It's all about perspective

Archive for the ‘Topic of the Day’ Category

Lines in the sand

Should people be allowed to have stupid beliefs?

I am an atheist. Nearly everyone who knows me knows it. While I do not doubt what I know, I do waffle on how exactly to practice this outlook on life. There are those, like P.Z. Myers, J.T. Eberhard, and Richard Dawkins, who think a direct and confrontational approach to anti-scientific beliefs are the way to “win” the culture war between religion and science. On the other hand, there are people like Kenneth Miller and Pamela Gay who, being either of faith or at least willing to believe in such things, think a cooperative approach is necessary.

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Similarity is not Equality

It’s Roller Derby time boys and girls. Yet while I waited patiently for that 7pm whistle last sunday which started the rekindled sport my mind wanders to thoughts of gender equality. I know, boring, but hear me out. I’ve been noticing an upswing in articles related to the oppression of men and this all-women sport has rekindled my interest in the subject. Now before you go off laughing about how its impossible for men to be the subject of oppression based on their gender, I would have you stop and think about this for a moment.

I am, due to my own history with the state and childcare, an unflinching supporter of Father’s rights. In this instance I am absolutely convinced there is a biased view of parenting in this country which favors the mother. Does this happen all the time? Not hardly. Does it happen enough that it should be investigated? I say a resounding “yes.” While going through the custody process myself I encountered several avenues of assistance that were available to the mother, that were not available to me, which were based solely on her gender. Furthermore, the prevailing child development model at the time was one that claimed children were developmentally disadvantaged when separated from their mothers. This standard was absolutely biased against fathers and thankfully is beginning to change.

In part, I believe it is changing because of the drastic difference in education based on gender. Last year I read several articles and blog posts about how the current model of education; one that many believe is detrimental to boys’ learning, is not being studied on that basis of gender [1]. In my own recent attempts to join the K-12 teaching ranks, I have found a great emphasis on race and class, but no one is talking about gender. For this reason alone I feel there should be an open discourse about it.

Now, it appears this may actually happen. (more…)

Study shows genetic disorder leads to lack of racial stereotypes and social fear.

Williams syndrome children show no racial stereotypes or social fear | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine.

So we find ourselves another study claiming that, essentially, racial stereotyping is natural and genetic. Only with genetic disorders can we truly get past these natural urges.

What a crock. This study is based on the “Preschool Racial Attitude Measure (PRAM-II), which is designed to tease out traces of gender or racial biases in young children.” It does this by showing young children a picture of two people. These are made different by color, gender, or both. The child is then told a story about the two pictures and asked to point out the person they feel the story is more likely about. Bias is determined by the how often the child points to the gender-same or ethnic-same people when the story uses positive adjectives versus when the child points to gender-different or ethnic-different people when the story uses negative adjectives.

This measurement is faulty for a couple of reasons.

1: The children are only shown two choices so there is bias built in to the measurement. Add a third choice for “neither” and a fourth choice for “feel equally about both” and the test might actually start measuring something.

2: While the test is measuring prejudice, it is not measuring stereotype. A prejudice is a preconceived judgment or opinion. Since the test uses positive and negative adjectives as a measurement tool, you are asking the children to apply a positive or negative judgment to the pictures. Stereotyping, on the other hand, would be measured by the children’s willingness to classify people without those value judgments. Now then, the real question becomes, “are these children assessing values because they feel one gender/race is superior to the other, or because they are simply more comfortable with one over the other?”

So what then does this study show? Not much really. It is fascinating in that it attempts to look at the genetic foundations of prejudice and may even be applicable to group-think studies. I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for the finished paper and will likely be doing a full critique of it.

White Backlash

Take a glance over to the right of this blog to the Blogroll widget. You’ll see a link to The Color Line. It’s a blog ran by Contexts, which is the online home of the magazine of the same name. It is a quarterly magazine dedicated to the exploration of sociological topics made relevant to the non-sociologist. (e.g. a haven for making sociology more public)

The Color Line’s most recent post is concerning White Backlash. The feeling that, as a group, whites are becoming increasingly threatened and destabilized by developments in political power, globalization, and shrinking of white population.

It is a great article that touches on many of the topics I’ve covered in the past about race. It also touches on how each of the above influences have combined to create a very white group of very angry people. I’ve been wanting to study the Tea Party group for the very reasons the article brings up. As I have seen no evidence of how these people are anything less than a more politically-correct version of the KKK. However, that has been my experience with the news and we all know how accurate and unbiased the news is.

Also, I’ve started to restructure the site a bit, in preparing to move to my own domain social-context.org. (To the three random people who check out my little spot on the web every week, look for it soon.) I’m moving definitions to their own page, Social Dictionary, rather than as a subset of the FAQ.

An open letter to Kris Broughton

I stumbled across your writings by accident, and first allow me to say how great it is to finally find a voice speaking about the questions I’ve had as a white sociologist studying race, privilege, and cultural creation. Your questioning of the current media machine’s ethnic influences is one which needs to continue to be questioned before any real action can be started. (e.g. Fox’s white network of unfair and imbalanced news; CNN and other major news outlets’ portrayals of black men and women during the Katrina disaster)

Your frame of “our national tribe” in Who Controls America’s Racial Narrative is one I find to be long overdue. It seems more and more we are becoming splintered. The states which make our union are increasingly becoming exclusionary. People from Missouri find little with which to relate to our cousins in New York or California.

I also find the questions you begin to ask in “Recarving Our Cultural Totem: An Excerpt” to be both long overdue and fascinating as I have been asking similar questions about my own ethnicity. My own research into white culture has uncovered some disturbing revelations on the nature of white privilege.

However, I would like to ask a few questions myself on your excerpt. One: does the book take into account the “trinity” of cultural interactions; e.g. race, class, and gender? Two: in answering your questions, (as I attempt to answer my own) how does one account for their own pre-conceived notions? Three: your frame of “Black America 5.0” assumes that Black America 4.0 – Integration, has already occurred. How do you take into account the stark contradictions to that integration which you refer to in your other posts?

In this paragraph you discuss what I can only perceive as an attempt to connect with your “paler brethren:”

This is a stubborn subset of the black community that wants to have their cornbread and eat it too. But if they are honest with themselves, they have to admit that all white skinned people do not enjoy all the attendant privileges of whiteness. Southern rednecks, Appalachian hillbillies, Midwestern hicks — they face a level of ostracism that is almost equal to what some of us encounter because we have our hair braided, or because we wear hip hop clothing, or sport rows of gold capped teeth.

However, your claim that certain subcultures of whiteness do not enjoy the same level of privileges others do is not only incorrect, but lacks respect of social environment and the basis for intra-ethnic racism. Southern rednecks, Appalachian hillbillies, and Midwestern hicks may feel out of place in a larger urban area, but in their home regions they enjoy the exact same (if not increased) level of privileges which every other white person receives. This is not always the case in ethnic communities. Intra-ethnic racism is based not on stereotypes one ethnic group creates about itself, but on ones which are borrowed from the parent culture. Furthermore, anyone may choose to “dress the part” of a stereotype and then subsequently remove the costume, but I will never be able to walk into a room full of Native Americans and say “it’s okay guys, I’m not white any more, I’m Cherokee now.”

I applaud the attempt to relate, as I agree it needs to happen for real change to occur, but that is one of the fundamental issues in collaboration between ethnic groups in the United States: white’s inability to relate to the struggle of minorities under institutional racism. A poor white does not equate to a poor Souix or poor black; they may be similar in appearance, but are in no respects equal in circumstance to each other.

So in your opinion, how do whites collaborate and relate to minorities when they have no real understanding of what its like? I have been poor, homeless, and starving. I know what its like to go to bed so hungry you just want to die so the pain goes away. Is that the thread which people, regardless of race or creed need to grasp at when attempting to bridge racial lines? Focus not on our differences but in how we are similar? In theory I would agree with that, but then do we just forget everything that came before? I believe that is more of a slap to the face than anything else. Doing so not only lessens the influence of those events on current ones, but allows whites to continue to act without consequence. I believe whites must take responsibility for their cultural history before this outreach along shared experiences can occur and be meaningful.

I think this is one of the linchpins of color-blind racism. Your question “how do we get others, whether they are white, Latino, or Asian, to [rearrange their mythological constructs] when they encounter us?” Those mythological constructs are based in white culture. For them to really change one (or both) of two things must occur; white culture must change, or white culture must become the minority. I think that if we can get white people to start taking responsibility for their culpability in the situation real, lasting change can begin.

I look forward to reading your book.

545 People

I got an email this morning from my father. It was a simple email containing no words, but a simple attachment I was beckoned to read (you can read it at the bottom of this post).

As is normal with nearly every email my parents forward to me, I immediately hit snopes.com to investigate the email’s validity. To my surprise the email was true and in fact was written by Charlie Reese. To my further surprise, this was originally written 25 years ago. (To see two more versions other than the one above hit up this piece on snopes.com.)

After reading the three versions I’ve found (I’m sure there are more) I’ve come to the conclusion that good old Charlie was either a brilliant clairvoyant or a vitriolic idiot. I’m inclined to lean toward the latter. For twenty five years the conservatives in this country have been blaming Congress for every single woe we’ve faced. In fact, the conservatives have been blaming Congress for far longer than that (even way back when the Democrats were the conservatives).

So does this little missive, with its updated names and places, serve as the “I told you so” to the rest of America? I don’t think so. What it does show is the real problem: a lack of personal responsibility. The piece touches on it a few times, but lays that responsibility mostly in the hands of the infamous “545 people.” What about our responsibility as voters? (It’s mentioned once)

There certainly are more than 300 million people in this great nation, but good old Charlie neglects to mention voter turnout. There aren’t 300 million people voting in these elections, not even close. According to infoplease.com voter turnout was only 56.8% of registered voters.

And I bet some of you are saying “Oh wait, what’s this registered voters thing?”

Me: “That? It’s just the number of people in the country who are actually of age to vote; 18 or older.”

You: “Oh. So there aren’t actually 300 million people who could replace these 545 wicked sinners?”

Me: “Not even close, but I was just talking about the number of people who could vote. There’s an entirely different number of people who are eligible for any of these 545 positions.” (I’ll direct you to the Wikipedia page on the qualifications of a Senator and a Representative so this rather generous number shrinks even farther now.)

You: “Damn lazy reporters.”

Me: “Damn right.”

Then again, voter turnout is only really high every four years during a Presidential election. On the “off years,” as I call them, the voter turnout is closer to the high thirtieth percentile. (37.1% – roughly 80 million voters)

The only part of good old Charlie’s letter I agree with is the last few lines, which comes down to this: “Bitch, follow, or do it yourself.” The first two do no one any good, but the last is imperative to the health of any republic. The personal responsibility lays with us. Every registered voter in the United States has an obligation not just to bitch and whine, but to actually do something. Get out and vote your opinion. Don’t just scream it. Don’t just grouse behind a computer screen or newspaper. Support the representatives you support with your votes. But before you can even do that, they must be supported financially and physically. If you can’t donate $5, then donate a few hours of your time to help the people you believe in get to where they can do some good. And if you don’t find anyone out there who agrees with you then run yourself and find others who believe in you.

If you’re unwilling to do any of the previous, then the Common Sense Committee hereby revokes your right to bitch about this or any future situation the United States finds itself in.

Attachment follows the jump:

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The Speech

On September 8, 2009 President Obama will give this speech to schools around the U. S. This speech is designed to:

Help get America’s students engaged! On Tuesday, September 8 — the first day of school for many students — the President will talk directly to students across the country on the importance of taking responsibility for their education, challenging them to set goals and do everything they can to succeed.

Ever since the announcement there have been people screaming about how it is illegal, immoral, and just propaganda. This, coupled with the Right’s attempt to paint President Obama’s health care initiative in a similar light, just goes to show how far they have actually fallen.

Let me assure you, it is not illegal. The President is not setting curriculum. To do that he would have to say something to the effect of “Today all science classes will now teach Intelligent Design.” This is not something he’s doing, nor will he ever. The President is not changing all schools over to the metric system. He is giving a speech. About personal responsibility. Something that I will agree should be taught by the children’s parents, but a concerned country and member of this society can only blame the parents for so long until action must be taken.

For that reason alone, it is not immoral either. The right wing, and many others, in this country want the government out of their lives. I can understand that and can even sympathize with that. I want corporate control out of my life and feel that’s a much bigger issue than government, but that’s an issue for another time. However, personal responsibility, a skill that very few members of my generation learned and thus, were not able to pass on to their children, is something that must be taught. If we did not learn it from our parents and we did not learn it from school, where were we supposed to learn it? So as a concerned citizen and leader of a society President Obama is stepping up to address the challenge of that very question. He’s not trying to supplant parents, nor is he trying to supplant schools, he is merely challenging the youth and future of our nation to do better than the generation before them. What loftier goal is there?

As far as propaganda is concerned, yes it is a bit of propaganda, but so is education. In fact, every educational system on the planet is designed to lay out the propaganda of that society. “U.S.A. is #1!” The pledge of allegiance and all that jazz. Yet President Obama is not putting a left spin or a right spin on the speech. He is trying to use his own experiences and the experiences of others like him to motivate our children to do better. Not because they’re failing and not because they’re lazy, but because as a parent he knows, just like every parent out there knows, that our children can do better.

It is a speech to our kids about something important that the vast majority of you never would have even hinted at to you own children, but because someone else is doing it, you have to scream and whine and moan about “parent’s rights” and “government influence.” Get real and wake up. There are far worse influences than the government speaking to our children every day.

As a final note, I would like to challenge everyone out there who is a member of the “screaming me-me’s” to tell everyone else where they were when President Bush did the same thing? Where were you when any President addressed the nation like this? I’ll tell you where you were. You were safe at home, or at your jobs, or at your bars not worrying once about it because that time it was “no big deal.” That President was just “one of the boys” what harm could he do?

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