Beyond Trayvon Martin: Calls For Justice Surface For Other Senseless Deaths

By Arturo R. García

It’s been just over a month now since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, and while his case has come to dominate national headlines, there have been other tragedies coming to light.
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The Poverty Of Marriage

Courtesy of eurasianet.org

By Guest Contributor Sana Saeed, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch

The burdens of poverty affect most, if not all aspects, of social relations. Most prominently (and unsurprisingly), women carry the greatest burden of the social predicaments that arise from a dire lack of economic security.  Women in groups hit hardest by financial strain easily become seen as sources of further strain on their families. Education is often either inaccessible or seen as an unnecessary part of a young girl’s growth and life.

This is not always necessarily the case, as there is much evidence that shows support of girl-child education by, specifically, mothers who realize the role education can play in providing a better life for their children. Yet, despite this, in many instances across the world (primarily in developing countries, but not limited to them), young girls are forced to accept the strain upon their families that they are perceived to pose. This position can lead many young girls, either by coercion by family or by “choice,” onto the road towards prostitution, sex slavery, or even suicide.  Yet perhaps the most common result is marriage.

An article published earlier this month on EurasiaNet explores the impact of poverty on “early marriage” in Tajikistan. The article cites a recent study by the Eurasia Foundation that looks at the issue of “informal justice” in Tajikistan. While looking at a variety of issues, the article dedicates a good amount to gender relations, specifically the issue of non-state-administered justice for women in unregistered marriages, which come in a variety of flavors, one of which is early marriage. Marriage before the age of 18 is illegal under Tajik law and subject to harsh punishment.

However, it is commonly practiced and encouraged by many religious clerics who not only feel it is sanctioned within Islam but also believe it to be a solution to the problems of poverty faced by women in a country ravaged by years of war. In its discussion of underage marriage, the report explores the relationship between the privilege (and burden) of education on poor families and marriage before the legal age of 17 for Tajik girls.  According to the report (emphasis mine):

Early marriage is partially a result of poverty and, given the weak state of the economy and gender discrimination in hiring practices, there is little incentive to support daughters wishing to pursue higher education before marriage. As a result, a worrying trend associated with underage marriage is young women not completing their education. Tajik girls’ access to education is impacted at the secondary level, and there are significant gender disparities at the high school and university levels.

In rural areas of Tajikistan, it is common for girls to leave school at grade nine due to inadequate educational facilities and economic constraints. Families have to contribute money for their children’s education, including buying uniforms and renting textbooks…Due to limited resources, families make conscious decisions to educate boys over girls, as girls’ education is not seen as a pragmatic investment.

According to a UN Report from 2004, an “estimated…12 percent of [Tajik] girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.” Given that the burden young girls may place on a poor family is characterized in economic terms, it is natural that the resulting solution to the problem would also be economic in character. Most, if not all, young girls, who are forced (or, in some instances, “choose”) to marry at a young age, marry men far older than them.

While there is certainly the aspect of the attraction an older male may have towards a young, virginal woman, the economic security that he provides for both her and her family in this context cannot be understated. Given the nature of employment, maturity, gender relations, and poverty in many underdeveloped countries, men are considered mature at an age that comes far later than for women.

At the heart of this maturity is financial stability. Unfortunately, this stability often comes at the expense of a young girl’s rights, sexual agency, body, reproductive and sexual health, and choice. These young girls also often do not only face domestic violence in their unequally leveraged relationships but also can once again return to a point of economic and social uncertainty if their spouse dies, bringing an added burden of being a widow.

The EurasiaNet piece (and the report it cites) on early marriage in Tajikistan, as well as other similar pieces on underage marriage elsewhere in the world, points to an important issue. Equally important is the ability to see the practice of early marriage as motivated by more than just religion or culture. But early marriage is not the only consequence of strained economic times. What is missing from this discussion is that marriage has often been traditionally as much an economic contract between two individuals and two families as a religious contract or a bond of love within legal parameters for reproduction and social harmony.

Thus, poverty cannot only lead to young girls being married off to much older men but also women, over the marriageable legal age of a particular country, marrying far older men, entering polygamous relationships (which the Eurasia Foundation report notes) or even temporary marriages. Marriage, for many women facing financial burdens or uncertainty, becomes seen as a refuge from the harms that follow being a single woman without an education in a social sphere where no other economic safety net exists (or is enough to meet increasingly costly demands of life). And this is certainly not exclusive to poverty- and/or conflict-stricken countries.  Furthermore, there needs to be a clear differentiation between early marriage and ‘child’ marriage, the latter in which the framing of “child” needs to be clearly defined. Surely there must be a difference in betrothing an 8-year-old and betrothing a 16-year-old?

My concerns, however, aside–such pieces point to the unfortunate circumstances in which many early marriages emerge and highlight the abuses and injustices faced by these young women.

The Walking Dead And The Real Diversity Problem On (Some) Ambitious Dramas

By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual

It’s an old and uninteresting complaint: black characters on TV–and horror movies–get killed or written off too early. Clearly, that is what’s been happening on The Walking Dead with T-Dog. (UPDATE: The arrival of a new character signals a possible shift in season three.).

I’m going to try to push the debate further, past “isn’t it a shame characters of color get short shrift.” The truth is the T-Dog Problem signals broader problems with The Walking Dead and some other prominent dramas. It’s a symptom of an ailment the writers might actually care to remedy, beyond appeasing black viewers.

First, the basics. Earlier this season T-Dog told Dale he was concerned about being black and a weak link in the group. This was an insightful moment from the writers, foregrounding the idea that being different after the apocalypse might be a problem–after all, in times of stress, people stick to their own–and an interesting meta-commentary on the fragility of being a black character on TV. T-Dog was a great candidate for a quick kill. Then T-Dog disappeared. I literally forgot all about him until last week, when he had one line that was almost comically interrupted. This week T-Dog was similarly marginalized, leading Vulture‘s recapper to state: “By this point, the casual dismissal of one of two minority characters…on this show is feeling extremely suspect. The only thing saving it from being full-on offensive is that the same treatment is being given to Hershel’s entire white family.”

The problem isn’t only about a tired debate over representation.

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Update: Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Still Racist

Courtesy Los Angeles Times

By Arturo R. García

As you’ll recall, Nerdgasm Noire’s Roxie Moxie shared this column about the problematic reactions to the casting of Lenny Kravitz and Amandla Stenberg in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, the opening chapter of which has gone on to post an opening weekend take of more than $155 million at the box office.

Here’s a sample of how some fans took the news that Kravitz would be playing Cinna:

That was five months ago. In the wake of the film’s strong opening, the disappointment–and sometimes outright anger–of more fans has been pushed further into the spotlight.
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Quoted: Ethan Zuckerman On Parsing Kony 2012 And Digital Activism

It makes perfect sense that a campaign to create widespread awareness of conflict in northern Uganda would want to simply this picture down to a narrative of good versus evil, and a call towards action. While I resent the emotionally manipulative video Invisible Children have produced, I admire the craft of it. They begin with a vision of a changing global world, where social media empowers individuals as never before. They craft a narrative around a passionate, driven advocate – Jason Russell – and show us the reasons for his advocacy – his friendship with a Ugandan victim of Kony. The video has a profound “story of self” that makes it possible for individuals to connect with and relate to. And Invisible Children constructs a narrative where we can help, and where we’re shirking our responsibility as fellow human beings if we don’t help.

The problem, of course, is that this narrative is too simple. The theory of change it advocates is unlikely to work, and it’s unclear if the goal of eliminating Kony should still be a top priority in stabilizing and rebuilding northern Uganda. By offering support to Museveni, the campaign may end up strengthening a leader with a terrible track record.

A more complex narrative of northern Uganda would look at the odd, codependent relationship between Museveni and Kony, Uganda’s systematic failure to protect the Acholi people of northern Uganda. It would look at the numerous community efforts, often led by women, to mediate conflicts and increase stability. It would focus on the efforts to rebuild the economy of northern Uganda, and would recognize the economic consequences of portraying northern Uganda as a war zone. It would feature projects like Women of Kireka, working to build economic independence for women displaced from their homes in Northern Uganda.

Such a narrative would be lots harder to share, much harder to get to “go viral”.

I’m starting to wonder if this is a fundamental limit to attention-based advocacy. If we need simple narratives so people can amplify and spread them, are we forced to engage only with the simplest of problems? Or to propose only the simplest of solutions?

As someone who believes that the ability to create and share media is an important form of power, the Invisible Children story presents a difficult paradox. If we want people to pay attention to the issues we care about, do we need to oversimplify them? And if we do, do our simplistic framings do more unintentional harm than intentional good?

—From “Unpacking Kony 2012” by Ethan Zuckerman

(Image Credit: Colorlines)

‘The Ring Was The Only Place I Felt Safe’

By Guest Contributor Theresa Runstedtler, cross-posted from her blog

In reflecting on his tumultuous life and storied career, boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard recently told Guardian reporter Donald McRae, “I went through real darkness but the ring was my light. That was the one place I felt safe. I could control what happened in the ring. My heart turned icy” (my emphasis added). In his new autobiography, The Big Fight: My Story, Leonard reveals a painful past hidden behind the headlines of his historic ring victories–one of sexual abuse, a sense of rejection, and struggles with substance abuse.

What does it mean that Sugar Ray had to find safety in the violent confines of the boxing ring? What does it mean that he could only really feel empowered and free when fighting other men? McRae notes that back in the 1980s British boxing writer Hugh McIlvanney “spoke vividly of the hard chip of ice that Leonard stored in his fighting heart.” It seemed as if “Sugar Ray must have endured terrible darkness to fight with such chilling brilliance.” The turmoil of Leonard’s life outside the ring made his career in the ring a matter of financial and spiritual survival.

Yet Sugar Ray’s autobiography is much more than just a personal, singular story. His haunting revelations expose much about the racist society he lived in, and how little that society valued young black men like him in any other setting than the squared circle.

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Trayvon Martin Reaches The Sports Pages–And Online Hoaxes

By Arturo R. García

As the Trayvon Martin case continued to reverberate around the country’s consciousness this past weekend, the calls for justice reached the sports realm, as well.
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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Nichelle Nichols

By Andrea Plaid

Gina Torres reigns as the current Queen of Sci-Fi and Sci-Fantasy, true. And if it wasn’t  for Nichelle Nichols, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Torres. Or Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko. Or Zoe Saldana as the new Uhura. Or my doing fan-dancing.

 

Courtesy: Emmy TV Legends

Nichols’ iconic status in sci-fi results from a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Frustrated during her first year on the original Star Trek, she decided to leave the show.

It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the part. Why did you want to quit after the first season?

After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season.

What convinced you to stay on?

I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.

What was that like?

I thanked him so much and told him how I’d miss it all. He asked what I was talking about, and told me that I can’t leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves.

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