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Pathologizing Black Culture

There’s an obsession in this country with singling out and pathologizing black culture. Trends that can readily be seen in any community — black, white, hispanic, asian or otherwise — become abnormal or unhealthy when looked at only in the black community.

For instance, we oftentimes hear political and community leaders bemoan the hopes and aspirations of young black kids who dream about becoming rappers or professional athletes. We’re told these kid should instead strive to be doctors, astronauts or mathematicians — and that these low-brow expectations are at the root of underachievement in the black community. Nevermind the fact that when you ask little boys of all races what they want to be when the grow up, the number one answer is professional athlete.

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On White Women as Scarves…

Artist Nate Hill has been showing off his latest fashion piece on the streets of Brooklyn and it’s a doozy!

Just as some ladies love to tote around their Michael Kors bag as a status symbol, quite a few folks are of the belief that some men of color pursue white women for the same reasons. Playing around with the concept, Black artist Nate Hill pinched a few nerves by wearing unclothed white women around his neck — literally!

His photographic project is called “Trophy Scarves,” according to a Vice interview, and the Brooklynite artist has been traveling around town

 draping unclothed white women over his shoulders. Hill wanted to tackle the notion of non-White males using Caucasian women to elevate their own social statuses

White Women as ScarvesThe project has garnered a lot of attention and elicited responses from all corners of the internet. And some have actually criticized Mr. Hill on the grounds that his exhibit perpetuates the same objectification of women he’s in part trying to comment on since these naked women serve as nothing more than props in his display.

I’m not sure I fully buy this line of reasoning however. First, this is an art installation. One imagines that the women being used here were informed of why they’d be draped over Hill’s shoulders.These women are voluntarily and willingly participating in the act in order to bring attention to the issue. They’re playing a role. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of a slave doesn’t perpetuate or reinforce slavery. In fact, by participating, he helps to reveal the grotesque nature of our country’s history and forces all of us to confront it. The portrayal of a naked and vulnerable woman draped over the shoulder of a man is similarly offensive, and is meant to force us all to realize how despicable and damaging the objectification of women really is.

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Black Folks and Social Security

Eugene Steuerle over at the Urban Institute recently issued a new report detailing the impacts of race on who benefits from Social Security. His findings? Since the program’s inception Social Security has systematically redistributed income from people of color to whites.

On its face, there’s nothing intentional going on here. Steuerle and his team find that due to demographic trends and the structure of benefit increases, younger blacks, Hispanics and Asians have been in effect paying for the retirement security of older whites. Steuerle points to why:

…Hispanics and Asians are more likely to have immigrated to the United State relatively recently and thus less likely to have family members in those earlier generations with higher net benefits or returns. Second, blacks and Hispanics have tended to have larger families than whites, thereby creating a larger share of taxpayers receiving lower returns on their contributions relative to parent and grandparent beneficiaries who got higher returns.

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Who Uses the Internet?

Sometimes when I’m online, I forget just how exclusive the internet really is.  Below is a table I pulled from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

As you move up in age, internet use falls. As you move up in education, internet use increases. One out of three people making less than $30,000 do not use the internet. Disproportionately fewer Blacks and Hispanics use the internet relative to whites.

This stuff matters. For many of us who are online daily, it’s a natural event to interact with other people through social networking sites, comments sections, dating sites, etc. Often times we take for granted who we’re talking with, and assume that our interactions translate into something akin to the real world. In truth, what we’re seeing is a wealthier, whiter, younger, more educated sub-population  We should keep that in mind.

internet usage

Beyond STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Producing more STEM workers is a huge priority in this country. As anyone will tell you, at our current pace of production we’re not going to have enough scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to do all the STEM stuff we need them to do in the coming years… like build time machines, and good robots to fight all the evil robots.

I know creating more STEM workers is important. More and more our economy is driven by technological innovation. Some of the most successful and recession proof regions of the country are based around science and technology hubs. The more individuals we can get into these jobs, the better for our economy.

I’m entirely in favor of encouraging kids to explore STEM careers, especially kids who historically have been told that math and science isn’t for them.  However, when I look at the current conversation around getting students to explore STEM fields, often times I see it being framed as zero-sum game. Steer kids away from the liberal arts, away from the humanities, away from the soft sciences and bring them into the world of STEM.

That’s not the direction we should take at all.

The truth is, STEM occupations may be a large part of the current and future economy. But STEM alone doesn’t make a better society.

I wonder what would happen if we encouraged our children to explore gender studies as avidly as we did biology. Could we drastically reduce the number of rapes? Reduce bullying based on sexual orientation? What if more people took classes (more than one or two) in race relations? How much more tolerant would our society be? Or what if students took a years’ worth of courses in public policy? What would our national discourse around healthcare, the economy, or foreign policy look like then?

Creating a system in which we empower students and future workers to nurture both their STEM capabilities and larger societal interests would go a long way towards creating a more informed, tolerable, and equitable society. Let’s do that.