Why I like Salon writers

They take the time to research and explain cultural phenomena, like the perceived heightened creativity  of African American names, complete with race, class, and gender analysis. David Zax responds to the ridicule black names receive with a break down of the history and realities of African American naming:

Much of this ridicule is either misguided or misleading. Exhibit A in the attack on black names is often a story about black schoolchildren that some friend of a friend met named Urine or Shithead, Chlamydia or Gonorrhea, or Lemonjello or Oranjello. Neither Lieberson nor Cleveland Evans (former president of the American Names Society) has ever encountered black people with such names, but Lieberson notes that the (white) comedian Dana Carvey chose the name Dex for his child after a bottle with the word “dextrose” on it, and Evans has more than once encountered a young woman on a baby name Web site (most often visited by whites) who rather likes the ring to the name Veruca, a character from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Roald Dahl chose that name carefully for the bratty girl he assigned it to: It’s a medical term for a wart.

As for those “Luxury Latch-ons,” it is true that an unfortunate culture of naming children after brands of champagne or fancy cars has sprung up over recent years. “But that’s a class thing, not a race thing,” says Cleveland Evans, noting that he has encountered twins named Camry and Lexus who were white. If you are poor and wish a better life for your kid, a name like Lexus declares that hope. With this in mind, much of the gainsaying in the black blogosphere smacks of classism: Many commenters call the unusual names “ghetto,” and Cosby’s jeremiad was essentially an attack on the black poor. (His assertion that “all of them are in jail” is, to say the least, dubious; an economic study by “Freakonomics'” Levitt and Roland G. Fryer showed several years ago that distinctively black names in themselves do not cause a negative life outcome — vivid evidence of which is seen on the Olympic roster and at the Democratic National Convention.

Of course, the vast majority of unusual black names are nothing like Clitoria or Tanqueray. They are names like — to page at random through “Proud Heritage” — the catchy Maneesha and Tavonda, the magisterial Orencio and Percelle, or the evocative Lakazia and Swanzetta. They are names emerging from a tradition of linguistic and musical invention much like those that gave us jazz and rap. And they are names that have paved the way for Americans of all classes and colors to begin to loosen up a stodgy culture of traditional name giving.

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No BIG vacation this year? Cry me a river

SmartLikeMe at the Feministing community blog has a great post about the classism of all the articles being written about the affect of gas prices on summer vacations. No, they aren’t making families so poor they can’t afford time off work. No, they aren’t making families so poor they have no entertainment budget. Apparently the big tragedy is that this summer families can’t drive or fly thousands of miles away, and they have to find entertainment closer to home, something cutely called, a “staycation.”

Why are middle and upper-middle class families and their precious Disney vacations the face of the rising cost of gasoline and not the working class families who lived month to month as it was before the exponential price increases…who maybe have to skimp on food or medical services, and for whom a Myrtle Beach trip isn’t even on their radar? Instead of moping about being stuck at home, maybe some of these families should spend part of their summer volunteering for charities who help those who will only ever hear about DisneyWorld in the stories told by other more fortunate kids.

Really, though, how did it get like this? No wonder right wing assholes certain people think Americans are babies about the economy — because they don’t stop to think about how these rising prices affect people already barely getting by, and few people in the mainstream media seem to care to show them.

Honestly, if I ever hear about the tragedy of the “staycation” again…no, no, make that, if I ever even hear the word “staycation” again, I may have to take a permanent vacation from reading travel and leisure newspaper sections.

Poor people are poor because they have bad attitudes. Huh?

Kayla Walker at Campus Progress has a great review of the book Scratch Beginnings, in which some privileged dude seeks to prove the American dream really is possible if people would just work hard enough. Well, yeah, no kidding it’s possible — for an educated white male who already lives a life of status and comfort.

Adam Shepard was sick of hearing the impoverished in America whine and complain. He was “frustrated with the materialistic individualism that seems to be shaping every thirteen-year-old to be the next teen diva,” Shepard wrote in the introduction to Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. In a move that is reminiscent of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Shepard boarded a train to Charleston, S.C., with nothing more than $25 in his pocket, the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and a tarp.

Shepard set out to disprove books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. He wanted to achieve the so-called American Dream—without using his college degree, friends, or exemplary credit history—proving that it is still possible in America to break one’s way out of poverty. Shepard gave himself just one year to break from poverty and homelessness. Completion of his project would be considered successful if Shepard was able to own a functioning automobile, be living in a furnished apartment, have $2,500, and have the prospects to go to school or start his own business.

Shepard later concludes that poor people could live the American dream if they’d just stop being so damn pessimistic. Hey, um, maybe they’re pessimistic because they and their families have been trying for generations to get ahead and they haven’t been able to make their hope turn into reality? Hey, maybe if society gave poor people a reason to be optimistic about the future that didn’t self-righteously blame them for their own predicaments, they’d see the future a little more brightly?

Hey, maybe you should admit that being an educated person who is able to dig your way out of a hole after a year of an arrogance soaked experiment which you went into with the least sympathetic presumptions I’ve ever heard does not qualify you to diagnose the causes of poverty in the U.S., when the people who are actually poor have done a pretty good job of diagnosing the roots of it themselves?

Kayla makes a great point as she acknowledges the obvious point that inequality is related to immobility, and it’s poverty itself that reinforces the conditions of poverty. Of course temporary, self-inflicted deprivation for a highly privileged person won’t render him socioeconomically immobile. Why are the reproductive, cyclical conditions of poverty so difficult for otherwise logical people to understand?

Ok, ok, I’m being hard on this Shepard guy, considering I haven’t even read his book. But God, even the very basic facts of his little experiment are dripping with so much privilege I really struggle to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Cheney, inbreeding, and poverty

Slate has an article (inspired by Dick Cheney’s recent linking of West Virginia to inbreeding) on the origins of the myth that inbreeding is a common or even accepted practice in WV.

They quote a historian who researched the topic specifically:

“In 1980, anthropologist Robert Tincher published a study titled “Night Comes to the Chromosomes: Inbreeding and Population Genetics in Southern Appalachia,” based on 140 years’ worth of marriage records. He concluded that “inbreeding levels in Appalachia … [are neither] unique [n]or particularly common to the region, when compared with those reported for populations elsewhere or at earlier periods in American history.”

So why the myth then? Slate attributes it mostly to the visibility of poverty in West Virginia, and a public desire to blame their poverty on some action, in this case, inbreeding.

Stereotypes about West Virginian breeding practices have long been linked to the state’s poverty. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited West Virginia mining towns in the 1930s, national newspapers ran pictures of rundown shacks and barefoot kids in rags, which left a lasting impression of the state as a backwater. West Virginians became the prototypical “hillbillies,” and incest served as a crude “scientific” explanation for their downtrodden social condition.

In more recent memory, the 2003 film Wrong Turn helped perpetuate the inbreeding stereotype. Set in West Virginia, it features cannibalistic mountain men, horribly disfigured from generations of incest. Then, in 2004, Abercrombie & Fitch released a T-shirt emblazoned with a map of the Appalachian state and the words “It’s all relative in West Virginia.” In February, a casting director for the upcoming thriller Shelter put out a call for extras with “unusual body shapes, [and] even physical abnormalities” to depict West Virginia mountain people.

Charming. The inbreeding hillbilly stereotype serves a purpose outside simply explaining poverty, as it simultaneously reduces sympathy people might otherwise feel for those in poverty. When we all accept some cultural myth that poverty is the result of something other than structural economic and political problems, in this case, a perverse activity the poor participate in, what point is there to reforms or even to charity?

Thrillers and horror movies love to exploit images of people with disabilities or working-class people to freak out the more “normal” protagonists who happen to stumble upon the lair of horror. These film narratives match the cultural narrative that led up to the offensive jokes of A&F and Dick Cheney: Low class status and abnormal physical appearance and ability are a reflection of low moral character.