So You Want to Be More Cultured…

I spent my most recent college semester in Rome, Italy. It was an experience, to say the least. One thing I can tell you for sure is that I learned a lot about my own family’s culture, and, in turn, I became a lot more aware of the other cultures around me back at home in NYC.

Growing up in The Melting Pot almost makes it sound easy to just know about other cultures and people because you’re surrounded. I’m here to tell you the truth: it isn’t easy. You have to make the effort to actually go learn about other cultures. You can eat all the sushi you want and never truly appreciate the Japanese culture. You can grow up in an Italian family, speak the language, and still never understand anything about Italy. That was my exact predicament these past four months. I thought I knew what I was walking into. I had seen all the foods before. I could communicate somewhat with the locals. I had always prided myself on being something other than American. I loved having some different culture to tell people about, but, up until recently, I actually didn’t even know too much about Italian culture outside of the food. It made me realize that I also knew nothing about most of the people that I grew up living right next door to.  If you find yourself in that same situation, well, here are my three main tips to help get you through.

  1. Talk to people. Talk to everyone. You might be thinking that you do this on the daily, but I’m not just talking about simple conversations. I’m talking about the type of communication that opens your mind. Talk to other students about their heritages, especially exchange or international students. They have a lot of stories to offer you, I promise. Let them tell you about their life back at their home country; they can offer real insight to life under certain governments, with different education systems/religions/values. There are too many things we take for granted here in the United States, and a great way to connect with people and also become further aware of your privilege is through simple communication.
  2. Did you know that tomatoes weren’t always a part of the Italian tradition? As a matter of fact, people used to think that their bold, red color signified poison, and the leaden plates that peasants used to eat them off of would turn people ill, so they blamed the fruit. That brings us to the next tip. Learn about and eat/cook a traditional meal. If you manage to make friends with some students from different backgrounds, ask them about traditional recipes. If you’re really good friends, hang out after school one day or in one of your campus kitchens and put a meal together. Not only is it a great experience cooking with friends in general, but seeing new ingredients or old ingredients being prepared in wholly new ways will give you a new understanding of how people eat around the world. Some ingredients even have stories behind them and different meanings in other cultures, so take advantage of these opportunities.
  3. Here’s a cool video and an article about the right ways to eat sushi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auLmekEsaak and http://blog.gaijinpot.com/eating-sushi-the-proper-way/ .That brings us to tip #3: Use the internet if you have questions. How do we properly eat sushi? What are the different types of headdresses for Muslim women? Why are there different names for similar alcohols in different countries? What do the different gestures in Indian dancing mean? These are all great questions you might have, and you can start by answering them with a simple google search.

 

If you find yourself needing immediate help learning about another culture, have no fear. Here are two websites that can help you out:

http://www.gaylecotton.com/blog/2013/03/global-etiquette-cultural-tips-to-keep-in-mind-for-any-culture/

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/kwintessential-learn-etiquette-manners/

 

While I love being back home in America, I sometimes feel isolated from the cultures around me, even when so many people in my neighborhood are immigrants. It’s easy to forgot how privileged some of us are to have been born here and to have United States passports and many different freedoms. We have to remember that people may feel like outsiders in our strange, ethnocentric American world, and one way to make them feel welcome is to simply try to understand them.

Hacking Finals Week

We all know this week is going to be horrible. We know that when it’s finals week, your break is really just moving to a different essay. We know that you substitute coffee for water, fruits, vegetables, meats…pretty much everything. So, we’ve compiled a list that might make this week go by a little bit faster. Get studying!

First things first, everyone. Get plenty of sleep and make sure you’re taking care of your body, both mentally and physically. Clear your head, make time to relax, make sure you’re eating well and drinking plenty of water. Your body, and your GPA, will thank you.

Study! Create a study schedule, set timers, make guides, work in groups with other students, watch some educational Youtube videos. One of our favorite things to do is set a timer for 45 minutes of studying/ essay writing, and then take a 15 minute break for eating, water, power naps, and socialization. Make sure you organize your notes and check in with other students in your class to make sure you all have the same information. You might also learn some helpful tips and tricks from them!

Become the teacher! The best way to study is to practice teaching what you’ve learned to everyone else. Prepare study sessions in which you and your classmates each stand up and teach one subject on the exam to the class. It gives everyone a chance to not only listen to the information again, but also to correct anything that might be wrong.

Focus! We know that most studying and essay writing is done on laptops nowadays, and we get distracted, too. That’s why we use extensions like StayFocusd, Block Site, Nanny, TinyFilter, and LeechBlock. If you’re like us and constantly have Facebook or Tumblr open in your browser, then these extensions are for you.

Practice! After studying by yourself and with others, find practice quizzes and test questions. Make time to write and read sample essays. Find websites with mini tests and take them until you get 90% or over every time. Design your own mini quiz, too. (Yes, some websites let you do this!) Some of our favorites are Quizlet, Crossword Labs, Studyblue, GOCONQR, Class Tools, Tinytap, StudyStack, Headmagnet, Cramberry, and Quizizz.

If all else fails:

http://gpacalculator.net/college-gpa-calculator/

Calculate what your GPA would be if you got the lowest possible passing grades.

Anti-Capitalism and Globalization

“Capitalism is against the things that we say we believe in – democracy, freedom of choice, fairness. It’s not about any of those things now. It’s about protecting the wealthy and legalizing greed,” (Michael Moore). While many people think this is just extremely harsh commentary on a perfectly good system, it really gets down to the root of a movement that has people all across the world working for socioeconomic equality- the anti-capitalist movement. Although the movement gained momentum in the U.S. during movements like Occupy Wall Street to help citizens at home, as the level of economic inequality in the United States is unjust. Although some levels of inequality will always exist in society, with the large disparity between the upper and working/lower classes, we see a lack of participation in society from those who have less. When it comes to things like voting and asset-building, those living in poverty get left in the dust, leaving some people in a superior position, but many more in an inferior. These social and economic hierarchies go against the very democracy on which the US was founded, and also influence the very ideals that now have the entire world fighting for equality, as well.

First, we have to understand where inequality comes from and how it has changed throughout history. Economic inequality stems from a few different factors- the main one being that income is in many ways directly related to one’s ability to vote, be educated, and have a say in the political sphere. Starting at the founding of the United States, one can point out that freedom, equality, and basic rights- like those to property- provided the foundation for our current democracy. It is plain to see, then, that those values that were once important are still quite important today. Talking specifically about natural rights, it was a firm belief that many of the things outlined in the Bill of Rights were things that were supported and were seen as natural rights, or rights given upon birth or citizenship.

The democracy that was founded in this country was meant to uphold those laws for all whom they pertained to, and protect the rights of the people so that everyone somehow had a say in government. While this seems great in theory, one can see that even the founding fathers did not actually include all citizens or US born individuals. Africans were still slaves and considered property, working long days for no pay, while women didn’t exactly have a say in the government at that time period because they weren’t equal to men. White men who didn’t own land, those who weren’t wealthy, also didn’t have a say in the government, and worked on the property of the wealthy to be able to have housing. Jews and Catholics weren’t allowed to vote, and the voting age then was 21, ruling out any men below that age. One can conclude, then, that those who were involved with, and benefitted from, government policy, were strictly white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant males who owned land- roughly only 20% of the population (crf.usa.org). Those who did not fit into this category were unable to have a voice in policy that would benefit or free them, and while many things have changed in this country, traces of the political past bleeds into class disparity on a daily basis. Doctor of philosophy Michael J. Thompson writes in an article, “Politics…will by necessity have economic interest at its core since the development of liberal capitalism means that the notion of power in society becomes more intimately bound to the operation and structure of the economy (Thompson).” Through this quote one can truly begin to understand that those who have political power in this nation have it because of their place in the economy. In essence, those who benefit from the economy are also benefitted by government policy.

Another factor is that many people are at an extreme disadvantage with their income. Many people don’t make nearly enough money to be able to support themselves and their families, and those who are making enough money to do so are usually the ones who can actively influence economic policy because they have more freedom to participate in society. About 47% of the US population- a little over a million people- work minimum wage jobs in the food service industry (pewresearch.org). While many states have their own minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum wage ($7.25), even those sometimes don’t measure up to the cost of living. It makes sense, then, that many people working fulltime jobs are still not making enough to be above the poverty line. The US government has measured poverty the same way since the 1960s, not factoring in that today the typical family spends more on transportation, child care and housing than fifty years ago. Using the same measure as fifty years ago makes the struggles of those not making enough money invisible. Many people are forced to make difficult decisions about what to spend their money on and become unable to make long-term investments. These long-term investments can be called assets, and they include homes and retirement funds. These are seen as incentives to keep working and break out of the poverty threshold, but the wealth gap has grown so much that is nearly impossible to do now, leaving many excluded from the things initially put in place to empower them, and making them doubtful of their elected officials.

In an interview, philosophy professor and author Elizabeth Anderson says, “Extreme wealth inequality also leads to the de facto control of government by the rich (plutocracy), and so is incompatible with democracy…More…distributions of wealth spread opportunity and hence freedom more widely and fully than systems in which wealth is concentrated in a tiny self-perpetuating class.” In essence, Anderson is saying that as the US stands, the rich have more power in society. In saying that, it means we are getting further and further away from democracy and leaning more towards a plutocracy in which opportunity and freedom is limited to the upper class. This is because there is little distribution of resources in the US.

Looking at the Gini coefficient- a nation’s measure of inequality between 0 and 1, in which the closer the coefficient gets to 1, the less equal it is- we can see that in 1998, the US had a coefficient of .41. Many experts estimated the coefficient to be around.44 in 2004, and .469 in 2010. What exactly does this number mean? In 2004, it meant that the richest 10% of people in the US made 17 times more money than the lowest 10%. The number goes up even further when investment values are added into the mix, being that the poor usually don’t make money off of them in the way the rich do. When investments are added in, the Gini coefficient for the US is somewhere around 57.4. In terms of the coefficient, this would mean that nearly 60% of America has almost all of its wealth and resources, and slightly fewer than 40% have nearly none. In a salary comparison between average floor workers and CEOs in the US, researchers found that a CEO makes on average above 500 times more than a floor worker. In Jeffrey Winters’ article, he points out a way to measure how wealth is intertwined with political power. He calls it the Material Power Index, and it shows exactly how and where power is concentrated between the classes. He says, “When measured by wealth, the MPI for the richest Americans is 30,000 (it jumps to 50,000 if home equity is excluded). The weakest American oligarchs have between 125 and 200 times the material power of an average citizen.” He says that the reason this is dangerous in a democracy is that the oligarchs (the wealthy class) are divided on most political issues in such a way where they can’t exactly be generalized, but are a united front against threats to their concentrated wealth (i.e. higher taxes).

In his article, journalist Daniel Weeks says that the politicians upon whom many impoverished citizens rely do not rely anymore on those citizens, as most lobbying and fundraising is done through the wealthy. He goes on to say that poverty is so persistent in society because millions of impoverished people have become silenced in the political sphere. Statistics show that many impoverished people of the voting age choose not to vote because they don’t feel as if their voices are being listened to. As a matter of fact, studies indicate that non-voters are much more liberal than voters, and would vote for fairer wealth distribution than those who do choose to vote. In a study done by professors William Franko, Nathan Kelly, and Christopher Witko, findings showed that in states where there were smaller voting gaps between the wealthy and poor, policies tended to favor the poor more, states had “higher minimum wages, stricter lending laws and more generous health benefits” than states that had a higher voting disparity.

Aside from the lack of liberal voters, there is a lack of liberal fundraising, especially by minorities. Of 1,360 super PACs (committee that donate to politicians), only 9 are dedicated to Hispanics and blacks, while just one has raised money- a black, republican super PAC that usually votes against minority interests (opensecretsorg). These minority interests can be viewed through census data from past elections; in 1996, 84% of African Americans and 73% of Hispanics voted for a democrat. In 2004, the number went up to 88% for African Americans but down to 53% for Hispanics. In 2008, 95% of black people voted for democratic nominee Barack Obama, while 67% of Hispanics voted for him. During his second election in 2012, 93% of African Americans and 71% of Hispanics voted for Obama (all percentages taken from ropercenter.uconn.edu). Clearly, the interest of minorities lies mostly with democrats, but as so few minority super PACs exist, and only a conservative one is donated to, it is easy to see that if people are not lobbying for the person whose policies will most benefit them, there will be little to no class mobility for those who need it the most.

In one USA Today article, the most expensive states to live in the US are outlined. $75,000 is used as the baseline to living comfortably to explain what the equivalent is in each state (in this article, living comfortably means you have no need for outside money and can put money aside for retirement). New York is the 3rd most expensive state on the list, with the article concluding that the New York equivalent of living comfortably on $75,000 in a state like Pennsylvania would actually add up to $100,000 when NY’s cost of living is factored in. Another article by Dave Gilson shows that although productivity has surged, NY’s wages have remained stagnant. Since 1990, the cost of living has increased over 60%. The minimum wage has only increased 21% since then, and a year’s earnings at the minimum wage is only a little over $15,000. The income required for a single worker to have real economic security today is $30,000 in comparison. Had the median household income increased with the cost of living, it would be over 90,000 dollars today, instead of just 50,000. Both articles are extremely telling in how much money people would need to make to be able to afford living without having to worry about being able to pay for necessities. A wage gap that is large enough such that one class has excess and another is barely scraping by for necessities is not just, and needs to be addressed so that all can participate in the many things being financially stable has to offer. In knowing this, many people are fighting against the fact that our capitalist economy has become a part of the way our government is run, and are now pushing against capitalism and the live-to-work, work-to-live lifestyle.

The anti-capitalist movement is said to have started in 2001 at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Officials from North America, South America, and Canada were discussing many issues affecting the western hemisphere. 20,000 people had gathered outside and were marching in support of fair trade, when suddenly, police attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets, and a water cannon (Graeber). Protests continued on into the night, with police continuing to fire rubber and plastic bullets at protesters, intentionally aiming for heads and groins, and tossing tear gas canisters. Although this sparked many questions about militarism in the police force, it also showed people exactly how far elected officials would go to keep people in line and maximize profits by using old-world, imperialistic methods of paying as little as possible to those living in developing nations. The truth is, many government officials would rather go to war to stimulate the economy for short-term success than wait to see the long-term effects of paying livable wages to workers. Michael Miller, in his article “Reforming capitalism for freedom”, says that part of the criticism of capitalism isn’t against the system itself, but the version of capitalism we currently have, which he calls “managerial-crony capitalism”. He says that this means businesses and governments plot to create “regulations that only serve their interests” and turn profits, and their policies are “all mixed in with age-old vices like greed and imprudence”. In other words, capitalism went wrong when businesses and governments became more worried about the money they were making than the consumers from whom they were making it. This is probably the reason many people rely on Terrorism Capitalism.

Terrorism Capitalism, or Disaster Capitalism, is a new term referring to the usage of war and other man-made disasters to regulate the economy. “In 2011, the 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion,” said Sam Weigley in his USA Today article. These numbers highlight the fact that when we fight wars, whether in Iraq, Germany, or anywhere else around the world, we seem to just make money. As a matter of fact, in 1940, just around the time World War II started, the DPC (Defense Plant Corporation) was founded by the US government to create a market for airplanes, which would be the ultimate weapon during WWII.  Before the DCP was founded, the government only spent 5% of its gross income investing in industrial capital, but only three years later, “the government accounted for 67% of U.S. capital investment. (Hyman)” The founding of the DCP totally transformed production in the U.S., but it also gave way for the government to use war as a means to stimulate the economy and create growth. It is really no wonder why the period after World War II is called The Golden Age of Capitalism, especially as almost two-hundred billion dollars matured in war bonds at this time.

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein outlines what once was America’s post-Iraq plan. Former President Bush’s director of the Iraqi occupation authority, Paul Bremer, wanted to open up the borders of Iraq and have unrestricted imports without inspections or taxes. Almost overnight, Iraq became one of the widest open markets in the world. New Bridge Strategies, a business started by the former head of FEMA, Joe Allbaugh, was at the forefront of this “experiment in frontier capitalism (Klein 339).”  The business, through the use of its political connections, planned to get rights for distribution of Proctor and Gamble products, and possibly even open up a 7-Eleven and a Wal-Mart. In her book, Klein says these stores would’ve had the ability to take over the country (340).

Not coincidentally, every time an instance of disaster capitalism happens, the anti-capitalist movement gains momentum. In the spring of 2002, in the biggest meeting of anti-capitalists since 9/11, people gathered to protest the U.S. aid to Israel. 10,000 people marched in solidarity with Palestine in New York City, and many people marched in Washington D.C. to protest the Iraq war. Activists began to feel more secure in their positions as polls showed around 40% of U.S. citizens opposed a war with UN support, but some of the biggest anti-capitalist groups decided not to take a stance on the war. This caused a 50% decrease in activist participation, and ended the movement just before it was about to blow up (Ashman).

One of the biggest reasons the anti-capitalist movement died down at this time was because many citizens began to see war-spending as a way to live out our democracy. After 9/11, the American people didn’t know where to turn or who to blame, and so government spending on a war that made people feel strengthened and empowered was more supported than not. Anti-capitalist groups felt as if they would be betraying this country if they didn’t support the efforts being made to retaliate. Similar things happened during the cold war. Although many people thought that what the U.S. was doing could end in war with Russia and millions dead, they also didn’t want to protest and be seen as unpatriotic or as if they weren’t supporting our democracy. Although there is nothing wrong with patriotic sentiment, it becomes a problem to believe that capitalism and democracy are the same in this country. Author and U.S. army veteran Timothy Gatto says that socialism supports American ideals and is an anti-capitalist himself. He says that socialism can fix what is broken in America, and help the working class, whereas modern capitalism only benefits the rich. Gatto also highlights when many anti-capitalists like himself are afraid to speak out about socialism as a solution to America’s financial crises, “In this nation we have a tendency to disregard socialists and socialism because of the cold war propaganda that equated socialism with communism and repressive regimes that operated under the ‘socialist’ banner.” He continues to say that even though cold war communism never embraced true socialism, all of the propaganda from the war has created permanent negative feelings toward the economic system.

Another reason the anti-capitalist movement is so rooted in foreign policy is because many anti-capitalists view America’s involvement abroad as modern imperialism. Abbie Bakan wrote an essay on the subject outlining why our involvement in Afghanistan was purely capitalistic, saying that the country is strategically located by the Caspian Sea, which was a political and corporate interest to the U.S. as it had the largest source of oil outside of the Middle East. Bakan also says that the U.S. wants to “develop a major pipeline route through Afghani territory”, rather than campaign for alternative energy sources, which she said would be connected to a “call for peace” abroad. While a peace initiative abroad would be the first step towards equality for many, Western nations would need to work for equality at home first, especially because they still face racism and sexism, in part due to the very capitalism they encourage. This is why many anti-capitalist leaders are trying to change the way they relate to minority groups and women.

The movement has been mostly comprised of middle-class, white men, but UK anti-capitalist organization leaders Simon Hardy and Ed Lewis say that they are working to get women and people of color more involved. They said there is no simple, or short-term, way to involve women and people of color, but rather people need to encourage increased involvement of both groups in politics. Hardy and Lewis said that during their first national meeting, they made sure both a male and female chair were appointed for each session, and that everyone involved was being proactive in promoting women taking important roles. They also said that moreso than women, black people are extremely underrepresented, and even though people offer suggestions telling them to go into predominantly black neighborhoods or write more articles about race, they understand that it doesn’t guarantee involvement in the organization. What they need, Lewis and Hardy say, is a group that proves they can earn victories for the black community and support them when they fight inequality, which is what the anti-capitalist movement is all about. And while it may sound ridiculous to many people, it has been proven that racism and sexism correlate to capitalism. According to a study done at the Frankfurt School, there is a correlation between those who believe strongly in a free-market, capitalistic economy, and those who are ethnocentric, anti-Semetic, and racist (Sidanius and Pratto 382). Although many believe the free-market is made to level the playing field for the working class and for companies, and eventually create “free societies (Benjamin Barber)”, it is clear that for many, “the bottom line trumps the common good and government takes a back seat to business (Barber).” This is means that the anti-capitalist movement isn’t just about the economy, but also social justice. A promotion of equality between people will eventually create an ideal economy because there won’t be any discrimination in the workforce.

Barber and many anti-capitalists believe that a capitalist government must transform its economic system, even though one of the costs would be prolonging a recession, but creating “new markets rather than exploit and abuse old ones” will create jobs, increase investments, and garner new consumers looking to buy “useful and necessary products”. The anti-capitalist ideology here is that Western nations would rather spend money on bottling tap water and selling it for more than it’s actually worth instead of purifying water in third world countries. Bringing about a change in modern capitalism in Western nations could help people all over the world, especially in the age of globalization. If businesses reform things at home pay fair wages to their workers, it would give people more money to put back into the economy, and it would get rid of the jobs overseas that pay mere cents per hour to vulnerable workers. The growing relevance of this movement is part of an attempt to recreate capitalism and reform it so that it works the way it was meant to- businesses compete to create affordable products that consumers want and need, ethically and honestly.

Income Inequality: An Essay

 

The level of income inequality in the United States is unjust. Although some levels of inequality will always exist in society, with the large disparity between the upper and working/lower classes, we see a lack of participation in society from those who have less. When it comes to things like voting and asset-building, those living in poverty get left in the dust, leaving some people in a superior position, but many more in an inferior. These social and economic hierarchies leave people with no place in a fair democracy, and in the middle of a glaring and growing problem.

In an interview, philosophy professor and author Elizabeth Anderson says, “Extreme wealth inequality also leads to the de facto control of government by the rich (plutocracy), and so is incompatible with democracy…More…distributions of wealth spread opportunity and hence freedom more widely and fully than systems in which wealth is concentrated in a tiny self­-perpetuating class.” In essence, Anderson is saying that as the US stands, the rich has more power in society. In saying that, it means we are getting further and further away from democracy and leaning more towards a plutocracy in which opportunity and freedom is limited to the upper class. This is because there is little distribution of resources in the US. Looking at the Gini coefficient- a nation’s measure of inequality between 0 and 1, in which the closer the coefficient gets to 1, the less equal it is- we can see that in 1998, the US had a coefficient of .41. Many experts estimated the coefficient to be around.44 in 2004, and .469 in 2010. What exactly does this number mean? In 2004, it meant that the richest 10% of people in the US made 17 times more money than the lowest 10%. The number goes up even further when investment values are added into the mix, being that the poor usually don’t make money off of them in the way the rich do. When investments are added in, the Gini coefficient for the US is somewhere around 57.4. In terms of the coefficient, this would mean that nearly 60% of America has almost all of its wealth and resources, and slightly fewer than 40% have nearly none. In a salary comparison between average floor workers and CEOs in the US, researchers found that a CEO makes on average above 500 times more than a floor worker. How does all of this tie in to democracy?

In his article, journalist Daniel Weeks says that the politicians upon whom many impoverished citizens rely do not rely anymore on those citizens, as most lobbying and fundraising is done through the wealthy. He goes on to say that poverty is so persistent in society because millions of impoverished people have become silenced in the political sphere. Statistics show that many impoverished people of the voting age choose not to vote because they don’t feel as if their voices are being listened to. As a matter of fact, studies indicate that non-voters are much more liberal than voters, and would vote for fairer wealth distribution than those who do choose to vote. In a study done by professors William Franko, Nathan Kelly, and Christopher Witko, findings showed that in states where there were smaller voting gaps between the wealthy and poor, policies tended to favor the poor more, states had “higher minimum wages, stricter lending laws and more generous health benefits” than states that had a higher voting disparity.

Analyzing this, we can see that poverty causes people to participate less in society, and especially in the political sphere. The disparity in income between the wealthy and the poor has caused people to stop relying on politicians and democracy. Being that economic systems should be judged by how they serve people, we can see that in this case people are being limited by their economic statuses. The inequality leaves many people unable to flourish in society and therefore the common good is out of reach unless the impoverished are empowered to be more active in society. In this case, those with more money and more power should be responsible for helping the impoverished regain their dignity and their rights and ability to participate in society; Then, and only then, will things be just.

Sources:

Babones, Salvatore. “U.S. Income Distribution: Just How Unequal?” Inequalityorg. N.p.,  13

Chan, Kai. “Economic Inequality Is Unjust.” The Daily Princetonian Economic Inequality Is Unjust Comments. N.p., 14 Oct. 2004.

Franko, William W., Nathan J. Kelly, and Christopher Witko. “HOW ROADBLOCKS TO VOTING MAKE INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE.” HOW ROADBLOCKS TO VOTING MAKE INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE (n.d.): n. pag. Scholars Strategy Network. Jan. 2014.

Fulwood, Sam, III. “Why Young, Minority, and Low-Income Citizens Don’t Vote.” American  Progress. N.p., 6 Nov. 2014.

Gutting, Gary, and Elizabeth Anderson. “What’s Wrong With Inequality?” New York Times. N.p., 23 Apr. 2015.

McElwee, Sean. “The 1 Percent Are More Likely to Vote Than the Poor or Middle Class — And It Matters, a Lot.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Dec. 2014.

McElwee, Sean. “Why the Voting Gap Matters.” Why the Voting Gap Matters. N.p., 23 Oct. 2014

Weeks, Daniel. “Poverty vs. Democracy in America.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 06 Jan. 2014.

 

 

Defeat the Stereotype: Tupac

This is post #1 in a series that will talk a little about women, homeless people, Muslims, rappers, and everyone in between. Our one and only goal is to show that no matter where you come from, and no matter where you end up, you are a human being with so much to offer. I decided that we should start off with someone whose music I have never really listened to, but whom I have read quite a bit about as an activist. You may have heard of him:

Tupac Shakur

Tupac was a threat to the stereotypes perpetuated about black men and black culture, and that’s really something that my generation doesn’t see too much of in popular culture anymore. There was, and still is, such a stigma about African American men; People say that they are inherently violent, bound to end up incarcerated for committing crimes, that they aren’t intelligent and they don’t care about school. Tupac took this stigma and turned it around, understanding that the system was set to fail him and his community. He knew that if a well-read, intellectual, talented, black man like himself was most likely going to end up in jail, then there was really no hope for any other black man.

I didn’t know much about Tupac other than that he was a famous rapper, but I understand now , after much research, that to many people, he was much more than that. He was living proof for a whole community that dropping out, being homeless, being part of a minority that was discriminated against, and coming from a broken home did not have to mean failure. He inspired his friend Syke, along with some others, to learn about famous leaders in history whom Tupac nicknamed his friends after. Tupac managed to be well-educated in a world that told him he couldn’t be, and he managed to educate others along the way.

I think it says a lot that my generation really doesn’t have a “Tupac” to look up to. There are hardly any rappers who are as brilliant as Tupac was, and willing to write about hardships and racism and failure of the system quite the way he did. This reading made me considerSince learning about Tupac, I’ve considered that even though many people are fighting battles for social justice right now, no one was able to make the battle as mainstream as Tupac did, while also making sure people got educated about the issues. After reading that many of his old friends thought Tupac’s work deserved its own class, I did some research and found that Harvard, Berkeley, UW, and a few other universities did, in fact, offer courses on his writing and his life.

It is known that Tupac wanted to use his fame “to get young people to think about and learn about some things they might not otherwise (consider).” I think this is still so relevant considering that young black men are not only worried about coming off cool and sometimes perpetuating the thug stereotype, but they are also victim to more rigid expectations of their masculinity. They don’t want to read poetry or listen to classical or country music, but there is no one who fits their persona who is encouraging them to try something new and stop worrying about what role society wants them to play. Tupac was a true hero to any struggling community that society perpetuated stereotypes against, because he broke through them and came out successful.

Some facts:

His mother was part of the Black Panther Party

He took roles in many stage productions, as well as attended ballet classes

He dated Madonna

He was a fan of Shakespeare and well-versed in his works

On White Privilege

White privilege is a complicated thing to define without first looking at how minorities are perceived. Minorities face stereotypes that portray them as lazy, aggressive, primitive, useless, and other negative attributes. Because of these stereotypes, it is harder to assimilate, find a job (often times just because of an “ethnic name”), get an equal education, or be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Minorities are told to go back to their country if they speak in their native tongue, don their traditional garb, or complain about life being difficult in any way and attributing it to their race (this is specific to what I’ve seen in the U.S.) Some groups are also labelled terrorists or thugs because of what they choose to wear, leading to more stereotypes, premature judgment, and harsh treatment. Many are stopped by police who expect them to be criminals. Now, understanding this, I would define white privilege as the absence of these things. That is to say, white privilege is being able to appropriate cultures without facing the usual consequences, having an easier time finding a job, having an easier time in school, and it means that stereotypes about your race do not have real-life consequences, such as disproportionate stopping and frisking by police or inability to get a job because your name is Jose rather than Joseph.

I would definitely say that because white privilege is the lack of something, it’s either harder for people to recognize or easier for them to ignore. If nothing is really happening to you, you can’t really address it, and so when it happens to someone else, you almost instinctively believe they must have done something to deserve it. That, to me, has been the mindset of many people who ignore their privilege and see blatant racism. Their arguments tend to be that black people kill each other, and that police also kill white people, and that all lives matter, and that someone got into college unfairly just because they were black/Indian/Chinese/literally anything other than white. The people who truly take advantage of this ignore-it-if-it-doesn’t-negatively-affect-you-system have never been exposed to anything minorities are exposed to, and therefore they just don’t see it. They think that the safe-guards the government uses to try to even the playing field become an unfair advantage minorities have over white people. White people have a problem in this case where they believe, for whatever reason, that something given to a minority to even the playing field was stolen from them, even if was never theirs to begin with. This is why I also think one of the hardest things to do for white people when talking about privilege is be objective. As there is a lack of discrimination towards us, we really have no valid experiences with racism, systemic or otherwise.

Going into specifics, in The Distress of the Privileged, Wayne Self is quoted as saying, “It is not illegal to be a Christian in any state. You can’t be fired for Christianity. Christians may feel bashed by criticism, but gays get literally bashed by hate crimes.” This rings true for race issues, as well. It is hard for white people, sometimes myself included, to see our privilege and acknowledge it in the same way that people who do not have it can. In reading an article last year about a Hispanic man who changed his name from Jose to Joe on job applications and started getting responses and offers, I realized that the issue of privilege is much deeper than skin color- it is also about what white people are perceived as being, even when they aren’t visible to you, much in the case of a digital job application. We are seen as more hardworking, less violent, more intelligent, more highly skilled, and more professional. White people may say that we didn’t ask to be perceived this way, and now it more of a burden to us, but in reality, I know that it’s something we would feel if we lost it. In a way, it’s easier to say the privilege doesn’t exist because if we do acknowledge it as something to be rectified, then we end up having to level a playing field that has benefited us. So while we act as if we don’t use the privilege, and we act as if it isn’t there, and even as if we don’t want it, I know people would fight to stick to the status quo, because it’s easy to acknowledge something once it’s been taken from you, and especially if you never had it at all. We call our privilege our burden and then stereotype those whom are affected by it in the very same breath. We created a system in which we are superior, and then cry in the face of being called out on it. We’ve stereotyped black men as aggressive, hyper-masculine, and primitive, and then use these stereotypes to stop them in the streets because we’ve become afraid of the very things we’ve created. In Father Bryan Massingale’s article about racial profiling, he says, “(Trayvon Martin) is a sacrifice at the altar of white fear.” And maybe that is what it comes down to: white privilege is the ability to sacrifice the livelihoods of others for the “benefit” of the white race. And something that is extremely beneficial to us is staying out of movements until they might take some of our privilege away. That’s why we screamed ALL LIVES MATTER in response to the protests in Ferguson; we just can’t imagine something that doesn’t include us- except for racism, that is. But let’s talk about All Lives Matter as a counter-movement for a moment.

Rhetoric is extremely important in our society, and I suppose the oppressed groups, be they gay, black, or otherwise, have gotten way too used to people being against their causes or saying they are being too aggressive with them. As someone who is both genderqueer and non-heterosexual or hetero-romantic, I’ve had lots of people call me out on speaking about issues surrounding both sexuality and gender, and I’ve been told countless times that the communities facing oppression are just rubbing it in peoples’ faces. I find that in the case of Black Lives Matter, it just isn’t my personal fight, but I am an ally in a way where I stand completely with those fighting and stilI also understand my role as one in which I am a listener and a student, and not a teacher. I cannot express in the same way that someone who has experienced racism why it is wrong or hurtful. I can only know that it is because I’ve heard so. Much in the same way I feel about the LGBTQ rights battle. That is much more my platform and safe space in a way, and I can explain things from my own experience and actually educate people from things I genuinely know, and I am in many ways either hurt or insulted or both when someone who is cisgender and heterosexual comes into that space to speak out as if those experiences are their own. Any oppressed group deserves the right to name their own battles, and so it is my opinion that saying all lives matter as opposed to black lives matter might mean the same thing on the bottom line, but to those who need to fight for their rights in society, saying black lives matter isn’t necessarily a lesson but a reminder, and in many cases black individuals seem to be reminding themselves why they have to go and fight for rights that should have been theirs in the first place. Too many people are okay with brushing this off and saying, “Well, we can’t go back and change history. We can’t go back in time and make sure that they are equal.” Well, of course not, but what we can do is make sure that we reverse all of the effects of the old systems in society. It will most likely take a long time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start now. But how do we teach ourselves and others to be better and do better?

I would rely on education before action. You can’t get people to mobilize for change if they don’t really understand what they’re changing. I think that the first thing to do is show people that equality doesn’t take anything away. Not having my privilege doesn’t take any opportunities from me, it just gives some more to others. I think that this really needs to be made a point, especially talking to white people about equality, because in reality, we’re the ones who really need to be educated, as sad as this may sound at times. For someone like myself who tries to be an ally to minorities, I try to use my privilege to educate other white people about the lack of equality, where it comes from, and how to approach situations that give them an unfair advantage. But they need to realize what the unfair advantage is before they address it. After education, I think the most important thing to do is make sure white people understand our place in the fight. We must use our privilege to strengthen the voice of minority groups, but we must not take over the fight. While white privilege exists, white people must create a platform in which they encourage people to speak up about their experiences with inequality. These are really important first steps in this fight and should not be overlooked so we can go straight to protesting things we don’t truly understand the implications of.

Cited:

Massingale, Father Bryan. “When Profiling Is.” USCatholic.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 July 2015.
Matthews, Cate. “He Dropped One Letter In His Name While Applying For Jobs, And The Responses Rolled In.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 14 July 2015.
Muder, Doug. “The Distress of the Privileged.” The Weekly Sift. N.p., 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 14 July 2015.

Minority Representation in Modern Media

When a group of people are marginalized, the group in many ways needs to band together to assure that it has a voice, representation, and strength in numbers to actually achieve equality. In many ways, media representation correlates to how society views and treats these minorities. The example of BET comes to mind immediately. A television channel made up shows solely written by, created for, and including a majority of black people. Many people say this is racist and too exclusive. “We should have a white entertainment channel then,” is thrown around a lot. I would know- my own family members have said it. But now, be aware of what you’re actually saying.

For this particular topic you will need to know that black people are a total 12.2% of the entire American population. “White Americans are the majority in forty-nine of the fifty states, with Hawaii as the exception. The District of Columbia, which is not a state, has a non-white majority. Non-Hispanic Whites are the majority in forty-six states; Hawaii, New Mexico, California, and Texas (and the District of Columbia) are the exceptions.” The non-Hispanic White percentage in 2012 was 63%, but is slowly decreasing year by year (source: US Census Bureau, as cited by Wikipedia).

So, now, to really see why they might just feel the need to have their own entertainment channel, let’s look at the numbers in comparison to black actors, writers, directors, etc. “Minorities underrepresented by a factor of about 7 to 1 among lead roles in broadcast comedies and dramas.” “Minority actors claimed just 5.1% of the lead roles…,” (Direct quotes from http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu Hollywood Diversity Report). Only 5.9% of the minority population are broadcast (non-Cable) TV show creators. Just to put that into perspective, if we had 100 people in a room to represent America, roughly 12 would be black. Another 35 people would be representative of Hispanic/Latinx populations, Asians, Pacific Islanders or Native Hawaiians, American Indian or Native American, or identify as a non-specified race other than white (US Census Bureau). Less than 3 people out of 47 would be broadcast TV show creators from the minority population out of the aforementioned out-of-100 population. Now we have to imagine that even less than 5.9% of show creators are solely black. As a matter of fact, math shows that if we only factored our 12-out-of-100 black people into this equation, we wouldn’t even have a whole person as a show creator to represent the race. What should actually be happening is that the ratio of show creators to population demographics should be roughly equal; 94% of show creators should not be white when only around 60% of the population is. This is exactly why minority populations have to create not only their own shows and characters that accurately reflect their cultures and languages, but is also the reason people need to create entirely new channels to air these shows.

Another thing to take a look at in this instance is how things are casted and white-washed in Hollywood. During her Emmy’s speech, Viola Davis commented on the lack of opportunity for African American women in the acting field, “The only difference that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Asian actress Arden Cho from the show Teen Wolf quoted Viola on twitter in November because of the all-white casting of the movie adaptation of Japanese manga Death Note, “Great, another Hollywood feature film casting all white leads for a famous JAPANESE manga. I’m sure the fans are gonna love that.” The all-black cast of The Wiz has been commented on several times recently, as well, by people claiming that if white people decided to make an all-white cast for the show, they would be considered racist. While many people claimed to just be trolling the internet and shouldn’t be taken seriously, a scary amount of people had seemed to actually forget that The Wiz (1978) was both a stage and film adaptation of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz which did feature an all-white cast, and was merely revived for NBC’s live showing this weekend. Not only does that make The Wiz old news, but it also raises a point that people in 2015 are fighting about something that has existed for over 35 years, and seen to be more bothered by the all-black cast than people did back when it was first created. Essentially, in 2015, people are actually becoming more racist than they have been in a pretty long time. This leads us back to why representation has been and still is important.

It isn’t racist to have a solely or predominantly black channel or all-black musical cast- a significant majority of media throughout history has catered to white people and has been white entertainment without needing it explicitly stated in the title. As a matter of fact, this is the main blueprint of society; a significant majority of things, material and non-material alike, are geared towards white people and favor white people. To counteract that, minority populations have to create their own safe-spaces, their own organizations, their own television channels, just to feel included. The worst part is, instead of taking the hint and including them in things and actually allowing them representation and participation in society, we complain that they are reaping benefits of a system that is so against them it actually encourages violence against them. Yes- our system is so backwards right now that we intrinsically treat minority individuals as if they are less of a person than ourselves, and in doing so, we have decided that we are distinct groups and not one human population, and we have allowed this mentality to somehow assure us that violence against those who look and speak differently can be justifiably assaulted, beaten, and murdered. We should spend our time and energy on making the world a safer place for minorities and less about trying to level a playing field that is already so tilted in our favor.

Sources: http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2-12-14.pdf.
http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2-25-15.pdf.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States#White_Americans
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0762156.html.