Dismantling Structural Inequality and Racism: Overview and Introduction

Annika Karlsen, Ph.D., LMFTA, CFLE, and Adrienne M. Duke, Ph.D., Guest Co-Editors; and Ted G. Futris, Ph.D., CFLE, Family Focus Editor
/ NCFR Report, Fall 2021

Family Focus editors
From left: Guest Editors Annika Karlsen, Ph.D., LMFTA, CFLE, and Adrienne M. Duke, Ph.D.; and Family Focus Editor Ted G. Futris, Ph.D., CFLE

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Antiracist activism, demonstrations, and protests throughout the past year have served as a “wake-up call” to many by bringing attention to deeply embedded, and sometimes misunderstood, institutional and structural racism. As a discipline, we are responding to antiracism efforts that are embedded within the “racial awakening” of 2020 in which many colleges, universities, and businesses pledged to address the systemic and institutional racism entrenched in our society. In this issue of Family Focus, our contributing authors share their professional, empirically informed insight to help deconstruct how structural inequity and racism affects us as scholars and practitioners and affects the families we study and serve.

To open this issue, Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley explores how family scholars may consider using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to support and sustain efforts to improve cultural competency. The IDI can be used as a learner-focused approach to help current and future Family Science scholars assess their cultural competence and begin to work toward goals related to dismantling racism.

The articles that follow examine the various practices and policies that have an impact on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Kristy Y. Shih and I. Joyce Chang start by examining the invisible cost of the model minority myth on Asian American families. By contextualizing the authors’ work in the rise of anti-Asian harassment and hate crimes during COVID-19, they explain how the model-minority myth has a hidden cost and has been used as a trope to erase the shared experience of racism with other BIPOCs. Next, Azucena Verdín describes how identity erasure is an insidious part of structural racism for Mexican Americans. Verdín points out that ignoring Mexican Indigenous heritage serves to reproduce racism and a sentiment of perpetual invader. Bethany L. Letiecq, Joseph M. Williams, Colleen K. Vesely, and Jocelyn R. Smith Lee examine structural mechanisms that systematically disadvantage Black families through housing divestment, denigration of Black residents, systems collusion, and White community action. Further contributing to these points, Dylan J. F. Bellisle, Justin S. Harty, and Bethany L. Letiecq explain how tax policies in the United States maintain structural inequities and penalize culturally meaningful and adaptive family configurations outside of the White heteropatriarchal nuclear family. Next, Kelly D. Chandler, Kara K. McElvaine, Jey Blodgett, and Corine Tyler examine ways that work–family policies have an impact on Black families and offer an organizational justice framework for informing changes in research, education, and workplace culture.

The ensuing series of articles focuses on the strategies and internal work that must be done in Family Science to begin to address structural inequality in the discipline at individual and institutional levels. Hilary A. Rose argues that decolonizing the academy starts with decolonizing ourselves. The author’s self-reflective piece positions relearning history as a primary component of decolonization in our personal and professional roles as family scholars. Next, Shardé McNeil Smith, Carolyn N. Orson, Naya Sutton, Jennifer L. Hardesty, and Brianna L. Anderson offer a multiprogrammatic approach for departments to begin dismantling the culture, practices, and policies that reinforce systemic racism. The authors describe how their department engaged students through climate surveys and a critical, antiracist evaluation of teaching practices in their effort to decenter whiteness in existing departmental practices. Following is a call to action from Chalandra M. Bryant, who encourages Family Scientists adopt a community-focused partnership approach to address factors inhibiting African Americans’ participation in research in order to truly begin to engage in social justice research and understand the impacts of structural racism on African American families. Last, Kevin Roy, Jessica N. Fish, Amy Lewin, and Elaine A. Anderson echo this call to create a more justice-based, action-oriented Family Science discipline. The authors utilize the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Public Health Association’s ethics statement (Thomas et al., 2002) as guiding principles to advance socially conscious and actionable Family Science beyond translation, dissemination, and application.

As society grapples with these systemic injustices, Family Science researchers, practitioners, and educators are helping illuminate how racism and structural inequality affect family life as well as the Family Science discipline. The authors of these articles demonstrate that a multiprogrammatic approach is needed to continue to dismantle structural inequities and racism. Circling back to our first article, we close with words that Wiersma-Mosley shared from Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”


Dr. Karlsen is an associate clinical director and assistant professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy Department at Converse University

Dr. Duke is an associate professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Auburn University; and

Dr. Futris is the editor of Family Focus. He is a professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at the University of Georgia. Email him at  [email protected]