May 05

Sophistication of QTL Search for IQ Heritability through Multivariate Analysis

As humans continue to evolve, both technologically and physically, the speculation of scientists has become how technologies that allow artificial modification of life can be applied to the focus on the advantages of this evolution specifically addressing the values of today’s society: intelligence and the leadership qualities that it fosters that can fuel innovation.  At one time in history, the solution to this was the technique used by a variety of leaders considered by modern society to have been the evilest people to have lived: eugenics through genocide.  Today, however, studies are increasingly showing that variance in such qualities in the category as IQ, a quantification of mental capability which is considered to be a major contributor to the also quantifiable General Cognitive Ability (GCA), can be attributed to genes in the newly sequenced human genome (Johnson).  Nevertheless, finding genes specifically responsible for this variability has been excessively difficult, due to their qualities of involving a wide variety of environmental factors and manifestations of both struggle and success in multiple distinct ways (Rose).  Thus, significant progress towards this end will be achieved through two factors: improvement of the location of Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) for simpler and more easily measurable traits, and consideration of IQ as simply one effect of genes that affect multiple traits, including, per research thus far, most distinctly, reactivity to stimuli alongside the information processing ability defined by IQ.

Research and experimentation regarding the heritability of IQ has existed for nearly a century, but the unique approaches that are posing unique possibilities are fairly recent.  The majority of these earlier experiments were twin and sibling studies which sought to detect correlation in the variation of IQ from mean IQ scores for the entire population, between relatives.  The conclusion elucidated by a high correlation would be that the variation reflected by both subjects would be similar, and thus caused by genetic and/or environmental factors (Jensen).  A summary of a large number of studies in Alan S. Kaufman’s work IQ Testing 101 is shown by the chart below.

 Correlation of Variation in IQ

Two important points to note here are that the correlation for identical twins and fraternal twins/siblings are capped at .90-.95 and .5, respectively, assuming that genetics are the sole factor, based on the overall reliability of IQ tests and the fact that siblings share about half their genes (Jensen).  Basic analysis of this data would seem to show that variation certainly is apparent, even if not ideal in numerical value.  Each data point doesn’t quite reach the theoretical value presented by the previous claim (.86 versus .90-.95 for identical twins reared together and .47 versus .50 for biological siblings reared together seem to be the closest), excepting one: fraternal twins reared together.  A correlation of .55 in fact exceeds the predicted value of .50, designating alongside the definite gap in each relationship based on being reared together and reared apart, an environmental impact on variation.  This is the core idea behind a recent, innovative claim made by Wendy Johnson in her paper for Current Directions in Psychological Science titled “Understanding the Genetics of Intelligence: Can Height Help? Can Corn Oil?”: Control over environment increases with age, thus decreasing environmental variation and maximizing gene-based variation.  Thinking aligned with this idea that environmental factors may be skewing data, has, throughout time, triggered a focus on alternative research to consider this specifically and thus better narrow down genetic effects.

A well-known example of this sort of study was published in 1997 in Nature by B. Devlin, Michael Daniels, and Kathryn Roeder.  This study examined “maternal effects,” that is, the effect of conditions within the womb, on correlation that it concluded were the root of the high correlation between twins as opposed to siblings and non-biologically-related siblings raised in the same environment.  A 20% covariance between twins and 5% between siblings was found to be based on these maternal effects, reducing these two measures of heritability (further taking into account other major environmental factors) to below 50%.  Nevertheless, this impact remains and may be studied from a genetic perspective.

In his commentary on Heritability estimates titled “Long Past Their Sell-By Date” for the International Journal of Epidemiology, Steven P. R. Rose describes the efforts being made towards this end, then criticizes them for analyzing complex organisms linearly.  The starting point is the original 1969 article by the aforementioned author, Arthur Jensen, titled How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement?  The claim presented in this article that IQ has an approximately 80% heritability (assuming, prior to the research by Devlin, Daniels, and Roeder, that only 20% of variability was by chance or environmental factors) is cited by Rose to be the basis for research for specific genes that affect IQ.  The primary method which is used is the mining of massive amounts of DNA data to align phenotypic patterns of variation from population means with specific quantitative trait loci (QTLs).  QTLs are specific to genes which express phenotypes in varying degrees, like IQ.

Unfortunately, there are three major factors discussed by Rose and elaborated on by Johnson that make this sort of research difficult, reliant on assumption, and problematic.  The first of these is the fact that the majority of effective research at this point in time has been forced to diverge from the “mutations in coding regions or single nucleotide polymorphism in non-coding regions” (Rose) in favor of genetic risk factors determined by a wide variety of genes.  I refer to this, of course, in the context of the field of gene identification in general, rather than the search for genes that affect IQ.  This, in turn, must take into account, on one hand, Rose’s point that “it is not generally recognized that QTL analysis itself relies on a prior assumption of significant heritability,” and, on the other hand, the simple idea that the human genome itself is so expansive that determining specific points to examine is quite difficult and time-consuming.  Of course, as has been discussed, technology (i.e. BLAST) is making this a simpler task that, as research on this topic becomes more sophisticated, has great potential to speed up progress in finding specific QTLs that may seem to consistently impact variation.  The final factor is an idea referenced by Rose as having been developed initially by the Russian zoologist and evolutionist Ivan Ivanovich Schmalhausen and later by Ukrainian-American geneticist and evolutionary biologist Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky: norm of reaction.  Rose states that the first factor presented here represents a situation in which this theory is invalidated, but it is still important to acknowledge.  This concept states that “the phenotypic effect of any gene may vary continuously but non-linearly and often unpredictably across a range of environments” (Rose).  Though Rose does clearly state this to be a problem in this sort of research, he begins to introduce the idea upon which Johnson elaborate that the consideration of the “entire genome” (Rose) working differently on “multiple environmental levels” (Rose) is playing a large part in modern research.

Johnson’s reference to this problem with norms of reaction is based, on one hand, in the idea presented earlier that, as adults, when heritability of IQ seems to be the highest (reaching, at points, 80%), control of one’s environment is maximized and thus effects from it are minimized due to the increased suitability for one’s genetic makeup for their environment through choice.  On the other hand, her argument is centered on the idea that “environmental variables may contribute directly to changes in means without contributing to variances” (Johnson 178), thus having the same effect on all members of a population and thus being irrelevant to consideration of the norms of reaction in the same way that Rose states them to be in the case of genetic risk factor search.  Nevertheless, nuances in the specific case of IQ, or, in the case of Johnson’s paper, GCA, maintain the importance of these norms of reaction.  Johnson presents the example “those who are brighter tend to use larger vocabularies in talking to their children, read more books to them, and are more likely to expose them to intellectual experiences of all kinds” (Johnson 179), thus enhancing genetic effects on variance.  Johnson conjectures that a good portion of the variance of the population as a whole, 35%, is likely based off of these sort of “gene-environment correlations.”  Thus, she concludes that the real progress that can be made in research in this area would be in sophistication of the criteria by which populations are divided, such that this population variance may be minimized for each sample and genetic effects can truly be measured against each other.  This may be exceedingly difficult, considering the isolated nature of such environments as those discussed in the immediately preceding example, in terms of genetic diversity, but is certainly something which scientists can and will take into account.

The perfect example of an approach that explicitly takes these ideas into account is chronicled in the paper “DNA evidence for strong genetic stability and increasing heritability of intelligence from age 7 to 12” by M Trzaskowski, J Yang, PM Visscher, and R Plomin in Molecular Psychiatry.  The thesis which this study works to prove is a somewhat different situation, but provides an example for how studies following Johnson’s criteria may be structured.  The thesis of this paper is that GCA (referred to as the g factor) is impacted by the same genes throughout development (ages 7-12), despite the fact that heritability, according to previous studies, increases with age (likely due to Johnson’s claim that environmental control increases).  The technique that these scientists make use of is known as Genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA) and is based on Johnson’s final claim that, based on the theory of norms of reaction, the key to finding genetic results is to look for the cooperation of vast numbers of genes through environmental isolation, rather than the single, or even limited multiple, polymorphisms or mutations.  The application of GCTA here involves the application of 1.7 million DNA markers to the examination of patterns in g factor, as compared between results at ages 7 and 12 for single participants, and between twins (Trzaskowski).  GCTA, according to the authors of this paper, significantly reduces assumption in research, and thus succeeds in eliminating at least Rose’s final factor in the problem of genetic analysis for heritability.  The unique aspect of this study which can definitely be applied to upcoming research is the use of bivariate analysis to deepen analysis in such a way that proven points can be taken into account such that present research can truly be more sophisticated.  The two variables analyzed by Trzaskowski, Yang, Visscher, and Plomin are stability between ages 7 and 12 and already proven increasing heritability.  Future studies may easily apply such concepts to make much larger inferences about much bigger populations.

Johnson’s most intriguing claim which may be applied to GCTA and the accompanying study techniques is centered around the idea that, based on separate, non-genetic research regarding IQ, it is possible to determine much more specific phenotypes to examine.  The most prominent, yet also most abstract, possibility is what Johnson believes is the GCA equivalent of optimal body size for height: reactivity to stimuli, as contrasted to the information processing capacity that is defined by GCA and IQ.  Of course, this is a rather vague possibility which Johnson does not cite specific examples of, but its consideration by researchers in situations of bivariate, or better multivariate (as allowed by mathematical sophistication), analysis in terms of this situation will lead to distinct sophistication and improvement in research.  Beyond this vague concept, Johnson also presents much more tangible phenotypes that have been directly proven to have a positive correlation with IQ: “brain size, white matter integrity and volume, gray matter volume, and cortical thickness” (Johnson 177).  While initial research based off of this idea may definitely focus on bivariate correlation of each of these as compared against genome-wide trait cooperation, but the two specific techniques that will improve research will be specific research on SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that impact these highly tangible phenotypes and complex multivariate analysis of many phenotype variables in search of genes that have across-the-board application.  The combination of these with increased effort in this field will provide definite progress in the detection of specific genes that may contribute directly to variation in IQ.

Analysis and understanding of GCTA in the context of multivariate analysis of the many contributions to IQ and search of specific QTLs will better allow focused research.  Science that works to explain this through specific genetic evidence both poses a danger in the potential possibilities for achievement and the potential for benefit through the potential to address specific detriments to IQ that have been discovered.  The latter is often a basic starting point due to the fact that many are defined by SNPs, so true progress will be reflected by larger research.  As research as to specific genetic modification of humans beyond selection as manifested in in vitro fertilization progresses, the concept of genetic modification for the sake of elimination of disorders or enhancement of IQ variation, thus changing population mean.  Of course, the much more accessible factor is environmental, which is something that can much more quickly be achieved outside of science.  Perhaps there is a future in this idea, which we will soon observe.



Works Cited

Devlin, B., Michael Daniels, and Kathryn Roeder. “The Heritability of IQ.” Nature 388.6641 (1997): 468-71. Nature. Macmillan Publishers Limited, 31 July 1997. Web. 4 May 2014.

Jensen, Arthur Robert. The G Factor: The Science of Mental Ability. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998. Print.

Johnson, Wendy. “Understanding the Genetics of Intelligence: Can Height Help? Can Corn Oil?” Current Directions in Psychological Science 19.3 (2010): 177-82. Psyc621 Clinical Assessment. University of Arizona, 17 June 2010. Web. 4 May 2014.

Kaufman, Alan S. IQ Testing 101. New York, NY: Springer Pub., 2009. Print.

Plomin, R., N. L. Pedersen, P. Lichtenstein, and G. E. Mcclearn. “Variability and Stability in Cognitive Abilities Are Largely Genetic Later in Life.” Behavior Genetics 24.3 (1994): 207-15. Print.

Rose, S. P R. “Commentary: Heritability Estimates–long past Their Sell-by Date.” International Journal of Epidemiology 35.3 (2006): 525-27. Print.

Trzaskowski, M., J. Yang, P. M. Visscher, and R. Plomin. “DNA Evidence for Strong Genetic Stability and Increasing Heritability of Intelligence from Age 7 to 12.” Molecular Psychiatry 19.3 (2013): 380-84. 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 May 2014.

Apr 28

Jay Cee in The Bell Jar

The point that Burdick is making here is that Esther seeks free opinions, at this time characterized as masculine, and the best example of her discovery in terms of this is Jay Cee, who both represents that aspect of society as well as the control men themselves have over women, even Jay Cee.  Burdick supports the former segment of that by referring to Esther’s commitment to Jay Cee to learn German.  Her approach to this appears to both be “running blind” and “self-deceptive escape,” in both cases forced onto this negative path towards insanity by the predominantly male society and its ideas’ “phallic threat.”  The trigger to this being Jay Cee’s criticism of Esther’s current position, the latter part of the claim is made apparent: that, even if she represents masculinity and freedom in Esther’s eyes, Jay Cee simply represents the ideas of this group of society and is controlled by them herself.  This is further confirmed by her position as described by Burdick: “She knows ‘languages,’ but only to edit them.  She is not herself a source of language.”  The larger topic that this analysis discusses is gender roles in the time of The Bell Jar, especially in the form of inter-gender relations and the position of those who represent transcendence of these gender roles.  I would agree with the majority of the thesis, but, from a modern perspective, I would question the idea that Jay Cee’s values and actions are considered masculine.  While it is true that she appears to have mastery not only of the industry, but even of more specific aspects of life, such as botany, and thus replicates the anti-feminine values that men of the time represent.  From a modern perspective, Jay Cee would seem to be a conservative, anti-free-choice professional woman.  Of course, this perspective would replicate those of men, yet she seems to have too much of a personal connection to it to really be separated from her feminine identity.  It would be interesting to see her reaction to Esther’s situation throughout the rest of the story, as this would better allow us to gauge her role in society.

Apr 18

Girl Goes Insane: Psychological Response to Gender Interactions in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar

Good day, readers!  It has indeed been many moons since I last addressed your directly, what with the more formal English papers and reflections on the various media that has dominated this blog for a good amount of time.  Before I really get started with the discussion I wish to pose here, I want to give a heads-up that I have about 5,000 spam comments queued up on here at the moment, so 1) it would be awesome if y’all left some words here, so that I actually have something of worth to look forward to in that pile, and 2) if you comment and it doesn’t show up, shoot me an email to let me know (  Now let’s get started!

The truth that I wish to start off this post with is that, in reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, despite the knowing I have virtually no connection to any of the characters or situations in the story, I feel an element of guilt regarding the situation in which Esther, the main character, finds herself.  This guilt was triggered by the fact that, to me, it appeared that much of her deterioration was due to her interactions with and perceptions of men.  Now, of course, this was evinced through the actions of such characters as Marco, who almost raped Esther (note: he was one character I certainly did not identify with).  The problem, however, arose in the fact that this was quickly made apparent in the actions of characters who I upon first reading viewed in a positive light (due to my own cynicism regarding Esther’s ideas of her connections to them), such as Buddy Willard, a childhood friend of Esther’s, and Doctor Gordon, the first psychiatrist she consults.  The frightening aspect of this is that, though the society that shaped these characters may no longer exist, they certainly represent characteristics that still do (people I know, much less these).  For this reason, I hope to address what really needs to be done to make sure Esther’s situation isn’t one that is as easy to reach today as it was in her time.

Before I begin my analysis of this thesis specifically, I want to provide some brief context for the situations which surround the interactions that will define the evolution I will describe.  While her personality is indeed important to her development as a person, it is so variable and complex that no explanation here would do it justice.  On the other hand, her hopes and dreams, or at least her approach to them, are explained fairly well at certain snapshots in time.  The first example of this is particularly applicable because of the characterization of the person with whom she is speaking when she says it: Jay Cee.  See page 6 of this analysis for a description of the basis I have for this character, and/or read this summary/analysis written by me.  Upon being asked “’What do you have in mind after you graduate?’” (26), Esther describes, “What I always thought I had in mind was getting some big scholarship to graduate school or a grant to study all over Europe, and then I thought I’d be a professor and write books of poems or write books of poems and be an editor of some sort.  Usually I had these plans on the tip of my tongue” (26-27).  Of course, what happens next is initially unexplainable and later seen as the beginning of an underlying trend towards insanity.  As Esther describes, “’I don’t really know,’ I heard myself say.  I felt a deep shock, hearing myself say that, because the minute I said it, I knew it was true” (27).  The fact that Esther “felt a deep shock” after saying that makes it clear to us that she is just as surprised as we are that she seems to be moving away from the highly organized, future-thinking character that was displayed early in the novel.  It is exactly this sort of inconsistency in self-perception that leads to her confusion regarding her interactions with others, and the failure for any of her contradictory goals to line up with what they have in mind for her.  So basically, the starting point for her descent into “the bell jar,” is her own incapability to understand what she wants for her future, or align any of this with what she knows she wanted in the past, or at least thought she wanted in the past.

If we begin our analysis with a look at the progression of Esther’s recovery, the most apparent characters between whom we can make a comparison from this perspective are Dr. Gordon, her initial, male, psychiatrist, and Dr. Nolan, her second, female, psychiatrist at Caplan, the mental institution where she is sent by Philomena Guinea, her scholarship sponsor.  Right off the bat, it is apparent that Dr. Gordon exhibits qualities that not only make Esther uncomfortable, but that could make her condition worse: “I could see right away he was conceited” (105).  Now, conceit isn’t an inherently male trait, but when combined with the fact that “he seemed slow to understand, how [Esther] hadn’t slept for fourteen nights and how [she] could read or write or swallow very well” (110), it becomes apparent that this conceit, likely in place because of the superiority complex the position of men in society at this time, the 1950s, has given him, is clearly not benefiting Esther and perhaps even worsening her condition by feeding her frustration.

Interestingly, this superiority complex seems to further be based in the doctor-patient relationship that Dr. Gordon has with Esther, in that he doesn’t view her as sufficiently capable of managing her destiny, and thus “[talks] to [her mother]” (110), a prospect which Esther “[doesn’t] like… one bit” (110).  Of course, this could further represent the impact of gender roles in that, as a daughter, Esther is expected by Dr. Gordon to be more dependent on her mother than a mentally ill man of the same age would be on his parents.  The problem reflected in this context by modern statistics is summarized by the claim in this paper by the World Health Organization that, “Doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men, even when they have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms.”  Of course, on one hand, this could be interpreted as representing more care being put into the process for women, yet the resulting claim that “female gender is a significant predictor of being prescribed mood altering psychotropic drugs,” would seem to argue that the trait that Dr. Gordon represented in recommending Esther for treatment at his private hospital simply for the sake of profits is still displayed.  The fact that this has the potential to result in such negative effects as those that Esther horrifying experiences with her shock treatment may indicate a continuing element of gender bias in this process at the detriment of women.

The dynamic reflected by these two characters is put in complete contrast with the relationship that seems to lead Esther back to good health and escape from the bell jar under which she is trapped: her connection with her second psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan.  Esther’s very first, and, I believe, most important, observation regarding Dr. Nolan is her statement that, “I didn’t think they had woman psychiatrists.  This woman was a cross between Myrna Loy and my mother” (153).  Particularly in the second sentence, it is apparent that her immediate perception of Dr. Nolan puts the doc in an important position for Esther: as her “mother,” she takes on a role defined by trust that is necessary to remind Esther of the positive consistencies in her world, an important factor for recovery.  As “Myrna Loy,” she takes on the role of one of the most important characters from earlier in the book, Doreen, as a role model for Esther, except, this time, in a context that has the potential to bring Esther peace and comfort, rather than the fear and action that Doreen’s life with Lenny displayed.  Finally, the final description of Dr. Nolan as having “stylish, crescent-shaped spectacles” (153) makes her out to be similar to two other important women in Esther’s previous positive idea of her world: Ee Gee and Jay Cee, two magazine editors who served as Esther’s inspirations in New York.

The fact that Dr. Nolan is able to take on all these roles without judging Esther for her condition, as all these actual people did, contributes greatly to her recovery by reinforcing the comfort in her life that those who were similar to her created, and which the early onset of her condition had destroyed.  The question that truly intrigues me about this, however, is whether this dynamic would’ve functioned similarly if the gender of the patient were changed.  It would seem that, even if the patient were male, the superiority complex demonstrated by Dr. Gordon would cause him to dismiss this difference and still approach him in such a way that would not be particularly beneficial.  On the other hand, there’s the potential that, demonstrating similarities to Esther’s mother to her, Dr. Nolan could be more effective for the recovery of male patients based on that element of comfort, as compared to Dr. Gordon.  The perfect character to analyze to question this is Buddy Willard.

The main situation which replicates that in question while also involving Esther and her own mental state is upon Esther’s visit to the sanatorium where Buddy has been sent to recover from tuberculosis.  The ideal reversal of power is initially demonstrated by “the last thing [Esther] expected” (73) or Buddy, “to be fat” (73).  Since an element of the control that Buddy appears to have over Esther in her earlier stories is through her attraction to him, this negates that.  Nevertheless, Buddy seems to maintain a self-confidence that continues to marginalize Esther’s personality.  He, first off, asks her, “’How would you like to be Mrs. Buddy Willard?’” (75).  Besides seeming unusual in his asking of this question despite his clear reduction of power and limitation of physical state at the moment, his response to her clear refusal via explanation of skewed and varying priorities, is summarized in his statement “’Let me fly with you’” (77).  Now, to most this would appear to be something of a surrender to the desires, even career-wise, of Esther, but, considering the context offered by the skiing incident which is described just a couple pages later, this appears to highly patronizing.

By referring to a statement as patronizing in a situation where I had clearly described a power reversal, I am making a grave statement on the perception that Buddy continued to hold of how Esther would react even if he were to follow through with his actions.  The conflict which results in Esther’s mind is significant in the worsening of her condition in that understanding this action by Buddy forces her to interpret all positive actions towards her in similar form as flawed and faux.  Just as she is confused by his intentions and perception to such a deep degree, she is similarly impacted by the actions of Dr. Gordon, particularly his seeming nonchalance towards her serious problems, those of her mother as she attempts to help Esther while herself attempting to grasp the desperation of Esther’s situation, and those of such characters as Joan, who Esther seems to think moved to Caplan to be with her.  Each of these situations has its own impact on this idea, so I’ll leave these interpretations to you, readers (perhaps comment if you have any ideas?), so that I may continue on my more general path.  This directly impact her psychological state by degrading her trust to such a degree that it transcends simply her human interaction and even begins to impact her environmental interactions.  After all, there is the entire point that Esther makes to Dr. Gordon when she says that she “hadn’t slept for fourteen nights and… couldn’t read or write or swallow very well” (110).

Now, the real question here is, is it right of me to entirely accuse Buddy for this?  In my opinion, yes.  The greater role that he plays in Esther’s life is that of a trigger for the actions that truly do lead to her insanity.  The situation of a “sexual competition” that he poses for Esther by disturbing her with his personality inconsistency is, in essence, what leads her to go out with Marco.  Of course, it is this starting point from which the assault which she suffers stems.  As the WHO emphasizes, “gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender based violence… and unremitting responsibility for the care of others.”

It is true that there are many aspects of her psychological state that are either Esther’s fault or the fault of females in her society, but it is clear that much of her deterioration is directly triggered by the roles of men in her life and the respective judgments of her state by these people.  Of course, as my English teacher, Dr. Olsen, questions, why must we ascribe fault to any given entity/group of entities in such cases?  Perhaps it is true that it is overreaching for me to do so myself, but I would say I have reason behind it.  Perhaps you readers would have something to say on this matter?  Guilt considered here is particularly defined by the way that this hasn’t gone away and is, in many ways, maintained in ideology that can even be considered positive today.  This is why I am scared.  This is why I wrote this.  This didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped, but I hope you enjoyed it all the same.  Leave any comments/ideas/questions below!  Thanks!

Mar 12

‘I was stop-and-frisked by the NYPD more than 100 times’

‘I was stop-and-frisked by the NYPD more than 100 times’

The New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, as Keeshan describes in the first two minutes of The Guardian’s video ‘I was stop-and-frisked by the NYPD more than 100 times,’ entails the stopping of random individuals, often without any basis besides being black of Latino, and a search for possession of any contraband, such as drugs or weapons.  Though the NYPD claims that the program has been effective in reducing crime, as NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly described in his statement that “[Stop-and-Frisk] is a program that is effective… you used to not be able to walk down the streets of this city safely and today you can walk every neighborhood during the day and most neighborhoods at night,” [1] the truth is that, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), “88 percent of stops – more than 3.8 million – were of innocent New Yorkers,” indicating that there most definitely isn’t a significant improvement in terms of crime being detected because of this program.  There are many layers to this situation, both why it occurs and why it has such a drastic effect on the population it impacts.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the racial profiling taking place with this policy is that it is reminiscent of a time that the majority of Americans believe to be in the distant past: a time when racial segregation was the norm, and was neither taboo nor illegal.  Even in a time when this was the case, Atticus, the lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, recognizes and lectures that this is not the truth.  Following an explanation of the contradictory explanation of the motivations of the Ewell’s, who are prosecuting Tom Robinson for his supposed crime, Atticus says, “’You, [the jury], know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white.  But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men’” (Ch. #20).  Its failure to recognize this, as indicated by the vastly disproportionate number of African American victims of this policy, puts the NYPD in the highly negative position of doing something that has been considered morally wrong for over half a century now.  This is why the practice must end.

The further problem that is caused for African American and Latino youth is that being subjected to such inherent injustice causes them to lose hope for success to the point of equality in their lifetimes.  They come to believe that this injustice is simply reality, and that there’s no reasonable way to escape it, so there’s no reason to try.  Keeshan, towards the beginning of the video, explains the situation of how it’s entirely up to chance whether, even after being proven innocent after a search, the police will just let you go, or arrest and detain you, necessitating the further action of suing the police upon release.  This, again, is the outdated concept that Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird describes as the reason Tom Robinson ended up trying to escape from Enfield Prison Farm and was killed in the process: “’I told him what I thought, but I couldn’t in truth say that we had more than a good chance [to win the trial].  I guess Tom was tired of white men’s chances and preferred to take his own’” (Ch. #24).  Not only is it morally wrong for the government to put a group of people into a position like this, but it has the potential to worsen the position from what it already is by, to a degree, encouraging crime and rebellion.  Of course, it is this same mentality that has the potential to bring change, but this change can’t happen without help from the outside world.

The most important aspect of what is described above having such a large impact on the victims of the policy is that those being exposed to it are young, and due to its frequency in these communities, children are exposed to the idea from an even younger age.  Children, without significant outside influence, develop an idea of morality that is based in logic and thus equality.  This is best demonstrated by Jem’s reaction after the Maycomb jury rules Tom Robinson to be guilty, despite the overwhelming evidence otherwise.  He repeatedly says, “’It ain’t right’” (Ch. #22).  Nevertheless, should the reality that these children are exposed to be excessively demonstrative of contrary qualities, these ideas stick with them much more, and become the reality that they perceive.  They are unable to escape from this because they haven’t learned how to or what to escape to.  It seems that the result of the policy is the emphasis of an intimidation-based system of preventing social and economic movement.

The key to instigating change when it comes to the stop-and-frisk policy is to share the clear violation of the rights of innocent citizens with the rest of the world.  How does one accomplish this, you ask?  Well, by doing what most middle-class Americans do anyway: take pictures, shoot videos, share with the international community via the Internet (Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter).  The key is to gain awareness for the problem, then allow then make the change happen by using the entire world’s support.  As Atticus puts it in his closing statement for Tom Robinson’s trials for the rape of Mayella Ewell, “In this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal” (Ch. #20).  This truth about the purpose of the American justice system is unfortunately repudiated by the lack of equality in this situation and the apparent attempts to un-level the playing field for all men in law by discriminating against black and Latino men and putting them in a situation of being suspect for crimes for no apparent reason besides their race.  This is wrong and the majority of the world recognizes that.  Technology today more than ever allows any person on the planet to do as Atticus repeatedly suggests: “stand in [another man’s] shoes and walk around in them” (Ch. #31), and the result is that people thousands of miles away can come to identify with the injustice being presented to others.  If they all come together, even just once, to let the NYPD know this, change will inevitably take place, and New York City will become a better place to live for all people.

Jan 31

Undeniable Identity – DNA Fingerprinting

Tommie Lee Andrews, Kirk Bloodsworth, OJ Simpson.  What do all of these supposed criminals have in common?  In all three of these people’s trials, significant evidence was offered through an interesting, and increasingly important method known as DNA Fingerprinting.  Though modern technology offers a wide variety of processes for this purpose, often involving the increasingly inexpensive process of DNA sequencing, the most popular process is known Restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis, or RFLP analysis.  What does this advanced process used both dubitably and effectively by some of the scariest people in our society entail, you ask?  Well, nothing a high school biology class can’t accomplish in their classroom.  We start off by gathering our sample in the form of cells from a swab on the inside of our cheeks.  This is an easy sample for us to gather, but in a police investigation, anything goes, be it blood, semen, hair, or most any sort of remains, as most tissue contains the segments of DNA that make up an individual’s fingerprint.

Once our simple scientific process of separating our DNA from the cells through the destruction of various other parts of the cell yields the DNA that we are to analyze, it is necessary to replicate it via a process known as Polymerase Chain Reaction.  However, before our DNA can undergo this process, we must select a specific location in our DNA to compare, known as a variable number tandem repeat, or VNTR.  These regions are located in the 95% of our DNA which does not serve the purpose of holding the instructions for the creation of our bodies, and consist of a single sequence repeated a varying number of times.  The VNTR chosen by us was D1S80, which has 29 different possible lengths.  Considering the fact that each person has two copies of every gene, one from each parent, this gives 435 different possibilities for the identity of a person by their combination of these two VNTRs.  This makes it highly unlikely for two people in our class to have the same genetic identity here, but this probability can be reduced much farther.  The FBI tests 13 different locations in subjects, creating 100 billion different possible identities.  With a world population of just 7 billion, this makes it nearly impossible to find another person with the same genetic identity, excepting an identical twin.

PCR itself is a process which involves the replication of a certain VNTR in a chromosome, as marked by primers made of small pieces of DNA, by an enzyme which constructs DNA out of separate nucleotides, called DNA polymerase.  The PCR Machine that we use cycles the mixture of these materials through a variety of temperatures, resulting in billions of copies of a VNTR.

Now that plentiful copies of the VNTR are available, these molecules are dyed and put through a process known as electrophoresis.  Electrophoresis is the exposure of a material in a gel to two different charges, allowing said materials to be separated based on charge and size.  All DNA being negatively charged, smaller VNTRs, with less repeats, proceed towards the positive diode more quickly than larger ones, allowing them to be compared to a ladder to determine their approximate base pair length.  If for example, a sample of DNA from a suspect in a murder case is compared with blood left at the crime scene are put through this process together, this final display will show visibly where the two bands (one for each gene from each parent) show up in the electrophoresis gel, displaying the blood to either match the suspect’s DNA sample, or not, perhaps proving the suspect guilty or innocent.  Not only is the potential of this great in that it offers scientific backing for court verdicts, but it also significantly speeds up court proceedings by avoiding more easily falsified forms of evidence, as DNA is quite difficult to fabricate in most crimes.

Students and witnesses of the OJ Simpson trial may recall that one of the important arguments brought up by the defense was the incompetence of the police crews that facilitated DNA fingerprinting.  Due to situations like this, national investigations require analysis of DNA by professional laboratories, unlike our little biology lab at school.  One of the most exciting developments in the field as of late has been the development of kits that would allow analysis of DNA information within 90 minutes at a crime scene.  Not only would this offer the chance to decrease contamination, but it would further increase the effectiveness of the technology, and help it accomplish the purpose it was created to: to enforce true justice on the right people.

Jan 20

Fragile Success: The Struggle of Society in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Associations held by the majority of Americans regarding Indians (that is, Native Americans) reflect the instability of the culture and the fact that much of this culture has been lost and continues to be lost.  However, these associations don’t particularly view this fragility as a hindrance to the success of these people.  After all, is American success not defined by the ideals of our founding fathers and leaders (politicians, celebrities, millionaires) rather than those of Indians?  The fact is that a culture which teaches a dependence on the past must maintain this element, yet is thus unable to deal with the constantly changing, and vastly different system which is American society.  Nowhere is this more apparent in our modern studies than in Sherman Alexie’s semi-autobiographical compilation of heart-wrenching, though occasionally uplifting, short stories: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.  Throughout The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Alexie’s characters face an immense dilemma regarding success and its relevance as they realize that, though success offers them escape from the suffering of their heritage and perhaps has the potential to help save it, it forces them to abandon this culture which is still a great part of their identity, and is often un-reclaimable.

In “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”, Thomas Builds-the-Fire tells Victor a story about bravery that summarizes the expectations of Indian society and the reason these are in conflict with those of “success.”  This story further describes the fragility of these Indian expectations and their unsustainability.  This story was told when both characters were both ten years old, but is presented in the context of a present issue that Victor faces: he needs to travel to Phoenix, Arizona, to collect his recently deceased father’s belongings, but is unable to afford the transportation.  At the Trading Post, Victor spots Thomas.  “Victor was embarrassed, but he thought that Thomas might be able to help him” (62), even though “nobody talked to Thomas anymore…  Victor felt a sudden need for tradition” (62).  To Victor, Thomas signifies tradition because the Indian culture that he knows has been built off of storytelling, a device used primarily by Thomas in the lifetime of the characters in this book.  Furthermore, many of his stories discuss the history of Indians and the values which are supposed to be engrained in Indian culture yet now the issue of inapplicability to modern life.  However, beyond representing tradition, Thomas also displays a further, less fortunate fact about his relationship with the rest of the Spokane Indians.  He, like tradition, has become something which is not consistently trusted or considered reliable by Indians.  In opposition to such things as drugs and alcohol which offer true escape from reality, the repetitiveness and hopelessness of tradition and Thomas’ stories don’t seem so appealing.  This skew is reflected in another way by Thomas’ story:

“There were these two Indian boys who wanted to be warriors.  But it was too late to be warriors in the old way.  All the horses were gone.  So the two Indian boys stole a car and drove to the city.  They parked the stolen car in front of the police station and then hitchhiked back home to the reservation.  When they got back, all their friends cheered and their parents’ eyes shone with pride.  You were very brave, everybody said to the two Indian boys.  Very brave” (63).

As is apparent here, and throughout not only Alexie’s writing, but any writing about Indian culture, an integral part of the Indian warrior identity is bravery.  Of course, in a society that has evolved to the point where the traditional conception of bravery is impossible to replicate, maintaining this image of the ideal Indian is difficult.  Thus, this conception must be redefined in terms of the modern enemy, which is the same as in the past: the oppressors of the Indians: the white men.  Unfortunately, in the society that existed at the time of the formation of reservations, success was aligned with this idea of bravery, an alignment which no longer exists.  Thus, the only effort that can be made by the present generation of Indians towards success in the eyes of their people leads to a lack of success in terms of common definition: access to necessary resources is still so limited that life, even beyond this “brave” lifestyle, is unsustainable, and thus, too, can be considered very fragile.

The limited access to necessary resources that results in a lack of concern for the preservation of culture is reflected many times throughout Alexie’s book, but especially in “Every Little Hurricane” and “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore.”  The narrator introduces the poverty of Victor’s family by stating that, on Christmas, “There were no gifts.  Not one” (4).  However, the truly destructive part of this situation is the description of Victor’s father’s reaction.  “The man opened his wallet and shook his head.  Empty…  Victor watched his father repeat this ceremony again and again, as if the repetition itself could guarantee change.  But it was always empty” (5).  In a place where there is so little potential that a single situation of being driven to humiliation by poverty can lead to relative insanity, as demonstrated here, there is no optimism in the thinking of its residents.  The narrator of “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” confirms this when he says “It’s hard to be optimistic on the reservation. When a glass sits on a table here, people don’t wonder if it’s half filled or half empty.   They just hope it’s good beer” (49).  The implication of this combination of pessimism and apathy is an indifference towards the survival of culture, which inherently leads to the frailty of said culture, and discourages attempts towards salvation.

In “Junior Polatkin’s Wild West Show”, the dedication that Junior shows in making it to Gonzaga University is contrasted by the fact that he eventually drops out and returns to the Spokane Indian Reservation.  Perhaps the greatest reflection of this conflict that Junior faces is in his response to Lynn’s statement that he shouldn’t quit school and return to the reservation.  He says, “’I’m dying at school, too.  So I guess it’s a matter of choosing my own grave’” (242).  This outlook viewing education, his focus, and his intentions as infirm is something which seems to be drilled into the minds of Indians from a young age.  In “Indian Education”, Junior describes his graduation experience, followed by that of his peers who went to school on the Reservation.  “Later, I stand as the school board chairman recites my awards, accomplishments, and scholarships…  The bright students are shaken, frightened, because they don’t know what comes next” (179-180).  This fragility of reputation is something which seems to be heavily influenced by the state of Indian culture itself.  These students know that their intelligence has the potential to lead to success in the form of wealth and stability, but this, in the light of the uncertainty in the fluctuations in the history of the heritage that is a major part of their identity, does not seem to be something believable.  It is particularly interesting to see this same thing happen to Junior, despite his education off the Reservation.  It seems to be an idea deeply embedded in the Indian psyche: that, though it does face uncertainty due to jealousy and selfishness also present in the Indian group mentality, familial and friend ties are the only support that exists, the rest being either absent or too fragile to last.  This is emphasized by Victor’s statement at the end of “Indian Education” in which he says “’My graduating class has a reunion every weekend at the Powwow Tavern’” (180).  These people know that the support they receive from their friends and family on a consistent basis can never be replicated, and thus they never see any great advantage for their lives in leaving the reservation, an action which bears much too high of an opportunity cost. Nevertheless, this idea seems to thus act as a barrier to assimilation, which would seem to make it a promoter of cultural preservation.  However, as previously mentioned, this would seem to be an illegitimate claim, as this is what leads to the cycle of poverty that in turn leads to the pessimism which has been previously proven to hinder the conservation of culture.

Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s Trial and conviction following his confession of killing American soldiers as an Indian warrior in the mid-1800s demonstrate that the American Government has even criminalized the spirituality of Indian society, thus further reducing the survival potential of the culture.  The story of Thomas’ trial begins with a statement from a BIA Agent that makes the frailty of Native American culture and tradition in the face of white power apparent.  In reference to what charge to randomly accuse Thomas of, the agent says “It has to be a felony charge.  We don’t need his kind around here anymore’” (94).  Of course, this punishment upon tradition has already existed to a certain degree thus far.  With the threat of criminal conviction, Thomas was forced to stop telling his stories by the BIA Agents, who represent the American Government and manifest their efforts to destroy Indian culture.  The fact that the tradition that this represented was lost to his fellow members of the Spokane tribe represented the unreliability that Victor recognizes when he suddenly has to depend on this structure.  Of course, this dependence shown by Victor also represents the loss that this was for the tribe, but it more importantly demonstrates the fact that this precariousness is caused directly by the enemies of the Indians, the white people.  This isn’t to say that this wasn’t already apparent, after all, Thomas stated it plainly and clearly when he said in his story of Wild Coyote, “’You must understand these were days of violence and continual lies from the white man’” (100).  This statement is simply to affirm that this oppression is current and continuous, not just a legacy action which has remaining effects.  The importance of this tradition is represented by the reaction of the audience to Thomas’ first story in years at the trial: “Thomas opened his eyes and found that most of the Indians in the courtroom wept and wanted to admit defeat” (97).  Furthermore, the purpose of this tradition is further represented in Thomas’ statement regarding it following the trial: “’The only appeal I have is for justice,’ Builds-the-Fire reportedly said” (103).  While success is most applicably quantified financially or in terms of social class, it can also be defined in terms of justice.  While this goal isn’t reached per say by either Thomas or any of the other characters in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, the brief moments of stability of tradition, such as Thomas’ stories prior to this statement, represent clear movements towards it.  Thus, it is apparent that the recognition of fragility discourages the fight against injustice for Indians.

Success is an objective term, which to Indians means many different things, many of which are negative in the contexts which are important to them, such as tribal relations.  Thus, the characters of Alexie’s book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven face a struggle in determining the role this will have in their lives and how they can deal with this in the context of the frailty of the culture to which they belong and the structures that surround it, including the image of success.  A particularly interesting example of this to analyze is the author of the book himself, Sherman Alexie.  Should we see him to be most closely represented by his character Junior Polatkin, it would seem that he faced many obstacles on his way to “success” as a well-known writer.  So how did he get over these bumps?  Well, the answer that I would seem to find is that he was isolated enough from the core of Indian society for long enough, while at a high school off the Reservation and at college, that he was able to escape from the ruts that it represents.  Of course, he still manages to write touchingly, and from experience about the Indian experience, but to do this, what culture has he given up?  Is he still welcome on the reservation that he writes he grew up on?  Does he still have the connections to tradition that he writes about, or does he identify as an American?  These are the questions which tear at the Indian identity and represent the fragility that it will continue to face for the few generations further that it lasts.

Jan 20

Speaking Truth to Power

The truth is that the NSA’s surveillance of the electronic activity of all Americans is inappropriate and a waste of government money.  A fact stated by Peter van Buren in his article Ten Myths About the NSA, Debunked for The Nation, is that “There have been only about twenty domestic terror-related deaths since 9/11. Your chances as an American of being killed by a terrorist (the figures are for the world, not just inside the US) are about 1 in 20 million.”  Not only is this an incomprehensibly small figure for the billions of dollars pumped into this program, but it is even smaller in comparison to the number of deaths due to more relevant issues, such as those which van Buren cites when he states that, “Since 9/11, we have seen some 364,000 deaths in our schools, workplaces and homes caused by privately owned firearms, and none of the spying or surveillance identified any of the killers in advance.”  While this is clearly a waste of large sums of money that could be dedicated to programs that actually could make our country safer, such as education, it is furthermore a violation of fundamental rights of Americans.  The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which grants a right to privacy to citizens, was written, according to van Buren, “because of the British use of general warrants in the colonial era.”  Our entire nation was founded on the principle of representing and following through with the opposition to the vices of Britain.  By violating the laws that were put in place to achieve this end, the government is violating its original purpose and is moving away from the liberty that it has attempted to define throughout the past two centuries.  This is unacceptable.

Mode: Combination of Logos (1st part) and Pathos (2nd part)

Dec 09

Snapshot Multicultural Biography

Race, to me, is defined by the way one’s physical appearance seems to classify them as part of a larger group that shares these physical features.  In reference to me, it is clear that my race is Indian (distinguished in the eyes of any person from Asian, but not in most forms and such) by my brown skin and eyes, black hair and other visible features not often seen in those of other races, primarily Caucasians.  On the other hand, ethnicity is more directly defined by cultural heritage and ancestry.  This for me is more obviously Indian, as my parents moved to the US from India when they were much younger.  This is distinguished from race in my experience because my physical appearance is different from that of the average person most people consider Indian: my skin is lighter and I don’t share some common Indian traits.  This has often caused me to be thought to be Middle Eastern or Latino, something which I don’t find offensive, but which can cause problems when I travel or am perceived by others.  My race has caused me worries in such situations as at airport security, but often comes up as both an advantage and disadvantage for my future.  One of Peggy McIntosh’s statements is “I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.”  While it encourages me that there are an increasing number of Indians succeeding in the industry that I want to enter (software): The IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) have, for the past few years, consistently been the tenth highest recipient of first round seed funding for social ventures, being the only university outside of the US on the list, and even the success of some Indians in politics, such as Bobby Jindal.  However, the one thing that I must note is that, oftentimes, these successful Indians are Christians.  One thing I associate heavily with my race is my Hindu religion.  I don’t want to give that up because it isn’t something accepted by the majority.  This directly relates to another of McIntosh’s related statements: “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.”  Unless I’m in a place that is obviously Indian, like an Indian store or restaurant, this is almost never the case.  Personally, this often makes me feel more comfortable.  I feel like other Indians are more likely to judge me for who I am more than white people.  Nevertheless, it also means that there are sometimes problems I encounter that these people in leadership positions either don’t understand or blame on my race.  Fortunately, this isn’t too common, so, though it poses an occasional disadvantage, it isn’t constant.  Fortunately, due to the circumstances in which I have grown up, one of McIntosh’s statements which is particularly important is fully true for me: “I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.”  This is something which some races face problems with, but from my experiences and observations, certainly not Indians.  That is something I am very glad for, and consider myself at an advantage for in terms of my race.

Gender is whether someone considers themselves male or female, or something else entirely, particularly in the context of the many connotations that this holds in modern American society.  I see my gender as something that will definitely serve as an advantage in my life, as it allows me to have access to many career options and social experiences that aren’t accessible to women.  Sexual orientation is something connected to this: the gender to which a person is attracted.  Being heterosexual, I once again see my sexual orientation as an advantage in that I don’t face discrimination in most situations based on it, as compared to those of other sexual orientations.  The most interesting statement by McIntosh that I see regarding this is “I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her gender,” where race is changed to gender.  I believe that the way the male gender has come to be seen in American society, we have the full capability to be casual about ignoring a woman or a person of another gender in a group, yet are less comfortable doing the opposite.  Similarly, should we be put in a similar situation as the person being discriminated against here, we tend not to face the same sort of discrimination, based on the views forced on these other people by society.  While this is an immense advantage in terms of my opportunities, it is one of those aspects of privilege that makes me feel very guilty.

Socio-economic class is the amount of money one makes as compared to the general strata of society.  For example, this is generally divided up as Upper, Middle and Lower Class.  I view myself as a member of the Upper Middle Class, as my dad makes a good amount of money.  Thus, I have access to many opportunities that help define my identity that many others do not, such as a private education, a house in a nice suburban area, the opportunity to travel far, wide and often, and the capability to not have to worry about paying for higher education.  An adapted version of one of McIntosh’s statements that applies to my perception of the advantages/disadvantages of this is here: “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my socio-economic class widely represented.”  The case here is that, in terms of politics and business, yes, it is most definitely the segment of my population that tends to be most highly represented in the media, but not in terms of social change and more of what we tend to consider news, such as crime and welfare and such.  This tends to be a disadvantage, as it has the potential to significantly disconnect the class to which I belong from the rest of the population.  We don’t understand what they experience and thus the changes that our opportunity allows us to make that we must to positively affect them.  Of course, this isn’t to say that we aren’t subject to other advantages, as mentioned above, but it is certainly something I often think about.

Dec 08

Race Matters Exhibit Reflection

While a point brought up over and over again by the Race Exhibit at the Pacific Science Center was that race doesn’t have any scientific backing (that there are no biological traits which are truly unique to any given group and that, at the skeletal level, there are virtually no distinguishable differences between groups), it certainly did address the various components of race, in terms of physical appearance.  The primary of these is skin color.  The primary statement in terms of the exhibit’s thesis about this topic is that the constant change of skin color among groups throughout human past, as well as the immense ethnic inter-mixing of the past century, means that a modern person’s genetic structure has the possibility of being more similar to that of a group of people with whom this person’s skin color is not shared.  However, the exhibit goes on to confirm that various populations have adjusted in skin color and features due to the environments in which they traditionally live.  Melanin, the concentration of which increases skin pigmentation, is necessary to protect from folate photolysis and such conditions as skin cancer and sunburn.  While this fact does present advantages for certain groups in terms of vulnerability to health conditions, it does not make any statement about any further capability of any person based on these traits, or their self-identity.  Thus, it is confirmed that race as we see it (a divider in the potential of people) is entirely social, and that, though this seems obvious to most in the modern world, the past practice of evaluating a person’s intelligence based on skull size is entirely inaccurate.

The most interesting discussion, in my opinion, at this exhibit, was a comparison between the way race is identified in the US, and how it is in Brazil.  While race is viewed as a very specific ethnicity-based identity in our country, the culture of mixed identity, despite apparent segregation, in Brazil has led to it being something much more specific, yet much more focused on the single aspect of appearance rather than heritage.  The result of this is that the view of race there is much more quantifiable for the uses in which it is really useful, such as law enforcement, without having the excessive connotations of heritage and such that exist in American society.  One of the main ways this is demonstrated is through the over 100 words that Brazilians have to describe race, so to say, according to its primary definition as skin color.  I find this particularly interesting because it is an idea that relates somewhat to me.  I am Indian, so the race that I have to mark on most forms that include such a field is Asian.  However, Indians aren’t generally considered Asians, and I even don’t look like what most Americans qualify as Indian.  Having a way to categorize myself in such situations simply by physical appearance rather than by heritage that can be somewhat confusing.  Of course, based on the segregated (though externally not so) society in which we live, this isn’t effective, as many of the companies or organizations that ask this question seek to provide greater chances for minorities to succeed, so as to create a society in which the distinction between minority and majority success isn’t so drastic.  It makes me wonder whether such a system will be apparent in the future of the US, as such measures as complete self-identification of race on the US census have been debated.  Not only would this change the way this entire structure operates, but it would also better allow individuals to form their own identities and be who they truly want to be based on them, rather than a more vague identity which is provided by others and doesn’t necessarily fit well.

Besides the component mentioned above, the most striking parts of this exhibit were those which involved children, sometimes teenagers like me.  There was one particular documentary that was being shown which featured inner-city high school students speaking of the way race impacted their lives.  It was titled What’s Race Got to Do with It?  I only saw a short clip, featuring a mixed white and African American student who had trouble with his hockey team because of his hair.  Of course, stories like this are all too common, as instilling these sorts of beliefs in children is what sustains them, but what is really cool is seeing these students analyzing the situations and looking at how to change them sustainably and effectively.  Another display which neighbored this one (I don’t know whether it was actually created by students, or just made to look that way) was composed of four lockers which had been painted and pasted with different items and quotes, representing different stereotypes clashing with actual cultural identities.  Acknowledging these situations and even discussing solutions to them is one thing, but going further to attempt to discuss them by transcending cultural boundaries and, for example, using literature published by members of entirely different, even opposing groups.  This is a type of discussion which the Internet today and the society it fosters is fueling.  I hope that it will further allow for this integration to be reflected by how everyone views race (or, perhaps, consciously ignores it) or how individuals are asked to self-identify.

Nov 04

Thoreau, Whitman, Individual and Society Synthesis

For the first time since 1996, legislation regarding the rights of LGBT people in the workplace has been brought to the United States Senate with the disputed Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). Despite the fact that the society (and thus the senate) that it is facing today is much more accepting than any in the past, details about it continue to be misconstrued by its opposition, so as to convince the general public, and thus their senators, of its flaws. Only one more vote is presently necessary to prevent a filibuster of the bill, yet this vote may be more difficult to acquire than expected because of the images many members of the opposition have of it, such as the misconstruing of the bill as having ridiculous clauses, such as a requirement for “insurance companies to pay for sex-change operations” (Peters) and “[forcing] Christian bookstores to hire drag performers” (Peters). The three Republicans who may hold the key to the success of this bill in the Senate are “Rob Portman of Ohio, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Dean Heller of Nevada” (Peters). Though they would risk their position in their party by supporting this bill, there are a number of Republicans that already do: Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mark S. Kirk of Illinoi, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Americans will soon see whether this country has a chance of moving past the archaic laws which wrongly govern its population today.
Thoreau: “I discovered many a site for a house not likely to be soon improved, which some might have thought too far from the village, but to my eyes the village was too far from it” (Thoreau Ch. 2). The fact is that, as much as I may accept LGBT people, and know my employer and all my friends’ employers to accept and not discriminate against them, this discrimination still exists, and is all too apparent in certain places. I know that my position, though not entirely perfect, matches my moral conviction perfectly and thus reflects what I and my companions believe is right. Seeing as my companions make up a great chunk of the population, it is essential that, for the moral advancement of society, they move towards us (particularly me) rather than vice versa. I will not give up my moral convictions for their incapability to understand the true extent of this bill. You see, if these Republicans who oppose this small movement towards acceptance simply followed my lead in “standing on tiptoe” (Thoreau Ch. 2), they too would “catch a glimpse of some of the peaks of the still bluer and more distant mountain ranges in the northwest, those true-blue coins form heaven’s own mint, and also of some portion of the village” (Thoreau Ch. 2). Though all the opposition presently sees is a threat to the tradition which they represent, that which has the potential to exist with the passage of this bill is much more beautiful. I am in the position to see this, and they must join me to realize this.
Whitman: “Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age, knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things” (Whitman 2). My colleague is correct here. It is inherently wrong to make a group of people inherently inferior due to any natural quality. Members of the LGBT community may be different from the average US worker, but they have just as much potential to contribute to society as any other. There is no justifiable reason for them to be trivialized. “I resist any thing better than my own diversity, Breathe the air but leave plenty after me, And am not stuck up, and am in my place” (Whitman Section 16). Diversity is an essential component of advancement and success, and thus, must be fostered. Discrimination is an obvious contradiction to this, and thus, even if it represents one’s beliefs, is an action which harms many more than those being discriminated against. I believe this and am successful, proving to the opposition that there is no harm in doing so.

Older posts «

» Newer posts