culture

The new movie Black Panther is breaking records at the box office, and generating lots of commentary online. The article that has most resonated with me is “Why ‘Black Panther’ is a Defining Moment for Black America.” Author Carvell Wallace begins with “the Grand Lake Theater — the kind of old-time movie house with cavernous ceilings and ornate crown moldings — is one place I take my kids to remind us that we belong to Oakland, Calif. Whenever there is a film or community event that has meaning for this town, the Grand Lake is where you go to see it.” My wife, mother-in-law, and I saw the movie at the Grand Lake Theater the day after it was released. The jam-packed multicultural crowd roared when the opening scene was identified as being set in Oakland, and many other scenes generated thunderous applause. I experienced the movie again the next day at a special screening for SJSU students. I’ll probably go view the movie a third time soon!

Carvell begins the analysis of the movie by contrasting it with earlier films with Black superheroes, which were either comedies or action films with the hero’s blackness being incidental.

Black Panther, by contrast, is steeped very specifically and purposefully in its blackness. “It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency,” says Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms. These characters, she notes, “are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty” — the usual topics of acclaimed movies about the black experience.

“Black Panther is a Hollywood movie,” Carvell continues, “and Wakanda is a fictional nation. But coming when they do, from a director like Coogler, they must also function as a place for multiple generations of black Americans to store some of our most deeply held aspirations.” The movie sits squarely in the Afrofuturism artistic movement:

Afrofuturism, a decidedly black creation, is meant to go far beyond the limitations of the white imagination. It isn’t just the idea that black people will exist in the future, will use technology and science, will travel deep into space. It is the idea that we will have won the future. There exists, somewhere within us, an image in which we are whole, in which we are home. Afrofuturism is, if nothing else, an attempt to imagine what that home would be. Black Panther cannot help being part of this.

Carvell closes with “we hold one another as a family because we must be a family in order to survive. Our individual successes and failures belong, in a perfectly real sense, to all of us. That can be for good or ill. But when it is good, it is very good. It is sunlight and gold on vast African mountains, it is the shining splendor of the Wakandan warriors poised and ready to fight, it is a collective soul as timeless and indestructible as vibranium. And with this love we seek to make the future ours, by making the present ours. We seek to make a place where we belong.” Indeed!

 

The Pacific Standard website has published a fascinating story about using data to help migrants find work. In the article the authors of a Science magazine article are interviewed; they discuss their study of applying an artificial intelligence algorithm to analyze historical data to predict where to best settle refugees upon their arrival in a new country. The authors note,

Refugee policies, like immigration policies generally, are dominated by ideology rather than sound evidence. We haven’t seen a lot of innovations in this space. Cash assistance, language instruction, training programs: These turn out to be very expensive and difficult to scale. The nice thing is, from a policy perspective, [using artificial intelligence algorithms] doesn’t really cost you anything more. It’s just a smarter way of doing the allocation. Rather than doing it in a haphazard, quasi-random fashion, as we’re doing it right now, we might as well do it in a more data-driven way, where we send people to the places they’re more likely to succeed.

Indeed!

Amazon Books editors have chosen a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime. I’ve only read half of them. Over spring break I’ll have to lock myself in a room and catch up…

Today (January 16, 2018) is the second annual National Day of Racial Healing (NDORH). The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) asked colleges and universities across the country to engage in activities, events, and/or strategies that promote healing and foster engagement around the issues of racism, bias, inequity, and injustice in U.S. and/or global societies. The AACU&U notes, “this is an opportunity for people and organizations to come together in their common humanity and take collective action to create a more just and equitable world.” NDORH is an initiative in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) effort, a national community-based process to promote transformational and sustainable change that addresses historical and contemporary effects of racism. We did not plan any NDORH activities in the College of Social Sciences this year; that will have to change next year.

The December 29, 2017 edition of the MapLab newsletter examines “some of 2017’s big narratives (for cities and the world) in maps, and some of 2017’s best maps, in stories.” The editors chose these categories: women march, gentrifiers gentrify, Russia snoopes?, missiles move, megaregions dawn, mass shootings accelerate, cities resist, opioids kill, tech’s power grows, Puerto Rico goes dark, a people wiped off the map, a red state goes blue, and two minutes of zen. Most of the categories are two-word entries, so I’ll close with this: “maps rock!”

 

Today I learned a new word: “youthquake.” According to the Oxford Dictionaries this is “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people,” and it is their world of the year.  The other eight finalists for word of the year were Antifa, broflake, gorpcore, kompromat, milkshake duck, newsjacking, unicorn, and White fragility. I’ve only heard of Antifa and White fragility [and unicorn, but only as a reference to a mythical animal, not “denoting something, especially an item of food or drink, that is dyed in rainbow colours, decorated with glitter, etc.”]. I’ll need to read the dictionary more often…

I am on the Board of Directors for StoryCenter, the world-renowned nonprofit organization that uses innovative story development practices and participatory media methods to support people in sharing personal narratives rooted in their own life experiences. I was recently interviewed about my pathway to become a digital storyteller and digital storytelling advocate. Other board members will be interviewed later; this group include SJSU College of Social Sciences assistant professor Nikki Yeboah, one of the newest members!

In July 2017 I posted a note about the redesign of CityLab, one of my favorite websites about urban life. Their latest innovation is MapLab, a “biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces.” Check it out!

Is American conservatism inherently bigoted? Many conservatives would be enraged by the question. Many liberals suspect the answer is yes.” So begins a provocative article in the December 2017 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Republican Is Not a Synonym for Racist.” The first paragraph continues: “these different reactions stem, in part, from different definitions of bigotry. Conservatives tend to define it in terms of intention: You’re guilty of bigotry if you’re trying to harm people because of their race, gender, or the like. Liberals are more likely to define it in terms of impact: You’re guilty if your actions disadvantage an already disadvantaged group, irrespective of your motives.” How do we get past that differential? “Conservatives must reckon with their policies’ discriminatory effects. That would be more likely if liberals stopped carelessly crying bigot.”

An advertisement for Dove body wash was recently deemed racially insensitive for its portrayal of a Black woman who removes her brown shirt to reveal a White woman wearing a tan shirt. There is a long history of advertisers being insensitive to African American consumers…when they paid attention to that segment of the market at all. The Pacific Standard article “A Brief History of Companies Courting African-American Dollars” provides an analysis.