Was Gandhi a Racist?

A group of students in Ottawa have demanded the removal of a statue of Gandhi on the campus of Carleton University because he expressed “anti-black” ideas when he worked in South Africa. Others defend memorializing Gandhi because of his legacy of opposing British rule of India, promoting non-violent resistance, and inspiring other movements of civil disobedience, including the American civil rights movement. Within this debate, both sides generally concede the historical details. They disagree, however, about what those details signify, disagreements that center on present concerns, not specifically the past. Continue reading “Was Gandhi a Racist?”

Because YOU’RE an early adopter…

I recently walked past a bus shelter displaying an advert for new flavours of Diet Coke — Feisty Cherry and Exotic Mango — bearing the exhortation “because you’re an early adopter.”

This tickled my inner Marxist.  Maybe I’ve been watching too much Mad Men of late, but I couldn’t help thinking what brilliant advertising this was. Setting aside the fact that Cherry Coke was introduced in 1985 – and what exactly it is that makes this variant “feisty” –  who cares what the product is? YOU should purchase it, because YOU are a trend-setter! YOUR patterns of consumption are so much more on point than others, who admire YOU so much they’ll want to emulate YOU. We, YOUR friends at Coca Cola, want YOU to be a key element in the dissemination of this product. Because YOU are special. Because YOU have a valuable ability to recognize what will be popular before it’s popular. Because YOU are an early adopter. Continue reading “Because YOU’RE an early adopter…”

Naming Things

Screenshot of NPR article on Unification Sanctuary ceremony

Words matter. Which words we use to describe a person or a group can have a significant impact on the image that our description and analysis constructs. In the aftermath of the Parkland School shooting a few weeks ago, a Pennsylvania ceremony that involved the blessing of AR-15s drew considerable response in the traditional media (as in the screenshot above) and across social media. It is easy to see the ways that the narrative about the ceremony became a pawn within the renewed gun control debate, illustrating how narratives are more about the interests of narrators than the specifics of the event. But more than that point (which my colleagues have made before in posts on topics such as sex workers or charges of Satanism) is the significance of the names that different commentators used for this group and ceremony. Continue reading “Naming Things”

“Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”

Ten faces used in Watkins' perception study, five African women and five Caucasian women, with varying levels of makeup.
Fig. 1 from Watkins’ study, depicting the faces participants judged in the study.

According to the headline of a story posted by Tampa’s WFLA news channel, “Wearing makeup can hinder women’s leadership chances, study says.” As someone who doesn’t wear makeup, and rather than continuing to scroll past the link to see the latest good dog on WeRateDogs (@dog_rates), I decided to find out how this decision apparently increased my odds of being a leader. The study, “Negative Effects of Makeup Use on Perceptions of Leadership Ability Across Two Ethnicities,” which was led by Dr. Christopher Watkins in the Division of Psychology at Scotland’s Abertay University, examined what effect the use of makeup (in this case, termed as makeup used for a “social night out”) had on the perception of women’s capacity for leadership. Though the results of the study show that makeup negatively impacts possible leadership ability, the opening line of the WFLA piece seems to draw out the results’ logical conclusion: “A new study found if women want to be great leaders in the workplace, they’ll need to put down the lipstick and go easy on the mascara.”

However, what interests me here is not that someone like me might be promoted as a supervisor over the likes of the latest Revlon spokesperson; rather, I am drawn to how the presumption of authority relates to how we perceive the world around us. That is to say, since our perceptions construct our reality, then they certainly determine who (or what) we find to be authoritative. In other words, authority is not intrinsic to a person or position. But what makes someone capable of being a leader or an authority is not exactly straightforward. Some might say that it’s a person’s credentials or their previous experience. From this study, though, notice that it’s neither of these things that makes these women capable of occupying a role of authority — it’s the way they look. But why do some physical appearances suggest that a person would be a better leader than someone else? Continue reading ““Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.””

A Man, A Tan, “God’s Plan”

Drake with his right hand up beside his face. An image from his music video "Hotline Bling"

Earlier this month Aubrey “Drake” Graham revealed that the knotting of his purse strings to his heartstrings are all a part of “God’s Plan,” the title of his latest music video.

The billboard hit features him giving out the video’s $999,631.90 production budget to the people of Miami. Gifts ranged from surprise shopping sprees to impromptu educational grants to unexpected spa treatments. The emotional reception shown in the video matched the public’s initial positive reactions.

However, the Canadian rapper’s philanthropy—like the Bible—has since been subject to varied interpretations. You’re likely familiar with the more skeptical takes. Continue reading “A Man, A Tan, “God’s Plan””

Racism Creates Race

White Trade Only sign in Ohio restaurant 1938

As Black History Month draws to a close, the question of dividing humanity according to race remains an active issue in contemporary discourse, as the arbitrary creation of racial differences (out of all the possible differences between people) tells us that race is not a natural construct. Some in the US decry the racial divisions that they associate with racial identifications and events like Black History Month. The National Review denounced such “tribalism” and “identity politics” in the days before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, holiday last month. These assertions blame continual racial division on this tribalism within minority groups, but the broader history suggests that these racial identifications and community formations are a consequence of racism, a response to the discrimination and marginalization that racism generates, not the other way around.  Continue reading “Racism Creates Race”

And, with that history off the table, we can sell our app…

Have you seen the recent Babbel commercial — for a language-learning app — that starts out as follows:

Ever wonder why Europeans seem to speak so many languages…?

And their answer is…? Continue reading “And, with that history off the table, we can sell our app…”

Policing Choice

Did you catch the recent controversy over Jennifer Lawrence’s dress? It concerned a recent promotional photo shoot for a new movie, Red Sparrow.

It was identified, in multiple social media comments, as yet another example of the male gaze, of Hollywood using women and female sexuality for its own financial ends, of double standards, etc.

But then this came out: Continue reading “Policing Choice”

Olympic-sized Imaginations

gold medal of 2018 Winter Olympics

The modern Olympic Games have always had an internal tension between uniting the peoples of the world in one global competition and promoting national pride. The ideal of the Olympics can be seen in the shift between the opening ceremony’s parade of nations, with athletes entering according to the country they represent, to the closing ceremony, during which athletes enter as a single, united body. The local media emphasis, though, continually highlights the medal count by nation and the success of athletes on the nation’s team. The formation of the national team, though, raises questions about who counts as part of the nation and demonstrates the ways the national identification is something constructed, not just a natural occurrence.

In the 2018 Winter Olympics, the challenge to the nation-state is apparent in the joint Korean team, both in the opening ceremony and in the women’s hockey team. Despite significant geo-political tensions between the two Koreas (and perhaps because of those tensions), the leaders decided to emphasize a different notion of Korean nationality that ignores the two states on the peninsula and thus highlights the arbitrary, constructed nature of the contemporary nation-state. Yet, the contradictions extend further. The Korean women’s hockey team scored the first hockey goal ever by Korea in the Winter Olympics last Wednesday, but the woman who scored it is an American citizen. Randi Griffin grew up in North Carolina, attended Harvard (where she also played hockey), and has pursued a Ph.D. at Duke University. Because her mom emigrated from South Korea to the United States, the South Korean team invited her to play for South Korea, which then became the united Korean team. Perhaps this represents the Olympic spirit, but it also illustrates the complexity of maintaining a national identity despite the diversity and complicated associations of the citizens of any nation. Continue reading “Olympic-sized Imaginations”

Answer this question to experience sense of agency

For the past few months, as I make the fifteen-minute walk between my residence and my office in Edinburgh, I have interacted with a particular pedestrian crossing. You know the kind with a button which we are supposed to dutifully press and then wait until the signal (here in the form of a somewhat generic, slim, green, male stick figure) gives us permission to cross the road? Some enterprising individual has taken this ubiquitous element of the Edinburgh cityscape and added their social commentary, in the form of a sticker reading ‘press the button to experience sense of agency.’ And this got me thinking…

Many of the buttons that we are routinely invited to press as we go about our lives — from door close buttons in elevators to office thermostats — don’t actually work, but are artifices serving only to provide that experience of a sense of agency. Indeed, according to the BBC, ‘Edinburgh has roughly 300 traffic junctions of which about 50–60 are junctions where the green man comes on automatically.’ And this is the case in many other cities across the world. These buttons sometimes work, sometimes don’t, never work, work at varying intervals at different times, and so on. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the buttons aren’t ‘working’, but that they are doing a different sort of ‘work’ than what we might first expect. They provide a sense of agency. This is not unlike the ‘work’ done by social surveys. Continue reading “Answer this question to experience sense of agency”