Category Archives: class

“The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”

by Guest Contributor danah boyd, originally published at Zephoria


[This is a rough unedited crib of the actual talk]

Citation: boyd, danah. 2009. “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online.” Personal Democracy Forum, New York, June 30.

This talk was written for a specific audience – the attendees of the Personal Democracy Forum. This audience is primarily American, primarily liberal-leaning, primarily white, and primarily involved professionally in politics in one way or another. Keep this audience in mind when I’m talking about “we” here.

Good morning!

Many of us in this room have had our lives transformed by technology. Some of us have grown up with tech while others have embraced it as adults. Many of us have become enamored with tech and its transformative potential. And because of this, many of us have become technology advocates. We’ve worked our way into different institutions, preaching about new opportunities introduced because of the internet. Furthermore, many in this room have been active in transforming politics through technology. We’ve leveraged technology for fundraising and getting out the vote. We could go on and on about political events that have been shaped by technology, from the Obama Campaign to the post-election Iranian protests.

All of this is brilliant and powerful, exciting and motivating. But I’m also worried. I’m worried about the rhetoric we use when we talk about technology. Given what we’ve experienced and what we witness today, we tend to believe that these technologies are the great equalizers, that they can help ANYONE participate, that the technologies in and of themselves can revitalize democracy. In other words, we tend to believe in a certain utopian myth of the internet as the savior. What if this weren’t true?

There’s nothing more tricky than standing up in front of a room full of people passionate about transforming society at a conference on big ideas and asking you to do a privilege check, but I’m going to do so anyhow because I’m a masochist. More acutely, I think that we need to unpack what’s happening with technology in order to productively engage with the development of technology. You need to understand the sticking points in order to move the needle in the right direction.

I want to ask a favor here today. I want you to step away from the techno-hyperbole for just a moment and think about issues of inequality and social stratification with me. I want you to think about the ways in which technology is not equally available or equally transformative.

For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions. This is most salient in the States which is intentionally the focus of my talk here today. Continue reading

Cameron Diaz Talks Going Green; Skirts Around Environmental Racism

by Latoya Peterson

In this month’s Marie Claire, Cameron Diaz is gracing the cover and bringing a message. The popular starlet has embraced the environment as her new motivation, and is doing a low budget movie/documentary about the state of our fair planet.

The reporter follows Diaz to her old neighborhood in Long Beach, California, noting that her town is “dominated by a behemoth polluter.” Cameron’s childhood memories are tinged with flames from the nearby refinery, the dust that was ever present, and the childhood asthma she experienced.

However, she seems singularly focused on how individuals impact their environment:

Once she has eased people past the shock of encountering her (“Hi, I’m Cameron!”), she drops into a low, wide-leg stance so she’s eye-to-eye with her less willowy interviewees – high school girls, the Latino father of a young boy, a science teacher – then launches into a series of questions while the cameras roll: Do you know where your food, your water come from? Do you worry about the environment? What would it take for you to become more involved? And while people do seem to care, they also indicate a feeling of powerlessness. What, after all, can one person do? Then there is the problem of illegal immigrants – and there are many in this area – being decidedly disinclined to draw attention to themselves by registering complaints about air quality.

But the showstopper is a woman we meet a bit later who lives in a little house in full view of the refinery, who tells Diaz about the morning a sulfur-holding tank at the plant exploded, the still mysterious condition that led to her young son’s open heart surgery, the spike in depression and suicides in the neighborhood, the six-figure payoff one family received when their son was diagnosed with leukemia…

And yet, with unmistakable pride, the woman turns around and lifts her shirt to show us the name of the neighborhood tattooed in large black Gothic letters across the small of her back. Because this, despite everything, is home.

Diaz’s next statement was frustratingly familiar to me as an anti-racist who also has a deep eco-streak. After listing through dozens of environmental slights coming from a corporation and understanding why many residents would not want to call attention to themselves, she still goes on to say:

“I want to leave you with this thought,” Diaz says to the woman. After all you’ve told me…what would it take for you to do something to change your environment?” The woman, speechless, looks like she’s going to cry.

Continue reading

The Unbearable Whiteness of Cheerleading

by Guest Contributor Carly Kocurek, originally published at Sparklebliss

As is often the case when I find myself any place where cable is readily available. I stayed up entirely too late last night watching television, sucked into a movie I would have never deliberately viewed. Last night, the film in question was Bring It On: All or Nothing, the third installation in the Bring It On franchise. As is the case with most teen films, the plot here is fairly straightforward. In All or Nothing, preppy, perky, pink-clad Britney Allen (Hayden Panettiere) moves to a less than affluent neighborhood and high school when her father is faced with a paycut and office relocation. Forced to give up her position as the cheerleading captain at Pacific Vista, she finds herself an outcast in the meaner hallways of Crenshaw Heights. She tries out for the cheerleading squad and enters into a battle of the queen bees with Crenshaw cheerleading captain Camille (Solange Knowles).

Now, there is little exceptional here plot wise, but the racial politics of the film are interesting. In some instances, stereotypes play out without commentary, but at other points the characterizations slip easily into satire. The wealthier students at Pacific Vista are nearly uniformly white and blonde with one Asian-American cheerleader. The campus is filled with lovely seating areas and sushi carts. An hour away at Crenshaw, the student body is almost entirely African-American and Latino/Latina, and the cafeteria food looks markedly unappealing. However, when Britney finds the sole table of white students in the cafeteria and sits down, relieved, the white students, too, reject her, leaving the table immediately. In another scene, Britney’s Pacific Vista quarterback boyfriend hassles her new classmate and cheerleading squadmate Jesse (Gus Carr), who is delivering pizza to Britney’s house, saying, among other things, “Your job sucks.” These scenes and others make clear that the more salient cultural clash is one not of race, but of socioeconomic class. Continue reading

Quoted: Alex Alvarez on Seal and Heidi Klum’s “White Trash Wedding”

Excerpted by Latoya Peterson
null

We can’t help but feel that if Heidi and Seal had decided to throw a “Chola” or “AZN” or “Gangsta”-themed party, the outcry would be greater, as was the case when mostly Anglo Tulane students threw a party based on Mexican stereotypes. And while we’ve been known to poke fun at the stereotypes associated with white trash culture or the fashions worn by chongas, we like to feel that being from Florida and being directly related to people whose houses have wheels and whose trucks do not (Thanks, Jeff Foxworthy) and having been something of a chonga ourself mean that our jokes come from a fondness for these cultures. Because, here’s the thing: We don’t think we’re above white people who are poor and speak with a drawl, and we don’t think we’re above girls who wear hoop earrings and think acrylic nails are pretty. We don’t think we’re above people because they choose to wear a certain style of clothing, or because they come from a certain part of a country.

We kind of get the feeling that Heidi and Seal, being kazillionaires who are not American, think they are somehow hilariously above this inherently American subculture. And, you know, t isn’t even the fact that a black man is making fun of a white subculture (Because, seriously, go ahead) or even so much that two Europeans are making fun of Americans that bothers us about this, really. It’s the fact that two extraordinarily wealthy people think it cute or amusing to make fun of a segment of the population defined by their poverty.

—“Is Seal And Heidi Klum’s “White Trash”-Themed Vow Renewal Ceremony Racist?,” Guanabee

Gentrification has Nothing to Do with White Hipsters

by Guest Contributor M. Dot, originally published at Model Minority

Last year, it took me roughly six weeks to earn $5,800. This is significant because during the late eighties and early nineties my mother received public assistance, subsequently she and I lived off of $5,800 for an entire year.

Yes, $5,800 per year.

Given these facts, last year, I thought a lot about the ways in which I could personally serve as a gentrifying factor in my hometown of Oakland, California. Often times, in popular media, there is very little talk of gentrification, or if there is, it is discussed in vague terms, such as”those hipsters are moving in” or “those white people are moving in” or “this area is becoming nicer.”

Gentrification has very little to do with white hipsters moving into the ‘hood and everything to do with process of people who earn higher incomes moving into neighborhoods where folks reside who are earning comparatively lower incomes.

If I am a Black women, in Bed-stuy, East Oakland or the South Side of Chicago, and I earn $60K per year and I am willing to
pay $1000 for an apartment that everyone else, who earns between $10-15K/year, pays $500 per month, then I am
serving as a force of gentrification in this neighborhood. It bears being stated that I in may ways I am a gentrifying force in the same way that a white person earning $60K who moves into the same community.

What becomes pivotal is my willingness to be engaged with the community that I have moved into.

A more sustainable, honest and comprehensive conversation about gentrification would involve a discussion of the income of the gentrifiers and not just the race of the gentrifiers. Continue reading

Reflections on Lola [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao] (Part 1 of 2)

by Latoya Peterson

*Note – Spoilers and lengthy.*


My mother would never win any awards, believe me. You could call her an absentee parent: if she wasn’t at work she was sleeping and when she was around it seemed all she did was scream and hit. As kids, me and Oscar were more scared of our mother than we were of the dark or el cuco. She would hit us anywhere, in front of anyone, always free with the chanclas and the correa, but now with her cancer there’s not much she can do anymore. The last time she tried to whale on me it was because of my hair, but instead of cringing or running I punched her hand. It was a reflex more than anything, but once it happened, I knew I couldn’t take it back, not ever, and so I just kept my fist clenched, waiting for whatever came next, for her to attack me with her teeth like she did to this one lady in the Pathmark. But she just stood there shaking, in her stupid wig and her stupid bata, with two large foam prostheses in her bra, the smell of burning wig all around us. I almost felt sorry for her. This is how you treat your mother? she cried.

And if I could have I would have broken the entire length of my life across her face, but instead I screamed back, And this is how you treat your daughter?

Things had been bad between us all year. How could they not have been? She was my Old World Dominican mother and I was her only daughter, the one she had raised up herself with the help of nobody, which meant it was her duty to keep me crushed under her heel. I was fourteen and desperate for my own patch of world that had nothing to do with her. I wanted the life that I used to see when I watched Big Blue Marble as a kid, the life that drove me to make pen pals and to take atlases home from school. The life that existed beyond Paterson, beyond my family, beyond Spanish. As soon as she became sick I saw my chance, and I’m not going to pretend or apologize; I saw my chance and eventually, I took it.

If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know, and if you don’t know then it’s probably better you don’t judge.

You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around – especially the ones that are never around. What it’s like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters, she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course, I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I believed her. I was a fea, and I was worthless, I was an idiota.

The Wildwood, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

My eyes drank in every word of Wildwood, the second chapter in Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. On the plane from Baltimore to Austin, the narrative gripped me solidly by the throat, turning a casual curiosity about Oscar into a desperate longing to hear more from his sister Lola.

When the plane touched down, my sweatshirt was crunchy with the salt from shed tears and I had run through six napkins while the story unfolded. I grabbed my bags, and called my boyfriend who had been badgering me about reading the novel for some months now.

“Why didn’t you mention Lola?” I asked.

“Who? Oscar’s sister? Why is that…oh.” His voice suddenly bloomed with recognition and we sat in silence for a few seconds. Continue reading

Policing Fashion in New York

by Guest Contributor Minh-ha, originally published at Threadbared


In New York magazine’s Spring Fashion issue, there are six feature stories on clothes, designers, and models including a story on a group of tenderfoot but fresh-faced white male models (“Fashion Week’s handsome rookies”), an interview with style icon Kate Moss on her clothing line at the much-anticipated and much delayed opening of TopShop in downtown Manhattan (recent reports have doors opening in April 2009), and a recession-minded article with an increasingly familiar theme, “Everything Here is Under $100″). In addition, there is the usual array of designer label advertisements and celebrity spokesmodels: Posh and Becks for Emporio Armani, Katie Holmes for Miu Miu, Gwyneth Paltrow for Tod’s, as well as an anonymous sea of puerile, well-heeled, ivory-faced Gothamites slinging everything from Marc Jacobs handbags to cocktails to lifestyles.

Jessica Lustig’s article, “The Fashion Thief,” was the only feature story or advertisement in the Fashion Issue that featured a person of color, any color. Lustig follows Kevahn Thorpe, an African American young man from Queensbridge Houses project in Queens, New York, as he is arrested and rearrested for shoplifting from high-end Manhattan shops like Prada, Bergdorf, Barneys, and Saks.

There’s a lot about this article that’s unsettling. Continue reading

Real Housewives of Atlanta – Where Race and Class Collide

by Latoya Peterson

Dear readers, you are going to have to bear with me on this one, because I am still sorting my thoughts out about this show. However, I did want to put out some preliminary thoughts and get your feedback.

I only sporadically pay attention to the Real Housewives series, so I’ve only caught about six episodes of Orange County and New York combined. However, when I heard they were basing a RH series in Atlanta, my interest was piqued. Atlanta is considered by some to be the new Mecca for black wealth in the United States and home to some of hip-hop’s largest stars, in addition to athletes, filmmakers, and others. As opposed to the casts of RH:OC and RH:NY, which are predominantly white, RH:ATL is predominantly black.

The show revolves around five women: Lisa Wu Hartwell, Sheree Whitfield, NeNe Leakes, Kim Zolciak, and DeShawn Snow.

Watching the show, I’ve been a little less than impressed with the women involved. Part of this is my own personal bias – I like to watch shows where people need to achieve something. Watching people with the means to accomplish so much in this life waste it away kind of bores me, so I tend to tune out most of these kinds of shows. Even the title of the show – The Real Housewives – is off-putting to me. But I checked out the women’s bios and noticed that most of them seemed to be involved in both a charitable organization and an entrepreneurial venture, so I thought it might be something worth watching.

But if the first two episodes are any indication, I’m going to regret investing time in this show. Continue reading