Archive for April, 2013

It’s such a misjustice that we can’t find impartial and accurate news coverage in this country! Worse still, the false reports made by CNN claimed a “dark-skinned male” was the primary Boston Bomber suspect which obviously couldn’t be further than the truth…



In trying to dream up a #slatepitch on the new Brad Paisley-LL Cool J collaboration “Accidental Racist,” a variety of contrarian avenues spring to mind: “Why Brad Paisley, Like Skynyrd Before Him, Is Right About The Stars & Bars.” “If You Love The Band You Can’t Hate ‘Accidental Racist.’” “Good Intentions Redeem Gag-Inducing Lyrics In Paisley-LL Collabo.”

None of those headlines can sustain a valid argument. Taking the The Band-themed one first: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Tears Of Rage” would spit in your tea if you tried to use their rich portraits of confederate humanity to excuse “Now my chains are gold but I’m still misunderstood/I wasn’t there when Sherman’s march turned the South into firewood” (LL) or “Fixed the buildings, dried some tears/But we’re still sifting through the rubble after 150 years” (Paisley). In the case of the Skynyrd pitch, you’d just be retreading a million strained defenses of the Confederate flag that boil down to “…BUT I REALLY LIKE THAT FLAG DON’T TAKE IT AWAY!” Because again, there’s no comparing the subversive lyrical tenor of “Sweet Home Alabama” – arguably the only classic rock staple more widely misunderstood than “Born In The USA” – to the godawful writing of “Accidental Racist.” And the on-wax conflict between Neil Young and Skynyrd provided exactly what’s lacking from the simplistic detente Paisley and LL attempt to voice: the unblinkered honesty that combativeness brings.

In the case of the redemptive-intentions #slatepitch, Rembert Brown already provided the appropriate irate mockery of LL’s inexcusable offer to “forget the iron chains,” among other lyrical crimes. But Brown left just enough meat on the bone to make a separate point:

This is the Americans Elect of pop culture racial healing.

Americans Elect was the Thomas Friedman-inspired moneypit for earnest rich people who believe that our policy issues can be fixed by taking the raspy edge off our politics. That’s an old idea, supported by the constant poll finding that Americans claim to want a less-caustic politics, but gutted by the real, sharp divides which underlie our policy conflicts. We genuinely disagree over the proper balances of liberty and safety, of individual and communal interests, of private property and public resources. The federalist, tri-partide cauldron our founders built functions best when those disagreements flare up underneath it and cause the country to change somewhere between as quickly as is morally just and as slowly as is socially practical. Efforts to smother those conflicts rather than identify legislators capable of crafting them into a truly responsive politics are counterproductive, and born of elites who are tired of the shouting and incapable of seeing its potential value.

The post-racial aspirations voiced by Paisley’s narrator and LL’s “black yankee” interlocutor suffer from the same self-serving, battle-weary ignorance that drove Americans Elect. While the voices in “Accidental Racist” espouse hyperawareness of color, they’re also calling for an approach to racial differences that’s functionally identical to the colorblindness canard Alyssa’s gutted before. The performers call for racism to magically heal itself through major chords and willpower. It’s The Secret by way of Tinkerbell. Paisley doesn’t want to talk to the coffeeshop guy about racism any more than LL wants to talk to white folks about mandatory minimums or systemic disparities in educational outcomes. They each want to know that ‘We’re cool, right bro?’ without actually engaging the ugly substance and legacy of American history. “Accidental Racist” deserves every ounce of clowning it gets, but a song this earnest that actually grappled with racial divisions wouldn’t merit such epic shade-throwing. Unfortunately, the aesthetics here are exactly as simple, cheap, and foolish as the sentiments. Indemnity masquerades as forgiveness, and squeezes critical self-examination conveniently out of the picture for stars&bars fans.

Like Americans Elect, the failures of “Accidental Racist” at least offer a sort of negative-space sketch of what forward motion might look like. There may be a professional political class that exploits voter antagonisms for profit rather than progress, but the antagonisms themselves are real. A third party that severs some of those antagonists from the parties that are minimally responsive to them in policy terms might do some good, but one that wishes them away is both foolish and damaging. Similarly, imagine the good that might come of pop artists calling not for a peaceful, easy, made-for-Clearchannel conversation about how racism manifests in 21st-century America, but for a difficult, contentious, honest, and combative one.

How appropriate that Paisley locates the initiating event for his narrator’s earnest call for getting over it all in a Starbucks. “Accidental Racist” is the shiny plastic version of a call to productive racial discourse, a cheaply made thought-jalopy that will break down the second anyone foolish enough to buy it drives the thing off the lot.

teen single moms.

These campaigns are demoralizing and an attack on the people’s misfortune. I’m all for educating people so that they make informed decisions BUT this is going overboard!!!

via Racialicious

Controlling Portions, Controlling Pregnancies: Race And Class Panic In New York City Public Health Campaigns

By Guest Contributor On April 3, 2013 · 2 Comments and 31 Reactions

Poster for New York City’s “Real Cost of Teen Pregnancy” campaign. Via

By Guest Contributor Sayantani DasGupta

This month, New York City launched a new campaign called “The True Cost of Teen Pregnancy.” The 4,000 bus and subway posters, which reportedly took two years of planning and cost the city $400,000, feature wailing toddlers and babies (mostly of color) next to captions such as Honestly, Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you… and I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.

Yes, teen pregnancy is experienced disproportionately by girls of color and girls living in poverty. Yet data shows that national teen pregnancy rates across ethnicities are dropping not rising, including in New York City. So why this public health campaign? And why now?

The race and class politics behind the “True Cost” campaign become more obvious when one considers that over the past years, the city has released several public health campaigns that have been critiqued as specifically targeting working class and poor communities of color. Indeed, public health campaigns are never value neutral, and are often used to orient social hostility toward marginalized groups.

While “True Cost” was quickly criticized, most of the pushback has focused on the problems surrounding the use of shame as a health promotion tool, not explicitly around its race and class message. For instance, the New York City Coalition for Reproductive Justice launched a ‘No Stigma! No Shame!’ campaign in response to the ad, and Planned Parenthood of New York City released a statement denouncing the posters, saying they perpetuated “gender stereotypes, stigmatizing and fear based messages” while ignoring the ‘structural realities’ impacting these young women’s lives (Code for racism and classism? Perhaps).

Then there is Richard V. Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, who defended the use of stigmatization and fear as motivations for healthy behavior in a column for the New York Times, arguing that “shame is an essential ingredient of a healthy society.”

But Reeves’ voice has seemingly been an outlier. Even TED talk ‘shame and vulnerability’ rockstar Brené Brown has gotten into the conversation, arguing against Reeves’ conclusions by asserting, “Shame diminishes our capacity for empathy. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

But I don’t think the issue is purely about shame. The question is: who is being shamed and for what purpose? It is not a coincidence that New York’s current campaign shares a lot in common with a Georgia hospital’s 2011-2012 campaign against childhood obesity. Like the “True Cost” ads, these black and white photos of morose looking children were accompanied by fear-filled captions like WARNING: Chubby kids may not outlive their parents and WARNING: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.

Both campaigns use children (the universal “innocent victims”) to blame parents – a strategy seen often in international development projects, such as Invisible Children’s problematic KONY 2012 campaign. In these narratives, entire communities, or countries, are portrayed as incapable of, or uninterested in, protecting and caring for their own children, or themselves. (Which then justifies everything from domestic governmental regulation to international interference in, or invasion of, other countries)

Consider that just last year, New York launched the “Cut Your Portions, Cut Your Risk” campaign. The most criticized ad of the campaign featured a slumped over, disabled African American man sitting on a stool, a pair of crutches resting near him. Below him are three cups of soda, each increasing in size. The slogan reads, Portions have grown, so has Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to amputations.

Yet as the Times reported, the image in “Cut Your Portions” isn’t real: the man’s leg was in fact photoshopped out of the image to suggest he was an amputee. Like the other ads of this series, the man’s face is also cropped out of the photo. By essentially making him faceless (and voiceless), the ad suggests that this man’s size, race, or perhaps his (artificial) disability, is so shameful it requires anonymity.

Posters from Georgia campaign against teen obesity. Via

As a result, the viewer is able to gaze voyeuristically upon a disabled body of color and size without the risk of being implicated in the act of gazing, or having that gaze in any way returned. Like teenage mothers, who are made effectively invisible by the “Real Cost of Teen Pregnancy” ads, the African American man in the “Cut Your Portions” ad is marginalized from the cultural conversation.

Both these anti-teen-pregnancy and anti-obesity campaigns target teens and adults, who are likely working class or living in poverty, who are likely from Latino and African American communities. Both phenomena have been framed in the language of contagion: as ‘epidemics,’ a practice that dates back to the last century, when public health campaigns pushed their messages by reflecting socio-cultural anxieties about “unruly bodies.”

The archetypal figure in this kind of campaign was New York City cook Mary Mallon, who came to be known as “Typhoid Mary,” the asymptomatic carrier of the infection who came to embody the threat of the deadly outbreak in the early 1900s. The demonization of this one working class woman is the quintessential example of how oppression can be medicalized; in this case, how threat of disease contagion became conflated with social anxieties about the encroaching working classes.

World War II-era venereal disease (VD) campaigns often directly associated contagion with women’s bodies, and particularly, social anxieties about unfettered female sexuality. One such poster was an image of a giant, benignly smiling woman’s head floating above a group of male soldiers and civilians. The caption reads, She May Look Clean But… and You Can’t Beat the Axis if you get VD. Here, the female body is directly implicated in the breakdown of not only individual men’s health, but the health of the national body.

French poster: ” Tuberculosis, a great plague.” Via

Similarly, tubercuosis (TB) campaigns of the past often directly associated the specter of death (personified by the Grim Reaper or a skeleton) with poor, immigrant, urban communities. Disease contagion became associated with social contagion, and the perceived threat to the social order embodied by immigrants and the poor. These campaigns taught the public not only about syphilis or tuberculosis, but how to think about the individuals associated with these medical threats.

The modern ‘epidemics’ of teen pregnancy and obesity can be understood as a modern manifestation of these sorts of anxieties about the ‘contagion’ of working class and poor communities, about “unregulated” female sexuality. Many sociologists have used the idea of “moral panic” to describe how society’s wider anxieties (about criminals, communities of color, the poor, immigrants, etc.) are framed as threatening to the social order, and transformed into hostility and volatility.

I don’t mean to imply that teen pregnancy is necessarily good for young women, or that there aren’t health outcomes of obesity (although the data has been surprising – with a recent analysis suggesting that being overweight might be actually associated with a lower risk of death). What I would like to argue is that since these “epidemics” – and these campaigns – disproportionately break down across class and race lines, these ‘shame and blame’ posters in fact serve to throw a cloak of moral legitimacy upon race and class panic.

The panic here is clear: marginalized bodies are out of control, unable to care for themselves or their children. Self-control (regarding sexuality, regarding food), so valued a Puritanical American ideal, is disintegrating, and a disintegration of the social fabric is sure to follow.

Public health campaigns which rely on shame rather than empowerment, which cast individual blame rather than crafting collective solutions, which target marginalized bodies rather than corporate entities like the food production and distribution industry, can be seen as symptoms of wider social ills: racist and classist public control disguised as public health.

Although these campaigns would have us believe that they are promoting the health of teen girls or fat adults (and I use the world here in solidarity with the fat activism movement), what they are really promoting is their social stigmatization. In New York City, ‘shame and blame’ health campaigns have become a moralizing weapon, promoting, not health, but social injustice.