News Watchdog

About once a day activity

Pick a news website or several local blogs and visit the sites every day. Look for an article that relates to less visible aspects of your identity such as religious identity, national identity, sexual identity or generational identity. When you find one, copy the link, return to Experimonth on Science Buzz and paste the link to the article into an new comment box on the "News Watchdog" Buzz page.

When you post a link, feel free to add a question or opinion about the article you chose. If you can't find an article everyday, try replying to other participants' posts to find out more about how others identify and see the world.

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Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

Alright, news junkies, let’s get started. What less visible aspect of someone’s identity fascinate you the most? Find that article.

posted on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 10:58am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I think the frenzy over this 5-year-old boy's Halloween costume (he dressed as Daphne, from Scooby Doo) is an interesting look at what roles we allow children to experiment and play with.
http://nyti.ms/sTjsmT

posted on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 1:07pm
Peter K's picture
Peter K says:

I remember having a conversation with a friend on the differences in what happened when she sent her very young son to a standard daycare wearing purple socks, or leggings, or whatever (probably the result of hand-me-downs from friends) versus the types of "experimentation" with color and clothes that he can have now that he is going to a more progressive cooperative daycare.

I think it's interesting that the blogger/mom emphasizes that it wasn't about gender or experimentation, but rather just that it made sense to the kid as a good costume.

Are there any parents on this assignment? What is it like raising a kid and having to either police gender, allow experimentation, or maybe even defending decisions your kid made (even at the age of 5) to other parents? What factors into that?

posted on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 5:00pm
Peter K's picture
Peter K says:

Dana Mason, who teaches second grade in Birmingham, says manners have been at the lowest level she has seen in her 36 years in the classroom. Parents who move South tell her they don’t want their children to learn to say “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am.” Too demeaning, they say.

But she and others point out that manners are on the slide everywhere. Mrs. Mason blames a faster pace of life and the demise of the home-cooked family meal.

-A Last Bastion of Civility, the South, Sees Manners Decline, NY Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/us/southern-manners-on-decline-some-sa...

posted on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 4:06pm
Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

Do you think the shift away from manners is a generational thing, or from people being able to move south more easily? Also, have you noticed a change in Minnesotan/Midwestern manners between you, your parents and your grandparents?

posted on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 5:44pm
Peter K's picture
Peter K says:

I don't know how different my manners are than my mom's manners.

The article does attribute the change in manners to mobility. I just think its more interesting the tie in southern identity with manners, though I suppose "Minnesota Nice" is the same thing.

posted on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 4:56pm
reclusedagger's picture
reclusedagger says:

As a former high school teacher I enforced manners constantly. A sense of propriety is never out of style. Simple phrases like "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" are important in society regardless of views on status. Manners are about being kind to one another and being respectful.

posted on Sat, 11/05/2011 - 10:53am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

As a non-Midwesterner, I hear "Minnesota nice" and I don't think "manners." To me, "Minnesota nice" is NOT a positive. It's passive-aggressive and indirect and aimed at reinforcing conformity. So I was interested to read your post, Peter. And it made me look up "Minnesota nice." (The entries on Urban Dictionary are even more enlightening, but that site isn't appropriate for the exhibit floor (although that particular page is fine).) See what you think.

posted on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 5:07pm
Peter K's picture
Peter K says:

Yeah, you're right. I didn't mean that Minnesota Nice was the same as manners, just that it is a similar geographic + attitude or behavior link. I do enjoy the link in the wiki:

It's more about keeping up appearances, maintaining the social order, and keeping people in their place.

posted on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 5:18pm
Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

So do manners then get in the way of social change? Or do they make sure we all get along and don't get angry at each other?

posted on Mon, 11/07/2011 - 5:36pm
Peter K's picture
Peter K says:

I just posted a link to this article from NY Magazine over in Shutterbug, but thought it could fit in over here as well. Its from back in May, but it is by Roseanne Barr, talking about her experiences as a female executive in show biz:

http://nymag.com/arts/tv/upfronts/2011/roseanne-barr-2011-5/

I read it when it came out, but I remember it sort of filling in and giving some entirely new context to my childhood memories of watching the show. (And made me like Roseanne even more than I already did).

posted on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 5:21pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Did you know Victoria Beckham and Madonna are both "Too Posh to Push?"
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g8-xwVmFQgLCmVEjwi5PPr...
Should poor English women be allowed to have the same right and choice to have elective C-sections as wealthy ones? Or is this like putting cosmetic surgery on the taxpayer's 10p?

posted on Fri, 11/04/2011 - 1:50pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Whoa. This raises soooo many issues. Such as, should the government be involved in health care in the first place? Because once the government starts paying for your health care, then it gets to decide what health care it will and will not pay for. Which means some faceless bureaucrat is deciding what health care you can and cannot receive.

My view? Sure, there should be some basic level of health care for the truly needy. And if that includes C-sections when medically necessary, fine. But above and beyond that, it should be up to you. You want the fancy elective procedure? Fine -- you pay for it. You can't afford it? Life isn't fair.

As a taxpayer, I will pay for public health. I will not pay for your ego.

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 3:32pm
kellyleemcc's picture
kellyleemcc says:

I just read an article on gazettextra.com about the normalcy of my generation. I felt like it spoke to who I am as a person. I like this quote from it, so I thought I would share it.

"Gen Xers are no slackers—our core personality traits of pragmatism, authenticity, focus on self-reliance, comfort in embracing change, and mistrust of institutions, rules and the status quo are serving us well."

Check it out for yourselves. http://gazettextra.com/news/2011/nov/07/normalcy-generation-x/

posted on Mon, 11/07/2011 - 11:53pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Born in 1960, I am technically a Boomer -- but the differences between early Boomers and late Boomers are enough to make us different generations. I have always felt closer to Gen X.

My first awareness of generational differences (and of Boomers' suffocating dominance of culture) came in 1978. I was 18 and about to graduate high school. I read an article in the newspaper about how the political attitudes of college students in 1978 were markedly different from those 10 years earlier, in 1968. The article presented this as some sort of amazing discovery. My reaction was, of course they have different attitudes -- they're different people!!!

Thus was I introduced to the Boomers' difficulty in accepting the fact that there are other people on the planet who aren't them.

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 3:36pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Kellylee, this quote sounds like its in defense of your generation. Have you ever experienced any "generation bias" or discrimination from older generations?
Also do you have any prejudices or impressions of younger generations like GenY or the Millennials??

posted on Tue, 11/08/2011 - 5:34pm
kellyleemcc's picture
kellyleemcc says:

maiken,
You make a good point, the quote does seem to pose as a defense of my generation, maybe that's why it sort of hit home with me?

Yeah, I guess I feel like I have experienced some bias towards me and my age/generation.

Gen Xers really started to "express" themselves with things like tattoos, unconventional hair styles, and piercings which I believe the Boomers and the Matures may have felt or still feel is unprofessional and most certainly nonconformist. I'm personally convinced this rocks some of their "boats" a little too much for comfort which I imagine often leads to prejudices towards our work ethic, ability to be responsible leaders, parents, teachers and active participants in our communities and on a grander scale the well being of our country's future.

I think that sometimes this feeling of discrimination fuels our "fire" and almost makes us want to push the envelope even further with more rebellious tactics and forms of "expression." All the while we continue to work hard and try to be as self-reliant as possible to show our predecessors what we are made of and how we can be individuals without the constraints their generation and the past generations have put upon them especially when it concerns self-expression. I believe that we have pride in our freedom of self-expression and our voice, we want to feel we don't need to fit in a one-size fits all box.

To answer the second part of your question "do you have any prejudices or impressions of younger generations like GenY or the Millennials??"

Yes, I guess I do, but honestly hate to confess it. Now I realize that this sort of puts in line with the prejudices I feel from the Boomers and Matures.

Yet, I admit that I do get a little frustrated because I feel like some GenY but mostly Millennials somehow don't understand what it means to have good work ethics, the patients, and basic manners I feel are important. Instead, instant gratification seems to be wave of their generations future and I wish we could help them "reel it in" and get back to the basics while still moving forward and keeping up with the fast-paced world we all live in now.

As I was thinking about the question you asked me and while I was typing this out I thought to myself...maybe I should look online to help enlighten me on the subject I'm frustrated with? So I did and I came across this little article which made me sympathize with younger generations a bit more than I ever have before.

Check it out: http://www.searchamelia.com/why-millennials-demand-instant-gratification

posted on Wed, 11/09/2011 - 2:04am
maiken's picture
maiken says:

I have to admit, I haven't read this article yet. Being a Gen-Yer, my attention span is quite limited. However I was struck by the photo in the article. I can't even imagine being in a college lecture where everyone has a laptop open like that!!! Does that make me sound old?

posted on Fri, 11/11/2011 - 1:34am
kellyleemcc's picture
kellyleemcc says:

Yes, it does make you sound kind of old =) but honestly I think it's crazy too!

posted on Fri, 11/11/2011 - 7:49pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I co-teach a class at MSU. Some students take notes on their laptops, but most still use paper and pen. I put my lecture notes on line, and some follow along. Sometimes students look up info on line to answer questions that come up in class. Unfortunately, some abuse the privilege. When my co-teacher is lecturing, I wander the classroom and notice students on Facebook, on Amazon, on ESPN, etc. So we called them on it -- and got some nasty comments in the course evaluations. We have considered banning laptops in class, but decided to just issue a blanket warning next term and monitor the situation. Kind of sad that you need to tell college students that "paying attention" is a necessary part of the course.

I have definitely noticed a generational difference in my classes. The older, returning ed students pay attention, take notes, do the readings, and get good grades. Some of the younger students sit like lumps during class, some even nap, and do not want to put in the hard work and effort necessary to get a good grade. I suspect that 30 years ago, my teachers were saying the same thing about me.

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 3:59pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Expressing oneself is fine, but getting along with others is important. If you want to get tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, etc., great -- more power to you. But don't come whining to me when you can't get a job as a bank teller.

This photo has been making the rounds: an Occupy Chicago protestor:

Rachel, 20, unemployed cosmtologist,: and for good reason, I would say.
Rachel, 20, unemployed cosmtologist,: and for good reason, I would say.Courtesy Susannah Breslin

She complains of being an unemployed cosmetologist. But looking at her piercings, her hair, her clothes -- even her complexion -- I have to ask: is this the kind of person I want working on my face?

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 3:48pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

I wonder what Kellyleemcc would say about this, considering she has pink hair!?

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 5:41pm
kellyleemcc's picture
kellyleemcc says:

I found this article online from a Canadian newspaper called "The Gazette"

http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Grouchy+group+poised+replace+retirin...

It talks about how moody we (GenXers) feel about the state of the world, our careers, the importance of work/life balance and how we are the link between the Boomer and GenY/Millennials through the high-tech world we live in.

Read it and tell me your thoughts.

posted on Wed, 11/09/2011 - 2:10am
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Kellyleemcc, thank you I thought this was an interesting article in terms of "identity" but wondered what you, and other Gen-Xers thought of the following quote:

"Sean Lyons, a business professor at the University of Guelph and lead author on the study, said gen Xers also are caught between boomers and millennials, both of which are more culturally influential.
'The theory of generations says you have dominant generations and recessive generations and they tend to alternate, and gen Xers are definitely a recessive generation caught between two much more dominant, louder, impactful generations,' he said in an interview."

From the perspective of someone who is GenY, what I thought was "ouch, he just slammed Gen-Xers!"

posted on Fri, 11/11/2011 - 1:29am
kellyleemcc's picture
kellyleemcc says:

Maiken,

Yeah that was kind of a stinger for sure!

I'm not so sure I totally agree with Sean Lyons' statement. I think that a lot people from my generation have made a positive impact in the growth and change in our country.

We [Gen Xers] have, and still often, been deemed as "slackers," lazy, and apathetic. Yet, I see the majority of my generation more as the entrepreneurial, pragmatic and cautious types.

We have been, and are still, disenchanted with institutions in general, we were bombarded with commercialism and consumerism from our baby boomer "yuppie" predecessors, and we fear the deterioration of our culture that we have watched become more and more "McCommercialized" as we've grown up.

I think from the start my generation has been misrepresented by the mass-media.

Here is an article I found that helps support my point of view and hopefully will help further this conversation.

http://barneygrant.tripod.com/GenxLS.htm

Enjoy!

posted on Fri, 11/11/2011 - 8:59pm
Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

I thought this was interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/opinion/the-inequality-map.html?src=me...

It goes into which inequalities are socially acceptable, and which are not.

posted on Sat, 11/12/2011 - 10:10am
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

"Spending inequality is less acceptable. If you make $1 billion, it helps to go to work in jeans and black T-shirts. It helps to live in Omaha and eat in diners. If you make $200,000 a year, it is acceptable to spend money on any room previously used by servants, like the kitchen, but it is vulgar to spend on any adult toy that might give superficial pleasure, like a Maserati."

This interested me the most because I've never thought of it before and I don't really think it's true in my experience. Really? Billionaires eat in diners and people who make six figure salaries don't own fancy sports cars?

posted on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 5:03pm
Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

Do other people agree? I'll admit that I've seen a lot of people with money "play it down." But I could be an exception.

posted on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 7:40pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Over the years sociologist have done a lot of study of conspicuous consumption -- buying fancy, expensive things to show off your status. Ironically, this tends to be most common among lower-income folks: the fancy clothes, fancy cars, fancy jewelry is a way of saying "I'm not really poor." Among the middle class, there is the phenomenon of inconspicuous consumption -- of not flaunting one's wealth, lest you show up the neighbors. Now I guess we're seeing conspicuous nonconsumption -- extremely wealthy people living frugally, perhaps to say money isn't everything, or to set an example, or to avoid inspiring jealousy.

Of course, people with lots of money generally had to work very hard to get it, and so avoid wasting it. Or they got rich by being frugal, and the habit stuck. This is especially true of people who earned their fortunes; their heirs tend to be much more spendthrift (think Paris Hilton).

I suspect there may also be a generational difference. Young people, who are not yet secure in their identities, may be more likely to use material things to signal their status than older people, who tend to be more secure in who they are. Or, they're just saving up for retirement.

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 8:00pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

As with most David Brooks columns, there is so much here to disagree with once scarcely knows where to begin.

Sports inequality is unacceptable. It is morally reprehensible to root for the Yankees. The fact that New Yorkers do so anyway tells you all you need to know about them.

Church inequality is not only acceptable, it is the whole point. The reason you are a member of one denomination and not another is that you believe your faith has got it right, which by default means everybody else has got it wrong. Now, most of us believe that members of other faiths are still good, moral people, who are just a little misguided, or who haven't yet seen the light. They are not evil, but they are wrong.

Cultural inequality is a growth industry. But it cuts both ways: opera lovers look down on Lady Gaga fans; Lady Gaga fans look down on opera lovers. I listen to jazz and look down on both.

A little status inequality in high school would probably be a good thing. Competition does tend to bring out the best in us. And while status inequality certainly exists in college, one wonders if it should -- Ivy Leaguers don't seem to be learning anything more or better than their counterparts elsewhere. But then, learning isn't really the point of an Ivy League education.

Cupcake inequality is so over. Beer inequality is going strong. Travel inequality is infuriating. And as for the supermarket, there certainly are different lanes for different types of shoppers, and frequent customers can get discounts through a rewards card or some such.

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 4:16pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Gene, does this statement mean you are a Red Sox fan? "Sports inequality is unacceptable. It is morally reprehensible to root for the Yankees. The fact that New Yorkers do so anyway tells you all you need to know about them."
In my opinion, pro baseball is lame. However, I just read "Moneyball" which is about sabermetrics and the Oakland A's. It was a fascinating book, despite the fact that it was about baseball.

posted on Sun, 11/27/2011 - 12:21am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

"In my opinion, pro baseball is lame."

I don't think we can be friends anymore.

posted on Mon, 11/28/2011 - 10:00pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Oh, and the issue of my identity vis-a-vis sports has already been discussed. ;-)

posted on Mon, 11/28/2011 - 10:23pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Ah yes, a Cubs fan because you're from Chicago! So does everybody outside of Manhattan hate the Yankees?

posted on Tue, 11/29/2011 - 3:20pm
kellyleemcc's picture
kellyleemcc says:

Julia H,

Thanks for the post. The article was sure eye opening to read and in my opinion David Brooks hit the nail on the head describing the inequalities we see and live on a daily basis here in the U.S.

posted on Sat, 11/12/2011 - 12:06pm
Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

Was there any in particular that struck you? It would be interesting to hear.

posted on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 7:35pm
Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

Here's another interesting article a friend shared, which relates to Peter K's earlier post about Rosanne Barr- it addresses that women really aren't the people producing news, while the Rosanne article spoke to TV shows.

http://www.good.is/post/why-should-women-read-the-economist/?utm_content...

posted on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 7:46pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Hey check this out, do you agree with this?

"That kind of thinking is precisely what I’m talking about, what lies behind the bland, inoffensive, smile-and-a-shoeshine personality — the stay-positive, other-directed, I’ll-be-whoever-you-want-me-to-be personality — that everybody has today. Yes, we’re vicious, anonymously, on the comment threads of public Web sites, but when we speak in our own names, on Facebook and so forth, we’re strenuously cheerful, conciliatory, well-groomed. (In fact, one of the reasons we’re so vicious, I’m convinced, is to relieve the psychic pressure of all that affability.) They say that people in Hollywood are always nice to everyone they meet, in that famously fake Hollywood way, because they’re never certain whom they might be dealing with — it could be somebody who’s more important than they realize, or at least, somebody who might become important down the road.

Well, we’re all in showbiz now, walking on eggshells, relentlessly tending our customer base. We’re all selling something today, because even if we aren’t literally selling something (though thanks to the Internet as well as the entrepreneurial ideal, more and more of us are), we’re always selling ourselves. We use social media to create a product — to create a brand — and the product is us. We treat ourselves like little businesses, something to be managed and promoted.

The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self that’s packaged to be sold."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/the-entrepreneurial-gen...

posted on Tue, 11/15/2011 - 11:24am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Whaaaat? "The stay-positive, other-directed, I’ll-be-whoever-you-want-me-to-be personality"?? That describes absolutely nobody I know.

OTOH, the "be-nice-to-everybody" approach isn't unique to Hollywood. It's just plain common sense. Which is why it's a lot rarer than it should be.

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 8:03pm
Julia H's picture
Julia H says:

On online identity- Facebook determines what your real name is. Even if your name is Salmun Rushdie
http://mashable.com/2011/11/14/salman-rushdie-facebook/#34511The-hero-ov...

posted on Wed, 11/16/2011 - 7:47am
maiken's picture
maiken says:

What's the deal with Mr.Rushdie having to send a copy of his passport to Facebook? This sounds a lot like 1984, Big Brother kind of stuff.
Does anyone else agree and think this is insane? Or can you think of a justifiable reason for FB to go to such extremes to ensure proper identification?

posted on Wed, 11/16/2011 - 4:45pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

FB is a private company. They can demand whatever they want. You are under no obligation to join. I haven't. It's up to you to decide whether the price of entry is worth the benefit of membership.

OTOH, there is this:

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 8:06pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Do you think you are middle class? How do you know?

"William Julius Wilson, a sociologist at Harvard who has seen the study, argues that “rising inequality is beginning to produce a two-tiered society in America in which the more affluent citizens live lives fundamentally different from the middle- and lower-income groups. This divide decreases a sense of community.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/16/us/middle-class-areas-shrink-as-income...
What does "middle class" even mean anymore?

posted on Wed, 11/16/2011 - 5:43pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

There seems to be something that we have been skirting around but not actually talking about. We've discussed generational identity and class identity but not once have we mentioned Occupy Wall Street.
What do you make of it?
Where do you stand on this?
http://occupywallst.org/

posted on Mon, 11/21/2011 - 11:43am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

My take is similar to that of Megan McArdle:

I don't care about income inequality. I care about the absolute condition of the poor--whether they are hungry, cold, and sick. But I do not care about the gap between their incomes, and those of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Nor the ratio of Gates and Buffett's incomes to mine. And I'm not sure why anyone should. Other than pure envy, it's hard to see how I could somehow be made worse off if Bill Gates' income suddenly doubled, but everything else remained the same.

She then goes on to talk about "opportunity inequality," which is a much tougher nut to crack.

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 8:22pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

There are fundamental differences between the Tea Party and OWS that made the former a formidable political force and will render the latter an inconsequential soon-to-be historical footnote.

Do you agree? Read more at: http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/11/why_occupy_wall_street_is_no_tea_...

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 5:55pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I love this TEDxHampshireCollege talk by Jay Smooth called "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race." I love it mostly because he points out that we can't recognize our imperfections when it comes to attitudes about race (and thus they stagnate and grow) because we deeply personalize all criticisms on the topic. So "what you said" conversations turn into "what I am" conversations, which are pretty unproductive. He's right: it's hard when someone says, "Um, what you just said sounds kind of racist and it could be hurtful" to not HEAR, "Um, you're racist and a bad person." And he has some interesting analogies to help think about these conversations differently.

posted on Wed, 11/23/2011 - 12:12pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

This is the "How to Tell People They Sound Racist" video he references in his talk.

posted on Wed, 11/23/2011 - 12:21pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Several thoughts in response to these two videos:

1) I just read an article about how there's no such things as constructive criticism. The author makes some of the same points Smooth does, but draws some opposite conclusions.

2) The talk of disparities is a red herring. Equal opportunity need not lead to equal outcomes. While the racism of the past certainly has lingering effects, those effects are not in and of themselves racism.

3) While the "tonsils / no tonsils" and "dental hygiene" analogies are good, the "thief" one is not. In fact, that attitude is the entire problem. Smooth says, when you steal my wallet, I don't care whether deep down you are really a thief; I just want my wallet back. But the thing is, taking something that doesn't belong to you (like somebody's wallet) is the definition of "theft." And engaging in theft is the definition of "thief." So saying "you took my wallet" is exactly equivalent to saying "you are a thief." Smooth is trying to argue that saying "you said something racist" is NOT equivalent to saying "you ARE a racist," but then uses the thief analogy, which is exactly the opposite.

4) Smooth rather blithely says that "for some reason," when you say "those words sound racist," people hear "you ARE racist." Well, the "reason" for that is obvious: that is exactly what is meant. The contemporary civil rights establishment is constantly grabbing the slightest little provocation to brand its opponents as racist. The Tea Party is only 1$ - 2% black? They must be racist. Mitt Romney shows a black audience in a campaign commercial? That's a reference to Jeremiah Wright, which itself is racist. Happen to mention that Barack Obama is skinny? Well, that's calling attention to his body, and his body is black, and therefore "skinny" is racist.

Much has been written about the deterioration of the American civil rights movement. When the movement began after WW II, racism was pervasive: blacks (and other minorities) couldn't vote in some areas, couldn't buy houses in some neighborhoods, couldn't get certain jobs, couldn't ride certain trains, couldn't drink from certain fountains, etc. Many brave and noble people fought long and hard to eradicate this terrible injustice. Today not only are all these things illegal, but society takes affirmative steps to counteract them. We've even elected a black man as president, which kinda puts the lie to any statement that our country is deeply and irredeemably racist.

But that presents a problem. If you've dedicated your life to stomping out racism, what happens if you succeed? You're out of a job. To justify its continued existence (the cynical might say, to justify their continued funding), the civil rights establishment must continually set the bar lower and lower to find "racism," and yell louder and louder to get anyone to care. No more racist laws? Let's go after discrimination in the private sphere. Discrimination driven underground? Let's go after racist speech. No more n-words or d-words? Well, there must be some racism somewhere; I just know it! And so we end up with Elijah Cummings arguing that support for Herman Cain proves that Republicans deep down are really racist.

This would be funny if it weren't so destructive. This approach actually hurts the cause of civil rights. Smooth says it’s because such charges are too easy to deflect. I say it’s because such charges are too ridiculous. The civil rights establishment has become the boy who cried wolf. Finding racism in every innocuous utterance leads people to not take you seriously, which is a problem when you need to combat the real racism which, though greatly reduced, will never completely go away.

posted on Wed, 11/30/2011 - 1:25pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Liza, this is a fascinating Ted Talk for many reasons. Have you ever tried to apply Jay Smooth's logic by telling someone they made a racist statement and couching it in the argument that they should not think of racism in a "tonsils/ no tonsils way" but rather in a "dental hygene, continued maintenance way?"

posted on Sat, 11/26/2011 - 8:39pm

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