America's legacy of post-slavery racism and the case for reparations


Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Case for Reparations is an important, compelling history of the post-slavery debate over reparations, running alongside the post-slavery history of US governmental and private-sector violence and theft from the descendants of slaves in America. Coates's thesis -- compellingly argued -- is that any "achievement gap" or "wealth gap" in American blacks is best understood as an artifact of centuries of racial violence and criminal misappropriations of black people, particularly visited upon any black person who expressed ambition or attained any measure of economic success.

As Coates demonstrates, a series of deliberate government policies, continuing to this day, ensured that unscrupulous American businesses could raid the savings and loot the accumulated wealth of black people. From the millions who were terrorized into indentured servitude in the south to the millions who were victimized by redlining and had every penny they could earn stolen by real-estate scammers in the north, the case for reparations is not about merely making good on the centuries-old evil of slavery. It's about the criminal physical and economic violence against black people in living memory and continuing to today.

This is a long and important read, and the "reporter's notebook" sidebars cast further light on the subject from unexpected angles. Coates makes a compelling case that the racist violence against black people in America is of a different character than other class war and other racist oppression, and deserves unique consideration.

Read the rest

1949 chart shows difference between high- and low-brow taste

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This chart from a 1949 issue of LIFE will help you determine if you are high-brow, upper middle-brow, lower middle-brow, or low-brow. I like wedge iceberg lettuce salad so I am lower middle-brow. (via TWBE)

Actually, most college students aren't hooking up as much as you think

Really interesting little bit of social science at Slate where Lisa Wade looks at the "OMG COLLEGE STUDENTS ARE JUST INDISCRIMINATELY BANGING EACH OTHER WHILE DRUNK ALL THE TIME" scare story, and finds a very different picture of what's happening in reality. The catch: In order to understand why both the pop narrative and the reality can co-exist, you have to break college students down by demographics. Some students really are engaging in what's come to be called "hook-up culture", but they tend to be the most privileged students — the ones whose wealth, race, and social status can better protect them from the consequences of mistakes, and who think about their college life (and future goals) in very different ways compared to less-privileged peers.

Indie rock, class, race, and culture in America


Martin Douglas's "The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show" is a fascinating longread about race, culture and class, partly a memoir of Douglas's life as a young black kid in a North Carolina housing project who loved indie rock; partly a critique of the way we think about what blackness, whiteness and culture are.

The black kids of my generation and the ones before it were raised with the notion that it’s essential to hold onto one’s “blackness,” and that venturing outside of those boundaries meant you were trying to assimilate to white society, to “be more like one of them.” But essentially every African-American child growing up has an intimate knowledge of some version of the black experience, and the way we dress or the music we listen to still won’t hide the color of our skin. I never saw my interest in alternative culture as a way to obfuscate my racial identity. Aside from the annoyance of being typecast as a fan of a band purely based on superficial concerns, that conversation overlooked the one substantial reason why there are a lot of black people who relate to TV on the Radio’s music: They are a band primarily consisting of African-American men who often explore what it means to be African-American. For a generation of alternative music fans made to believe we were betraying “what it means” to be black, a band had finally come along that made that very idea a theme in its music.

But as TV on the Radio started to grow in notoriety, it still created a schism in my initial attraction to rock music; here was a band that was, for all intents and purposes, “socially acceptable” for black people to like. This falls into my earlier point about young children emulating people who look like them. I imagine if the band were around when I was younger — with their overtures to shoegaze, incisive and smart lyrics, steadfast commitment to experimentalism, and Kyp Malone’s beard — they probably would have been my favorite band throughout my entire childhood. At the very least, I wouldn’t have felt like such an outsider for loving alternative music.

The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show (via Andre's Notes)

Marshmallow Study and class

You've no doubt heard of Walter Mischel's Marshmallow Test and its followup study, which examined the relationship between delayed gratification (the ability to resist the temptation to eat a marshmallow right away with the promise of more if you succeed) and overall life success. Celeste Kidd, a U Rochester doctoral candidate, has published a paper in Cognition challenging Mischel's findings, arguing that children from more unpredicatable circumstances may choose the single marshmallow because they have a rational basis for suspecting that the experimenter is lying to them about the additional marshmallows that await them if they follow instructions.

The Marshmallow Test is sometimes used to suggest that people are poor because they have low self-control; Kidd's paper implies that poor people behave wisely when they grab opportunities as they present themselves, because they are often lied to when it comes to promises of greater rewards down the road.

Celeste Kidd adds:

The video discusses a study we recently did at the University of Rochester that revisits the original 'marshmallow task' experiments from Stanford in the 1960's. Our results suggest children's waiting during the marshmallow task might actually result from a rational decision-making process--not just a deficiency in self-control.

In the Stanford experiments, most children--75% of 3- to 5-year-olds in one study--appeared unable to resist the temptation of an immediate low-value reward (one marshmallow now) over a future high-value one (two marshmallows after 15 minutes). There's a popular misconception about these studies, though, which is that waiting for the second marshmallow is always the right thing to do. In fact, there are a lot of situations in which waiting is a bad idea. If you're skeptical that a second marshmallow will ever become available--or you believe there's a risk that your first marshmallow might be taken away--you should enjoy the smaller reward right away.

In our study, we preceded marshmallow-task testing with evidence that the experimenter running the study was either reliable or unreliable. Children who believed the experimenter was reliable then waited about four times longer before eating the marshmallow than those who thought she was unreliable (12 minutes vs. 3 minutes). These results suggest that children engage in very sensible decision-making that considers environmental reliability. They may also provide an alternative explanation for why marshmallow wait-times correlate with later life success--successful people grow up in reliable situations. Broadly, the study illustrates that children build a model of the reliability of others' behavior--and use this model to inform their decisions.

The Marshmallow Study Revisited

Rational snacking: Young children’s decision-making on the marshmallow task is moderated by beliefs about environmental reliability (Cognition), PDF

(Thanks, Celeste!)

Energy policy is leaving the middle class behind

If you've paid much attention to policy in general, you won't be too surprised by what I'm about to tell you about energy policy. Many of our well-meaning public programs use tax dollars for the near-exclusive benefit of the wealthy—the group of people who need those shared funds the least.

Today I spoke at "What Will Turn Us On in 2030?", a conference about the short-term future of energy in the United States. At the conference, I met Lisa Margonelli, director of the Energy Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation. Margonelli has spent the last year researching the effects of high gasoline prices on middle class and working class families. (I'll be posting some more about that project later.) Along the way, she noticed some serious problems with the way we're currently trying to change energy systems in the U.S.—problems that actually endanger our ability to make real, long-term change.

The green policies put in place by the Bush and Obama administrations are not only not aimed at the middle class; they’re benefitting the wealthy at precisely the moment that high gas prices have slammed the lower middle class.

Consider the flashiest green support for consumers at the moment: tax credits for the purchase of electric cars and solar panels. Buy an electric car (more than $40,000) or a solar array (more than $20,000) and get a tax credit. But most American families making the median income (about $50,000) spend more per year on their old used cars and fuel ($7,900) than they do on taxes ($6,000). So a tax credit effectively steers the taxes they do pay toward those in the upper income brackets.

... Green products and technology need government support. We’ve given so much to high-carbon fuels and infrastructure that they have a built-in advantage, but we can’t afford to depend upon them in the future. If we want to give green energy real political legs, policymakers need to be sure that the middle class gets some of the green goodies that can save money: more efficient vehicles, household solar panels or water heaters, energy-efficiency upgrades. In fact, making sure that there's a middle class market for these goods is part of actually building a strong U.S. green industry—in much the way we built markets for cars, for houses after World War II, and even for home appliances. It’s actually a lot easier to build smart policies than it is to build a killer electric car or a scalable biofuel. But for some reason, we’re not doing it.

Cost of raising middle-income child in USA increases by 40% in ten years


According to the US Dept of Agriculture, the cost of raising a child in a middle-income family has increased by 40 percent over the past ten years. Every major category of child-rearing expense has seen steep increase: day-care, education, food, gas, medical insurance, and so on. At this rate, childrearing may become a luxury item for America's increasingly wealthy super-rich.
"It takes half of my paycheck to pay for my child care -- you start to feel like, Is this even worth it?" said Anna Aasen, a mother of two from Roseburg, Ore.

In 2010, the cost of putting two children in child care exceeded the median annual rent payments in every single state, according to a recent report by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, or NACCRRA.

"It defies logic," said Linda Smith, NACCRRA's executive director. As more families are priced out of licensed child care services, the health and safety of those children are put in jeopardy, she said.

For Stephanie Serafini, 38, licensed day care for her two children comprises about 30% of her $39,000 annual income. Serafini pays a particularly high rate for care because her oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger's and ADHD.

It is by far Serafini's largest monthly expense, but also the one with the least flexibility. "Other bills don't get paid," she admitted. "If you don't have day care you don't work."

The rising cost of raising a child (via Consumerist)

Tracking down the stories behind a trove of 1920s report cards from a NYC girls' vocational school


Writing in Slate, Paul Lukas tells a fascinating series of New York stories that he learned when he decided to track down the subjects of a packet of 1920s report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls he'd rescued from the trash. The school was a revolutionary experiment in free, public, desegregated education for the girl-children of poor immigrant families, and included a job-placement scheme that tracked the graduates for years after they left school. Lukas tracked down several of the families of these graduates and learned how the school affected their lives, in a long feature that is both inherently fascinating and very well-told.
I have 395 student records, all from a now-defunct vocational institution originally called the Manhattan Trade School for Girls and later known by several other names (Manhattan Industrial High School, the Manhattan High School for Women's Garment Trades, and Mabel Dean Bacon Vocational School). For the purposes of simplicity, I will refer to it by its original name throughout this series of articles. Click here for a detailed description of the cards as physical objects.

Girls attended Manhattan Trade in lieu of high school, usually beginning when they were 14 or 15, and were expected to finish by the time they turned 17. The school was founded in 1902 by a group of wealthy progressives and offered one- and two-year programs in a variety of disciplines, primarily in the "needle trades" (dressmaking, sewing machine operation, millinery) and, to a lesser extent, the "brush and glue trades" (sample catalog mounting, novelty box making, lampshade making). The curriculum also stressed thrift, home economics, personal presentation, and other life skills that would help the students survive in the labor marketplace. Many thousands of students attended the school over the years, so the 395 report cards in my collection are just a snapshot of the school's operations. (We'll take a closer look at the school later in this series.)

All 395 students were female. Most were born between 1900 and 1920, and a few in the late 1800s, which means they attended Manhattan Trade primarily in the 1910s, '20s, and '30s. They came from all five boroughs of New York City, and a few lived in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Permanent Record (via Kottke)