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America Isn’t a Colorblind Meritocracy. Why Are So Many of Us Still Pretending it Is?
What will it take for the United States to overcome entrenched issues pertaining to race and socioeconomic status? According to poet and educator Clint Smith, the U.S. needs to be honest with itself about cultural myths (meritocracy, equal treatment by authorities, etc.) that don't actually exist.
Clint Smith is a teacher, poet, and doctoral candidate in Education at Harvard University with a concentration in Culture, Institutions, and Society (CIS). He serves as a resident teaching artist in Boston Public Schools and as a writing instructor at Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, MA. Previously, he taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Maryland and served as a public health worker in Soweto, South Africa. His research interests include critical pedagogy, mass incarceration, race, and inequality. In 2015 he was awarded the Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. In 2013, Mr. Smith was named the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Humanities Council. He has spoken at the 2015 TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, the U.S. Department of Education, the IB Conference of the Americas, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and has been featured on TED.com, Upworthy, and TVOne's Verses and Flow. Additionally, he has been profiled in The Washington Post, Vox, The Huffington Post, The Root, NBC News and the book, "American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom" (Welcome Books, 2013). His TED Talk, The Danger of Silence, has been viewed more the 2 million times and was named one of the top 20 TED Talks of 2014. His new TED Talk, How to Raise a Black Son in America, was released in April 2015.
As a poet, he is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, a Callaloo Fellow, and has served as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Kinfolks, American Literary Review, Still: The Journal, Winter Tangerine Review, Lime Hawk, Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere.
Clint earned a BA in English from Davidson College and is an alumnus of the New Orleans Public School System.
Clint Smith: I think in this country we have an issue with being honest with ourselves. We have an issue with being honest about who we are, what has transpired in the course of our history to marginalize groups of people. And I think what often happens is that we get a diluted or myopic or a very one-dimensional perspective on what is taking place over the course of our nation’s history. I remember receiving the news when Tamir Rice was killed, the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland who was shot for, in part, playing with a toy gun. The police killed him within two seconds of pulling up in the car. And it immediately brought me back to a moment in my own childhood when I was playing with the water guns and my father came and told me that I couldn’t do that. That that was unacceptable. And I didn’t really understand. I was frustrated. I was embarrassed that my father would do that in front of my friends. I knew that he was the strict dad. I called him after Tamir Rice had been killed and I had a conversation and I told him I understand now. I understand now in a way that I didn’t understand before. And thank you even when I was kicking and screaming and saying that you were mean and strict and wouldn’t let me, you know, have fun or be a kid. I recognized that these were hard decisions for you to make.
So many people in black community, you know, black men in particular grew up having the talk and getting the talk, so to speak, from their parents. But I remember having conversations with some of my white friends and realizing that there was no notion of ever having to have a conversation about how to interact with police about who you are in the context of the larger criminal justice system. We can’t move forward, I think, and have an honest conversation about race in this country unless we’re grounding these conversations in an understanding of how each of, us among our differences, navigate the world and understand, you know, potentially see the same thing, but understand it differently. We have this sort of rugged individualism, this meritocracy, you know, that we are told we exist in when that’s not really the case. And that, you know, we have a lot of different people who are starting from very different places in life as a result of their class, as a result of their gender, as a result of their race. And we have a difficult time as Americans, I think, contextualizing that and understanding the sort of socio-historical realities that have shaped our contemporary existence. And so I think it’s hard for us to be honest about where we are if we’re not honest about where we’ve come from.
What will it take for the United States to overcome entrenched issues pertaining to race and socioeconomic status? According to Clint Smith, a National Poetry Slam champion and doctoral candidate at Harvard, the U.S. needs to be honest with itself about cultural myths (meritocracy, equal treatment by authorities, etc.) that don't actually exist. The killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice had a profound impact on Smith and further opened his eyes to the different social experiences and challenges faced by African-Americans. If the goal is to achieve a truer form of equality and egalitarianism, half the country needs to stop blindly pretending those differences aren't there.
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Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".