Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Final Exam: Darkness Behind the Light

      In late September, Apple released the iPhone 5, which soon became one of the most widely used pieces of technology across the globe. Although one of the most influential companies, I’ve observed that Apple does not represent exemplary stewardship in the business world, by the inherent racism in their advertisements, as well as the use of low wage slave labor in third world countries. Even 150 years after slavery, our society still does not value equality, making the Apple iPhone ad an important artifact representing a lack of change in our societal mindset.

     Take a look at the image from one of Apple’s signature advertisements for the iPhone 5. A pristine looking white backdrop accompanies the sleek white device, held in the hand of a white man or woman. It is interesting that Apple chooses these light colors and the clear simplicity of the product, however this is no coincidence.
     In several of our class discussions, we have analyzed the connotations of colors such as white, and black. White is often the color representing light, goodness, purity, and innocence; virtually the color of perfection. Now, look at the the word “black” which by definition means devoid of light, dismal, pessimistic, gloomy and connotes anger, hatred, and evil. Considering our history of slavery and racially inequality, it is no coincidence that the white men who wrote our English dictionaries painted the word “black” in negative light. Even in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible we see the negative connotation of the word: “She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me!”(Miller 22). Here, Abigail connotes that using the word “blackening” is tainting her reputation of adultery. It is clear that even three hundred years after slavery and our dark history of racially inequality, one of our era’s most prominent companies, Apple, still follows this same mindset portraying “black” in a negative light, proving little change in our society’s mindset.

     Moreover, Apple’s use of innocence, and purity in their color scheme for the iPhone ads is a strong contradiction to Apple’s dark background with the use of cheap slave labor. Recently in the news, and in class, we discussed a Foxconn plant, which manufactures Apple products in China and has been noted for the horrible conditions that their workers are subjected to. This is similar to Ursula Le Guin’s      “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, a short story that portrays a utopian society with a dark secret. With the happiness of Omelas, the price is paid by a miserable child who, “…lives on a half-bowl of cornmeal and grease a day”(Le Guin 281). In Omelas, a poor child is forced to suffer while the rest of society reaps the benefits of a happy life. Apple is similar in the fact, that behind the purity and perfection of their ads and products, there are people who are treated like the child from Omelas.
     Companies like Apple, try to cover up their atrocities through ads and as classmate Zach Peltz wrote in his poem regarding slave labor, people in third world countries are “Sold to white men with thick, black hair, And to the eye of abuse, misuse, and profit” (“Just Do It”). Again, we see that unbearable working conditions and treatment exist behind the very “utopian” products on which we use and value so much. Society continues to value luxury and comfort over fair treatment, and the companies who make these products value their profits over standards. I believe recognizing what we value and believe is crucial for a society to evolve and thrive, but through Apple’s iPhone 5 ads, the clear connotations of “black”, as well as their use of cheap labor shows that although the 13th amendment abolished slavery, society’s mindset of equality really hasn’t changed.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Racism oppresses European soccer leagues

We all grew up listening to brave stories of African American athletes, like Jackie Robinson, who persevered and thrived on the field despite challenges with ignorance and racism as he became the first player of color in the MLB in the late 1940's. With our recent class discussions of racism, it has come to my realization that European soccer leagues are experiencing the same difficulties with racism as we had with "breaking the color barrier"in baseball just after World War II.

Last week in a friendly match, Kevin Prince Boateng of AC Milan kicked a ball into the bleachers, taking a stand after he had been subjected to racial abuse which resulted in the game being called at half. The rest of the report from CNN can be further read here as well as a video of the incident. The German born-member of the Ghana national team along with many other African members of club football teams have been the victims of severe racial abuse. Cameroonian player Samuel Eto'o threatened to leave during a match due to racist chants and the list of verbally abused players goes on. ESPN even highlighted the issue in a segment back in 2008 called, "A Beautiful Game Turns Ugly." Please start around 0:45 and watch some of the powerful and upsetting stories of racism.

Racism has been a problem in America since the beginning. Fighting racial ignorance has defined our country and will now play a defining role of the legacy of the world's most beloved sport. I think like Jackie Robinson who was the target of physical and verbal abuse, by ignoring it and continuing to thrive, you are sending the most powerful message to combat further racist acts. Although I am sure the chants are overwhelming and near impossible to ignore, I don't think Boateng, Eto'o, and other players should walk off the field. However, I think the leagues also need to crack down with harsher punishments on the hosting clubs whose fans, players, coaches, and officials are responsible for racist actions and comments towards others. What actions do you think should be taken to combat and punish racism? 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Deadly Truth: Media coverage of gun violence in Chicago

With a recent media explosion over the hot topic of gun control, our class has also speculated where the media focuses their attention. Mass shootings are seeming to have become a commonplace with Oak Creek, the Oregon mall shooting, the Dark Knight incident, and now Newtown. However, as the media is usually offering extensive coverage of these tragic events, there are even MORE tragedies that occur on our very Chicago streets that often go uncovered by media. A powerful truth was spoken by Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab:

“The gun violence problem in America gets a lot of attention when 20 white kids in Connecticut get shot all at once, but in general it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it really needs to."

Since Jan. 1, Chicago police have recorded 2,364 shooting incidents and 487 homicides, 87 percent of them gun-related. Shootings have increased 12 percent this year and homicides are up 19 percent. Just like Sandy Hook, young people are often the targets of gun violence in Chicago as well. Chicago police have recorded that this past school year "319 Chicago public school students were shot, 24 of them fatally. The total does not include school-age children who had dropped out or were enrolled elsewhere." The numbers of casualties specifically from gun violence in Chicago FAR outweigh that of mass shootings on the national level, however Peter Slevin of the Washington Post notes that, "Their deaths usually go unmarked". We live in a world where almost all of our information comes from our televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones, yet tragedies that occur every day in Chicago often go without notice.  Why does the media highlight certain shootings but leave out others, despite greater casualties?  I question whether race plays a role in the exposure (or lack thereof) of certain shootings. Ludwig's speculation (bolded quote above) really got me thinking if it were 20 black kids that were shot, would the media would focus as much attention on it? I'm not so sure the answer is yes.

Regardless of media exposure of Chicago gang violence, it is no question that the city of Chicago faces a major challenge to deal with this growing problem and changes need to be made to get more guns off the streets and in my opinion, need to establish more after school programs for Chicago Public School kids. Increasing the utilization of these programs would help get kids off the streets and from affiliating themselves with the city gangs that have caused many of shootings in Chicago. These types of positive changes would hopefully not only result in less gun related deaths, but also allow the media finally to focus on the "good" news that is coming off the streets of Chicago. I'd love to hear what you all think about media coverage and possible solutions for our beloved city.