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“When Santa’s Race Matters”: A Devastating Message, There Are Roles For White People And Roles For Other Races

I was always a pretty skeptical kid, as most journalists probably were. So I never really bought the whole Santa Claus thing. I always felt like I was sort of humoring my parents by pretending to believe that elves were making my Easy-Bake Oven and Santa was delivering it to me (along with gifts to children all over the world! In a single night!). And undoubtedly, my parents thought they were humoring me.

So one day, I figured it was time for all of us to give up the charade. I went to my mother and asked her, point-blank: “mom, is there really a Santa Claus?” My mother, clearly having anticipated this question for some time, had the Good Housekeeping magazine answer all ready: “There is if you believe.”

This is not something that ought to matter at all to adults, except that the race of the fictional character has come into question of late. Fox News’ Megyn Kelly started the faux controversy by saying on air that Santa is white. The network’s Bill O’Reilly backed her up Monday, saying, “Ms. Kelly is correct. Santa is a white person.” To his absurdly small credit,  O’Reilly did add, “Does it matter? No.”

Well, no, it doesn’t matter if you’re grown and Santa is just a childhood memory. But what if you’re a black kid in Albuquerque, and your teacher says you can come to school dressed as Santa, an elf or a reindeer? What happened to ninth-grader Christopher Rougier is this: He came to school in a Santa-esque beard and hat, and his teacher said, “don’t you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?”

Presumably, the cover story wasn’t blown for the boy, who presumably does not believe in Santa Claus. However, he may have believed that being African-American does not prevent him from being all kinds of things – president, even – because the path had been cleared for him by others. Whether the child really thought he could grow up to be Santa someday is irrelevant. The lesson he got from his teacher is much more devastating – that there are roles for white people and roles for other races. These are strong messages to send children. Barbie, for example, used to limit herself to trying on new fashions and going to the beach at Malibu. Now, Barbie does it all – she’s an astronaut, a “pet doctor,” even a presidential candidate, smartly done up in a suit and pearls. Girls with Barbies might indeed still get a distorted body image for women, but at least they aren’t being indoctrinated with the idea that their futures are limited to “women’s” jobs.

It shouldn’t matter if Santa is pictured as a white man, given that we’re talking about a fantasy, but the reality is that it does. The mere message of the big, benign white guy being the one to distribute presents to children (if they’re good!) is bad enough (don’t people of other races express generosity?). Telling a kid he can never be in the image of one of the most beloved characters of childhood is cruel.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 18, 2013

December 20, 2013 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Poverty In America Is Mainstream”: It’s An Issue Of Us, Rather Than An Issue Of Them

Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making.

They include the notion that poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans, that the poor are impoverished for years at a time, that most of those in poverty live in inner cities, that too much welfare assistance is provided and that poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough. Although pervasive, each assumption is flat-out wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line).

Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.

In addition, half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time.

Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans. For most of us, the question is not whether we will experience poverty, but when.

But while poverty strikes a majority of the population, the average time most people spend in poverty is relatively short. The standard image of the poor has been that of an entrenched underclass, impoverished for years at a time. While this captures a small and important slice of poverty, it is also a highly misleading picture of its more widespread and dynamic nature.

The typical pattern is for an individual to experience poverty for a year or two, get above the poverty line for an extended period of time, and then perhaps encounter another spell at some later point. Events like losing a job, having work hours cut back, experiencing a family split or developing a serious medical problem all have the potential to throw households into poverty.

Just as poverty is widely dispersed with respect to time, it is also widely dispersed with respect to place. Only approximately 10 percent of those in poverty live in extremely poor urban neighborhoods. Households in poverty can be found throughout a variety of urban and suburban landscapes, as well as in small towns and communities across rural America. This dispersion of poverty has been increasing over the past 20 years, particularly within suburban areas.

Along with the image of inner-city poverty, there is also a widespread perception that most individuals in poverty are nonwhite. This is another myth: According to the latest Census Bureau numbers, two-thirds of those below the poverty line identified themselves as white — a number that has held rather steady over the past several decades.

What about the generous assistance we provide to the poor? Contrary to political rhetoric, the American social safety net is extremely weak and filled with gaping holes. Furthermore, it has become even weaker over the past 40 years because of various welfare reform and budget cutting measures.

We currently expend among the fewest resources within the industrialized countries in terms of pulling families out of poverty and protecting them from falling into it. And the United States is one of the few developed nations that does not provide universal health care, affordable child care, or reasonably priced low-income housing. As a result, our poverty rate is approximately twice the European average.

Whether we examine childhood poverty, poverty among working-age adults, poverty within single-parent families or overall rates of poverty, the story is much the same — the United States has exceedingly high levels of impoverishment. The many who find themselves in poverty are often shocked at how little assistance the government actually provides to help them through tough times.

Finally, the common explanation for poverty has emphasized a lack of motivation, the failure to work hard enough and poor decision making in life.

Yet my research and that of others has consistently found that the behaviors and attitudes of those in poverty basically mirror those of mainstream America. Likewise, a vast majority of the poor have worked extensively and will do so again. Poverty is ultimately a result of failings at economic and political levels rather than individual shortcomings.

The solutions to poverty are to be found in what is important for the health of any family — having a job that pays a decent wage, having the support of good health and child care and having access to a first-rate education. Yet these policies will become a reality only when we begin to truly understand that poverty is an issue of us, rather than an issue of them.

 

By: Mark R. Rank, The New York Times, November 2, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | Jobs, Politics, Poverty | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Failing Young Rape Victims”: Children Are Children And Acting Older Doesn’t Make Them Older

Last year, a defense attorney called an 11 year-old gang rape victim a “spider” luring men into her web. When The New York Times covered the case, they reported she “dressed older than her age,” wore make up and hung out with teenage boys. It wasn’t a new framing; when young girls are raped – especially young girls of color – they’re frequently blamed for “enticing” adult men or painted as complicit in the attack because of their supposed sexual maturity. From the criminal justice system that re-traumatizes assault victims to a media that calls rape cases “sex scandals” or insists statutory rape isn’t ‘rape rape’, we are failing young sexual assault survivors every day.

One young woman we have failed is Cherice Moralez. When Moralez was 14, she was raped by her 49 year old teacher. She killed herself a few weeks before her 17th birthday. Last week, a Montana judge sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold – who admitted raping Moralez – to just 30 days in jail. Judge G. Todd Baugh said Moralez was “older than her chronological age,” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist. Baugh also said the assault “wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”

While state prosecutors are seeking to appeal the sentence and the case has generated justifiable outrage, some believe the 30 days was too much. Former lawyer Betsy Karasik, for example, used the case as an example to argue for the decriminalization of student-teacher “relationships” in The Washington Post. Karasik insisted that no one she knew who had sex with teachers was “horribly damaged” and that “many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature.”

But biological maturity or “acting” mature is not the same thing as being an adult. Roxane Gay writes, “People often want to ‘complicate’ the statutory rape conversation by talking about the sexual empowerment of adolescents and this and that. These exercises in intellectual masturbation are pointless.”

“I was a teenager, we were all teenagers and we all felt empowered in our youthful seductions. We maybe were and we probably weren’t. We like to tell ourselves we know exactly what we’re doing, even when we don’t.”

When I was a sophmore in high school, my social studies teacher – who was in his 60s or 70s – asked me to come to the board because “everyone wants to see how you look in that shirt.” I stopped going to class, too ashamed to return. Before the semester ended, the teacher cornered me in the hallway and told me if I gave him a hug, he would give me a 95 in the class. I did it.

At the time, I laughed with my friends about the “pervy teacher who gave me an awesome grade.” I reacted the same way when I was 17 and a man in his 30s who had been my teacher since I was 13 years old, called my home the week I graduated to ask me out. Because that’s what teens do – deflect pain with humor.

I thought my blasé reaction made me mature, but the truth is that it epitomized my immaturity – a testament to the fact that I didn’t know how to handle unwanted advances of much older men.

Teenagers can act unhurt over sexual harassment and abuse for all sorts of reasons, including trying to reclaiming agency from an abusive situation. That does not mean what is happening is not abuse, or rape, or assault. And no matter how grown teens act, it’s the responsibility of teachers and adults to remind us that we’re not adults, not to lasciviously bolster a myth that says otherwise or worsen it with blame.

Sexualization of young girls is not just something that happens as part of abuse, it’s something that’s part of their everyday lives. A report from the American Psychological Association shows that even the personal relationships girls have with peers, parents and teachers can contribute to this sexualization through daily interactions:

Parents may contribute to sexualization in a number of ways. For example, parents may convey the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls. Some may allow or encourage plastic surgery to help girls meet that goal. Research shows that teachers sometimes encourage girls to play at being sexualized adult women or hold beliefs that girls of color are “hypersexual” and thus unlikely to achieve academic success.

For girls like Moralez – who are depicted as “troubled” or deserving of the abuse done to them because of racism and their perceived sexuality – the consequences are acute. One study, for example, showed that Latina girls are likely to stop attending school activities in order to avoid sexual harassment – a survival technique that is more likely to result in a label of deliquency than victimhood.

Cherice Moralez deserves more justice than 30 days. She deserves more humanity than being fodder for an intellectual argument that supports rape. And no matter what she looked like or acted like, she was a child.

As Cherice’s mother Auliea Hanlon told CNN, “How could she be in control of the situation? He was a teacher. She was a student. She wasn’t in control of anything. She was 14.” Cherice was described as “gifted” by her teachers. She loved poetry. She was 14.

By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Sex Abuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Joe The Camel With Feathers”: New Missouri Law Would Allow First Graders To Take NRA-Sponsored Gun Class

First-graders may soon be able to enroll in a NRA sponsored gun class as a result of a public safety bill signed into law by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) on Friday.

The measure requires school personnel to participate in at least eight hours of an “Active Shooter and Intruder Response Training” program conducted by law enforcement officials and allows schools to apply for financial grants for the NRA’s Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program.

The NRA claims that the course, which features colorful cartoon character named Eddie Eagle, teaches children about gun safety. But research has failed to link the program to a reduction in children’s deaths from guns, with some studies showing that while “children could memorize Eddie’s simple advice about avoiding guns,” the instruction “went unheeded when children were put in real-life scenarios and asked to role-play a response.” Another report labeled Eddie Eagle “Joe Camel with feathers” and argued that the goal of the program was to recruit new NRA members.

The gun lobby itself has a long record of marketing guns to children and actively works to discredit groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that want to stop children from encountering guns in the first place. Missouri now joins North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia in providing an endorsement of the NRA program through state laws. Ohio was the first state to fund the Eddie Eagle program.

 

By: Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Think Progress, July 14, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“From The Mouths Of Babes”: The Ugly, Immoral, Destructive War Against Food Stamps

Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 30, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Poverty | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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