Daily Breaking Fair Balanced News, U.S. Edition

The ability of humans to learn from their surroundings, even when transmitted through digital mediums, allows for a fabulous amount of manipulation. It’s important to have in mind the imperfections of humans learning. Humans learn a great deal from cause and effect, even when they’re entirely independent. I think it’s similar to Pablo’s dog. If the stimulus and the result come together, they’re seen as a sort of package. The stimulus comes, one expects the result. When dealing with the ideas of juries, professionalism, and general conceptions of how people act, transmitted tones, reactions, and outcomes can be persuasive and formative, and makes the people who wield media capital very powerful. The portrayal of how jury members act, of how individuals act, permeates into how the viewer acts when in a situation. As Ascar said in her post, she knows the Miranda rights from television. It’s probable that when recollecting the Miranda Rights, perhaps like most things, the individual will be influenced by the context in which they learned it. This persists across all television shows and other mediums through which one experiences life. Then the type of person committing crimes on CSI or who’s shown as a responsible investor on CNBC’s Money Talks can influence who the individual thinks of as a criminal or an investor outside of the television medium.

In the United States, as it is in much of the world, few people own a lot. According to a post by Business Insider from 2010, 6 media companies control 90% of radio, television, and newspaper. I don’t know how they came to they figured these, so skepticism might be warranted, but I think the idea is right. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for other voices, particularly those of minorities, to be heard. Large media corporations generally produce less local news stories than smaller news businesses. In a country almost entirely controlled by big media sources, the likelihood that local news gets reported is significantly reduced.

Cinco de Mayo pisses me off

Yesterday, the ‘holiday’ of Cinco de Mayo was celebrated throughout the United States. (And, just to note here—only the United States.) I had friends drink Mexican-imported tequila, sport sombreros purchased at Party City, advertise their celebration of “Cinco de Drinko”, and post photos to SnapChat with the Cinco de Mayo screen filter visible. White friends used May fifth as an excuse to drink, without any sense of the reason for the meaning awarded to Cinco de Mayo, their ignorant cultural appropriation, or the reality that the United States is capitalizing upon a small Mexican battle won by Porfirio Diaz. I am certainly not excused from having celebrated in the past or participated in cultural appropriation myself, but after courses focusing on Latin American revolution and independence, and our course reading (especially Impossible Subjects) I am a little appalled by the continued celebrations of Cinco de Mayo throughout the US.

To speak directly to the terms of our course, we saw in Impossible Subjects the exact nature of the systemic decision to limit Mexican immigration to the United States. Such limitation was racist and deliberate, and demonstrated a sense of American exceptionalism; despite Mexico being our neighbor to the south, American legislation limited immigration to levels resembling those of countries across the Atlantic or Pacific. We didn’t want Mexican immigrants, and deemed ourselves to be the most superior North American country.

As the photo I posted below indicates, this sentiment of American exceptionalism is alive and well, especially when Mexico is considered. Except on Cinco de Mayo, when suddenly American college students across the nation choose to embrace Mexican “heritage” and tequila, and celebrate a holiday of a nation otherwise ignored. Cinco de Mayo encourages purchasing cheap, inauthentic products mimicking Mexican garb and highly-taxed imported tequila to celebrate the nation that we have so willingly ignored and discriminated against for over a century. We pick and choose when we are okay with racism and discrimination, and when we want to use cultures other than the dominant white culture to have fun. And, really, it just pisses me off.

Some other excellent articles: http://zinnedproject.org/2012/05/rethinking-cinco-de-mayo/; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dan-schatz/how-not-to-celebrate-cinco-de-mayo_b_7201384.html

Found this photo on a friend's facebook page, original rights are unknown
Found this photo on a friend’s facebook page, original rights are unknown

The Denison Bubble

Our fair college on the hill is one that we claim as exceptional as we work to embody the mission statement:

“Our purpose is to inspire and educate our students to become autonomous thinkers, discerning moral agents and active citizens of a democratic society. Through an emphasis on active learning, we engage students in the liberal arts, which fosters self-determination and demonstrates the transformative power of education. We envision our students’ lives as based upon rational choice, a firm belief in human dignity and compassion unlimited by cultural, racial, sexual, religious or economic barriers, and directed toward an engagement with the central issues of our time.”

But while we dedicate our selves for four years to reach the point where we confidently call ourselves discerning moral agents history can pass us by, leaving only missed chances to participate. While we praise our beautiful college and simultaneously complain about hiking up the hill it creates a sudo-world in which we operate. Unless you take time and pay attention to the headlines on papers or care to switch from a Buzzfeed poll about One Direction to the news sections you can miss out on the greater world around us. While I am not trying to shame our ignorance to the outside world, I know I have been guilty of it, I am trying to acknowledge that we, as Denisonians, need to make time to talk about the riots and protests in Baltimore. Not just comparing them to other historical events, but take the time to examine the case and what conditions primed a city for violence.

It is my opinion, and you may not agree with this, that we as a group of adults prepping to enter this great world should be aware of the crisis and events that will shape the course of history. All it takes is the 10 minutes to read an article about what protesters are raising awareness of, such as racialized police brutality, to understand how the larger world is  being affected. I know that just being aware will not stop a city from burning, but taking the opportunity to learn from how each side of the conflict is working to resolve the issue will help us develop that liberal arts education we are gaining.

So fellow in-progress autonomous thinkers, future active citizens of a democratic society, and developing discerning moral agents this is my charge to you to take the time and break out of our Denison bubble to start fulfilling the mission given to us as we were inducted into this fair college on the hill.

Branding Cultures

Earlier in the semester we discussed the reading Whiteness as Property where the claims were made that the characteristic of being white resembles property because there are certain rights and privileges that come along with being white and there are certain functions that whiteness allows a white individual.  These functions are important because they include the right to enjoyment, right to reputation, and the right to exclude. I completely buy into the idea that whiteness is a form of property. There are examples in modern society that uphold this notion and show that minorities also recognize that whiteness is viewed as a desirable trait.

One of the most recent examples of whiteness as property comes in a widely publicized feud via Twitter. Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks had several exchanges via the media over how race has played a part in Iggy’s recent rise to fame. Azealia Banks posited that Iggy Azalea’s success is largely due to the fact that she is a white woman, claiming that Iggy isn’t better than any … black girl that’s rapping today. What do we make of her claims? I buy into them. Iggy has no defense for herself other than claiming that Azaleah is trying to make Iggy’s success a racial or political matter (more on that here). It is racial and political, though, isn’t it? Instead of taking time to realize the position that she has been afforded in such a short amount of time, she has chosen to assert that it is all from her own hard work. Now I’m sure that she worked hard. However, did she work any harder than women in the same position that just so happen to be of a different race?

Iggy’s race has given her privileges and rights that other black female rappers, as pointed out by Azealia, have not been afforded. There needs to be dialogue around that. Instead of embracing and discussing the cultures in America, it appears to me that the new trend is for white celebrities to put their name on something that others have labored over. Sound familiar?

Contemporary Education Obstacles

We have discussed before the difference between what the law says and how it is enacted. “Separate but equal,” did not really mean that the education for blacks was equal in quality to the education that whites were receiving. Even when segregation was made illegal and blacks were allowed to attend the same schools as white students, black students were excluded from certain classroom settings and were not afforded the same amount of resources or opportunities that were available to the white students in the same school.

There are still inequalities in public schools. These inequalities are impacted by a variety of factors, but it appears that race and socioeconomic status play a large role in the materials and resources that are available to students. In addition to what is provided to students, there are other hurdles that disadvantaged students have to overcome that better-off citizens and even teachers may not realize or care about.

For instance, I come from a public school where the ratio of white students to minority students is approximately 1:1, with black students making up a majority of the minority-status students (Ohio Department of Education 2014). In addition to the racial composition of the school, the school’s poverty status is considered medium-high (Ohio Department of Education 2014). Speaking from personal experience, many students come from single-parent homes and have one or more younger siblings. So when the School Board proposed a change in school time for elementary schools and the high school students, that was a large problem for a lot of families. Who was going to be there to see the younger children off to school or pick them up after school? The new schedule would not have made it possible for the younger children to be looked after by the older children, which was the situation for a good amount of people. This is just one example of how the current system upholds inequalities in education and opportunities for students that have more obstacles to overcome, be that race or income. If school times in my district had changed, then the rates of tardiness or absence from school likely would have gone up, which means less time for older students in the class room. Other factors such as fees for certain activities and sports also make it less likely that disadvantaged students will be able to participate in the same activities as other students.

We already knew that education isn’t equal for everyone, but it is important to recognize that there are still hierarchies even within public schools as to which students have which resources and opportunities at their disposal. This problem is exacerbated when a School Board is comprised of middle-class white citizens yet is supposed to represent the needs of a school with a large minority population and a medium-high poverty level.

Citation: Ohio Department of Education. “Ohio School Report Cards.” Ohio School Report Cards. 2014. Accessed May 2015. http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

Social Sentencing

As the death penalty trial for the Boston Bomber is underway, and more incidents occur, I have begun to become more aware of the effect of social sentencing that occurs by the public and the media. Once someone becomes accused, arrested, or charged with committing an unjust act the American public and the media seem to jump to conclusions about if an individual is truly guilty, and then decide the sentence for this individual.

From Mike Brown to Freddie Gray to the Aurora Theater shooting and the Boston Bombing the public bases their opinions off of the media framing of each incident. The emotions connected with a violent or unnecessary death produce an environment that goes to the extremes. A surge of emotions causes people to think that ‘an eye for an eye’ is the best form of justice, and thus the death penalty is what the people cry for. While in some instances, such as that of the Boston Bomber, the death penalty may be the justified sentence for the spree of crime that ended with the streets of Boston looking more like a urban war zone rather than a historical city of deep passions. The people of Boston have waited and watched for two years for the decision from the court about the fate of the man who terrorized their city, but those outside of the city the media that defended on the traumatized city. This media set up a frame of what occurred, and handed down their judgement and their the appropriate sentencing, whether that match the outcome that the people of Boston called for or not.

In the recent cases of blacks dying at the hands of white cops it has sparked a debate of what justice for taking a life, innocent or not, should be in the case of those tasked to serve and protect. While no situation is identical the framing by the media places as many similarities as possible together to create coverage that draws in viewers. This combined framing of similarities and sentencing creates a mass hysteria that is creating riots and protests that have simultaneously set fire to cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore, and the judgments handed down by the courts that do not side with the overly emotional public just further deepen the rift forming between authority and the public.

While the public does not hand out judgements and sentences, the influences of the public reign strong on those citizens who eventually make it onto juries who ultimately decide the fate of those charged. The effect of social sentencing by the public delegitimizes the sources that were established to hand out just judgements and sentences, thus providing some explanation to the violence and distrust that currently exists in the US.

Segregation is Legal… Again.

It has been reiterated in class time and time again that the current social structure was purposely constructed to be the way it is today. (For example, where blacks have a tendency to live compared to where whites tend to live.) For my group’s research paper I was looking up the history of African American and black education in the United States. It is common knowledge that segregation of public schools became technically illegal in 1954 with the decision in Brown v. Board. However, I stumbled across a decision that took place from 1994-1999 that shocked me: federal court orders release public school districts from having to continue to implement their desegregation plans (Jackson 2001, 55-56). Segregation is legal.

First, I’m shocked because this happened so recently. Our class was already born when the federal government started issuing orders that released the schools from implementing their desegregation plans. Second, I’m shocked because this was very clearly a shift from viewing segregation as a forced, intentional act to viewing segregation that still exists as a social norm that “just happened”. Less than 50 years after segregation was ruled to be illegal it was once again overturned. Yet segregation does still happen and it is because of events in history that things became the way that they are today! This frustrates me to no avail. In fact, schools were more racially segregated in the 1980’s than they were in the 1950’s due to “white flight” (Jackson 2001, 55). “White flight” is the movement of whites from the city to other areas to avoid black neighbors and school desegregation (Jackson 2001, 55). Therefore, whites helped ensure that segregation still took place. A mass movement of people from one place to another is quite intentional. Yet somehow city schools with all black students and suburbs with white students are the choice of the citizens… This baffles me.

How would I overcome this? I’m not sure. Likely something along the lines of racial quotas for public schools, even if that means having to bus students further, but that obviously is not realistic in all cases. I would love to hear other thoughts on this!

Citation: Jackson, Cynthia L. African American Education: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2001.