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What is the White community’s biggest misconception of the Black community

Question: What is the White community’s biggest misconception of the Black community

Harris-Lacewell: Well I mean what we know is that Blacks and Whites see the world vastly differently.  I don’t want to say that one group is misperceiving the other, because I suspect that there’s a little bit of truth to all of our misperceptions of one another – that they grow out of seeds or kernels of some part that’s true, but that we fail to ask the question, “What truths are missing?”  So I’ll just give you a quick example of that.  Sometimes we talk about hip hop music and the ways that hip hop is misogynist and nasty towards Black women.  One of the central elements of that is calling Black women “gold diggers”.  It’s suggesting that when Black men get rich as hip hop artists or as athletes, that it’s somehow Black women who are benefiting from it, right?  They’re taking the money and the status.  And I always say, “Come on now.  What truth is missing there?”  When Black men get rich from entertainment and from athletics, who gets rich with them?  My students kind of stare at me, and I say, “Come on!  Who gets rich when Black men become rich through athletics and through hip hop music?  Is it Black women who get rich with them?”  And they go, “Oh no.  Actually it’s White men.”  Right?  So it’s all of these White men attorneys and promoters.  They’re the ones who get rich, so who’s the gold digger right?  So in other words it’s not as though there’s no story there, but we often sort of missed the rest of the truth.  So I think the same thing is true across the racial divide, right?  That sure, are there White people who are nasty racists?  Absolutely, right?  But there’s a lot of other truths that are missing there.  Are there Black men who are frightening criminals?  Absolutely.  But there’s a lot of truths that are missing there, right?  So what we do know is that Blacks and Whites perceive the world vastly differently on a number of different topics.  So we can look at not only racial issues like support for affirmative action.  You have African-Americans . . .  A majority of African-Americans, poor and middle class, who are supporting affirmative action; a vast majority of Whites not supporting affirmative action.  You can look at attitudes toward the past presidents – George W. Bush before 2005 getting a great deal of support among White Americans; almost no support at all among African-Americans.  Ronald Reagan – a great deal of support among White Americans; very little among African-Americans.  Similarly, right, a minority, although a plurality of White Americans having a strong support for Bill Clinton; vast majority of African-Americans showing strong support of Bill Clinton.  Hurricane Katrina is a great contemporary example.  Black and White Americans both extremely angry about how the federal government responds to Hurricane Katrina in 2005; but when you ask White Americans about why they’re angry, they tell you things like, “Bureaucratic insufficiency.”  Or, you know, just sort of not doing the right things, and state and federal government getting their signals crossed.  When you ask African-Americans what they’re angry about, they say, “The government hates Black people,” right?  “That we were allowed to suffer and die because of race.”   So everybody angry, and yet two very different stories about the driving forces.  So there are these very real perceptual differences, but I think when we . . . when we think about the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness questions, these are in part about perceptions and public opinion, but also a great deal about structure.  So for example, universal healthcare would solve the problem of healthcare access for Black Americans, but would also, by the way, solve the problem of healthcare access for White Americans, right?  So what is good in this case for Black people is good for the country generally.  If we think about wealth, right – the sort of argument that I made about the vast differences in wealth – well you know that wealth gap is a government created entity.  When you look at America in about 1935 or 1940, there is no substantial, thriving, White middle class.  There was mostly a White working class and a White ownership or wealthy class.  That middle class, that wealth gap right now, is driven primarily by the beneficiaries of the G.I. Bill, the FHA, the Interstate Transportation Act.  So in other words in the years following World War II, our federal government looked out at the greatest generation and said to its citizens, “You served your country well.  In response, your country is going to invest in human capital through the G.I. Bill; in hard capital through the FHA, which will provide for you and your family moderately priced homes in good communities and neighborhoods where you can send your children to reasonable public schools.  And by the way we’ll build high quality interstates between your homes and these new suburban communities, and into the cities where you will be able to actually come in and work and then return to your homes.”  That . . .  Those sets of policies – of human capital . . .  Excuse me – human capital, transportation, and hard capital in the form of housing were very real, government-based investments into a population, and overnight one generation – 20 years – you had a middle class that did not previously exist.  But because of the way those federal laws were written, they allowed state governments, particularly in the South, to not make those lending decisions, not make those G.I. Bill investments with African-American soldiers who had served.  So what that means is that right at the moment of investment which has now grown over the generations – this is a large part of that 11 times wealth gap – is a result of really, really terrific government programs that invested in their people.  What we need is the same kind of investment now targeted specifically at those groups that were left out.  So you just say, “Look, we’re gonna invest in your human capital through college education,” right?  “Forgivable grants instead of these high priced loans that force people to go into jobs in order to pay them back.  We’re gonna make sure that you can have moderately priced, good housing in communities that have reasonable public schools.  And by the way, we’re gonna invest in the transportation infrastructure to get you to the jobs where they need to be.”  We’ve done it before.  We could do it again.  And again within 20 years, 40 years I suspect we’d see huge returns on that kind of investment.

Who benefits more from the success of a hip-hop artist? Black women, or white men?

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
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  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
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Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
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  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
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NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.

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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."


A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."