Reading No. 2 | Calista Bohling

Can Jokes Bring Down Governments begins to analyze the power and relevance that jokes may play within a society. Metahaven argues that these jokes are “incredibly dangerous political weapons,” and that “when politically effective, perform what everybody knew but couldn’t say.” And of course, we have seen the truth in these words in how internet memes and trolls played a large part in the 2016 election.

It was no secret that many people were dissatisfied with the choices in the last presidential election. Metahaven said it himself: “Memes and lulz emerge in an age of disenchantment with political institutions.” The entirety of the 2016 election was one huge, laughable meme on all sides. No party was spared in the months leading up to the vote, as each candidate had their own share of jokes and memes that portrayed them in one way or another. I thought this concept was interesting as well, the idea that memes don’t necessarily take a side, that “memes ignore that a sender’s identity would matter at all, taking no personal account for any position.” Anyone is fair game on the internet. If you think about it, it is quite incredible how memes are able to influence our society so much. An example that always stood out to me is how those SNL skits really got under Trump’s skin, and he even tweeted his frustration about Alec Baldwin multiple times: http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-alec-baldwin-saturday-night-live-twitter-528133. This does go to show that jokes are able to grab someone’s attention, and they are a useful tool to pointing out issues within our society.

Race and debt: two things that people don’t like to talk about. Add politics to this as well. It is a shame that in today’s political climate, many people don’t want to have a civil conversation about these topics. Many people would simply rather not talk politics, in fear of stirring up conflict, or start conflict purposely without any actual intention of listening to the other side. Both sides are guilty in demonizing the other in some way. A part of me can’t help but think about the roles these jokes and memes have played in also dividing people on these topics, and if there is a way that jokes will be able to unite people more in the future. We have seen that jokes are an incredible weapon in the political climate, but is there a way in which they can be more useful? I was doubtful when Metahaven compared these jokers to designers, but perhaps in some odd, twisted way he is right. These jokes, they connect with people much like designers also try and connect to the world around them. It was a very interesting perspective, and perhaps designers can take a few notes from these guys.

I have to say, those Obama & Biden bromance memes get me every time.

Secondary Research: Individual | Calista Bohling

Topic: Race & Re-Segregation

1. Housing Discrimination Redlining Maps

Miller, Greg. “Newly Released Maps Show How Housing Discrimination Happened.” National Geographic. 17 October 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/housing-discrimination-redlining-maps/

Data/Summary

  • Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a federal program established during the Great Depression with the task of figuring out investment risks in cities so banks could determine where to give out loans
  • Significant minority and poor neighborhoods often would get lower ratings, colored red on maps (redlining), which made it difficult for these families to take out loans on a house
  • Highlights a collection, called Mapping Inequality (https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=4/36.71/-96.93&opacity=0.8) which includes maps of redlining and notes from the HOLC
  • Some of the documents are blatant in the racial discrimination, with notes including, “Close to dump and Negro area,” or “Infiltration of subversive racial elements.”
  • “These residential decisions had decades-long consequences. So much of the wealth inequality that exists in America is driven by inequality in real estate market and the ability to generate equity and pass it down from one generation to the next.”

Thesis
The HOLC made it very difficult for minority families and poor whites to secure a loan on a house through the practices of redlining. These maps and notes are now publicly available and clearly outline how race played a factor in these policies.

2. A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America

Gross, Terry. “A ‘Forgotten History’ of How the U.S. Government Segregated America.” NPR. 03 May 2017. http://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america

This source was a podcast along with a summary of an interview with the author Richard Rothstein, who recently wrote the book The Color of Law, which “examines the local, state and federal housing policies that mandated segregation.” I have downloaded the book as well in hopes it will provide as a resource in the future.

Data/Summary

  • Redlining: a policy that would mark neighborhoods (often minority neighborhoods) in red that were considered to be high-risk for mortgage lenders
  • Rothstein argues that the housing programs created in 1933 under the New Deal were equivalent to a “state-sponsored system of segregation.”
  • FHA (Federal Housing Administration) actually furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African American neighborhoods
  • FHA manual called the Underwriting Manual explicitly laid out segregationist policies, which said that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.” (https://epress.trincoll.edu/ontheline2015/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2015/03/1936FHA-Underwriting.pdf)
  • Long term effects for African Americans, “Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth. Most middle-class families in this country gain their wealth from the equity they have in their homes. So this enormous difference between a 60 percent income ratio and a 5 percent wealth ratio is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy implemented through the 20th century.”
  • 1968 Fair Housing Act as an empty promise as the minority families who could now buy homes in suburban neighborhoods could not as the homes were no longer affordable to those families

Thesis
The federal government housing policies created in 1933 pushed mandated segregation by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African American neighborhoods. These housing policies have had a lasting affect on our society today as this segregation in metropolitan areas still exists and has lead to a stagnant inequality.

3. The Recession’s ‘Racial Slant’

White, Gillian B. “The Recession’s Racial Slant” The Atlantic. 24 June 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/black-recession-housing-race/396725/

Data/Summary

  • Report from the ACLU says that by 2031, white household wealth will be 31% below what it would’ve been had the recession never happened, but for black households wealth will be about 40% lower
  • Black households have always trailed significantly behind their white counterparts in wealthy accumulation, the recession will expand that gap
  • 2013, the net worth of white households was 13x greater than that of black households, the largest gap since 1989
  • Between 2007 and 2009, home equity for white Americans decreased by about 9%, for black Americans the decrease was 12%
  • The study also points to the predatory loans, high-interest mortgages, and unaffordable payment structures that were targeted toward people of color and the poor
  • African Americans make up 3% of conventional mortgage applications and face the highest denial rate (25%) versus a 10% denial rate for whites

Thesis
The recession was especially painful for African Americans, as it is clear there is a racial slant. The recession has widened the gap between black and white Americans in wealth accumulation; a gap which was already in existence largely due to the former policies of redlining.

Synthesis
It is clear from these documents that discriminatory lending practices and redlining has a long history and that its effects are still being felt today. In the article we previously read, the 2008 Housing Crisis, the author strongly defends some of these government housing policies, yet in the research I have gathered their were many critics of the policies. Some of these government housing policies has made it difficult for people of color and the poor to secure mortgages on their homes. These redlining and discriminatory lending practices has only lead to the widening of a wealth gap, a gap that has only further expanded due to the recession.