mitigate the effects of the school-to-prison pipeline. She also has spent years assisting the juvenile justice and foster care systems to help avert racial discrimination in matters involving children and teens. In 2019, she developed a train-the-trainer curriculum for security officers and spent the next two years training participants in more than 10 countries.
On the flip side, she has found herself being sidelined in the grocery store checkout line. “I live in Curtis Park and have social class privilege, but I still face bias because of my blackness,” she said. “If I speak up, I will be considered too aggressive. Unfortunately, we’re all so paralyzed around racism.”
When Cameron Wedding was looking to buy a home in the 1990s, she had her eyes on Curtis Park. Her real estate agent tried to steer her away, showing her homes in south area neighborhoods where lower income Black families resided. She persisted, however, and found a home in Curtis Park where she has lived for 25 years with her wife.
From her part of the neighborhood, she says she has witnessed people engaging in all kinds of behavior that in a poor neighborhood would be suspect, but in Curtis Park it goes largely without question.
Hence, personal experience helped inform her well-honed skills and research over the years to identify and help deter implicit bias by calling out personal prejudices.
Of particular interest to her has been the disproportionately high percentage of Black children taken from their parents and put into foster care, where outcomes are not always favorable. The reasons Black children are removed from their homes are typically not just based on evidence, she said, but on a perception of risk. The behavior often cited, she suggested, is just as likely to be present in white families.
Homeownership creates an assumption of low risk when it comes to parenting and children, she said. Homeownership is substantially lower for Blacks than whites. However, research has shown that even though Black and white children have almost identical risk factors, Black children are 25% more likely to end up in child welfare.
Beginning in 1995, Cameron Wedding started teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) to her college students. This approach aims to look at inherent racism and its impact over the course of history. Historically, students have been taught about slavery but not about the enslavers. “CRT is simply about how racism works and how to get people to think more fairly,” she said.
When she talks abroad, she said, she always starts with this statement: “I love my country, but we can do better.”
The Zoom session with the Racial Justice Committee wasn’t recorded. However, Cameron Wedding has prepared an expanded explanation of issues she discussed, as well as an extensive list of resources on the subject of racial bias below.
The following is an extended explanation by Dr. Cameron-Wedding on issues she discussed at the meeting
Dr. Rita Cameron Wedding, a Curtis Park resident and professor emeritus and Fulbright Scholar in Tanzania and South Africa, spent 23 years as Chair of the Women Studies Department at Sacramento State University. She spoke to SCNA’s Racial Justice Committee on June 8, 2022 in a wide-ranging two-hour discussion on the subjects of her expertise: implicit bias and critical race theory. A follow up story was featured in Viewpoint. In addition, she kindly followed up with some elaboration presented here on the subjects discussed at the meeting and in the Viewpoint article.
Dr. Cameron Wedding is recognized for her work in youth systems, including child welfare and youth justice. Her curriculum Implicit Bias: Impact on Decision-Making, was one of the first national implicit bias judicial training initiatives in the country. Dr. Cameron Wedding has trained juvenile and dependency court judges in over 45 states and in 2015 she provided expert testimony before the U.S. Commission on Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities under President Obama. In 2019 she developed security officer train-the-trainer curriculum for a multinational technology company and spent 2020-2022 training participants in over 10 countries. In 2021 under California’s new AB2542, Racial Justice Act, she wrote the first declaration which challenged racial bias in a criminal legal process.
Despite her national and international recognition in implicit bias, the most self-effacing attribute about Dr. Cameron Wedding is that she leads with examples of her own implicit bias. According to Dr. Cameron Wedding, “implicit bias is learned, and having an intellectual or social understanding of bias, e.g., enjoying another culture’s food or traditions, does not immunize any of us from bias. Despite my understanding of the mechanics of bias, everyday my biases influence my perceptions of who’s good, who’s bad, who’s smart, who I can trust, who I should fear, whether I should cross the street rather than pass by a person when walking in the neighborhood or depending upon someone’s race or gender, whether I should lock my car doors when someone is too close to my car. The only way I can mitigate these biases are to work vigilantly every day to be aware of them in hopes that the next time I will not jump to the same conclusions; this is what my trainings encourage everyone to do.”
Dr. Cameron Wedding recounted how in just a short neighborhood walk from Curtis Park, across the bridge to Sacramento City College campus, and down Freeport Blvd she had demonstrated implicit racial bias toward four different people: assessing them as potentially dangerous based on little else than their mere presence. “There were no threatening behaviors, body language or other actions that could be construed as dangerous, but the way I associate individuals with good or bad intentions are clearly correlated the intersections of race, gender and social class! Where do these biases come from? Stereotypes are ubiquitous, reflected in the media, textbooks, popular culture, religion, mass media, social media, cartoons fairytales, video games etc. Look no further than the ban on Critical Race Theory. I should first clarify that Critical Race Theory (CRT) never taught anti-American principles as alleged, it is simply being used as a cover for any discussions involving race, racism, implicit bias, systemic racism, discrimination etc. Banning CRT has become a “mass movement” making its way across America with over 23 passing of pending legislation. This very clever strategy cloaked in protecting American values, continues the legacy of colorblindness to suppress the public discourse on racism and discouraging any public discussion designed to eliminate discrimination and mitigate bias. I’m sure most of us remember how the colorblind ban worked, e.g., don’t talk about race because race doesn’t matter, but if you do mention it, that makes you the racist in the room.”
“CRT legislation is designed to ban any critical thinking about racism by outlawing our ability to talk or think about any form of racism or discrimination. This will allow discriminatory practices to persist without detection ensuring that neither individuals nor government can be held accountable to racism. If we as a nation start talking about discrimination and thinking critically about racism, we might just bring an end to systemic racism, and jeopardize America’s public investments of which white people have been the beneficiaries since the formation of this country. We can look no further than the restrictive racial covenants attached to many of the homes in Curtis Park that contained language such as:
Restrictive Covenants: Grantee shall not have the right to sell and convey or rent said premises to any person of the black, brown or yellow races…”
“The language may be somewhat different, but the outcome is the same and that was to prevent people who were not white, from buying homes in this neighborhood. The consequences are many. My parents owned three houses simultaneously when I was growing up but all three of those houses would not have accrued the equity of one house in Curtis Park. They had the financial means including the credit but what would have prevented them from achieving this American Dream was racism. The data makes it clear that the cost of government sanctioned discriminatory housing such as redlining though different from restrictive covenants, is still taking a toll. For example, people who still live in previously redlined communities in the 1930’s, have the highest risk for co-morbidities associated with covid-19 and shorter life spans. [Link] Though such practices are obviously no longer enforced even our beautiful neighborhood has a legacy of racial discrimination.”
“Despite what many people believe, racism has real consequences. One of the first questions I was asked to discuss by the Ad Hoc Racial Justice Committee was how I became interested in this work. Perhaps my most candid response to this question is, being on the receiving end of bias, keeps this issue on the forefront of my mind. The same biases that cause women to sometimes clutch their purses when they see me approaching in a narrow grocery store aisle is just one of many microaggressions that I might experience on any given day. But the incontrovertible evidence of systemic racism is easily observed by looking at the racial disproportionality in every single one of our major social institutions, e.g., education, criminal justice, health care etc. Child welfare is a system that bases decisions to remove children not just on evidence of risk but perception of risk. The assumption being that white families with professional titles, homeowners and good jobs will always work in the best interest of their children, an assumption that is not bestowed upon poor families of color regardless of how great their parenting practices are. “
Dr. Cameron Wedding said, “When I don’t have the facts, I am more likely to lead with my biases.” This applies to all of us!
When asked what she was planning for the summer, Dr. Cameron Wedding told us that she is on her way to Tuscany where she is attending an author’s retreat to finish writing her book on implicit bias and systemic racism.
Biography for Rita Cameron Wedding Ph.D.
Rita Cameron Wedding, Ph.D. was the Chair of the Women’s Studies Department at Sacramento State University for 23 years. Currently she is Faculty Emeritus in the departments of Women’s and Ethnic Studies at Sacramento State University. Dr. Cameron Wedding’s curriculum Implicit Bias: Impact on Decision-Making, has been used to train judges, public defenders, practitioners in child welfare, juvenile justice, law enforcement and education in jurisdictions throughout the country since 2005.
As a faculty for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), she has trained judges at court improvement initiatives in over 45 states. In 2010 Dr. Cameron Wedding was featured in the Office of Juvenile Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) website which showcased her work for “content, expertise and platform excellence.”
She was also a consultant for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one of the largest child advocacy foundations in the U.S. In 2013 in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s 3-year investigation and findings of civil rights violations, Dr. Cameron Wedding led a training team of 5 experts to provide implicit bias training to the entire Shelby County Juvenile Court in Memphis TN. In California 2009-11, she directed an implicit bias training program designed mitigate the effects of the School to Prison Pipeline by identifying practices that contribute to negative school outcomes that place students at increased risk of juvenile justice involvement. Dr. Cameron Wedding has conducted implicit bias Train the Trainer Institutes, webinars, keynotes, podcasts and developed curriculum for numerous agencies and states throughout the country including the Texas New Judges College, the National Association of Children’s Counsel, the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Child Abuse and Neglect Institutes in Reno, Louisville, and Atlanta, the New York State Judicial Institute, Superior Court Judges in Hawaii and Illinois and the Michigan Judges Association. In addition, Dr. Cameron Wedding provided expert testimony before the U.S. Commission on Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities during President Obama’s administration (2015). She developed an implicit bias police de-escalation curriculum for Fight Crime Invest In Kids to train 5000 in-service and academy officers in the U.S. and wrote one of the first declarations which challenged racial bias in a criminal legal process under California’s new Racial Justice Act (2021).
Since 2019, Dr. Cameron Wedding developed security officer train-the trainer curriculum for a multi-national company and trained participants from over ten countries in 2021. As a Fulbright Scholar Dr. Cameron Wedding conducted research in Tanzania and South Africa. She has presented on national talk radio in Johannesburg and Cape Town South Africa, taught at the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica and the United Nations University International Leadership Institute Conference on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict in Amman Jordan. In 2014 she delivered a talk at an international conference in Athens Greece, in 2016 she participated on a faculty panel at the City University of Hong Kong. In 2019 at the invitation of the government, she attended the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Kigali Rwanda. She serves on the governing board of Global Majority, an organization dedicated to peace and conflict resolution throughout the world.
In 2012 Dr. Cameron Wedding was the recipient of the John C. Livingston Distinguished Faculty Lecture Award, the highest faculty honor awarded by Sacramento State University.