Our Gladiator Culture: On “Grit,” Competition, and Saving Future Generations

my father moved through griefs of joy;…
his shoulders marched against the dark

“my father moved through dooms of love,” e.e. cummings

This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

“Good Bones,” Maggie Smith

While sitting in the ER with my father a few nights ago before he was admitted into the hospitals’ heart center—a few days after my mother’s stroke sending her to another, larger hospital 40-minutes away—I was reminded of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, a novel, among other things, about the abusive power imbalance between men and women.

Late in the novel, Celie explains to her sister Nettie: “Take off they pants, I say, and men look like frogs to me. No matter how you kiss ’em, as far as I’m concern, frogs is what they stay.”

The most powerful and imposing man in my life, my father, sat in the ER—stooped, shrunken, pot-bellied, tongue hanging out of his mouth and bowed head like an aged human-sized toad somehow in a wheelchair. My father has always been my physical and athletic superior, despite my being in my mid-50s and quite successful in my career and my athletic hobby; he has always cast a shadow, darkening my lingering insecurities and anxieties.

This morning, Father’s Day 2017, I visited my father still in the heart center after spending almost all my time at my mother’s side as the number of family members able to help has dwindled as the day-count grows. Although improved, frog-like and frail, my father declared to me: “Nothing is wrong with me. I need to go home.”

For some time now, his heart has been working at only about 33%, wearing him and his pacemaker out at an accelerated rate.

In times of great medical stress, when families are brought together, stories spring forth to stabilize the chaos and restore our delusion that we have some sort of control.

One of the many myths of my father: In high school, because of fights and sports (my father was a four-sport letterman and captain of his high school’s first state championship football team in the 1950s), by age 18, my father had a full set of false teeth. So many teeth had been knocked out, his dentist eventually pulled the remaining 10 or 12 one day.

After the procedure, my father played in a baseball game, prompting his father to track him down, trying to make him come home to rest.

Like him, my mother is a gendered twin of the fanatic 1950s template for self-sacrifice, rugged individualism, and blind faith in the whitewashed American Dream—the racialized lie about hard work paying off and good guys winning.

I believe I am not being hyperbolic to recognize that my parents lie now in hospitals, broken and frail, because they bought the hokum, the hard-work hokum that makes people define their dignity in how fervently they sacrifice themselves, in how they work moment by moment to prove they are not lazy, soft, or in any way dependent on others.

My parents passed onto me a neurotic work ethic; my father instilled in me an incredibly unhealthy obsession with being athletic as proof of my manhood.

Although I have been trying to ween myself off sports fandom, I remain often connected to the sports fanaticism of the U.S.—one most solidly grounded in college and pro football, the perfect metaphor for the gladiator culture that defines us.

Dragged kicking and screaming, college football and the NFL have begun paying lip-service to acknowledging that [gasp!] the sport is cruelly violent, that football players are turning their brains into mush because of the relentless concussions that are simply part of the game.

The stories linked to the concussion debate in football are powerful and disturbing because they reveal a subtext that also came to mind as I sat with each of my parents: pro football players, many retired, admit that they have and would continue to lie about concussion symptoms to remain on the field.

The gladiator culture of the U.S. is replicated exponentially in the NFL [1]—toxic and hyper-masculinity, anything necessary including sacrificing health and even life.

And while the NFL and football mania of the U.S. are disturbing, the most troubling reality is that our neo-work-ethic of the twenty-first century targets children, specifically black and brown children from impoverished backgrounds.

The “grit” and growth mindset movements have become (mainstream) socially acceptable ways to wink-wink-nod-nod that black, brown, and poor people are simply too lazy, unwilling to work themselves, like my dad and mom, into decrepitude for the 1%.

Frantic—we are a nation with a ruling class snowblinded by their own privilege and terrified they won’t have a servant class—the whitewashed American Dream for black, brown, and poor children.

The U.S. has devolved into a perverse and inverted gladiator culture with the 1% in the stands and the rest of us reduced to a dog-eat-dog existence, an artificial and unnecessary dog-eat-dog existence.

Visit the elderly of this country, worn down by the demands that they work hard and depend on no one.

Look into their faces and if you can their eyes.

This is the future we are demanding of “other people’s children.”

But it is also a future we can reject, choosing instead an ethic of community and compassion.

As I look at my parents—discardable white working class Americans—I think that they deserved better, despite their own culpability in our whitewashed American Dream.

On this awful Father’s Day 2017, I would prefer above all else to be on the couch with my granddaughter, who yesterday kept imploring me “Wake up, Papa!” as I tried to doze between sessions with my mother, as she snuggled against me, her futon.

I know she deserves better—as does every single child having come to this planet and country by no choice of their own.

“This place could be beautiful,/right? You could make this place beautiful”—a haunting image of everything that I wish for this world in a poem by Maggie Smith that confesses:

The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.

On this awful Father’s Day 2017, I have kept much from my father and my mother in ways substantial and indirect.

But there is no way to justify the lies we tell children—that they fail to work hard enough, that they are somehow not good enough unless they act as if they do not matter, that they should shut up and suck it up.

Few things are worth fighting for, but one is to keep every child from the gladiator’s ring, to promise every child if not a beautiful world, at least the possibility of one.


[1] In the same way the NFL promotes the great lie that the U.S. is a meritocracy:

Despite this, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell rejected on Friday the idea that any kind of blackballing was taking place. He called the NFL “a meritocracy,” saying, “If they see an opportunity to get better as a football team, they’re going to do it. They’re going to do whatever it takes to make their football team better. So, those are football decisions. They’re made all the time. I believe that if a football team feels that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, is going to improve that team, they’re going to do it.”

The Hollow Nation

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion…

“The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot

My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for eleven years….Carers aren’t machines.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

We are the hollow nation. We are the stuffed nation, “Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.”

It has been almost seven months since a motorist struck a pack of cyclists I was riding with on Christmas Eve 2016, injuring four of us—two seriously and permanently.

The motorist was deemed at fault on the scene, but received only a $76 ticket, less than the monthly payments I am making on my remaining medical bills since the insurance claim for the accident has yet to be settled.

My own insurance has paid much of the cost, but I am required to repay those payments once I have a settlement. The orthopedist, as well, overcharged me during my fracture treatment, refunding that amount more than six months later.

Nine or ten insurance companies and multiple lawyers have been wrestling with this accident, and the other injured cyclists and I have received a barrage of bills and notices from the ER, the hospital, the ambulance service, and numerous doctors. One cyclist was airlifted from the scene, and since the motorist had minimum coverage, his portion of that insurance likely was erased immediately in that urgent care.

This recent Monday morning, my mother was found unconscious by my youngest nephew, her grandson. She had a stroke, requiring an ambulance to transport her to our local hospital that then had her airlifted to a larger hospital nearby for emergency surgery on the clot discovered in her brain.

She has been in neurological ICU, and now a regular hospital room since Monday—but soon she will be transferred again to a rehabilitation facility for 2-3 weeks.

My father has been quite unwell recently; therefore, we are guiding him around in a wheelchair, circling our own wagons because my mother’s stroke creates a new and terrifying reality: she was his caretaker, and the family now must seek ways to provide both of my parents care.

Working-class children of the 1940s and 1950s, my parents have only Social Security and Medicare to sustain them.

Our next steps are swamped by if and how well their insurance and social services cover the medical care and rehabilitation my mother needs, if and how well my father can receive the daily care she has been providing.

My accident and my mother’s stroke are not nearly as extreme as the terrors of the healthcare system in the U.S. that countless people suffer daily. But these “terrors” are not really about the healthcare.

The treatment my mother has received, the seemingly miraculous surgery, has been the sort of kind and skilled medicine that leaves you mesmerized by the power of humans to make this world work in ways that are good and right and life-affirming.

But that care, I am afraid, is an isolated outlier in a calloused and awful system of administration, bureaucracy, and dehumanization caused by our lack of political courage as a people, as a country.

The power of universal healthcare and a single-payer system to provide humanity and dignity to the amazing medicine and brilliant healthcare providers already in the U.S. is left in the wake of our hollow nation.

A nation that is the wealthiest and most powerful in human history.

A nation that allows more than 1 in 5 children to live in poverty.

A nation of heartless and vicious partisan politics poised to dump an already inadequate system into the laps of caretakers, family members.

My accident exposes the hollowness of calls for individual responsibility; the system is designed to allow serial carelessness that leaves innocent victims responsible.

My mother’s stroke exposes that we as a nation genuinely do not care about a generation of people who may have bought the American Dream myth most sincerely—people such as my parents who were buoyed by white privilege they denied, who preached and practiced  the rigged rugged individualism scarred by racism with the faith it would pay off as they decline into their new reality of being dependent on the kindness of not only family, but the kindness of strangers.

Wealth and security are hoarded by a few, a vicious tribalism of a country that denies community, the power and dignity of everyone caring about everyone—not just the tunnel vision quest of “me getting mine,” the mean-spirited Social Darwinism that lurks beneath our national platitudes about working hard and fair play.

A hollow nation that denies the humanity of all sorts of “others” because of race and religion, but also culls away many at the edges of white privileged—white poor, white working-poor, white working class.

My parents represent that even the wink-wink-nod-nod promise of the American Dream (the white nationalism of “Make America Great Again”) is a lie, a calloused lie within the larger lie to the tired, the poor, the huddled massed—and especially a bald-faced lie about the so-called melting pot, a metaphor more accurate if named a witch’s cauldron.

With these realities before me, it is tempting to call for the removal of the Statue of Liberty, but at least, we must strip it of the poem inscribed at the base and post instead:

We are the hollow nation. We are the stuffed nation, “Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.”

14 June 2017 Reader

How to Call B.S. on Big Data: A Practical Guide, Michelle Nijhuis

Mind the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle, articulated by the Italian software developer Alberto Brandolini in 2013: the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it. Or, as Jonathan Swift put it in 1710, “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.”Plus ça change.

Who Is Dangerous, and Who Dies?

ERROL MORRIS: I found an innocent man who came very close to being executed. [Adams’s execution was scheduled for May 8, 1979, but Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. ordered a stay only three days before he was to be strapped into the lethal-injection gurney. Ultimately, the court overturned his death sentence, but not his conviction.] I uncovered all of these appalling details 30 years ago and then opened up a newspaper recently and read about Buck. It’s as if nothing ever happened. That’s both depressing and infuriating. Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, was told that the death penalty is problematic because it’s fallible. You could execute an innocent person, and given our current state of knowledge, there is really no way to bring them back. Once executed, they stay executed.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: And so what was Romney’s reply?

ERROL MORRIS: He said: Oh, that’s simple. We’ll just make it infallible. We’ll make it foolproof. You said it’s fallible. We’ll just fix that.

Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich, Richard V. Reeves

So imagine my horror at discovering that the United States is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top. The big difference is that most of the people on the highest rung in America are in denial about their privilege. The American myth of meritocracy allows them to attribute their position to their brilliance and diligence, rather than to luck or a rigged system. At least posh people in England have the decency to feel guilty.

In Britain, it is politically impossible to be prime minister and send your children to the equivalent of a private high school. Even Old Etonian David Cameron couldn’t do it. In the United States, the most liberal politician can pay for a lavish education in the private sector. Some of my most progressive friends send their children to $30,000-a-year high schools. The surprise is not that they do it. It is that they do it without so much as a murmur of moral disquiet.

Beneath a veneer of classlessness, the American class reproduction machine operates with ruthless efficiency. In particular, the upper middle class is solidifying. This favored fifth at the top of the income distribution, with an average annual household income of $200,000, has been separating from the 80 percent below. Collectively, this top fifth has seen a $4 trillion-plus increase in pretax income since 1979, compared to just over $3 trillion for everyone else. Some of those gains went to the top 1 percent. But most went to the 19 percent just beneath them.

50 years after the Loving verdict, a photo essay looks back on their love, Priscilla Frank

Monday, June 12, marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which quashed anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states around the nation, ushering restrictions against interracial marriage to the wrong side of history.

The date is now remembered as Loving Day in honor of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who defied the state’s ability to dictate the terms of their love based on their skin color. Mildred, who was of African American and Native American descent, and Richard, who was white, wed in 1958 in Washington D.C., because interracial marriage was illegal in their native rural Virginia, as well as 15 other Southern U.S. states.

When the Lovings returned to Virginia, however, local police raided their home one early morning after being tipped off by another resident. They declared the Lovings’ marriage license invalid within the scope of the state, placing the couple under arrest.

What counts as language education policy?: Developing a materialist Anti-racist approach to language activismNelson Flores and Sofia Chaparro

Abstract: Language activism has been at the core of language education policy since its emergence as a scholarly field in the 1960s under the leadership of Joshua Fishman. In this article, we seek to build on this tradition to envision a new approach to language activism for the twenty-first century. In particular, we advocate a materialist anti-racist approach to language activism that broadens what counts as language education policy to include a focus on the broader racial and economic policies that impact the lives of language-minoritized communities. In order to illustrate the need for a materialist anti-racist framing of language education policy we provide portraits of four schools in the School District of Philadelphia that offer dual language bilingual education programs. We demonstrate the ways that larger societal inequities hinder these programs from serving the socially transformative function that advocates for these programs aspire toward. We end by calling for a new paradigm of language education policy that connects language activism with other movements that seek to address societal inequities caused by a myriad of factors including poverty, racism, and xenophobia.

The difficulties scholars have writing for a broad audience, Christopher Schaberg and Ian Bogost

Scholars have insights, experience and research that can help the public navigate the contemporary world, but scholarly work all too often goes unseen. Sometimes it gets sequestered behind exorbitant paywalls or prohibitively steep book prices. Other times it gets lost in the pages of esoteric journals. Other times yet, it’s easy to access but hard to understand due to jargon and doublespeak. And often it doesn’t reach a substantial audience, dooming its aspirations to impact public life.

How can scholars write for wider audiences without compromising their lives as disciplinary researchers?

The Confederate flag largely disappeared after the Civil War. The fight against civil rights brought it back, Logan Strother, Thomas Ogorzalek, and Spencer Piston

But what is less well-known is the actual history of these symbols after the Civil War — and this history sheds important light on the debate. Confederate symbols have not always been a part of American or Southern life. They largely disappeared after the Civil War. And when they reappeared, it was not because of a newfound appreciation of Southern history.

Instead, as we argue in a newly published article, white Southerners reintroduced these symbols as a means of resisting the Civil Rights movement. The desire to maintain whites’ dominant position in the racial hierarchy of the United States was at the root of the rediscovery of Confederate symbols.

Pride or Prejudice: Racial Prejudice, Southern Heritage, and White Support for the Confederate Battle Flag, Logan Strother, Spencer Piston, and Thomas Ogorzalek

Abstract: Debates about the meaning of Southern symbols such as the Confederate battle emblem are sweeping the nation. These debates typically revolve around the question of whether such symbols represent “heritage or hatred:” racially innocuous Southern pride or White prejudice against B lacks. In order to assess these competing claims, we first examine the historical reintroduction of the Confederate flag in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s; next, we analyze three survey datasets, including one nationally representative dataset and two probability samples of White Georgians and White South Carolinians, in order to build and assess a stronger theoretical account of the racial motivations underlying such symbols than currently exists. While our findings yield strong support for the hypothesis that prejudice against Blacks bolsters White support for Southern symbols, support for the Southern heritage hypothesis is decidedly mixed. Despite widespread denials that Southern symbols reflect racism, racial prejudice is strongly associated with support for such symbols.

More on White Men of Academia: Student and Self Evaluation Follies

“Higher education too can make a fetish out of ‘objectivity’ and ‘rationality,'” observes John Warner, confronting specifically The Pitfalls of “Objectivity” in teaching composition.

Warner’s argument is a subset, however, of the larger problem with the white men of academia, as I have examined recently: Concepts and terms such as “objectivity,” “scientific,” “valid,” “reliable,” and “rationality” prove to be extremely powerful in academia and scholarship, yet the great irony of that power is that these concepts and terms are veneer for maintaining white male power—inequity grounded in the racism and sexism that academics are prone to refute in their rhetoric while maintaining in their practices.

“Objectivity,” for example, frames a white male subjectivity as the norm (thus “objective”), rendering racialized (non-white) and genderized (non-male) subjectivity as the “other,” as lacking credibility.

Explore the history of what research paradigms count, and you confront the bias in favor of quantitative (experimental and quasi-experimental) research (paradigms created by and maintained by men) over qualitative research (paradigms championed by women and racial minorities)—the former is “hard,” “scientific,” and “objective” while the latter is “soft,” “personal,” and “(merely) anecdotal.”

In an institution created by white men, academia, where their claim is that everything is based on empirical evidence filtered through the rarified lens of objectivity, we run into a real conflict when unpacking the evidence—for example, the annual/bi-annual self-evaluation process linked to promotion, tenure, and merit as well as the embedded key element of student evaluations of faculty.

As a tenured full professor, I am currently drafting my bi-annual self-evaluation, a process I have been using as a political document to confront the inherent inequity in both the faculty evaluation process and the traditional use of student opinion surveys.

The self-evaluation is flush with traditional norms about what counts as excellence—peer-reviewed publications, for example, but not public intellectual work. And as is the case at many colleges and universities, student evaluations are central evidence in the entire faculty evaluation process.

We are directed in our self-evaluations to “include numerical results from student opinion survey forms”—the double whammy of quantitative and the ubiquitous student evaluations. The narrative at my small selective liberal arts university is that of the three areas of evaluation—teaching, scholarship, and service—teaching remains primary; therefore, I make my strongest advocacy case (nearly equaled by my argument for valuing my public intellectual writing) about how we determine faculty teaching quality.

My opening to my teaching effectiveness self-evaluation begins, then:

My teaching effectiveness has exceeded [our] high standards for teaching over the past two academic years. As evidence below, I will not refer to student opinion surveys because they have been shown to be biased (against women and faculty of color) and poor indicators of student learning [1]. Since I strongly support concerns raised in our Gender Equity study and FU’s Diversity and Inclusion initiative, I believe use of the student opinion surveys are contradictory to those goals.

If, I argue, our university has gender equity and diversity/inclusion initiatives, then using student opinion surveys contradicts those goals because the evidence is overwhelming that these student surveys are gender and race biased; they serve the interests of white male academics.

Here, then, are some key readings and research to support rejecting and resisting student evaluations of faculty:

As a white man in academia, if my claimed scholarly focus and agenda are grounded in equity, social justice, and not only naming but also dismantling racism, sexism, and white privilege, then I am beholden to both word and action in those pursuits.

In the ideal, yes, academia has the potential to be a model for equity and justice; in reality, academia is more often than not a white man’s world with garnishes of elevated rhetoric.

As Warner concludes in his interrogation of “objectivity,” students deserve a commitment to their “agency that allows them to make space for their ideas in the world,” adding what we can and must extrapolate to all of academia:

In this context, “objectivity” is not a value, but a pose, and one that’s usually sussed out by students as phony. They easily recognize it as a confidence game because it’s a game they’d previously been trying to practice, and during that practice they knew it was a pose.

Too often this pose in higher education is that of a gatekeeper, a position garnered through privilege but flaunted as merit.

If it were only phony, maybe we could brush it aside, but this pose of white male academics is determinant—it shapes, defines, and controls the careers and lives of everyone.

Changing academia in the pursuit of equity must be the work of white men, and two ways to begin that shift is to reimagine faculty evaluations and to end the use of student evaluations of faculty in that process.


[1] The footnote I provide includes the bulleted research and links above.

The Tribalism that Divides: “the victims of the Us v. Them years/Wrecking all things virtuous and true”

Jonna Ivin’s long-form effort to understand the rise of TrumplandiaI Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump—investigates an important question about political allegiances in the U.S.:

There is an unavoidable question about places like Benton County, a question many liberals have tried to answer for years now: Why do poor whites vote along the same party lines as their wealthy neighbors across the road? Isn’t that against their best interests?

The election of Trump has spurred a seemingly endless debate about -isms: racism and nationalism prominent, but rarely evoked but enveloping of both, tribalism.

Of these three -isms, discussions of racism remain taboo, sparking often white denial; nationalism draws both support and criticism; yet, as I noted, tribalism tends to be unspoken in the context of the U.S.

As a life-long U.S. citizen old enough to have witnessed the irrational national hatred of the USSR and Russia morph into a right-wing embracing of Russia based significantly on race, I am struck now by the tribalism central to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a fictional examination of the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-70.

“In 1967, Colonel Ojukwu declared that Eastern Nigeria would be known as the Independent Republic of Biafra. The main intentions of Colonel Ojukwu were to break away from the dictatorship of the Northern Nigeria Military who were immensely discriminating the people of Southern and Eastern Nigeria.” Cole Kirkpatrick

Adichie dramatizes the power of language, education, and tribes to drive power distributions. However, the U.S. version of tribalism is segregation—both de jure and de facto—that tends to fall along racial and economic lines.

Trump and his administration has fueled a growing genre of which Ivin’s essay is among the more powerful, although ultimately inadequate—the best trying to deconstruct white voters (often narrowed to working class and/or poor white voters), but the worst masking apologist journalism uncritically blinded by its own whitewashing.

Like J.D. Vance’s deeply flawed Hillbilly Elegy, Ivin’s piece is a sympathetic read of whites in the U.S., although much more blunt than Vance about the fact of racism running through angry poor whites, captured in her refrain: “I’m just a poor white trash motherfucker. No one cares about me.

As someone with white working-class roots nurtured in racist soil who eventually focused a great deal of scholarship and professional work on the intersections of inequity (poverty and racism) and education, I recognize that while poverty can and should unite, individual and systemic racism trumps common economic interests among impoverished whites in the U.S.

Yes, Ivin asks the right question, noted above, but her piece ultimately fails because it balks at holding poor whites accountable for being coerced into racism by the power elites; Ivin seems to see only two options: sympathy for poor whites or demonizing poor whites.

And, Ivin’s essay devolves into a Bernie Sanders plea, Sanders and his campaign a model of the ultimate failures of whitewashed socialism.

Partisan politics, like religion, is trapped in tribalism, subsets of the larger urges toward creating us versus them* in everything humans touch. Ivin and others seeking to understand angry white voters simply fail to address that ultimately those committed to tribalism (as nationalism and racism) above all else must be confronted, and held accountable.

Yes, the power elites who speak to and prime tribalism are the core problem, one that must be dismantled. Yet, to continue to sympathize with angry poor whites as if they remain more important than racial minorities is to whitewash that poor whites benefit from white racism (in the judicial system, for example), and that even though poor whites are pawns of political elites, they have the potential to assert their autonomy in order to acknowledge systemic racism and then reject racism in order to form economic solidarity.

So allow me to end with the sort of distinctions we need instead of clamoring to understand the angry poor white character.

Recently, I was confronted by a fellow academic who argued that whites voting in majorities (both men and women) for Trump cannot be called racist unless we also label as racist overwhelming majorities of blacks voting for Barack Obama.

This proves to be a false analogy if we step back from simple race to inspect the intent behind the votes. One of the most powerful aspects of Ivin’s essay is that she unpacks the racial and then racist motivations historically of many whites, again even as they are being baited by people with power.

There is much to suggest that Trump support is grounded in white fear of losing the exact privilege they deny ( a fear masked as “traditional values” and other nationalistic/tribal language); conversely, black support of Obama or other so-called progressives is a quest for equity.

“Conservative” (a tribal urge) is to keep things as the are; “progressive” is to seek change, ideally change for the benefit of all.

While demographics of  partisan political support are racial, we must confront that racial can be racist (white support of Trump) or about equity (black support of Obama).

Trump support among whites is a contemporary example of the historical pattern Ivin exposes, notably instilling fear of black men in poor whites during reconstruction: “Religious and political leaders began using a combination of fear, sex, and God to paint a chilling picture of freed angry Black men ravaging the South.”

The Lost Cause Worse Than Slavery
Thomas Nast
October 24, 1874
Reproduced from Harper’s Weekly

Trump’s dog whistles about Mexicans and terrorists, and getting tough on crime (code for policing blacks) are warmed over racism from the late nineteenth century—tactics that have worked for more than a century for political and economic elites.

Trumplandia is nothing new, and white angst need not be examined in order for us to understand it. These are all old hat for the U.S.

What would be new is an honest confrontation of tribalism in the U.S. and an honest effort to dismantle systemic racism in the name of social and economic justice.


* “Ignoreland,” R.E.M.: “These bastards stole their power from the victims of the Us v. Them years/Wrecking all things virtuous and true.”

Reader 22 May 2017 [UPDATED]: Connecting Dots

Why people are rich and poor: Republicans and Democrats have very different views

See: UPDATE 21 (20 May 2017): Grit, Education Narratives Veneer for White, Wealth Privilege

Minorities Who ‘Whiten’ Résumés More Likely to Get Interview, Michael Harriot

“Whitening” is an all-encompassing term for when prospective employees scrub their résumés of anything that might indicate their race. Applicants with cultural names will sometimes use their initials. Community or professional work with African-American fraternities, sororities or other organizations are deleted. One student omitted a prestigious scholarship he was awarded because he feared it might reveal his race.

Although the practice sounds demeaning and reductive in the year 2017, apparently it works. In one study, researchers sent out whitened résumés and nonwhitened résumés to 1,600 employers. Twenty-five percent of black applicants received callbacks when their résumés were whitened, compared with 10 percent of the job seekers who left their ethnic details on the same résumés.

The results were the same for employers who advertised themselves as “equal opportunity employers” or said that “minorities are strongly encouraged to apply.”

Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market, Sonia Kang, Katy DeCelles, András Tilcsik, and Sora Jun

Abstract

Racial discrimination in labor markets is a critical process through which organizations produce economic inequality in society. Though scholars have extensively examined the discriminatory decisions and practices of employers, the question of how job seekers try to adapt to anticipated discrimination is often overlooked. Using interviews, a laboratory experiment, and a résumé audit study, we examine racial minorities’ attempts to avoid discrimination by concealing or downplaying racial cues in job applications, a practice known as “résumé whitening.” While some minority job seekers reject this practice, others view it as essential and use a variety of whitening techniques. When targeting an employer that presents itself as valuing diversity, however, minority job applicants engage in relatively little résumé whitening and thus submit more racially transparent résumés. Yet, our audit study shows that organizational diversity statements are not actually associated with reduced discrimination against unwhitened résumés. Taken together, these findings suggest a paradox: Minorities may be particularly likely to experience disadvantage when they apply to ostensibly pro-diversity employers. These findings illuminate the role of racial concealment and transparency in modern labor markets and point to an important interplay between the self-presentation of employers and the self-presentation of job seekers in shaping economic inequality.


Experts: Conflicts over Confederate names and symbols likely to continue, Paul Hyde

But Thomas said school administrators should encourage student debate over historical figures such as Wade Hampton — as an important lesson in democracy.

“If we really think that public education is to prepare people to live in a democracy, children need to have experiences with democratic processes,” Thomas said. “I think this specific protest should be seen as an opportunity for students to see what the democratic process looks like, with everybody’s voice mattering. Principals and superintendents of public schools — they have incredibly hard jobs — but they are the people who have to show students what moral courage is. If administrators and teachers can’t show moral courage, how do we expect our children to?”

See: Dismantling Monuments: History as a Living Document


When Standardized Tests Don’t Count | Just Visiting, John  Warner

And yet, when it comes to marginalized and vulnerable populations within Charleston County Schools, these standardized assessments provide a rational for top-down oversight and control.

This is entirely common and predictable. “Accountability” is often weaponized against those without the means to defend themselves.

I have no wish to upend the academic culture of the Citadel over their terrible CLA scores, but maybe some of those who are willing to give our elite storied places a pass can extend the same spirit to those who have no such protections.

See Are America’s top schools ‘elite’ or merely ‘selective?’

Why The New Sat Is Not The Answer, Akil Bello and James Murphy

If anything, the discord between them is likely to grow as the College Board pursues an equitable society using a test that is designed to mark and promote distinctions.

For all the positive changes the College Board has made, the new SAT shouldn’t be counted among them. It is a test, not a solution.

Every attempt to manage academia makes it worse, Mike Taylor

The problem is a well-known one, and indeed one we have discussed here before: as soon as you try to measure how well people are doing, they will switch to optimising for whatever you’re measuring, rather than putting their best efforts into actually doing good work.

In fact, this phenomenon is so very well known and understood that it’s been given at least three different names by different people:

  • Goodhart’s Law is most succinct: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
  • Campbell’s Law is the most explicit: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
  • The Cobra Effect refers to the way that measures taken to improve a situation can directly make it worse.

America has locked up so many black people it has warped our sense of reality, Jeff Guo

According to a Wonkblog analysis of government statistics, about 1.6 percent of prime-age white men (25 to 54 years old) are institutionalized. If all those 590,000 people were recognized as unemployed, the unemployment rate for prime-age white men would increase from about 5 percent to 6.4 percent.

For prime-age black men, though, the unemployment rate would jump from 11 percent to 19 percent. That’s because a far higher fraction of black men — 7.7 percent, or 580,000 people — are institutionalized.

UNEQUAL ENFORCEMENT: How policing of drug possession differs by neighborhood in Baton Rouge

BR inequity

Dismantling Monuments: History as a Living Document

Disturbance at the Heron House
A stampede at the monument
To liberty and honor under the honor roll

“Disturbance At The Heron House,” R.E.M.

“And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

“Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley

Possibly one of the greatest failures of formal K-12 schooling has been not only what students are taught in history and social studies, but how history as a discipline has been misrepresented (paralleled, I think, by a similar message about science) as fixed and objective.

History is never fixed or objective, but always a living document—one written by those who have power, access to the telling.

A powerful and vivid example of this fact is how Howard Zinn has been marginalized as more an activist than a historian because his work was committed to changing the perspective of history from the power elites to the people. Zinn was both heralded and demonized, for example, when his work asked everyone to rethink Christopher Columbus and the concept of “discovering” lands already occupied.

Traditionalists remain trapped in the belief that history has been and can be objective, can avoid being political, and once anyone seeks to better understand a person or the narratives of the past, those traditionalists shout “revisionism,” as if that new understanding is something to be shunned.

That any human expression can be objective, apolitical, is a naive position. In response to those arguing Ivanka Trump’s new book is not a political work, Ani Kokobobo reveals:

She claims she wrote it before her father’s election, “from the perspective of an executive and an entrepreneur.” And though they criticize her for being trite, derivative, out of touch and racially tone-deaf, most readers have accepted the premise that this is a largely apolitical book.

Yet as every scholar of literature knows, each book contains what theorist Fredric Jameson has dubbed a “political unconscious.” In other words, through the sheer act of narrating, a book reinforces one particular point of view while policing others.

This last point perfectly captures the reality of all history. And thus, the great irony of slurring history with “revisionism” is that history as a living document should be a constant act of revisionism as a retelling history in an effort to make the story clearer, more accurate—not an erasing of history.

Teaching that Washington never told a lie or that Columbus discovered America was in the moment an act of revisionism since they both are distortions in the name of some agenda. To seek ways that better portray Washington and how Europe reaching the West began what is now the U.S. and other countries is the great promise history and historical thought can offer a free people.

In a time now characterized by the rise of Trump (as a marker for nationalism masking racism) against the #BlackLivesMatter movement (as a confrontation of the racial inequities in policing and the justice system), we become witnesses to the power of monuments to maintain racism: calls for renaming Tillman Hall at Clemson University, New Orleans removing Civil War statues, and near my university, black students petitioning to rename a high school.

These efforts to revise history, bending it toward a greater clarity, a more credible Truth, cannot be divorced from how political, media, and public responses frame calls for dismantling monuments to the flawed and often awful past.

As a recent example, local coverage of students’ petitioning to rename a high school has a revealing title, Petition calls for dropping ‘racist’ name of Wade Hampton, and lede paragraph:

Wade Hampton III was a Confederate lieutenant general, one of the largest slaveholders in the Southeast and, by today’s standards, a blatant “racist,” according to historians.

When I raised concern about the word racist being placed in quote marks in the article, the journalist noted that it was to identify “charged language” and to avoid bias.

Couched within the lingering racism driven by denying and tip-toeing about confronting racism is the pervasive failure of both-sides journalism that refuses to acknowledge that some perspectives are credible while others are not.

The article itself quotes a historian acknowledging the fact of racism that the article treats as “charged language,” and thus, possibly lacking credibility.

A revised view of history allows us to acknowledge what is not debatable—many with power in the past, mostly white men, were racists—and is essential for helping us resolve what is debatable—whether or not we rename buildings/institutions and dismantle monuments.

If we believe in an optimistic view of human history, associated with Martin Luther King Jr. (“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”), that we can somehow shape the world for the good of all, there is much to dismantle—the monuments grounded in human actions devoid of a more refined moral view as well as a tentative discourse that refuses to name and steps around the very facts that allow us to engage in robust debate.

It is an anemic approach to wait for monuments to crumble under their own baselessness, and thus, it is our duty to hasten the process on the path to justice, even when that duty is hard and seemingly unpopular.

We make history with each step we take, and we reshape history necessarily in that procession.

See Also

Opinion: Leave Wade Hampton in the history books, Asha Marie

The Young Black Activists Targeting New Orleans’s Confederate Monuments, Clint Smith