We’ve been working on data visualization in class with Northeastern’s John Wihbey, and after doing a brief exercise involving the gender breakdown of Silicon Valley, I decided to look into the breakdown from a racial perspective (this is a blog on race after all). Pulling data from Facebook, Google, and Apple’s 2014 Equal Employment Opportunity reports, I made up this quick graphic to display the racial diversity (or lack thereof) in three of the biggest tech companies in the game. While Facebook, Google, and Apple may be getting more diverse in their hiring of women (it’s still not great, but it is getting better—see the last year column in the individual reports), Silicon Valley has a long way to go to level the playing field for racial diversity.
As the days grow shorter and the weather grows colder, it’s time for coat-switching! What, you may ask, is coat-switching? It is a term, according to movie critic Peter Howell, “which means deliberately shifting cultural traits and vernacular to suit different circumstances”.
If you’re repeatedly re-reading this, it’s because the term used here is actually code-switch, as in Code Switch by NPR. Code-switching is something practically every minority does, but it’s perhaps best known within the Black community. To be more technical, it’s a linguistic term for switching between languages; think Spanglish. And increasingly, it’s being used by educators to help Black students view Black English as a legitimate language and not as “slang”. To quote Dave Chappelle, “every black American is bilingual. We speak street vernacular and we speak job interview.”
You don’t consciously learn it, but by living in a White-dominant culture, you learn workarounds to a system that devalues your own background. This affects minorities across the board–“Your English is so good” is something many Asian Americans and Black Americans have heard in life, although usually for different reasons. The assumption here is that the Asian person’s English is good for an immigrant, the Black person’s English is good for a Black person. Both assumptions are as harmful as they are ignorant.
Peter Howell’s mistake was hearing code-switch (a concept practically every person of color is aware of, at least subconsciously) as coat-switching. In fairness, it does make sense–you’re changing coats/identities depending on who you’re with. The editor of NPR’s Code Switch weighed in too, tweeting this last night:
In fairness, Howell edited his article after realizing his mistake. But the error connects to the larger idea that White America is really out of touch with what minorities see and experience; Fusion ran an article yesterday about this exact issue, focusing on white youth and youth of color. Until we can get people on the same page about what’s going on in the country, we’re going to keep having these major divides.
In other news, water is wet.
On Monday, The O’Reilly Factor ran a “satirical” segment known as Watters’ World, in which Jesse Watters conducts Man on the Street interviews in New York’s Chinatown to ask residents what they think of Donald Trump. Fox Nation, the opinion branch of Fox News called the segment “hilarious”, hilarious because Asians can’t speak Engrish good.
Some might call this protesting, others call it rioting. We’ll be neutral and call it what it is: civil unrest.
This week, we’re focusing on the disparities in the media coverage of Americans who take to the streets to voice their opinions. And I swear, this isn’t even a case of the Hostile Media Effect! Brave New Films has a quick video on it the differences between the way the media talks about protests when the protestors are White or Black, so I’ll let them get the point across. (A note about BNF, I’m personally a tad skeptical of anyone who “challenges mainstream media with the truth” but you be the judge.)
(Admittedly, the title is misleading–you don’t ever learn why the Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof isn’t called a terrorist, but that’s another post for another time.)
The Washington Post has an excellent look into this if you want more info on the Black/White Dichotomy. However, we’re focusing today on the protestors at the Dakota Pipeline, or as they’re calling themselves, Water Protectors.
If you haven’t been following the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, then let me give you the run down: Native Americans are protesting the DAPL, a pipeline that would run from Texas to Illinois, cutting through the Dakotas and Iowa. Protestors are concerned about the environmental impact of the pipeline, and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has sued for an injunction on the pipeline, which was granted, bringing the construction of the pipeline to a halt.
As expected, not everyone is happy about this. Matt Vespa, of the conservative website Townhall.com, wrote that the protestors are violent agitators who deserved to be pepper sprayed and attacked by dogs. Meanwhile, the protestors themselves are saying that they aren’t protestors, they’re protectors. In this video produced by Fusion, protestor Kandi Mossett says she is “protecting the very essence of what [she] is made up of, which is mostly water.”
“It’s just so much bigger than one pipeline, it’s the fossil fuel industry as a whole. It’s ultimately going to be something that comes back on us as humanity,” said Mossett. (This ties in nicely with some more hyper-local news about climate protests happening on Northeastern’s campus!)
Of course, we know that there is always a gap between supporters and opponents of a movement, and there likely always will be. Our language is too nuanced, too rich, and too divided to bridge those differences. But the truth itself isn’t divided. The truth lies between sides, between the peaks of protestor and protector, in a place where both terms are simultaneously true. It’s not a comfortable place to sit, to hold two truths that seem intangible. But we don’t exist in a Black/White dichotomous world; we’re all more fluid than that.
You’ve heard it before: All Look Same. This isn’t just some racist joke kids taunt on playgrounds, pulling the corners of their eyes and putting on unmistakably Asian accent. It’s actually a psychological phenomena known as Out-of-Group Homogeneity, and paired with the Cross-Race Effect, it explains why folks struggle to differentiate people outside of their own race. Essentially, interracial interactions are based on features only, while intraracial interactions are holistic–you literally take the person at face value if they’re outside your race, but if they’re within your race you see them as a whole, individual person. So it’s not an inherently racist statement, and it leads us to consider the larger psychological basis for mixing up people of the same race or even racial profiling.
So you’re an average New Yorker wasting time on your phone when you get this emergency alert.
Note that there was no photo attached, so New Yorkers needed to look up images on their own time. Images have flooded the media now, but initially, there weren’t too many photos available and so citizens were left with nothing but an Arab-sounding name and an age. (Fun fact, another result of the Cross-Race Effect is that people struggle to accurately guess the age of folks of different races! So the odds of someone accurately determining Rahami’s age based on a picture are somewhat slim.)
“By sending out an alert like this, which lacks critical context and information, people are left with only their imagination and previous biases to judge who “Ahmad Khan Rahami” might be. In a single moment, suddenly everybody who appears to be Muslim and/or Middle Eastern becomes a suspect.”
Lachenal cites the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, when Sunil Tripathi was mistaken for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Daily Beast ran a story on his family in April of 2015, check it out here. People searched incessantly for Tripathi, who didn’t show up, primarily because he was dead. He’d killed himself a month before the bombings even happened.
Let’s be clear: police were able to apprehend Rahami because a citizen saw him and called for help. But when we consider the number of young black men stopped (and arrested or killed) because they matched the brief description of a suspect, we can understand why an emergency alert with a lack of details is concerning.
Walk into any intro journalism class anywhere in the country and one of the first questions posed is, “Where do you get your news?” The reality is that today, while most folks still get their news from television sources, a great deal of it (especially in that coveted 18-24 bracket) is digital, and more specifically, mobile. With that in mind, here’s a quick list of Twitter accounts I follow that help to shape my beat of Media and Race in America.
- Charles Blow, New York Times columnist and author of the (haunting and powerful) memoir Fire Shut Up In My Bones. Lately, Blow has been focusing a lot on politics, and has been writing some great pieces on Trump’s relationship with Black America.
- Yamiche Alcindor, another New York Times writer who covers national politics and social justice issues. I met her during my time at MSNBC, but she garnered a bit of attention when asking Senator Bernie Sanders a question.
- Jose-Antonio Vargas is an undocumented, gay, Filipino activist who tweets a great deal about immigration and intersectional identities. He’s also the director and producer of two films: MTV’s White People and Documented.
- Arthur Chu, who many know as the Asian Guy on Jeopardy, has since used his fame to address issues of sexism, racism and homophobia, particularly in nerd culture.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of The Atlantic’s national correspondent and the author of Between the World and Me and more recently the Marvel Comic series Black Panther. Between the World and Me was written to be an updated version of James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” a response to today’s racial unrest, and practically all of Coates work reflects his reality as a Black man in America.
- Liz Plank, of Vox, was named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2015. She used to be with Mic and formerly was a correspondent on MSNBC’s Krystal Clear, and while she mainly covers the 2016 election for Vox, her twitter account is a great source of commentary on all things race, feminism, and fact checking.
- Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer and the author of Adnan’s Story, the New York Times’ best-seller that follows up on the case of Adnan Syed. (If the name doesn’t ring a bell, go binge the first season of Serial–this case is one of the most important ones of 2014.) Chaudry uses her twitter account to talk about the rampant Islamophobia in our country.
- Ijeoma Oluo is an editor at the online weekly The Establishment. As with many folks in the journalism industry, Oluo’s feed is a mix of professional and personal, and she unapologetically tweets on police brutality and anti-Black racism on a daily basis.
- Jeff Yang, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, is now with CNN, but his real strength are his twitter rants, especially those directed at celebrities.
- Trymaine Lee is a national reporter for NBC and MSNBC, and as of right now, he’s covering the Charlotte Riots. If you want live updates right now, go to his page. He recently wrote a powerful feature on the Dakota Access Pipeline–a timely reminder that race issues in America are broader than just Black and White.
Keep in mind, I’m currently following close to a thousand accounts on Twitter, but these 10 are first and foremost the ones I recommend when it comes to covering race on our favorite 140-character platform. Is there anyone I missed? Who do you follow?