About a week ago, I read that Jenny McCarthy, the celebrity face of the anti-vaccine movement, was going to be headlining an event called “Bust a Move” at the Ottawa Cancer centre. I was horrified, and spelled out my objections in a letter to their CEO:
Hello Ms. Eagan,
I am writing this letter to you to express my shock, disappointment, and outrage at Ottawa Cancer’s decision to host noted anti-vaccination activist and celebrity provocateur Jenny McCarthy as the face of its “Bust a Move” campaign. Ms. McCarthy’s actions over the past decade have revealed her to be deeply antipathetic to the process and institution of science – a process and institution that cancer patients and practitioners rely on for their lives and livelihoods. By inviting Ms. McCarthy, Ottawa Cancer is signaling that it either does not care about Ms. McCarthy’s anti-scientific views, or that it shares them.
One of the largest barriers cancer researchers face is the unjustified suspicion of not only cancer survivors but the general public in accepting the scientific facts about the disease. I am overjoyed that people are not simply adopting the asserted axioms of the scientific establishment without doing some research, but what Ms. McCarthy has been doing is something else entirely. She has, using her pulpit as a celebrity, been deliberately spreading misinformation to people who are vulnerable to the predations of opportunistic hucksters. Is it Ottawa Cancer’s position that this kind of fraud-by-proxy is acceptable simply because she has name recognition?
I strongly suggest you do not allow the reputation of Ottawa Cancer suffer as the result of what I can only assume to be poor staff work. Beyond the simple fact of public perception, you have a duty to ensure that patients are receiving a message that is grounded in evidence and best practices, not the pseudoscientific hunch-based beliefs of a woman who has been actively campaigning for years to undermine children’s public health programs. You should immediately announce that you have personally looked into Ms. McCarthy’s background and have made the executive decision not to associate the good name of Ottawa Cancer with her anti-science advocacy.
Do the thing that is not only right for your organization, but for the cancer survivors and families who rely on Ottawa Cancer for sound information and advice.
Skeptics across the country, buoyed by editorial pieces in MacLean’s and the Ottawa Citizen, lobbied Ottawa Cancer to drop Ms. McCarthy from the event (coining the hashtag #dropjenny).
And it worked: … Continue Reading
I hate “colour blindness” as a racial philosophy. Well-intentioned though it may be, it’s a profoundly unhelpful and unworkable proposed solution to a very serious intercultural issue. Is there any other problem on the planet that we think is best addressed by simply pretending as though it isn’t there*? For every other social issue I can think of, failing to at least appreciate the existence of reality is seen as a vice, not a virtue. And yet, when it comes to race, we have somehow managed to convince ourselves that the ostrich has the right idea.
Liberals and conservatives alike have expressed serious resistance to the idea that ignoring race doesn’t solve race. As I’ve explained before on this blog, a couple of times actually, colour blindness not only doesn’t bring us any closer to solving racial issues, it actually makes us less able to describe and address those issues. Far from being a solution, it makes us silent on the problem, meaning that the unacceptable status quo of racial inequalities is allowed to run its course unopposed.
So once again, it’s skeptics to the rescue, this time with a study examining a novel downside of the “colour blind” approach. Researchers at Tufts and MIT examined the effect of “colour blind” approaches to problem-solving in an experimental setting. … Continue Reading
The following post is a continuation of a discussion we began this morning, looking at a paper by Daniel Effron and colleagues. In it, the authors conduct a number of experiments to investigate a phenomenon in which white people demonstrate a tendency to use salient examples of being “not racist” (choosing not to accuse an innocent black people in favour of a more guilty-seeming white person of a crime) to license more racist behaviours in the future.
The fourth investigation the authors conducted invited people to try and remember the number of racist decisions they didn’t make, after presenting them with statements that were either clearly racist, ambiguously racist, or racially ambiguous (i.e., no racial content). The authors hypothesized that, given a clear-cut and obvious example of a time when they were “not racist”, the drive to appear “not racist” would be satisfied, thus obviating the need to introduce “not racist” narratives into their memory. In other words, if you have a ready memory of choosing not to be overtly racist, you will have less motivation to seem “not racist” in a subsequent decision. … Continue Reading
Those of you who remember our discussion of System Justification Theory will recall that it posits (and goes on to demonstrate) that there are three overriding domains by which we guard our self-worth: ego motivation (“I like me”), group motivation (“I like us”) and system justifying motivation (“I like the way things are”). The balancing of these three motivations explains a great deal of behaviours that seem counter-intuitive or self-defeating, particularly in circumstances where power imbalances between groups are concerned.
When we consider race as a power imbalance, we would expect to find that the majority group is strongly motivated to preserve its ego when the fairness of the system is at risk. In other words, when confronted with a world that is clearly racist, there is considerable psychological pressure for members of the majority group to salvage their ego – the stereotypical “I’m not a racist” response. With the threat to our egos thus avoided, members of majority groups are then free to continue participating in an unfair system, confident in the knowledge that the ‘real’ problem is those ‘other’ people.
A fascinating new study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology sheds some light on the depths to which this behaviour can sink: … Continue Reading
Race is a social construct. It sounds like a pretty easy idea to wrap your head around, once you understand the meaning of what you’re saying. It’s the idea that the very concept of race itself isn’t genetically determined and isn’t quite as linear a relationship as simply contingent upon the colour of one’s skin (although this no doubt plays a significant role in racism and related constructs). Race as a social construct is a sort of discourse we pick up on, both consciously and unconsciously, throughout the course of our lives. Sometimes it’s literally hurled at us, and sometimes it’s very quietly and gradually written into (or out of) our day-to-day experiences. Race isn’t a Thing you can point at, reach out and take a sample of, and examine under a stereoscope. In my life, currently nothing is making this more clear than the public sphere of cyber activism in the Idle No More movement. The battlefields here are social media services like Twitter and YouTube, the comments section on online news articles, and blog posts. The battles being waged include re-education, de-bunking myths and stereotypes (watch for the Twitter hashtag #Ottawapiskat for a brilliant demonstration of de-bunking by inversion), and working towards inspiring others to start the work of decolonization from within. It can be and often is equally as exhausting as standing in the rain for four hours in the flesh, and it is an equally important tool in the greater repertoire of established tactics to counter racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.
And that’s right about where any demarcations you may have previously believed exist very rapidly become ambiguous and murky. Race/ethnicity and (anti-)racism is complicated as all fuck.
… Continue Reading
One of the fascinating aspects of the denial of privilege is the pirouettes one must turn in order to square the denial with observed fact.
“Black people have just as many opportunities as white people!”
“Well, here’s an assload of evidence that suggests that’s not true”
“…culture of poverty! Single moms! Phrenology!”
This is the reason why I think race is a perfect subject for the skeptical movement, because we can point to the evidence and say “here’s a whole bunch of problems, and the excuses offered for them are based on stereotypes rather than facts”. This is what we do when it comes to homeopathy, UFOs, gods, whatever you like. We find ways to take human inference out of the equation, and then figure out what the truth looks like regardless of what beliefs you had before you asked the questions.
The hubris of those who discover that Obama didn’t raise their taxes, or that FOX News isn’t “fair and balanced”, or that outlawing contraception causes more abortions, is always highly amusing to watch. Well, sometimes amusing, other times depressing as they manage to find smaller and smaller loopholes of post hoc reasoning to justify the rapidly-disappearing credibility of their arguments (“he’s a secret socialist! You just wait!” “Scientists and media observers are all liberals!” “the devil lives in the uterus!”). At any rate, it’s never boring.
What’s even more amusing is when the myths of the obsessed are punctured at their own hands: … Continue Reading
A commenter going by the handle ‘Lee’ has been asking some pointed questions about how to respond to claims of discrimination. I tried to give a robust answer, which ended up ballooning into a full-length post.
I’ll respond by bringing the two into one. If someone claims they have been discriminated against, or they feel they have been discriminated against, what would you suggest as the next step?
1. investigate their claim, ascertain the details, come to a conclusion.
2. accept the claim, start accusing.
When you sort of scoffed at #4, I read that as endorsing (2) above. Perhaps I’m mistaken? I mean, I don’t want to appear to be dodging your questions, I think they’re good questions, but they’re not precisely relevant to the argument presented in #4. They assume that you would take route #1. Your second question seems to me to put that person’s participation into a higher priority slot than, say, checking if they’re full of it or not before making accusations.
So instead of jumping right to invective and scoffing back, I’m hoping to get an idea for why you reject #4 [#4 referring to point 4 in this week’s Movie Friday, and my disagreement that there is a meaningful difference between perceived and real discrimination – C].
And in a separate comment…
I suppose a correlated question would be: is it your position that we should take anyone and everyone’s non-rational (i.e. no grounds established) fears or feelings as actionable representations of the world, simply on the off chance that those fears or feelings may turn out to be grounded in reality, or because similar claims have been grounded in reality in the past?
The key to my objection to #4 is here: … Continue Reading
Earlier this week, fellow FTBorg Ashley Miller told a heart-wrenching story of being disowned by her father:
He was with me for Thanksgiving, to meet my mom and stepdad and brother and rest of my family. Except my dad. My mother, who is much wiser than me and deserves full credit for being right, told me not to tell my dad until she could grease the wheels, but I, who wanted to make the boyfriend part of my family, foolishly overreached and talked to my father thinking that she was underestimating his fundamental human decency.
And now my father has just disowned me.
I suppose I am thankful that he waited until the day after Thanksgiving to do it. Not that he told me, he made my stepmother his proxy as he was too angry to speak to me directly. I have been disowned for loving someone my father does not approve of.
If you haven’t read it yet, you should. Maybe locate some tissues first.
Many people in the comments and on Twitter expressed dismayed shock that such disowning could happen in this day and age. After all, Ashley’s dad’s justification for refusing to talk to or interact with his daughter is that she’s dating a guy… who is black. How could such a thing be possible in 2012? Surely we are a more enlightened society and culture now than we were in the distant mists of our shameful history, aren’t we? After all, racism was so… yesterday. We’ve moved on, into this “post-racial” utopia we’ve been hearing so much about, where people are “colour blind” and racism just isn’t a serious problem anymore. … Continue Reading
Circumstances have once again robbed me of the time and energy to dig too deep into blogging. Part of this is a massive paper that I have just finished – it looks at whether or not mandatory childhood vaccination is legally, ethically, and scientifically justified in a Canadian context. Part of it is prepping for my Eschaton2012 presentation that I will be giving in Ottawa this weekend. Part of it is prioritizing my personal relationships above blogging, given how much of a time suck these other two things have been. At any rate, no post for you today.
In lieu, I want to highlight two essays on a topic I’ve had some call to think about recently. The first is by Robert Reece, perhaps better known to some of you as PhuzzieSlippers, a former guest on the SERIOUSLY?! podcast*: … Continue Reading
How exactly do I even begin? My language choices throughout this piece are applied conscientiously. Selection of terminology used here is neither made carelessly nor in jest. I am struggling daily with a profound and genuinely increasing sense of dread, and this particular piece of writing is an attempt to account for this as concisely as possible.
We’ve got indigenous peoples in both Brazil and Canada essentially declaring war against their respective colonial governments and other occupiers with corporate interests (Brazil, Canada). While indigenous peoples in Canada are being neglected (see this… oh, and this… and this, too) and starved (see here), indigenous peoples in Brazil and neighbouring countries are being fire-bombed and gunned down — though media reports on indigenous peoples in South America are apparently often misleading (as in the title of the article about a Brazilian indigenous tribe declaring a fight to the death … Continue Reading