culture

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and solutions company Esri has created “Wealth Divides,” an interactive project that maps the division of rich and poor neighborhoods in the United States of America. In addition to the well-known super-stratified city to the west of my current home of Oakland  — San Francisco — my childhood home of Atlanta is one of five cities featured (the other three are Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.). The project is a sobering reminder of the stark divisions of wealth in the U.S. The CityLab website has published a story that provides analysis of the maps for New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. 

Ever since seeing the first Star Wars movie in the summer of 1977 I have been a huge fan of the series, and it launched my love of science fiction in general. The first six movies’ depiction of people of color have not always been the best — Jar Jar Binks, anyone? — but a Star Wars scholar thinks that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have improved the track record. I haven’t seen the newly released Rogue One yet, but will definitely check it out over the holiday break!

Recently Ibram X. Kendi’s book  Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was awarded the National Book Award for nonfiction. The Pacific Standard interviewed Dr. Kendi, who provides ideas about how those who want to create an anti-racist United States of America might proceed.

I have recently discovered a great podcast series, Social Sciences Bites. Here’s the series description:

The social world is a world we create, that we all have in common. In this series of illuminating podcasts, hear leading social scientists present their perspectives on how our social world is created, and how social science can help us understand people and how they behave. Each podcast includes a downloadable written transcript of the conversation.

An article on the Pacific Standard website provides additional information. This podcast series will be very valuable in the Unites States if expected significant policy changes occur in President Trump’s administration. One future podcast could be with SJSU sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton, who argues that President Trump should launch a civic works program.

The October 22, 2016 episode of Saturday Night Live included a very interesting skit about “Black Jeopardy.” My colleague Doug Hartmann has posted a great analysis. Check it out!

The Pacific Standard magazine has published a fascinating article about how popular science fiction TV shows examine contemporary injustices. The article specifically discusses how three shows set in present-day America — The Leftovers, Black Mirror, and Mr. Robot — explore dystopian realities. I’ve seen every episode of the concluded seasons of The Leftovers and Black Mirror, but only finished season one of Mr. Robot, as that show was not as compelling to me as the other two. Maybe I should give it another chance and watch season two, but first I’ll need to check out the just-released season three of Black Mirror!

The Pacific Standard website has an interesting new series: “When Hollywood Gets Things Right!” Here’s the series description:

When Hollywood Gets Things Right! is a new Culture Pages series where we highlight titles that experts say shattered stereotypes, made nuanced observations, and otherwise did not insult entire peoples and populations. At a time when the industry continues to disappoint audiences with dubious representation or casting decisions, this series will celebrate causes for optimism, comfort, and some commendable alternative viewing options.

The Asian Lead Actors edition discusses five films with great representations of Asian Americans and Asian Canadians. I have seen three of them. Hopefully I can catch the other two on Netflix!

 

Around the corner from my house in Oakland is a shrine built around a Buddha statue. A couple of months ago I discovered an article about the “Buddha of Oakland,” which also includes a video.  Last week I was informed about a podcast about the Buddha of Oakland. The podcast is an interview with the person who originally placed the Buddha on the corner to deter illegal dumping. The article/video provides additional information about the family who built and maintain the shrine. There is a new faculty member in the SJSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning who studies “do-it-yourself urban design” community interventions; I’ll have to tell him about this!

“How to Get Americans to Talk About Race” is a recent article in The Atlantic that details a powerful community-based process for facilitating productive conversations about race. Reverend Sylvester Turner is the director of reconciliation programs for Hope in the Cities. He notes that there are a number of reasons why we don’t like to discuss race:

One is that most people don’t know how to talk about it. The other thing is, people are ignorant to the systemic nature of it. Another reason is the privilege that has come as a byproduct of it, that ‘I don’t have to talk about it.’ A major reason is guilt and shame that people carry, which is what I call the byproduct or legacy of it. And some people just think it’s not worth talking about. They just want to move on. When you start peeling back the layers of it, there are often people in power who don’t want to give up their power, or they don’t want the threat of losing their power. So there’s a number of different reasons why people don’t want to talk about it, but guilt and shame and ignorance to me have been the reasons that always rise to the top when you bring people together.

If we want to improve as a society we need to have these difficult conversations.

The National Public Radio All Tech Considered series recently released a very interesting segment: “Social Network Nextdoor Moves To Block Racial Profiling Online.” This is a very encouraging move, as Nextdoor posts often reinforce racial stereotypes, and these virtual actions can have very serious real world implications. Preliminary tests of Nextdoor’s efforts have reduced racial profiling by as much as 75%. Hopefully they will have similar success when the changes are widely implemented!