Tag Archives: Obama

Can We Really Label Racist Teens as Racist?

A few days ago, online feminist magazine Jezebel decided to publish an article for their racism column that exposed all of the tweets sent by high-schoolers across the country that used the n-word after Obama’s re-election. Jezebel followed-up by contacting these teenagers’ high schools to determine whether they had a policy about hate speech, and decided to out these kids by publishing their full names online. So, done. We’ve got a black president, and we can move on knowing that racism is solved, right?

I know my peeps are with me when I say, ummm. NO.

Is this really how we have resorted to addressing racism in our country? By simplifying such a complex institution into the use of a single racial slur? By slandering the names of kids whose life experiences might not have given them the opportunity to understand the consequences of their actions, or in this case, hashtags?

Of course I am not condoning the behavior of these students, but I’m going to keep it real here. We, as a culture, do not know how to talk about systems of oppression. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why, despite teaching some exceptionally bright and compassionate college students in my years of teaching, I have been surprised to find that many are pretty ill-equipped to discuss issues of race. Very few come into the classroom well-versed on the racial history of this country. They may know about Martin Luther King, but struggle to understand the larger Civil Rights movement for which he fought. When we discuss the racist implications of using cultural artifacts like feathers and headdresses as a guise for multi-culturalism, many grow defensive and protest that this is a form of cultural celebration. Yet, very few have ever been exposed to voices from these ethnic communities who make these protests.

Is this completely their fault?

It is true that Americans value the individual, but is it fair to imbue even young people with a foresight that is supposed to overcome their institutional limitations? Granted, I do think that some people are naturally a little more sensitive, a little more thoughtful, a little more critical and self-aware of their privilege than others. But I also know that one of my good friends, who is an exceptionally sensitive person and an advocate for human rights, grew up in a tiny, segregated, rural community where racial slurs were commonly spoken, and it wasn’t until he left his small town and interacted with different groups of people did he gain full awareness of just how much these words hurt.

I remember reading another post on Jez last year titled the “complete guide to hipster racism” that lambasted white kids for wearing ‘Indian headdresses.’ While I agreed with the sentiment, I had an issue with the paternalistic tone and the focus on individual behavior that seemed to imply that these ‘hipsters’ should know better because well, they’re hipsters, and that means they’re ahead of the curve, right? As I wrote in myrecent post on fashion’s problematic relationship with race:

“For me, the issue isn’t so black and white, in part because we have not allowed for an inclusion of American Indian voices into the dialogue about this issue until very recently, leaving many truly ignorant about why these supposedly ‘harmless’ statements are indeed very harmful. It is difficult for me to point fingers at teenagers who, dressed up as ‘Indians’ for  Thanksgiving when they were five by their parents and teachers, are now expected to understand the complex meanings behind the hipster headdress they choose to rock to signify their escape from the rigid conformity of suburbia.”

When it comes to issues of oppression, we need to start shifting our focus, and subsequent criticism, from individuals to institutions. To the parents who fail to have these important conversations with their children (you’re a mom who grew up in the 70s and can’t talk to your kids about a movement that gave you rights? I’m sorry, but that’s one big struggle). To our educational system that fails to incorporate these important conversations in our mainstream history texts, instead relegating them to the dusty bookshelves that are only taken out during ‘African-American history’ and ‘Women’s history’ months. To our culture that celebrates Columbus day as a day in which Columbus ‘discovered’ a country that had been inhabited by indigenous people for years, but focuses little on the suffering caused by European colonialism. To our neighborhoods that have become increasingly segregated thanks in part to ‘white-flight,’ making it almost impossible for so many American kids to go to school with and live near people of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. To the public policies that have increased the gap in wealth between middle-class white and black Americans, thanks in large part to the limiting of value property in these racially segregated neighborhoods. To our media institutions that marginalizes the voices of women and people of color in the newsroom on one end, while depicting them as looters and welfare queens on the other.

I believe that we as a society need to focus on these larger, more important issues of oppression, instead of a few ignorant tweets. And rather than pointing our fingers solely at these teenagers, it would serve us better to also address the societal problems and institutional policies that helped shape their behavior, and in which we are all implicated.

White Flight, defined.

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Political Apathy and why I’m SO not feeling it.

So I’ve had a few readers ask me why I haven’t really blogged about the election, and I think I need to clarify that I am absolutely NOT apathetic about politics. I follow the news, subscribe to the Economist, as stressful as that is (one issue a week is a bit of an overkill, just sayin’), and generally try to stay as informed as possible. I’m just not a political blogger. There are already a ton of policy wonks writing about politics and doing it way better than I ever could. My interest is in culture and media, and when I have written about politics on this blog, it’s always through a critical cultural-media lens. That is why when I interviewed a woman on development in Afghanistan a few weeks ago, I focused on media coverage and gender issues. And when I addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I didn’t really take a side on the issue but instead critiqued the erasure of such an important topic in our public space. And I did attempt to tackle an election debate by questioning the narrow scope of the corporate media’s coverage and arguing for why we need independent media and third-party candidates.

As I wrote in my first post,  I’m uncomfortable with the divisive nature of partisan politics, the Bill O’Reilly vs. Chris Matthews screaming matches that our news media has fostered, and the corporatization of our culture that is diminishing our public space. I agree with rapper Killer Mike that our country tends to think in ‘teams,’ and ultimately, I believe that change comes from the people. That’s one of the reasons why I was behind so much of what the Occupy movement did. It’s also why I absolutely loved this article on how a performance-poetry group who have cared for their children through extreme poverty are now working with the Occupy movement and other advocacy groups to teach people about poverty. It makes sense that poor people would actually have the best anti-poverty ideas. If only policy-makers and politicians would listen to the people more, and if only the news media would represent these groups instead of constantly interviewing elites with the same recycled opinions. It’s frustrating, and it needs to change.

But here’s the thing. I DO think elections matter, and very few things annoy me more than apathy. And this is where I’m going to abandon all of my Kumbaya inclinations of always wanting to bring people together by avoiding divisive talk, and I’m just going to BUST. Because I have come to the realization that people who make arguments like ‘the president is just a figurehead’ or “Obama did nothing these past four years, he’s no different than Bush,” are really annoying and need to be called out. Honestly, I don’t care who you vote for. But if you’re a liberal who is ‘disappointed’ with Obama’s presidency because he didn’t get as much done as they wanted, well…he ended up with a Republican Congress!! What did you expect him to do?? The government got gridlocked because of that. That’s the way politics works in this country people. Did you miss the massive health care bill he passed? Or how he ended torture? He bailed out the auto industry (I have friends and family who live in Ohio and Detroit who have seen real effects from this…ie, no economic meltdown). He protected women’s reproductive rights and passed the historic Lilly Ledbetter bill that protects women from discriminatory pay. He got rid of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and vouched his support for marriage equality. Oh, and he got us out of Iraq and caught Bin Laden. So people are pissed because he didn’t do every little thing he wanted to do. They wanted public health care. They’re mad that he cracked down so hard on immigrants. I get these concerns, but here’s the thing, change doesn’t happen overnight. I think a lot of people in my generation were raised on these ridiculous expectations a la Veruca Salt of “I want the world to change overnight NOW DADDY!” And that’s not how the world works. How many years did it take for women to achieve the right to vote? For the Civil Rights movement to win their demands?

I’m going to argue that Obama was effective in planting the progressive seeds that, if given the opportunity, he and other presidents afterwards will help shape. Whether you agree with those politics is neither here or there, but for everyone who says crap like ‘The president is just a figurehead…” PLEASE SPARE ME. Maybe you should check out this link from ‘On the Media’ that discusses Kennedy’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. You know, like how it was basically him against his cabinet. How he won out. How a president DOES shape policy.

I am done with apathy and cynicism. DONE. And I’ve never bought it. Your cynicism does not make you superior to me because I actually fucking care and am fighting to make this world a better place. It just means you aren’t informed. Yeah that’s right, I said it. You’re LAZY. You haven’t done your research. You’re using your holier-than-thou attitude as a guise for your ignorance. And your apathy insults me. Yes, this is what a Nadia bust looks like. I’m sorry, but as someone who has lived and voted in swing states for the last decade, who realizes the importance of every little vote, I am really losing patience for this kind of attitude.

Do I believe that change comes from the people? YES. Am I frustrated with the two-party system, with the gross amount of money that is pumped into political ads when there are so many people living in poverty? YES. But that doesn’t take away from my belief that politicians and elections matter. Don’t kid yourself by believing that your vote doesn’t make a difference. Do you really think a Bush presidency was identical to an Obama one?! Really?? If so, then maybe you should stay home and not vote. Yup, now I’m being rude. Again, I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you stay engaged and realize that your engagement matters. And there really is no excuse anymore to not stay engaged. I’m going to end with Saturday Night Live‘s brilliant parody on ‘the undecided voter.’ Because I’m done. I’ll be back tomorrow blogging about all things culture and engaging with peeps who actually give a damn and have some faith in the power of their voices.

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Why We Need Independent Media

Tonight marks the second Presidential debate between Obama and Romney, and pundits have spent the last week trying to predict what the strategies of the president will be in order to make a comeback after a lackluster first debate performance. But if, like me, you’re getting a little sick of hearing the same talking points repeated over and over (Iran is bad, the economy is worse, and abortion, abortion, abortion) and wished that other issues you cared about were included in the debate, you might want to check out Democracy Now!, an independent media organization that will be including third-party candidates excluded from the debate!

Meeting Amy Goodman and Dennis Moynihan during her Election 2012 tour! So excited to get a signed copy of their book, The Silenced Majority.

Amy Goodman is one of my heroes, and her commitment to represent alternative voices in political debates that have been excluded or marginalized by the mainstream media is just one of the reasons why we so desperately need independent media outlets. Here are ten other reasons:

1) The American press is not ‘free,’ it’s Corporate.

Freedom of the press is a constitutional right, and Americans have always taken pride in our ‘unbiased’ media system that supposedly gives journalists freedom to pursue the stories they want without censorship. What many Americans may not be aware of, however, is that there are more subtle forms of censorship bias than the ones we associate with countries like China. As media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) documents in their article, “What’s wrong with the News,” advertiser sponsors and corporate ownership inflict their own kind of propagandistic influence on media outlets. Thanks to deregulation of the media industry during the 80s and 90s, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that allowed for corporate mergers, all of the media we consume is controlled by just six main corporations. SIX. So what does that mean exactly?

2) Ummm … conflict of interest, obvi.

So here’s the problem. When a news organization like NBC is owned by a corporation like General Electric, it’s going to be difficult for NBC to report on issues that challenge ideologies and practices held by GE. Perhaps that’s why you so rarely read stories on nuclear waste in any GE-owned outlets (thanks to GE’s investments in the nuclear power industry), and why, when it was revealed that the largest American corporation had avoided paying federal taxes (whoops!), every major news outlet reported on the story except … yup, you guessed it. NBC.

Watch this brilliant little skit from a Saturday Night Live episode called “It’s a Media-Opoly” that aired in the late 90s, and has since been banned. Was it perhaps because GE execs were uncomfortable with the critiques that SNL leveled at their parent corporation? Do I need to repeat ‘obvi’ again girlfriends?

3) Because Americans support climate change, the mainstream media does not.

When the Washington Post’s two-page story on energy policy excluded critics of the big energy giants, it was revealed by FAIR that the ‘debate’ was actually sponsored by an oil industry player, the American Petroleum Institute. Sigh.

4) Because Britney Spears shaving her head was a headline on CNN.

It wasn’t just BS because Brit-Brit showed the world her shaved head for like, two seconds before covering herself with a hoodie and then resorting to wigs for next six months (if you’re the main news story for the day, I’m going to expect you to rock it, just sayin’). But it was also just one more example of how our media is now fixated with increasing ratings to make money for their corporate owners, choosing to cut expensive funding for international reporting and focusing on entertainment-related news, also referred to as ‘info-tainment.”

Imagine going to school for journalism because you dreamed of covering hard news and possibly taking down people in power a la Watergate, and then being forced to report on Paris Hilton. If you’re like MSNBC reporter Mika Brzezinski, this realization might make you snap. Watch below.

5) Because media outlets like Fox are to News as Alexis Wright is to Zumba.

Alexis Wright used her Zumba studio as a front for prostitution, and Fox uses its ‘news’ station as a disguise for partisan hackery.

In an effort to increase ratings, ‘fair and balanced’ cable news stations like the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox have thrown nuance out the door and have instead resorted to distorting facts for the sake of supporting their singular partisan world-view. Maybe that’s why Fox viewers are notoriously uninformed on important issues. Check out this hilarious prank played by college student Max Rice, who wrote in posing as a ‘disillusioned former Obama supporter.’ Fox didn’t do any research on him, and he was kicked off mid-interview by a noticeably flustered Gretchen Carlson.

6) Because it’s not the media anymore, it’s the Media-Lobbying Complex.

It doesn’t matter the political affiliation really. Both Republicans and Democrats have appeared on media programs critiquing or promoting certain issues without revealing their conflicts of interest. So “NBC Military Analyst” Barry McCaffrey appears on MSNBC to promote more military spending on Afghanistan, without revealing his investments in DynCorp, a global government services provider that received billions of dollars to aid U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Other ‘analysts’ have appeared on the show to critique the health care plan, without revealing their ties to pharmaceutical companies. I could wax poetic, but you get the idea.

7) Because lack of critical media coverage helped fuel the Iraq War in 2003.

Americans were actually pretty ambivalent about invading Iraq in the weeks leading up to the war. You would think this complexity in public opinion would reflect in the mainstream news coverage. But according to a FAIR study, in the two weeks leading up to the invasion, only 3 of the 393 sources that were cited in mainstream media outlets ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS (yes, even PBS) on issues relating to the Iraq War were identified with anti-war groups. THREE. Of the THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY THREE.

While the world gets a critical take on Afghanistan, Americans get a celebrity photographer.

What is even more distressing is that while Americans are fed fluff by our news organizations, the international versions of these outlets will often prominently feature global issues on their covers. Check out this comparison of the domestic and international versions of Time and Newsweek.

Last I checked, wasn’t the media an institution that was supposed to inform us on various aspects of different issues? This exclusion of critical voices has serious implications. How could the public gain any understanding of the ramifications of war, both in Iraq and at home, if they weren’t exposed to alternative viewpoints?

Below, Amy Goodman’s phenomenal half-hour documentary, Independent Media in a Time of War, explores the mainstream media’s mishandling of coverage in Iraq.

You can also watch part two and part three.

8) Because the mainstream media has a history of marginalizing protest movements.

Just look at Occupy last year. As I documented in a recent post, the media’s coverage of Occupy was condescending at best and utterly dismissive at worst. Are media organizations really going to write fairly about an anti-corporate movement when they are themselves owned by corporations?

9) Because the mainstream media supports politicians.

Amy Goodman recently interviewed Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald and Open Debates founder George Farrah on the ‘faux objectivity’ of mainstream journalists, highlighting the recent debate moderators. Their main point was that the moderators asked questions based on assumptions which the candidates had to take as a ‘fact,’ such as the notion that “there is no greater security threat than Iran” (laughable when you consider that Iran has an anemic military budget compared to the United States).

As Greenwald noted: “So you don’t just have third-party candidates being excluded by—as a result of these rules; what you have is the vast bulk of political opinions and political facts being excluded because these moderators are chosen very specifically to ensure that they will embrace only the orthodoxy shared by both parties while posing as objective, neutral and non-ideological actors.”

Jon Stewart made a similar point when he appeared on CNN‘s now defunct show Crossfire, in which a Republican and Democrat basically just yelled at each other for an hour. Hilariously, and without raising his voice, Stewart accused the hosts of partisan hackery and serving politicians and corporations instead of the public.  The show was cancelled a week later 🙂

10) Because in a democracy, you need dissent.

If the mainstream media is failing to provide alternative voices, than we desperately need independent media. We need to support movements and protests that critique the growing corporatization of our media, schools, and public space. We need to support the media as an institution that informs citizens, instead of selling advertisements and corporate interests to consumers. We need to figure out how to take the public discourse back, and we need the media to help us do this. Dissent, and embracing a diversity of viewpoints and ideologies, is the foundation of the very democracy upon which America was founded. So let’s embrace democracy, now!

To check out Amy Goodman’s book, The Silenced Majority, that recently made The New York Times best-seller list, click here.

Here are some of my favorite independent media sources and media watchdog group, feel free to suggest more:

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