Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Subtle Racism of the Comments Section

This week in the LA Times, writer Hector Tobar wrote about Meg Whitman, a GOP candidate for California governor this year, and how she fired her longtime housekeeper of nine years once she found that she was an undocumented immigrant. Now, Tobar is clearly biased in this article, only talking to women that he found in a shopping mart, without using any names as sources, claiming that he only did so so that these “moms”, as he calls them repeatedly, could speak honestly.

These were the first two flags that Tobar was heading into murky territory. Only talking to certain women (moms) in one shopping center is indicative of lazy research, but then there’s the fact that he couldn’t find one that let him use her name. That’s just bad journalism. He also finds ways to project his own thoughts onto the readers.

“One can imagine the housekeeper sadly casting her glance down on the freshly polished floors of that Silicon Valley mansion as she revealed this embarrassing truth. One can imagine her thinking: now my boss knows.”

One can imagine that after reading this, they would think he is a full of crap. Or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, no matter how biased Tobar’s article comes across, it is clear in the comments section of the article that this kind of topic can not be tackled so lightly, only using unnamed people’s opinions at a random shopping center. There need to be facts, figures, less sympathy and a news story that actually strives to tell people why Whitman was wrong, not just show that some (but not all) moms at the Brentwood shopping center think so.

Many people also saw the bias in the article, but unfortunately these people used it as an excuse to be racist, albeit subtle. Here are a few of the highlights:


“The white working class -- construction to be exact -- an industry, that has seen wages decline in real terms, largely because of the influx immigrants -- legal and illegal. Indeed in many cases these workers are shut out, as Mexicans and other Latinos have monopolized construction sites, hiring 'their own' -- 'cousins', folks from back in their home villages.” – Mitchell Young


It’s clear in comments like these that there are people out there who are convinced that immigrants are taking over the country, and in Mr. Young’s case he doesn’t even care of they’re here legally or not. Apparently they all have loads of cousins to hire. Now, I wouldn’t call this clear cut racism, but then only a few posts down he posts this:


“He is a biased Latino activist of a columnist, someone who doesn't care about the common good at all, but merely what is good for his own raza.” - Young


Annnd it comes flowing out. Young was able to hold it in a little bit, but after someone complimented Tobar on the fact that he did moderate any comments, he couldn’t help himself; obviously (to him), a Latino writer cannot write about something like illegal immigration with anything close to objectivism. Sadly, that IS racist thinking, punctuated by the fact that he used the Spanish word for race, raza, as if all Hispanics identify with it. Unfortunately Young isn’t the only reader who feels this way.


“If you follow his editorial column you'll know that 100% his commentaries are about the sad lives and oppression of illegal aliens. It's really hilarious. They break every law in the world, but "they're" the victims. If I'm not mistaken Hector was the son of two illegals (a perfect choice for the L.A. Times).” – Kurtiffrig


I guess Kurtiffrig (who I will refer to as Mr. Frig) was betting that people wouldn’t follow the column, because he is extremely wrong. Besides these different examples, all from Tobar's column, none about illegal immigration, Frig is attacking Tobar directly, calling him by his first name as if he knows him, but probably not due to the fact that he uses the offensive term, illegals, to refer to his parents. Add that to the fact that while his parents were immigrants, they were not illegal. Just clicking on his bio would show you that, but Frig probably doesn’t care about any of that.

And because there are over 200 comments, I’ll leave you with just one more example:


“You'd have to be out of your mind to hire a Hispanic after what this lying backstabber did to Meg Whitman. And look what lying illegal aliens have done to other women's careers - not just republicans, but far-left radicals. Of course she's illegal! Why would anyone go through the hoops of legal immigration when all you have to do is walk across the border.”– Doctorfixit


First he calls the maid a lying backstabber simply because Whitman didn’t realize she was illegal, and now all Hispanics are not to be trusted? This is why Tobar needs to write about topics like these much more carefully, and not empathize so much. I can understand why he feels the way he does, but unfortunately for him, not many people will. And its the people that can’t that are the ones that need to.



Friday, August 6, 2010

Ad Fail: Hershey's Chocolate Facial

Driving around town, I saw a Hershey's Chocolate ad which read: Give yourself a facial, accompanied by a messy child with chocolate all over his mouth, and a picture of a woman like this one:


The Ad would be fine, except that putting chocolate all over your face doesn't have many benefits, especially not Hershey's brand of milk chocolate. For it to be effective actual cocoa powder must be used in conjunction with honey and yogurt, and even then the benefits are questionable. Not to mention, the picture looks disturbingly similar to this one:



That's the character Roger from the AMC series Mad Men, in blackface. The show apparently did it for shock value to show how things were really like back in the 1960's. Maybe he just had a chocolate facial himself.

Or maybe not.





Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Their best decision since 2000

Last week, on Thursday, January 21st, the Supreme Court overruled two precedents concerning corporations and their stance within the first amendment, ruling that the government cannot ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. It was a 5-4 decision with the majority claiming that banning these ads would interfere with the first amendment. Writing for the majority, which included Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that:

“If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”

That sounds fine, assuming that political speech and political spending are equivalent. Assuming that a corporation needs to spend a certain amount of money for them to hold a political stance, then this ruling makes absolute sense. Then again, corporations have always been able to act through political action committees, and they already use lobbyists to influence decision, so one wonders why such a ruling was made. After all, precedent was already set in 1990 with Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which sustained restrictions on corporate spending in relation to political candidates, not to mention the Bipartisan Campaign reform act of 2002, which restricted spending by corporations, as well as unions. Matter of fact, the act was tried the next year with McConnell v. Federal Election Commission in 2003, and it was still upheld.

Clearly, there was a reason corporations could not spend unlimited amounts of money on candidate election, most likely fear of corruption. With caps on how much corporations, and conversely, unions could spend for elections, the playing field was leveled. Sure, corporations make much more money than unions; in fact it’s what they were made to do. Unions could never match the power or money of big corporations, but then again they exist to protect and further in the interests of their workers. It’s important that both of these groups have an equal say in government, because their interests are on opposite sides of the spectrum. With unlimited amount of spending however, corporations could drown out the union voices with money.

Justice Kennedy also noted that “there was no way to distinguish between media corporations, and other corporations”, meaning that the dissenters theory would let congress suppress political speech in newspapers, books, or even television. Really though, it is a good point. There really isn’t a way to tell the different between say Sunoco, and Fox News Broadcasting. It’s important to note that before this decision, the first amendment did not suppress this type of speech for any of the noted mediums. Again, nothing was stopping these corporations from being heard in the first place, they just couldn’t spend as much as they wanted to. “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought.” Justice Kennedy wrote. It’s confusing, yes, mostly because it makes the case seem like the government was trying to shut these corporations up, instead of just capping how much money they could spend.

Justice Stevens, along with Justices Sotomayer, Ginsburg, and Breyer, said that the majority had committed a grave error in treating corporate speech the same as that of human beings, and that allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace would corrupt democracy. Well-said sir. Well said indeed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

When Racial Stereotypes turn into Racism: an Introduction

There is a fine line between racial stereotyping and racism. While it’s not certain which came first, or if they manifested together, they still exist in many forms today. In the mainstream United States, racial stereotyping is unique in that even though it is generally frowned upon, it can be okay, or even funny, if done tastefully. Racism on the other hand is seen as evil under any circumstances, and no one would ever promote it, or want to. The problem then, is in knowing when that line has been crossed. There exists no omnipresent being that decides what is racist and what is not, and many people claim to know it when they see it. Therein lies the danger of stereotyping, no matter how harmless it might seem. Regardless, it is all over the media, on television, advertisements, even sports.

In 1953, an episode of the cartoon Looney Tunes was released, titled “Southern Fried Rabbit”. In one of the scenes, Yosemite Sam is guarding the mason Dixie line, as to not let Bugs Bunny through. To get through, Bugs uses a disguise as he often does in his cartoons, except this time it is as a slave. Bugs is dressed up in black face, in an oversized shirt and vest, playing a song on a banjo.

Yosemite Sam asks him to play another song, and when he plays Yankee Doodle, Yosemite Sam becomes infuriated and marches over to him with his sword drawn. When he does this however, Bugs quickly places a whip in his hand and starts rolling on the ground saying, “don’t beat me massah, please don’t beat me massah, don’t beat this tired old body, no!”

When this cartoon came out later on different stations, the scene was cut. While many might consider the scene offensive, the intent of the scene was to poke fun at the stereotype of a slave, so that the audience could laugh. One would think that it would be preposterous for a program to do that and get away with it in the present, but the sad reality is that it still does happen, and with the same intent: humor.

An episode of the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force was released in April of 2009, where a “radioactive black man” bites one of the main characters, Master Shake, and for painfully obvious reasons, he turns into a black version of himself (he is a giant milkshake). He can suddenly freestyle rap, his straw grows much longer, his lips get twice as large, and he has a permanent golden grill (a plate adorned with diamonds and jewels) affixed to his teeth. His vertical jump is multiplied and he starts using slang, almost every single stereotype of a black person; he personifies.

The reason this is problematic is because it is intended for people to laugh at, but it does not explain why they should. Presenting all these stereotypes without any explanation is dangerous; people could be laughing because of how over the top the stereotypes are. Others could be laughing because they think that the stereotypes are all true, in which case it could be considered racist.

Most of the time, stereotypes are not so visible, and many companies use it in advertising, however subtle. McDonald’s for example, has it’s own site for black Americans, 365black.com, and one for Asian pacific Americans, myinspirasian.com, as well. Both sites are similar in that they both offer job and franchising opportunities, however they differ drastically after that. Myinspirasian.com has a culture tab that gives a short history of Asian Pacific month; with separate tabs in it that has Asian achievements in technology, sports, art, and other things. 365black.com has no corresponding section.

In their “about” tab, all that is mentioned is that McDonald's believes that “African-American culture and achievement should be celebrated 365 days a year — not just during Black History Month. That's the idea behind 365Black.com.” This is a nice notion, yet there is no place on the site containing any black history, not even a link to where someone could find it. McDonald’s claims to be involved in “the community” on both of these sites, but in doing so have already negatively stereotyped. Based on the statements on the site, the corporation must assume that because different people belong to the same race, they must have the same interests, and have the same issues as well. Interestingly enough, Myinspirasian.com has an event calendar, with different Asian Pacific events all around the nation, as well as a list of college workshops. 365black.com only has links to four events, three of which are musical events or music centered, and one which is a link to McDonald’s regular website. Are these sites racist? It’s hard to say, but there is no denying the stereotypes present.

The music links on 365Black.com are either R&B or gospel, and they only offer educational opportunities in the form of a few scholarships, instead of all of the education workshops Myinspirasian.com has. It could be that there just aren’t as many education workshops for black people, but the lack of any kind of educational links besides the ones to Hamburger University (McDonald’s Managerial training school), makes it easier to find a career in McDonald’s over furthering your education.

Racial stereotypes don’t just affect the races they represent, if they did, there wouldn’t be the danger of racism. Jesse Washington, the race and ethnicity writer for the Associated Press believes that stereotypes turn bad when they are defended.

“As soon as you start thinking that they exist because they’re true, no one is going to say that’s good.”

This can lead to prejudice thinking, but it does not always mean it will be hateful. Caucasians for example, have very few widespread slurs that describe them in a negative way, and the stereotypes are often cultural, making it difficult to market to them as a whole. However, they can be affected by stereotypes of other races, positive or negative. In a 1999 study by Aronson, Lustina, Good, Keough, Steele, & Brown, two separate groups of white students with equal math ability were given a test. The first group was told beforehand “the study was designed to identify the nature and scope of differences in performance between Asians and other groups in mathematics.” This group did significantly worse than the second group, who were given no such information. The second experiment showed similar results, further showing that those students who identified themselves with mathematics tested more poorly under the stereotype threat. The mere fact that they believed in these stereotypes discouraged them enough to affect their performance.

The stereotype that black people are better athletes has also had an effect on white people in the NBA. In data released by the ESPN show, Outside the Lines, it showed that 71.8 percent of NBA players are black, 18.3 are international players and 9.9 percent are white Americans. In the last five NBA drafts, 195 black Americans were selected, 80 international players were drafted, but just 25 white Americans. Looking at that data it would be easy for the average NBA viewer to say that black people are just better at basketball, in fact, it would be hard to deny. And many people watch the NBA, even when they aren’t in the playoffs or finals.

The stereotype evolved, and has almost become a known “fact”, although there is no gene in the human body that makes one race superior to another in any sort of way. This is when the stereotype turns into a racist notion, however hateful it might be.