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Too many eyes on African-American youth?

The death of Trayvon Martin has sparked parent discussions about the black male code.

Last month Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old African American high school student, was shot and killed in a middle-class Florida neighborhood by a self-appointed watch captain, Andrew Zimmerman, who claims that he shot the boy in self-defense.

 

The case has earned national attention from the media, celebrities, and most importantly parents of young African-American males. Unfortunately, Trayvon Martin has become the poster child for African-American males that are automatically assumed to be criminals. According to an article in the Washington Post, Parents now are establishing rules for their children, teaching them that they may be scrutinized in public based on the color of their skin. Even though people may misjudge them, parents encourage them to be on their best behavior in public and avoid situations that yield even the most remote possibility of incriminating themselves. Children can do this by choosing the clothes they wear more wisely, taking precautionary measures not to resemble gang members. Andrew Zimmerman profiled Trayvon as “up to no good” because of the black hoodie he had pulled over his head in order to shield himself from the rain. Zimmerman discovered that the young black male was not carrying an alcoholic beverage or a weapon, but rather a can of iced tea and a pack of skittles. Trips to the local grocery store may not even be safe for young African-American males anymore.

 

In the Article Hemmed In and Shut Out the author explains that children who visit grocery stores avoid domestic turmoil and gang violence in the area they live in. They presumably frequent stores with little money to buy inexpensive items like candy, drinks, and snacks for themselves if they are not running errands for their parents. When African American youth visit stores in wealthier neighborhoods they can protect themselves from dehumanization by dressing up to appear respectable and nonthreatening to others. For example, areas that are at an economic disadvantage experience a “social and political culture [where] black has come to be equated with poor”(339). Wherever young African-Americans go, it seems people keep a careful watch. In the case of Trayvon Martin, too close of a watch. It is unfair to think African-Americans are instinctively considered guilty until proven innocent when killers like Andrew Zimmerman are considered the opposite. It is crucial for parents to advise their children on how to present themselves in public and react to awkward situations.

The Tables Have Turned

In “Who is the Route 29 Batman? This guy,” Michael S. Rosenwald writes of the man two cops had a strange encounter with on Route 29. He was driving a black Lamborghini with a Batman symbol on his license plate. The man pulled over was in a complete Batman costume, the interior of the car was fully accessorized with the Batman logo. His current costume is worth $5,000 and the one he has ordered is $250,000. He is a man who made his wealth as Batman by going to hospitals and playing with sick children. His “name” is Lenny B, as in Batman, Robinson and his inspiration came from his son who was a huge Batman fan. Usually it is the children who want to emulate the parents, but obviously in this situation the tables have turned.

Lenny "Batman" Robinson visiting sick children in a hospital, dressed in his full costume. Clearly a compassionate and non-violent Batman.

 

The original superheroes have their roots in comic books. Children have a strong interest in superheroes partly because they seem to be immune to law, they save the “good guys” and beat the “bad guys.” This is one of the reasons why parents, as seen in The Ten-Cent Plague, had so much trouble allowing their children to read these comic books. Parents did not want their children to defy the law, not to mention all the violence that goes along with fighting the “bad guy.”

 

Instead, “Route 29-Batman” has turned the superhero into an entity of compassion. He supports children in their fight for cancer and other diseases in hospitals by sharing joy. He is looked up to for what he both traditionally and non-traditionally represents. Passing out toys and concealing his true identity by day, Batman lives out his son’s dreams.

Hoop Dreams Priorities

Arthur Agee carried off the court by his Marshall teammates in the film "Hoop Dreams"

Arthur Agee carried off the court by his Marshall teammates in the film "Hoop Dreams"

The 1994 documentary film “Hoop Dream” directed by Steve James portrays the story of two African American boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, in the pursuit of their dream, becoming a professional basketball player. In the beginning, both of the boys display an amazing athletic talent while in middle school. Due to this, a scout from Westchester, Illinois recruits the teenagers to attend the prestigious school of St. Joseph High School. St. Joseph is a private school with an extremely recognizable basketball program particularly known for recruiting and developing Isiah Thomas, a NBA basketball star. To nobody’s surprise, the boys are delighted to attend the school and with their parents permission embark on their new journey.

Through the first academic year, William develops as expected. He plays as desired by the coach, maintains a great academic record, and finds the school is well-tailored to him. Arthur, however, does not achieve St. Joseph’s level of competency. His ability in the basketball court falls short from expectations. When tuition costs rise, the story takes a huge twist. Both of the boys coming from low income families cannot afford the new cost, so the school makes cut-throat decisions. First, they aide William by finding him additional scholarships, trying everything in their power to permit him to stay. Then they present Arthur with two options: pay the other half of the tuition fee or leave. Half a semester passes by and Arthur is forced to leave school losing all he had gained, not just in his basketball dream but academically as well.

As the school presented their decision to Arthur, I found it extremely ironic that the scout told Arthur how he and St. Joseph would do everything in their power to help him accomplish his dream but in the end they destroyed it. At the beginning of the film Earl Smith, the scout from St. Joseph, says that he “helps young people on their road to success.” Yet after one year and a half of a semester Arthur’s road was cut short before any sign of success is seen. The scout knew Arthur and his family were incapable of paying the tuition cost before recruiting him and every school knows that upon early termination of a semester, no credit is awarded to a student so the semester is lost, neither of the options display an indication of aide and help to fulfill a dream. Arthur was cornered to do as the school wanted, leave. He was first treated as a powerful individual with control of his future when in reality he was simply a puppet for St. Joseph to market as they pleased. Arthur’s mother said that the scout offering the basketball players the scholarship to come play with them, “don’t want them to figure out that the story is totally different. I was under the impression I was going to have help in getting him into school, … getting his books, … but yet none of that occurred.” The head basketball coach, Luther Bedford, from Marshall Metro is under the impression that St. Joseph got rid of Arthur because he was not playing as well as they wanted, if he would have, they would have made some type of arrangement for him to stay just like they did for William.

If the scout had never recruited Arthur, he would have transitioned into Marshall Metro High School, the public school he returned to upon leaving St. Joseph with no crushed dreams, no debt, and no lost semester. In the end, the scout did more harm than good to Arthur.

Moral Panic and You

Panic not in the disco

Today I decided to post about our favorite class topic: moral panic.  Keeping it light, I decided to feature Cracked.com’s top six most ridiculous moral panics in America.  Low and behold, comic books is at the sixth spot.  You’ve also got a reference to a drug made from excrement, Dungeons and Dragons, and backward rock and roll messages, among others.  What the site is getting at, and which I think is pertinent to class discussions, is the fact that often times moral panics don’t really need to exist anywhere but in the mind of wary adults.  As society increasingly becomes more saturated by information (without too much of a stop-gap) and becomes more overworked, it seems the reliability of actual moral panics fade into the background.

 

The very nature of moral panic is the thought that something is corrupting the youth.  There seems to be a predisposition amongst adults of a certain stripe to fear what possible influences the outside world may have upon their children.  This is referenced in Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” which we read some time ago.  In that story, the children turn into monsters through their addiction too technology.  In that story, the parents don’t understand the tech as well as the children.  This ignorance – and fear of it – seems to be essential to moral panic.  Instead of having a freakout over rainbow parties, parents could instead converse with their children.  This may not be the most comfortable thing, however.  In this light, we can almost see moral panic as a knee-jerk reaction standing in place of true understanding of children and the actual repercussions of the stimuli presented to them.  Yes parents should look out for their children, but this act requires the very simple function of looking.  This Cracked list points out the absurd lengths crazed adults will go to to put fictive fears to sleep without actually checking to see if such panics have a leg to stand on in reality.

Barbie or American Girl, and Does it Matter?

In Andrew J Rotherman’s article “What Barbie Could Learn From American Girl,” for Time he claims that American Girl is a wholesome alternative to Barbie’s “vapid sexuality.” He supports the historical back-stories that are paired with each doll, claiming that Barbie will be better if she could teach young girls something.

Rotherman and Elizabeth Chin, author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture, agree on one thing: toymakers like Mattel, maker of Barbie and American Girl, have the goal of empowering young girls, though Chin specifically concentrates on girls’ self esteem in “Ethnically Correct Dolls.” I think Rotherman and Chin’s agreement stops here, however.

Rotherman argues that when Barbie is shown as an astronaut, veterinarian or Marine Corps drill instructor, this image of women in powerful and successful positions is negated by the unrealistic way “Barbie is still off to her hot tub or other age-inappropriate activities.”

I think Chin would argue that it doesn’t matter what Barbie does; it’s all foreign to the kids she studied in New Haven who wanted dolls that were like them, familiar to them.

“They wondered why there was no fat Barbie, no abused Barbie, no pregnant Barbie” (369).

Addy Walker, the Civil War era American Girl doll (click for source)

American Girl has Addy, an African American ex-slave in the Civil War era. While the history education that comes along with the dolls is important, Chin would probably point to the ways through which the girls she studied can create the familiarity they crave “through their own imaginative and material work.” They braided the dolls’ hair to “bring their dolls into their own worlds” (369). Dolls become part of the kids’ lives. The stories created around the dolls revolve around what the child knows, not the story that Mattel created around the doll.

Chin argues that having ethnically correct dolls isn’t really that important, or doesn’t make much of an impact because the low income communities that could benefit from these dolls don’t have access to the dolls physically and financially. It seems ironic then that Rotherman, co-founder of a non-profit that deals with low-income communities, believes that American Girl is a better alternative to Barbie when it is so much less accessible to the communities he is trying to better.

Music- same stuff, different day and age.

Being a 90′s child, we grew up with Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. We were the children of Barney, Winnie the Pooh and the Mickey Mouse crew. As we grew, so did all of our TV shows. One staple character that will forever stay with me, is Goofy’s son- Max. Max made his big debut with A Goofy Movie featuring him as a pre-teen in high school with an embarrassing dad and a crush on a beautiful girl. A story everyone would come to relate to in their own time. The music from the movie was not the main point, but it did however play a big supporting role in the trials and obstacles Max finds himself in througout the film. Powerline was the name of the biggest rockstar in the movie, anybody who was anybody knew him and loved all of his songs. Max was not the most popular kid in school, but after interrupting a school meeting ran by the principal, by blaring a Powerline hit and lipsyncing along- his life was transformed and he became the coolest kid on the block. What child didn’t want to be like Max Goof?

 

Max’s actions definitely had consequences- the principal claimed Max “dressed like a gang member and caused the entire student body to riot”; if Max’s father did not fix his son’s attitude, Max was going to end up in the electric chair. Thus, the rest of the movie takes it from there.

I chose to bring this movie up because in recent class discussions we have moved onto the topic of music- more specifically hip-hop. We touched a little on how music will influence youth, and this movie shows the perfect example of a kid who has iconized this particular musician, and uses it to impress his peers. While the song holds no bad words, it is still a presentation of a person being “cocky” and demanding attention from those around him so that he can get what and who he wants in life. With crazy cool dance moves and a beat that makes you want to dance along, it’s no wonder kids would have wanted to surround themselves with this type of music that creates a quiet confidence when you sing along. (Yes, I’m guilty of knowing every word!)

In the boat of hip-hop and gansta rap, much of the older generation blames hip-hop music for corrupting the youth. In George Lipsitz article “The Hip Hop Hearings” he mentions all the adults that were against the music because it would encourage disrespect towards the law and only encourage delinquent and criminal behavior.  All that gangsta rap was truly doing was rebelling against law enforcement. NWA is the main group the hearings were against, but they were not the first to use music to create “rebelious behavior”. While the gangsta rap may have stirred up some change in the children with how they talked and dressed, when has there been a time in history when music didn’t? Young adults rebelling against the government goes as far back as 1969 with the Woodstock concert in New York. People only feared gangsta rap because they brought on a more explicit and violent tone to their rebellion.

Artists using music to influence adolscents has been a constant trend throughout American history. We can not forget about when Elvis Presley first became a big shot- he danced using his hips. Moves like his were never seen on television before, and he had to be censored from the waist down so that the youth would not be exposed to such scandalous behavior. Yet, he became an icon. Same story with Madonna and how she embraced women’s sexual freedom and sang and dressed in ways that mothers and fathers never wanted their daughters to. Yet again, she is an icon. NWA paved the road for later artists like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. to be able to express their opinions about young kids that grow up in these low socioeconomic status neighborhoods and the  discrimination they felt.

Music is always changing with every new generation that comes forth, however it’s effects on the listeners will always remain strong and constant. I feel that by adults always labeling certain types of music as the catalyst for madness and mayheim, they should reflect on the music they listened to and grew up with (Elvis, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Nirvana, etc…) and remember how looked down upon they were at one point.

No music; no life.

Lunchroom Politics or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gushers

A variety of the General Mills' Fruit Gushers. You always pick out the red and green anyway.

During my childhood, namely throughout 90s and early 2000s, kids’ snacks were evolving. As always, cheap and pre-processed goodies were easily available in every grocery store, strategically placed on lower shelves and in bright, eye-catching packaging. However, it seems that a new trend took hold, whereby advertisers and the companies producing these packaged snacks began to re-brand their products to appear healthier and more nutritional while still maintaining the appeal of ‘kets‘.

Of course, it’s fair to say that notable examples like General Mills’ Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Rollups, Fruit Gushers, and many more were and still are convenient filler items for packing children’s lunches or as a midday snack requiring no more effort than a quick trip back into the house. Despite their names, they are little more (or no less) than glorified and gelled candies.
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