Friday, May 29, 2009

Acting White: Obesity Disparity Between Black and White Women

A Boston University research team conducted a study that, as reported in the Boston Globe (here), suggests a link between racism and heightened obesity in black women. What? The lead researcher, epidemiologist and BU Assistant Professor Yvette Cozier, was quoted in that article as concluding from the study that ‘racism is real and has real effects”. OK, Yvette, you have my attention.

The only problem is that the study, as published in the Annals of Epidemiology (abstract here), was about perceived racism, and made no attempt to assess the impact of actual racism on obesity factors in black women. So it seems Dr. Cozier pulled the old bait-and-switch in the Globe to get the public to bite on non-existent scientific proof of racism as a cause of obesity.

James Taranto, of the Wall Street Journal, had the following observations. "To begin with, nothing in the study addresses the hypothesis that "racism is real," unless one defines racism solely as a phenomenon within the mind of the putative victim. The study purports to measure the prevalence of perceived racism. It does not test the accuracy of its subjects' perceptions."

Continuing on, Taranto says, "Cozier's assertion that what she baselessly calls racism "has real effects" is equally unwarranted. The study shows a correlation between what it characterizes as "perceived racism" before 1997 and weight gain in the ensuing eight years; it does not establish that the former caused the latter. To our mind it seems much more plausible to posit that the tendency to see oneself as a victim of racism (or to be perturbed by perceived slights, whether racially motivated or not) and the tendency to gain weight arise from a common cause, which one might describe as an attitude of powerlessness or a lack of self-confidence."

I have another idea about the disparity. In their own words, as related to exercise, Black women must exert more time, effort and/or expense on their hair compared to white women. This disparity is real, rather than perceived, and has Black women exercise less and weigh more. I also agree with Taranto that the more powerless one feels the greater the susceptibility to external influence, including the ones extolling the pleasures of fattening foods. So it is reasonable that if black women exercise less (on average) than white women, and eat more, their weight results might differ. Fancy that piece of logic!

Dr. Cozier’s promotional spin on the results of her study, in the Globe, contributes to the perception of racism beyond the (unmeasured) reality, and does a tremendous disservice to the university and her co-researchers, the journal that published her work, and the public that is mislead by her sloppy portrayal of the science. When she comes up for tenure at a later date, she will no doubt be surprised if she fails to promote, but this probability is now greater, as one would expect, after serving us this academic slight-of-hand (assuming the tenure committee notices or cares).

James C. Collier

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Acting White: Judge Sonia's Silent Sidestep

I had not made the connection between Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court and that court’s current critical deliberation, until my hits on a past post (here) went sky high. It seems that Judge Sonia Sotomayor was knee deep in this New Haven, CT case of white firefighters suing for racial discrimination, because the City threw out the captain and lieutenant’s test, as the consequence of no blacks and few Latinos scoring in the money.

In quick review, Sotomayor was on a three-judge panel that heard an appeal to the district court’s finding in favor of the City. With nary a scintilla of written analysis, team Sotomayor upheld the lower court's ruling. This unusual response earned a rebuff from appellate Judge Jose Cabranes, who said about Sotomayor and crew, “Indeed, the opinion contains no reference whatsoever to the constitutional claims at the core of this case. … This perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal”.

It was Judge Cabranes rejoinder that helped entice the highest court to take the case, as a constitutional matter. So the question of Sotomayor is a fair one. Do we want a judge sitting on the highest court of the land, who would take a pass on a case begging for her to flex her constitutional muscle? After all, is this not the very objective of the job? Activist or not, judges need to back up their opinions for the public to see. Beyond the partisan rhetoric, I respectfully wonder about Judge Sotomayor's fortitude, and so should the country.

James C. Collier

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Acting White: Dolla Killer (Alleged) Black, Surprise!

To follow-up my semi-retired fellow-bloggerista UBM (here), just-murdered gansta rapper Dolla seems to have been done in by a fellow Atlantan, with whom I'm sure he had a petty beef.

Of interesting note, Dolla's step-father George Viera stated, "Dolla was not a stereotypical gangsta rapper. "It was a character he played,"". Well, he played it too damn well for my taste. I guess the script said die at the hands of another black man in a hail of gun fire, and that is just what young Dolla delivered on cue.

As told, Dolla started his life of gangsta rapping at the age of twelve, so am I to assume that it was then that his father sanctioned his first tattoo, along with providing the encouragement that resulted in his hit single "Who the F--- Is That."?

Too sad, for us all.

James C. Collier

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Acting White: Message?

I saw this photo the other day in my daughter's Vogue. So just what is Carlos saying? (Besides that he hopes that lesbians (too) will consider how fabulous his dresses will make them look (too).

James C. Collier

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Acting White: Soft Bigotry of Hyped Expectations?

There is a soft bigotry in America where we do not speak the painful truth if doing so touches close to historical sensitivities, especially around race. It is acceptable for large groups of color to languish in silence, just as long as we can pretend that we are all the same. To this I say BS!

I am becoming a firm believer of the philosophy of telling kids and parents, sooner rather than later, what will happen to them if they are reckless with their opportunity for an education. They will be labeled stupid and their lives will pretty much suck. The potential for this ugly and inevitable labeling will spur some to go all-out to prove the labelers wrong – and this will be a good start. It will also set the stage for alternative education scenarios, away from the failure of a one-size-fits-all-curriculum's. I’m not advocating telling a kid that he is too dumb to read, but the current approach of telling him that anyone can read, anytime they want, seems to give him the power to ignore the urgency of the goal, as if he is hurting you the instructor, or society, more than himself when he fails.

Twice in the last thirty days I have visited a local urban high school classroom that has some amazingly bright kids (mostly girls), of the ones that bother to show up. The teacher asked me if I wanted more kids to attend our sessions, for the time I am investing. I said no, because I do not want her wasting her time rounding up kids who do not want to attend school. So instead of begging the slackers, and telling them that they are just as smart, if they apply themselves, I think we should tell them the truth – that they are under-achievers and should prepare themselves for manual labor at lower pay, if they are lucky enough to find it. Not only should they be told they are average or below, they should have a learning track to match their demonstrated abilities, instead of funding wasted college-prep educational capacity.

Telling the entire range of kids that they can do anything, go anywhere, better fits some ideal notion, where everybody lands on the planet equally endowed, rather than what we see in a real classroom. We tell black kids that they can be astronauts, while arriving at the school bell, at all, is their biggest accomplishment of the school day. From the start, we should tell them, and their caregivers, that not showing up ready to learn insures failure, and the school will not hesitate to treat a student as such if the behavior merits this. We must also stop accepting kids who come to school with no intention to learn, but rather to disrupt.

Not being truthful with kids, for fear of dissuading them, is wrongheaded. These kids know bullshit. What they need is the truth, no matter how painful some soft-bigot psychologist thinks it is. If we listen to the teachers, the kids and parents with perseverance show up regardless of obstacles, external and internal, and sometimes because of them. The kids who are not motivated should have the chance to excel at any moment, but opportunities should be driven by results. Otherwise we end up with school districts of advanced placement (AP) classes supplemented by overflowing special-education bunkers, where future DNGs (did not graduate) are warehoused until truancy laws no longer apply.

I know this sounds harsh, but the kids I see hanging around the school building and the streets are tough and need straight talk and straight learning, not educational pie-in-the-sky.

James C. Collier


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Friday, May 15, 2009

Wayman Tisdale: 1964-2009

Pro basketball star and self-taught jazz great Wayman Tisdale died today, after a long battle with bone cancer. He was only 44, but showed us how to pack more than a single life-time into a one life-time gig bag. He was something, but his greatest accomplishment was that he was the nicest guy with it all.

I met Wayman, a bass player, through a good friend of mine, Wilbert Terrell, a long-time music industry titan that makes the wheels turn, including the JVC tours of Dav Koz, often featuring Wayman, Jonathan Butler, and Rick Braun, a monster combination on stage.

In his heart, Wayman was just a big ole country brother from Oklahoma, whose smile was so infectious that you could not help smiling back at him, however you were feeling. He always greeted everyone as if they were important and was constantly looking for a way to crack a joke with a smile.

He will be sorely missed. RIP.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Acting White: Where Da White Girls At?*

Young white boys have been pursuing my now 18 year old daughter since she, and they, were ‘puber-tized’. I never thought much about it since all I cared about was her feeling good about herself, and I know white males to be no more, or less, doggish than other men. Besides, if her school is predominantly white, it makes no sense that she should sit the relationship ‘bench’, because of some arbitrary notion that people should only mix with their ‘own’.

Now my son is thirteen, and the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. He too attends a predominantly white school and is learning where he wants to direct his attentions. At his track meet last weekend I noticed him chatting it up with a cute little white girl. I recall her standing next to him in his class photo. He says they are just friends and I believe him, but he will one day realize that there are friends and then there are ‘friends’.

Later that day over a burger, he asked me why the black girls were so forward. “How can they say they are in love with me when they barely know my name”, he asked. I said kids from different schools/neighborhoods have different behaviors based upon local customs. He said he preferred the girls at his school as they are not so ‘pushy’, and included that he thinks being attracted to someone’s race is stupid. He also has noticed that the more he keeps his distance, the greater the interest the girls, black and white, have in him, while pursuit invites rejection. This does not make sense, he says. Welcome to the real world son – more questions than answers.

Our society has all manner of diverging notions on whether his interracial considerations, such as they are, are healthy for him and/or good for the world. I like that he seems to take pride in being black, and the uniqueness it holds, even though being different has its drawbacks. He catches it from both sides at times, not black enough and not white. Most black kids feel this, as their thirst for opportunities forces them to choose between staying culturally safe and limited at home and venturing out into the world.

Some people ask me why we spend so much time talking about race. The answer is that much of what we think we know is not helpful, and our kids need more than made-up idealism, in either direction. The only way to have fresh sensible responses is that we continue to give these issues the attention, which their importance merits, including the risk of talking about it ‘too’ much.

James C. Collier

*Author's Note: The title was taken from Clevon Little in Mel Brook's "Blazing Saddles".


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Friday, May 08, 2009

Acting White: Super Model Gisele Goes Super Taboo

There’s a rip-roaring dialog happening in the fields (Field Negro), and other blogs, over the latest photographic escapades (here) of supermodel Gisele and Norwegian photographer Solve Sundsbo. Of course, people are debating a cornucopia of welled-up black-white emotions and meaning to the photos of the arguably most beautiful woman juxtaposed with a quartet of handsome black male hard bodies.

True to my desire not to be redundant, the pictures sent me cogitating in another direction. For the record, I understand Gisele to be looking for eye-catching manifestations of her beauty and nothing is more so than black and white tension, be it sexy, or King-Kong-ish (ala LeBron James). I’m not offended by this purposeful manipulation, and the shots certainly hit the artistic nail on the head, in my eye. My thoughts, however, went to lions and tigers – the big cats – because they too are beautiful, sexy, dangerous, and cross-cavort (mate) upon exception.

When a male lion mates with a tigress, they produce what’s called a liger – a super-sized big cat, 12-15% bigger, and presumably more dominant, than a lion, the alleged king of the jungle. Now unlike Gisele and her pumped-up photo-suitor, lions and tigers are of the same genus, but different species, taxonomically, but nonetheless can and do mate successfully. My point, however, is that the hint and attraction of crossing the lead of the species, or near species (however that is defined), is a natural curiosity that has analogs throughout history, with and without man’s help.

Pictured: Male liger "Hercules", 3 years old, 10ft. 500lbs. At maturity, 1,250lbs. 12ft.

Nearly every species (of the same genus) that ever existed has cross-bred (or attempted), including Neanderthals and Homo-Sapiens, back in the day, be it in Africa, Eurasia and other far flung locales. In some cases, the cross-breeding stuck. Just because we see tigers and lions predominantly with each other today does not mean either is not a more competitive off-spring variant of cat-versions that preceded them.

So as everybody gets their knickers all knotted up over these pictures of Gisele draped in black, and the naughty thoughts of some version of a hook-up that they suggest, just remember that there is not much under the sun and/or moon that is new, and the more we attempt to mandate our ideals, the more evolution laughs in our faces, only to proceed on its own amazing course.

James C. Collier


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Acting White: The Reagan GOP Fallacy

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ran a recent editorial asking the question, “Should the GOP Forget Reagan?” Perhaps they should, but maybe this is the wrong question. Forgetting someone you think was right is a lot harder than letting go when you believe they were off the mark.

Reagan, and his near-term stand-in, the recently departed Jack Kemp, espoused the philosophy, as described by the WSJ, of “work, save, and invest”, with the help of only modest government intervention. On the surface, this is a philosophy I can get behind, but it failed us, and the Republicans have not taken the time to understand why, so they still cling to it even though it’s killing them and the country.

So why did a governing philosophy that seems to make good sense land us in such a mess? First of all, the mess was inevitable regardless of the party in power, modest Republican or immodest Democrat. Fettered or unfettered capitalism, and its purveyor, US corporate HQ, never bought into Reagan’s philosophy. (I'm not sure Reagan bought into his own ideas). Oh sure, business liked the part about having free run, but they used this freedom to develop and mature US consumer appetites for fancy living, which is just the opposite of work, save, and invest. The rest of the world has beaten its way to US shores to jump on the super-consumer band-wagon.

The Democrats are no better. Just recently, we see Demo leaders circling the wagons to protect corporate ability to run tax free, or amok, to provide goods and services that the country does not need. Reaganomics et al never placed a premium value on smart and patriotic companies investing in real advancement, rather than the high-living that makes importers, distributors, and bankers richer, and which requires more free time and bigger credit-limits for dumb-down consumers to enjoy their debt-fueled sedentary flat-screen comforts.

Yes, we should forget all the presidents, Congress and the Senate too, and perhaps Obama after four years, but not before we understand and strike-down the implicit governing philosophy which encourages US corporations to engage consumer-citizens as though they are drug addicts, with no care for our long-term demise. And if we were really serious about digging our behinds out we would institute consumption taxes, and savings tax breaks, while eliminating graduated income taxes and tax havens for all.

James C. Collier


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Monday, May 04, 2009

Acting White: Samantha Orobator Battles Weak Rule of Law

A 20 year-old Nigerian-born Brit, Samantha Orobator, sits curiously 5 months pregnant into an 8 month stay in a Laotian prison, on charges of attempting to smuggle 680 kilograms (1.5lbs.) of heroin out of the country. Conviction carries a mandatory death sentence. It is fair to say Ms. Orobator is headed for a ‘kangaroo’ court, if you know much about Laos. I have no idea of this woman’s innocence or guilt in the matter, but she is fighting at least two up-hill battles.

The first battle pertains to getting into trouble in a country, like Laos, with a trailing rule of law. This means things like due process, right to counsel, right to control one's own defense, right to summon witnesses, right of cross-examination, right to exclude evidence that is improperly obtained, chain of custody, hearsay, right to appeal, etc. do not apply. The second battle is getting into trouble in a place where your home country carry’s little or no weight - diplomatic, military, foreign aid, or otherwise.

If she is guilty, then she will pay a heavy price and there is little to do. If she is innocent, but guilty of not knowing or paying attention to where she was and the threat that accompanied her, she deserves all the help in the world. For instance, you never check luggage through places like Laos or allow others to touch even your carry-on (at curbside). As an inadvertent mule, bad things would have awaited her on the back-end of her journey. For now, we should assume her innocence and hope that heightened media attention (including bloggers) kicks governmental pressure into high-gear. She deserves fairness and is clearly not getting it.

Stay Tuned.

James C. Collier

Update: Interesting BBC article explaining some of the cynicism.


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Acting White: The Paradox of Blacks and White Stuff

I have owned BMW cars for 30 years and would hardly consider another maker. I briefly had a Volvo R850, but came to realized that the Swedes, unlike the Germans, build cars to run into trees, regardless of how quickly they accelerate prior to impact. In any event, my subject is that blacks are more than just reluctant consumers of things white, even while the group laments behaviors and attitudes of the people and culture that exploits and marginalizes them.

So why is it that on one hand black folks rail about Euro-centric influence in America, but they turn around and go into debt to have the finest Euro-goods that money can buy? Women and men drape themselves in all manner of European style of Italian and French clothes, shoes, eye wear, German cars, Swiss watches and chocolate, never mind technology. From Beyonce to beyond, tinted, dyed, and braided blond black women abound. Even more curious, blacks purchase Japanese, even though this group is notorious in their anti-black attitudes. This black consumption is not reluctant, but rather conspicuous and proud, and incongruent with the rhetoric. Why is this not hypocritical?

I’m not saying that because whites or Asians make stuff that black people want that this gives them the right to abuse the group, quite the opposite. Alternately, should blacks not feel a little twinge that white people do, in fact, make everything, while Asians make it cheaper? Should it also be a surprise that people who make everything, also score better in intelligence? Of course, the flip side to all that intelligence is that it does not always come with the common sense or moral fiber not to war or pollute each other or the planet into oblivion.

The other day I suggested to two black educator-friends that European Jews might have a brain physiology advantage, and you would have thought I tried to repeal MLK day. They were fascinated by talk of sickle-cells and malaria, but repulsed by similarly described interactions of sphingolipid brain enhancement/disorder.

What I’m saying is that as much as I marvel at black American inventions like jazz, or athletic prowess, I also see how much blacks are dependent and benefit from the scientific leadership of whites. I do not see this leadership as an accident, nor do I feel bad about blacks, who as a group have contributed abundantly as well to humanity. Hell, it was Africans who collectively overcame more than 100,000 years of their harsh continent to ultimately explore the planet, way before there was any white stuff to be had.

James C. Collier


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