I feel like the point that Can Jokes Bring Down Governments tries to get across has never been more poignant than it is in the current political environment. I don’t think it’s hard to understand in a world where the 45th president can become volatile as a result of someone impersonating him on Saturday Night Live. The way that the public often perceives politics or popular culture is based highly on their ability to spread virally through the internet and how relatable they seem that people bring them up in conversation, and memes are often the most accessible way for people to start a conversation and make it spreadable and relatable.
After reading this article, I took a minute to think about how often I take in current events through social media, and I can say that I, on average, see a tweet or meme that makes a current issue into an easily digestible and sharable statement at least every three hours. I think that’s why the meme has become such a staple in the current time period: because it provides a view of a fact that makes it easy to share and talk about. While this isn’t always a great thing (see the Neo-Nazi Alt-Right’s use of memes to spread a message of hate), it engages a larger, and often younger, number of people than traditional new sources do. And because of this, in some countries, memes are banned because of their political power, such as Spain proposed and Russia did with memes mocking Putin’s power.
Memes have become a new way that we experience satire and, by some extension, a new form of propaganda. Because what is propaganda more than a message put forth that convinces something to feel passionately to defend something that may or may not be true? And while memes may make us laugh rather than salute some dystopian dictator, as we believe that propaganda does, it shifts our mindset to feel like something isn’t threatening or as harmful as it may be. And many campaigns use this to their advantage because it better targets millennials. Take for example, Bernie Sander’s popularity: he went from a relatively unknown senator to a well-supported candidate in an incredibly short time because of the popularity of “Feel The Bern.”
And while I’m citing two opposing political sides and how they utilize memes, I believe that they are something that is incredibly powerful in how we may be viewing our government and our society. Many of us will not go a day without seeing some form of a joke on the internet, and I think that we as designers should be aware of the power that humor has in changing the way we view things. I was recently listening to a podcast in which the two people in conversation were really talking about how important it is for them to use their platforms to share information that is relevant in our political climate now. They really talked about how they have the power to make current events relevant, cool, and funny, and it really struck me that people do actually avoid head on information, and that by making it seem funny, it becomes more accessible.
Badger, Emily. “Redlining: Still a Thing.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 May 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/05/28/evidence-that-banks-still-deny-black-borrowers-just-as-they-did-50-years-ago/?utm_term=.c6487435c8c2
Although the Fair Housing Act outlawed redlining and other discriminatory housing practices in 1968, the tactics that made redlining as devastating as is originally was were still in place during 2008-2010.
Because redlining is technically illegal, some banks have kept the system in place by utilizing different tactics targeting minority groups, such as offering predatory loans and by redlining retail. Redlining retail cuts off these neighborhoods from access to better food, healthcare, and economic growth. Banks were shown to have deliberately denied people from loans who qualified for them. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is still investigating banks that were doing this because they believe that people who qualify for mortgages with the same qualifications as white homeowners should have the same accessibility. The consequences of redlining in the 1940s and 50s still impact families of those people denied loans today, so efforts are being made now to avoid the impact of not being able to afford homeownership on future generations.
Camera, Lauren. “More Than 60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education, School Segregation Still Exists.” Https://Www.usnews.com/News/Articles/2016-05-17/after-Brown-v-Board-of-Education-School-Segregation-Still-Exists, U.S. News and World Report, 17 May 2016, www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-17/after-brown-v-board-of-education-school-segregation-still-exists
A study conducted by the Government Office of Accountability found that there was a correlation between the economic status of a school district and the academic achievements of students. This study also found that these high-poverty schools had a higher concentration of black and latinx students.
The GOA study utilized free lunch programs in key public school districts to assess the poverty level of the students. The study found that in the studied schools, 75 to 100 percent of the students were both in a minority group and living in poverty. These schools, in comparison to other public schools, had fewer STEM classes and disproportionally high percentages of students held back, suspended, or expelled. According to the study, there is a link between poverty and academic standing, and minority students are often the ones attending these schools. Because preventing racial discrimination is the responsibility of the Departments of Justice and Education, there are efforts to increase the diversity in these schools; however, the school districts have trouble putting this into effect and end up rejecting minority students from “diverse” magnet programs. The study recommends that the Department of Education review civil rights studies annually; however, this doesn’t happen often.
Lowrey, Annie. “Wealth Gap Among Races Has Widened Since Recession.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/business/racial-wealth-gap-widened-during-recession.html?mcubz=0.
Because the events of the 2008 recession disproportionally impacted black and Hispanic families, recovery has been even harder for them: increasing the average wealth gap between these two groups and white people even further.
A study done by the Urban Institute found that the 2008 recession and housing crisis disproportionally impacted minority families. As of 2010, and for 30 years before then, white families made about twice the income of black and Hispanic families, and they were already far ahead in material wealth based on home ownership and other data. As a result of subprime and predatory loans being offered to minorities more than whites, the money that they had accumulated in their home ownership and in savings seemed to vanish, and the safety net that they had created for themselves financially went with it, while white families often had money that they could dip into to pull themselves out of the crisis. The wealth gap widened even more, a long-standing issue that minorities face as a result of systematic racism. Although some argue that they may be able to “turn the situation around,” poverty is hard to escape because having less money often means a lower quality of education and increased workload and stress needed to get out of that situation. Several solutions have been proposed to break this repeating cycle of intergenerational poverty, but spokespeople for the NAACP aren’t hopeful that any of them will ever be put into effect.
As many of us know, America has a major race problem that began as a result of slavery and has lasted well into the present day, despite the civil rights movement and federal acts that prohibit discrimination. Ever since redlining became a practice in the 1940s, segregation in city planning by preventing loans to minority and poor populations and forcing them to move to less desirable parts of town.
Although this practice was eventually outlawed in 1968, some banks kept the system in place by utilizing different tactics targeting minority groups, such as offering predatory loans and by redlining retail, the cycle of geographic poverty was already in place and hard for these groups to remove themselves from. This has caused a racial wealth disparity, which only widened after the recession as African Americans were hit especially hard.
Because these areas that were originally redlined have a majority black and latinx population that are also living in poverty, there is a lower academic success rate and a higher rate of suspension and expulsion. Lacking a good educational foundation and a means of pursuing higher education, the intergenerational poverty that disproportionately affects minorities continues, even 10 years after the recession hit this population the hardest.
Topic: Race & Re-Segregation
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/
- 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.”
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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/
- 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
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.
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.
In “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse,” the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations found that there were several compounding factors that lead to the financial crisis. These factors are high-risk lending, regulatory failure, inflated credit, and abuses by investment banking by several banks, six of which were focused in on as case studies by the committee. Basically, there was a lot of scamming and shaky business practices being put into play that were not properly regulated, all happening simultaneously. While one bank doing this at a time may have been a non-issue, the fact that the FDIC and other federal agencies were allowing them all to happen seemed to be the root cause of the financial crisis. The risks imposed by each bank separately compounded on one another, which is what the committee believes caused the market to fail.
“The 2008 Housing Crisis: Don’t Blame Federal Housing Programs for Wall Street’s Recklessness” is an updated look at the root causes of the housing crisis and shifts the blame away from the roles of banks to predatory lending and poor government regulations. They looked at the crisis from a historical perspective as a means of explaining that it wasn’t federal programming for mortgage loans, as some people believe, but the loans that came out of the private sector and took advantage of people.
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to see Rafael Sergio Smith speak at the Design + Diversity Conference about the unconscious bias that is happening everyday that we need to make a personal effort to overcome. He began by illustrating his point with a case study, the Twitter hashtag, #AirbnbWhileBlack, people telling their stories of times that they were denied from being able to rent over the app because the host saw that they were black, while their white friends were rarely denied by the same hosts. Smith used this example to talk about how designers need to recognize that there is always bias in these conversations, whether it is intended or not, and we need to create interactions and tools that alleviate that bias. Towards the end of his presentation, Smith connected the case study of #AirbnbWhileBlack to Redlining, the practice of predatory loaning that resegregated many cities across America by denying private loans or by offering loans that were not stable by any means to minority groups: preventing them from living in the nicer (read: whiter) neighborhoods in cities. These historical maps can still be reflected today in looking at educational and economical gaps within American cities. And this hasn’t ended: these loaning practices were happening in 2008, right before the financial crisis.
The articles show that no matter the exact market cause of the housing crisis, it is rooted in greed. Private investors took advantage of people while the government regulations set to prevent this economic injustice turned a blind eye to what was happening. The second article points out that it wasn’t at the hands of a specific few key players, but a greater number were at fault for the same reason, but all within the private banking sector.
Reading these articles, I started to remember the wonderfully hilarious and extremely correct “Thanks, Obama” joke of late 2008 and 2009, and I feel shocked that, even 10 years later, we aren’t exactly sure what the root cause of the market failure was, yet, as Americans, we were eager to place the blame on something or someone.