Getting In and Out: Who owns black pain?

Some poignant words from Queen Zadie Smith in a recent Harper’s article on the movie Get Out and the painting Open Casket:

Peele has found a concrete metaphor for the ultimate unspoken fear: that to be oppressed is not so much to be hated as obscenely loved. Disgust and passion are intertwined. Our antipathies are simultaneously a record of our desires, our sublimated wishes, our deepest envies. The capacity to give birth or to make food from one’s body; perceived intellectual, physical, or sexual superiority; perceived intimacy with the natural world, animals, and plants; perceived self-sufficiency in a faith or in a community. There are few qualities in others that we cannot transform into a form of fear and loathing in ourselves.

 

Crime Score as Weapon of Math Destruction

What is Walk Score/Crime Grade?

In the past 10 years Walk Score has gone from a cool GIS startup to a popular Redfin widget, helping people plan their moves and real estate purchases based on a neighborhood’s perceived walkability. Recently Walk Score has begun beta testing Crime Grade, a measure of crime risk near an address.

How does it work?

Walk Score uses a patented system to score locations by amenity access and pedestrian friendliness including population density, block length and intersection density (Walk Score Methodology). Crime Grade‘s letter grade is calculated using a location’s per capital crime rate ranked with other rates around the city.

Why is it problematic?

Jeff Speck’s General Theory of Walkability states:

“…to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.”

While Walk Score does a pretty good job of measuring useful walks with distance to amenities, it is less effective at measuring a walk’s safety, much less the more subjective aspects of comfort and interest.

Crime Grade is scored based on reported crime: crimes reported to the local police. This is potentially very different from the measure most important to potential walkers; perceived safety. While it is useful to know what crimes are reported to the police, what keeps walkers from a neighborhood is really their perception of what crimes are committed there. Like many crime statistics, measures of perceived crime and disorder are very connected to the racial and economic demographics of the neighborhood (Sampson and Raudenbush 2004). In fact, the most powerful predictor of perceived disorder is neighborhood demographics, stronger than observed disorder and even reported crime (ibid). Crime Grade has the potential to become another in a long line of Weapons of Math Destruction, algorithms that hard code our implicit biases about race and class with potentially drastic consequences.

Potential Solutions

My research attempts to tease out some of the racial, gender and class dynamics in perceived walkability. Using data collected about people’s perceptions of sidewalk interactions I intend to analyze racial/gender and class differences.

 

Personal finance

I’ve been reading a lot of personal finance books lately. It all started when I read The Millionaire Next Door because it was on sale in the Kindle store ($2!).
Later, I attended a seminar on graduate school personal finance put on by Emily Roberts of gradstudentfinances.org.
One of the things she said was that when your budget aligns with your values then budgeting stops being an unpleasant chore, it helps you save for things you want. This idea resonated with me and I wanted to read more about it, being a good former graduate student, Roberts included a great bibliography for her presentation. What I found in my own subsequent survey of 5 personal finance books was that all offered similar advice about getting your budget into alignment but that each one had a different way of determining what your values were. I found each one helpful in its own right.

Smart Women Finish Rich, David Bach

One of the books Roberts suggested to help you figure out your values was
Smart Women Finish Rich, by David Bach. I quickly found a cheap copy, devoured the book and began setting up his 7 step plan to get rich. The way Bach suggests determining your values is based on an analogy of a ladder. You brainstorm ideas until you come up with a value you have about money and then you get to the next value (or rung on the ladder) by assuming that you already have that covered. For example, if the #1 reason you value money is to have Peace of Mind, the next step is to assume that you have enough money to have Peace of Mind and then think of what you would want next. In this way you come up with 5 core values. Mine turned out to be:
Peace of Mind
Health/Spirituality(mental health and physical health),
Justice/Charity(paying back the people and institutions that helped me get to where I am),
Family/Friends
Joy, Mirth and Great Renown (A line from the Agincourt Song, a song we used to sing at my high school Sing assemblies).

Another thing Bach suggests is talking to rich people you know about how they set up their own finances, so I sent out an email to 10 or so of my parents wealthier friends. In researching some of the books they suggested I came across this stellar roundup of 52 top finance books by Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar. After reading through this great list, I came up with my own short-list of books that seemed the most relevant to me.

The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke, Suze Orman

This book, and the one below I found in a Little Free Library while walking around the neighborhood. It was on my list so I picked it up along with Stanny’s (they had both been read and heavily annotated by their previous reader). Suze Orman’s advice didn’t differ wildly from David Bach’s but I appreciated the structure of the book and the frank style (also, the classic 90s cover!). The book doesn’t really get into how to set up your values, but rather assumes that everyone reading it is in their twenties or thirties and offers great, if generic, advice to those in that demographic. I’ve left it on my kitchen table, and my housemates have taken to browsing it over meals (we all independently acquired the David Bach book).

Overcoming Underearning, Barbara Stanny

This book is the only one that was not recommended to me and I found problematic, however, I also found it very helpful. Rather than focusing on financial tips like Orman, Stanny focuses on the psychological relationship that people have with money. I’d describe it as a mix between ‘Smart Women Finish Rich’ and ‘The Secret.’ The book is full of Stanny’s trademarked phrases, affirmations, and handouts from workshops she’s led. In order to determine your values about money Stanny shows a list of 100 or so values and has you chose 10, and then narrow them down to 5. Mine were:
Honesty
Justice
Time Alone

Integrity

Strength

After determining these values you are to keep them in mind whenever making any decision in order to make your life (and money) align with your values. I found this and other exercises very helpful in my own personal exploration of my money values.

What Color is Your Parachute, Dick Bolles

This book is a classic for a reason. And when Trent Hamm sang the praises of the flower exercises on his list I quickly added it to my list (as well as my boyfriend’s). In addition to helping to kickstart my job search (which I’ll be doing in the next couple years) the flower exercise helps people determine their values as their relate to jobs and money. The way Bolles helps you find your values is to list 9 and use his prioritizing grid to get to the one value/purpose/life-goal/mission our most identify with. Of the 9 values:
Mind
Body
Heart
Beauty
Human Spirit
Possessions
Entertainment
Conscience/Will
Earth

I most identified with Conscience/Will because of its focus on morality, justice, righteousness and honesty. I’ll definitely be coming back to this book as I get further along in my job search.

Your Money or Your Life

In a way, I saved the best for last. Robin’s book is the only one I am excited to pay full price for after initially borrowing it from the public library. I suspect I will return to it often (and I want to support the author’s charitable mission). Although another 9-Step plan for financial independence was sounding pretty trite by this point, it was so highly recommended by Hamm that I decided add this book to my ‘Must Read’ list. I’m really glad I did. The book briefly mentions money types, of the 4 (guardian, rationalist, idealist and artisan) I most identified with the idealist http://money.cnn.com/popups/2005/specials/money_type/frameset.exclude.html

In order to figure out your money values the authors have you take a thorough inventory of the things you own now, all the money you’ve ever received and your current job in order to calculate a ‘real hourly wage’ which they use as a measure of ‘life energy’. Rather than using abstract words and concepts to align your budget with, the authors have you use your own budget and your current real hourly wage to calculate your budget’s alignment with your values. It’s a little hard to explain (though not complicated), it’s well summarized here:
https://vickirobin.com/books/summary-of-your-money-or-your-life/

One of the things i really appreciated is that this book is the only one that isn’t focused on getting rich. As such, it doesn’t rely on risky stock market investments to plan your finances.

City as Interface

I found it. Last year at this time I was looking for a term for a phenomenon I hadn’t seen described before, which I had given the cumbersome title of ‘urban community worldview‘. Well I found it, in Martijn de Waal’s book the City as Interface. His book looks at how technology is changing the urban landscape and he sets up 3 urban philosophies that underlie urban ideal types: libertarian, republican and communitarian.

    libertarian – the libertarian city is centered around economics, and focuses on individual privacy. Public spaces are primarily used for the market.
    republican – the republican city is based on the idea that each person is a citizen and has certain responsibilities. The name is a reference to the latin res publica or public interest.
    communitarian – the communitarian city is based on harmonious village and focuses on a collective rather than individual identity. Public space is primarily used for rituals.

The central proposition in this book is that many urban media mainly support the libertarian urban ideal. With their emphasis on efficiency and personalization, they approach city dwellers as individual consumers and increase their freedom to organize life according to their own insights; at the same time, these media also reduce city dwellers’ mutual involvement. This is not a foregone conclusion, however: other examples of urban media are based on the republican ideal. They succeed in combining the smart city ideals of personalization and efficiency with the social city ideals of citizenship and connection.

-Martijn de Waal, the City as Interface

My research definitely explores this idea of what people’s urban ideal types are and whether or not technology can help get them there. As such I had also been looking for an easy way to collect data without having to design and market an entire app just for my research. I thought I’d found it in Open Data Kit (ODK); this platform was designed with an android operating system in mind which is great because I wanted to include a free smartphone for those who want to participate in my study but can’t afford a smartphone (you can buy a cheap android phone for about $20 these days). Unfortunately with all that android compatibility, I found it almost impossible for my friends with Apple iOS to use; enter Kobotoolbox. I’ve now created a prototype to collect data with their setup. Coming soon to a smartphone near you…

Positionality

During winter quarter I took a few qualitative courses where I got the opportunity to think a lot about my positionality. Social scientists often talk about positionality; it’s an attempt to think reflexively about the relationship between the researcher and the research. Often this is a chance to take a look at power structures inherent in socio-cultural research and an attempt to take other perspectives into account. Although I am a black woman, and I’m certainly interested in how different demographic groups (like black women) experience the urban landscape, my reflections on positionality have little to do with my identity as a black woman. My unique view with respect to my research hinges on my inner personality and my intense aversion to and skepticism towards strangers. I walk a lot and I really hate it when strangers try to interact with me on the sidewalk. Some people like to interact with others on the street, they see this as a sign of a healthy community, but for me it’s the quickest way to ruin my day.  

I’ve been calling this phenomenon the ‘urban community worldview.’ (please help me come up with a better term, this one sucks) Initially I thought it was an introvert/extrovert thing, that, introverts don’t want to interact with strangers, but it’s more than that. It has to do with how you think of your community and what you think urban settings should feel like.
One thing I noticed is that I feel more comfortable in certain spaces that others. In a space like my home, I feel like people know me and draw conclusions based on what they know of my past behavior, it’s subjective. In other spaces, like sidewalks, I interact with people I don’t know, and their knowledge is based on my context and immediate surroundings, it’s more objective. I’m not using objective to say that it’s more true, in fact I feel rather the opposite way, but objective space is a place where you are judged as an object.

There are other factors I want to research, but like my skin tone and gender there’s not a whole lot I can do about my urban community worldview. When I think about my sample I want to make sure I have people on both sides of the urban community worldview spectrum.

State of the Research I

State of my Research:
Since I started grad school this fall I’ve decided to use this blog to talk about where I’m at in my research. Right now my topic is street transgressions, a term I made up and defined as: any breech of civil inattention with eye contact, gesture or speech. Civil inattention is a fancy sociological term for the way we ignore strangers on the street, how we acknowledge them without fully engaging. Generally one looks at the other from about 8 ft away, without making eye contact, and then looks away, you may look again at closer range. I’m considering any deviation from this to be a street transgression
I initially started using the term street harassment, looking at gender and race based interactions but found the term troubling and problematic for a few reasons.
1) harassment is so negatively charged that it ignores positive experiences that people have with strangers in public
2) harassment is a crime, it criminalizes the ‘harasser,’ something I find counterproductive to my project
3) I want to be as inclusive as possible here; catcalling, stop & frisk policies, pamphleteers, people asking for money, I think all of this contributes to where certain people feel safe (or unsafe) in urban areas.

News:
This topic has been in the news lately, with Hollaback bringing attention to gendered harassment:

and Eric Garner bringing attention to race-based harassment:
garner

Initially I was worried, that I wouldn’t be taken seriously as an academic studying urban black problems (being an urban black woman myself). In light of current events I feel a responsibility to the black community to continue my research.
My experiment seeks to use GPS to track where and to whom these street transgressions occur. I’d like to chose a demographic sample and have them track street transgressions on their phones. I hope that this simple data will help us figure out what is going on and how we can make the world feel like a safer place for everyone.

Feminist Style

After hearing about the VIDA Count on the bookriot podcast I’ve been trying to only read books by women this year. This summer I read the Golden Notebook and Americanah. When describing the books to a friend, he asked if I was into ‘alternative storytelling.’ It hadn’t occurred to me until then that neither of the books were conventionally written novels. In fact none of the books I’ve read this year have been. I don’t want to essentialize the sexes, and having only read women this year I don’t have the tools to do so. But it did make me wonder, do women write differently from men?

I’ve simultaneously been preparing for graduate school in geography. I love reading, and have developed lots of technical GIS skills in my recent work but I’ve been worried about writing. One thing that worries me is citation, I want to give credit where it’s due, and fully and truthfully acknowledge that no idea comes from a vacuum. MLA citations don’t seem like enough to me, I don’t want to pretend that these ideas are mine. Not to cite is stealing, but citing seems colonialist and anti-feminist. It doesn’t seem like enough to put someone in a footnote if my name is at the top of the paper.

I recognize that this reaction is gendered, that this false humility is performative. Women have to site sources, they have to give credit or their work won’t be viewed as legitimate. Women and minorities are more likely to suffer from impostor syndrome: a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments despite external evidence of their competence. Society values white men in academia, women have to prove themselves with citations and data. In addition, a woman who doesn’t do this is viewed as aggressive and bitchy, whereas the same behavior would be viewed as entrepreneurial in a man.

Nonetheless, I have trouble with the way non-fiction is written these days by both sexes. To me the rubric for blogposts (like this) seems to be personal anecdote followed by study that supports this, then more anecdata followed by more scientific (or often pseudoscientific) data. These blogposts turn into articles and ultimately turn into books. These articles don’t seem to take into account the history of the ideas that preceded them. They pass off others ideas as their own.

What is the best way to honor our ancestors’ ideas, do we use citations, even though they have been used to undermine people int he past? Do we use the power of the internet to link back to the web of papers and ideas? Or do we co-opt the same misogynistic ideology and say these ideas are mine as much as they are yours or anyone else’s?

the onus of the ‘me’ generation

Millennials, my generation, get a bad rap. A lot of it is completely deserved, we’re certainly selfish and spoiled but who spoiled us? Our parents generation may have had it rough, but we’re also having a tough time in this recession. A couple years ago a bunch of studies came out showing that Millenials are the first American generation to do worse than their parents. Our parents had pressures and stresses, but of a completely different kind than ours. Many (or maybe most?) parents of Millenials in the Boomer generation were forced into jobs and roles they weren’t ‘suited’ to. The idea wasn’t to be happy, but to be working. But my generation grew up with the idea that we should find something that makes us happy, aren’t we lucky? But with this privilege comes the responsibility to actually be happy; easier said than done.

The existential crisis of the Millennial generation won’t be middle aged men finding themselves in jobs they don’t enjoy and women having Friedan-like awakenings. We had the pressure to like Joseph Campbell, ‘Follow Your Bliss’ and probably picked job we were suited for (we probably didn’t go for the money, because chances are we’re not gonna make enough in any job). As a result we have to deal with the guilt of being unhappy in a job we ‘should’ be happy in. This pressure is immense.

As I struggle with this responsibility myself and go back to grad school I’ve noticed other characters asking the same questions about privilege and class and responsibility to be happy. In Doris Lessing’s the Golden Notebook, Tommy Portmain, the protagonist’s twenty-something son struggles to find himself. As the son of a bohemian mother and a wealthy businessman father he tries to decide whether to be poor and fulfilled or rich and empty (like I said, our generation is probably going to be poor anyway, so we might as well be fulfilled). He envies the milkman with no education, “he hasn’t any choice at all. He’s got a scholarship, and if he fails to make the exam, he’ll spend his life delivering milk with his father. But if he passes, and he will, he’ll be up in the middle-class with us.” “A hundred things to do, but only one thing to be,” he said, obstinately. “But perhaps I don’t feel myself worthy of such a wealth of opportunity?”
It’s similar to Matt Damon’s character in School Ties, who envies Brendan Frasier’s character, “Cause if you get what you want, you’ll deserve it. And if you don’t…you’ll manage. You don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations.”

Brendan Frasier and the Milkman’s son can always blame their unhappiness on their circumstance, but how do the privileged justify their malaise, or even their bad days? They’re struggling with the responsibility of their wealth and privilege but also with the pressure of being happy.

their crisis subsides as they grow up. Tommy find contentment in disability, SPOILER ALERT – after a botched suicide attempt leaves him blind, he marries well and lives off a disability check. He never had to sell his soul for money (always having been a supporter of the government teet) and he gets to read and write and love and travel. Matt Damon’s character doesn’t get an epilogue but according to his own predictions, he’ll end up at Harvard, becoming a businessman like his family. More importantly to the plot of the movies he’ll still be an asshole. In our society it’s hard to sympathize for those who come from privilege so raw and explicit. As well it probably should be, but that isn’t to say that life isn’t difficult.

Strong Black Women are Women Too

Ironically, I’m writing a post decrying ‘angry black women’ because I’m feeling bitter and black tonight. It’s been a tough couple weeks for American Blacks with both Mike Brown and Eric Garner joining the scores of black people killed at the hands of police. On a depressing episode of the Read the hosts tried to keep our spirits up with news of Black Excellence. To support beautiful black women, I went out to buy the new W Magazine with Iman on the cover, but it wasn’t out yet, instead I bought a copy of bitch magazine with an article on ‘the Myth of the Strong Black Woman.’ In it, Tamara Winfrey Harris describes the myth of the sassy no-nonsense ladies, “the cold, overeducated, work obsessed woman” who is “half as likely to marry as white women.”

I just finished reading Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Americanah,’ which lived up to all the hype, as far as I’m concerned. I was excited to hear what my Slate friends had to say on the Audio Book Club (like all podcast listeners I have an imagined relationship with them) and was so disappointed to hear their criticisms. While I loved the book, I think there are many things you can criticize it for. I too felt like the romance was not the strongest part of the book. But The Audio Book Club argued that it wasn’t believable that such a strong female protagonist would do something so weak, selfish and cruel. Emily Bazelon, friend to the blacks was the strongest champion of this opinion. I am so disappointed that these critics, even after reading a book that exposes and challenges these stereotypes, could not get past the idea of the strong black woman. It was unebelievable to them that a woman could be strong in her sense of self, but be ‘weak’ or vulnerable. Haven’t they seen the new stereotype of a woman who has it together in her work life, but can’t get it together in her personal life (have they missed Mindy’s character on the Mindy Project)?

What will it take to convince people to stop thinking of black people as animals? We are strong women, we have to be to withstand the racism and sexism of this culture. Some American blacks come from a line of women who survived the middle passage, who survived the back-breaking work of slavery. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain the same as whites. We are independent and capable, but we aren’t invincible. Strength should not be the only positive attribute a black woman can own, we are sensitive and vulnerable too and this is not weakness, this is powerful, this is what it means to be human.

Updated 10/13/14:

In which other white people on slate have trouble understanding why black people idolize white people (hint: there are a lot more white people in the US to idolize than black ones):
http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/the_audio_book_club/2014/09/roxane_gay_s_bad_feminist_book_club_discussion_guide_and_podcast.html

from the Gawker Review of Books Interview of Charles Blow:

First comes the recognition that we are devaluing black and brown bodies. And that that is not even a new phenomenon, that that is an extension of an American phenomenon, in fact it is even a world phenomenon. There is a mountain of social science that ranges from doctors not prescribing pain medication to black kids at the same rate as they do for white kids with similar illnesses to spanking being more prevalent among black boys. When you think about that body, and the violence that it must endure—

Right, like the word Ta-Nehisi Coates’s constantly used in his reparations essay, “plunder.” It’s similar to what he was getting at. I keep thinking about how there is not only always something coming at us, but something being taken from us.

Right. And endurance becomes this ambient thing in your life; it becomes your constant. It is not just to play and grow up and fall in love, but it is to endure. It becomes the paramount motivation in your life. The tragedy when you hear young men say, Oh I never thought I’d be 18 or 21 without going to jail or being in the grave. I’ve heard this too much. If that is being drilled into your mind, what kind of psychological damage does that do to you, and to your relationship to society? And in addition to that, whatever damage is being done, society is amplifying the damage by misconstruing the data and concepts so that we overestimate black crime, we overestimate black hostility, we overestimate black aggression. We ascribe it everything dark and negative. In that kind of hostile milieu of black bodies that have been tortured in a way, in a system that is designed to destroy it, these concepts of black being dangerous and wrong, you can have the unfortunate crossing of those wires and you get shootings. I don’t know how to fix that. I don’t know if I’m equipped to answer that.

Maybe not “fix,” but you’re in a very powerful post at the Times. You have a platform every week to talk about whatever you want, or at least what’s topical in the news, do you—

Well, my job is to shine a light. Illuminating and educating as best I can is the tool that I have. Other people have different tools. And hopefully they can use what I do in their advocacy, in their boots-on-the-ground sort of work in neighborhoods, changing minds person to person. Other than that, I’m not sure how it changes.