Month: October 2015

Candy and Clothes: Rethinking Halloween and Commodity Culture (Outside Event)

Watch and offer your thoughts about film, and how it impacts your thoughts about Halloween.  Push yourself and engage the film (make sure you talk about specifics from the film, providing details and examples from the film). Think about history, privilege,nostalgia, sense of innocence, racism, sexism in a global context, inequity, etc. – Outside EVENT. 400-500 words

And then watch these films.  How do these compare to discussion of Chocolate and how does this make us think about Halloween and beyond


The Allure of Ole Miss Football (Triple Participation and Exam Bonus)

In addition to reading and comment below on argument and how it relates to class, I want you to go read the comments and 1) describe, 2) react, and 3) connect to class (what do comments reveal about the difficulty of conversations about race and racism.  Triple participation plus 5 point bonus on exam.  Last day to participate November 3

The Allure of Ole Miss Football

by Kiese Laymon

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s October 26 NBA Preview Issue. Subscribe today!

“BORN AND RAISED where them Rebel flags hang from them slaves” — Big K.R.I.T.

THE SUN IS searing in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s 11:05 a.m. on the first Saturday of September. I’m standing for the national anthem in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Though I left this state 20 years ago, after being kicked out of college, Mississippi is still home.

Today is officially White-Out Day at the University of Mississippi. I didn’t know that. I’m wearing camouflage shorts, a black Run DMC T-shirt, a faded red sweatshirt, black Adidas with fluorescent fat laces and a Montgomery Biscuits hat cocked to the left. Tens of thousands of young white folk are wearing white Polos, those Vineyard Vines club shorts, some brown cowboy boots and more long, flowing white dresses than I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’m wondering who, and what, pays the price for ritualized Southern comfort and uniformity. I can’t take my eyes off the backs of the student-athletes who play for the football program at Mississippi. Their uniforms are a bright bloodred. Twenty of the 22 starters look black like me.

I’m also remembering the first real whupping I got in Mississippi for wearing the wrong uniform.

I was 9 years old. I needed an undershirt and a jersey for football practice. Mama was busy teaching at Jackson State, so she asked one of her grad students to take me shopping after school.

There were racks of blue and white Jackson State Tigers jerseys. All the other boys on my team wore those. Behind them were these discounted practice jerseys with the words “Ole Miss” and “SEC” in white cursive above the numbers.

I had no idea where “Ole Miss” was, what “SEC” meant or that Mississippi was the last SEC football team to integrate, in 1972. As a black boy from Jackson who lived and loved the game in the mid-’80s, college football began and ended for me with the historically black universities in the SWAC.

Regardless of whether you lived in North or West Jackson, or whether your parents or grandparents were alums or employees of Jackson State, everyone used “we” to talk about the Tigers. And most of us had second-favorite teams of Alcorn, Southern, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling.

We didn’t know the names of the white schools in our state, or the names of any players who played for or against those teams other than Herschel Walker. Honestly, we didn’t even know that some of those white schools had histories of refusing to recruit black student-athletes or play colleges and universities that did. We assumed so many legendary NFL players came from the SWAC because it had the greatest football tradition in our region. We knew that Jackie Slater, one of the most dominant offensive linemen in history, and Walter Payton, the best running back ever, played for Jackson State. We knew that Deacon Jones, one of the NFL’s great defensive ends, and Jerry Rice, the most dominant college player in the country at the time, played for Mississippi Valley State. And everyone knew the Prancing J-Settes and the 
Sonic Boom of the South — Jackson State’s trill dancers and thunderous band — put on the greatest halftime show on earth. If you didn’t know any — or all — of that, we didn’t really care to know you.

Mama had never let me pick out my own clothes before. On the left corner of the red Ole Miss jersey was the same symbol I’d seen on the top of the General Lee when Grandmama and I watched The Dukes of Hazzard on Friday nights. Next to the jerseys was a clearance rack of white T-shirts; on the front center of each stood what looked like an old, strange white pimp.

I’d never seen this pimp before. His long, white mustache dangled over his sunken cheeks. He wore a red suit, a huge red pimp hat. His right hand was behind his back. His left leg was slung jauntily over his right leg. His left hand held a red cane. The white pimp leaned on his cane, and he looked like a less husky version of Boss Hogg.

After practice, when Mama came to pick me up, she saw me in my new Ole Miss jersey. She walked onto the field, pinched the fat under my shoulder pads and told me to get my ass in our Nova. Mama kept asking me questions about my uniform, but I couldn’t understand why she was so mad.

Most of my childhood, Mama talked to me like an adult while disciplining me like a child, but this Ole Miss whupping and the accompanying staccato lesson were made for grown folk.

Mama explained to me how integral that Confederate flag on the jersey was to lynching, racial terror and multigenerational black poverty in Mississippi. She talked about how her mother, my grandmama, worked 15 hours a day sometimes for nothing but cornmeal under the watch of white families who flew the Confederate flag.

After the whupping, and the lesson, Mama laughed when I told her that Colonel Reb looked like an old white pimp. “Pimps will never get love or attention in this house, Kie,” she told me.

I asked Mama why any black person would go to a school that glorified the Confederate flag.

“It’s bigger than the Confederate flag,” I remember Mama saying before we went to bed. “That flag just adds insult to injury.”

I made the decision that night, as a third-grader, to never stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in any classroom that had the Mississippi state flag, the Confederate flag or any other flag that devalued the black lives and black labor of my Mississippi family, and our people.

I kept that promise until today at my first University of Mississippi football game. After four strange weeks of living in Oxford, I’m wondering how many more promises I’m going to break.


I FIRST VISITED Oxford two years ago while on a book tour. Grandmama and Mama made me promise to leave town before the streetlights came on. When the creative writing program at the University of Mississippi selected me as this year’s John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence, my family expected the worst. I did too.

Right now, I’m eating the best squash casserole I’ve eaten in my life at a restaurant called Ajax Diner. Ajax is on the Courthouse Square, the economic and cultural center in Oxford. There are lots of white folk in the restaurant, and a number of illustrations of Ray Charles and other black bluesmen on the wall. Twice I’ve heard, “We good, but we got to get a running game.”

I keep hearing the names Nkemdiche and Laremy and Laquon and Fadol.

I’m a long way from Jackson, but the taste, the smell and the rhythm of the names uttered in Ajax remind me of home. I have lived, taught and written at a college in upstate New York for the past 14 years. In those 14 years, I’ve never heard a white man say, “Collards pretty good tonight, ain’t they?”

That’s exactly what the white man at the table next to me keeps saying. I love that his color commentary is absent any linking verbs. I feel prideful that these Oxford white folk are eating our food and talking like us, even if they don’t know it.

A few black folk who work in the kitchen come out before I leave. We nod. I don’t feel as good about them eating our food anymore.

On my way back to my car, I see my first two Confederate flags in Oxford. One is flowing in the bed of a pickup truck stopped near the courthouse. The other is rigged to the top of a silver Prius with a two-by-four and layers of duct tape. The Prius has a bumper sticker that says hotty toddy.

I look back at more white folks walking into Ajax. I look around the Square. I’m amazed, not by the swarms of white folk milling around but by how, in a county that’s one-quarter black, there can be so few black folk downtown and so many of us at Wal-Mart. More than that, I’m wondering what it means for me to claim ownership over black culture in Mississippi after having been away the same amount of time I lived there. The moral authority to critique Mississippi generally, and Oxford specifically, definitely belongs to someone. I’m not at all sure that someone is me.

Half a mile from home, I ask Google, “What in the world is a Hotty Toddy?”


I WAKE UP and read a letter published in The Clarion-Ledger from John Grisham, some workers from the university and others protesting the Confederacy emblem on the state flag. They conclude: “It’s simply not fair, or honorable, to ask black Mississippians to attend schools, compete in athletic events, work in the public sector, serve in the National Guard and go about their normal lives with a state flag that glorifies a war fought to keep their own ancestors enslaved. It’s time for Mississippi to fly a flag for all its people.”

I reach out to Skipp Coon, one of my favorite artists and a native of Jackson, to see what he thinks of the recent conversation around the state flag, a conversation that has been reignited by the murders of nine black folks in a Charleston AME church because they were black.

“They can change all the flags they want,” Coon tells me. “It’s a false solution. It’s also what black people have always gotten. We asked for equality; we got integration. We asked for freedom; we got Reconstruction. They can change that flag and my material reality won’t improve one bit.”

I’m thinking about Skipp’s use of the word “solution” and the letter’s use of “fair” and “honorable.” If changing the flag is a fair and honorable solution, I’m wondering what the writers of the letter assume the problem is.

Noel Didla, an English professor at Jackson State, introduced me to Skipp three years ago. In Jackson — and particularly at Jackson State — Noel, Skipp and a host of other cultural workers are demanding new kinds of structural change. I ask Didla whether she agrees with Skipp.

“I believe symbols have lasting power to immortalize human stories,” she answers. “But justice, equity, structural change and truth should be the values on which undoing racism is founded. If not, the victory of bringing down the flag will remain an empty gesture rooted in white supremacy, coupled with white savior complexes. A principled and sustainable paradigm shift and nothing less is what we deserve.”

I’m going to bed tonight in Oxford, Mississippi, wandering through the words of Skipp Coon, Noel Didla and John Grisham. A principled and sustained paradigm shift that justly impacts the lives of black Mississippians would be fair and honorable. But what do I say to people convinced that in spite of 40 percent of black Mississippians living at or below the poverty line, a shameful approach to public education in Mississippi and Mississippi being home to 246,000 children living in poverty as of 2013, my presence in Oxford as the Grisham Writer-in-Residence is proof that a principled and sustained paradigm shift has occurred already?

I’m wondering whether accepting the fellowship at the University of Mississippi was the fair and honorable thing to do.


I’M ON AN elliptical machine at a gym in Oxford. I see a white man get out of a beige pickup truck and walk toward a Chinese restaurant. His gun is holstered on his left side.

Damn. This is how they do in Oxford?

While I’m looking at the armed man, a sweaty white guy walks up behind me. He sees me watching ESPN and asks who I think will start at quarterback this year, a player he calls “Machine Gun Kelly from Buffalo,” another dude named Ryan Buchanan or “the little black guy, DeVante. DeVante Kincade.”

I decide right there that I’m naming both the protagonist and the antagonist of my next novel DeVante Kincade.

When I get home, I reach out to my editor to make sure she sends me some tickets for the game Saturday. She says that she’s hooking me up with a photographer from Atlanta named Daymon Gardner, who turns out to be a kind and curious white dude from Baton Rouge, and that we have tickets on the 50-yard line, two rows from the field.

I’m starting to get excited for football season at the University of Mississippi.


THE DAY BEFORE the game, Daymon and I meet with three women who work at the university’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. The institute is doing some of the most creative and necessary work around race in the country.

Melody Frierson, a black Korean woman, and two white women, April Grayson and Jennifer Stollman, sit down and talk about the challenges affecting the university, region and state.

They tell me that the university is changing, maybe a bit too slowly sometimes, but that they’re thankful that staff and administration are now aggressively asking for tools and the language to confront not just white supremacy but also homophobia and sexism. They highlight the crucial intersectional work being done at the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and the Southern Foodways Alliance.

“It doesn’t mean that the black students specifically don’t suffer anymore, though,” Jennifer tells me. “It does mean that they don’t suffer as much as they did, and when they do suffer, they don’t suffer alone. We’re here. We’re also seeing how the Black Lives Matter movement has positively impacted the work we do.”

Melody laughs when I tell her that I’m going to the Grove the next day before the game. The Grove is 10 acres in the center of campus where thousands of students and alums drink, eat and tailgate on football Saturdays. “I’m critical of everything this place was and can still be,” she says. “But I still say to everyone in the country, ‘You don’t know how to tailgate like we do.’ You’ll see it tomorrow, Kiese. I hope you’re ready to Grove.”

I’m not ready to Grove.

Daymon and I leave the Winter Institute to go meet Sierra Mannie across campus. Sierra, a black student from Canton, Mississippi, is a contributor to and the opinions editor at The Daily Mississippian, the school’s student paper.

Near the end of our hourlong conversation, I tell her that people seem fixated on this idea of the university and the region changing but that I’m curious whether black students have been central to or on the periphery of that supposed change.

“This is my school,” Sierra says, taking her hat off and revealing this unexpectedly fresh green hair. “I understood from the day I got here that this is college, not a Confederate day camp.”

Damn. This is how they do in Oxford.


WE’RE LATE. WE get to the Grove around 9:30 a.m.

Tents filled with catered food are everywhere. I just passed some students making a pug do a keg stand next to a huge blowup of Colonel Reb.

“What’s the angle for the story?” Daymon keeps asking me. “You think you want to talk to some people in their tents?”

I tell him that he can talk to people if he wants but that I’d rather just watch. I’ve never known happy things to happen to black folk in Mississippi when asking questions of drunk white Mississippians proud to call themselves Rebels.

Daymon asks a group of older white folk whether he can take a picture in their tent. The group has white candles, a blue Rebels helmet and a huge silver vase filled with sunflowers sitting in between two mirroring pictures of Colonel Reb.

After Daymon takes a few pictures, one of the women asks what magazine he’s with.

“ESPN,” he tells them.

She curiously looks up at me.

“Oh, well, do y’all want something to eat?”

“Thanks,” I tell her. “We good.”

“You sure?” She hands us some bottled waters. “Here you go. Take these, at least. It’s hot out here.”

A band starts playing this mashup of “Amazing Grace,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Dixie,” a Confederate anthem that originated during the minstrelsy era of the 1850s. I’m standing next to 
a middle-aged black woman and black man in matching jean shorts outfits. They look slightly less confused than I am.

The woman starts to clap near the end of the band’s performance.

“You clapped for ‘Dixie’?” the man asks.

“They play that one song at my church,” she says.

“Right,” he tells her. “But you clapped for ‘Dixie,’ though?”

“I’m here,” she says, as the entire Grove erupts in a chant of Hotty Toddy. “You asked me to come. I’m here.”

Between the first play of the game, when Chad Kelly throws a 27-yard rope to Damore’ea Stringfellow, to early in the second quarter, when 296-pound defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche tiptoes the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown, I fall in love with the Mississippi football team.

As impressive as the team’s 76-3 victory is, watching the fair and honorable way the student-athletes listen to each other, encourage each other, critique each other on the sideline — it makes me think I’m looking at a championship team.

I think I know what Hotty Toddy is.


I’M WATCHING IN a Marriott bar outside of Detroit.

Mississippi is up by 50 in the fourth quarter when a short white man wearing a purple LSU hat sits down. “Leonard Fournette is old-school tough,” he says. “He can win games by himself. We’re a hard team to beat.”

“We are too,” I tell him, wearing the same good-luck uniform I wore to my first game in Oxford. “Chad Kelly, Jaylen Walton, that whole receiving corps, those jokers are the real deal. And our defense! As good as Fournette is, Nkemdiche is the best player in the country. Believe that. The only way we don’t beat Alabama next week is if we run out of gas. I’m serious. We don’t expect to lose.”


After the game, a 73-21 dismantling, my cellphone rings.

It’s Grandmama telling me she’s not coming to Oxford for Christmas. Grandmama has never been to Oxford. She just remembers how white folk went to war with themselves in 1962 over James Meredith’s desire to learn in their school. Grandmama doesn’t think James Meredith should have fought to learn next to folk morally beneath us. I tell her that I understand her point but that if he hadn’t fought, maybe I wouldn’t have even been selected for the fellowship.

“Those folk at that school won something when you decided to accept that fellowship thing,” Grandmama says. “You know, I’m so glad you’ll be closer to home, Kie, but you didn’t win nothing.”

Everyone in my family knows not to question Grandmama when she makes a proclamation, so I ask a related question. Why did she stay in Mississippi in the 1950s if there are so many parts of our state she’s still afraid of traveling to, while hundreds of our relatives left Mississippi for hopes of economic freedom in the Midwest.

“The land, Kie” Grandmama says. “We worked too hard on this land to run. Some of us, we believed the land would one day be free. That’s all I can tell you.”

I ask her whether the land is free now.

“These white folks ate good off of our work for long as I been alive,” she says. “I’m tired, Kie, and I love my life, but I know what all we worked for. I know what we supposed to have. They know what we worked for too. These folks, they know what they took.”


I’M TRYING TO sleep on a twin bed in a tiny boutique hotel in Brooklyn. I’m here for the Brooklyn Book Festival. I want to sleep in my own bed, in my own state.

I miss Oxford.

I just watched Mississippi beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa on ESPN. Professor Derrick Harriell, whose work at the University of Mississippi is another reason I accepted the residency in Oxford, messaged me throughout the game.

Derrick’s loving words about the football team’s will and work reminded me that Mississippi is the greatest and the most maligned state in this country because of the force, brilliance and brutal imagination of its workers. Our literary workers, culinary workers, field workers, musical workers, educational workers, athletic workers, justice workers and injustice workers have shaped national and global conceptions of what’s possible.

Tomorrow, at the festival, I want to talk about why James Baldwin, a New Yorker born a few miles from my hotel and perhaps the greatest literary worker of the 20th century, wrote, “I was going to be a writer, God, Satan and Mississippi notwithstanding.”

Tonight, I’m thinking hard about the student-athletes working on that field in Tuscaloosa.

I get out of bed to reread the letter Grisham and others wrote about the flag. I’m wondering how honorable it is to make money writing about the unpaid labor of student workers who come from families bearing the brunt of American racial terror. Instead of talking about how we can justly compensate these brilliant young workers, I feel compelled to write about whether they should perform under a humiliating state flag for a team called “Rebels.”

Of course they shouldn’t. Of course it’s unfair, disrespectful and anti-black. But it’s also a nearly insignificant part of what needs to change.

Last month, when asked in Time what it would take to finally have the state flag taken down, Grisham responded, “The flag will be changed, eventually. But it’s Mississippi, and change is painfully slow.”

Grisham is right, and he — as much as anyone in this country — knows that paradigm-shifting change will remain painfully impossible in Mississippi and the nation if we insist on targeting the symbolism of the insult while neglecting and often benefiting from the ongoing violence of the injuries. American — not simply Southern or Mississippian — investment in the pilfering of black American life, labor and liberty is the injury on which our nation feeds. It just is. We do not have a chance in hell of “fixing” or reforming that national truth with a local lie.

I learned that in Mississippi.


I’M BACK IN Oxford, sitting on the porch waiting for Grandmama to call and tell me whether she has reconsidered coming to Oxford for Christmas.

“The Ole Miss boys, they didn’t give up when they could’ve,” Grandmama says when she finally calls. “I thought they were close to running out of gas, Kie. You didn’t tell me they had so many black boys on the team. I prayed for every last one of those boys and their mamas last night. I prayed for the white ones, the black ones, the Mexican ones if they on the team too.”

“Why?” I ask her.

“Because you live up there with them now.”

I ask Grandmama if she might come up to Oxford if I get tickets to the next game, against Vanderbilt.

“Well.” She pauses. “Well,” she says again. “Kie. I can’t bring a wheelchair to no ballgame. The best seat I can get is probably right up under this TV. I reckon I’ll watch the rest of Ole Miss games on TV this year, though. To tell you the truth, I hope Ole Miss win every game. I reckon they will too.”

“You do?” I ask her. “Why?”

“Because you live up there. And like I said, they didn’t give up when they could have. They kept on going when that maroon and white team looked so strong. It’s like they were playing on faith. Those boys worked hard and found a way to win that ballgame. That’s why,” she says. “For all that those boys have been through, and all the work they put in up there in Oxford, they deserve to win it all. They really do deserve that.”

Teresa Wang, a Seattle area yoga teacher and mother, has been through what could only be described as a harrowing and hellish last few weeks.

“It was like, ‘We’re going to come down here and kill you,’ and, ‘I want to make sure you’re all there before you meet your maker,’” Wang recalls. She starts sobbing and shaking. “I didn’t know where to go and was texting the word ‘EMERGENCY’ over and over again. … It was just the baby and I, and I had no clue what to do.”

For the past 5 years Teresa has been involved in a beloved community collective called POC Yoga. The collective offered monthly to weekly yoga classes for people of color. It was also a safe space for lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer, and trans friendly, and open to people of all ages, body sizes, abilities, genders, and experience. But not anymore. Due to an unauthorized September post advertising their class on the online social network Nextdoor that was then critiqued by conservative talk show host Dori Monson, POC Yoga and Teresa were suddenly met with angry white protest that escalated into national ire and multiple death threats.

During his October 7 show on KIRO-FM, Dori myopically focused on a part of POC Yoga’s class description which put forth “white friends, allies, and partners are respectfully asked not to attend.” Despite on-air claims that he had “zero problems” with POC Yoga, was “perfectly fine” with the practice, and believed POC Yoga “should be free”—he also openly accused POC Yoga of being “racist,” “exclusionary,” and more than once (instead of calling the collective by its self-chosen name) referred to it as “no whites yoga class.” Dori gave no historical context, did not acknowledge whites disproportionate privilege in a white-dominated culture, and made no mention of the ongoing microaggressive to extreme racism people of color have faced in America for centuries.

Directly following Dori’s heated criticism, Teresa said hate calls and death threats started pouring in every five minutes. There were all together over 200 phone calls, and hundreds and hundreds of emails filled with hostility and hate. What had just been anger generated out of a Nextdoor post spiraled into a violent, racist fervor that swept the country and made its way onto inflammatory websites like Infowars and Drudge Report. She rushed out that day to get a security system for her home though she stayed with a friend that night for safety. From that point through the weekend POC Yoga and Rainier Beach Yoga (the studio where class was held) filed several police reports. On Monday they filed an FBI report.

“Those death threats alone illustrate exactly why people of color need safe spaces,” said Joe R. Feagin, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M. Feagin is author of over 200 research articles and over 60 books on race, class, and gender. He has been studying patterns of white discrimination against people of color in the United States for 50 years and has reviewed hundreds of empirical studies. Feagin says the empirical data is clear. “Racism is still extraordinarily widespread in this country and does great harm to people of color,” he explained. “Therefore it is not only logical but necessary that people of color create safe spaces away from whites in which to deal with the stresses of racism and build up strategies to resist.”

In regards to Dori’s show and cries of reverse racism, Feagin said whites are taught from cradle to grave to center their own self-affirming views and emotions of “white virtue” (i.e. white people are the most virtuous in every way). From that point of view, what he calls the white racial frame, it is then white people who “get to decide who’s a racist”—not people of color. “And the corollary then of course is that whites don’t want to listen to people of color,” Feagin continued. “They don’t want to know where people of color are coming from.”

Feagin added that such white worldviews end up trumping truth: “It’s especially true in this self-affirmation where you’re trying to protect your image of yourself and what you see as your image in society by rejecting incoming facts.”

Indeed, during his show, Dori pointedly named Teresa Wang as POC Yoga co-founder and played an edited phone interview Wang had given to KIRO reporter Jillian Raftery. In the interview Teresa stumbled a bit over her words, sounding somewhat confused and unsure, which Dori leveraged to bolster his accusation of reverse racism. Dori also alleged it had been very difficult for their reporter, Jillian Raftery, to even obtain the interview in the first place: “They wouldn’t talk to her and they escorted her out.” The implication that Teresa had been difficult or hostile to his team’s interview request seemed to only further prove his point about POC Yoga being exclusionary.

But Teresa tells a different story.

“The only reason I took that interview with Dori is because they basically threatened me,” she alleges. “He was gonna do a live thing on me … [with or] without a statement from me. And I felt so pressured.” Teresa claims the first day of POC Yoga class at Rainier Beach Yoga, their new locale, Jillian Raftery showed up in a KIRO van with mic-in-hand. “She asked for an interview,” relayed Teresa, “and I just said, ‘You know what now isn’t a good time. We’re about to have class in 15 minutes. Please email me and I’ll respond back to you.” According to Teresa, Raftery then got angry, raised her voice and kept demanding Teresa’s phone number. Eventually Raftery left and Teresa did call back to give an interview. But even then, she alleges Jillian set her up by saying misleadingly: “I agree with POC Yoga’s values. This is just my job. You know, feel free to say whatever you want. Just get it all out there.”

Jenn is another original co-founder of POC Yoga. She relocated to California years ago where she is now a social worker working with youth who have experienced trauma. She pointed out these kinds of experiences are exactly why their community collective founded POC Yoga 5 years ago to create a healing space for marginalized peoples: “This is about people of color and what we’re dealing with all the time. There’s always a way in which we’re having to be careful or take care of ourselves.” Jenn said for folks of color, queer people of color, etc, trauma all too often lives in the body. “Whether that’s historical trauma, generational trauma, or things that we’ve actually experienced, yoga’s a regulating experience,” she said. “It helps us to regulate our emotions and move our bodies in a way that can re-center us.”

But that respite and healing is no longer available to Teresa or others who would have experienced it through POC Yoga. Teresa said that since her interview for Dori’s show, her work has been affected; she’s suffered loss of wages. Before this incident she had practiced yoga herself twice a week. But she hasn’t gone to a yoga class since. Instead she is alternately consumed with anger and horrifically traumatized. She said, sobbing: “I’m going to some kind of therapy on a daily basis … I just feel like my mental health is so not well right now. I am not well.” She then stopped and could not speak for a while.

When she could speak again Teresa said it does help her feel better remembering the very first POC Yoga class (which she taught) in May 2010 at Garfield Community Center. Fifty people turned out on a sunny day. “It was so beautiful … to just see that many people of color who wanted to do this,” she recalled with a smile on her face. She said she thought to herself: “‘Oh my gosh there’s finally this healing space for all of us.” She talked about touching peace, finding calm, being grounded, learning strength. But then her smile fades. Because now what was lovingly known for a half decade as POC Yoga has abruptly and tragically come to an end. When asked what she wanted the public to know, her answer was firm: “You need to say, from Teresa’s mouth, POC Yoga has shut down.”

About the author: Sharon H. Chang

The “N Word” (Outside Event)

Watch and offer your thoughts about film, especially as it relates to your own experiences.  Push yourself and engage the film (make sure you talk about specifics from the film, providing details and examples from the film). Think about history, privilege, inequity, etc. – Outside EVENT. 400-500 words

Stereotype Threat and Latinos (Triple Participation)

Interventions Help Latino Students Beat ‘Stereotype Threat,’ Study Says

Latino middle-school students whose academic performance may have been undermined by “stereotype threat”—an anxiety that can stem from being a member of a racial, ethnic, or gender group associated with negative stereotypes—earned higher grades after participating in classroom assignments meant to help them feel more confident about themselves, a new study has found.

Researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara had a group of students, both Latino and white, participate in “values-affirmation” classroom assignments throughout the school year. The students were asked to select values that are important to them and write about why and to reflect in a brief essay how those values would be important to them in the near future.

The Latino students who completed the exercises earned higher grades than their Latino peers in a control group who did not, and those positive academic effects persisted for three years. The exercises had little impact on the academic performance of white students. The researchers assigned the exercises at key points during the academic year when students are often stressed: at the start of the new school year, before the winter holiday break, and before exams.

The study was published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The exercises were given as interventions against the effects of “stereotype threat,” an anxiety people may experience about being judged by a negative stereotype associated with their race, ethnicity, or gender. Numerous studies on stereotype threat have found that stress or discomfort that is brought on by being a member of negatively stereotyped groups affects achievement of minority students when compared to their white peers.

In a second, but related study, the researchers asked students who were given the values-related exercises to reflect on them in regular diary entries and to fill out a survey answering questions that sought to measure their stress levels and feelings of adversity. The Latino students who participated reported feeling less stressed about their identities and sense of belonging at school. They also posted higher grades than their Latino peers who had not participated.

“Self-affirmation exercises provide adolescents from minority groups with a psychological time out,” said Geoffrey Cohen, a psychology and education professor at Stanford and co-author of the study, in a press release.

Cohen also noted that great teachers already do what the interventions used in the study were designed to: provide affirmation to students.

White Racial Slurs??? (Double Participation)

"Douchebag": The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For

“Douchebag”: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For

Michael Mark Cohen

“The white folks had sure brought their white to work with them that morning.” — Chester Himes

On Shouting White Racial Slurs in Public

I am a white, middle-class male professor at a big, public university, and every year I get up in front of 150 to 200 undergraduates in a class on the history of race in America and I ask them to shout white racial slurs at me.

The results are usually disappointing.

First of all, everyone knows that saying anything overtly racist in front of strangers is totally taboo. Even so, most of these kids are not new to conversations about race; the majority of them are students of color, including loads of junior college transfers, student parents, vets, and a smattering of white kids, mostly freshmen. Of course some are just scared of speaking in front of so many people, no matter what the topic.

So I cajole a few of them into “cracker” and “redneck.” We can usually get to “hillbilly” or “trailer trash” or “white trash,” possibly even “peckerwood,” before folks recognize the “Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel” pattern of class discrimination here. And being that we are at a top ranked West Coast university, not only do we all share basic middle-class aspirations, but we can feel pretty safe in the fact that there are no “rednecks” here to insult.

The ’60s era black nationalist terms come out next, usually from one of the all too few black male students in the room, sometime from a student athlete. “Honky!” This gets a chuckle from the class. After all, it is a funny word to say out loud. “Whitey” and its weak hip hop variant “wigger” are voiced to more giggles. The black power aggression of “look out whitey” and “white devils” is only a memory of a failed black militancy.

Hispanic students find their way to “gringo,” just as a student perhaps from Atlanta or Houston offers “Yankee.” Students from further away give their own regional variant insult for white imperialists and tourists — such as “haole.” From this we learn that race is defined by place, and that where you are white matters.

It is either a sign of their ongoing potency or proof of the decline in the category of ethnicity, but the old racial slurs for Italians, Irish, Greek, Jewish, Catholic, German, Polish, etc., never get spoken aloud. Is this silence because these groups are or are not white? Maybe these kids have never heard someone use the word “dago” or “wop” or “mick” before, apart from that Jewish movie guy in The Godfather?

The point of this sanctioned spewing of hate speech is that none of these words can hurt me. Because am an individual. I can choose to not be offended. White racial slurs are not common in our colorblind age because they don’t work on people who posses white privilege. When they do work, like “redneck” or “cracker,” it’s a matter of class politics.

But rich white men enjoy the invisible power of being just people. Normal. Basic Humanity. Everyone else gets some version of discrimination.

The nonwhite racial slurs hurt because they both smear with dirt and deny human diversity. They reduce all members of a race to the same hated and debased categorization. Your skin, your blood and body are all that matters, the words say, and I hate you for it.

This is about when I run out of time and have to end class. As I am unplugging, a few of those white kids creep up to ask: So what should we do? If we want to be more than just not racist, if we want to be actually anti-racist, then how should we act? How do we deal with the burden of a privilege we did not earn?

Now I gotta get to another class half-way across campus, so I don’t have time to tell them that so-called “liberal guilt” is not the answer and that empathy and solidarity are. I don’t have time to explain that learning to share anger at injustice is the start of a common conversation, and that they can learn how to recognize where privilege resides in their own lives by reading about and listening to the experiences of others who do not have it. I gotta run, so I just say to them: “It’s a long argument, and an endless series of principled choices, but the short version is simply: Don’t be a douchebag.”

A Useless, Sexist Tool

This may sound like shallow, even flip advice. But it’s a hard-won and well-tested insight using the multicultural classroom as laboratory. It came to me a few years back, at the end of the standard exercise in class.

“What about douchebag?” I asked the students, experimentally.

“Have any of you ever called some one black or brown or Asian a douchebag?… How ’bout women or gay folks?” The students had no recognizable response to the initial suggestion. But with each refining question—”Ever call a poor person a douchebag?”—their widening eyes became knowing nods, nods became spoken agreement, and the scattered “yes” gathered into a room of collectively blown minds. Including mine. Yes, it turns out, only rich, white heterosexist men are douchebags.

We had just contradicted the point of the racial slurs discussion, but that was lost in the rush of discovery. Here, hiding in plain view, was a viable white racial slur. Because while “cracker” and “honky” don’t hurt me, I would totally be offended if someone called me a douchebag. And I would need some sort of definition against which to launch my personal defense.

So why had none of us recognized this before? Why did this slur actually work? What does the human douchebag really look like? Why do we call him that and what do we hate about the douchebag?

The douchebag is someone—overwhelmingly white, rich, heterosexual males—who insists upon, nay, demands his white male privilege in every possible set and setting. The douchebag is equally douchey (that’s the adjectival version of the term) in public and in private. He is a douchebag waiting in line for coffee as well as in the bedroom.

There are plausible objections to “douchebag”. It feels like an overused insult. And its origins lie in the male insult culture that identifies women’s bodies as the object of contempt. But even as such, it’s an accidental monument to male blindness. An actual douchebag isn’t feminine; it’s a quite literally useless, sexist tool. It’s alienated from women.

And with that particular understanding, I believe the term “douchebag” is the white racial slur we have all be waiting for.

We have only to realize this, for it has been there all along. In fact, it is white privilege itself that has blinded us to the true nature of the douchebag’s identity. In the same way that white hetrosexist males are thought of as an unmarked category, regular people, the douchebag has—at least until now—been similarly unmarked. It’s insult that refers to ordinary men. Who happen to be white. Whiteness’ inability to see whiteness has so far blinded us all to implications of the douchebag. But no longer.

The precise race, class, and gender position of the douchebag marks this identity as a specific subset of the asshole, another identity on the rise in the twenty-first century. The asshole—as brilliantly defined by Ta-Nehisi Coates—is someone who insists that all social encounters occur on their terms, as in, “Hey that person over there with the Google Glass is an asshole!”(Glasshole! Get it?)

While anyone can be an asshole, though, the douchebag is always a white guy—and so much more than that. The douchebag is the demanding 1 percent, and the far more numerous class of white, heterosexist men who ape and aspire to be them. Wall Street guys are douchebags to be sure, but so is anyone looking to cash in on his own white male privilege.

This narrowness of categorization—perhaps unique in the history of America’s rich history of racial and sexual slurs—is what makes the word douchebag such a potentially useful political tool.

There is a history of the douchebag as a white racial slur, stretching from when the word was first flung across a D&D game in 1982’s ET to the recent, and all too premature, assessment by Gawker and Jezebel that the term has “jumped the shark.” Before the douchebag there was the suburban “collar popping” preppy and the urban yuppie. Now there is the frat boy, the mansplainerthe pick-up artist, the dude, the bro, and most of the men in Las Vegas. But really, they are all just douchebags.

Douchebag Politics

So it turns out that the term douchebag is a great deal more, and a great deal more precise, than what Dan Harmon considers merely “a more potent way to call someone a jerk.”

Adam Levine, like Ryan Lochte before him, is so commonly labeled as a douchebag in social media that in a recent GQ celebrity profile he offered up his own multi-part definition of the douchebag, coupled by a point by point rebuttal as to why he should not be counted amongst the category he so defined.

Of course, playing douchebag / not a douchebag is one of social media’s most favorite games, so let’s try it with our new definition based on white privilege:

Gordon ” greed is good” Gecko is lord high douchebag, and Charlie Sheen is his firstborn and crowned prince douchebag.

There are billionaire CEO douchebags like Larry Ellison and Donald Trump, and wage slave douchebags who work as lifeguards, bartenders and in sporting good stores but aspire to be billionaires. Tech, finance, and consulting douchebags predominate , but there are also high concentrations of douchebags in real estate, mid-level management, fitness, video games, and television entertainment.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are both douchebags, which is part of why they lost. Joe Biden and Bill de Blasio are not douchebags, which is part of why they won.

Wall Street and Wolf of Wall Street are the best movies about the douchebag. Steven Colbert and his entitled, uninformed, self-promoting, and colorblind persona is its most thorough parody. Fox News offers us the spectacle of an entire television network composed of douchebags pushing a douchebag’s world view.

Pro sports is a dense field of douchebaggery. Lance Armstrong, Roger Goodell, the Washington Redskins, and Cristiano Ronaldo are douchebags, but Leo Messi and FC Barcelona are not.

Sam Spade is not a douchebag but John Wayne certainly was. Captain Kirk is a douchebag, but Spock, Picard, and Riker are not (though Riker sometimes wants to be). Peter Parker is not a douchebag, neither is Clark Kent. But Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark sure are. Cyclops is a douchebag whereas Magneto is not. Hal Jordan is a douchebag, but Captain America (perhaps surprisingly) is not.

And if we needed further proof that the douchebag is a social construction, and a set of personal choices, rather than some form of white male essentialism, I give you the paradox of Michael J. Fox: Alex P. Keaton is a douchebag, but Marty McFly is not.

Beware the Killer Douchebag

But this is not all fun and games. Douchebags can be deadly, especially to women. And learning to recognize them and avoid them can be a word of advice to save a life.

At their most extreme, the douchebag can be someone like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho; a psychotic killer who uses the mask of white male wealth and privilege to seduce victims and elude detection. But this type does not just exist in fiction.

On college campuses, white (i.e. segregated) frats are pestilential breeding grounds for alcohol poisoning, drug abuse, sexual assault, and white male privilege, and if they cannot be dismantled or removed from university campuses, then they should be strenuously avoided by all but campus police and “Take Back the Night” marches.

There have been dangerous douchebags throughout history. Thomas Jefferson, when he slipped into the slave quarters at night for his dose of brown sugar, became our nation’s douchebag founding father. The Southern plantation aristocracy were probably the most powerful douchebags in American history, and the Civil War was fought to suppress them and win human rights for the enslaved. Over the next century and a half these defeated douchebags transformed themselves into the Redneck / Douchebag coalition that runs the Republican party today.

“Some Emotional Need”: The Medical History of the Douchebag

But there is a history beyond this history, a medical history that provides the unlikely background to this character type.

In surveying the medical literature, one finds that the douchebag—a vulcanized rubber appliance like a hot-water bottle attached to a rubber tube or hose—had a wide range of useful applications for doctors and nurses. In a field hospital, a douchebag can be used to wash out wounds, and in 1943, the American Journal of Nursing gave the best ever reason to use a douchebag: to wash out one’s eyes in the event of a gas attack.

“Douchebag” simultaneously appears in the linguistics literature in 1946 as military slang for a misfit, someone “maladjusted to military life.” Maybe this failed soldier just needed to wash out his eyes?

In 1956, Dr. Oscar Bourgeault wrote on the “Feminine Hygiene Question” in the American Journal of Nursing, telling nurses to advise their patients that if they think they need to douche, the answer “usually is don’t.” Dr Bourgeault’s advice grew out of a felt need for medical professionals to challenge the widespread advertisements in the era of the Feminie Mystiquethreatening women with what one add called the loss of “the precious air of romance” with their husbands “for lack of the intimate daintiness dependent on effective douching.” The advertiser’s solution was—believe it or not—douching with Lysol disinfectant to “destroy germs and odors, to give a fresh, clean and wholesome feeling” and “restore every woman’s confidence in her power to please.”

Dr. Bourgeault couldn’t’t agree with this nonsense. Douching was part of the medical profession for years, he explains, but it only developed a mass usage beginning in 1900 when a Boston physician claimed that vaginal douching was a good form of birth control. As Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman learned the hard way, discussing birth control in public was a crime in this era, and this particular doctor was hounded out of the profession for violating public decency. Nevertheless, the rumor of an accessible and discrete form of birth control, especially for middle class women, set off a popular wave of usage as word spread “via the grape vine, back fence and sewing circle.”

Not only is douching ineffective as a method of birth control, but, Dr. Bourgault concluded, “douches are unnecessary for women—maiden, wife or mother.” He added that women who feel “unclean” without their daily douche are trying to serve some “emotional need.”

If disgust and ignorance about the functioning of your own reproductive organs counts as an “emotional need” then the anti-feminist logic of the device should be apparent to us. So too does it reveal how the origins of the term “douchebag” as an insult stems from not just contemptuousness towards women’s anatomy and sexual health, but misunderstanding.

Of course, in today’s medical advice world the “usually” in the “usually don’t” claim has been unequivocally removed. Writing in 2004, Dr. Mary Ann Iannachione states it clearly: “douching is unnecessary and carries inherent risks… leaving women at greater risk of upper and lower vaginal tract infections.” Herein we find the link between the medical appliance, the outdated practice of feminine hygiene, and the white men we recognize today as “douchebags.” They are both, it bears repeating, useless sexist tools.

Conclusion: “Don’t Be a Douchebag”

What should you do if you know or even care about someone who is douchebag? Well, apart from some kind of systemic forced re-education, I suggest you follow the rules established for Schmidt, the resident comic douchebag on the TV show New Girl. Every time Schmidt demands his First World privilege, his roommates cry foul and order him to stuff cash in the “douche jar,”thereby collecting a punitive tax on the rich and douchey that can be used to subsidizes the house beer fund. Perhaps there is a lesson for social policy in this gag?

Of course there is! Our policy attack on social douchebaggery can begin with with taxes on yachts, Segways, private planes and vacation homes. Are you a single dude with more than one car? Pay up. Do you ride to work on the Google bus? You should pay taxes to San Francisco for the roads and bus stops your privatized mass transportation relies upon. Best of all, we can stop calling the threat to raise taxes on the rich “class warfare” and just start calling it the “douchebag tax.” That’s a ballot measure we can all get behind!

Of course, some of you are thinking, do we really need a white racial slur? Is not the vision of equality that we should aspire towards a world without the N-word or douchebag? Maybe. Maybe it is. But as everyone who is not colorblind can plainly see, this is not yet that day.

For the time being, this is the vernacular critique of whiteness that we’ve always needed, and its been right before our eyes all along. The term douchebag, again used as we already use it, has the power to name white ruling class power and white sexist privilege as noxious, selfish, toxic, foolish, and above all, dangerous.

Since the coming of colorblindness as the official ideology of neoliberal racism, we have needed a precise term with which to recognize and ridicule white privilege when we see it. So we here it is. Use it, and give the douchebags the thing they are always imagining anyways: reverse discrimination.

Michael Mark Cohen works as a professor of American Studies and African American Studies at UC Berkeley. He lives in the East Bay with his family, his garden, and his bee hives. You can find a webcast of his Intro to American Studies lectures on YouTube and his collection of Socialist cartoons at

Model Minority Myth (Quadruple Participation)


There is no “Asian Advantage” – there are only skewed stats to purport the model minority myth and a divide within the racial justice movement.

Even while recent articles by Nicholas Kristof for New York Times and Jennifer Lee for CNN attempt to offer a nuanced argument for Asian-American success stories, their titles alone are problematic: “The Asian Advantage” and “The secret to Asian Americans’ Success” immediately generalize and frame Asian Americans as the model minority. Stop, we are not.

First off, when people say “Asian American,” please remember that this describes a massive conglomerate of 48 countries, with distinct cultural differences and political histories in the United States (from exploited railroad labor, to the brain drain, to war refugees). By nature, anything that describes “Asian America” will essentially be a broad generalization.

Perhaps the two most buzz worthy phrases in this conversation are “Asians are the fastest growing racial group in the country” and taken from Kristof’s article, “Asian Americans have higher educational attainment than any other group in the United States, including whites.” Cue fear of the “Asian Invasion” and resentment towards Asians for being the alleged model minority.

In case people have forgotten how to understand statistics, the rates behind “fastest growing” and “higher educational attainment” are proportional to the Asian population in America, not to whites. That being said, Asian Americans make up 5.4 percent of the U.S., population, while whites make up 77.4 percent; that means there are 17.2 million Asian Americans and 246.8 million white people in the United States – so everyone worried about “Asians taking over” can calm down.

Why are Asian Americans considered the fastest growing racial group in America right now? It’s not because they’re reproducing more rapidly than other groups. No. (Especially since Asian men are generally emasculated in mainstream America). As Jennifer Lee suggests, the growth is largely attributed to immigration law “which favors highly educated, highly skilled immigrant applicants from Asian countries,” – to ultimately benefit capitalist interests and enhance America’s economy.

In 2012, India and China (the two largest Asian ethnic groups in the U.S.) made up 71.6 percent of America’s brain drain, which would skew statistics that generalize Asian Americans as economically and academically more successful. Included in the top ten countries of the U.S.’s brain drain are also the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan – which, in addition to family-sponsored visas for unification, partially explains why Asians are the “fastest growing racial group in America.” This description essentially means that the 5.8 percent Asian American population is almost at 10 percent – but still dramatically less than the black population (13.2 percent), Latino population (17.4 percent) and white population (77.4 percent).

In addition to the brain drain, the United States offers special visa programs (EB-5)for wealthy individuals outside of the country: if people invest $500,000 or $1 million in American development projects, they receive green cards for themselves and their families. While there are 11.3 million undocumented people living in the U.S. with the threat of deportation and family separation, wealthy individuals can buy their way in. Already, 25 percent of Chinese individuals worth more than $16 million have emigrated, with the United States as their top choice.

So when people talk about the “Asian Advantage” like it’s a truth, they are inadvertently talking about the “white agenda.”

Why did I say “white agenda” and not just “capitalist agenda”? Because it’s the (white dominated) U.S. government that encourages migration of wealthy & skilled Asians into the country, while simultaneously positioning Asian Americans as a “threat” to others. In addition, white males dominate CEO seats of Fortune500 companies, white males dominate seats in Congress, white males dominate Hollywood director seats, white males dominate University presidential seats and white males dominate U.S. Presidential seats. I don’t even need to show you a bar graph to prove these correlations – just look around. Perhaps people should be talking about the “white advantage.”

This article is not to discredit the success or talent of Asian Americans, it is to completely dispel the idea of the “Asian Advantage” because it is an ineffective approach to understanding the community’s nuances. Just like in every other community, there are people who are ridiculously successful (Oprah, Jay-Z, etc.) and there are people who are still sleeping on the streets.

The overall poverty rate in the U.S. is 14.3 percent; relative to their unique populations, the poverty rate for whites is 11.6 percent and Asian Americans is 11.7 percent. Yet no one is talking about the fact that Asian Americans have a higher poverty rate than whites. Why not? Probably because it doesn’t fit their portrayal of Asians as the model minority. Average per capita income for whites is $31k, while for Asian Americans it’s $24k. Asians make up 12 percent of the undocumented population (that’s 1.3 million undocumented Asians), while whites make up a reported zero percent. But nobody wants to talk about the poverty, unemployment and immigration problems when it comes to the Asian American community, because to do so would accurately align us in the fight for racial justice and hurt the white supremacist agenda (which historically, thrives with divide and conquer tactics).


Here’s where everyone loves to sensationalize the model minority myth: 18.5 percent of whites have a bachelor’s degree (roughly 45.7 million people), while 30 percent of Asians have a bachelor’s degree (roughly 5.1 million people). But don’t forget everything I just described above about the brain drain; in addition, universities (especially public ones like the University of California, which have 40 percent Asian student population) are welcoming to wealthy international students who pay higher international tuition. Regardless, while 30 percent versus 18.5 percent may draw a scary picture that Asians are taking over university seats, the truth is white Americans still dominate college campuses dramatically in actual numbers.

Again, when people talk about the Asian American population and its “disproportionate level” of higher educational attainment, the two largest ethnic groups in this conglomerate are Chinese and Indian, the same two groups most targeted by the U.S. brain drain. A more nuanced approach would be to disaggregate the information, and recognize that only 17 percent of Pacific Islanders, 14 percent of Cambodians, 13 percent of Laotians and 13 percent of Hmong people have a bachelor’s degree in the United States. Marginalized communities within the Asian American umbrella become overlooked and underserved because of false notions such as the “Asian Advantage” and “model minority myth.”

In moving forward, my suggestion is to stop asking the wrong, misleading questions which paint a false picture of the Asian American community. If we want to better understand the diverse and complex Asian American community, we need to start asking better, more informed questions, such as, “How can we provide a solution for the 1.3 million undocumented Asian people in the U.S. to live safely with their families? How can we increase college access and retention rates for Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders? How can we better represent the the Asian American community through disaggregated data and locating non-identifying Asians whom struggle with language and cultural barriers? How can we better understand and support mental health issues within the Asian American community, also known for having the highest depression and suicide rates in the U.S.?”

How can we recognize when the narrative, regardless of whatever claimed attempt to be nuanced or liberal, is actually forwarding a white supremacist agenda over everything else? When white liberals pat Asians on the back and say “Good job at being the model minority,” who does that ultimately serve? Asian Americans have long been involved in the fight for racial justice, from demanding reparations for the Japanese Internment camps, to fighting for Ethnic Studies in San Francisco, to leading the Third World Liberation Front, and to marching alongside the Black Panther Party. The fight for racial justice must continue with more Asian Americans speaking their truths, rather than allow others to co-opt our narratives.

I celebrate the success, resilience, brilliance and hard work ethic of the Asian American community, while acknowledging that we have a long way to go before racial justice is achieved for ourselves and everyone else. So let’s continue doing what we’ve always done – working hard and knocking down walls.


The truth about Asian Americans’ success (it’s not what you think)

'Tiger Mom': Some groups are superior

‘Tiger Mom’: Some groups are superior 03:44

Jennifer Lee is professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, and the author, with Min Zhou, of “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter: @JLeeSoc.

(CNN)Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the country. But not for the reasons you think.

For too long, conservative pundits and the news mediahave pointed to Asian Americans as the “model minority.” They cite the Ivy League admissions and educational success of many children of blue-collar Asian immigrant workers as evidence of a superior culture — one of hard work and strong families — that puts Asian Americans on a sure path to success.

But it isn’t Asian “culture” or any other attribute of ethnicity that is responsible for this success. Instead, it’s a unique form of privilege that is grounded in the socioeconomic origins of some — not all — Asian immigrant groups. Understanding this privilege offers insights into how we can help children from all backgrounds succeed.

In our new book, The Asian American Achievement Paradox — based on a survey and 140 in-depth interviews of the adult children of Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles — fellow sociologist Min Zhou and I explain what actually fuels the achievements of some Asian American groups: U.S. immigration law, which favors highly educated, highly skilled immigrant applicants from Asian countries.

Based on the most recent available data, we found that these elite groups of immigrants are among the most highly educated people in their countries of origin and are often also more highly educated than the general U.S. population.

Take Chinese immigrants to the United States, for example: In 2010, 51% were college graduates, compared with only 4% of adults in China and only 28% of adults in the United States. The educational backgrounds of immigrant groups such as the Chinese in America — and other highly educated immigrant groups such as Korean and Indian — is where the concept of “Asian privilege” comes in.

When highly educated immigrant groups settle in the United States, they build what economist George Borjas calls “ethnic capital.”

This capital includes ethnic institutions — such as after-school tutoring programs and after-school academies — which highly educated immigrants have the resources and know-how to recreate for their children. These programs proliferate in Asian neighborhoods in Los Angeles such as Koreatown, Chinatown and Little Saigon. The benefits of these programs also reach working-class immigrants from the same group.

Ethnic capital also translates into knowledge.

In churches, temples or community centers, immigrant parents circulate invaluable information about which neighborhoods have the best public schools, the importance of advance-placement classes and how to navigate the college admissions process. This information also circulates through ethnic-language newspapers, television and radio, allowing working-class immigrant parents to benefit from the ethnic capital that their middle-class peers create.

Our Chinese interviewees described how their non-English speaking parents turned to the Chinese Yellow Pages for information about affordable after-school programs and free college admissions seminars. This, in turn, helps the children whose immigrant parents toil in factories and restaurants attain educational outcomes that defy expectations.

The story of Jason, a young Chinese American man we interviewed, is emblematic of how these resources and knowledge can benefit working-class Chinese immigrants. Jason’s parents are immigrants who do not speak English and did not graduate from high school. Yet, they were able to use the Chinese Yellow Pages to identify the resources that put Jason on the college track.

There, they learned about the best public schools in the Los Angeles area and affordable after-school education programs that would help Jason get good grades and ace the SAT. Jason’s supplemental education — the hidden curriculum behind academic achievement — paid off when he graduated at the top of his class and was admitted to a top University of California campus.

This advantage is not available to other working-class immigrants.

Mexican immigrants, for example, are largely less-educated, low-wage workers because they arrived to the United States as a result of different immigration policies and histories. Theirs is a largely low-wage labor migration stream that began en masse with the 1942 Bracero program and continues today.

Based on the most recent census data, about 17% of Mexico’s population are college graduates compared with 5% of Mexican immigrants in the United States. As a less-educated immigrant group, they lack the resources to generate the ethnic capital available to Chinese immigrants, and they rely almost exclusively on the public school system to educate their children.

Yet, despite their lack of ethnic capital, the children of Mexican immigrants make extraordinary educational gainsand leap far beyond their parents. They double the high school graduation rates of their immigrant parents, double the college graduation rates of their immigrant fathers and triple that of their immigrant mothers.

The legal status of parents is key to success.

On average, the children of Mexican immigrant parents who are undocumented attain 11 years of education. By contrast, those whose parents migrated here legally or entered the country as undocumented migrants but later legalized their status, attain 13 years of education on average, and this difference remains even after controlling for demographic variables.

The two-year difference is critical in the U.S. education system: It divides high school graduates from high school dropouts, making undocumented status alone a significant impediment to educational attainment and social mobility.

Many Asian Americans enjoy a unique type of privilege, writes Jennifer Lee.

Undocumented status affects other immigrant groups, including Asians. There are currently more than 1.5 million undocumented Asians in the United States, accounting for 13.9% of the total undocumented population in the United States. This comes as a surprise to many Americans, who equate undocumented status with Mexicans.

The children of Mexican immigrants who surmount the disadvantage of their class origins and legal status and graduate from college pointed to an influential teacher, guidance counselor, coach or “college bound” program that helped them make it to college.

Camilla, a second-generation Mexican woman we interviewed, is a case in point.

No one in Camilla’s family had attended a four-year university, but a guidance counselor at her community college encouraged her to transfer to a four-year university and helped her with her application. As a result, Camilla ultimately went on to attend a top private university and later pursued a master’s degree in social work.

Her educational mobility shows what is possible when schools provide adequate resources to support children’s ambitions and potential. It is worth asking how much more Camilla and other children of Mexican immigrants might have attained had they had access to something like the “Asian privilege” of the children of Chinese immigrants.

How do we extend this privilege to students of all races and ethnicities?

Our research has made it clear to us that pundits should stop talking about Asian culture and start making supplemental education available to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Asian ethnic groups that lack ethnic capital and don’t get a boost from this privilege, such as Hmong, Laotians and Cambodians.

Increasing funding for guidance counselors, coaches and college-bound classes is a start, but creating affordable after-school academies and tutoring programs in neighborhoods, for example, Los Angeles’ Koreatown — which is home to Angelenos from diverse background — could give children of immigrants across racial, ethnic and class lines the resources they need to succeed.

This will help prepare them for the diverse college environments and workplaces that many will enter. Making supplementary education available to other working-class children will do more than level the playing field to make it to college; it will also help today’s students succeed once they are there.


Editorial: The Source of the ‘Asian Advantage’ Isn’t Asian Values

Image: Graduates attend commencement at University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley

Graduates attend commencement at University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley May 16, 2015. NOAH BERGER / Reuters

Given that Asian Americans demonstrate the highest median family income of any racial group in the country, it is not surprising that “the Asian advantage” is being addressed by many Americans.

In a weekend op-ed for the New York Times, columnist Nick Kristof attributed the economic success of Asian Americans to “East Asia’s long Confucian emphasis on education.” According to this viewpoint, Confucian values create a special environment in which Asian-American parents make extraordinary sacrifices to ensure their children go to the best public schools and relentlessly remind them of the importance of education.

RELATED: Educational Success of Some Masks Struggles of Many

Yet, the idea that Asian-American success is the result of a unique cultural inheritance ignores the role of U.S. immigration policy in creating Asian-American success. In the mid-1800s Asian immigrants were recruited as laborers to work as farm laborers and on the first transcontinental railroad. They were despised laborers who toiled for low wages in the harshest of conditions. Confucian values were not seen as the key to success, but as a marker of racial and religious differences. Eventually, most Asians were excluded from immigration altogether due to fears of racial contamination.

But what a difference a law can make. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act changed the way Asians were seen in this country–from uneducated and unwanted scourge to hardworking students and examples of economic success. How did we go from backwards laborers to a so-called “model minority”? Too many people assume the community’s educational and economic success is due to the cultural traits of Asian Americans. Like Kristof, they believe Asian Americans care more about education than the average American.

There is another explanation. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act ended Asian exclusion and created two immigration priorities: high skills and family reunification.

After 1965, the U.S. started to recruit high-skilled immigrants from Asia. More than half of the Asian-American population immigrated after 1990, when these efforts were ramped up even further. Today, fully 72 percent of all high-skilled visas are allocated to immigrants from Asia. And the majority of international student visas go to Asian immigrants.

This mode of selective recruitment challenges the idea that Asian success in the U.S. is due to Asian values. That is too simple. If Asian cultural values were the explanation, why don’t we see the same kind of educational achievement in Asia as in the U.S.? We don’t. As Jennifer Lee points out, more than 50% of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree. In China, the rate is about 5%. About 70% of Indian immigrants have a bachelor’s degree, while in India, less than 15% of Indians of college-age enroll in college. (India, by the way, has never been a stronghold of Confucian values.)

RELATED: Report Highlights Higher Education Disparities Within Asian America

So, U.S. immigration policy creates a highly educated Asian-American class and this group sponsors highly educated family members. And the model minority stereotype is given life. As Kristof states so compellingly, this stereotype takes on a remarkable life of its own.

Last week, I asked the 70 students in my class, “Has someone ever assumed you were good at math because of your race?” Nearly every Asian-American student raised their hand. I then asked, “Has someone assumed you were not a good student because of your race?” Every black student in my class raised his or her hand.

Experimental research shows again and again that the more a teacher expects and treats students as capable and smart, the more they show growth on and score higher on I.Q. tests. These are controlled experiments. Stereotypes matter. They can even make you smarter. On this point I agree with Kristof that Asian Americans have an advantage.

Perhaps these stereotypes matter more than cultural values. What group in the U.S. does not value education? In fact, by one measure, belief that a college degree is necessary for success, Latinos (70%) value education more than Asians (61%). Blacks are more likely to believe college is necessary than whites. Valuing education is not an Asian thing. Some might counter that Asians don’t just value education, they also value hard work. Ideas about hard work and race go hand-in-hand, though. For Asian Americans, hard work is recognized. That’s not the case for all groups. A new study suggests that when black workers’ productivity exceeds their white counterparts, even by a wide margin, they still receive lower wages and promotions at slower rates.


There is a real downside to the idea that Asian cultural values drive Asian-American success. Asian subgroups–like Cambodians, Burmese, and Hmong–have higher high school drop-out rates than any other racial group in the United States. But they are not seen by policymakers because they are made invisible by the model minority stereotype and its assumed cultural advantages.

We must not let the advantages of immigration policy and positive attitudes from teachers fuel the myth of cultural superiority. That risks ignoring the structural disadvantages that some Asian and other non-white groups face and implying that those who have not benefited from U.S. immigration laws and attendant positive stereotypes should follow a dubious cultural lead.

Janelle S. Wong is Director of the Asian American Studies Program and Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Racism Kills (Double Participation)

‘Stop and Frisk’ is a threat to public health on a large scale.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Trial in the federal class action lawsuit on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al, begins on March 18. At stake is whether the controversial tactic is a racial profiling practice, which violates civil and constitutional rights. Filed by four plaintiffs who were stopped and frisked, the suit represents the entire class of people who have been racially profiled.

But racial profiling is not only a danger to a person’s legal rights, which guarantee equal protection under the law. It is also a danger to their health.

A growing literature shows discrimination raises the risk of many emotional and physical problems. Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common coldhypertensioncardiovascular diseasebreast cancer, and mortality. Recently, two journals —  The American Journal of Public Health and The Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race — dedicated entire issues to the subject. These collections push us to consider how discrimination becomes what social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger, one of the field’s leaders, terms “embodied inequality.”

A breakout moment in the study of discrimination and health came in 1988, when the CDC recorded a disturbing disparity in black-white infant mortality. In response, TheAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine published a special supplement, “Racial Differences in Preterm Delivery: Developing a New Paradigm.” What was this new paradigm? By this time, we already knew there were significant racial disparities in health. But these scholars offered a new explanation for them. What they argued is that we must focus on the everyday experience of these women — and think about how social stressors might be harming their health, even causing preterm delivery.

A new study by Kathryn Freeman Anderson in  Sociological Inquiry adds evidence to the hypothesis that racism harms health. To study the connection, Anderson analyzed the massive 2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which includes data for other 30,000 people. Conceptually, she proposes a simple pathway with two clear steps. First, because of the prevalence of racial discrimination, being a racial minority leads to greater stress. Not surprisingly, Anderson found that 18.2 percent of black participants experienced emotional stress and 9.8 percent experienced physical stress. Comparatively, only 3.5 and 1.6 percent of whites experienced emotional and physical stress, respectively.

Second, this stress leads to poorer mental and physical health. But this is not only because stress breaks the body down. It is also because stress pushes people to cope in unhealthy ways. When we feel stressed, we may want a drink and, if we want a drink, we may also want a cigarette. But discrimination is not just any form of stress. It is a type of stress that disproportionately affects minorities.

Here we see how racism works in a cycle to damage health. People at a social disadvantage are more likely to experience stress from racism. And they are less likely to have the resources to extinguish this stress, because they are at a social disadvantage.

It gets worse. Just the fear of racism alone should switch on the body’s stress-response systems. This makes sense — if we think our environment contains threats, then we will be on guard. But it raises a question that is prevalent in the study of the impact of discrimination on health. How can we test the relationship with experimental, rather than correlational, methods?

Pamela J. Sawyer and colleagues ran an experiment to test the link between the anticipation of prejudice and increased psychological and cardiovascular stress. Appearing in The American Journal of Public Health‘s special issue on “The Science of Research on Racial/Ethnic Discrimination and Health,” their experiment paired Latina college students with white females. The white females served as confederates (that is, accomplices to the researchers). Each participant filled out attitude forms, which included questions on racial stereotypes. Some confederates answered the questions as a racist might, others did not.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The researchers had each Latina student prepare a three-minute speech on “what I am like as a work partner” for their white partner. But before each student gave her speech, she read her partner’s responses — and, among other things, knew if the person evaluating her speech held racist beliefs. To monitor stress during the speech, the researchers hooked the speakers up to blood pressure cuffs and sensors to measure other cardiovascular data, including an electrocardiogram and impedance cardiography.

When Latina participants thought they were interacting with a racist white partner, they had higher blood pressure, a faster heart rate, and shorter pre-ejection periods. What this shows is an increased sympathetic response, or what is often called the “fight or flight response.” Merely the anticipation of racism, and not necessarily the act, is enough to trigger a stress response. And this study only involved a three-minute speech.

What if someone feels she lives under the constant threat of racism? This is the implication for racial profiling. Stop-and-frisk policies do not only affect the people who come into contact with law enforcement. They also affect the people who fear they could be next.

In addition to battling the constitutional impact of Stop and Frisk as co-counsel in Floyd v. New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights released the report, “Stop and Frisk — The Human Impact: The Stories Behind the Numbers, the Effects on our Communities.” The report summarizes 54 interviews with people who have been stopped and frisked — and what it meant for them emotionally and physically. It tells alarming stories about inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, threats, and humiliation. And it also connects us with the Sawyer team’s study on anticipating prejudice.

“The scale and scope of stop-and-frisk practices in communities of color have left many residents feeling that they are living under siege,” the CCR authors write. When we read the NYCLU’s 2012 report on Stop and Frisk, it is easy to see why. In 2011, there were 685,724 stops. In 70 of 76 precincts, greater than 50 percent of stops targeted blacks and Latinos. In 33 precincts, that number skyrockets to over 90 percent. Perhaps most shockingly, the number of stops of young black men (168,126) actually exceeded the number of young black men in New York City (158,406).

However, supporters of Stop and Frisk argue that it is an effective crime control tool and, if you want to avoid a stop, then do not commit a crime. The problem is that 90 percent of black and Latino men stopped were innocent. What might this mean in terms of heightened vigilance and stress? Not only must black and Latino people in New York anticipate acts of prejudice from the police, but they also must know innocence does not reduce the risk of harassment.

These are ways that discrimination becomes embodied during one person’s life. But no person discriminated against is an island. When conditions of social injustice affect this many people, and prompt poor health outcomes, risk passes down generations. And this damage isn’t going away any time soon. Even in the absence of discrimination, Nancy Krieger argues that populations “would continue to exhibit persistent disparities reflecting prior inequities.”

“At a time when the first generation of African Americans born in the post-Jim Crow Era is only 40 years old,” Krieger wrote in 2005, “it is probably not accidental that current life expectancy among African Americans resembles that of White Americans 40 years ago.”

Racial profiling should be considered a social determinant of health, because it exposes people to discrimination and the fear of discrimination. Race may be a social construct, but racism materializes in poor health.

Stereotypes and Latinos (Triple Participation)

Latino Stereotypes Thrive in the Media, Negative Attitudes Dominate

A girl and her father stand with some 200,000 immigrants’ rights activists flooding the National Mall to demand comprehensive immigration reform. Photo: istockphoto/Ryan Rodrick Beiler
Thu, Sep 20, 2012 12:04 PM EDT

An important new study by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) has confirmed many of our hunches about how negative media narratives and portrayals of brown people play out in the minds of non-Latinos. The report, Impact of Media Stereotypes on Opinions and Attitudes Towards Latinos, was commissioned by NHMC and conducted by Latino Decisions. The NHMC has shared the data with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), with a request for the institutions to study the impacts of hate speech in media. It would be tremendous for these organizations to recognize there’s a problem and to be accountable to our community, at the Drop the I-Word campaign, it matters profoundly.

The term “illegal immigrants” was used in the study specifically to “test the extent to which respondents would use or avoid the phrase.” Study participants were exposed to negative and positive media frames and messages in the news on TV, radio and print as well as in entertainment media. According to the study, non-Latinos no matter what the media format, think that Latinos and “illegal immigrants” are one and the same. There was a higher percentage of people who agreed that Latinos are “illegal immigrants” when exposed to negative frames, but even when exposed to good messages, people still held on to that view. Additionally “over 30 percent of respondents believed a majority of Latinos (50 percent or greater) were undocumented. And in terms of how language matters, “while 49 percent of respondents offer ‘cold’ rating of undocumented, 58 percent rate “illegal aliens” coldly.

This all points to the extent to which the racially charged and dehumanizing i-word and the concept that people could be “illegal” has become normalized through the media. It also makes it very clear that the immigration debate and the i-word, in fact, impact perceptions about and treatment of mestizo and first nation migrants with or without papers, no matter how many generations they’ve been on this land.

Fox News Latino poll earlier this year, found that nearly half of Latino voters think the term “illegal immigrant” is offensive. I’ve wondered about the other folks that were ok with the i-word and if it’s that they found the term useful in distinguishing themselves and creating a distance from the dehumanization that comes with the i-word. That thinking will not save anyone from being profiled or discriminated against. It’s dangerous thinking that widens the net of people who are at risk of being criminalized or attacked.

The NHMC study looked at all types of ideas and stereotypes ranging from neighborliness and religiosity, to use of welfare and gang culture.

Stereotypes are unavoidable. When I first meet people and it comes up that I’m Salvadoran, I get different types of reactions. Some people smile and say, that’s cool, my dear friend such and such is Salvi, or my favorite, I’m Salvi too — to which I usually squeal with joy even at the stuffiest conference, or random bodega. Or I’ve been there, it’s beautiful. Bonus points. Those are the best interactions. Other people will confide in me that they love pupusas, or they will tell me their favorite pupusa stuffing. Very recently ever since that Marta Stewart segment, now people want to say pupusas are “the next taco.”

All benign responses, chevere. No mention of our general badassness or happy disposition. All good, because at least they are not the folks that within the first five minutes want to mention Mara Salvatrucha, sometimes jokingly, usually disgracefully. You can always tell the people who watched that unfortunate National Geographic special with Lisa Ling that depicted all gang members as monsters. The story then becomes about monsters and not the US involvement and funding of Central American wars which led to mass migration and separation and hardship for families, which led to young people seeking familial ties and being exposed to gangs in the US that were later deported back to Central America. There’s so much more to tell there. The point is, the stereotype.

In 2006 mainstream immigrant rights organizations fighting the draconian Sensenbrenner bill helped perpetuate a “good immigrant/bad immigrant” dichotomy, saying “We’re not all criminals.” This created a distance from people with a range of convictions who also did not want to be separated from their families. I was in Los Angeles at the time and even then it seemed incredible that many did not want to acknowledge how the racially biased criminal justice system would funnel loved ones and a lot of young people into deportation. At the time, the organization I’m on the board of, Homies Unidos, was fighting and sometimes winning deportation cases of young people who had convictions while they were making interventions in the community to prevent people from joining gangs and helping others make fresh starts away from gang life. The directly impacted community there remains front and center on policy and organizing. They have lived the impact of stereotypes but they continue to fight the stereotypes and the shame they come with.

Negative stereotypes often have some truth to them, but they simplify a lot of racial inequities and injustice. At the same time they challenge us to reject the shaming they are packed with, kick some serious knowledge about the systems at play and work toward justice. It’s not just offensive that people think Latinos in general are “illegal.” Or that Latinos are gangsters and criminals. What’s more offensive is the idea that any person can be considered “illegal” or be dehumanized in any way and treated unjustly. Language and stereotypes impact all Latinos because of a widely held bias against all of us. We have clarity about how non-Latinos think of Latinos. Let’s be equally vigilant about how we think of ourselves and our own communities.


Too Many Brands Reach Latinos With Off-Putting Stereotypes

Latinos remain underrepresented in the advertising industry — despite the fact these 55 million individuals wield $1.6 trillion in consumer spending, according to The Latino Spring panel at Advertising Week.

“Right now Hispanic equals illegal and there is a negative association with it,” says Valdez Productions’ Jeff Valdez. “Even when [MSNBC’s} Rachel Maddow does a nice story there will be images of people climbing over fences.”

There’s little question that perceptions about Latinos are mired in stereotypes and ignorance. “Whenever they want to reach Latinos they put up a piñata,” says Columbia University’s Frances Negron-Muntaner.

J Walter Thompson’s Gustavo Martinez adds: “Even inside the company, I often have to tell people that in Argentina and Mexico, we speak different languages. I had my colleagues come to Medellin Colombia and they thought they were going to be killed. Thanks to all of the movies and reports, but nothing happened. People are narrow-minded. The U.S. is [one of] the biggest countries in the world. Open your mind and you will embrace amazing things.”

Martinez hopes he can ignite change now that he is Worldwide Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. He believes a growing diversity of backgrounds of race and gender will help to produce better outcomes when facing challenges. “This is a missed opportunity. I am the first non-Anglo-Saxon [CEO of a major mainstream ad shop] and I approach things differently. We have passion and bring different ingredients to the mix,” says Martinez, adding that he isn’t afraid of pushing the line. “I hate the politically correct America. Let’s be more honest.”

Still, he has his work cut out for him in changing perceptions. There is a lot of misinformation around who Latinos are and what they represent. Just because they are of one culture doesn’t mean they live and breathe al things Latino. “We are simply people who straddle two worlds,” says WCBS journalist Lynda Lopez. “I say I am a New Yorker and American but my spiritual home is Puerto Rico. It is a fused identity.” Latinos typically don’t like products that scream “Latino” in overt ways, Lopez said. “They don’t want to see a man wearing a sombrero. They aren’t going to love something or someone simply because they share the same ethnicity.”

It is also important for advertisers to address their Latino targets’ different immigration experiences, especially in light of the political storm over illegal immigration. Not all Latinos are immigrants, notes Valdez. “We live in Beverly Hills but my son asked me if Donald Trump was going to deport him. I told him, you were born in Santa Monica. Are they going to send you back there?” he quipped.

Racism and Mental Health (Double Participation)

Written by Stacey Patton

Hello, my name is Stacey, and I am addicted to Facebook. Yet, unlike the GOP’s addiction to stupid, mine isn’t a problem.

I relish the give-and-take of social media; I enjoy sharing posts each day with my nearly 11,000 super-smart, highly opinionated, and irreverent friends and followers. I subsist on their brilliance and passion and I thrive in this community.

For me, as for many others, the digital space has become a portal where we share and respond to news we can use, and launch our opinions, emotions, and reactions in real time. And this is a powerful thing.

Facebook is where I get news I don’t find elsewhere, engage in lively discussions about pop culture, public health issues, history, and silly stuff. It is also the place I have turned to during times of racial turmoil to express my rage and to connect with others to process and grieve after the killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, the Charleston 9, and so many others.

Social media is also like CNN (circa 1985), MTV (circa 1998), and tabloids all wrapped into one. I am able to know what is happening in the world, as it provides the latest sports and entertainment news; and all things Kardashian (insert eye roll here) without turning the channel.

Facebook allows for endless connections that engender innumerable possibilities with each virtual encounter.

So what’s the problem?

While there is no break from racism, social media can also be a portal to racism on fleek. Besides the racism, sexism, and dehumanizing violence that are ubiquitous in practically every virtual space, social media provides a never ending loop for the realities of racism. While I can turn off the television, put down the newspaper, and avoid certain channels, I don’t have the same power with social media.

I have yet to figure out a balance between consuming, sharing, and dissecting the endless cycle of Black Death and not further traumatizing myself or my followers.

This is not easy. A recent study from the University of Bradford in England found that viewing negative news on social media may cause some of us to experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail,” said Pam Ramsden from the Faculty of Social Sciences at University of Bradford. “Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives.” In their research, Ramdsen and others found that 22 percent of participants scored high on clinical measures of PTSD after viewing such events as 9/11 and recent school shootings, though none of them had previous trauma and experienced the events ONLY on social media. The people who viewed the events more often were most affected.

Jay Ulfelder offered similar feelings on his blog, when in a post entitled: ‘What Are All These Violent Images Doing to Us?’

“Because I study political violence and atrocities, a fair share of my feed deals with potentially disturbing material. Where that material used to arrive only as text, it increasingly includes photos and video clips of violent or brutal acts as well. I am starting to wonder how routine exposure to those images may be affecting my mental health.” He cites a study that connects daily exposure to violent images with higher scores related to psychological distress and depression in journalists.

Not surprisingly, this research does little to consider race, particularly the cumulative aspects of racism in our lives. We don’t arrive in social media with a blank slate but a U-Haul of experiences of prejudice, microaggressions, systemic racism, and violence. The trigger impact of yet another instance of trauma increases exponentially in the virtual universe.

This is why I’ve recently had to ask folks to stop tagging me on videos and stories about Black people being brutalized and killed by the police or unjustly arrested. It’s simply too much to take in all the time. I cannot even scroll through my timeline to relish in my friends’ accomplishments or smile at yet another photo of a cute child or a dog video without coming face-to-face with anti-Black racism. Odds are I will witness some historic images of half-naked Black bodies hanging from trees, bridges, and light poles and charred with messages like “Lest We Forget.” Never mind the pictures of Trayvon, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Renisha McBride, and so many others.  Viewing these images has costs and consequences for not just one’s emotions for that day but for the future in terms of transforming the health and possibilities of ever living free.

The videos are even more disturbing. They make me cry. They make feel powerless.  Tired. Heavy. Hopeless. Numb. Paranoid. I go through each day feeling like I, or somebody I know, could be next. When I venture out into the public I feel like an everyday moment can turn into an assault, an unjustified arrest, or worse my death. After watching so many videos of Black women being punched, slammed, and tasered, my heart speeds up and I cross the street when I see police officers. These reactions are all symptoms of trauma fatigue and PTSD. People don’t realize that when they keep sharing this stuff they are re-traumatizing or spreading the trauma.

The cost of the endless exposure to the brutality of racism is not abstract but is yet another way that racism kills. Study after study continues to highlight the impact that stress has on physical health and our neurobiological response system. This science says that social media can activate the stress response and impact our immune system, and resistance or susceptibility to disease. The accumulated images and stress memories get encoded in our bodies in unhealthy ways. And the parts of our brains that control our responses to stress impact whether we are susceptible or resistant to inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, and depression.

A piece in the The Atlantic entitled “How Racism is Bad for Our Bodies,” highlights how not only experiencing discrimination—but anticipating it—impacts the physical and emotional health of Black people. “Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common coldhypertensioncardiovascular diseasebreast cancer, and death. Two journals—The American Journal of Public Health and The Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race—dedicated entire issues to the subject … Racial discrimination puts black Americans at risk for long-term health problems … The psychological toll that racism takes on adults has also been well-documented, and racial discrimination has been repeatedly linked to high blood pressure. Just the fear of racial discrimination can trigger stress-related responses, which means that many people of color who live within a society defined by racism are constantly under increased biological stressors.”

African-Americans experiencing racism has been associated with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Similarly, a study among Latino youth found that racist experiences were associated with higher cortisol levels throughout the day. Cortisol and other hormones in the stress physiology system are important for maintaining immune, reproductive, and cardiovascular health. Therefore changes in this system as a result of experiences of discrimination can adversely affect everything from your body’s ability to fight infection to your ability to become pregnant.

It is increasingly accepted that a woman’s mental and physical health in pregnancy influences her baby. Maternal health may influence offspring through exposure to hormones in pregnancy. For example, women with high stress hormones give birth to infants with lower birth weight. Imagine the impact of endless pieces about the killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and others on a pregnant black mother who is already anxious about bringing a Black child into this cruel sneering world.

Knowing the emotional impact of social media on myself, and the potentially deadly impact of the social media loop of racism, I decided I needed help. I reached out to Erika Totten, a community organizer, co-founder of Black Lives Matter DMV and spiritual life coach who works in the name of Black liberation, to provide tips on how we can consume this social media material and stay healthy.

Totten’s organization Unchained works to support the collective healing and liberation of all Black people through identifying and unlocking the mental, emotional and spiritual chains that hold us back.  She also leads emotional emancipation circles which focuses on breaking the chains of internalized white supremacy, self-hatred, anger, perfectionism, feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy, generational pathologies, self-limiting beliefs, fear, rejection, abandonment, denial, shame, guilt, and judgment. Guided by the principle of self-determination, Totten teaches the importance of taking the time to heal, learning and practicing essential emotional wellness skills, and intentionally detoxifying our minds and spirits by replacing the lies we’ve been fed with our collective truths.

“Images and videos of Black death and brutalization are the only ones played on a loop by mainstream media and it’s a tactic of psychological warfare,” she says. “This system wants us so paralyzed by our fear, our pain, and our anxiety that we’re literally incapable of fighting against our own oppression.”

Here are Erika’s tips for those of us who suffer from too much exposure to violence against Black people:

·      It is important to check your mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity before consuming these images.

·      It’s important to consistently acknowledge and process the racial trauma we’re experiencing every day, simply by being a Black person living within a system of White supremacy. In doing so, we’re able to identify what needs to be healed and reclaim our collective power.

She also pointed me to some tips from the Association of Black Psychologists:

·      Limit your exposure to the incident. Do not watch or read news coverage or click on these videos just before bed. Take a complete break if the coverage is making you feel overwhelmed.

·      Information gathering is healthy, but try to avoid morbid preoccupation with distressing images and video clips.

·      Protect your children from seeing or hearing unnecessary reminders of the traumatic event.

·      After viewing coverage of racial tragedies, talk with your loved ones about the coverage or footage and what you are feeling.

For the sake of balance for myself, and my social media community, I have begun to embrace Totten’s advice. We’re never going to be able to live apart from the horrors of racism, but we must be more conscious of how posting, sharing and commentating can so easily cross the line from being simply informative and empowering to inadvertently harming our well-being. And White allies and accomplices, be aware of the potential here; every moment does not need to be a moment to show your radical credentials; just say no to tagging and performing anti-racism because your empowerment should not come through yet again disregarding the well-being of the already victimized Black community.

Change is gonna come. While you probably won’t see me announce that I’m filling my feed with cartoon super-heroes and cat videos to provide an alternative to the non-stop horror show that social media can so easily become, I am working curate a space of joy, pleasure, and freedom from the racist violence that is America.

We need to be healthy, balanced and rested, for there are many battles to fight, many challenges to overcome, many miles ahead in our quest for true progress and equality. We need our brains to be right, and our immune systems to be strong. I don’t know the magic formula. As with so much of our struggle, the promise land is out there. I’ll keep trying to find it—for myself, and for you. Because we’re worth fighting for.



Demonstrators at a march in Charleston, S.C., on June 21. CreditDavid Goldman/Associated Press 

Our screens and feeds are filled with news and images of black Americans dying or being brutalized. A brief and yet still-too-long list: Trayvon MartinTamir RiceWalter ScottEric GarnerRenisha McBride. The image of a white police officer straddling a black teenager on a lawn in McKinney, Tex., had barely faded before we were forced to grapple with the racially motivated shooting in Charleston, S.C.

I’ve had numerous conversations with friends and colleagues who are stressed out by the recent string of events; our anxiety and fear is palpable. A few days ago, a friend sent a text message that read, “I’m honestly terrified this will happen to us or someone we know.” Twitter and Facebook are teeming with anguish, and within my own social network (which admittedly consists largely of writers, academics and activists), I’ve seen several ad hoc databases of clinics and counselors crop up to help those struggling to cope. Instagram and Twitter have become a means to circulate information about yoga, meditation and holistic treatment services for African-Americans worn down by the barrage of reports about black deaths and police brutality, and I’ve been invited to several small gatherings dedicated to discussing these events. A handful of friends recently took off for Morocco for a few months with the explicit goal of escaping the psychic weight of life in America.

It was against this backdrop that I first encountered the research of Monnica Williams, a psychologist, professor and the director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities. Several years ago, Williams treated a “high-functioning patient, with two master’s degrees and a job at a company that anyone would recognize.” The woman, who was African-American, had been devastated by racial harassment by a director within her company. Williams recalls being stunned by how drastically her patient’s condition deteriorated as a result of the treatment. “She completely withdrew and was suffering from extreme emotional anxiety,” she told me. “And that’s what made me say, ‘Wow, we have to focus on this.’ ”

In a 2013 Psychology Today article, Williams wrote that “much research has been conducted on the social, economic and political effects of racism, but little research recognizes the psychological effects of racism on people of color.” Williams now studies the link between racism and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is known as race-based traumatic stress injury, or the emotional distress a person may feel after encountering racial harassment or hostility. Although much of Williams’s work focuses on individuals who have been directly targeted by racial discrimination or aggression, she says race-based stress reactions can be triggered by events that are experienced vicariously, or externally, through a third party — like social media or national news events. She argues that racism should be included as a cause of PTSD in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.).

Williams is in the process of opening a clinical program that will exclusively treat race-based stress and trauma, in a predominantly black neighborhood in Louisville. Shortly after the Charleston shooting, I called Williams to discuss her work; what follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

What is race-based stress and trauma? 

It’s a natural byproduct of the types of experiences that minorities have to deal with on a regular basis. I would argue that it is pathological, which means it is a disorder that we can assess and treat. To me, that means these are symptoms that are a diagnosable disorder that require a clinical intervention. It goes largely unrecognized in most people, and that’s based on my experience as a clinician.

What are the symptoms?

Depression, intrusion (the inability to get the thoughts about what happened out of one’s mind), vigilance (an inability to sleep, out of fear of danger), anger, loss of appetite, apathy and avoidance symptoms and emotional numbing. My training and study has been on post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time, and the two look very much alike.

Over the weekend, I received several distressing emails and texts from friends who were suffering from feelings of anxiety and depression. Do you think we should all be in treatment?

I think everyone could benefit from psychotherapy, but I think just talking to someone and processing the feelings can be very effective. It doesn’t have to be with a therapist; it could be with a pastor, family, friends and people who understand it and aren’t going to make it worse by telling you to stop complaining.

What do you think about the #selfcare hashtags on social media and the role of “Black Twitter” as resources for people who may not have the resources they need to help process this? Are online interactions like that more meaningful than they initially might seem?

Online communities can be a great source of support, of course — with the caveat that even just one hater can be stressful for everyone, and that’s the danger of it. But if you don’t have a friend or a family member, just find someone who is sensitive and understanding and can deal with racial issues.

In our initial email about the ripple effects of the murders in Charleston, you used the phrase “vicarious trauma.” What does that mean?

Because the African-American community has such a long history of pervasive discrimination, something that impacts someone many miles away can sometimes impact all of us. That’s what I mean by vicarious traumatization.

Is racial trauma widely recognized as a legitimate disorder?

The trauma of events like this is not formally recognized in the D.S.M. It talks about different types of trauma and stress-related ailments, but it doesn’t say that race trauma can be a factor or a trigger for these problems. Psychiatrists, unless they’ve had some training or personal experience with this, are not going to know to look for it and aren’t going to understand it when they see it. In order for it to be recognized, we have to get a good body of scientific research, a lot of publications in reputable peer-reviewed journals. Right now, there’s only been a few. And we need to produce more.

On your blog, you chronicled the experience of a woman who encounters a therapist who dismisses her fears about racism. Is one barrier to treatment getting the medical community to acknowledge that racism exists?

Yes. A lot of people in the medical community live very privileged lives, so racism isn’t a reality to them. When someone comes in and talks to them, it might sound like a fairy tale, rather than a real daily struggle that people are dealing with. Research shows that African-Americans, for example, are optimistic when they start therapy, but within a few sessions feel less optimistic and have high early dropout rates. It could be that clinicians don’t know how to address their problems, or they may even be saying things that are subtly racist that may drive their clients away. If the patient feels misunderstood or even insulted by the therapist and they don’t go back and get help, they end up suffering for years or even the rest of their lives for something that is very treatable.

Is there a recommended model for treatment?

We have great treatments that are empirically supported for trauma, but the racial piece hasn’t really been studied very well. That’s no easy task, because when we write these articles, they go to journals, where an editor looks at it and decides if it’s worthy and applicable to go in the journal. And then it goes to reviewers who decide if it’s a worthy and applicable topic.

Why has it taken so long to get momentum? 

If you think about it, they weren’t even letting black people get Ph.D.s 30 years ago in a lot of places. Ethnic minority researchers are the ones who are carrying the torch, by and large. We’re only to the place now where we have enough researchers to do the work. And there’s so much work that needs to be done.