Monday, September 30, 2013

Black Spending Power Exceeds $1Trillion
... And we spend our money mainly on trivial self-satisfying stuff... and rarely save. BUT, we do spend more on education than whitefolks.... We also do not buy Black. This has led to a devastating effect within our communities: disappearing small Black businesses and, subsequently, a decrease in property value. As we have more ability to spend money via credit cards, we have amassed massive life-long debts, obesity and other poor health issues (because we spend more money on junk food than any other race or nationality).

This report is important to study for those of us who are trying to organize Blackfolk around issues keeping us ill-informed, oppressed and exploited. We can pull from this certain trends that can be very helpful in educating and mobilizing our Sisters & Brothers. 

For example, we use smartfones more than whitefolks. But, as the report reveals, we use them more for social media and entertainment than anything else. The key thing here is a smartfone is a computer that happens to be a fone. Hence, it has access to everything a laptop or desktop has access to. So... as we organize around, say education issues, we encourage parents and students to check out key websites and education social media sites that will inform, aid and advance their particular struggle.

I'm sure the Sisters & Brothers among us who are organizers can come up with other useful findings in this report.

Lastly, this report is also useful for those of us who studying Black social class dynamics within the context of creating a contemporary class analysis for North America.- SEA

Nielsen’s third report (see PDF below) on African-American consumers reveals that Blacks’ purchasing behaviors and viewing patterns are indeed different from the total market population. companies and marketers seeking to establish meaningful connections with this important consumer group can further enhance a brand’s ability to grow by understanding these unique differentiating demographic, shopping, buying, viewing, digital, and mobile trends.1 further understanding of the various generations and gender dynamics within the population is also essential for marketers who want to maximize business opportunities. 
Despite historically high unemployment rates, Blacks have shown resiliency in their ability to persevere as consumers. Black buying power continues to increase, rising from its current $1 trillion level to a forecasted $1.3 trillion by 2017.2 The ongoing population growth and increases in educational attainment are key factors in the increase of african-americans’ consumer power. notable highlights from the report include the following:

  • While Black men continue to dominate as the economic leaders in the Black community, Black women yield a tremendous amount of power as they have attained impressive gains in education, employment, and business ownership. 

  • The reverse migration continues as younger, college-educated Black professionals head South. marketers have an opportunity to develop a “southern strategy” to connect with the more than 10 million african-americans in 10 key southern markets. 

  • While being receptive to trying new products, Blacks commit 18% of their annual retail dollars to store brands and continue to show resiliency in specific non-edible categories such as ethnic hair and Beauty aids, where they are more likely to spend nine times more than other groups. 

  • From facebook, instagram, and twitter to education and career websites,, and glam media network, cyberspace provides a critical outlet for companies to engage Blacks of all ages. 

  • No group watches more television than african-americans (37% more) who lean heavily toward programming that includes diverse characters and casts. Black women watch more television than their male counterparts. 

  • Of the $75 billion spent on television, magazine, internet, and radio advertising, only $2.24 billion of it was spent with media focused on Black audiences. Black businesses, agencies and media continue to wrestle with this disparity as it is not reflective of the overall, high consumption patterns and behavioral trends of the Black consumer.
    Nielsen African American Consumer Report -Sept 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Right to Bear Arms for ALL Americans... Right?
Or... Negro with Guns Version 2
What if The NAACP and the Urban League had a "Join the NRA" drive thruout Black America? Afterall, we all have the right to bear arms... and should know how and when to use them. Isn't that the National Rifle Association's Mission?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Dinizulu Letter: 
Can Howard University and other HBCUs Survive?

 ...This question may be at the very heart of the larger question of what "education" in this nation is, or should be.
[...] I have exchanged many thoughts on this, [...] and the question keeps coming up, like that proverbial bad penny, as indeed it must, until there are satisfactory answers.  One of the most significant recent discussions might have been that "Saving the African American Child" conference which was held in Chicago last October, which went (dare we say "no surprise") in a direction other than what we might have individually and collectively hoped.

It I more than just glib rhetoric, in confronting situations like this, to say that the solution is more about questions than answers.  "In the beginning was the word...":  How we think about things and what we think about them is going to depend largely on the words we use, the presumptions embodied in those words, including cultural connotations and biases, and consequently how we understand and interpret the universe and our place in it.  The analogy of sports or combat reminds us that the victors are usually the ones who can impose their game plan on the situation, and take their opponents out of theirs.  "Name it and Claim it" is very much the name of the language game, which causes us to question (healthfully) what is really meant by "education," the myth of "race," and other American cultural iconic references which have shaped the discourse for decades, if not centuries.

Obviously, I'm not saying anything that we don't already know, only too well if anything, but I am invoking this awareness, this part of our heritage, to revisit this question of HBCUs with fresh eyes, so to speak.  Like everything else in America about "race," the very existence of HBCUs is a double-edged, or should I say double-pointed, legacy, which simultaneously works for and against us. 

"Race" is real for the same reason that money is real and that any number of American cultural artifacts (mental and spiritual as well as physical) are real, which is that reality and relevance, like the power of the mugger who steps out of an alley to change your life, is enforced at gunpoint.  Slavery could only be maintained by the unrelenting threat or actuality of violence.  That is because these things have no basis in natural law or even science (our feeble attempts to discern natural laws).  But, as such, it is a reality: our melanin has been deemed -- by our adversaries -- to be our military uniform in a one-sided war we have not declared, and they decide when hunting season is open.  But it is a reality named and claimed by "them," not "us," and therefore we must be very circumspect in how we embrace, accept, or use it.

In the matter of "education," for example, while we, acknowledging the imposed reality of "racial" separation and segregation, can (and must) fully embrace the wisdom of Dr. Woodson's "The Miseducation of the Negro," we actually know that, with very minor tweakings, his book could have very justifiably been equally called "The Miseducation of America."  Who in America (or in hell, for that matter) can be said to be being "educated" in any kind of functional or effective way if (s)he is being prepared and groomed for participation in (and perpetuation of) an artificially divided, mentally dysfunctional society where unearned and undeserved power and privilege are routinely enforced by ever-present violence, and the unquestioning acceptance of it?

We make no mistake about this: what is masquerading behind the very real psychopathology and quaking fear of the Negro among those who have been successfully programmed to called themselves "white" (an invention belonging to this side of the Atlantic; it did not exist in Europe before), is not just a fear/envy of people who are deemed to be "others," with darker skins, or even with greater sexual potency, but rather a morbid fear of Truth itself, among those who imagine their entire existence hanging on the maintenance of fragile lies and myths. 

That Truth, of which "history has forced, obligated, challenged, and blessed us to be the knowers, keepers, and tellers," is what we brought with us, naked and chained, in the bowels of ships, and have held as a collective patrimony in the violated slave quarters, in the migrant working fields, in the jails and prisons, in churches, in car washes, in sports competition, in movie houses, and in our homes, be they high or lowly, even as some of us have tried mightily to deny and distance ourselves from it.  It walks our streets looking ridiculous with saggin' pants but making its statement.  It stalks our classrooms in the form of disaffection and "acting out," sure markers of individuals to be selected early for the pipeline to prison.  It lifts our spirits every day with remarkable athletic and intellectual achievements and artistic expressions of the deep human soul.  It is, among more things than can ever be described, what Ayi Kweh Armah once referred to as "the zest for life as an end in itself."  To say more about that would be to give up living in the quest for words.

So the question of HBCUs and their survival becomes critical not for the shallower (but nonetheless real) question of how to obtain the resources to maintain physical campuses and to exist as institutions modeled on the American definition of higher academic education, but for the deeper question of the role that they can (and do) play in advancing the knowledge, "the African genius, which was absolutely required to be here, to keep this from becoming a disaster that would have been beyond human imagination," in the words of that Afro-Cuban Yoruba priest years ago, and which, if fact, has been proven by history to have built and saved a nation, at least thus far. 

This is the opposite end of that double-pointed legacy from the one that is pointed at us as a weapon of desperate ignorance, hate, and greed.  This is the point by which we make our positive mark on the earth, to honor Ancestors and guide next and future generations yet unborn.  We know, from our experience, that there is as much to be learned about life from the stereotypical drunk on the corner as from the graduate school classroom.  (Indeed, it is proverbial that even "When the fool speaks, the wise person listens," as many have done to me.)  So what, then, is the specific role of the classroom in this drama, and this agenda, as it might well be called.  (Prof. Marvin Dawkins at the U. of Miami, has suggested replacing the idea of "the African experience in America" with "the African Initiative in America" -- not inconsistent with that Yoruba priest's assessment.) 
Schools, and specifically the HBCUs, have a definite role to play in the education of America and the world, not just of African Americans.  The survival of these institutions depends not on what next clever fundraising ploy might be concocted, or what rich sponsor might be found to provide some erstwhile bailout, or even a lasting endowment (subject, as present endowments are, to financial crises and the like), although those quests and challenges have their place, and in themselves might stimulate our creativity.  Obviously, however, something more viable and sustainable as an ongoing mission and source of inspiration must be found.

I have shared with you all in the past what might be a signpost pointing in the direction to be explored: There are many radical differences between our situation here and that in Bahia, Brazil, but, as wisdom ever reminds us, these pale in comparison to the similarities that unite us, and unite us to "other" peoples as well.  So, we have to take the differences into account as we look at the Ile Aiye school and performing group in the inner-city Liberdade section of Salvador da Bahia:

Brazil has the largest African population outside of Africa, who are mostly concentrated in the northeast, so that Bahia is best known for its Blackness -- even though, as folks are pointedly aware, most of the positions of power and influence are held by non-Blacks.  In the sprit of "lighting a lamp rather than cursing the darkness," we might say, Mae (Mother) Hilda, and her son, known as Vovo, began an effort to revive and build upon traditional African survival skills and community values.  Strangely (but not in light of the power matrix), their first attempt to enter their group into the Carnival celebration was rejected by the judges; it was, by some accounts, "too African."  Their response was not to try-again-next-year or to assimilate more, but rather to establish their own Carnival in Liberdade, which (comparable to the same kind of phenomenon in New Orleans) would become the "real" one in comparison to the more commercial downtown version.

Their efforts morphed into the establishment of a school, which unlike here, is able to accept "only African students," who learn skills from hair plaiting to fabric printing along with their academic subjects, with an emphasis on self-reliance and, perhaps even more importantly, African community values.  To African American eyes it is almost an unbelievable sight to witness the sheer, genuine joy with which these children attend school, and the love, care, and dedication that their teachers very obviously bring to the classroom.  To glance into a classroom and see the only words on the chalkboard being "Unity is Strength" says something powerful. 

It is therefore a bit ironic that Ile Aiye is not known primarily as a school at all, but as a performing arts group that travels the world, thus raising funds and support.  (In fact, one young man there remembered me from his travel to Miami years previously as a 10-year-old with the group for one of Chuck Davis's "Dance Africa" presentations.)  With all this emphasis on self-reliance, the group does not put much stock in grant-writing or "standard" fund-raising, but, after 30 years of persistence and success, found themselves rewarded by generous grants from Petrobras, the national oil company, and the Odebrecht corporation, allowing them to build a brand new complex of classrooms and performance space across the street from their former cramped quarters in a three-story house.  (Another of those notable differences between Brazil and here.) 

I think our own history here shows that the early days of the HBCUs were not very different from that model.  Groups like the Fisk Jubilee Singers became legendary as they toured the country and filled auditoriums.  One of Hampton's main buildings was said to have been "sung up" from the ground by a similar effort.   Tuskeegee, and George Washington Carver's role there are legends in themselves, with benefits to the whole nation and the world.  (Peanut butter, anyone?  Mr. Reese?)  Howard is a story unto itself. 

But then, historically, there was that old double point again.  It was certainly wisdom that Hampton was established for both African and Native Americans, but that brought with it some of the same mentality that went into the odious "Indian Boarding Schools."  It is ironic that Howard, with all of its promise for Black students, was named in honor of Gen. O.O. Howard, he of the "Tell General Howard that I know his heart..." in the opening of that powerful speech by Chief Joseph of the (finally) defeated Nez Perce nation (which I still can't read without choking up).  Our gain at the expense of another oppressed people's loss is not our way.

"A people's culture is both a window and a mirror."  It is the lens through which we grasp our knowledge and unique interpretation of the universe.  It is the reflection in which we see and confirm who we are, individually and collectively.  And it is the portal through which others see us and form their own interpretations, informed or otherwise, honest or not.  Quietly, in typical fashion, almost unbeknownst to the people of the United States, the United Nations last year declared the decade of 2013-2022 to be the International Decade for People of African Descent.  This, as you know, is a follow-up to the 2011 International Year, and emanates from the work of the 2001 Durban Conference and the 2009 Durban Review Conference ("Durban II) in Geneva.  I have referred to these initiatives as a global call to the human family to acknowledge that some members of the family have been treated very wrongly for at least the last 500 years, which needs to be made right, but also as a call to global Africans to "show the world what we've got" -- culturally, spiritually, and in every other realm in which we can show ourselves strong.  Obviously, this all includes that gorilla stomping about on the table of humankind called Reparations, which ("They think that we think like they think") means much more than money (which, in the end, might just be irrelevant).

The only people to receive any reparations for the wrongs done to them are those with the power and ability to enforce their claim.  Ours is arguably the last Reparations case ever to be decided, not only because it will ultimately be for the benefit of everyone, not just us, but mainly because, partly for that very reason, it will not follow any of the established guidelines and procedures.  The stereotyped notions of cash in our pockets to take to Wal-Mart or the Cadillac dealership are so far away from such real needs as removal of land mines from Angola, economic justice and environmental repair in the Congo and Niger Delta, healing, healing, healing of "child soldiers" and gang-rape victims, sufferers of the AIDS pandemic, etc., etc., etc., and the building of viable educational institutions that are consistent with traditional values of righteousness ("right with God, right with Nature, right with the rest of Humanity). 

This (re)definition of the Reparations agenda (we ourselves owe reparations to the earth for our erstwhile roles and participation in the violence against her, Truth to be told) is integral to the question of redefining and stabilizing the roles of our HBCUs.  By defining reparation by our own initiative, actions, and example, on our own terms, will take charge of that discourse and determine the scope and nature of what we demand from others.  That is one way to frame the new, viable, sustainable agenda.

With that in mind, we also know that the HBCUs must be dedicated to what the late African scholar Ibrahima Baba Kake called "la popularization" of academic knowledge, so that it is accessible to all, just as the knowledge, insights, and concerns of the working class are readily available and commonly known by scholars.  Obviously, slavery to the student loan industry must be abolished, and other, better, more creative ways of sustaining our university campuses and resources need to be found.  (The new, phony-campus, on-line corporate "universities" might actually be offering a glimpse of what might be -- the equivalent of "virtual tours" and the like, as a possible methodology). 

I have also shared in the past that great insight that was shared by some folks in Haiti, about the way higher education (medical school was the example) does not generally prepare us for work in our neighborhoods, rural areas, or in other environments radically different from, say, hospitals with state-of-the-art gadgets.  We cannot contribute (any more) to the "brain drain."  Our students preparing for law school need to see the value in dedicating themselves to cases like Trayvon Martin's rather than to dreams of making Jaguar car payments. 

More than anything else our HBCUs have to be agents whereby we can "emancipate ourselves from mental slavery."  Slavery has imbued us with deeply negative attitudes toward work, toward the land, toward man-woman, parent-child, and other human relationships, etc.  Schools do not even offer courses in these matters, and "accreditation," that carrot-and-stick by which all higher-ed institutions are driven, does not recognize any such needs.

In summary, what is more than obviously, almost desperately, needed is top-to-bottom reform of what passes for "education" in the USA, for ALL Americans.  But we can't teach what we don't know, and certainly can't teach much if we don't know that overcrowded classrooms and poorly maintained schools don't even allow us to teach what we do know.  Those who know the most and know the best are the ones who need to lead this effort.  The HBCUs, redefined along the lines outlined above, recapturing the kind of energy and purpose that created them in the first place, are arguably the most logical place for the remaking of education in America to begin.
Everything that has ever sustained itself in human history has done so because of a political will for it to do so, even in trying times when the king (or, today, the interests of capitalist greed) and his royal court of parasites has been opposed.  "Where there is a will, there is a way."  By "popularizing" the will, by making the campus more relevant to the community and vice-versa, by daring to make education something "real" -- an oasis in a desert of phoniness and preparation for lifetime flunkyhood -- surely there are those with resources who will see real and permanent value in this, and support it accordingly.

Or is that just wild and naïve hopeful speculation?  The real question is, Do we have the choice?

Thoughts are weclcome.

A luta continua,


Life span for uneducated white women now lower than that of uneducated black women

Life span for uneducated white women now lower than that of uneducated black women

By Diana Reese
September 9, 2013 -


While most Americans can look forward to living longer than ever, that's not the case for white women who didn't graduate from high school. Their life expectancy has actually dropped by five years — from 78 years in 1990 to 73 in 2008.

Graduation from high school can add years to your life. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

Graduation from high school can add years to your life. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

More heartening is the finding that black women without a high school diploma saw their life expectancy increase by a year from 73 to 74. In fact, they can now expect to live a year longer than their white counterparts.

The findings are from a study led by S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity researcher at the University of Illinois in Chicago, that looked at the disparities in life expectancy due to gender, race and education.

Published a year ago in the journal "Health Affairs" and funded by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, the research is making headlines again after a poignant and provocative piece in "The American Prospect" this week titled, "What's Killing Poor White Women?"

The article examined the case of Crystal Wilson of Cave City, Ark., who dropped out of school in the ninth grade to marry. No, she wasn't pregnant at the time. But by the age of 38, when she died unexpectedly, she was a mom and a grandmother, overweight and suffering from diabetes. She didn't drink or smoke. Her death was attributed to "natural causes."

Writer Monica Potts describes the drastic decline in longevity:

"It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. Throughout history, technological and scientific innovation have put death off longer and longer, but the benefits of those advances have not been shared equally, especially across the race and class divides that characterize 21st-century America. Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn't just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It's killing them.

"It's as if Americans with the least education are living in a time warp," according to a video produced by the University of Illinois at Chicago, with life expectancy rates returning to those from the 1950s and 1960s; the least educated black men are living in 1954, black women in 1962, white women in 1964 and white men in 1972.

The disparity in life expectancy at different educational levels has led to the formation of "at least two Americas," Olshansky said, with "notably different longevity prospects" for each subgroup. White men with a college degree or higher educational level may live, on average, to age 80, compared to white males who did not graduate high school living to age 67. White college-educated women have a life expectancy of nearly 84, while white women without high school diplomas live to 73.

But why? Why, with all the advances in medicine and health care, are we seeing such a rapid decline in life expectancy for uneducated white women and men (who dropped three years from 70 to 67 from 1990 to 2008)?

The reasons are "unclear," Olshansky e-mailed me, saying it's all "speculation" at this point. All sorts of theories have been offered, but researchers have yet to prove any of them, he said.

He wonders whether obesity, a clear risk factor for African Americans, simply takes longer to contribute to fatal outcomes, while non-prescription drug use (think alcohol and meth) kills whites faster.

"But this is speculation," he emphasized. "I have not seen a published explanation for this yet."

In the meantime, the "obvious suggestion," he said, is to raise education levels for all subgroups, which often correlates to higher employment and income and improved access to health care. (If nothing else, a higher income makes it easier to afford healthy food and gym memberships.) As of 2010, 5 percent of whites and 8 percent of African Americans between ages of 16 and 24 were not enrolled in school and did not have a high school diploma.

But Olshansky wasn't quick to blame health-care access:

"I'm not sure the least educated members of the population are missing out on the advances in medical technology as much as they are adopting harmful behavioral habits that shorten their life. I've argued for quite some time that the only control we have over the duration of our lives is to shorten it, and we exercise that control often and with increased frequency (smoking, obesity, etc.)."

In other words, we can't really do anything to lengthen our life span, but we sure can do things to shorten it.

Diana Reese Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The Second Generation of Integration/Assimilation at Work

Elite HBCUs Losing Grip on America's Black Elite
Sep 07 2013- Morehouse College recently announced a workforce reduction of more than 40 jobs, to complement a $2.5 million dollar cut in its operating budget. The reason, according to President John Silvanus Wilson, economic downturn.

But in his own words, Morehouse’s money woes are about much more than the national economy hitting a speed bump. An excerpt from his letter, as first published by the Maroon Tiger Newspaper.
That is why over the next five years, my primary focus will be on generating more revenues and efficiencies for the College. My administration will implement an aggressive enrollment management plan to attract more students who can afford to pay for a Morehouse education. And we will use our scholarships more strategically to ensure that we are focusing support on students who have the highest potential to benefit from being at Morehouse.

Schools like Morehouse and Howard University, which is experiencing its own money woes, are singing the blues not because the country is in bad financial shape, but because the black people in the best financial shape no longer want to send their children to our most prestigious institutions.

Of the five most prominent HBCUs – Morehouse, Spelman, Howard, Fisk and Hampton, all have faced the growing reality of expedited financial right-sizing. Spelman cut ties with the NCAA to save money and make students healthier. Hampton has capped its enrollment to ensure it attracts and retains students who want to be there and succeed.

Howard has had its money issues aired publicly by the top levels of leadership. Morehouse cuts more than seven percent of its workforce, and Fisk escaped closure by selling off a portion of a prestigious art collection.

It has been convenient to blame some of these actions on incompetent or absent leadership, but the harsh reality is the adjustment these schools are making to accommodate their lack of rich students with an “I ain’t worried bout’ nothing” wherewithal to afford full tuition and fees.

These five schools, just 10-15 years ago, were still replete with a healthy percentage of students who needed no financial aid, and had parents who wanted to give to the school on top of cutting bi-annual tuition checks.

Between 2009 and 2011, the total number of Pell Grant receiving undergraduates at these schools increased by at least four percent. At Morehouse, the percentage increased from 43 percent to 49 percent. Pell grant eligibility is a strong indicator of the potential to fall short academically and financially – a double-whammy when it comes to retention and graduation rates, and a common bugaboo for the elite black institutions.

Now, those resources have dramatically diminished, and the culture looks worse for it. If the strongest and most tradition-steeped of our schools are having hard times, what does it say about the entirety of the culture?

Reversing the trend is not easy, because simply recruiting smarter, richer black students or increasing recruitment of rich students from other racial demographics not only presents a disconnect from the HBCU mission, but a disingenuous approach to higher education which would make HBCUs just like predominantly white colleges who are poaching our students in the effort to meet racial status quo. Do we really want to be reported as part of the institutional cohort that is making higher education accessible only to the wealthy?

The solution is simply more effective screening of students – are the students we are recruiting able to communicate effectively through writing and speech? Are we screening for aptitude not just in standardized tests, but the capacity to do a job or to create one for themselves? Are we valuing community service, involvement in faith-based volunteerism, and signs of leadership as the key metrics for who can be a solid student likely to graduate?

HBCUs still have a prominent place in the hearts and minds of black students worldwide. They are still hopeful that our schools can emerge from stereotypes of crime, ineffective leadership, apathetic student body and campuses lacking innovation and creativity at all levels of learning and living. These things are possible, but they all begin with the reality that our student profiles are growing poorer – not just in money, but in potential.

And while we have pretended that the HBCU remains the collective body which can build financial and character-based wealth, we are proving to be the exact opposite in the management of our enrollments and mission. The struggles of the HBCU elite aren’t the worst of our problems, but an ominous sign that the worst is yet to come for the culture at large.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Four Black Scientific Innovators Under 35

Columbia U Electrical Engineer Professor Christine Fleming, 30

Images of the beating heart could make it easier to detect and treat heart disease.

Christine Fleming is trying to give cardiologists a powerful new tool: high-resolution movies of the living, beating heart, available in real time during cardiac procedures. Such technology might also one day help physicians pinpoint the source of dangerous irregular heart rhythms without invasive biopsies. It could even help monitor treatment.

Number of sudden cardiac deaths each year in the U.S.:

Her invention uses optical coherence tomography (OCT), a technique that captures three-dimensional images of biological tissue. A specialized catheter with a laser and small lens near its tip is threaded through the arteries. When the laser light reflects off the heart tissue, it is picked up and analyzed to create an image. OCT has a higher resolution than ultrasound and captures images faster than magneticresonance imaging, or MRI. But today OCT has limited cardiac application—usually to search the arteries for plaques. Fleming, an electrical engineer who joined the faculty at Columbia University this year, has designed a new type of catheter capable of imaging heart muscle.

One of the primary uses of the technology will be to locate, and monitor treatment for, irregular heart rhythms that are typically caused by disruption of the heart's regular tissue structure. In patients with arrhythmias, which can lead to heart failure, surgeons often burn away the affected tissue with targeted radio-frequency energy. Currently they perform the procedure somewhat blind, using their sense of touch to determine when they have come in contact with the muscle wall. "Since the physician doesn't have a view of the heart wall, sometimes the energy is not actually being delivered to the muscle," says Fleming, who adds that the procedure can last for hours. Fleming has shown in animal tests that her catheter, which uses a novel forward-facing lens, can successfully monitor the ablation in real time. Algorithms that help distinguish untreated from treated tissue offer further guidance. Abnormal orientation of cells

Abnormal orientation of cells in the heart wall is a clue to arrhythmias, which can be fatal. These images, created using optical coherence tomography, show the orientation of a rabbit's heart-muscle cells. Christine Fleming's approach to diagnosing arrhythmias could be an alternative to invasive biopsies.

Fleming is also developing algorithms to help improve the detection of arrhythmias by precisely measuring the three-dimensional organization of heart muscle. The technique works best when the tissue has been chemically treated to make it clearer, and thus easier to image. But her team at Columbia is now improving the algorithms so that the method works without this treatment. She hopes that in time the technology could supply an alternative to invasive biopsies, which are sometimes used to diagnose unexplained arrhythmias or to monitor heart health after transplants.

Fleming's arrival at Columbia earlier this year was something of a homecoming. As a high-school student in New York City, she interned at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which is down the street from her current lab. But in the intervening years her engineering interests have increasingly become tied to medicine; her inspiration for studying the electrical properties of the heart came when she studied electrical engineering and computer science as an undergraduate at MIT. Working with physicians is especially exciting, she says, because "you get the sense that one day your technology will be used."

—Emily Singer-

How is a wind farm like a school of fish?
Caltech Engineer Professor John Dabiri, 33.

Caltech professor John Dabiri uses his engineering expertise to try to understand how animals move in their natural environments. While researching the swimming patterns of fish, he recently came to a surprising insight: the way we're thinking about wind power—specifically, the design of wind farms—is wrong.

Conventional wind farms are designed to minimize the turbulence caused by interactions between turbines. That creates an obvious problem, says Dabiri: "You space them out as far as possible. If you're talking about a wind turbine that has a 100-meter diameter, then you're talking about as much as a mile between wind turbines. That's a lot of space that could be used to generate electricity, but can't be because of these turbulent interactions."

Megawatts of wind-power capacity in the United States:

Dabiri thought of a solution while researching how fish form schools to minimize drag as they move about. "Fish can reduce the amount of energy that they use if they swim in certain coördinated arrangements as opposed to swimming alone," he explains. "In fact, fish in large schools form precise, repeating patterns that allow them to move most efficiently. There's some basic fluid-mechanics theory that you can use to explain why that might be the case. Jotting down the math for urban wind-turbine analysis, there was sort of a eureka moment where I realized that the equations were exactly the same equations that explain fish schooling.

"Why not use how fish form schools as a starting point for understanding how to design wind farms?" asks Dabiri. "We began to use the same tools that were used to determine the optimal configuration for fish schools to optimize the wind farm. We looked at an arrangement that's been identified as optimal for fish, and we found that if we, in our computer models, arranged our wind turbines exactly in the same kind of diamond pattern that fish form, you get significant benefits in the performance of a wind farm."

To maximize that performance, Dabiri would use vertical wind turbines, which have been around for years but are much less common than the familiar horizontal–axis turbines. Vertical turbines can perform better when they are packed together—at least if they are arranged in the optimal pattern Dabiri discovered. That raises the possibility of redesigning wind farms to increase the amount of power they produce and lower the cost. Dabiri says the turbines could be squeezed into existing wind farms so that they produce more power without taking up any more land. It's a solution that could greatly reduce the drag on an industry that often seems to be swimming upstream.

—Kevin Bullis-

Growing up in Kenya, he strained to read by the dim light of a kerosene lantern. Now he’s making solar-charged lanterns and using them to spur economic development.

Evans Wadongo, 27

Kenya’s unreliable electric grid doesn’t reach Chumvi, a village about two hours southeast of Nairobi, where many of the 500 residents live in mud-walled, grass-roofed homes and eke out a living raising goats and growing kale, maize, and other crops. Yet an economic transformation is taking place, driven by an unlikely source—solar-charged LED lanterns. It can be traced to the vision of Evans Wadongo, 27, who grew up in a village much like this one.

As a child, Wadongo struggled to study by the dim, smoky light of a kerosene lantern that he shared with his four older brothers. His eyes were irritated, and he often was unable to finish his homework. “Many students fail to complete their education and remain poor partly because they don’t have good light,” says Wadongo, who speaks slowly and softly.
 In Chumvi, Kenya, Irene Peter helps her son with English homework by LED
light, which is cleaner and less expensive than ­kerosene.

As a student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, he happened to see holiday lights made from LEDs and thought about what it would take to bring LEDs to small villages for general lighting. After taking a leadership training course from a nonprofit group, he designed a manufacturing system for portable LED lamps that could be recharged by sunlight. While many such lamps are already for sale commercially—and are increasingly making their way into villages in poor countries—Wadongo decided that his lanterns would be made in local workshops with scrap metal and off-the-shelf photovoltaic panels, batteries, and LEDs.
Each lamp is stamped “Mwanga Bora,” which
means “Good Light” in Swahili.
Wadongo feared that the technology would be less likely to take hold if the lamps were simply given to people who had no financial stake in them. But the lanterns normally each cost 2,000 Kenyan shillings (about $23), which is out of many villagers’ reach. So he uses donations (including proceeds from a recent exhibition of his lamps at a Manhattan art gallery, at which donors gave $275 apiece) to provide initial batches of lamps to villages. Residents are generally quick to see the value in the LED lamps because of the money they save on kerosene. Wadongo then encourages them to put the resulting savings into local enterprises.

The transformation in Chumvi began two years ago, when a woman named Eunice Muthengi, who had grown up there and went on to study in the United States, bought 30 lanterns and donated them to women in the village. Given that the fuel for one $6 kerosene lamp can cost $1 a week, the donation not only gave people in the town a better, cleaner light source but freed up more than $1,500 a year. With this money, local women launched a village microlending service and built businesses making bead crafts and handbags. “We’re now able to save 10 to 20 shillings [11 to 23 cents] a day, and in a month that amounts to something worthwhile,” says Irene Peter, a 43-year-old mother of two who raises maize and tomatoes. “Personally, I saved and got a sheep who has now given birth.” She also got started in a business making ornaments and curios.
Christine Mbithi, a mother of four in Chumvi, chops spinach by LED lamplight.

As profits rolled in from new enterprises like these, the women who got the original 30 lamps gradually bought new batches; according to Wadongo, they now have 150. “Their economic situation is improving, and this is really what keeps me going,” he says, adding that some people are even making enough to build better houses. “The impact of what we do,” he says, “is not in the number of lamps we distribute but how many lives we can change.”

Wadongo is also changing lives with the manufacturing jobs he is creating. In an industrial area of Nairobi, banging and clanking sounds fill a dirt-floored shack as two men hammer orange and green scraps of sheet metal into the bases of the next batch of lamps (soon to be spray-painted silver). Each base is also stamped with the name of the lamp—Mwanga Bora (Swahili for “Good Light”). The three men in the workshop can make 100 lamp housings a week and are paid $4 for each one. Subtracting rent for the manufacturing space, each man clears $110 per week—far above the Kenyan minimum wage.
Some of the lamps are completed in the kitchen of a rented house in Nairobi. Three LED elements are pushed through a cardboard tube so they stand up inside the lantern’s glass shade. The LED elements, photovoltaic panel, and batteries are sourced from major electronics companies. Overall, the devices are rugged; the steel in the housing of the lantern is a heavy gauge. If a housing breaks, it can be serviced locally—and the electronic parts are easily swapped out.

Wadongo now heads Sustainable Development for All, the NGO that gave him his leadership training, and he is focusing it on expanding the lamp production program. It has made and distributed 32,000 lamps and is poised to increase that number dramatically by opening 20 manufacturing centers in Kenya and Malawi. Wadongo says that teams in those centers will independently manufacture not only the lamps but “any creative thing they want to make.”

David Talbot-

The mPedigree Network, based in Ghana, lets people determine with a text message whether their medicine is legitimate.

Activist and Astrophysicist Bright Simons, 31

"I grew up in Ghana, where we'd inherited the British boarding school system. At Presbyterian Boys High School, many upperclassmen were abusive toward the younger students. Once, I was made to stay awake all night in a kneeling position outside. But in my final year at school I became student council president and led efforts to reduce abuses. That experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of fighting the system—of being an activist. And this led directly to my becoming a technology innovator.

A few years later, after studying astrophysics at Durham University in the U.K., I transferred that instinct to try to help African farmers. They grow food organically by default, because they don't have money for chemicals. But they also don't have money for the organic certification process that would let them get better prices. So in 2005, I led a team of PhD students to try to implement a solution using mobile technology.

Percentage of medicine sold in some countries is bogus: 30

The idea was that at the point of sale there'd be a code on the product. You'd enter that in a mobile device, and up will pop the history and even pictures of the farm. But we realized a big flaw: farmers have to be trained to do the coding. This was not practical.

But picking up a fruit and wanting to know if it is organically grown is similar to picking up a pack of medicine and seeing if it was properly tested and certified. About 2,000 people die every day from counterfeit medicine. So we shifted the idea to pharmaceuticals.

In 2007 we set up a nonprofit organization in Ghana and rolled out a pilot, and the next year Nigerian health officials invited us to replicate the concept there. But we wanted to get to a point where a big company like Sanofi-Aventis would use us. We learned that most companies won't do business with an NGO, so in 2009 we launched mPedigree as a business.

You can send a free text message and get a reply in a few seconds verifying [that a medicine] is authentic. In addition, distributors and other middlemen can check the codes to verify that the supply has not been compromised. This helped reveal to a major Indian company that there was pilfering at a depot. Genuine antimalarial medicines would be replaced by counterfeits. The shady characters cannot get away with this anymore. If we had not stopped these leakages in the supply chain, they could have put thousands of patients at risk.

The system is used in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and India, with pilots in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, and Bangladesh. We've got a relationship with many of the major regional—and a growing number of multinational—pharmas, including Sanofi-Aventis. In Nigeria our codes are on 50 million packs of antimalarial drugs alone, and we have just signed up two Chinese drug makers.

We are now expanding to seeds, cosmetics, and other businesses. And new applications are emerging that we hadn't expected, in the areas of logistics, supply chain management, and marketing. If you send an SMS to check authenticity, you've also given good information about exactly where and when a drug was sold—as well as provided a potential marketing opportunity to dispense coupons. We have built a major platform for supply chains in the developing world. But back at my school, of course, they still remember me as the activist."

—as told to David Talbot-

Monday, September 02, 2013

Walking While Black in the 'White Gaze'

September 1, 2013,


"Man, I almost blew you away!"

Those were the terrifying words of a white police officer — one of those who policed black bodies in low income areas in North Philadelphia in the late 1970s — who caught sight of me carrying the new telescope my mother had just purchased for me.

"I thought you had a weapon," he said.

The words made me tremble and pause; I felt the sort of bodily stress and deep existential anguish that no teenager should have to endure.

Did Trayvon Martin's death happen in Dr. King's 'dream' or Malcolm X's 'American nightmare'?

This officer had already inherited those poisonous assumptions and bodily perceptual practices that make up what I call the "white gaze." He had already come to "see" the black male body as different, deviant, ersatz. He failed to conceive, or perhaps could not conceive, that a black teenage boy living in the Richard Allen Project Homes for very low income families would own a telescope and enjoyed looking at the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.

A black boy carrying a telescope wasn't conceivable — unless he had stolen it — given the white racist horizons within which my black body was policed as dangerous. To the officer, I was something (not someone) patently foolish, perhaps monstrous or even fictional. My telescope, for him, was a weapon.

In retrospect, I can see the headlines: "Black Boy Shot and Killed While Searching the Cosmos."

That was more than 30 years ago. Only last week, our actual headlines were full of reflections on the 1963 March on Washington, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and President Obama's own speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate it 50 years on. As the many accounts from that long ago day will tell you, much has changed for the better. But some things — those perhaps more deeply embedded in the American psyche — haven't. In fact, we should recall a speech given by Malcolm X in 1964 in which he said, "For the 20 million of us in America who are of African descent, it is not an American dream; it's an American nightmare."


Despite the ringing tones of Obama's Lincoln Memorial speech, I find myself still often thinking of a more informal and somber talk he gave. And despite the inspirational and ethical force of Dr. King and his work, I'm still thinking about someone who might be considered old news already: Trayvon Martin.

In his now much-quoted White House briefing several weeks ago, not long after the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, the president expressed his awareness of the ever-present danger of death for those who inhabit black bodies. "You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son," he said. "Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." I wait for the day when a white president will say, "There is no way that I could have experienced what Trayvon Martin did (and other black people do) because I'm white and through white privilege I am immune to systemic racial profiling."

Obama also talked about how black men in this country know what it is like to be followed while shopping and how black men have had the experience of "walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars." I have had this experience on many occasions as whites catch sight of me walking past their cars: Click, click, click, click. Those clicks can be deafening. There are times when I want to become their boogeyman. I want to pull open the car door and shout: "Surprise! You've just been car-jacked by a fantasy of your own creation. Now get out of the car."

The president's words, perhaps consigned to a long-ago news cycle now, remain powerful: they validate experiences that blacks have undergone in their everyday lives. Obama's voice resonates with those philosophical voices (Frantz Fanon, for example) that have long attempted to describe the lived interiority of racial experiences. He has also deployed the power of narrative autobiography, which is a significant conceptual tool used insightfully by critical race theorists to discern the clarity and existential and social gravity of what it means to experience white racism. As a black president, he has given voice to the epistemic violence that blacks often face as they are stereotyped and profiled within the context of quotidian social spaces.

David Hume claimed that to be black was to be "like a parrot who speaks a few words plainly." And Immanuel Kant maintained that to be "black from head to foot" was "clear proof" that what any black person says is stupid. In his "Notes on Virginia," Thomas Jefferson wrote: "In imagination they [Negroes] are dull, tasteless and anomalous," and inferior. In the first American Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1798), the term "Negro" was defined as someone who is cruel, impudent, revengeful, treacherous, nasty, idle, dishonest, a liar and given to stealing.

My point here is to say that the white gaze is global and historically mobile. And its origins, while from Europe, are deeply seated in the making of America.

Black bodies in America continue to be reduced to their surfaces and to stereotypes that are constricting and false, that often force those black bodies to move through social spaces in ways that put white people at ease. We fear that our black bodies incite an accusation. We move in ways that help us to survive the procrustean gazes of white people. We dread that those who see us might feel the irrational fear to stand their ground rather than "finding common ground," a reference that was made by Bernice King as she spoke about the legacy of her father at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The white gaze is also hegemonic, historically grounded in material relations of white power: it was deemed disrespectful for a black person to violate the white gaze by looking directly into the eyes of someone white. The white gaze is also ethically solipsistic: within it only whites have the capacity of making valid moral judgments.

Even with the unprecedented White House briefing, our national discourse regarding Trayvon Martin and questions of race have failed to produce a critical and historically conscious discourse that sheds light on what it means to be black in an anti-black America. If historical precedent says anything, this failure will only continue. Trayvon Martin, like so many black boys and men, was under surveillance (etymologically, "to keep watch"). Little did he know that on Feb. 26, 2012, that he would enter a space of social control and bodily policing, a kind of Benthamian panoptic nightmare that would truncate his being as suspicious; a space where he was, paradoxically, both invisible and yet hypervisible. Related More From The Stone

Read previous contributions to this series.

"I am invisible, understand, simply because people [in this case white people] refuse to see me." Trayvon was invisible to Zimmerman, he was not seen as the black child that he was, trying to make it back home with Skittles and an iced tea. He was not seen as having done nothing wrong, as one who dreams and hopes.

As black, Trayvon was already known and rendered invisible. His childhood and humanity were already criminalized as part of a white racist narrative about black male bodies. Trayvon needed no introduction: "Look, the black; the criminal!"

Many have argued that the site of violence occurred upon the confrontation between Trayvon and Zimmerman. Yet, the violence began with Zimmerman's non-emergency dispatch call, a call that was racially assaultive in its discourse, one that used the tropes of anti-black racism. Note, Zimmerman said, "There's a real suspicious guy." He also said, "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something." When asked by the dispatcher, he said, within seconds, that, "He looks black." Asked what he is wearing, Zimmerman says, "A dark hoodie, like a gray hoodie." Later, Zimmerman said that "now he's coming toward me. He's got his hands in his waist band." And then, "And he's a black male." But what does it mean to be "a real suspicious guy"? What does it mean to look like one is "up to no good"? Zimmerman does not give any details, nothing to buttress the validity of his narration. Keep in mind that Zimmerman is in his vehicle as he provides his narration to the dispatcher. As "the looker," it is not Zimmerman who is in danger; rather, it is Trayvon Martin, "the looked at," who is the target of suspicion and possible violence.

After all, it is Trayvon Martin who is wearing the hoodie, a piece of "racialized" attire that apparently signifies black criminality. Zimmerman later said: "Something's wrong with him. Yep, he's coming to check me out," and, "He's got something in his hands." Zimmerman also said, "I don't know what his deal is." A black young male with "something" in his hands, wearing a hoodie, looking suspicious, and perhaps on drugs, and there being "something wrong with him," is a racist narrative of fear and frenzy. The history of white supremacy underwrites this interpretation. Within this context of discursive violence, Zimmerman was guilty of an act of aggression against Trayvon Martin, even before the trigger was pulled. Before his physical death, Trayvon Martin was rendered "socially dead" under the weight of Zimmerman's racist stereotypes. Zimmerman's aggression was enacted through his gaze, through the act of profiling, through his discourse and through his warped reconstruction of an innocent black boy that instigates white fear.

What does it say about America when to be black is the ontological crime, a crime of simply being?

Perhaps the religious studies scholar Bill Hart is correct: "To be a black man is to be marked for death." Or as the political philosopher Joy James argues, "Blackness as evil [is] destined for eradication." Perhaps this is why when writing about the death of his young black son, the social theorist W.E.B. Du Bois said, "All that day and all that night there sat an awful gladness in my heart — nay, blame me not if I see the world thus darkly through the Veil — and my soul whispers ever to me saying, 'Not dead, not dead, but escaped; not bond, but free.' "

Trayvon Martin was killed walking while black. As the protector of all things "gated," of all things standing on the precipice of being endangered by black male bodies, Zimmerman created the conditions upon which he had no grounds to stand on. Indeed, through his racist stereotypes and his pursuit of Trayvon, he created the conditions that belied the applicability of the stand your ground law and created a situation where Trayvon was killed. This is the narrative that ought to have been told by the attorneys for the family of Trayvon Martin. It is part of the narrative that Obama brilliantly told, one of black bodies being racially policed and having suffered a unique history of racist vitriol in this country.

Yet it is one that is perhaps too late, one already rendered mute and inconsequential by the verdict of "not guilty."

George Yancy is a professor of philosophy at Duquesne University. He has authored, edited and co-edited 17 books, including "Black Bodies, White Gazes," "Look, a White!" and (co-edited with Janine Jones) "Pursuing Trayvon Martin."


Another Racist Riff on the Walking-While-Black Theme:

White Grandfather Detained While Walking With Black Granddaughter: Cuffed By Texas Police

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 By: huffingtonpost
White Grandfather Detained While Walking With Black Granddaughter:Cuffed By Texas Police
NOTE: Imagine the trauma of then 5-year old  Ty suffered 
and may still suffer from being snatched away from her 
handcuffed granpa and put in a police car. We hope her 
parents and granpa have given her a good series of talks 
about race, racism and the police. Children are never too 
young to know about these things!

A crime and politics blogger living in Austin, Texas, claims he was cuffed and detained by police for simply walking home with his five-year-old granddaughter. Advertisement

The reason this happened, he says, is because he is white and she is black.

Scott Henson, a political consultant who blogs about the criminal justice system at Grits For Breakfast said he was walking home from a roller skating rink with his 5-year-old granddaughter Ty last Friday night when he was stopped by a female deputy.

The officer told him that there were reports of a white man kidnapping a black girl and he was ordered to step away from Ty as the officer questioned the girl, the New York Daily News reported.

"He's my Grandpa!" was Ty's response, according to Henson's blog.

After a few minutes of questioning, Henson and Ty were allowed to walk home. They were just two blocks away when they were stopped by five flashing police cars and a crowd of police.

"The officers got out with tasers drawn demanding I raise my hands and step away from the child," Henson said.

Henson complied, but he said the cops handed him roughly, jerking his arms as they cuffed him. The scene caused Ty to edge up the hill away from the officers, crying.

"One of them called out in a comforting tone that they weren't there to hurt her, but another officer blew up any good will that might have garnered by brusquely snatching her up and scuttling her off to the back seat of one of the police cars," Henson said.

The officers kept questioning Ty over and over again, but Henson said they took their sweet time calling the phone numbers he gave them to verify that she was his granddaughter and he had permission to walk her home.

Henson said the police never apologized, even after they released them, though they did explain that they take kidnapping calls very seriously.

Henson, however, recalls that a very similar situation happened back in 2008, according to the Daily Mail.

As frightening as it was for Ty, Henson said she was happy about one thing: The police officer questioning her did let her play with the flashlight.