Badassery Incarnate, pt 1: Glorifying Rich White Men (And Erasing Everybody Else)

While visiting Los Angeles last week, I saw the trailer below during the previews for a movie. As I sat there in the darkened theater, I thought to myself, “Self.  You are writing a blog post about this when you get back to the East Coast.”

I present to you: The Men Who Built America

In the trailer, this tag line appears: “America wasn’t discovered. It was built.” It then flashes between depictions of men like Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, Rockefeller, Ford, Edison (I assume), and Carnegie–all of them rocking suits and  yelling various things which peg them as badass, ruthless, and unaplogetic capitalists.
There’s a lot to talk about here. (after the jump)

Read More »

Stereotypes and the first laptop

An interesting article over at the Atlantic on how gender stereotypes and the keyboard might have made it more difficult for the first laptop to catch on.

‘This is an amazing fact. We had this product. It was designed for business executives. And the biggest obstacle, one of the biggest obstacles, we had for selling the product was the fact — believe it or not — that it had a keyboard. I was in sales and marketing. I saw this first-hand. At that time, 1982, business people, who were in their 40s and 50s, did not have any computer or keyboard in their offices. And it was associated with being part of the secretarial pool or the word processing (remember that industry?) department. And so you’d put this thing in their office and they’d say, “Get that out of here.” It was like getting a demotion. They really were uncomfortable with it.’

Though Hawkins doesn’t quite say it. There is a distinct gendered component to this discomfort. Typing was women’s work and these business people, born in the 1930s and 1940s, didn’t scrap their way up the bureaucracy to be relegated to the very secretarial work they’d been devaluing all along.

Of course, it also cost something like $20,000 in today’s currency–still, this makes me wonder what interesting cases for agnotology we might find in forms of practical knowledge.

An immigrant in limbo between two Americas

“Maria Gomez, a UCLA graduate with a master’s in architecture, grew up believing in the American Dream while living in its shadows as an illegal immigrant.”

An immigrant in limbo between two Americas, by Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times (June 8, 2012)

Click here for this important, timely, moving story

… makes me think of my grandparents migration, my parents work, and how my situation(s) in the world relates to the situations of others… What do readers think of Maria Gomez? Does this story about her relate in any particular ways to your views of certain stereotypes or your moral judgments about immigration?

High Pay too High – findings of UK High Pay Commission

The High Pay Commission is an independent body set up to investigate high pay in the UK. A year long investigation culminated in the publication of a report on Monday. Those who’ve been keeping an eye on the recession will be wholly unsurprised to learn that the poorer members of society are bearing the costs of austerity cuts, whilst the top 0.1% of earners are getting richer. The Commission states that:

In 1980 top bosses were well rewarded, but they had not pulled so far away from the rest of society. Since then some of them have enjoyed an increase of over 4000% to what are now multi-million pound packages… so much wealth has been channelled to those at the very top. This is a trend that has led to such a huge rise in inequality over the period that Britain now has a gap between rich and poor that rivals that in some developing nations.

Amongst the figures quoted by the Commission, is the salary of the chief executive at Lloyds Bank (now partly owned by the State), which the Commission states has increased by more than 3,000% since 1980 to more than £2.5m – 75 times the average Lloyds employee’s salary. In 1980, it was just (‘just’ – hah!) 13.6 times the average. Lloyds have responded with the claim that “The High Pay Commission’s figures are flawed. They have compared the average basic salary of our employees to a remuneration package awarded to the CEO that includes salary, bonus and benefits. As a result they have reached an inflated number that is entirely unrepresentative of the truth” – because everyone knows that bonuses and benefits aren’t really part of one’s salary, just little treats left by the banking fairy.

A copy of the High Pay Commission’s report, including recommendations such as not-doing-salary-deals-in-secret, can be downloaded from here.

Uttar Pradesh – extreme violence against women

Uttar Pradesh – a state in Northern India – is seeing an increasing number of extremely brutal attacks on women. In the latest case, a sixteen year-old woman was assaulted with knives and axes before being gang raped. The woman and her family are too scared to stay in their village. They have abandoned their home and land to stay with relatives. This is just one of hundreds of rapes and attempted rapes that have happened this year in Uttar Pradesh. The attacks are a tragic example of the intersection between gender, class, and poverty. Women are accorded very low status in the region. Moreover, many of those attacked are Dalits – members of India’s lowest caste, which used to be known as ‘untouchables’. An analysis of rape figures carried out by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Uttar Pradesh found that 90% of the victims were Dalits. Poverty makes things worse, as people are unable to afford sanitation in their homes, forcing them to go out into their fields at night to go to the toilet. Many women are attacked whilst performing their ablutions. Campaigners say that most of the rapists are people with money and political power. Roop Rekha Verma of Sajhi Duniya (Shared World), an organisation based in Lucknow that works with women says, ‘It’s a very difficult situation here… There is a lot of violence: Crimes are escalating; gender problems are increasing; girls are being attacked, both in rural and urban areas… These cases are so brutal that we wouldn’t have believed that they could happen – we thought such things could happen only in novels and films’. You can read more here.

‘The Oxbridge Whitewash’

David Lammy entered a Freedom of Information request to get Oxford and Cambridge to reveal information about applications and admissions.

The results (reported here) are appaling: Oxford admitted one black Caribbean student last year. 21 (out of 44) Oxford colleges made no offers to black students last year.

Lammy suggests the problem is not simply a matter of black and ethnic minority students not applying. Rather, white students were more likely to be successful than black students at most colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. This seems to be particularly so for black women:

The starkest divide in Cambridge was at Newnham, an all-women’s college, where black applicants had a 13% success rate compared with 67% for white students.

A spokesperson suggests that the low acceptance rates may be explained by the fact that black students tend to apply for the most over-subscribed subjects.

Class representation is also poor, as the data gathered show:

that Oxford’s social profile is 89% upper- and middle-class, while 87.6% of the Cambridge student body is drawn from the top three socioeconomic groups. The average for British universities is 64.5%, according to the admissions body Ucas.

From what we know about solo status and stereotype threat, there’s reason to suppose that such low numbers may affect the experience of working class and black and ethnic minority students at these universities. And there’s clear anecdotal evidence of under-representation putting off prospective applicants:

Matthew Benjamin, 28, who studied geography at Jesus College, Oxford, said: “I was very aware that I was the only black student in my year at my college. I was never made to feel out of place, but it was certainly something I was conscious of. …

“On open days, some black kids would see me and say ‘you’re the only black person we’ve seen here – is it even worth us applying?'”

And this is all in face of a fees hike…
It is worth noting that, as far as I know, both Cambridge and Oxford operate a ‘Special Access Scheme’, aimed at recruiting excellent students from schools which do not have excellent grade averages. One might wonder how effective such schemes are, in light of these figures.

How Fair Is Britain?

You can find out here.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s comprehensive report highlights, for example, the gender pay gap, the gender and ethnic segregation of education and employment, the qualifications gap for disabled people, the incidence of homophobic, transphobic, disability-related and religiously motivated bullying in schools and workplaces…

Class divisions in the UK – health

One way in which class divisions manifest themselves is health: in short, poorer people tend to be less healthy than rich people. The UK government has, over the years, attempted to narrow the health gap. But a recent review of deaths between 1921 and 2007 has shown that people in the most deprived areas are still more likely to die prematurely than people from richer areas. The Guardian article is here.