Why Are We OK With These Assassination Jokes?

This week, Johnny Depp publicly said: “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”

Last month, Kathy Griffin posted a horrific photo of herself holding up what appeared to be a bloodied, decapitated Trump head.

I strongly believe in the 1st amendment. I’m a huge proponent of allowing controversial speakers and of sparking debate. But calling for the murder of anyone is not exercising free speech. It’s a threat. And this language should not be used lightly or encouraged.

People don’t like Trump. I get it, and I don’t blame them. But there are other ways besides killing someone to address a conflict or difference of view.

What’s worrisome to me is that some people defend these statements. Griffin even somehow turned herself into the victim of the situation. People will say, “Well Republicans didn’t care when Obama was threatened.” As if that now makes it OK?

It’s not OK to threaten people. Period. Even if you heavily disagree with that person. The fact that we even have to establish this as a baseline for interaction is amazing. Let’s pull ourselves together and move forward in civil discourse.

Photo: Associated Press

Understand Messenger Motivations to Uncover Facts

The news today about Amazon buying Whole Foods made me think of my surprise when, as a teenager, I discovered that Disney owned much more than just a few theme parks and a movie collection.

While it always seemed like there was such variety—hundreds of TV channels, shows, newspapers, magazines—in reality, these could all be directly connected to just a handful of companies.

Suddenly, the world seemed to shrink. I realized I wasn’t as exposed to different thoughts and ways of life as I might have expected. When everything you are exposed to can be attributed to the desires of ~50 people (mostly white men), how representative of life’s possibilities can it actually be?

This message condensing is at the core of the pushback against “mainstream media”. When the owner of a media outlet can directly benefit by pushing certain messages, how much can you trust what you’re hearing?

It’s essential to consider the motivation of the messenger before you react (whether it’s by getting angry or afraid, or even just sharing a message on social media). This isn’t to say that all mainstream media are simply puppets for their corporate overlords, but it’s difficult to disentangle what is real and what we’re only seeing through a specific and pre-determined lens. No piece of information is void of human contact.

So how can we start to combat the potential bias that is infused through all of the communication channels we absorb? One of the crucial elements is pausing. So often, people will read a headline and immediately comment or share, without reading the article or even knowing if the headline is accurate. This then spreads that news to others, who immediately comment or share, then spreading it on to even more people.

This great article on FactCheck.org goes into some questions to ask yourself before reacting:

  • Consider the source
  • Read beyond the headline
  • Check the author
  • What’s the support?
  • Check the date
  • Is this some kind of joke?
  • Check your biases
  • Consult the experts

The internet has turned us all into more than just consumers. We are also now a vehicle through which information is spread—it is therefore on each of us to be responsible in ensuring that we are sharing messages with awareness of motivation and confidence in accuracy.

What Lives Do You Value?

It’s always bothered me when animals get labeled with “man eater”, and that the label is used as an excuse to kill it. What is it, really, that makes it OK for that animal to eat any other animal, but not a human? What is it that makes people consider human lives not only above, but so far removed from nature?

I think about this sometimes as more news of terrorist attacks come out of England.

  • London: 8 dead, 48 injured
  • Manchester: 22 dead, 120 injured
  • Westminster: 6 dead, 49 injured

And in France.

  • Notre-Dame de Paris: 0 dead, 1 injured
  • Champs-Elysees: 2 dead, 3 injured
  • Garges-lès-Gonesse: 1 dead, 1 injured

And then, of course, in America itself.

  • Ohio State: 1 dead, 13 injured
  • New Jersey/New York: 0 dead, 35 injured
  • Minnesota: 1 dead, 10 injured

With each event, Facebook profile pictures get changed. A new hashtag emerges. A concert is formed.

Yet meanwhile, places like Afghanistan and Syria are seeing astounding numbers of civilian deaths each day due to military operations. The U.S. forces alone have been responsible for almost 1,500 civilian deaths in these regions in March 2017 alone.

I understand that Americans can identify more with the lives of those in England and France than with those in the Middle East; yet, it’s clear from our actions and our media that we find the attacks on Western countries to be infinitely worse than the daily horrors those living in war-torn nations are experiencing, despite the fact that the attacks in England, France, and America pale in comparison to the lives lost and affected in Syria and Afghanistan.

The terrorist attacks in Western countries are horrible. But they are not the only atrocities happening. The decisions to cover one event over another, to retweet a supportive meme for one tragedy and not another, are all conscious decisions, and all reinforce the false narrative that Western lives matter more.

The Feminism Frustration: Why Hillary’s Loss Had Nothing to Do with Gender

“Well, this proves it. America is more sexist than it is racist.”

As I’m sure you’re well aware, Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by a stunning 74 electoral votes, yet won the popular vote. The results map shows an enormous swath of red running through the center and southern portions of America. Many have blamed this on an adherence to traditional gender roles and fear of a strong female. This needs to stop.

It was abundantly clear that both parties were undergoing separate but parallel revolutions aimed to upend the establishment. Bernie Sanders repeatedly drew larger crowds to his rallies than Clinton did, while Trump appealed directly to an oft-forgotten and belittled middle America, promising them an end to invisibility and poor economic growth. Anyone who was shocked by Trump’s win wasn’t paying attention.

Clinton didn’t lose because she’s female. She lost because, to an electorate desperately trying to break the status quo, Clinton was the most representative candidate possible of the current system.

Attributing absolutely anything bad that happens to someone as a result of their gender or race only serves to water down the very real effects of systemic burdens that non-white males face in America, but also attempts to divert needed focus on a substantive dissection.

The gender swap put on by New York University helps illustrate Clinton’s very by-the-book, typical-politician demeanor at debates, without the “distraction” of her gender.

What’s even more astonishing is former Bernie supporters coming out of the woodwork to now blame anti-woman sentiments for Clinton’s downfall. Obviously, there was something about Bernie’s platform that drew them over Clinton’s platform. This is also true for Trump.

People didn’t vote for Trump because Clinton was a woman. They voted for Trump because he was a brick through the window of everything Clinton represented. Putting the onus on her gender only casts her as the victim and ignores all of the many aspects at play that led to this time in history. It ignores the cries from both sides for change. It ignores those in economically depressed areas struggling to bring in jobs. It ignores the populist movements happening elsewhere throughout the world.

This was not an isolated event that occurred based on whether or not the Democratic candidate was female. And, despite Hillary’s claims, I also don’t believe her loss was that attributable to Comey’s investigation, the DNC, or media coverage. People wanted change. Clinton was more of the same.

I only hope we can pull our heads up and properly survey the landscape to have a better chance in 2020.

It Takes Money to Make Money

Today, my husband and I are closing on our first home in one of the toughest housing markets in the country.

I’m so proud of us. We were both raised in economically depressed areas of Central New York, a region of limited economic mobility, and have managed to achieve one of the tenets of the American Dream.

I’m fortunate enough to have had a few of these financial victories already, and while each big milestone fills me with pride, I’m constantly aware of how they are as much the result of other people’s actions as they are of my own good decisions.

Continue reading “It Takes Money to Make Money”

What’s Your “American Dream” Score? Take the Quiz

The “American Dream”—the idea that through hard work and perseverance, anyone can individually improve their situation in life. Core tenants to the Dream are upward mobility and financial independence.

The trouble with this is that, while the idea is your hard work will pay off, you are reliant on others to give you the money that makes upward mobility and financial independence possible. Hard work is generally rewarded, but we’ve all had a slacker colleague getting paid as much or more than you do.

Because you are reliant on others, you have to be the person they want to hire. And you have to do the work they want you to do. Also, if you’re very good at a job that a lot of others are willing to do, they will pay you less than if you are just OK at a job that not a lot of others would be willing or able to do.

All of this to say—there’s a lot more to a person’s economic situation than hard work. And yet this idea of the American Dream is generally completely reliant on an individual’s effort.

This article on FastCompany talks about a new tool, the Your American Dream Score, that helps put into perspective how other factors have played into your current situation. From the article:

You’re … given a score out of 100, with scores starting at 45 to reflect a baseline of individual effort. “We realized if we did not have that floor some might feel as if their own efforts were being discounted,” McKinnon says. If you score less than 53, that means you have all factors working in your favor and have less to overcome; 54-65, the majority of factors have been on your side; 66-79, you’ve had more working against than for you; 80 and above, you’ve been dealt a tough hand.

By getting people to think more holistically about the factors that contribute to success, McKinnon wants to break down what he sees as the two most harmful fallouts of the self-made-person mythology that still persists in America. “On the one hand, you have this idea of the American Dream, and that’s important to have in a way because it gives people hope,” McKinnon says. “But then I started wondering: Is it actually limiting?” Take a school that’s clearly underperforming, McKinnon says. “Instead of fixing the school, people can point to the two kids that made it out and say: Why doesn’t everyone work as hard as they do?”

My score was a 67:

While hard work contributes to success, each of us have encountered different people, experiences, systems, and services that have helped or hindered our efforts.

Your score of 67 means you’ve had just about as many things working in your favor as factors you’ve had to work to overcome. To see what your score means compared to others, click here.

Factors that help me include:

  • Able to tap into a strong social network
  • Had a pretty good childhood
  • Worked pretty hard
  • Access to a good education
  • Blessed by some good fortune
  • Benefited from public goods and services
  • Your race may have resulted in more opportunities

Factors that I work to overcome include:

  • The economy wasn’t as strong when you entered the job market
  • Needed to develop strong character traits to cope
  • Your parents may have struggled to give you all you needed
  • Grew up in a place that it was hard for people to move up
  • Experienced some health issues
  • You were more likely to be discriminated against based on gender

For comparison, I redid the test three times—once as a white male, once as a black male, and once as a black female. Other than the demographic changes, all answers were the same.

  • If I were a white male, my score would be 63.
  • If I were a black male, my score would be 67 (same as white female with same context)
  • If I were a black female, my score would be 70.

I really appreciate this tool, as it takes so many differing contexts into account. While clearly race and gender play a role, the scores were actually a bit closer than I had anticipated.

Take the assessment. What’s your score? Did it surprise you?

The Score is funded by GALEWiLL and the Ford Foundation.

Image Source: Mike Keefe, intoon.com

This Mental Health Month, Remember to Listen

May is Mental Health Month! This year, Mental Health America is focusing on the topic of “Risky Business”:

We believe it’s important to educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. These include risk factors such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns. We hope the tools and resources that we’ve put together help individuals and communities to raise awareness of the risks that these types of behaviors present—especially to young people—and help people who may be struggling to detect early warning signs and seek help early, before Stage 4.

While these risky behaviors are certainly cause to seek help, there is also an enormous amount of people dealing with mental health illnesses who don’t exhibit these behaviors. This can make it so that when they reach out for help, people might not believe that they are actually struggling. So what can you do?

It’s simple: Listen. Continue reading “This Mental Health Month, Remember to Listen”

Experts Speaking on Trump’s Mental State Failing to Reduce Stigma

Last week at Yale, dozens of mental health experts stepped forward with a statement that Donald Trump was “paranoid and delusional” and that this “dangerous mental illness” made him unfit for the presidency.

In doing so, these experts violated a professional norm (the Goldwater Rule, preventing professionals from publicly speaking out about people who they have not personally treated), but even worse increased the stigma of mental health. Continue reading “Experts Speaking on Trump’s Mental State Failing to Reduce Stigma”

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