The Freedom Writers

In class last week, we watched the movie Freedom Writers. I had not seen the film prior to this and I thought it would be a lesser version of Dangerous Minds (not that I thought that was a very good film). I was also unaware that the film was based on a true story. In the end I found the film to be a pretty inspiring tale of strength and perseverance. I was compelled to do a little research on the actual Freedom Writers and their teacher Erin Gruwell and I came away even more impressed and with a great respect for the hard work and dedication the group invested in one another.

The movie led me to believe that Gruwell worked mainly with one class of students, but much like all of us in the field her student load and the actual group of Freedom Writers numbers one-hundred and fifty strong. Furthermore the Freedom Writers Foundation website reports that all one-hundred fifty Freedom Writers graduated from high-school and are now enrolled in college. It certainly stands to reason that in the case (and in many cases that I find inspiring) one person can make a difference; and it restores my faith that words and writing are can be powerful shapers of mind and attitude inside a brutal, oppressive system.

Inequality is Savage

Savage Inequalities is a master work in writing by author/teacher/critical idealist Johnathan Kozol. Kozol's research is rooted in his visits to urban schools in East St. Louis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. He comes to find an unequal school system, in which minority schoolchildren receive an inferior education and exposure to opportunity in comparison to their white counterparts. Kozol contends we can give poor minority children a more equal chance if tax and funding inequalities are overcome. In the text, Kozol paints offers a disturbing picture of dilapidated school buildings, inadequate supplies and learning tools, and the salaries necessary to attract good teachers.

Kozol repeatedly contrasts urban and suburban schools, and blames a socially unjust, uncaring, and greedy society for this massive discrepancy. He likens the scenario in the educational system to a game of little league baseball; suggesting that suburban kids have gloves, bats, and uniforms while urban youth are playing only with their own hands and the clothes on their back. Kozol furthers the comparison by saying that within the baseball context most suburban dwellers would see this contest as unfair and unethical, they seemingly don't have a problem with the educational system being funded and run this way.

Despite the massive obstacles that are omnipresent in their life, some urban young people defy the odds. By hearing the voices of intelligent, articulate, inner-city youth, Kozol combats stereotypes and white privilege by challenging and challenges the comfortable assumptions present in most suburban neighborhoods. As John Lennon said, just "imagine" what urban (and rural) young people could do on a level, equal playing field.

Teaching Democracy in Today's Educational System

There is a democratic education problem in the United States. The young are not learning properly to care for the body politic and the body politic is not adequately caring for the young”. This quandary presented by Walter Parker in Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life establishes a connection to the mutually beneficial relationship he sees between the democratic society of tomorrow and the young people who will soon be populating it as future leaders, teachers, and citizens. Parker’s answer to this chicken-or-the-egg paradox is to promote democratic citizenship education as the pinnacle of social studies curriculum. In its simplest form, Parker (building on John Dewey’s ideas of democracy) describes the kind of democracy students of citizenship education should strive for, stating “democracy is a way of living with others, a way of being. It has no end other than the path itself”. With this statement Parker strongly advocates for individuals to come together in pursuit of a life-long journey exploring the decision-making process necessary for American democracy together, alongside a diverse group of engaged countrymen. However, it is not enough to simply participate. From Parker’s view people making democratic decisions must have a justifiable rationale rooted in some moral basis for defining what is just in society. To this end, he uses icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the pillar that democratic citizens should aspire to.

Parker states that democracy is a “social construct”, meaning it is a learned system of political engagement. He also establishes that the priority of democracy is popular sovereignty, the ideal of self-government. Throughout, several themes resonate, including: “democracy, diversity, deliberation… justice (fairness), and interbeing (mutuality)… social position (group circumstance), and moral development (character education)”. Perhaps Parker provides the clearest overview of his ambitions when he writes, “democratic citizenship education seeks to teach, among other things, that diversity is a social fact, that it is a social good, why this is so, and how diversity and democracy require one another”.
In the book Parker establishes two essential ideas, idiocy and citizenship. The two terms seemingly come to represent the type of citizens the American educational system is producing. Borrowing from the Greek root idios, Parker comes to define idiocy as, “separate, self-centered, and selfish”. Following Parker’s train of thought, one can deduce that an idiot is not a fool in and of themselves, but rather behaving in a foolish or idiotic manner by not connecting to society; their act of Tom Folery, being a non-participant in the public forums of their community. Idiots, in this context, are singular minded, focused only on the trials and tribulations of their own existence, and unwilling to consider the larger picture of others in society and furthermore, in terms of political action.
A citizen on the other hand would be one who engages in political thought, political debate, and political open-mindedness. A citizen is engaged in acts of citizenship such as volunteering and voting, but more importantly is having conversations, deliberating, and making choices in attempts to influence the public, lobbyists, elected officials, and other stakeholders involved in matters of public policy decision making. Parker argues that in order to move beyond the current state of idiocy that exists and into an ethos of citizenship we must take an appropriate course of action. That course of action is based on the idea of removing oneself from the mindset of being a spectator and embracing the approach of both becoming and continuing to be a participant; with the greatest focus of participation being the exploration of education and understanding appropriate to multiculturalism and diversity.

In Parker’s eyes the pulpit best available to transmit his philosophy for democratic citizenship education is inside the walls of schools. He muses on schools as the perfect microcosm for promoting students to engage in meaningful discourse and deliberation regarding the various issues of interest that persist in their neighborhood, their state, their country and most importantly, their world. Parker offers his rationale for the educational system being the lynchpin for his curricular action stating, “compared to home life, schools are like village squares, cities, crossroads, meeting places, community centers, market places”. He does allow for other external influences to mold young people beyond the classroom, but the day-to-day culture of the school is far and away the centerpiece for his thinking regarding the shifting of the nation’s thinking about democratic citizenship.

A Moment of Wisdom from Howard Zinn

Any chats of American history worth their salt often at some point mention the book A People’s History of the United States. The author of that book, Howard Zinn is a juggernaut in the field and a respected thinker and researcher. Although historical thinking and perspectives from the distant past are usually music to a social studies teacher’s ears, I want to instead focus on the recent past and on the business of teaching by using an excerpt from a Zinn article titled, Changing Minds, One at a Time from the March, 2005 issue of The Progressive magazine…

What does it take to bring a turnaround in social consciousness--from being a racist to being in favor of racial equality, from being in favor of Bush's tax program to being against it, from being in favor of the war in Iraq to being against it? We desperately want an answer, because we know that the future of the human race depends on a radical change in social consciousness.

It seems to me that we need not engage in some fancy psychological experiment to learn the answer, but rather to look at ourselves and to talk to our friends. We then see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness--embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.

This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas. It is so simple a thought that it is easily overlooked as we search, desperate in the face of war and apparently immovable power in ruthless hands, for some magical formula, some secret strategy to bring peace and justice to the land and to the world.

"What can I do?" The question is thrust at me again and again as if I possessed some mysterious solution unknown to others. The odd thing is that the question may be posed by someone sitting in an audience of a thousand people, whose very presence there is an instance of information being imparted which, if passed on, could have dramatic consequences. The answer then is as obvious and profound as the Buddhist mantra that says: "Look for the truth exactly on the spot where you stand."

Although Zinn is not touching directly on history when reading this excerpt I cannot feel anymore convinced that he is indirectly describing exactly what good teaching is… to provide information to students and let them wrestle with the information and come up with their own ideas of history and the society and times we live in; to decide truth for themselves.

I think the ending of the recent campaign season and all the fodder that was reported, discussed, and lamented by both sides and in the media is a great example of sifting through a mountain of information and trying to situate oneself somewhere along the political spectrum. To arrive at a place where wisdom, knowledge, and morality all exist together in balanced harmony. I think this is the message of powerful teaching and learning, powerful historical investigation, and appropriate use of reasoning and critical thinking skills. I applaud Howard Zinn (yet again) for bringing this to the attention of the people. Are you listening?

To view a short video biography on Howard Zinn, please follow the link below:

The Poverty Line

In looking at my bookshelf recently I remembered that I am damn near a Marxist. I’m searching for signs of equality on some level in this country. It has often been said by free marketeers that a socialist system won’t work because there is no incentive to work, but I would ask those without jobs and living below the poverty line, can things get any worse? the arguments of the "haves" often bark up the wrong tree. Their line of thinking often assumes much and disregards the struggles of the "have-nots". Redistributing the wealth in a more equitable way seems like an appropriate and just practice given the ever expanding gap between rich and poor.

I find that power and wealth tend to corrupt or cause their proponents to lose touch with what is real and as such their mentality changes and they lose sight of the binding principles of humanity. By leaving our comfort zones and walking in the shoes of others who have less wealth and opportunity we would stand to learn a lot. Existing below the poverty line is a life far from "The American Dream" that is promised to so many.

The following video offers a sobering and humble reminder to consider the plight of others and that not everyone has the opportunity to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”.

Owl Pass on the Wings

Have you ever seen a Hooters commercial? Their slogan is "delightfully tacky yet unrefined". Perhaps "blatantly sexist and objectifying" would be a little more accurate slogan. From what I can ascertain you are likely not going to see a male server at Hooters. What you are going to see is a women, and their... assets. I never thought I'd be advocating for the Puritanesque uniforms of Bob Evans during the 1980's, but I am. I've eaten a Hooters once in my life. It was my senior year in high school and a female classmate had recently been hired at the downtown Cleveland location. While doing some record shopping in Cleveland my two mates suggested going to Hooters to have dinner because Tiffany was working there and she could "give us the hook up". Eating for less was always a practice I tried to be involved in, and given I was hungry and Hooters was close by I obliged. I did not know what I was in for.

We got to Hooters shortly thereafter and it didn't take me long to feel terrifically awkward and uncomfortable. As we entered the restaurant I quickly learned why the restaurant was named Hooters. It became apparent that their was a strict uniform policy and I was also able to surmise the company's hiring practices. As an eighteen year old male, I cannot say that there weren't a few physically appealing waitresses there, but I felt horrible. As we were shown to our table, I was rapidly losing my appetite. I just felt sad for the women working there. I was not judging them, but it just made me feel empathy for what they were doing to make a buck and likely what they faced in terms of the predominately male patrons and the male manager. their were being objectified and everyone knew it. I don't think I led a particularly innocent life, but I had never really seen sexism so blatantly portrayed in front of me. I kept thinking about a scenario where both of my sisters were working at Hooters and envisioned how they would likely be disrespected as part of their job; dealing with come-on's and innuendo shift-after-shift, day-after-day.

I ordered without looking up from my menu. I ate quietly staring intently at my plate. If I would have driven I would have left. I took most of my wings home. I couldn't eat. I was out of my element and I felt like a chauvinist just for sitting in the restaurant. I've never experienced a more uncomfortable meal and I have never eaten at a Hooters since. I hope most women wanting to work in the food service industry can make a good wage elsewhere and with a reasonable uniform.

A Woman's Work: Being Yourself

The Feminine Mystique is as important a text as perhaps any in terms of the feminist movement. For those unfamiliar with the work, I'll offer a little background from an unknown author...

Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was first published in the United States in 1963. In the book, Friedan defines women's unhappiness as ‘‘the problem that has no name,’’ then she launches into a detailed exploration of what she believes causes this problem. Through her research—which includes many theories, statistics, and first-person accounts—Friedan pins the blame on an idealized image of femininity that she calls the feminine mystique. According to Friedan, women have been encouraged to confine themselves to the narrow roles of housewife and mother, foresaking education and career aspirations in the process. Friedan attempts to prove that the feminine mystique denies women the opportunity to develop their own identities, which can ultimately lead to problems for women and their families.

I very much agree with much of what Friedan has to say. However I have come to learn that their are others that disagree with me. Surely there are misogynists out there that would oppose women ever being free, equal, independent individuals, but what I find more interesting is the in-fighting between sects within the female gender itself. I am always puzzled by the career women vs. homemakers battle. It must be said that in life we all have more than one path that we can follow and many of us are walking down different paths all at once. Having a career is a terrifically rewarding experience that many women draw tremendous inspiration, satisfaction, and self worth from. Raising children, caring for one's significant other, and creating a comfortable and positive home environment for a family is also a very worthwhile part of life. I think a significant piece that has long been ignored in the feminist movement is that people derive satisfaction and self worth from differing pursuits. I have observed the toll it takes on women when they attempt to balance career and the roles of wife and mother. It is a near impossible task given the limitations of a twenty-four hour day. I think the most helpful thing that could be done is to reconceptualize our ideas and expectations about the roles partners have in a relationship, and the way we come to offer very limiting definitions of what it means to be a "good" wife or a "good" mother. A "good" spouse and/or parent can have a career, can stay at home, or can do both. The more we try and define roles for women that align themselves with one extreme or the other, the more we are doing the battle for equality a disservice.

I cannot deny that the constructs of society make it (in the words of James Brown) "a man's world"; however I think men and women alike would be well served to define their wants and needs as well as their roles in their relationships and careers and even their sexuality on their own terms rather than having society, religion, or fairytales dictate how these things should come to be. I think the most empowering thing that could be done to serve feminism is to simply remind women that it is not only OK, but preferred that they be themselves and to stop judging one another (particularly when judgments are made from only a masculine point-of-view); to lovingly remind women that they have a name and they are their own person; and that they be present as themselves and not always present in their roles as so-and-so's wife and/or XYZ's mother. I think when push comes to shove many women have had (and continue to have) trouble thinking beyond the traditional values that much of the feminist movement has spoken out so strongly against. Achieving a happy balance among the roles they wish to, and choose to, accept and feeling good about the person looking back at them when they look in the mirror (inside and out) is truly a woman's work. No one can define our path for us in life, we must choose it for ourselves... from what I can derive from thirty-one years of wisdom, this is the only thing that will lead to happiness and fulfillment. Being a feminist (in my mind at least) is simply supporting women as much as possible in this endeavor.

The Doors

On one hand I really enjoy this advertisement because it is balanced in some way. Two women, two men. Black, Asian, Hispanic, White. The people in the advertisement stand as equal. You do not have the sense that one is more powerful or more important than the other. Each of them looks as if they have equal opportunity to walk through the open doorway and achieve their tangible goals.

On the other hand this ad is overly politically correct. It is a suspended moment of unreality. I don't know where this place is... rolling clouds, blue sky, clean architecture, and the representative skin pigments of the rainbow. Utopia is a place I think of often, but unfortunately I've never been there and will likely never have the chance to go.

"Imagine what would happen if companies' doors were open to everyone"? A profound question. I wonder if it is a rhetorical question? Affirmative action programs would likely become unnecessary. Companies would likely have terrifically improved leadership and employees by hiring the most qualified for the job instead of relying on an inefficient system of nepotism and seniority. Perhaps someday companies' doors will be open to everyone, but in the meantime where the doorways persist I usually only see walls and glass ceilings.

Schwarzes Gesicht ... Nie Eine Gute Idee

In case your German is rusty, the title of the article is black face... never a good idea. I'm shouting this from the roof tops to anyone who will listen (now you've been warned). This German advertisement for UNICEF is ridiculous. I'm all for pushing the envelope and for testing the comfortable boundaries most people have established for themselves so they don't have to leave their comfort zones, but I would probably drive my vehicle off the Autobahn if I passed this particular billboard.

Black face is one of the most offensive displays I can think of. Anytime I have ever seen it in print or in film it just makes me cringe. It is horribly offensive and is almost without fail never used in a way that can be used to make a point or ethically justified. The longer you look at the child in this advertisement the more angry I become. Obviously he is far from being the one to blame. You have to figure there were at least a few different people who looked at this ad and approved it running in various locals throughout Germany or German speaking Europe.

I think a more appropriate advertisement might be the UNICEF executive(s) who approved this ad with egg all over their face(s). Even corporations that are endorse an agenda steeped in humanitarian efforts need to be more than careful about the messages they are putting out into the public's conscious. I implore UNICEF to clean-up their act and to produce a less offensive ad.

California Speaks: Heterosexuals Cut the Cake, Homosexuals Pick Up the Pieces

What a disappointing vote by Californians. On a day where the United States is "changing" the good people of the 'most liberal state in the union' decided only some people should have the right to marry. Apparently despite all our new found acceptance and open-mindedness (I for one am not quite ready to drink the Kool-Aid of racial harmony in the United States and to hurt my arm patting ourselves on the back) there are still civil rights battles left to be waged.

I am curious as to what changed over the course of months to move from being a gay marriage friendly state to becoming a state banning gay marriage? The Constitution has been reinterpreted yet again... so let me offer the politically incorrect rewrite "All heterosexuals are created equal". I wonder if it's the best idea to allow the citizenry to interpret their state's constitution and I am hopeful that the state supreme court will overturn this travesty. California had a chance, as the most populous state, to send a clear message of acceptance and equality. Instead of being the progressive bastion state they are often portrayed as they aligned themselves with the forward thinkers omnipresent in places like (gulp) Ohio. Even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has reversed polarity and has spoken in favor of supporting gay marriage rights. Perhaps much like The Governator's beloved Terminator character the rights of same sex partners to marry will "be back".

Progress... Maybe

The election of Barack Obama on November 2nd as the first African-American President has been championed as a reflection of the great progress our country has made in terms of racial harmony. Certainly a compelling argument that I don't altogther disagree with can be made. I wonder however, how much we have truly progressed ? I am curious if a vote for Obama in this election was a true affirmation that he is a progressive, proactive, visionary leader or if it was simply a knee jerk reaction to the politics of perhaps one of the worst Presidents and administrations to ever infect 16oo Pennsylvania Avenue? I can fully agree that Obama is a dynamic speaker and ran a fantastic campaign and has truly inspired hope for change in our country, but again I ask... did the Obama/Biden ticket bring the country together or have we been polarized and forced to unite against eight years of Bush and Cheney?

On the same day that Obama was elected President, perhaps ushering in a new era of social and racial cooperation, the most populous state in the union, California, voted against recognizing the right of homosexual couples to be married. As a political figure, Obama is often compared to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to John F. Kennedy (two central figures in terms of the civil rights movement). In some ways his being elected to the high office is portrayed in the media and the minds of some as a sign that we have completed the journey Dr. King so eleoquently spoke of in his "I have a dream..." speech and in no way am I attempting to minimize the historical significance of the 2008 Election or the struggle for equality by African-Americans; but I would like to recognize the hipocrisy of recognizing the movement toward equality of one minority group while the rights of another a trampled.

In some ways we have progressed so far... while in other ways we have so far to progress.

One Man, One Woman

One man, one woman. This is one of my favorite new sound bites introduced to the American lexicon. One man, one woman. I believe the introducing of this phrase comes to us from various religious groups. I find this view to be short sighted, at least in terms of the basis often used to justify the one man, one woman point of view. As far as can be historically proven, the (insert the holy book of your choice here) was written by people. Many will argue that the writing was divinely inspired, but I am talking about what can be historically proven, not faith. Beyond a holy book, others claim that their religious beliefs (religion being a man made construct) do not allow them to believe that two people in love should have the right to be married (marriage being another man made construct, a contract if you will).

I am left with two questions people who object to gay marriage never really provide an answer to that offers any real substance or reveals any thoughtfulness in terms of considering the plight of others. My questions are: why should the belief system that you subscribe to be used to pass judgement on the existence of others? Why do the lives of people you do not know and who will likely not effect your existence in any capacity matter to you so much so that you are willing to strip them of a right afforded to every heterosexual? One man, one woman. One way of thinking. One statement I stoutly disagree with. Hopefully the citizens of California will protect the deserved rights of their gay and lesbian friends.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

In 1967, director Stanley Kramer offered an outstanding film that cut to the heart of race issues in the United States. In case you have not seen this landmark film here is a short synopsis by Colin Jacobson...

The film tells the story of rich white girl Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton) and prominent black doctor John Prentice (Sidney Poitier). They met on vacation in Hawaii and quickly fell in love. In fact, the movie begins as they come to the San Francisco home of Joey’s successful and influential parents Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn). Although the two consider themselves to be socially progressive, the prospect of this interracial marriage startles both of them - especially Matt. The situation becomes even more entangled when John tells Matt that he won’t marry Joey without Matt’s blessing, a factor that becomes exacerbated by the couple’s insistence that they get hitched immediately. That means Matt has to decide within a few hours, and the scenario gets even more muddled when John’s parents (Roy Glenn and Beah Richards) fly up from LA to meet their future daughter-in-law.

I am such a big fan of this film because of the questions it raises. From my vantage point, I think it really calls into question our deepest feelings about race and racism. For example, it is one thing to be open-minded and progressive in your thinking when you have black co-workers, black colleagues, or black friends... but for some, to welcome an African-American into your family and into your home can stir up an entirely different level of comfortableness or uncomfortableness depending on where someone situates themselves on a spectrum of racism or predjudice. This is the central question and/or struggle of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and the film cleverly takes you through this process of confronting your thinking or feelings about race. Great art is timeless and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner resonates as loudly now as when it was released three decades ago.

The Question of 'Real' Americans

The following is a short piece from Mariel Garza, a columnist and editorial writer for the Los Angeles Daily News...

In a much-talked-about exchange between Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Chris Matthews in October, Bachmann suggested that there are certain "anti-American" Congressfolk. Bachmann later said that she didn't mean it. At a campaign rally, another Republican, Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina, told a crowd that "liberals hate real Americans." He later said he didn't mean it either. Gov. Sarah Palin has been making oblique references to "real America" as part of her stumping for the election, which seems to categorize everyone in California and other nonheartland areas an "unreal" Americans.

This raises the obvious question about who is a "real" American, and how one gets on that list. It's a ridiculous notion that any legal citizen is more "American" than anyone else.
Real Americans are a diverse and motley bunch who defy categorization. They come in all colors. They come in all ages. They come in every religious faith. They come in every political ideology. They live in the cities and the towns, the suburbs and the farms, the mountains and the swamps. In all their collective glory, warts and all, they represent the Real America. God bless 'em all.

Although Mariel Garza is moving in the right direction I would like to speak more candidly. What these Republican folks are essentially saying from my point of view is that 'real' Americans are white protestants. Plain and simple. I firmly believe they are lying through their teeth when they say they "didn't mean it". If these weren't their true feelings, why would they profess them in the first place? It is only after the fact, when slammed in the court of public opinion, that they apologize and recind their statements. Those who have come to identify themselves as 'real' Americans often seem to be whites unwilling to recognize their privilege, see themselves as conservative idealogues, ethnocentrics, or racists. 'Real' Americans have seemingly come to categorize themselves as being blue collar and anti-intellectual in thought and action and having a certain fondness for the "Rebel Spirit" of the South. Perhaps a new civil war is brewing between Americans and 'real' Americans. I emplore people to choose their side carefully, or to walk away from the battle altogether toward a space that unites people instead of divides them.

Hater's Ball

This cartoon is a interesting example of the simplicicity of hate. It is this simplistic portrayal of existence (an "us" vs. "them" mentality... to borrow from Pink Floyd if you will) that gives hate groups their power. It seems easy in some sense for the public to hate various groups (particularly groups of people that do not look white) or for hate groups themselves to be pittied against one another (at extreme ends of an idealogical spectrum).

It seems without fail, membership in hate groups is sternly reflective of fear and ignorance toward the people firmly placed in the cross hairs by the hate group. Hate is a powerful emotion, but when it manifests in the form of hate groups it seems as if the hate is fostered and taught. There seems to be a powerful indoctrination into the hate and to the rhetoric and propaganda of a given group. It is also fascinating that religion is often manipulated by hate groups as a means by which to justify the groups disturbing line of thinking.

In order to qwell the existence and power of hate groups, we must provide people with two things: education and opportunity. These are the exact things that hate groups offer to the lost, and if we can offer the same thing through a supportive, socially just line of thinking we can produce a much more positive outcome in our communities and classsrooms.

Lost in Translation

2008 brought us the Summer Olympics from Beijing, China. Although here in the United States it was swimmer Michael Phelps and his historic eight gold medals which garnished most of the media attention, a disturbing promotional photograph from the Spanish men's basketball team rather quietly showed up in the press. The depiction (seen above) shows the Spanish men's basketball team putting their fingers to the corner's of their eyes. This is symbolic of a racist expression in which the eyes are narrowed by putting the fingertips toward the back corner of the eye and pulling the skin of the face and eyelids gently toward the ears. This gives the look of a narrower eye, a physical characteristic prominent among several cultures on the continent of Asia. Although the team does not appear to pull back toward the ears, it is clear they are referencing the known gesture.

This promotional gaffe is inexcusable. Although the Spanish men's basketball team ended up apologizing to the host country and all was forgiven without national incident, I wonder who it was that deemed this as appropriate or as a "good idea" in the first place? If in the apology (as I believe it was) it was stated that the team was "only joking", I'm curious as to what is funny or what the punchline would be? Culturally it seems as if there has been a certain disconnect between the Spaniards and the Chinese. I guess it is not only unique to Americans to be culturally foolish and insensitive. Perhaps the "joke" was lost in translation.

On Vacation?

It must first be stated that this ad comes from Equality, a magazine published by the
Human Rights Campaign (which advocates for equal rights and is pro-LGBT issues). I guess on some level it seems almost insulting to the intelligence of someone to run an ad like this. If the ad ran in a more mainstream media outlet, it might even be glossed over, but in reality the ad works hard on differing levels for American Airlines. On one hand the two men that are most prominent in the ad are most likely a gay couple (given the greater context of where the ad was found) going on vacation. They have their “we’re-on-vacation” flowered pattern shirts on and they’re carrying bags, but the ad is purposely ambiguous. The text below the men informs you that “we are the first and only airline to score 100% on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for six years in a row”, but they are far from advocating for homosexuality, promoting equality, or discouraging discrimination in the ad. The ad (although perhaps well intentioned) seems to reach out to the gay community, but only with short alligator arms. If the intent of the ad was to appeal to a gay audience, why are the two men not holding hands (or something else that is not lewd in anyway but reflects the men’s love and/or admiration of one another)?

This advertisement is a grandiose representation of attempting to be liberal while still situating itself in the promotion of conservative social and societal values. All the messages by American Airlines to say, “hey… we’re gay friendly!” are subtlety located in the text, such as “Book now at”. Why can’t homosexual passengers wishing to book a flight simply go to the same web address that everyone wishing to book a flight would go to. I think American Airlines attempts a weak and shameful in road at half-heartedly and laughably trying to get the gay dollar.

This is Your Nation on White Privilege

The following is a short article by Tim Wise, addressing white privilege... particularly in reference to the current Presidential race...

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay. White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll “kick their fuckin' ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug. White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action. White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”
 White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s--while if you're black and believe in reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), you're a dangerous and mushy liberal who isn't fit to safeguard American institutions.
 White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.
 White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.
 White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives near Russia, you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.
 White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”
 White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.
White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.White privilege is being able to give a 36-minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected. White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.
 White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.
White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and Harvard Business School (George W. Bush), and still be seen as an "average guy," while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then Harvard Law, makes you "uppity" and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks. White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.), and that's OK, and you're still cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office. White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you then go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly 20 years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."White privilege is when you can develop a pain-killer addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally like Cindy McCain, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being a black guy who smoked pot a few times in college and never became an addict means people will wonder if perhaps you still get high, and even ask whether or not you may have sold drugs at some point. White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you dangerously naive and immature.White privilege is being able to say that you hate "gooks" and "will always hate them," and yet, you aren't a racist because, ya know, you were a POW, so you're entitled to your hatred, while being black and noting that black anger about racism is understandable, given the history of your country, makes you a dangerous bigot. White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain…
White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Although the article is obviously slanted toward the left, I believe it establishes some existing scenarios that would make for some interesting discussions between both McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden supporters alike.

What Exactly is Sex Selling?

Let us take a moment to look at a print ad outside of racism and explore sexism. It is no secret that the advertising industry has used human sexuality to sell any and every product under the sun, but this Dolce & Gabbana ad certainly takes things to another level; in particular it is difficult to ascertain what is being advertised other than the company itself. We can assume that it is jeans, shirts, and/or a dress, but the scene that the ad portrays is disturbing. When push comes to shove the ad looks like the beginnings of a gang rape. The women is completely in a position of submission and vulnerability. She is being pinned down by a muscular male, sans shirt, who seems to be lustfully leering at her through his sun glasses. Three other men stand around watching, seemingly captivated by the exercise of power and control of their supposed companion over the hapless woman. The most suggestive part of the entire advertisement is the positioning of the man’s hands over the woman’s wrist. This is a more than obvious position of power and is essentially the lynchpin that makes this ad feel so uncomfortable after you witness it.

This ad serves to deeply continue a long standing practice of objectifying women. Although rape is much more an act of power and control than sexual conquest, many people misinterpret the act as profoundly sexual in nature. This ad lucidly portrays both. The other aspect of the ad that seems like a small detail but is actually a very powerful, provocative gesture is that the women’s hips are thrust upward toward the male who lingers over her. This seems subtle, but if we look more deeply at body language and question what this is communicating it reflects a disturbing attitude. Although some might suggest that it is reflective of the women struggling to get away from the man who has pinned her down, from my vantage point it seems that the ad is attempting to communicate that the woman is a willing partner and that she is sexually stimulated by becoming subservient and dominated. I think this ad sends a deplorable message, particularly in terms of the bedroom-esque scene it portrays.

Stemming back to a decidedly puritanical views toward human sexuality, Americans are not having conversations about sex (or if they are they happening behind closed doors, only with a trusted friend or partner). In most of American culture sex is taboo. This leads to the conclusion that our thoughts and ideas about sex are learned through socialization by the mass media and that is why this seems to be such a dangerous vision of sexual behavior between men and woman.

UnINTELligent Advertising

We last took a look at print ads from decades past, but now we turn our attention to the ads of today. This Intel ad for Core 2 Duo processors is current but demonstrates a more subtle but just as disturbing presentation of racism. Although the sprinters readying in the blocks are suppose to represent the faster speed of Intel’s new Core 2 Duo Processors, a closer look reveals that they are all black sprinters and they look to be bowing down to their white master, the collared golf shirt and khaki panted, the Intel guy. This racist pitfall could have easily been avoided by simply offering a few different shades of skin in the starting blocks. Having watched the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, I saw many different colors of sprinter, which is what makes this ad so puzzling. On some conscious or subconscious level this choice was purposefully made.

Beyond the apparent slave/master comparison, the phrasing at the top of the ad is also created in a framework of cultural bias. The phrase, “and maximize the power of your employees”, in particular, creates the typical stereotype of African-Americans being in a subservient position as ‘workers’ and a Caucasian being in a position of power as the ’boss’. It furthers the point of characterizing what research suggests to already be true, that African-Americans are at a disadvantage, not because they are proportionally less intelligent or hardworking than whites, but because the system is designed to keep blacks (as well as other minorities) at a disadvantage. It is a flawed system created ultimately with the interest of a few at heart. It is a system which protects white cultural beliefs, values, morals, and wealth directly in opposition of upward mobility of minorities, poor, and undereducated.

Flavored Drink Targets North American Indians and Chinese

Often when we think of Pillsbury we think of great tasting, flaky biscuits or the unmistakable laugh of their mascot, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but as the packets for their flavored, dietary drink mix show above, Pillsbury has not always put a happy face on things.

The stereotypes are quickly apparent when analyzing the above drink packets. Curiously the ad wizards who came up with the Funny-Face line of flavored drink mixes forgot to mention to add water, but in their subtle wisdom they definitively added the racism. The name Injun Orange is decidedly more offensive than Chinese Cherry, but the funny faces on each packet quickly balance things out in terms of their offensiveness. Feathers, war paint, and crossed eyes highlight the greater exploits of the orange flavored drink, while the cherry drink plays up stereotypes like slanted slits for eyes and large, jagged teeth.

The Funny-Face line of drinks was introduced by Pillsbury in 1964. I found this to be unbelievable, but probably a greater representation of what was truly happening in that time period rather then the happy nostalgia that is usually propagated by our history texts. As the struggle for civil rights, racial equality, and any semblance of harmony between African Americans and whites is being broadcast across America with cultural icons such as John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X at the forefront, Pillsbury was introducing a terrifically racist line of fruit flavored drinks marketed to moms and children. I am reminded of (Medicine Grizzlybear) Robert Lake’s comments from an Indian Father’s Plea, in which he speaks of his son stating, “let him share his knowledge, heritage, and culture with you and his peers”. I don’t think Wind-Wolf drinking Injun Orange with his grade school pals at lunch is exactly what (Medicine Grizzlybear) Lake had in mind.

McIntosh's Band-Aid Can't Cover White Privilege

After the first meeting of our Multicultural Education class we read an article titled, White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. In that article, McIntosh eloquently acknowledges the “daily effects of white privilege”. In describing the privileges of her white skin color McIntosh states. “I can choose blemish cover or bandages in (a) ’flesh’ color that more or less matches my skin”. If beauty is only skin deep, apparently only ’white’ skin is beautiful enough to have a Band-Aid made that is the same color.

McIntosh’s commentary is perfectly represented in the 1952 Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid advertisement at right. In the ad a Caucasian woman is depicted with a Band-Aid covering a small portion of her upper arm. Just next to the Band-Aid in the print part of the ad are the words “flesh-colored”. Apparently the good people over at Johnson & Johnson forgot a significant portion of the populous which still, in 2008 almost fifty-five years later, would have a very difficult task in finding a “flesh colored” Band-Aid that matched the hue of their skin. It is an almost ridiculous thing to consider, the shade of a strip of plastic placed over a cut to absorb some of the blood from the wound, yet it subtlety speaks volumes about the prejudice that exists at every conceivable tier of our society.

Language Says It All... Again

Racism is a prevalent part of society. Sometimes deep in the bowles of the citizenry, other times out in the open, ugly and in our face. Often recognizing racism can push us beyond our comfort zone. Other times it is so blatant it is almost beyond belief.

If we look at Uncle Remus, portrayed in the ad, he looks friendly, smiling at us; but a closer examination reveals a tie cocked to the side and a vest mostly unbuttoned. He appears curiously disheveled, type cast as impoverished perhaps or simply lacking in terms of societal standards of what looks presentable. It is not immediately clear as to why Uncle Remus’ clothes look unkempt, but further reflection suggests that, despite his best efforts to the contrary and his tasty syrup, he is inferior. Inferior in his socio-economic class, inferior in his language, inferior in his appearance, and inferior in his dress. Inferior in almost every way to his unparalleled savior; the master of a language he cannot seemingly master… the white man.

Language Says It All

Saying that the language maintained in the Cream of Wheat advertisements at right reinforces stereotypes is the equivalent of saying that water is wet and the sky is blue. The broken or slang English contained within the ad is a clear attempt at building a negative image of African Americans (I can almost here the faithful readers of the Media Log crying out in unison… thank you Captain Obvious). The ads delve deep in offering the inaccurate portrayal of African Americans as less intelligent than whites and uneducated. I have heard this linguistic cultural stereotype referred to before as “lazy language”. That phrase alone is bothersome because of its proclivity to further implicate those who use “lazy language” (in this case the ’Cream of Wheat’ man) as being lazy themselves.

After getting past the initial shock of phrasings such as “if they’s bugs they ain’t none in Cream of Wheat…” we can focus in on the other less pronounced, but equally as effective racial bias’ of the advertisement. The other thing that seems out of place is the ear-to-ear smile the man has. In pop culture there is a strange sense of coincidence in that many minorities (as depicted by whites) seem to have a similar, sprawling smile. It seems as if African Americans will forever be shown as the smiling, dutiful servant or the happy, enthusiastic entertainer.

I am again reminded of Cornell West’s Race Matters excerpt in which he says, “we have created rootless, dangling people with little link to the supportive networks--family, friends, school--that sustain some sense of purpose in life”. Although West is speaking of modern day racial relations, I think this thought is closely related to the plight of African Americans in the decades after slavery. Blacks in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s did not have any support networks and as a result were most likely last centuries version of the “rootless, dangling people” West describes in his quote.

Fairy Soap Ad Far From Clean

To attempt to gain perspective and perhaps begin to understand the long existence of racism, sexism, and inequality that has been such a profound part of the fabric of so many global societies, I decided to start by looking at some early advertisements in print media. The first advertisement we will take a look at is a print advertisement for Fairy Soap from the N.K. Fairbank Company. As you can see, the ad above portrays two children, one black, one white standing face-to-face with one another. The white child is holding a bar of Fairy soap in her left hand, while the black child stands holding only her dress in her hand. A question is posed by the not-so-innocent white child. Below the children in quotes reads, “why doesn’t your mamma wash you with Fairy soap?” The racist elements of the question are far from vague. The intent of the producer of the ad is understood. Somewhat subtler racist views also preside in the ad. The white child is wearing shoes and socks, while the black child is barefoot. One could easily interpret this as an acknowledgement that the white child comes from a family with at least some amount of money and wealth. The black child being barefoot is a clear indicator that she is in fact poor and comes from more than humble beginnings. Another element of racism is the positioning of the children’s legs. The white child is stout, her legs slightly bent at the knee, but for the most part straight and firmly planted on the ground. The black child appears to be bowlegged, her legs angling out from her hips to her knee and angling back in from the knee to the ankle. Furthermore, the suggestion that the African American’s skin is dirty because it is darker in color than the white child’s skin is a strong indictment that although the ad attempts to sell soap, there is a more powerful, socializing message omnipresent at the advertisement’s core. These stereotypes send a simple and compelling vision to those who wish to interpret them as truth.

Although I was not able to pinpoint the exact year that the advertisement surfaced my contention, based on the years of existence of Fairy Soap and the N.K. Fairbank Company, is that the ad is from somewhere between 1865 and 1916. With slavery being abolished in 1865, the creators of this ad were far from recognizing African Americans as “created equal”. The ad offers a rare look back (for those of us born in the mid to late 1970’s) at a time of blatant, no-holds-barred racism. Although racist acts are far from rare in the 21st Century, my background in history always seemingly leads me to conclude that there is tremendous accuracy in the old adage, in order to look forward, we must look back.

Race Runs Deep in Chapelle's Comedy

Dave Chapelle is an astounding comedian, famous from his now defunct Comedy Central sketch comedy extravaganza, The Chapelle Show. A deeper investigation of much of his stand-up and sketch comedy reveals a sharp satirical wit, offering a number of comedic bits rooted in poignant investigations of race relations, racial interactions, and racism itself. Chapelle asks powerful questions through his musings and attempts to turn the status quo on its ear.

In our overly sensative, uber-polictically correct culture, it seems like comedy has become the last bastion for open discourse about race. It is in this spirit, without fear, that Dave Chapelle seemlessly intertwines comedian and sociologist, comedian and political analyst, comedian and social theorist, comedian and teacher. In his many comedic endeavors Chapelle has an uncanny ability to capture us with laughter but to offer a powerful, sometimes scathing critique of how ridiculuos racism looks when openly portrayed. He is brillant in holding a mirror up to American culture and asking it to please look at itself. I for one commend him for his courage and emplore him to continue; because at least a few people are listening. For examples of the kind of thought provoking comedy discussed, please view some of Dave Chapelle's work at: