Kim: What is the trap?
JR: A place in the 'hood that if you stay there too long you get trapped there. The people and circumstances bring you down.
Ira Glass: Nikole Hannah Jones is an investigative reporter, these days at The New York Times. We've had her here on This American Life before too. But her first big reporting job was back in 2003. She was reporting on the schools in Durham, North Carolina. And like most places, there were good schools and there were bad schools. And at the time, it was the heyday of No Child Left Behind. Durham was working really hard to improve the bad schools.
Nikole Hannah Jones: And I would go to schools, and they would just always be trying these new things that actually sounded like they might work. They would do things like, "We'll put a great magnet program here. Or we are going to really focus on literacy. We're going to start an early college high school, which kids would earn college credit in high school. We're going to improve teacher quality. We're going to replace the principal. More testing."They're always talking really about the same things. I mean, you could take these conversations and go from district to district to district, and you will always hear the same things.
Ira Glass: And what she noticed was that it never worked. I mean, like, never. The bad schools never caught up to the good schools. And the bad schools were mostly black and Latino, the good schools mostly white. And sure, there might be a principal here or a charter school there who might do a good job improving student scores. But even there, they were just improving the students' scores. The minority kids in their programs were still not performing on par with white kids. They hadn't closed the achievement gap between black kids and white kids.
For those who come across our site, some are going to take issue with the phrase, “Fuck white people!” You might want to say, “Hey, that’s racist!” Well, not so fast.
Black people can be prejudiced. Prejudice has to do with forming a judgment before knowing the facts. As human beings, Black people, along with everyone else, can be prejudiced against various people and groups. However, racism is very different.
Part of our project has to do with analyzing the nature of racism. We’re here to tell you that Black people can’t be racist. That is not how racism works. If you really want to understand what racism is, you have to give up on the idea that Black people have the social power to be racist. They don’t.
Addiction is an interesting phenomenon to look at, because it reveals stark differences in the way a society treats its vulnerable, depending on what type of class or race they belong to.
We can say that someone with any kind of addiction is vulnerable in a way, due to the nature of addiction. Addiction is commonly understood as some sort of unproductive – or even counterproductive – behavior that an individual is unable to stop engaging in with their own will power. So addicts are vulnerable: they can’t stop what they are doing, so society has to come up with a way of helping them – or punishing them, depending on your stance.
But addictive behaviors crop up in many different ways, and they turn up across race and class lines. It is not surprising then when we start to see that not all addictions are treated the same.
What should we do with addicts? How do we treat addiction? Do we help people? Do we punish them? These are interesting questions, but for now, we are going to focus on the way that this society treats different kinds of addicts differently.
In a community, or even a society, there is a way in which everyone fits in. What do you do to contribute? What do you get for your contribution? Who are you? How do you relate to others? In the end, you have to take up space as a unique individual. This is your identity.
Many times, an identity is socially constructed and given to an individual. In a healthy society, this can be consensual. Society asks of you a contribution based on an honest evaluation of who you are.
In an unhealthy society such as this one, it is forced. To those benefiting from force and domination, identity seems as a default position. The privileged find themselves buoyant in their own societies and see themselves reflected back when they look into society. So they say to themselves, "yes this is me, and this is how the world should be," usually without thinking much.
Normally it seems we'd want to share artifacts from other cultures. Other geographically distinct peoples have had centuries and even millenia to develop aesthetics, culinary arts, technologies, musical styles, and cultural practices that any other given culture would never dream of creating. That is the beauty of culture: its creations are born from vast chains of organic historical flows of events, and any given culture is impossible to fake or synthesize. It bears its own character. To truly understand a culture and create authentic works within is to be part of it.
But to take and enjoy a cultural artifact from another culture, and derive wealth from that culture, while actively seeking to exploit and oppress members of that culture and deny those members their deserved wealth is a form of stealing, or appropriation. And this is the thorny problem underneath our diverse, multicultural society.
Alix Spiegel: There's a man named Bob Rosenthal. He's a research psychologist. And early in his career, he did this thing. He went into his lab late at night and hung signs on all of the rat cages. And some of the signs said that the rat in the cage was incredibly smart. And some of the signs said that the rat in the cage was incredibly dumb, even though neither of those things was true.
Bob Rosenthal: They were very average rats that you would buy from a research institute that sells rats for a living.
Alix Spiegel: So then Bob brings this group of experimenters into his lab, and he says, for the next week, some of you are going to get these incredibly smart rats. And some of you are going to get these incredibly stupid rats. And your job is to run your rat through a maze and record how well it does.
Privilege is what’s assumed by those who are in power. It’s like water for fish. It’s the things you don’t actually think about because that’s just the way things are. And in every society, it’s different. It will look different in Guatemala than it will in the United States or Korea.
But in European influenced societies, the mass migration of Europeans to the world, five centuries ago, created a particular version of that - and a version that we still live with today.
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Kim: I’m just so proud of my people - especially my complexion and darker - standing up and taking ownership of Blackness. I'm not cowering to these privileged norms they’re trying to impose on us. Identity's a two-way street. You can't just blindly assert yourself in this world and demand acceptance. You earn it. We all had to.
It doesn't matter where Wilson was standing, where Brown was standing, who was reaching for what, how big Brown was, or what Brown did in the convenience store. All of these details were simply manipulated to produce a moral narrative for a show trial that was already rigged to acquit officer Wilson in the first place.
What does matter is the systematic pattern of violence, indignation, injustice, and exploitation that African Americans suffer under the American justice system, and the virtual immunity of the police while perpetuating this state of affairs. Or for that matter the extreme economic disparities that have characterized the American caste system for centuries - and let's not pretend that we don't have a caste system - which create the conditions for these gross distortions of the concept of justice.