President Obama, Paul Ryan, and Bill O’Reilly walk into a bar. Rather than engage in abstract conversations about the role of America in the world or the federal government’s role in the market, they decide to talk about an issue where they can forge some common ground. What issue could the three men come together around? It is probable they would likely converge around trying to explain and address the poverty of black men and women in the United States. This common ground is possible because national conversations about public policy never seem to escape the orbit of culture, meritocracy, colorblindness, and normative understandings of gender and family. More specifically, Ryan’s, Obama’s, and O’Reilly’s recent comments on the subject revolve around two political archetypes—the heteronormative family and the black male. When considered together, they take a special place in our nation’s “gendered imagination.”
Political hip hop songs tend to focus on the typical manifestations of state violence, structural racism, and corporate capitalism—police brutality, poverty, the prison-industrial complex, ghettoization, and war. Themes of healthy eating and food justice, however, are underappreciated topics in rap music. One is more likely to hear rap songs about drug, alcohol, and eating binges… Read more →
In 1999, Sweden passed the Law against Procurement of Sexual Services, criminalizing the purchase of sex, which punishes johns but not prostitutes. Worldwide, the law is considered a progressive way to improve the lives of sex workers while also combating the root causes of exploitation in the industry. Currently up for debate in Northern Ireland’s government is a similar measure, a new law, titled the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which seeks to limit human trafficking in Northern Ireland. Clause 6 of this bill emulates the Swedish model in an attempt to criminalize those who pay for sexual services. Problematic, however, is the lack of distinction made between individuals who choose to become sex workers and those who are trafficked.
Once upon a time, AIDS was a focal point for artists in the United States. My design students and I recently read Maud Lavin’s Clean New World: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design, in which she discusses the rise of political art and design in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan.1 The Eighties —… Read more →
Renisha McBride’s death once again reveals how the criminalization and dehumanization of black youth and the violent policing of black bodies persists in spite of triumphant declarations of post-racial America. On November 2, nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride became the latest African American to die because someone perceived her presence as a threat. That night, McBride was involved in a car accident with a parked car in Detroit. Two hours later, she was shot dead in the face at a house in Dearborn Heights. McBride’s parents claim she was looking for help. The homeowner thought she was trying to break into his home, and his gun discharged accidentally.
Last week I spoke at an event for Youth Action Northern Ireland, an organization that strives to make a significant difference in the lives of young people in Northern Ireland. One of the ways they carry out this mission is through their Gender Equality Unit, working “with those young women who are most excluded from resources and society to try to improve their access.” Part of this work is informed by the desire to challenge “traditional expectations of young women,” particularly those which deny their potential and their opportunities.
I wish I found the idea of cutting $39 billion from the federal government’s food stamp program (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP) during a recession unbelievable. But, as usual, House Republicans continue to thwart all belief and reason. Some Republicans like Paul Ryan (R-WI) are concerned about the program’s sustainability. They worry that the size of the program will not shrink fast enough over the next four years. However, as Travis Waldron of Think Progress notes, SNAP is based upon income and not employment, therefore explaining the program’s projected marginal decrease.
I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles over the weekend and facilitate a panel discussion about breastfeeding. The audience consisted of mothers of infants and toddlers as well as expectant mothers, who came for a “Mom’s Night Out” to hear from a panel of “experts” that included Elaine Stuart (childbirth educator and doula), Dr. Tanya Altmann (LA pediatrician), Corky Harvey (long-time lactation consultant and co-founder of The Pump Station & Nurtury), and Jamie Lynne Grumet (the mom at the center of last year’s controversial TIME magazine story about extended breastfeeding). After hearing some of the audience questions I was reminded once again why these discussions are so important, why lactation consultation is on the rise, and why there is a constant demand for breastfeeding classes and breastfeeding support groups: because breastfeeding is not always the easy relationship that most of us expect it to be, and mothers need this information.
Rap superstar Jay Z and CNN news anchor Don Lemon added some extra hot sauce to the “conversation about race” in the wake of one of the “hottest” and racially-charged summers in recent memory. In a July 24 interview with journalist Elliot Wilson, Jay Z responded to a series of comments that Harry Belafonte made about Jay Z, Beyoncé, and other black celebrities in an interview last year. When asked to respond to Belafonte’s lamentation about current black celebrities’ inability or unwillingness to use their fame to advocate for social change, Jay Z shot back: “I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama’s is. Obama provides hope…”
The news media love to ask the question: is feminism dead? A quick google search finds literally millions of hits for the phrase. Yet despite the supposed death of feminism, gender equality has become strangely mainstream even while misogyny continues. Today’s sexism is sneaky AND overt; while violence against women continues and people ask female presidential candidates for cookie recipes, one is also hard-pressed to find someone respectable who will go on record arguing that women should not be given equal pay or have the right to run for office. Honestly, feminism has an image problem. Though many people agree with its tenets, relatively few embrace the label and the identity. The conservative Washington Times recently reported that “among women, 38 percent consider themselves feminists.”