Saturday, May 30, 2009
So if I had to answer the question of whether African Americans should be angry over the appointment of a non-African American, my answer would be as follows: “I would prefer the bench to become more diverse, racially and ideologically. To have both forms of diversity in the same body, then I am happy and have faith that my future children will live in a better society.” This may seem like a copout but I assure you it is not; lessons learned have shown me (and the nation) this.
In the article, Professor Ifill argues that current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas does not have “experiences and perspectives [that] are more representative of African Americans.” To be colloquial, duh. This “fact” is not saying much. African Americans have very disparate experiences. Blacks who come from disadvantaged backgrounds—typically—don’t attend Yale Law School and become Supreme Court justices. Privileged blacks experience a different America (and world) and these unique experiences often influence their politics. I am not saying that an African American from either group cannot speak intelligently of the experiences of those from a different background; I am saying that it is simply not a guarantee either way. I think this holds for other groups as well. Thus, pushing for an African American is just as tricky as pushing for someone from a number of many different racial groups.
The issue of talking about an African American Supreme Court Justice is an interesting one. Ifill is right to speak to the issue of cosmetic versus real diversity of the court, the former being satisfied by a court that “looks like America,” rather than one that actually is like America. But we went from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas when the “black torch” was passed. I am not saying that we do not need additional Black justices to balance out the Black representation on the bench. That is not my point. What I am saying is that right now, given the current and future political and economic climate of the United States, the appointee to the court needed to be someone whose philosophy is true to intent of the constitution but not blinded by it. We must think of the current state of affirmative action (and similar measures), the precarious position of Roe v. Wade, the oscillating support for gay marriage, and the like. To me, the diversity we need is not necessarily racial but ideological so as to counter the conservative stronghold that current populates the bench.
The issue of Obama’s choice was both strategic and appropriate. The fourth woman and first Latina is not to be taken lightly. I believe that Sotomayor’s politics, but more importantly, her judicial philosophy is sound and quite frankly what America needs. Her record serves as evidence of this. Would I have been just as excited if she were Black? Yes. Nevertheless, Obama chose a candidate that he feels trustworthy enough to help, channeling Martin Luther King, Jr. for a minute, bend that moral arc of justice a little bit more this way. I think this appointment is a step in the right direction, one where Judge Sotomayor’s legal and judicial philosophy stand as guiding force for her decisions, her rich life experiences serve as context, and her racial identification has more social rather than legal ramifications. Lani Guinier, Charles Ogletree, and other leading African American legal scholars agree and support President Obama in his nomination; they speak from personal as well as academic positions. They highlight Judge Sotomayor's intelect and knowledge of the law as well as her passion and drive for justice.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Salterilli and advocates of “save the male” organizations and clubs forget that status of minority does not equal minority status for all groups of society. What do I mean by this? Sheer numbers for certain groups do not represent the power that group yields. Power and privilege are not always positively correlated with size or percentage of a population. Even with that said, however, their position is still faulty and unfounded.
A supporter of the group, Mark Perry, an economist at the University of Michigan in Flint, provides present-day “empirical” data to support the creation of groups like MiP:
“The group’s birth comes at a time when the recessionary ax has fallen especially hard on men. In April, the national unemployment rate for men was 10 percent compared with 7.6 percent for women”
The data used as evidence by Saltarelli and his supporters to show the need for such a group are national level statistics—data that take the nation as a whole as its sample base—yet the premise of their group is to speak to about “the plight” of a select population: elite men for Saltarelli presents the group as one that attempts to keep men in positions of power. Is this use of national level data fair? No. I would go further and say that it is dishonest. Saltarelli and Perry should know better. How can one present an argument for the need to empower men by hosting law, business, and political empowerment seminars because of the “dwindling presence” of men in those professions when one has not effectively shown that the men one advocates for are, in fact, a dying breed. Yes, the recession has hit certain professions hard and men tend to dominate those professions but this does not amount to evidence for the creation of such a group. If anything, it shows the need for more groups to empower women to make more in-roads into certain professions for representation of women in these professions are still not yet equal.
Now, writing that last paragraph hurt a little because in responding to that one particular point I was forced to argue from a position I detest: presenting a group—in this case men—as homogenous. This again is dishonest. The burning question I have for Saltarelli is, which men are you advocating for? (Personally, I think the unstated mascot of this group is a middle class, white male.) All men do not experience life in the same way and surely are not similarly experiencing the repercussions of this financial crisis. As my co-blogger Jeremy spoke on previously, low-income and/or minority men are the most disadvantaged men in this country and the unemployment statistics that we see are more of an understatement of the number of people without work than anything else. These are the populations who are driving up the unemployment statistics due to the outsourcing of jobs, spatial mismatch (jobs and employers in different location) social isolation, and employment discrimination. They were hit hard before the current crisis and are suffering even more today. Again, taking these aggregate level statistics, without attention to the disparate life chances and experiences of certain men pads the argument in favor of such groups. When one takes a closer look, however, we see that the demographic characteristics of those in privileged positions are still dominated by one portion of the population: privileged, white men.
Anna N. over at Jezebel is on point to say that when arguments like this are presented, it usually means that “someone from an already-powerful group is complaining about less-powerful groups encroaching on [their] turf, and that certainly seems like what’s going on here.” To put it plainly, I agree. I would only take it further. Saltarelli ignores the reality of gender inequality in the United States. Michael Kimmel, one of the leading experts on men and masculinity and professor of Sociology at SUNY Stony Brook, has spoken on issues of masculinity and the tendency of privileged white men to present “competing victims” arguments when they feel, as Anna N. noted, their hegemonic base is being attacked. One example being Kimmel’s “Save the Males: The Sociological Implications of the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel” where the administration and alumni of these two military institute were in an uproar of the admission of the schools’ first female cadets.
Saltarelli and MiP stand as an example of what is wrong with a component of American culture. Sadly, some conservative notions go as far to equate gender equality with encroachment on one’s “rightful” place in society. I think it is interesting that advocates for MiP argue that all dissenters are “very set in their ways” when the reason for MiP’s existence is to reinstate and also reify the status quo: specific group of men on top, women (and effectively everyone else) on the bottom. Talking about drinking one’s own cool-aid.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Yesterday’s post got me thinking a lot about racialized portrayals of criminality. Depictions of black criminality and drug use—be they in pop culture or on the 5 o’clock news—are typically associated with public acts of transgression. From slangin’ on the corner, to shooting each other on the street, public criminality seems like the dominant image. The public nature of these portrayals tends to depict black criminals as much more dangerous than whites, who do their dirt behind closed doors.
I immediately connected this line of thought to a passage I read in Tricia Rose’s The Hip Hop Wars, a book I reviewed last week. Here, Rose discusses racial differences in interpretations of violence in sports:
“The generalized hostility against hip hop impinges on the interpretation of other visible forms of black youth culture. For instance, [the few] black NBA players …who have committed violent or criminal acts “prove” the whole lot of them worthy of attack. In a league that has mostly black players and mostly white fans, this has become a racially charged (and racially generated) revenue problem. Such group tainting does not occur among white athletes or fans. The National Hockey League, a league that is predominantly white (in terms of both fans and players) and experiences far more incidents of game-related violence (they take timeouts to brawl!) is rarely described as problematically violent.”
So, fair point: We don’t problematize hockey the same way we problematize basketball. Also fair: basketball players are overwhelmingly African-American, and hockey players are mostly white and European. This is a pretty common argument, and Rose is certainly not the first to say it. Still, I’m not so sure race is the only answer to this disparity.
Yes, there are “timeouts to brawl” in the NHL. But here’s the thing: Brawling is woven into the codes, regulations, and rules of the game. The fact that there are “timeouts to brawl” illustrates that fighting is a controlled and regulated part of the game. Players are given their time to fight it out, and then the referees step in and send them to he penalty box. All of this happens in an enclosed rink, regulated by the rules of the game, while the players wear heavy padding.
NBA fights are strikingly different. From Rudy Tomjonavich getting laid out in 1977 Rockets-Lakers game, to Jeff Van Gundy being dragged across the court as he held onto Alonzo Mourning’s leg in 1998, to 2004’s infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl, NBA fights are far from regulated. I honestly cannot think of a comparable NHL moment that is anything like Ron Artest leaping from the court into the stands after a fan threw a beer at him. Artest sparked a massive fight that breached the boundaries of the court. Fans were getting decked by athletes, and five players were ultimately charged with assault.
Not all violence is created equal, especially when one form (the NHL) carries with it institutional backing and regulation. There’s been a significant amount of suspensions and technicals during the NBA playoffs this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if these conversations pop up some more. But race is only part of the answer here, albeit a central part. See, race interacts with issues of public space, violence, and social control to reinforce existing stereotypes.
We don’t cut hockey more slack because it’s a “white sport.” No, we fail to problematize violence in hockey because it’s white and regulated and controlled and in a semi-public, but enclosed space. We freak out about NBA violence because it’s black and unregulated and uncontrolled and crosses from the court and into the stands.
It’s not that race is insignificant; it’s that public space and social control are racialized. The problem with race in America is that it’s no longer just race, but rather a collusion of race and other seemingly race-neutral aspects of everyday life. So yeah, there’s a certain degree of racial discrimination in the way NBA fights are treated as compared to NHL fights. But that’s in large part due to the racialized way in which we view public violence, as compared to private, controlled and regulated violence.
As one wise academic astutely notes, it’s more than just race. And that’s precisely the problem.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Mass incarceration, particularly of black and brown folks, is a hot topic in the social sciences. Hell, it’s a hot topic in nearly every poor, marginalized, urban community of color. Harvard sociologist Bruce Western offers some of the best academic analysis of the carceral state in Punishment and Inequality in America. Western brilliantly details the absurd cost of our contemporary prison system as well as the significant toll incarceration has had on poor communities of color. True unemployment rates are hidden in the “non-economic institution” of the prison, as labor statistics ignore the very existence of prisoners. So, while black male unemployment reached an astounding 17.2% in April of this year, the true percent of unemployed black males is much higher, thanks in part to racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. It’s common knowledge at this point that blacks are more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive longer sentences than whites.
Leaving prison produces even more hardship. After incarceration, men become “permanent labor market outsiders,” as their job prospects are reduced to unstable (if any) employment. Not surprisingly, these outcomes are racialized. Princeton sociologist Devah Pager conducted a fascinating study (“The Mark of a Criminal Record”) in which she sent black and white job candidates with nearly identical resumes to apply for low-level jobs. The results illustrated profound racial discrimination, as black candidates with criminal records were far less likely to receive callbacks for jobs than whites with criminal records. But that wasn’t all; in fact, black candidates without a criminal record were still less likely to receive a callback than whites with a criminal record. Her results suggest that there may be some sort of racial stigma attached to criminal behavior—a racial stereotype that all blacks are perceived as potential criminal offenders.
To combat these inequalities that are decimating urban communities and fragmenting families of color, Bruce Western offers two policy suggestions: decriminalize marijuana and eliminate parole violations for failing drugs tests. His suggestion to decriminalize drug offenses certainly comes at an apt moment in our local history. Given the current political climate in the state of Massachusetts—fresh off a 65% vote in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana—and The Wall Street Journal's recent report that Obama's new drug czar wants to "end the 'War on Drugs,'" Western’s policy suggestion may prove feasible in the coming years. Hell, even the right wingers are on board. Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey recently offered a glowing review on his website Hotair.com of High: The True Tale of American Marijuana, a new DVD advocating the legalization of marijuana. Judging from the blog post’s comments, advocates for decriminalization may find allies among the nation’s right wing base. Growing Libertarian leanings within the Republican Party only add credence to this shift.
So far, so good, right?
Of course, right wing support (especially of the Libertarian variety) only comes when such issues are framed as an attack on big government. If these policies are framed with racialized images, however, support may wane. Seemingly race-neutral political issues, such as welfare and criminal rehabilitation, carry highly racialized images in the collective imagination: With Ronald Reagan welfare became synonymous with black welfare queens; with George H. Bush criminal policy became synonymous with the black rapist Willie Horton.
I worry that drug laws would be no different. Consider popular culture. Movies, music and television sitcoms that depict overt drug use among white youths generally fit into categories of suburban dysfunction, 1960s-era nostalgia, or cautionary tales of “good kids gone bad.” Popular movies such as Traffic and Thirteen fit the suburban dysfunction category. In each, suburban youths from affluent families are lured into experimentation with drugs and are ultimately corrupted by streetwise black males. There’s an implicit assumption that these are “good” kids at heart, and drugs (pushed on them by black males) simply cause them to lose their way. The FOX television show That 70s Show, as well as the film Dazed and Confused, are examples of sanitized, white-washed images of 1960s era drug use. Here, the ‘60s represents fun, carefree, and safe dope smoking among white teens. The pattern is clear: In pop culture, images of whites engaged in drug use depict either wayward teens struggling for identity, or innocent youths safely experimenting in the privacy of their own homes.
By sharp contrast, popular images of black drug use are normally associated with drug selling or public drug use. Examples include the movie Friday, HBO’s The Wire, and far too many contemporary rap music videos. In this genre, black drug use is accompanied by violence, depravity, and predatory behavior. Take Friday. Sure, it’s a lighthearted comedy; but violence is central to the movie’s plot once Smokey breaks Crack Commandment Number 4 and gets high off his own supply. Moreover, when Smokey gets Craig high for the first time, they don’t retreat to the basement of their parents’ house, or even the backyard. Nope, they post up right on the front stoop, out in the open. And for all of the good things about The Wire, it still only portrays two types of black characters engaging with drugs: the dealer or the junkie. The dominant image of black drug use, in The Wire and elsewhere in pop culture, is almost invariably associated with violence or crime.
Here’s the kicker: While white drug use in pop culture is largely confined to the private sphere, images of black drug use are disproportionately relegated to the public sphere. Drug selling is blatant and prominent in The Wire, but private and controlled in That 70s Show. Private drug use is safe, sanitized and white; public drug use is scary, violent, and black. Think about how rare the converse is: Pop culture rarely depicts black youths as innocent experimenters, while white youths are rarely shown as predatory enablers or corruptors. It is this public/private divide where the work of racial inequality manifests. It’s not just race, but how race interacts with our conceptions of drugs, violence, control, and public space. This racialized popular conception of drug use pervades the collective consciousness and may undermine sweeping social policy.
Some conservatives and libertarians may favor decriminalization to further weaken the power of government—but, if pressed, might revert to age-old stereotypes and racist propaganda. All it might take is one commercial depicting (black) drug dealers out on the corner, corrupting innocent (white) kids. Get some financial backing from right-wing policy groups and lobbyists, and another progressive policy may fall victim to our nation’s pervasive, and damaging racial stereotypes.
If Western’s policy proposals reach the national agenda—and I think they should—a nationwide reconceptualization of the popular imagination is in order. In other words, stereotypes of drug use promulgated in pop culture must be confronted and realigned. A re-framing of national drug policy—and criminal policy more generally—is necessary. Progressive drug policy is vulnerable and susceptible to new Willie Horton-style images, and future policymakers will need to navigate this delicate terrain in search of greater racial equality.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The aptly titled website “100 Abandoned Houses” accurately assesses one of Detroit’s most pressing problems. The current foreclosure crisis has exacerbated a preexisting, citywide concern, and housing vacancies are rampant. With painfully vivid photos, “100 Abandoned Houses” illustrates the dramatic effect this crisis has had on Detroit’s housing stock.
A similar scenario is occurring across the country. But Michigan’s 12.6% unemployment rate certainly isn’t doing the Great Lakes State any favors. I’ve been upfront with my feelings about Detroit, so it should come as no surprise that I find these developments deeply depressing.
This housing problem in Michigan has spawned two very different reactions. The first follows a resident-led, community empowerment approach. The Detroit Free Press recently profiled a handful of Detroit residents that have bought foreclosed homes in their own neighborhoods. These individuals, including North Rosedale Park resident Marsha Bruhn, poured tens of thousands of dollars into these homes, fixing them up and flipping them for a modest profit. These residents care about their communities, and are doing their best to help in the face of daunting challenges.
The second approach is—I kid you not—referred to as urban “shrinkage.” Yes, “shrinkage.” I couldn’t make this up even if I tried. This urban policy of “planned shrinkage” has been around for a while, but has only recently gained widespread support. Essentially, the policy wipes out entire city blocks and replaces homes with green space. The city is able to counter decline by “shrinking” the city’s land mass. Decrepit housing blighting your city? Just bulldoze them and alter your municipal borders!
Flint, Michigan has heeded the call for shrinkage, and city officials are actively pursuing the policy to resist the recession’s onslaught. The New York Times ran a piece on their efforts a few weeks ago, quoting government officials who chose the policy as “a last resort.” A drastic measure was in order, they claimed. Tough decisions lie ahead, they lamented. Which neighborhoods will be “shrunk,” and which will remain? “It will be a delicate process to decide which to favor,” one city official acknowledged. Delicate…well, that’s one way to put it.
Flint’s proposed urban policy sounds a lot like Harvard economist Edward Glaeser’s disposition to urban decline. Glaeser suggests that economic vitality in urban neighborhoods requires housing that will continuously decay and be rebuilt. Detroit, by contrast, contains durable housing—housing that is built to last for decades. Durable housing decays much slower, and as such, impedes a city from the natural process of growth and rebuilding. If this argument sounds confusing, well, it’s because it is: Glaeser claims that urban vitality requires continuous, and cyclical decay. Sounds a bit contradictory to me. And it also seems to ignore that there are actual people living in these houses. You know, actual people that benefit from a stable—not fluid—housing market.
I’m no housing economist—which is part of the reason why I recognize the, shall we say, human aspect of housing development. And this is not exactly one of Glaeser’s strong points. His infamous article, “Urban Decline and Durable Housing,” originally carried the subtitle “Why Does Anyone Still Live in Detroit?” This title is worse than insensitive. It’s more than just a little offensive. This kind of logic—the same logic of “shrinkage”—effectively dismisses generations of history and humanity that defines the very pulse of urban centers. Not to mention the pressing questions: Which neighborhoods will be demolished, and who will make these decisions?
This type of urban “development” is not without historical precedence. Detroit once had a vibrant Black Belt, complete with locally owned shops and businesses. When the federal government needed to demolish a few neighborhoods to make way for an interstate highway, guess which neighborhoods were bulldozed? Well, it was…uh…a delicate process to decide which neighborhoods would stay, and which would cease to exist. Sure, marginalized neighborhoods with the weakest political power were quickly bulldozed, but that doesn’t mean the process wasn’t handled with care.
With 60,000 housing vacancies in Detroit alone, we can’t afford to simply bulldoze away decline, attempting to forget it was ever there in the first place. For Michigan, as well as the rest of the country, the question is this: Do we want to empower and revitalize our urban neighborhoods, or do we want to shrink and decimate them?
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, begins The Hip Hop Wars with a provocative declaration: “Hip hop is not dead, but it is gravely ill.” In her book, Dr. Rose offers a diagnosis of hip hop’s sickness, followed by a prognosis to regain hip hop’s health. Firmly situated within existing hip hop scholarship, The Hip Hop Wars is marketed as a take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred indictment of the current debates surrounding hip hop.
The reality of the book is slightly less exhilarating. Following the lead of other noteworthy academics and journalists—including Michael Eric Dyson, Nelson George, Bakari Kitwana, Craig Watkins, and Jeff Chang (just to name a few)—Rose meticulously dissects popular criticisms and defenses of hip hop. The bulk of the book tackles ten common arguments on both sides of the hip hop debate, exposing their logical inconsistencies. First, Rose debunks five myths created by hip hop’s critics, ranging from “Hip hop causes violence” to “Hip hop destroys American values.” Each of these criticisms is succinctly countered with Rose’s analytical clarity and elegant prose. Rose then moves to hip hop’s defenders, challenging five frequently recited defenses of the genre. Again, Rose effectively shows us—hip hop fans and consumers—the negative effects of our blanket defense of hip hop culture. Sure, rappers are “keeping it real,” but how much “reality” is actually portrayed in their music? And whose reality are they rapping about? This aspect of the book was particularly brilliant, as Rose shows us how our defenses inadvertently perpetuate negative stereotypes of black people.
Parts of her book are incredible, such as her compelling discussion of criticisms against hip hop used as proxies for racist vilifications of blacks as a racial group. Reading the book, I nodded my head in approval. So far, so good. Yet as I read the final section of The Hip Hop Wars, outlining the future of progressive hip hop, I was left unsatisfied, perplexed, and frustrated. Rose notes the importance of “cross-cultural exchanges,” but non-blacks are interestingly (and noticeably) absent in her discussion of progressive voices and organizations. Rose’s silence on these issues of race (read: whiteness) illuminates a larger, highly problematic aspect of The Hip Hop Wars: Rose is painfully inarticulate in her discussion of white engagement with hip hop, accepting the simplistic notion of “racial tourism” at face value.
This inadequate discussion of whiteness, racial privilege, cultural appropriation and hip hop points to two glaring inconsistencies and contradictions in The Hip Hop Wars. First, Rose calls whites “invisible” in the public discussions of hip hop while she simultaneously wipes them out of her progressive agenda for the culture’s future. She arrogantly claims to expose the “invisible white consumption of hip hop,” as if whiteness and white consumption has been a secret that we, as a culture, completely ignore.
This couldn’t be further from reality. I remember lifting weights after football practice with some of my black teammates in high school, discussing hip hop. I started to engage with a debate (probably one of those “Who’s better, Jay-Z or Nas?” discussions), only to be scoffed at and told “You don’t know shit about hip hop.” My own teammates said I was “too white” to effectively articulate anything about hip hop music or culture. I then remember going to college in Ann Arbor with my Rocawear jeans and Timberland boots (the standard wardrobe in my hometown of Binghamton), only to be laughed at for being “too black.”
Here’s the thing: When whites engage with hip hop culture, race is always salient. Candid discussions among whites—hip hop listeners and non-fans alike—are omnipresent. Every non-black fan of this culture is forced, at some point or another, to answer the question, “What do you think you are, black?” To suggest otherwise, that the role of whites in hip hop consumption is somehow “underplayed,” illustrates extreme ignorance to the complicated contours of race, cultural consumption, and hip hop. Whiteness is constantly negotiated within hip hop, and racial humility among hip hop consumers is far more prevalent than Rose lets on.
In addition to this awkward discussion of whiteness, there’s considerable slippage in the underlying argument of the book: the idea that white desires “drive” the market for stereotypical images of blacks. At three different points in the book, she makes three very different statements about the proliferation of commercial hip hop. At one point, she blames white consumers:
White interest and consumption drive the mainstream commercial success of black thugs, gangstas, hustlers, pimps, and hoes (p. 233).
At another point, she adds the role of media conglomerates:
Many who claim that hip hop hurts black people conveniently leave out…the extensive role of corporate power and white desire as key ingredients in creating the centrality of self-destructive ideas and images in commercial hip hop (p. 85).
At yet another point in the book, she emphasizes the role of the media, independent of white desires:
We must pull back the veil on corporate media’s manipulation of black male and female artists and the impact this has on fans and the direction of black cultural expression (p. 155).
So which argument of causality is it? Is it white consumers, internalizing racist lust for images of black death, or is it media manipulation impacting the tastes of hip hop fans? The actual answer is probably a combination of both; a mutually reinforcing process in which media conglomerates create a market for stereotypical images that trigger preexisting racial stereotypes. Blacks and other racial minorities—many of whom are (gasp) also consumers of hip hop—are additional actors in this process, both in shaping and conforming to images in the market. But Rose never makes this type of sophisticated argument, and instead assumes that her readers will blindly accept her unproven arguments about the primacy of racist white consumers. As critical hip hop scholars, I think we can do better.
I read this whole section, thinking, Where the hell do I fit in? I’m an educated, progressive, outspoken critic of white privilege. I wondered what Rose would say, how she would place me in this discussion of “ghetto tourism” and white racial privilege. It’s as if Rose is saying, “I know you’re not racist, Jeremy. It’s just the majority of hip hop consumers and media conglomerates that are. When I talk about the racist lust inherent in the white consumption of hip hop, of course I don’t mean all whites.” Coincidentally, I’ve heard this line of reasoning used in other settings. You know, like the argument “I know you’re not a bitch or a ho. So when MCs rap about bitches and hoes, of course they don’t mean you.” Byron Hurt effectively shows in his documentary Beyond Beats & Rhymes that, indeed, rappers are talking about female listeners when they rap about bitches and hoes. Similarly, Rose is talking about me when she waxes philosophical about white cultural consumption patterns. And I don’t exactly think it’s fair, or grounded in any convincing evidence.
Simplistic comments made in passing about white consumption are void of critical analysis—implying that the reader should just know this “universal truth.” Spare me. Her evidence is at best anecdotal, and at worst a ridiculous assumption pulled out of thin air. The standard of proof here is considerably weak.
Moreover, a critically engaged love of hip-hop means a critical engagement with hip hop consumers, regardless of race. In fact, it means a critical engagement with hip hop consumers because of racial differences in consumption. Our goal should be to educate, not alienate. I believe that hip hop can be used as a powerful vehicle for social change, but excluding non-blacks from the discussion doesn’t take us in the right direction.
Parts of Rose’s analysis are spot on, and brilliant. Other parts are simply more drivel masquerading as systematic analysis under the cloud of her prestigious title. It reminds me of the tremendous gaps in hip-hop scholarship, particularly in regards to critical race analysis. Rose tackles the issues that BET’s Hip Hop vs. America special inadequately addressed, as well as those pressing concerns that the special failed to address altogether. She very forcefully continues the conversation, and pushes us as readers to continue thinking. But, it’s as if debates over hip hop began and ended with the BET special. We’ve added intricacies and nuance to these debates; hip hop scholarship should catch up.
At the end of Rose’s public lectures on The Hip Hop Wars, she states, “So the question we have now is this: What kind of community do we want to make in hip hop?” What kind of community, indeed. The Hip Hop Wars skillfully dissects contemporary debates in hip hop, but fails to produce a realistic progressive agenda. We need more rigor from serious, scholarly analyses of hip hop. The Hip Hop Wars is certainly a good addition, but we still have a long way to go.
Monday, May 18, 2009
As a graduate student, my scholarly “career” is largely based on pointing out everything that’s wrong with the world. I dissect every little intricacy of U.S. public policy, deride American culture for its excesses, and lambast other scholars for “unconvincing” arguments. Rarely do I get an opportunity to point out what’s good in the world, which social policies work, and which scholars impress me.
Two recent articles in the Detroit Free Press have given me a reason to rejoice in the prospects of positive civic engagement—that is, something good to write about. On April 15th of this year, the Free Press ran an article on Bryan Barnhill, a Detroit native and recent Harvard graduate. Upon graduation with a degree in government, Bryan had numerous job offers throughout the East Coast. Nevertheless, he was committed to return home to Detroit. Quoted in the Free Press, he said
"I was inundated with the negative press going on in Detroit, and I was also being inspired by the political and social transformation that was happening in our country with the election of Barack Obama. I'm not prepared to take flight and leave Detroit, because where there is crisis, there is opportunity [emphasis added].”
Yet, Bryan couldn’t find a job anywhere in the city. Attempts to contact city agencies specializing in urban planning, real estate, and politics all failed. Here is a young man with dedication, drive, and commitment, unable to find a job in a city that needs his knowledge and expertise most.
This past Friday’s Free Press ran a follow-up on the newly employed young man. After the original article ran last month, Bryan received countless job offers and even a few pleas to run for City Council. Today, Bryan begins work at Southwest Solutions, a non-profit organization focusing on psychiatric counseling to mentally ill people in conjunction with community organizing and real estate development. Bryan’s specific duties include housing and real estate programs, and he is excited about his new job. I have to say, I’m excited too.
Bryan represents everything that is courageous about Detroit, everything that is valued at Harvard, and everything that we as a nation expect from our young people. This is the kind of non-tangible, non-measurable action we need, beyond bricks and mortar housing and resources. His commitment to his city—a city in need—is unparalleled and commendable. I, for one, wish him all the success in the world.
We need more Bryan Barnhills in Detroit. Hell, we need more Bryan Barnhills everywhere.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
In Black on the Block, Northwestern sociologist Mary Pattillo analyzes black middle-class gentrification on Chicago’s South Side. In a strikingly poignant discussion of class-segmented public space, Pattillo describes the neighborhoods two main supermarkets: the Hyde Park Co-op and One Stop Foods. The two supermarkets are segregated by class; black middle-class newcomers are the only customers at the Hyde Park Co-op, while their working class counterparts are the only customers at One Stop Foods.
While the details may be different, this particular discussion points to common trend in cities across the country. Typically, a new Whole Foods in a depressed urban neighborhood signals encroaching gentrification. This development often precipitates the displacement of local corner stores or other cheap, bulk-food alternatives. Yuppie gentrifiers would rather shop organic at a Whole Foods than frugally at a Wal-Mart or Costco.
Gentrification in Harlem has dramatically impacted the community in the last five years. So when Costco announced plans to open a store on East River Avenue at 116th Street, many community members welcomed it as a positive development. Yet a baffling, elitist, and deplorable corporate policy has tempered initial optimism: Costco will not accept food stamps.
Say what you want about big-box development—the exploitation of workers, the displacement of locally owned business—but a Costco brings jobs and cheap food to Harlem. Yet when 30,000 East Harlem residents receive food stamps, Costco’s denial of their business is an emphatic dismissal of their very existence. Costco can exploit the physical space of the neighborhood, use residential streets to make midnight to 5 AM deliveries daily, but willfully accepts the increasing economic marginalization of the majority of East Harlem’s residents.
Costco responded with flippant arrogance that they simply couldn’t afford the technology needed to accept food stamps. Apparently they are unaware that the state provides all of the necessary equipment, free of charge.
The New York Times quoted Viveca Diaz, an East Harlem resident, on the situation. With striking clarity, Diaz astutely noted, “They were saying at one point they don’t have the technology. Very interesting. The corner bodega takes food stamps, and Costco doesn’t?” Well, Ms. Diaz, the former establishment cares about the needs of the community, and the latter…not so much.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
First, Renee's argument is sloppy. Does she really equate womanist with race, specifically black? If so, what is the difference between her argument for womanism and her vitriolic criticism of feminism? Excluded voices are excluded voices no matter whose voices they are. I am not coming to feminism’s rescue for there are surely faults within it as well. Still, how can we have a real discussion around race, gender, and society when half of either population is out of the picture? To declare open war on the “other side” solves nothing and—in my honest opinion, both academic and “social”—does more harm than good.
I am not a historian; but what feminism is she talking about? If we continue to think of feminism today as first wave feminism of two days ago or second wave feminism of yesterday, we can never move forward. For thinking along these lines does us all a disservice. Kimberle Crenshaw speaks to issues of women of color. So does bell hooks. Patricia Williams is in the same boat. Kristin Bumiller challenges the status quo. Tricia Rose. Melissa Harris-Lacewell. Being a feminist does not mean buying into the patriarchal system that is both "raced" and "classed." If anything, it challenges the system and all those—men and women alike—who adopt such worldviews. I refer to Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s debate with Gloria Steinem as a recent example: Harris-Lacewell incorporates history of women of color to the conversation. Renee presents an ahistorical analysis of feminism, effectively ignoring the work of white women and women of color who speak to issues—legal, economic, political, and social—that women of color face.
In 1992, feminist scholars Margaret Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins (though it does not matter, is black) argue that “while race, class, and gender can be seen as different axes of social structure, individual persons experience them simultaneously.” This is the direction that feminism was going in over fifteen years ago. Patricia Hill Collins, current President of the American Sociological Association and prominent feminist scholar, is the first to speak to the importance of intersectionality, the ways in which culturally and socially constructed categories like race and gender interact to produce difference and inequality. If this is what was meant in the post then I agree. But her words are more divisive and exclusive. And from reading the comments to the post, we surely have a concrete example of when rhetoric does more of the work than the argument.
Again, I am not feminism’s dark knight. I simply think that we should be fair in our critiques and criticisms. And by fair, I mean grounded in evidence. One of the purposes of Social Science Lite is to spark open and honest conversations about social issues and problems. This post is following in that vein. The experience of women of color is imperative to any discussion of gender and society and women of color need to be part of those larger conversations. “I am not a Feminist” reads as if neither the conversation nor the incorporation have ever happened or are happening now. This, however, is simply not the case. Are we done yet? Surely not. There are more barriers to overcome and tough issues to work through but advocating from a divisive platform is not the answer.
I do not know exactly where I stand with respect to political framing. Some scholars and politicians are wedded to the idea of universal framing, policies framed as aiming to help entire populations. Others, however, are inclined to employ the targeted approach, frame issues as helping particular populations because of historical legacies of engendered disadvantage. Again, I am not exactly sure where I stand as I see the merits of both. First, the culture of the United States, for better or for worse, is one of the rugged individual, the hard worker, the self disciplined entrepreneur. Of course this is the narrative that we tell ourselves (or rather are told) though we know America is not, in any way, a meritocracy. The framing of critical issues, given these hagiographical tales of America, needs to be done in such a way that it convinces politicians to sign their John Hancocks boldly on the dotted line. On the other hand, universal policies, history has shown, have yielded disparate results. Affirmative Action is one of many great examples: helped some minorities, not all (main beneficiaries being middle class Blacks and White women—not a criticism, just fact).
So, why this discussion about framing? The answer: the current financial crisis and the subsequent repercussions of the subprime lending fiasco, have left minorities in even greater precarious positions, as made even more explicit by today’s New York Times article—“Minorities Affected Most as New York Foreclosures Rise.” Sociologists Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro’s book, Black Wealth, White Wealth, outlined the differences between Blacks and Whites with respect to wealth. Blacks may frequent the various “highest income earners” lists (although most are athletes and actors which is a different blog for a different day), but they are almost absent from Forbes “Wealthiest People” list. Remember what Chris Rock said, “Shaq is rich. The white man who signs his check is wealthy.” There is a gulf of difference between being rich and wealthy as wealth symbolizes the transmission of advantage, privilege, and (it almost goes without saying) capital of all kinds that serve as shield to the effects of crises like the one we are experiencing now. Take home ownership as one example of the difference: a PEW study show that “as of 2008, 74.9% of whites owned homes, compared with 59.1% of Asians, 48.9% of Hispanics and 47.5% of blacks.”
Recent reports have shown that minorities are the hardest hit by the current economic climate, losing homes at rates far greater than comparable whites. Quoting the New York Times article, “the hardest blows rain down on the backbone of minority neighborhoods: the black middle class. In New York City, for example, black households making more than $68,000 a year are almost five times as likely to hold high-interest subprime mortgages as are whites of similar—or even lower—incomes.” I do not necessarily agree that the black middle class represent the backbone of minority neighborhoods, but the statistics are alarming. Blacks, because of the cumulative advantage gap (tied to wealth and capital), are not able to withstand current condition the same was as comparable whites.
I begin with political framing because, as it stands now, the Obama administration has taken a more universal stance in their negotiations with the banks. The issue of targeting specific populations who inherited the lasting legacy of redlining, housing covenants, and preferential lending, has not come up in these public conversations. Admittedly, I have not I read the executive documents outlining the exact plan? I just want to know if the $50 billion carrot the Obama Administration has in front of banks for lowering mortgage payments is also taking these external factors into consideration. I am all for helping all but sometimes we hurt some in doing so.
(Administrator's Note: The following piece is from guest blogger Carl Gershenson, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Harvard. Carl is responding to an interesting post written by journalist Byron York on the supposed racial divide in President Obama's approval ratings. Carl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
"On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular than they actually are."
Can you spot the racist implications? I sure can. York tries to excuse himself with a lame joke about outliers. And commentary still keeps popping up from wannabe Sir Francis Galtons, who say, “If you’re offended by Byron York’s post, then you’re just statistically illiterate. Blacks are outliers. Haven’t you heard of an outlier?”
I actually consider myself statistically literate, and I'd like to put this outlier excuse to rest. So let’s play “Spot the Outlier.” Say we want to calculate the average number of offspring per male throughout human history. Here’s my sample:
0 5 7 0 2 2 5 1 0 13 250,000
Oops, I sampled Genghis Khan, whose DNA is present in about 8% of Central Asians. I think I can fairly say, “Rulers of the Mongol Horde are outliers.”
Now let’s “Spot the Outlier” for Obama’s approval ratings, where 0 = disapprove and 1 = approve.
1 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 0 1 0
Yes, it’s a trick. There is no such thing as an outlier for a binary distribution . For “blacks are outliers” to be true in this sense, some enthusiastic souls on Chicago’s South Side would have to have penciled in a “,000,000” after some of those 1’s. But that didn’t happen.
Ah, but perhaps York’s defenders were arguing that “blacks are outliers” in the sense that our explanatory variable (race) contained outliers, not the response variable (approval). Let’s ignore the fact that average approval ratings are univariate statistics - that is, it makes no sense to talk about average approval ratings having an explanatory variable. Maybe some unusual values in our measurement of race are interfering with our ability to measure the racial composition of the actual American population. So let’s “Spot the Outlier” one last time:
White White White White White White White White White Black
Did you spot the outlier? That extreme observation that is “numerically distant from the rest of the data ”? You know, the observation that makes the American population look a bit more black than it actually is?
Unfortunately for Mr. York, categorical variables (like race) can't have outliers any more than binary variables can. "Blacks are outliers" just doesn't have meaning in within this discussion.
In short, Yorkophiles, there can be no statistically-informed defense of Byron because this is not a debate about statistics. May I suggest that you shift your efforts to Formal Semantics? Because it’s that word--actually--that actually sticks in my craw.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
My new theory is that Meghan McCain is one sociology course away from becoming a raging liberal.
Seriously. This woman continues to amaze me. In her most recent blog post at The Daily Beast, McCain derides the Republican Party’s continued attempts to legislate sexuality. She writes:
“Daughters of Republican politicians aren’t expected to have sex, let alone enjoy it—as if there were some strange chastity belt automatically attached to us female offspring. God forbid anyone talk realistically about life experiences and natural, sexual instincts. Nope, the answer is always abstinence.”
“Here’s what I’ve never understood about the party: its resistance to discussing better access to birth control. As a Republican, I am pro-life. But using birth control and having an abortion are not the same at all. Actually, the best way to prevent abortions is to educate people about birth control and make it widely and easily accessible. True, abstinence is the only way to fully prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Still, the problem with abstinence-only education is that it does not make teenagers and young adults more knowledgeable about all the issues they face if or when they have sex—physically and emotionally.”
As I wrote before, I’m not down with the whole pro-life bit. But her honest discussion of sexuality, sexual desire, and birth control is largely on point. I think most Americans can agree that we’d like to keep the number of abortions in this country as low as possible. And as McCain points out, the solution lies in healthy sex education and access to birth control, not abstinence and the control of (mostly women’s) sexuality.
I’m tempted to email her the following message: “Dear Meghan, Race is a social construct. Let’s discuss.”—and just see what she says. Or maybe something about patriarchy. Or racial inequality in the criminal justice system. Or the reproduction of gender norms in the classroom. Or federal policy and the creation of inner city ghettoes. You know, like basic tenets of sociology that ring true empirically. It might spark conversations—and questions—that she never had before.
McCain’s comments point to the inherent fragility of the Republican Party’s big business-religious zealot coalition. They also point to the growing subset of self-identifying Republicans that sit on the fence between conservatism and liberalism—a subset that progressives can actively engage with, and (gasp) even learn from. Maybe we can build new coalitions. Maybe this is a positive step for the future of progressive politics.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
A few weeks ago, I expressed optimism about hipster rap’s potential to be our generation’s black/white coalition. Last Friday night I decided to do a little empirical test of my theory by checking out a hip-hop show here in Boston and reporting back on the racial dynamics I observed.
I’ve been a big fan of Wale for a few years now. Heavily influenced by Washington DC’s go-go scene, Wale is like a breath of fresh air in the hip-hop game. He reps DC to the fullest, but is upfront about his recent move to suburban Prince George’s county. Wale’s rhymes are care free and lighthearted, and his style is clean and fresh. While MIMS raps banal lines like “This is why I’m hot,” Wale takes the same concept and makes it simultaneously artful and hilarious: “My climate is way higher than Lindsay Lohan’s nostrils on powder.” Sick. In other words, he’s a good example of the new generation of hipster rappers gaining widespread success and notoriety.
The venue for the show was near Boston University’s campus, and since it’s around finals time, I wasn’t sure what the crowd would be like. I got there around 8:30 and posted up at the bar, surveying the scene. It was definitely eclectic, to say the least. Near the front of the stage was a group of about seven black hipsters that I later found out had some connection to the opening act. A few underage white college kids wearing shorts, American Eagle polo shirts, and New Era fitted hats mingled around the bar area watching the Celtics game. What was most striking, however, were the multi-racial groups of friends that continued to sprinkle in the front doors as we got closer to show time.
At around 9:30 the venue started to fill up, so I moved from the bar to find a spot near the front of the stage. A white DJ was dropping some serious jams (Kool & The Gang’s “Get Down On It”??), and I was in heaven, nodding my head to the infectious beats. I was standing next to two black guys, and one turned to me and said, “I feel like I should be at a BBQ with these jams. Just flippin’ burgers. In, like, 1978.” I responded, “I was thinking more like ’82, but yeah, same idea.” Our conversation continued, discussing rap music and predicting when Wale would show up.
A few minutes later, a group of four drunk, underage white girls from Wellesley started to push their way to the front of the stage, making a bit of a scene in the process. My new friends and I had a laugh at their expense. Naturally, said white girls approached me to strike up a conversation. I felt like a strange racial middleman - - in my BAPE t-shirt and fitted hat from The Hundreds, I was like a bridge between my new black friends in slightly similar attire and the white girls from Wellesley. I know it might sound like I’m overstating my racial middle-ness here, but seriously, by the end of the night I was basically acting like a wingman.
I wondered, what if I was just a random white kid from Wellesley that loved hip-hop, and decided to check out this concert? What if I grew up in a racially homogonous community, went to a racially homogonous college, and had a racially homogonous friendship network? This concert would have been my only opportunity to engage and interact with folks of another race. And, most importantly, that interaction was actually happening.
As for the concert itself, well…it was underwhelming. The opening acts (including Detroit native and Kanye signee Big Sean) were for the most part pretty wack. The one shining spot of the whole show came not from Wale, but from a local kid named DStacks. At around 10:30, three of the goofiest white kids I have ever seen emerged from backstage and started setting up some instruments. After they warmed up, a 19 year-old rapper from Brighton—Damilleo Stacks—came out with his hype-man and pretty much rocked the house. You can check out his Myspace here, but it doesn’t do his performance justice. The kid was funny and charismatic. His hype-man was understated and played a solid supporting role. Best of all, he was rapping with a live band. A good live band. The dynamics of race relations at the concert, on stage and in the audience, were layered with multi-racial undertones. It was an interesting experience.
At the end of the show, I came to a number of preliminary conclusions about race relations, hip-hop music, and the Boston hip-hop scene. First, I consider this more evidence that hipster rap may be a powerful and important development for hip-hop. My personal experiences and observations suggest that this particular type of music really does bring folks together, in a meaningful (albeit brief/fleeting) way. If—and I emphasize if—hipster rap does become more and more mainstream, this development may have a positive effect on white kids’ perceptions and interactions with black culture.
Second, it was encouraging to see mainstream white college kids in the audience. I’ve seen a few “conscious” rappers perform in Ann Arbor (Mr Lif, Little Brother), and the audiences were by and large filled with white fans of underground music. The kids at the Wale show, by contrast, were the same kids that helped Lil Wayne go platinum. Probably the same kids that were singing “They tryin’ to catch me ridin’ dirty” a couple summers ago. Yet here they were, bobbing their heads in a multi-racial crowd to music void of any lyrics about guns, murder, or hyper-masculinity. As I thought about the future of violent images in hip-hop, this scene looked like a promising development.
Finally, I should note that all of my observations might have been contingent on the venue. Had this concert been promoted by a different marketing company, been in a different part of the city, or been in another city altogether, the “anatomy” of race relations might have looked entirely different. Either way, this experience points to a hopeful future.
Monday, May 11, 2009
(Administrator's Note: This piece was written by guest blogger Steven Brown, an incoming graduate student in Harvard's department of sociology. He can be reached at email@example.com)
San Francisco is currently engaging in an effort to keep black folks from leaving in droves. But apparently, this is now a new trend. According to this article published last Wednesday on TheRoot.com, this has been happening for quite some time.
The basic argument is two-fold. First, the author describes a common story of gentrification and under-resourced black folk getting pushed out by eminent domain, rising home prices, and shiny new luxury high rise condos. Secondly, and more interestingly, the author briefly mentions a sense of cultural alienation that black San Franciscans may feel.
Gentrification is happening, but that argument seems a bit too tidy. Just look at Philadelphia, New York, and especially Chicago where gentrification has displaced minorities on a very large scale for decades. Black people may be moving out, but they still represent significant percentages of those cities and most other major cities in the U.S. Using census data, a comparison between Manhattan and San Francisco highlights a few interesting points. Both are cities by the water of similar physical size and similar costs of living. Manhattan’s median home value is over twice San Francisco’s, and the cost of rental property for both places is about same, relative to cost of living. And the percentage of black people living in Manhattan remains steady, despite the fact that the percent of black people in poverty there is a lot higher than in San Fran (31% vs. 23%).
So why would Manhattan retain so many black folks even though may be financially just as hard, if not tougher to live there? Cultural and historical relevance. Harlem USA is right there at the northern tip of Manhattan, and Harlem will forever be associated with black cultural and political relevancy. And it's not just Harlem; there’s the Southside in Chicago and West Philadelphia (born and raised, on the playground is where…no?...okay, nevermind). To be clear, the numbers of black folks in all these places are steadily declining, but that cultural identity – one that is distinctly black – still strongly affects how we continue to think of these places.
Not to say San Francisco doesn’t have a black cultural center, but it’s not nearly as pronounced as in other places. This is complicated by the Bay Area’s history as a place where tolerance is more broadly defined, and not just so black and white (literally and figuratively speaking). And I imagine it would to difficult to establish such a strong presence when competing for resources, space, and attention with Latinos, the LGBT community, and Asians (Asians make up 31% of San Francisco’s population).
It can be lonely as one face in the midst of the crowd. And in such a small space, with a number of cultural and ethnic groups vying to establish their own thriving community, some groups will fail to be as strong as others, making the lonely face even lonlier. This isolation could be a pull factor exasperating the push factor of gentrification. Given the situation in San Fran, Oakland is looking pretty good nowadays.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Well, it looks like I might have been a little premature in my prognosis from last night's post.
My friend Shilpin alerted me to this article in yesterday's Detroit Free Press discussing Larry Foote's trade to the Detroit Lions. Foote, a Detroit native and former star linebacker for the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), discussed his desire to make the Lions a winning franchise and his excitement to return home to Detroit. Foote expressed unparalleled optimism--and committment--to the city:
“Detroit is on the up-and-up,” Foote said. “We’re starting fresh with the football team. We’ve got a new mayor. We can’t do nothing but go up, to be honest.“But people have got to be willing to roll up their sleeves and get to the root of it and turn things around, and I’m definitely one that’s on the positive side of that. I’m excited. Just off the field, just doing stuff in the community and reaching these young kids and getting this place turned around.”
Don't get me wrong; I'm still pretty skeptical about the role of sports stadiums in urban revitalization efforts. And I'm also pretty worried about the low voter turnout in the mayoral election. But Foote's comments signal a shift in our thinking about sports, politics, and civic engagement. The business of sports hasn't done much for ailing cities, but maybe athletes can. Let's see if Foote makes good on his word, and maybe others will follow suit.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
NBA Hall of Famer Dave Bing won Detroit's mayoral election last night. With former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's arrest in August and the auto industry bailouts fresh in our collective memory, this is certainly a welcomed piece of good news.
Or is it?
Bing, who made a cameo in one of my earlier posts, will finish out Kilpatrick's term, ending on December 31st of this year. There's a few points of interest in this story. First of all, Bing is a former businessman, and his election rehashes old conversations about the idea of business leadership as viable political experience. Bing also won in a pretty tight fashion - 52% to 48% - and maybe there's a story there about split constituencies, or conflicting political alliances. But the telling storyline here is the voter turnout: 15%. Fifteen per cent of registered voters actually voted.
Look, I recognize that voter turnout is typically low during special elections. Hell, Bing will barely be in office seven months before his term is up. And voter turnout for the 2005 Mayoral race was only about 33% - certainly not impressive.
Still, with Kilpatrick's national news-worthy scandal and the continued decline of the city, you'd think more people would be passionate about this election. This low civic engagement points to what some social scientists call the low "collective efficacy" of impoverished neighborhoods. Communities with low levels of collective efficacy are less cohesive, less socially organized, less likely to exhibit social control, less politically engaged, and more likely to concentrate violence and perpetuate existing poverty. Detroit, on the whole, certainly qualifies as one such community.
A dew days ago, ESPN columnist/reporter/pundit/all around brilliant analyst Jemele Hill wrote an extensive piece on Bing that's worth checking out. Hill wrote about Bing's NBA career, his relationship to Detroit after retirement from the NBA, and his vaguely articulated "platform" (Change the business climate. Reduce crime. Focus on education). This is certainly a compelling story for ESPN, but how good is it for Detroit?
It's tough to say what changes Bing will make; it's an understatement to say that his policy platform is a little on the light side. Will Bing's election fix Detroit? Probably not. But a good start might be to invigorate civic engagement and get Detroit residents excited about the democratic process. Because they certainly aren't excited now.